Ron Russo’s BOLD Plan Regurgitates Old Plans And The Worst Ideas Ever In Delaware Education

Ron Russo, the former Head of School at the Charter School of Wilmington, launched The BOLD Plan today on Facebook.  Using the tag “Education is a business”, Russo managed to take the most horrible ideas ever from the past three decades and put them into a single pile of absolute garbage.  While I don’t think this plan will go anywhere, it is symptomatic of the very same corporate education reform think tank crap that has proliferated American public education and turned Delaware’s school system into a very bad joke. The whole plan can be read below.

The BOLD Plan is an education reform effort that changes the existing school system because, as Albert Einstein once said,” We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them.” The emphasis is on local control and accountability.

Really? You can use Einstein quotes in just about anything. Doesn’t mean it gives an idea greater weight. It just means Eintein was a great thinker. The entire concept of “local control” has become so watered down because of state and federal mandate. It is a joke.

Education is about much more than producing capable, productive kids. Education is about economics, real estate values, population shifts, crime rates, development, retaining and attracting business, and a quality workforce. Having kids is not a requirement for supporting public education reform. If you live or work in Delaware you are affected by the state’s public school system.

I have to agree with this statement. However, it is the decisions of adults that mostly lead to economics, real estate values, population shifts, crime rates, development, retaining and attracting business, and a quality workforce.   Adults are the ones who screw it up, not the kids. And it is the adults that create the laws that allowed businesses to get into education and suck resources out of the classroom.

In recent years much has been done in Delaware to improve public education. We have experienced Races, Visions, Committees, and Task Forces. The business community has been involved in much of it. The efforts have been very good but significant improvement has been elusive. NAEP (National Assessment for Educational Progress) reported that more than 60% of Delaware’s high school graduates were below proficiency in reading (African-Americans 80%). Delaware colleges report that 53% of entering Delaware freshmen need remediation (73% of African-Americans and 69% of low-income).

I’m just gonna say the emphasis on “standards” and Common Core is a huge factor for why test scores on a highly flawed test are horrible. But let’s go ahead and blame the schools, teachers, and kids for that.

In looking for an explanation for these results we can eliminate funding as a problem source. Census Bureau data shows that Delaware is in the top ten states for educational spending. In 2009 we were 6th at over $14,000 per pupil. In 2017, 1/3 of the state’s budget ($1.4 billion) was spent on education.

It all depends on where that money goes. When it is going to untested education initiatives and the latest digital curriculum, the money isn’t getting into the classroom. Every time some jackass thinks they have the greatest new curriculum ever, our schools jump on it like white on rice. Education will always be broken as long as business thinks they can solve it. Because as long as business can make a profit the “plight” of children will always be ignored.

Poor quality education has economic consequences. Using regression equations, Dr. John E. Stapleford, President of ECON FIRST, calculated that over 10 years (2006 to 2016) if Delaware’s 8th grade math scores were equal to surrounding states it would have resulted in an additional $4.5 to $7.8 billion of output and 12,300 to 20,850 more jobs.

Gee, when did Common Core come out? Yes, let’s blame math scores on Delaware’s economy. I’m sure the recession and crap like Bloom Energy and the Chrysler plant had absolutely nothing to do with our economy sinking. Or DuPont leaving. Those have nothing to do with it.

Within the school building teaching is a profession similar to the legal and medical professions. However, once you get to the administrative level of education, similar to the administrative level of a law firm or a hospital, you are dealing with a business. Our Races, Visions, etc., have done outstanding work but it has been primarily focused on traditional school issues – curriculum, tests, evaluations, technology, etc. The part that has been missing is the business side of the education system.

Those Races and Visions created a haves vs have nots system that pitted schools against each other and allowed charter schools to segregate students in their quest for the best test scores. The reason we are seeing disastreous results in schools is because of business entering schools. It is a failed experiment that is so embedded in the way public education is run that it would take decades to extract it out of schools. It is probably too late.

The Bold Plan targets the systemic change that is necessary for Delaware’s education improvement efforts. That systemic change was first introduced by the Delaware Department of Education in 1995 with the support of the business community and the Governor’s Office. In many ways it is similar to the nonpublic systems that have been sucsessful in Delaware for over a hundred years. The change was tested by the Charter School of Wilmington under the supervision of some of Delaware’s largest companies (DuPont, Bell Atlantic now Verizon, Hercules now Ashland, Delmarva Power, Christiana Care, and Zeneca now AstraZeneca) and has proven to be nationally successful. An evaluation sponsored by the Delaware Department of Education and conducted by Dr. Gary Miron, Head of the Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University, reported that students under the “Bold Plan” outperformed their counterparts at traditional public schools. The “Plan” was able to advance the learning of its students at a faster rate than similar students in traditional public schools. The original charter school was launched with only two directives: 1) “Just get the job done.”, and 2) “Failure is not an option.”

The “Plan” created a private school in a public education system. Let’s stop talking about what the original intention of CSW was because even if you try it again, the Delaware General Assembly as a whole lacks the stones to address segregation in schools like CSW. And Newark Charter School. And Cab Calloway. And other schools.

The vehicle for introducing the systemic change was charter schools. The Charter Law states that its purpose was to “…improve public education overall…” Charter schools were to be laboratories to try new things and then, change the traditional schools. Dr. Gary Miron was quoted in a Brookings Institution publication, as saying, “Charter schools weren’t meant to duplicate the traditional public schools. They were to be a lever for change…” That change included how traditional schools operate. The Delaware Department of Education stated that the charter reform was based on local control and accountability.

Intention is a funny word. It rarely morphs into what one expects. It doesn’t matter because the charter school lobby has a stranglehold on the DOE and the General Assembly. Backed by the businesses Russo declares as the “saviors” of public education, there certainly was a lever of change but it didn’t bear the fruit Russo wants. It was the apple eaten by the Adams and Eves of Delaware that changed Delaware public education forever.

But the change to the traditional schools never happened. There has been no sharing. The Wilmington Education Advisory Committee commented on the disconnect between charter schools and district schools. The original business, political, and education leaders of the systemic change are all gone. That resulted in the traditional system taking control of the systemic change agent – charter schools. Charter schools now mirror the traditional system. While the number of charter schools has been increasing, an article in the August 2015 issue of Delaware Today magazine pointed out that, “Charters proliferated in a way never intended or anticipated.”

When Ron Russo comes out with a letter to the editor in the News Journal demanding a change in state law regarding demographics in certain charter schools and other “choice” schools, I’ll believe that he gives a crap about how charter schools proliferated.

The Bold change is visible in the original draft of charter regulations prepared in October 1995 by Mike Ferguson, then State Superintendent of Public Schools and co-author of the Charter School Law. That draft stated, “Reliance on bureaucratic decisions would be a thing of the past.” “…empower local communities to try new, unique solutions to problems that are facing their own schools…” “Parents and teachers are less restricted by decisions made at a district or state level.” “…empower local communities further with additional decision-making authority.” “…try new approaches to learning without bureaucratic restrictions.” Superintendent Ferguson informed the founding president of the first charter school that, except for federal laws and laws involving health and safety, he was free to do whatever he thought was appropriate as long as he was willing to accept responsibility for the outcomes. The Bold Plan of autonomy and accountability was emerging.

I’m not saying CSW doesn’t have good teachers. Never said that. What I am saying is their supposed success, based on cherry-picking students, based on the local “autonomy and accountability” that Russo himself perpetuated when he was the Head of School at CSW, is built on a foundation of racism, discrimination, and segregation.

More recently the “Bold” concept surfaced at the 2014 April Education Event sponsored by the Rodel Foundation. At that gathering Andreas Scheleicher, a member of Rodel’s International Advisory Group, presented data showing that a school’s performance would be improved by giving the school greater autonomy coupled with involving teachers in the decision-making process (distributive leadership).

2014 was five years ago. A lifetime in the corporate education reform world. Schleicher is a hack. He helped to create PISA, the international test that, like all other tests of its ilk, show how “broken” education is. I have no doubt Schleicher has made a ton of money like his buddy Paul Herdman over at Rodel. I have no issue with teachers taking part in a true decision-making process but that isn’t the reality. They can make noise as a part of a collective bargaining unit and thwart things like crappy priority school MOUs, but they have never been given that true autonomy.

The original Memorandum of Understanding offered to the Wilmington priority schools is another example of the “Bold” concept. That document would have given the priority schools authority over employment decisions, developing and implementing their own budgets, deciding curriculum and instructional practices, school calendar, scheduling, and they would have autonomy from any district requirements not mandated by state or federal law. An interesting question could be, if the drafters of the MOU believed that greater autonomy and accountability would improve student performance in the low performing priority schools, why wouldn’t they give it to all public schools?

As someone who read all the emails that led to the creation of that horrible MOU the entire debacle was a train-wreck. It would have dumped good principals and caused a ton of teachers to lose their jobs. It was a terrible MOU and both Red Clay and Christina were smart to fight it to the best of their ability. It also led to the “resignation” of former Secretary of Education Mark Murphy when he failed to put forth the funding the schools, districts, and boards agreed to.

This “Bold Plan” of autonomy and accountability leads to local control of schools. That means our public schools will be customized and not standardized. One size does not fit all therefore, we can focus on meeting the unique needs of the individual communities being served. The Brookings Institution pointed out that decision-making authority must be transferred from school boards and bureaucracies and placed in the school buildings run by CEOs, Chief Education Officers, formally known as principals. Placing operational control in local hands is quite logical. Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Schools aren’t Apple Mr. Russo! Our schools are already standardized. That was the entire point of Common Core. I don’t see you lobbying to get rid of that even though that is something our President vowed to do on the campaign trail. What happened to that promise? But I digress. Russo uses the old “one size does not fit all” when it comes to schools and communities. But didn’t he just use test scores to prove his point earlier? I guess the cherry-picking continues.

While some principals are “ready to go” most will require a transition that will take place over time as cadres of building principals are prepared and mentored to assume their new roles as CEOs. As individual schools wait for the conversion they will operate as they currently do. This will permit the transition to be as seamless as possible and provide for controlled growth. CEOs will be responsible for operational issues – hiring, budget preparation, financial expenditures, curriculum, continuous improvement, etc. – with the assistance of teachers. Boards and district officials will approve initial budgets, major capital projects, and will collaborate with CEOs to formulate goals. They will review appeals of CEOs’ decisions, evaluate the performance of schools and CEOs, facilitate meetings of CEOs for the purpose of sharing ideas and experiences, and provide operational support in areas such as finance, legal, personnel, planning, marketing, etc. as requested by the CEOs.

Schools don’t need CEOs. They need Principals who used to be teachers. They need people who will speak up when the state and federal mandates come flowing and not suck up to the corporate education reformer think thanks. Like you Mr. Russo! There is a specific reason why the Priority School nightmare vanished before it even took off. It was flawed. Just like the test scores you use to prove your flawed points.

The success of this systemic change is achieved through AA – Autonomy and Accountability.

We have enough acronyms in education. This is just a really poor choice for a new one.

The Bold Plan does not replace nor add to the efforts of Races, Visions, Committees, and Task Forces. It enhances them.  Using AA the CEOs will establish a culture of success which will permeate the entire operation of the school (policies, practices, demeanor, expectations, curriculum, teachers, parents, students, etc.) and everything and everyone will align with it. This is the same concept as self-fulfilling prophecy, positive attitude, or mental imaging. The Charter School of Wilmington and the Newark Charter School attribute much of their success to the development of a positive culture. In a 2012 speech delivered at the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce dinner, Marvin N. “Skip” Schoenhals, chair of Vision 2015 and WSFS Bank, credited the improvement at WSFS over a fifteen year period to a change in the bank’s culture. He said public education had to do the same thing.

Delaware has really had enough of Races, Visions, Committees, and Task Forces. We need the adults in the General Assembly to truly listen to what teachers are saying. They are the ground floor. Not the Rodels and DelawareCANs of the world. I could give two craps what Skip thinks. I want to know what Teacher A is saying about classrooms with 30 kids in them and what they need to be more successful. Using CSW and NCS as your examples shows you have learned nothing Mr. Russo. Their development of a “positive culture” is to weed out those who need help the most. And when one of them does sneak in, NCS in particular will find a way to get them out as soon as possible. Like Apple, WSFS is not the same as public education.

Adoption of the BOLD PLAN suggests other changes. If schools are making operational decisions, do we need the expense and service duplication of 19 school districts? Shouldn’t the state’s education funding formula be changed to accommodate the issues of poverty and special needs? With parity established among schools could parental choice be far behind?

We already have parental choice and have for 24 years. We’ve tweaked around with education formulas and we still don’t have the full basic special education funding for kids in Kindergarten to 3rd grade. We have a pilot program with no firm commitment floating around to help low-income students and ELL students, but that has more holes than a donut shop. And it will eventually lead to the robbing Peter to pay Paul game that Delaware state government loves to play. Want to know what would be really BOLD? If business got the hell out of education and just let teachers teach!

7 thoughts on “Ron Russo’s BOLD Plan Regurgitates Old Plans And The Worst Ideas Ever In Delaware Education

  1. Kevin, you were invited to a presentation of BOLD and didn’t show. Your comments could have been addressed so your blog could have been accurate and informative. You still have an opportunity. Contact me.

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  2. I’ll ignore the obvious that Mr. Russo’s experience supports a business-like approach: operate schools that discourage/eliminate students who require extra financial costs (special education, remediation, psychological services).
    Let’s see how the business that supported the creation of CSW did: DuPont, Bell Atlantic now Verizon, Hercules now Ashland, Delmarva Power, Christiana Care, and Zeneca now AstraZeneca. The three worst cases: DuPont laid off 1000s of Delaware workers and eliminated divisions, Hercules drove itself into near-bankruptcy and disappeared, Zeneca had the State spend millions towards its expansion by Rt. 202 only to abandon most of it during downsizing. Verizon had strikes and Delmarva Power was effectively taken over.
    If the goal of CSW was to produce employees with the skills desired by the business community that supported it, how has that worked out?

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  3. Kevin
    I suggest you stop at the local snake-oil wagon to purchase your bottle of elixir from Ron Russo. A couple swigs from the BOLD bottle will transform your attitude and abilities into a nearly lifelike and almost functional Betsy DeVos robot guaranteed to cure all of those struggling students’ longings for educational opportunities.
    Representative John Kowalko

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  4. Sorry- I could only get half way through this when my head began to hurt- not from your commentary, Kevin. Yes CSW has been a success for those who are selected to attend. I agree with Jeoffreycat’s first paragraph above. I’ve been around too long I guess. I’ve seen some amazing positive things take place in public schools- and then the state changes directions and does not support what good things got started. I’ve been to the Rodel Forums- too many loose ends there. Your last sentence says it best: Want to know what would be really BOLD? If business got the hell out of education and just let teachers teach!

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  5. There exists an education system that fragments communities. Cohesive groups have a better chance to excell. No one suggests integrating Pro basketball because it works. As an observer in a math class taught by a black HS teacher, I saw real change accomplished in a black class that had been used to flat lining, just existing. This powerful teacher demanded respect. He said he had accomplished advanced degrees and they had no option, but to get in gear and learn, to progress. The class responded, they were impressed, they had been challenged. Their positive response came about in a setting that wasn’t influenced by white PC thought. Our real challenge is to take a neighborhood that is 70% specially deprived and treat it to intensive (experimental?) education. This is what Charters have taught us, cohesive communities can excel. Specialists need to move whole communities that would not otherwise learn to read or write legible numbers (that can be stacked for math). Communities can leave none behind.

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  6. How about a plan that benefits parents and students and each school. neighborhood schools supported by the local tax base at a determined rate per student ($14k) and the taxes raised above that dollar figure then go to support the areas that the tax base cant support that dollar figure. the city gets its own school system and taxes its corporate base to fund the schools. each school is its own entityand is run by a locally elected board. the principal is the ceo and runs the school as the vision of the board and their collaborative plan

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