Prophets & Profits: The Year In Delaware Education

2015Collage

2015 was a transition year for education in Delaware.  It was a year of prophets and profits.  Many were wondering what was going to happen next while others were making money.

Common Core was around for a few years, but the test that most were dreading was finally here.  Parents opted their kids out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment causing Delaware to miss some of the 95% participation rates for different sub-groups.  For the remaining students taking the test, the results were a battle cry across the state.  Students did not fare better on the test, in fact they did worse than the DCAS.  Most people involved in education predicted this, including the Delaware Department of Education.  While the Governor, a couple of legislators, and the DOE fought the opt-out movement, the rest of the state rallied behind it and there was no greater symbol for it than House Bill 50.  With some touch and go moments, and huge support from the Delaware PTA, the legislation passed the Delaware House and Senate twice with an overwhelming majority in both the House and Senate.  As we all know, Governor Markell went and vetoed the bill in July.  This didn’t stop the DOE and State Board of Education from putting more knives in parents and schools backs with their twisted and diabolical opt-out penalties in the school report card debacle.  The teachers escaped the wrath of the Smarter Balanced results as they received another year off from the scores counting towards their teacher evaluations.

To date, the DOE gave American Institutes for Research $38 million dollars between the Smarter Balanced Assessment and DCAS.  Many other companies profited immensely from the DOE’s efforts to “fix” our schools.  But the DOE itself lost half of Governor Markell’s proposed $7.5 million increase for the Department.  DOE wanted to keep Race To The Top going with their own employees, but didn’t want to maybe, perhaps, send those funds to the classrooms where they are desperately needed.  In the end though, the DOE kept most of the employees hired through Race To The Top, even though they are slowly but surely leaving the DOE.  Leadership at the DOE changed with a new Secretary of Education, Dr. Steven Godowsky.  The former Secretary, Mark Murphy, “resigned” after votes of no confidence from the two biggest districts’ unions, the state teachers union, the state school administrator group and funding for Red Clay priority schools got seriously jacked up.  But he “resigned”…

Speaking of priority schools, Christina got to keep theirs, but lost two referendums and a middle school principal named Dr. Dan Shelton who became the Superintendent of the Capital School District after Dr. Michael Thomas retired.  Christina’s superintendent, Dr. Freeman Williams, went out on leave and shortly after announced his retirement causing the board to hire an Acting Superintendent, former Red Clay Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski.  But due to school choice, Christina continued to bleed students who went to charter schools in Wilmington and the surrounding areas causing many to fear for their financial viability by the start of their next school year next fall.

The entire Wilmington education mess brought about a moratorium on new charter schools in Wilmington for a few years or until the DOE could come up with a “strategic plan” to figure it all out.  Meanwhile, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission was born out of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee which recommended all Wilmington schools not already in Red Clay be moved to that district.  Brandywine and Colonial nudged themselves out of the deal, leaving Christina as the sole giver-upper of their Wilmington schools.  This is, of course, contingent on votes by the State Board of Education and the Delaware General Assembly next year.  The biggest issues with the redistricting effort are funding and lack of faith in Red Clay being able to take on all these schools when they can’t handle problems with inclusion and bullying in some of their own schools.  The devil is in the details, and the funding detail hasn’t been solved.  Ideas such as raising property assessments did not win WEIC a lot of public support.  Nor did the near shut-out of representation from Kent or Sussex County.  While it is a Wilmington commission, the fact that their ideas would support the whole state and they named their website Solutions for Delaware Schools didn’t help the matter.

A couple of charter school leaders in Delaware made immense profits off taxpayer money…until they got caught!  Both of these incidents put Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover on formal review with the DOE and very nasty investigations by the State Auditor’s office.  Both survived, mainly because the former heads of schools were given the boot.  In the case of FFA, East Side Charter School essentially took them over who was still basking in the glow of their miraculous “growth” increases on DCAS.  A point which their leader, Lamont Browne, bragged about incessantly at the Imagine Delaware Education Forum in March.  Not able to survive a formal review was Delaware Met, which was given the hangman’s noose a couple of weeks ago by the State Board of Education.  The Charter School of Wilmington had an interesting Spring with one student’s discipline issue taking up quite a bit of space on here.  Low enrollment woes put new charters Freire and Delaware Design Lab High School on formal review, but they were able to get their numbers up just in the nick of time.  Freire’s Head of School “resigned” after violating their own zero tolerance policy against local protesters.  As the authorizer of three charters in their district, Red Clay dumped Delaware College Prep but renewed the charter for Delaware Military Academy.  The DOE pulled a hat trick and renewed three charters: Campus Community, MOT, and Providence Creek Academy.

Sussex Academy got a pool.  Many charters had their own teacher evaluation systems approved by the Secretary of Education.  Odyssey and Delaware Military Academy basically asked the state for more money to expand but they did this through articles in the News Journal which caused State Rep. John Kowalko to tell them it shouldn’t happen.  Kowalko, along with many other legislators, opposed the Fiscal Year 2016 budget because of slush funds given to charter schools through transportation funds and performance funds.  But what really drew their ire was settlement funds from the foreclosure crisis that were used to plug holes in the budget.

The entire General Assembly dealt with education bills left and right.  The most controversial were the opt-out bill and the charter school audit bill.  Other education legislation dealing with funding for special education and low-income students, cursive, and recording of all board meetings in Delaware were left hanging until the legislators come back in a couple of weeks.

None of these bills stopped the lobbyists from swarming Legislative Hall like a herd of buffalo.  The Rodel Foundation, Delaware Charter Schools Network and the Delaware Business Roundtable gave their lobbyist say on most education bills.  Rodel beefed up their personalized learning game with Student Success 2o25 from their Vision Coalition.  Their CEO, Paul Herdman, had a pretty good year.  I can think of 343,000 reasons why.  All opposed House Bill 50, which drew more negative attention to their organizations.  Especially from the bloggers.

Kilroy’s Delaware and Transparent Christina cut back on their output.  Kavips brilliantly beat the same drums he/she usually does.  I posted a few articles.  New blogs entered the Delaware landscape with fixdeldoe, Creative Delaware, and State Rep. Kim Williams’ Delaware First State joining the fray.  The very excellent Who Is Minding The Children came and went.  Newcomer Avi Wolfman-Arent with WHYY/Newsworks gave Matthew Albright over at the News Journal some much-needed competition.

A lot of what happened on the national level funneled down to Delaware.  The reauthorization of the Elementary/Secondary Education Act created the Every Student Succeeds Act with many scratching their heads asking themselves what the hell it all means.  But our DOE was able to line up all their initiatives with what went down in the final legislation, even though they were planning it years in advance.  I would love to know how they managed to pull that rabbit out of their hat!  Actually, for the education conspiracy theory mongers out there (myself included), we all know how that went down.  That’s right, Congress didn’t write the act, the corporate education reformers did.  The unions all supported it, but it will come back to bite them in the ass.

Delaware escaped the special education “you suck” rating from the feds it received in 3 of the last 4 years, even though they really did.  As standards-based IEPs rolled out across the districts and charters, students with disabilities were put in the toughest “growth” goals of any sub-group in the state with an expectation they would go from 19% proficiency to 59% over the next six years of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Dr. Gray, the State Board of Education President, seems to think personalized learning will get them there.

Parents of Kindergarten students wondered why kids weren’t getting recess and some were getting off the bus with homework.  The days of students getting a break were gone in favor of rigor and grit.  While the DOE and US DOE claimed each student is an individual, their practices and policies were determined to throw them all together in their proficiency pie.

2015 did see a great deal of bi-partisanship with the opt-out movement in House Bill 50.  How the votes go down with the veto override next year will tell the tale on that one.  Many stories will either continue or come to an end in the General Assembly based on that vote as the 2016 elections will determine the fates of all the House Representatives and over half of the Senate.  Many are praying State Rep. Earl Jaques bows out and doesn’t run, along with Senator David Sokola.  This could provide much better leaders for the education committees in the House and Senate.

That covers most of the big moments in 2015.  2016 could be quieter or even messier.  All I know is 2015 was one for the record books!