Dr. Godowsky And His Baptism Of Fire Today With Opt-Out, WEIC, and The Delaware Met

The new Acting Secretary of Education in Delaware, Dr. Steven Godowsky, had a baptism of fire today.  Appearing at both the New Castle County School Boards breakfast and the State Board of Education meeting today, Godowsky was quoted by WDEL’s Amy Cherry at the school board breakfast as saying:

“It’s not a final decision, but it looks like from all levels of the department…that harsh sanctions will not carry the day,” he said. “There will be minimum sanctions that are required.”

Those minimum sanctions will include schools having to report to the Delaware Department of Education about the students opting out and what their prior scores were, and most likely, how they plan to address opt-out.  As well, they will not meet Reward status even if they qualify for it if their participation rates fall below 95%.  There is a lot of gray area about the word “required” based on Federal “guidance” which is not Congressionally approved or existing regulation.  Schools are required to have students participate in the state standardized assessment, but nowhere does it factor in parent opt-out.  That situation is out of their control.

Godowsky talked at both the breakfast and the State Board of Education meeting about more communication coming out of the DOE.  I think all of this is good, but I will be cautiously optimistic.  Dr. Godowsky came up to me before the State Board meeting started, said hi, and shook my hand.  That is something Mark Murphy never did.  There were times at State Board meetings where I would have brief staring contests with Murphy and he would quickly look away or straighten out his glasses.  I do believe the DOE needs to be much more transparent about things, but that doesn’t change policies coming out of their halls.  There is a very fine line between what is law with federal mandate, what is guidance, and what is interpretation.  I will continue to let folks know what those are as situations arise.

For Godowsky, the State Board of Education meeting was filled with tension during the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) presentation. A contentious back and forth between State Board members and the WEIC presenters, Dan Rich and Joe Pika, in regards to the plan made this the most interesting part of the meeting.  Later on, Godowsky’s first major decision was whether or not to place The Delaware Met up for formal review.  He recommended it to the State Board and they unanimously voted yes, but not without a great deal of discussion surrounding the details around the consideration.  It seemed like the DOE and Godowsky knew a lot more about what is going on with the school but were unable to give details because an official investigation could not be done because they were not on formal review yet.

I advised, in public comment, that I truly hope Dr. Godowsky acts in the best interest of students and not politics.  While his official confirmation will not happen until October 28th in a special session of the Delaware Senate, it seems as though he is making good first steps.  There is still a great deal to be done, but I do see some light shining into some cracks.  But his job will be to listen to everyone involved, not just the policy makers.  I think he is much more personable than Mark Murphy was, and he has much more experience.  His true test will be in the ESEA flexibility waiver, which will come up next month at the State Board of Education meeting.  He has gone on record stating that the harsh opt-out penalties most likely will not occur.  I hope he lives up to this, but at the end of the day we all know this is Governor Markell’s decision.

I still have very grave concerns with things coming out of the DOE.  My biggest priority is special education.  I am slowly learning what the true problems are, and I plan to keep on addressing them.  I still loathe the Smarter Balanced Assessment and Common Core, and I will not give up exposing the machinations behind those messes.  There are many inequalities between Delaware charter schools and traditional school districts I don’t agree with, and that will be a continuous topic of discussion.  There are things going on in traditional school districts that are beginning to surface which could result in further widening between students in need and their peers.  A growing issue with myself and others, not just in Delaware but on a national level, is the amount of data outside companies are legally allowed to have about students.  I firmly believe many companies are using legal loopholes to share student data for unknown purposes, and that should scare the hell out of any parent.  The legislators will be back in a few months, and the opt-out bill will still be a big thing with me.  I will say I do like seeing more transparency coming from the Department though and I truly hope this trend continues.  I don’t trust Governor Markell, and I don’t think what he wants for education is in the best interest of students and teachers.  I don’t believe the Rodel Foundation of Delaware and I will ever see eye to eye.

The WEIC conversation continues, and as revealed this week, major issues are coming up with this redistricting effort.  One of my biggest contentions with the whole thing is policy that will happen for Wilmington that will affect the entire state.  I agree change needs to happen, but there needs to be some Kent County and Sussex County representation for all of this.  I have communicated this, as well as a need for more special education discussion, to the WEIC leadership.  It is certainly a bold and innovative idea, but there are so many things to be sorted out with this, and the timeframe as put forth in the law is very narrow.  I have always had a theory about the endgame of all this, but now I wonder if it will even go through.  I would highly recommend to the WEIC leadership not to leave anyone out of crucial conversation and not to come up with ideas that could cause any of the players to feel isolated or left out.  No one likes being told what will happen, especially to students, and I think Colonial’s recent decision is testimony to this.

While all of this is going on, all eyes will be on Dr. Godowsky as the newest leader of a very unpopular Department who many in the state feel as though they can do whatever they want because they are Governor Markell’s baby.  While Godowsky did say in the WDEL interview that DOE will feel the pinch of next year’s budget deficit, I feel as though they have been living high on the hog and they need a huge trimming.  Welcome to the DOE Dr. Godowsky!