Delaware Joint Finance Committee Cuts State Board of Education From State Budget, DONE!!!!

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee completely cut the State Board of Education out of the budget for FY2018.  Also gone is the Teacher Resource Center.  To repeat, as of July 1st, the State Board of Education in Delaware will be NO MORE!  Other pass-through programs have been cut as well.  So far, ten million has been cut in pass-through programs.

This will give the Delaware Secretary of Education, currently Dr. Susan Bunting, will have sole authority to approve or deny charter school applications, modifications, renewals, as well as regulations and any district restructuring in Delaware.  This is big folks!

Updated, 7:29pm: From what I’m hearing, all these changes to the State Board of Education will be included in the epilogue language of the FY2018 budget.  It will give Secretary Bunting sole authority over anything the State Board of Education had a vote for.  This also includes appeals, i.e. Patrick Wahl’s fight with Brandywine’s Board of Education went to appeal with the State Board of Ed and he won.  The Secretary would approve or deny any charter applications, revocations, formal review status, and minor AND major modifications.  Regulations brought forth by the Dept. of Education and the Professional Standards Board would be handled by the Secretary as well.

This is a major shift in how Delaware education operates in this state.  I included a list of ALL the cuts and reductions in another post with amounts for each.  Which also included $1.5 million in cuts for the implementation of a Delaware Dept. of Education Employee Reduction Plan.

More information as it becomes available.

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Breaking: State Board of Education Not Released From Sunset Committee

I don’t have all the details yet, but the Delaware State Board of Education is being held for another year in the Delaware Legislative Oversight and Sunset Committee.  There are several areas of concern the committee still has with the State Board of Education.  I also heard someone from the State Board of Education named John Marinucci as the State Board’s contact person for all Delaware school boards.  Marinucci is the Executive Director of the Delaware School Boards Association.  Only 15 out of the 19 school districts in Delaware belong to that organization.  None of the Delaware charter schools do either.  So how could Marinucci possibly represent all the school boards to the State Board of Education?  Anyone who has been around the State Board of Education knows who acts as a liaison between Delaware charter school boards and them- Kendall Massett, the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network.

As soon as I know more, I will update this article.  I heard this on the fly from several people while I was down at Legislative Hall today.  Actually, I heard a lot of things down there today!  All I can say is get ready for an absolutely crazy time from now until June 30th (July 1st for those who know how things work in Dover).  If you think the conversation is heated now, strap your seatbelt on and get ready for an insane ride until the end of the legislative session!

Will Executive Director Donna Johnson and the State Board of Education meet the requirements to get out of Sunset review?  I guess we have to wait until next year!  But the fact they are being held over until then means they did not satisfy the committee.  Meanwhile, long-time State Board of Education receptionist Danielle Moore is retiring at the end of June.  I’ve seen Danielle probably hundreds of times between the Townsend Building and Legislative Hall.  She is an awesome lady and is always courteous and genuine.  Best of luck on your future endeavors Danielle!

Nina Lou Bunting Is The New Vice-President Of The Delaware State Board of Education

At last week’s Delaware State Board of Education meeting, the board unanimously voted their newest member, Nina Lou Bunting, as the Vice-President.

Bunting was a teacher for four decades and served on the Indian River Board of Education for thirteen years.  She resigned prior to her Governor Markell appointed position on the State Board of Education last year.  Out of all the State Board of Education appointees, I find Bunting to be the most experienced when it comes to what really goes on in the classroom.  As an advocate for special needs children, she also served on the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens.

In an article from the Sussex Post last year when Bunting resigned from the Indian River Board, she listed these are her priorities:

As a state board of education member Ms. Bunting’s prioritized list includes: preparing students to be career-ready; increased focus/emphasis on children with special needs; more training so all teachers can work with all students including those with special needs; and more citizenship education, particularly civics.

The current President of the State Board of Education, Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, was appointed as President of the State Board by Governor Markell.  Only the Governor can pick the President under current Delaware state code.

With Great Power… The Perception Problem Of The State Board of Education

StateBoardESSASpideyPic

“With great power must also come great responsibility.”-Stan Lee

If you haven’t heard those exact words before, then you have been victim to one of the greatest butcherings of the past fifty years.

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Now this you have heard.

in 1962, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko introduced the world to the Amazing Spider-Man.  We all know the story.  Peter Parker gets bit by a radioactive spider which gave him the proportionate strength of a spider.  An orphan who lived with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben.  He learned an important lesson very fast when he became a superhero.  At first, he used his powers for fortune and fame.  One night, he failed to stop a robber.  The same burglar later attempted to rob his house and shot and killed his uncle.  When Peter, dressed up as Spider-Man, finally confronted the burglar, he saw the same face he failed to stop.  As he walked off into the night, he remembered what his Uncle Ben always told him, “With great power must also come great responsibility.”

This is the problem with the Delaware State Board of Education.  The initial phrase Stan Lee provided to readers shows that just because you have power doesn’t mean you already possess an inherent sense of responsibility.  That is something you have to develop and learn.  The rewording of the classic phrase, which appeared in the 2002 Spider-Man movie, changes the concept of the phrase.  As if power and responsibility are there from the start.  As Delaware plows into the upcoming Every Student Succeeds Act regulations, this will become very important.  I don’t feel our State Board has developed the responsibility that comes with their power.  In fact, they want to hijack this term in their meetings about the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Many of the decisions they have made since 2008 have not been in the best and long-term interest of children.  They embraced the corporate education reform movement and haven’t looked back.  They continue to listen to the Rodel Foundation more than the teachers, students and parents who are their primary stakeholders.  As a result, they have allowed an environment of false labels against schools, demeaned teachers, created a false illusion of praise for rushed teacher and leader programs, subjected our students to three different high-stakes tests that have not created improvement for anyone, manipulated legislators into believing their mantras, approved charter schools without any consistent or necessary follow-up to ensure they will be successful upon opening, revoked five charter schools, and nearly destroyed a generation of students.  They will never take responsibility for these actions or events or even state they had anything to do with it.  They will sit there and say most of these events were based on federal mandate or existing state law.

They have an opportunity now to change that.  With the Every Student Succeeds Act, the law states that the United States Department of Education cannot dictate what type of state standard any state chooses to have.  It also deals with parent opt out of state assessments as a state’s decision.  However, U.S. Secretary of Education John King seems to have some comprehension issues as the regulations coming out of the U.S. DOE contradict what the law states.  Granted, the law is a confusing mess and there are parts that contradict each other.  King knows this and he is taking FULL advantage of it.  King will, in all likelihood, be gone by January next year, but he will be able to approve regulations and state plans based on forced dictates from his office.  That is NOT responsibility either.  That is power run amok.

As our State Board of Education prepares to deal with these regulations, they are having a workshop on ESSA before their regular State Board of Education meeting on July 21st.  They will go over what many of the corporate education reform companies are translating the law into along with King’s regulations and accepting it as the Gospel truth.  This is a critical time for Delaware education.  A wrong move by our State Board and Delaware DOE will leave us in the same problems we have faced since No Child Left Behind came into law fifteen years ago.  If you read the below presentation, you can clearly see their interpretation of the law based on the regulations and what the education companies want.  Keep in mind, many of these “companies” have never taught in a classroom.  But they have a vested interest in education.  Actually, make that an invested interest in education.

There are others who have power in education: parents, teachers, administrators, unions, and even students.  I urge all of you to watch our State Board of Education and the Delaware DOE like a hawk.  Yes, it’s the summer and in a couple of months kids will be back in schools with all the business surrounding that.  This is why they are choosing now to push regulations through when parents aren’t paying attention.  Those who want to profit off education are already on this.  They helped to create ESSA.  They have power but no responsibility.  They will control education if we let them.  And our own Governor, Jack Markell, has been the largest cheerleaders for this movement.  Power, with no responsibility, or even accountability.

We need parents, teachers, administrators, and students to take a role in this.  Don’t rely on me as a mouthpiece.  I’m a hot-tempered judgmental and pissed-off dad who has already been through many wars over this stuff.  I will continue to fight the war, but I could hit by a truck tomorrow.  Even if you are busy, you need to make the time to attend any meeting about ESSA in Delaware.  You need to review what our state is proposing, carefully watch the public comment timeframes, and make your voice known.  As well, contact your state legislators and Congressmen.  Let them know how you feel.  We have the opportunity and means to take back our children’s education.  But not if we don’t become a part of it.  This is our power.  This is our responsibility.  We have to use our power and become responsible.  If you are relying on our policymakers and unelected State Board of Education to get it right, then you have already allowed them to shape education into what they want.  They want to control the conversation and trick us.  They are masters at it.  They will smile and invite you to their events and give you real yummy eclairs and make you feel special and wanted.  But they don’t want you, they want your child.  Make no mistake about it.

To add insult to injury, Delaware is embarking on a “regulatory review”.  So not only do we have federal education regulations under review, but also a statewide regulatory review which could easily cause mass confusion.  I believe this is very intentional.  So if you are reading up on regulations, make absolutely sure you know which ones are state and which ones are federal.

If you want to change the future, you have to act now.  Don’t wait until it’s too late.  I will do my best to inform you and give crucial dates and timeframes, but make sure you also do this.

In this undiscovered moment
Lift your head up above the crowd
We could shake this world
If you would only show us how
Your life is now

-John Mellancamp

Governor Markell Infects WEIC Sunshine With Secret Meeting & Steps Over Legislative Authority

As announced by Newsworks and the News Journal last week, Governor Markell stepped into the battle between the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the Delaware State Board of Education.  What he also did was change the context of the legislation as written in Senate Bill 122.  By “brokering a deal”, he has effectively eliminated the transparency part of the whole redistricting initiative.  From Senate Bill 122, signed by Governor Markell on 8/4/15:

(4) The State Board shall base its decision to change or alter school district boundaries on a record developed in compliance with state open meeting laws.

Governor Markell did not let the public attend this meeting.  Furthermore, by not allowing all 23 members of WEIC to attend this meeting, and only four members, three of which were the chair and two co-chairs, they did not have the authority without a vote to even attend meetings like this.  So much for the transparency promised by WEIC!  This isn’t the first time members have operated in secret meetings that weren’t announced until afterwards.  The first involved the Colonial School District when they announced they would not send their students to Red Clay Consolidated School District after their board voted not to.

Does the Governor have the authority to usurp a law he signed?  I looked in Delaware’s Constitution and state code and couldn’t find anything directly referencing this.  I sent an email to many of the individuals involved along with the attorney(s) for Governor Markell’s office, the Delaware State Board of Education, and the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.  I received one response which I will talk about after I show the email I sent.

From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>

To: “cbifferato@bifferato.com” <cbifferato@bifferato.com>; “tdriscoll@bifferato.com” <tdriscoll@bifferato.com>; Tony Allen <tonyallen@comcast.net>; jack.markell@state.de.us; “mike.barlow@state.de.us” <mike.barlow@state.de.us>; Gray Teri <teri.gray@sbe.k12.de.us>; Donna Johnson <donna.johnson@sbe.k12.de.us>; “meredith.tweedie@state.de.us” <meredith.tweedie@state.de.us>; Hickey Catherine T. (DOJ) <cathreine.hickey@state.de.us>; Denn Matthew (DOJ) <matthew.denn@state.de.us>

Sent: Thursday, March 10, 2016 3:26 PM

Subject: Governor’s Meeting With WEIC & State Board

Good afternoon all,

 

I’m working on an article about the WEIC/State Board/Governor’s Office meeting that took place on 3/3/16 for Exceptional Delaware.  I have several concerns regarding the transparency around this meeting and I was hoping some or all of you could clarify some of my concerns. 

1) House Bill 148 states (c)  Meetings of the WEIC and all WEIC committees shall be public, unless designated for executive session.  Voting membership in WEIC shall be limited to subsection (a) of this section.

Would the meeting that took place on 3/3/16 count as a WEIC meeting?  If they were able to discuss the WEIC plan in any way without public notice, could that not be considered a FOIA violation by not posting an agenda for this meeting?  If this was considered an executive meeting of the WEIC executive committee aren’t they still beholden to Delaware open meeting law?  Does WEIC even have an executive committee since it is not publicly listed on their website at http://solutionsfordelawareschools.com/?

2) Senate Bill 122 states (4)  The State Board shall base its decision to change or alter school district boundaries on a record developed in compliance with state open meetings laws. 

Since the language is now changing again in the final report, without the ability of the public to observe this process and allow for public comment based on the 3/3/16 meeting, and there was no public notification of this meeting seven days prior to the meeting, did this meeting legally happen?  Furthermore, are the State Board, WEIC, and the Governor’s office all in violation of FOIA by even having this meeting?

3) What legal authority does the Governor have for suggesting changes to a “final plan” based on the law in Senate Bill 122 which was signed by him on 8/4/15?

4) Does the Governor have the authority to step over legislative authority and intervene in a plan that does not include the Governor or any of his staff as part of the membership of WEIC and not have that meeting be open to the public?

5) HB148 limits WEIC to 21 members, yet there are 23 members on the commission which is in violation of the signed law.  Furthermore, each member shall have full voting rights but they were not given an option to take action on participating in, as a collective body or in part, the is meeting on 3/3/16, nor were they given an option to publicly vote on this action.

While I support the WEIC plan after months of hemming and hawing over the whole thing, I just want to make sure someone couldn’t open the door to a legal challenge down the road.  I know a lot of things happen in Delaware behind closed doors, which is not something that matches with the Governor’s public statement that “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.  Transparency and accountability of government is essential.”  The law is the law.  We have them for a reason. 

I fully understand the very tight timetable involved with this action and I also agree with the WEIC vote to send the original plan back to the State Board of Education.  Furthermore, I don’t feel the State Board’s bungling of the final plan helped anything involved with this matter and got us to the point we are at now.  But we cannot, and should not, as a state, have any meetings in the dark without public knowledge.  This is one of the core reasons Delaware received a failing grade in a recent and national state transparency rating.

There is no reason the Governor couldn’t have made this letter public and WEIC could have then called for a meeting with a full agenda published prior.  Yes, they have done so to take action from this non-public meeting. Existing law does allow for an agenda to be published within hours of a meeting if an emergency exists, and this could very well be seen as an emergency, so WEIC is not in violation of their agenda for the 3/14/16 meeting.  But no agenda was given at all for a closed-door meeting which violates the letter of the law.

I did attempt to look for parts of this in Delaware State Code regarding the authority of the Governor with situations like this and I was unable to find them.  It doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but I couldn’t find it.  I would rather have the facts in a situation like this.

 

I await your response on these concerns.

Respectfully,

Kevin Ohlandt

 

The only person from this entire list who responded back was Tony Allen.  He indicated he would follow-up with me the next day (he didn’t).  That was last Thursday afternoon.  As well, he advised me this was not a commission meeting.  Whether he thinks that or not, Governor Markell referred to it as a meeting with WEIC on a video from the News Journal:

http://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/education/2016/03/10/markell-redistricting/81582788/

So if the Governor, who arranged the meeting, is calling it a meeting with WEIC, I would say that is most definitely a WEIC meeting.  Delaware… the home of people thinking one thing and a whole other thing going on behind closed doors…

To read the letter Tony Allen sent the WEIC members AFTER THE FACT, read below.  Meanwhile, WEIC will “officially” meet tonight to decide on the secret meeting resolution.  The State Board of Education has their third (fourth if you want to be technical) on the WEIC redistricting plan on Thursday.

State Board & WEIC Transcription: FOIA Violation, Priority Schools, And Funding

The State Board of Education audio recordings from their very long meeting yesterday are now up on the State Board website.  The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission portions of the meeting take up a collective two hours and twenty minutes of the meeting.  Not included are the breaks, legal or illegal, during the meeting with respect to the WEIC discussion.

As I insanely do once in a while, during contentious board meetings, I transcribed part of the WEIC conversations.  The three areas I focused on were the FOIA violation I believe the State Board committed by pausing the meeting to convene with legal counsel without calling for an executive session, the Christina priority school plans, and the funding/pause conversation surrounding the words “shall” and “may”.  The key players in most of this are State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray and WEIC Chair Tony Allen.  Others are State Board members Pat Heffernan, Barbara Rutt, and Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson.  While I would have loved to get the whole thing transcribed, there isn’t enough time in the day.  And as I’ve said before, you can only replay some of these voices so many times without wanting to jump off a bridge.  Key parts or words are bolded for emphasis.

 

The FOIA Violation

There has been well over an hour of conversation at this point about the plan and a lot of back and forth between the State Board and Tony Allen.  This occurs at the end of Part 5 in the audio recordings from the meeting yesterday.

Dr. Teri Quinn Gray: So, I just gotta check out the procedural piece of that with the attorney…do you mind? Cause I’m not sure about, uhm, the timing…

Tony Allen: Could I add, offer something, Could you make a motion to approve it with the new caveats, approval contingent upon…

Gray: Yeah, that’s why I need to make sure we get all the right pieces around that. I think I heard a little bit of that. So, let me ask for, uhm, a 15 minute break to consult with counsel and get the options around that.  Do you mind?

Allen: No

Gray: Miss Rutt, can she come with me, with you, the attorney? It’s 3:46.  We’ll be back at 4.

31 minutes later, beginning of Part 6 of the audio recording…

Gray: It’s 4:17 and we’re back in session. So why we left and the whole purpose of stepping away is we had , uhm,  a proposal to table the current motion to approve the plan as presented.  But, ugh, we brought forth an amendment motion that actually puts forth a conditional approval based on the conditions of changing the “shall” to “may” in the proposed resolution.  And also having a wait for the Christina School District to act on the action item on February 23rd which involves submission of grant applications to the Department of Education for priority schools.  And also contingent upon approval of the Department of Education of that plan, of that grant application.  Right, so that’s the discussion that has been happening for the past thirty minutes or so and the expectation around that, uhm, if the board accepts that amended motion and vote accordingly, or affirmative in that, that we would ask that we take those two conditions and act accordingly however we see fit, we would be able to close that item before us.  There is no need to bring this back to the table or as an agenda item for the board.  We would be able to settle that based on those conditions being met.

Pat Heffernan: And if they’re not met?

Gray: And if they’re not met then the approval is, there is no conditional approval and we do not approve it.

Allen: Can I add two things?

Gray: Sure

Allen: I’ve consulted with many of the commissioners here on both the conditions. On condition one, back to Christina and the priority school plans, I think that, I appreciate, making sure that the condition is with respect to the Department of Education approving the plan as opposed to the Christina School Board being made, maybe that’s how I was interpreting it, made to approve their priority schools plan is a better way to get that.  I think the Christina School District has every intention to approve the plan but I don’t think they take kindly to the State Board as making them so that’s…

Barbara Rutt: Sure

Allen: The second issue, with respect to “shall” and “may” is, I just want to reiterate, and you will act I know, I want to reiterate that on the board level, the commission level, the word “shall” was about making sure this wasn’t becoming an unfunded mandate. We talked about that at length during our discussion.  I think that would be a significant hurdle for us.  The district leaders have continued to express that if the resources aren’t provided they could not go forward.  And it’s my suspicion is that they will see that change from “shall” to “may” as a potential for an unfunded mandate with a cause of concern for their districts.  I will take that back to the commission, but I wanted you to know that as you make your decision, that could be a deal-breaker.  While I would not speak for the commission at this moment, I can guarantee you that if it does not happen, you will not see the commission resubmit a plan. 

 

Christina Priority Schools

Heffernan: I just want to add that, you know, the approval of the priority schools plan by Christina is, is it months or years late? So I have very little patience for Christina for semantics on that.  They literally refused to approve plans to help the kids and honestly, I think got us to this table where we are today.

Secretary of Education Dr. Steve Godowsky: I just want to make this clear. On January 22nd of 2016, I sent Christina’s Acting Superintendent a letter indicating that either the board or the Acting Superintendent can submit and activate the, uhm, the original application for the priority, or the MOU that they submitted a year ago.  Uhm, so that is what you are suggesting.  It may not require a vote from the Board but we wanted to make sure which plan they want to move forward and if it was the MOU plan, and I have talked to the Board President.   Then that will be acceptable to us going forward.

Heffernan: One thing that really troubles me about this is if the Christina Board doesn’t fully support these plans then, you know, we’re back to where we always were. And this is, so I, I, we can’t make, we have no authority to make any local boards approve anything, I totally get that, but I’m just very disappointed that this continues to be hard to get them to agree to help the priority schools.  That’s all I’m saying.

Godowsky: And the Christina Board did sign off on their plan about a year ago with one day difference so I think they did support that plan. And now that we know that’s the plan on the table then we can move forward, I believe we can do our due diligence and be in a position to review that plan and make modifications.

Heffernan: So they approved this a year ago?

Godowsky: As part of, uhm, the Memorandum of Understanding, between the district and others that negotiated that alternative to the original plan, as I understand it. I was…

Allen: As I understand that, the impasse was between Christina and their approved plans and the former Secretary (Mark Murphy), not that they didn’t approve the priority school plans. That is my understanding.

Heffernan: But the Department didn’t approve the plans?

Allen: Correct

Heffernan: So we’re going to take the same plans that the Department didn’t approve…

Godowsky: No, no. I don’t know the history of why it wasn’t signed off.  There were a number of contingencies on that which required the principal, replacing the principal, interviewing, or reapplying teachers for their positions, and management company that, ugh, that, those requirements have changed and we’re not in a position to impose those regulations.  So I think that was the stumbling block.  I don’t want to speak for Christina, and I don’t have all the history that they were the stumbling block, but later on there was an MOU submitted that never got signed off on at the Department level.  I don’t know the reasons in detail.  But I just know what I’ve looked at, in terms of the MOU, it’s consistent with much of what we want to do with those three schools, instructionally, which we’ve talked about since October, that I’ve been here.  And, given some modifications, I’m ready to move forward.

Gray reiterates much of the conversation of what just went on…

Godowsky: I’m in receipt of those plans. I just needed, in a sense I have those plans.

 

“Shall” and “May”

Heffernan: I guess I’m trying to understand where the unfunded mandate is coming from. The redistricting portion of the plan is going to be unfunded or…

Allen: Remember, we arranged this for resources for English Language Learners, special education, and high concentrations of poverty. Every outline of current funding, none of that has been allocated yet, say, for the Governor’s commitment for the four to six million, right, so what we’re suggesting is each year, going through these two budget cycles, everything has to show up and if it that money doesn’t show up all the districts have particular issues with having Red Clay taking on these kids, and by the way this is not just a Red Clay issue, all the districts talk about this, taking on these kids with no changes in the funding formula for how they are going to help those kids.

Gray: And we’re committed to that same delivery around, particularly to support low-income and English Language Learners so we are… (note: Gray did not say special education)

Allen: And I agree. The question is about you all interpreting, and again, this might be an (inaudible) on our part, you all interpreting “shall” as required without deliberation.

Gray: That’s right.

Allen: We don’t interpret it that way. It was meant to be deliberation in consultation with the effected districts…

Gray: Right, so let’s just make it the “may”, and if we need to, we’ll do it, right? Because without this level of conversation and intimacy that we have now, whenever this may come forward a few years from now that “shall” is a… (very, very hard to understand what she said here but I did hear the word legal.  Whether that was “legal” or “illegal” I was unable to tell)

Allen: I agree, and I do not give this short shrift, if you in fact approve it this way, it will require, I believe, a full-throated (inaudible) analysis that you will give in writing and in person to the commission, so…

Gray: Absolutely. We’re committed to that.  The Board is committed to that for sure.

At this point, Dan Rich (another WEIC commissioner) says something to Tony Allen. Tony asks for five minutes, and then Kenny Rivera (President of the Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education and a commissioner on WEIC) says something.  I think I heard the word “non-negotiable” but it is very hard to hear.  The State Board grants the WEIC folks a five minute break.  This is the end of Part 6 of the audio recordings.

The break ends, and the State Board is back in session in Part 7 of the audio recordings.

Gray: So Dr. Allen, did you want to add something before we go forward?

Allen: I consulted with many of the Commissioners here and I think there is general agreement that we could, and we would like you to consider, taking out all the provisions outlined in the resolution that we take back to the commission so that it does not come back to the State Board. But in general, but moving forward, it will be contingent upon sufficient funding.  Effectively, that takes you out of the process at the final implementation stage.

Gray: So you’re saying?

Allen: What we’re saying disregard all the remaining “shalls”, make it all contingent upon the necessary and sufficient funding and resources and take it off of the State Board with respect to their responsibility for this board and to future State Boards.

Gray: So is that effectively removing the resolution?

Allen: It’s more changing the resolution but excluding State Board having ongoing responsibility for suspension of the timetable.

Gray: Could I ask the process specialist?

Donna Johnson: With process of approval of the redistricting process in and of itself, and there is the caveat there that the plan would become essentially non-void if necessary and sufficient funding were not available, what safeguards would be in place if those necessary sufficient funding and supports were not at each of the milestones? Where would there be a pause that takes place at that point?

Allen: Do you mean who would authorize that pause?

Johnson: Yes.

Allen: The authorization would come from the commission and the effected districts. So we’d take it out of the State Board’s hands.  There is nothing in Senate Bill 122 that prohibits this.

After much back and forth, the State Board voted on the redistricting plan and the addendums as of 2/11/16 with no amendments which failed 3-4.  The State Board then voted on the plan with the amendments about the Christina priority schools plan approval and the changing of “shall” to “may” on page 10 of the official plan.  The motion passed with a 4-3 vote.

 

WEIC: What Happens Next & Separating Truth And Rumors

Yesterday, the State Board approved the WEIC plan with certain conditions.  What is real and what isn’t from this whole process?  This article has the answers to questions on the minds of many this morning.  Earlier today, Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Chair Tony Allen sent a message to the members with their next step:

Yesterday, The Delaware State Board of Education voted to approve Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s Redistricting Plan with two conditions, http://delawarepublic.org/…/state-board-ed-narrowly-approve…

• The Christina Priority Schools plan be approved the Delaware Department of Education

• The Commission change the word “shall” to “may” in item #2 of the Redistricting Resolution of our plan; this is the item that outlines a suspension of the timetable if the “necessary and sufficient resources” are not provided to move forward with implementing the plan.

While today’s approval comes with conditions, the Commission remains resolute in our commitment to our objectives and to our plan for meeting those objectives. In that spirit, I will be calling an emergency meeting of the Commission next week to discuss the conditional approval and determine our path forward. As is our normal practice, that meeting will be open to the pubic and include public comment.

On a parallel track, this morning, the University of Delaware announced the UD Partnership for Public Education and the Fund for Urban Education. These are two more examples of the catalytic nature of the Commission’s efforts and a great show of support from Delaware’s flagship institution, http://www.udel.edu/udaily/2016/feb/partnership021816.html

– Tony

This is where things are going to get very tricky.  It is now incumbent on the school districts, mainly Red Clay and Christina, to decide if they even want to move forward without the guaranteed funding.  While the funding could certainly be there if the Delaware General Assembly adds a few tweaks to the Governor’s budget, the simple changing of the word “shall” to “may” changes the whole ballgame.

I am very interested in this new initiative of the University of Delaware.  Tony Allen, along with another alumnus, donated $100,000 to create this entity.

In terms of violations by the State Board of Education yesterday, many are assuming they had to pass the WEIC redistricting plan in its entirety.  This is not true.  The key to this is in the language of Senate Bill 122:

…the State Board of Education may change or alter the boundaries of school districts in New Castle County in a manner consistent with some or all of the redistricting recommendations made by the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee in the report issued March 31, 2015, provided that the General Assembly passes, and the Governor signs, a Joint Resolution supporting the proposed changes.

I can’t remember who first said it had to be approved as a whole, but everyone seems to have run with that ever since.  Based on the legislation, this is not true.  The addendums added by the State Board are completely within their scope to legally do so.  The key words are some or all which I bolded for emphasis.  However, that does not excuse the obvious other FOIA violations that happened yesterday or the intentional conflict the State Board created yesterday.

By going out of public session with their legal counsel without declaring an Executive Session (which they did in their January board meeting as well), the State Board violated FOIA and public meeting law.  Even worse, they may have further violated the law by allowing someone not on the State Board access to this meeting.  To complicate matters more, any citizen could have followed them into that meeting because it was still in public session.  However, the State Board denied a citizen’s right to do this by barring entrance with a locked door into the area they met.  You need a key card to go from the Cabinet room to the State Board offices.  So they intentionally blocked a citizen from being able to do this.  When the State Board came out of this illegal closed-door session, Tony Allen came out with them along with Secretary Godowsky.  I think Tony Allen, at the least, needs to publicly say, to the best of his recollection, exactly what transpired in this meeting.

What does Delaware state code say about this?

(a) Every meeting of all public bodies shall be open to the public except those closed pursuant to subsections (b), (c), (d) and (h) of this section.

(b) A public body may call for an executive session closed to the public pursuant to subsections (c) and (e) of this section, but only for the following purposes:

(1) Discussion of an individual citizen’s qualifications to hold a job or pursue training unless the citizen requests that such a meeting be open. This provision shall not apply to the discussion by a licensing board or commission which is subject to the provisions of § 8735 of this title, of an individual citizen’s qualifications to pursue any profession or occupation for which a license must be issued by the public body in accordance with Delaware law;

(2) Preliminary discussions on site acquisitions for any publicly funded capital improvements, or sales or leases of real property;

(3) Activities of any law-enforcement agency in its efforts to collect information leading to criminal apprehension;

(4) Strategy sessions, including those involving legal advice or opinion from an attorney-at-law, with respect to collective bargaining or pending or potential litigation, but only when an open meeting would have an adverse effect on the bargaining or litigation position of the public body;

(5) Discussions which would disclose the identity of the contributor of a bona fide and lawful charitable contribution to the public body whenever public anonymity has been requested of the public body with respect to said contribution by the contributor;

(6) Discussion of the content of documents, excluded from the definition of “public record” in § 10002 of this title where such discussion may disclose the contents of such documents;

(7) The hearing of student disciplinary cases unless the student requests a public hearing;

(8) The hearing of employee disciplinary or dismissal cases unless the employee requests a public hearing;

(9) Personnel matters in which the names, competency and abilities of individual employees or students are discussed, unless the employee or student requests that such a meeting be open.

(c) A public body may hold an executive session closed to the public upon affirmative vote of a majority of members present at a meeting of the public body. The vote on the question of holding an executive session shall take place at a meeting of the public body which shall be open to the public, and the results of the vote shall be made public and shall be recorded in the minutes. The purpose of such executive sessions shall be set forth in the agenda and shall be limited to the purposes listed in subsection (b) of this section. Executive sessions may be held only for the discussion of public business, and all voting on public business must take place at a public meeting and the results of the vote made public.

(d) This section shall not prohibit the removal of any person from a public meeting who is willfully and seriously disruptive of the conduct of such meeting.

(e)(1) This subsection concerning notice of meetings shall not apply to any emergency meeting which is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, or to the General Assembly.

(2) All public bodies shall give public notice of their regular meetings and of their intent to hold an executive session closed to the public, at least 7 days in advance thereof. The notice shall include the agenda, if such has been determined at the time, and the dates, times and places of such meetings, including whether such meeting will be conducted by video-conferencing; however, the agenda shall be subject to change to include additional items including executive sessions or the deletion of items including executive sessions which arise at the time of the public body’s meeting.

(3) All public bodies shall give public notice of the type set forth in paragraph (e)(2) of this section of any special or rescheduled meeting as soon as reasonably possible, but in any event no later than 24 hours before such meeting. A special or rescheduled meeting shall be defined as one to be held less than 7 days after the scheduling decision is made. The public notice of a special or rescheduled meeting shall include an explanation as to why the notice required by paragraph (e)(2) of this section could not be given.

(4) Public notice required by this subsection shall include, but not be limited to, conspicuous posting of said notice at the principal office of the public body holding the meeting, or if no such office exists at the place where meetings of the public body are regularly held, and making a reasonable number of such notices available. In addition, for all noncounty and nonmunicipal public bodies, public notice required by this subsection shall include, but not be limited to, electronic posting on a designated State of Delaware website, approved by the Registrar of Regulations by May 1, 2013, which shall be accessible to the public. In addition, all public bodies in the executive branch of state government that are subject to the provisions of this chapter shall electronically post said notice to the designated State of Delaware website approved by the Secretary of State.

(5) When the agenda is not available as of the time of the initial posting of the public notice it shall be added to the notice at least 6 hours in advance of said meeting, and the reasons for the delay in posting shall be briefly set forth on the agenda.

(f) Each public body shall maintain minutes of all meetings, including executive sessions, conducted pursuant to this section, and shall make such minutes available for public inspection and copying as a public record. Such minutes shall include a record of those members present and a record, by individual members (except where the public body is a town assembly where all citizens are entitled to vote), of each vote taken and action agreed upon. Such minutes or portions thereof, and any public records pertaining to executive sessions conducted pursuant to this section, may be withheld from public disclosure so long as public disclosure would defeat the lawful purpose for the executive session, but no longer. All public bodies in the executive branch of state government that are subject to the provisions of this chapter and meet 4 or fewer times per year shall electronically post draft minutes of open public meetings, identified as “draft minutes,” to the designated State website approved by the Secretary of State within 20 working days after the conclusion of the meeting. Prior to being posted, draft minutes may be distributed to members of the public body who were present at the open public meeting. Draft minutes may continue to be revised and corrected up until final minutes are approved by the public body at an open meeting. All public bodies in the executive branch of state government that are subject to the provisions of this chapter shall electronically post final approved minutes of open public meetings to the designated State of Delaware website approved by the Secretary of State within 5 working days of final approval of said minutes.

(g) Every regularly scheduled meeting of a public body shall be held within the geographic jurisdiction of that public body. All such other meetings shall be held as follows:

(1) A public body serving any political subdivision of the State, including, but not limited to, any city, town or school district, shall hold all such other meetings within its jurisdiction or the county in which its principal office is located, unless it is school board training that has been approved by the Secretary of Education as beneficial to school board development activities.

(2) For the purposes of this subsection, a “regularly scheduled meeting” shall mean any meeting of a public body held on a periodic basis.

(3) The provisions of this subsection, insofar as they are not practicable, shall not apply to any emergency meeting which is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, or to a meeting held by a public body outside of its jurisdiction which is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public financial welfare.

(h) This section shall not apply to the proceedings of:

(1) Grand juries;

(2) Petit juries;

(3) Special juries;

(4) The deliberations of any court;

(5) The Board of Pardons and Parole;

(6) Public bodies having only 1 member;

(7) Public bodies within the legislative branch of the state government other than the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Joint Finance Committee, the Joint Committee on Capital Improvement, the Joint Sunset Committee, Legislative Council, committees, excluding ethics committees, specifically enumerated and created by Resolution of the House of Representatives and/or Senate or task forces specifically enumerated and created by Resolution of the House of Representatives and/or Senate;

The question here becomes if the State Board of Education is considered part of the legislative branch of the state government.  They do vote on regulations but I do not believe they are considered a legislative body.  The State Board did not call for an executive session yesterday and even if they didn’t, the board did not vote to convene with counsel.  This was not a collective bargaining situation nor was it pending litigation.  I’m sure the State Board will come up with some lame excuse for why they did this but I would strongly urge the Delaware Attorney General’s office to do more than a “don’t do it again” slap on the wrist.  This is two months in a row they have done this.

Many have asked where the “shall” that was changed by the State Board to “may” actually happens.  This can be found in the WEIC Addendum dated 2/11/16.

Shall

Basically, the State Board doesn’t want to stop the whole redistricting process if the funds aren’t available.  They obviously want improved educational outcomes (based on standardized high-stakes testing scores).  In essence, they don’t want to be the bad guy if funding snafus comes up and have the finger pointed at them if it all went down in flames based on funding or lack thereof.  The question now becomes if the State Board actually found a way to dance around the funding issue.  WEIC will assuredly consult with the affected districts and may very well come back and say “It’s over.”  The State Board could say “Well, we changed the word to ‘may’ so we aren’t bound by that so we are going to move forward.”  But now it is an unfunded mandate.  If the plan does pass the General Assembly and is signed by Governor Markell and funding stops from the state budget, the local districts would be on the hook to fund this initiative.  Christina and Red Clay can not afford that.  The State Board found a way to further weaken traditional school districts and further evaporate their finances.  They set themselves up in their own trap.  Granted, they could not do this until June 30th of this year, because that would be the completion of the approval stage and they can’t suspend the timetable until it reaches the conclusion of that stage.  From page 10 of the official redistricting plan.

shall2

As for the Christina priority school plans, their board did submit these to Secretary Godowsky a few months ago.  These are the same plans the district drew up last year as part of the brokered agreement between the Governor’s office and Christina based on the WEAC recommendations.  But in an article with the News Journal, Godowsky did not gave a 100% guarantee these plans would be approved:

The first condition attached is that the Department of Education approve a plan to provide extra resources to Christina School District.  That plan came out of the clash over priority schools in early 2015, and Secretary of Education Stephen Godowsky said he was optimistic it would be approved.

Godowsky was also optimistic the harsh participation rate penalties would not be included in the Delaware School Success Framework and two weeks later they were after he did a complete turnaround on his earlier announcement to the press.  It is my opinion Godowsky likes to soothe the moment and say what he thinks people want to hear but when the directive comes down from his boss, he is forced to change his stance.

While the whole redistricting plan has many moving parts, the State Board complicated matters even more yesterday.  Whether you agree or not with the plan, the onus was on the State Board to do the right thing.  They clearly did not and instead played political games and toyed with wording in a way that gives them a quick exit without looking like the bad guys.  However, there was a lot of media there and they came across looking like complete and utter idiots in my opinion.  With the exception of board members Dr. Terri Whittaker and Jorge Melendez, I have to wonder why we even need this State Board of Education in its current line-up.  They are not publicly elected and they cause more harm than good.

 

 

 

Live At The State Board of Education: The WEIC Vote…

2:38pm…back in session….

Tony Allen takes the stand.  Actually, it’s a chair… He will answer questions for the State Board of Education.

Dr. Gray is asking about Question #2: concerning commitments to evidence-based practices for students from now until implementation of redistricting plan…How would these best practices and services be available to all children?

Tony Allen is answering.  Said the principals are dedicated to all students of Wilmington.

Dr. Gray is asking about a commitment from the Christina School District.  Said due to a weather delay they can’t vote on the commitment until their next meeting on February 23rd.  He is now talking about the priority schools in Christina.  He said he expects the Christina board to take that action on 2/23.

Dr. Gray is talking about the $1.3 million grant application from Christina School District for their priority schools.  Said that doesn’t have a lot to do with this right now.

Gray wants to talk about the graduation rates and student outcomes for the students of Wilmington.  Brought up the Delaware School Success Framework (yawn)…

Tony Allen said WEIC is committed to an annual qualitative review of all the Wilmington schools, not just Red Clay.  He said the plan will progress every year with these enhanced services.

State Board member Gregory Coverdale is asking about the Colonia back-out from the plan.  Tony is explaining they were not willing to commit to sending their students to Red Clay but are committed to the WEIC plan.

Board member Pat Heffernan is talking about teaching and learning.  He said what they got is a summary if they didn’t have WEIC.  Tony said WEIC may not have happened if it weren’t for the priority schools.  Said that was an impasse in all of this.  Said he is not an expert on education but there are several members on the commission who are.  Tony just announced University of Delaware will be acting as a partner to help the districts, along with the United Way who will be bringing in other non-profits who have relationships with the schools.  They are committed to helping students with trauma.

Board member Nina Lou Bunting just said we are the State Board of Education, not the State Board of Redistricting.  Said the reason they have asked so many questions because the plan is going to give all this to Red Clay to get best practices and what will be coming into the state.  She said she doesn’t know everything about the plan, but is asking if it is a living and ongoing thing…

Bunting is saying “Yearly, we’re going to get a report with what worked.”  In her view it is not complete in terms of telling the State Board of Education what educational initiatives are going to be adapted with the redistricting plan.  Allen responded that the priority schools were announced by the Governor and the DOE in September, 2014.  He said Red Clay did a lot of community outreach in coming up with their plans.  He said on the Christina side, they are going through this now. (editor’s note: Christina got a lot of community input at the same time Red Clay did)

Bunting said she is hearing from several districts that they want to know where their piece of the pie is.  Said this is going to cost a lot of money and it has to be right.  Heffernan said there is a belief that they (the State Board) are adversaries.  (why would he ever think that?)  Tony said they are not adversaries and this has been an intense debate.  Board member Whittaker said he sees this as a five year plan to let other districts copy on the success of the plan.  Tony is stressing that it has always been the recommendation of the commission that all areas of intense poverty, ELL, and students with disabilities need support and funding right away.  He understands the state doesn’t have enough money for that.  He mentioned Dover as one of these areas and not just Wilmington.

Gray is saying they didn’t get an educational prong in the plan.  She said the measures and impacts are going to be what’s important.  She said the redistricting isn’t as difficult.  It is sweat equity to get it done.  She said district’s accountability or level of blame and accountability needs to start at day one.  She said they shouldn’t be having a conversation at a special board meeting to make this work.  We should be doing it anyways.  Gray is getting huffy again…  She said the odds on this are 50-50.

Tony is saying you can’t find a more dedicated coalition of educators as the ones involved in this initiative.  He never said this is the final plan and he never said this will fix everything.  He said this is building and not an end result.

Board member Barbara Rutt is asking if there is sufficient funding but no change in academics, what happens then?  Tony said they don’t want an unfunded mandate.  Rutt is asking if it could be rephrased.  Tony said sure, but the resolution is more about a set of safeguards (missed part of this, will update based on the audio recording when it’s released).  Rutt doesn’t feel it is appropriate to tie the hands of the future board (State Board).

Rutt said the letters of commitment from the districts could be tough in the future.  Allen said this is a citizen led group.  He said the results will be at the discretion of the schools.  They (WEIC) don’t have the authority to enforce this.

Gray said their initial reaction was of great concern.  She wanted to make sure they have the funding.  She wants to know what “transition supports” are in the funding.  Tony gave an example of United Way as a partner in this which gives them the ability to be an “engine” to move this forward.

Gray keeps going on about student outcomes (based on the very faulty Smarter Balanced Assessment… when is this unelected State Board going to get it?  Sorry, had to go there!).  She is saying something about July of 2017, and that is when they will see a lot of activity around the parent collaboration and engagement.  Tony agreed, as well as meeting the needs of students in poverty.

Gray is saying they won’t see a lot of convergence until that date.  Not to be disrespectful to the huge effort that has already taken place.  All the things will start to go at the same time.  Tony said right.

Quiet moment.

Heffernan wants to switch gears.  Bringing up funding.  Talking about the Governor’s budget.  Asking about local funds being collected without a referendum.  Tony is saying the General Assembly will be coming out with recommendations around this.  What they have heard from the districts is these would be operating funds, not capital funds.  He said those recommendations could render this moot, but their intention is to have the Education Funding Task Force make necessary recommendations to make this work.  Gray is concerned about distribution of funds between Red Clay and Christina.  Red Clay will get the bulk of those dollars in the initial years.   Tony is indicating this would be expanded to all of Christina in the second year and all the city kids in the third year.  Tony said all low-income kids will get these funds.  Rutt wants to know more about transition administrative funds.  Tony said the Governor put in $2 million in the budget for this purpose but it could be held in the Office of Management and Budget.  $7.5 million is needed for this, but $3 million would be transition funds.  Planning year first year, transition second year and implementation third year.  Tony said they are trying to get spec ed funding statewide before this.

Bunting is saying she wants all these programs to be going on right now while they transition.  Tony agrees.  Brought up CEO Hope and the Wilmington Education Strategic Think Tank.

Heffernan is very much in alignment with everything they have talked about.  But he is concerned about question #1 in the State Board’s questions: how will shifting district boundary lines change student outcomes?  He can’t wrap his head around it and doesn’t understand why district lines need to change.  Tony said students vacillate between Christina and Red Clay every year, around 20-30%.  What he is saying is students need district stability.  A student shouldn’t move in with his grandmother across the street and all of a sudden be in a different district.  They need to be in the same construct.

Rutt isn’t satisfied with this answer.  Said she was naïve in thinking she would get answers based on the questions the State Board asked of WEIC.  She gets the part about students and stability but said it isn’t as big a number of students as they thought.  Tony and Heffernan states these issues keep them up at night.

Conversation going back and forth but difficult to hear.  Board member Jorge Melendez said this is the first step in a long journey.  He said that everyone who is here cares.  If the State Board passes this they need to take this back to their community and be in this 100%.

Gray is saying this is a risk.  The measures of success for the State Board are less of the redistricting facets and more on the educational outcome.  They aren’t expecting graduation rates to go up 3% in a year, but does want to see progress.  They all want to serve the students in Wilmington.  She is stating they can’t have full district support without the Christina commitment.

Motion on the table is to approve with addendum to take out “shall” in terms of ??.  Rutt put a motion out to table it again.  Gray said the first motion is to approve the plan and it has been seconded.  Rutt is saying it is important to have the Christina action.  Gray is asking the legal counsel.  She is asking for a fifteen minute break to convene with counsel.

One of the WEIC members stated anyone who came down on the WEIC bus has to leave now because the bus will be coming in fifteen minutes.

Many folks in the room are talking about how the State Board can’t do this outside of public session.  Many feel this is a violation of FOIA law.

State Board is still on break consulting with their legal counsel.  Meanwhile, some of us have figured out the Christina thing.  Thanks to Avi Wolfman-Arent with Newsworks who pointed out an action item on Christina’s board meeting on 2/23.  Basically it is the district’s approval of the grant application for their priority schools.  The “shall” item is in regards to the funding for WEIC.  Red Clay is insisting it “shall” be given, not “may”, and that isn’t optional.

Okay, Tony Allen just came out of a door with Secretary Godowsky and the State Board.  Lowered and angry faces.  WEIC left the room for a quick meeting.  Gray is explaining what I just wrote about the “shall” thing and the Christina action item on 2/23.

The State Board is going to vote based on those two conditions having been met.  If the conditions aren’t met their vote doesn’t mean anything.  Tony Allen is saying the Commission leadership met just now.  He said there is a better way of doing this.  He said he expects Christina to pass their plans.  He said the “shall” thing is a significant curve for them.  He said that change from “shall” has the capability of an unfunded mandate.

Gray is saying the commitment here cannot have the State Board’s hands tied.  The State Board shares the concern about an unfunded mandate.  Tony is saying there is a concern with WEIC for the State Board to mandate Christina approve the priority school plan.  Heffernan said Christina refused to approve plans (last year) and that is what got us to this point in time.

Secretary Godowsky said he submitted a letter to Acting Christina Superintendent Robert Andrzejewski on January 21st indicating if Christina submitted the Memorandum of Understanding plan that would be acceptable.  Godowsky said they aren’t changing the rules midstream.  He said if the Acting Superintendent submits the grant application and the Department approves it.  Heffernan said if Christina doesn’t approve their plans they are back where they started from.  Godowsky said they don’t authority over a local board.  Godowsky said if they submit their plans they can do their due diligence and move forward.  Godowsky is referring to the MOU alternative plan passed in March.  Godowsky said he doesn’t know the full history but it was around replacing principals and a potential management company.  He doesn’t want to speak for Christina and say they were the stumbling block.  He doesn’t know the details around the alternative MOU.  He said much of what WEIC wants to do is what they want to do for the Christina priority schools.

And of course my battery is going to run out and I’m not near a plug…

Secretary Godowsky said he is in receipt of those plans.  Tony Allen said it is a formal response to the commitment from Christina (the letter Christina Board President Harrie Ellen Minnehan wrote WITHOUT board approval in the WEIC addendum to the State Board questions).  How can Godowsky be in receipt of plans that weren’t voted on by the Christina Board of Education?

Red Clay Board President Kenny Rivera is talking about the unfunded mandate.  WEIC is asking for a five minute consultation.

There was talk from WEIC about removing the State Board’s role in this until July of 2018 pending passage of the redistricting plan by the State Board.  This was not an acceptable proposal to the State Board of Education.

Okay, got plugged in.  About twenty minutes ago, the State Board of Education voted on a motion to approve the WEIC plan without any addendums.  It did not pass.  Roll Call- Yes: Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, Dr. Whittaker, Jorge Melendez, Nay: Pat Heffernan, Nina Lou Bunting, Barbara Rutt, Gregory Coverdale.  Then they made a motion to approve the WEIC plan based on DOE approval of the submitted Christina priority school plans and the changing of “shall” to “may” in regards to the funding.  Roll Call- Yes: Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, Barbara Rutt, Jorge Melendez, Dr. Whittaker, Nay: Pat Heffernan, Nina Lou Bunting, Gregory Coverdale.  The plan passed the State Board with the amendments.  But this is a deal breaker because the Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education voted in November that if the funding was not guaranteed, they would not move forward.  So the WEIC redistricting plan appears to be dead.  But this is Delaware.

 

 

 

 

Charter School Update Presentation To State Board of Education…Hmm…

In the DOE’s Charter School Office presentation to the State Board of Education on Thursday, there is a very interesting tidbit at the end.  They have a section called “Good News” and there are four charter schools listed: Early College High School, East Side, Family Foundations Academy, and Gateway Lab School.  What is the good news?

As well, how are the Delaware Met students doing?  Did they all transition or are some still falling through the cracks?  The answers are here.

The Big WEIC Redistricting Vote Is This Thursday: Do You Think The State Board of Education Will Pass It?

If you think it won’t pass, please go to the comments to indicate why you think it won’t pass.  If you think they will stall again, do you think that is their game plan or they just don’t know what they are doing?

WEIC Addendum Gives Red Clay Distinct Advantages Over All School Districts In Delaware

KeyserSoze

The State Board of Education will vote on the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan on Thursday, February 18th.  What they are voting on will give Red Clay certain advantages over every other school district and charter school in the State of Delaware.  The plan calls for additional funding for Red Clay Consolidated and the Christina schools currently in Wilmington that would become part of Red Clay by Fiscal Year 2019.  This funding be based on a weighted funding formula to be approved by the Delaware General Assembly (of which there is no current legislation addressing this).  The weighted funding would give additional funding for English Language Learners, low-income students, and basic special education for children in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  The money would come in FY2017.  This funding would spread out into FY2018 to the remaining schools in the Christina School District.  By FY2019, all city of Wilmington School districts and charter schools would receive this additional funding.

Hey Tony Allen and the WEIC gang: What about the rest of Delaware?  While I think it’s great you are recommending the entire state gets these funds as soon as possible, there is no crystal clear plan for that happening.  But there is certainly a plan for all of northern New Castle County.  In case you forgot, over half the students in the state exist outside this plan.  So what happens when Wilmington gets all this extra money, support and resources?  What happens to the almighty standardized test scores?  Will there be a curve for the rest of the state when Red Clay does better and then the rest of the Wilmington districts?  It will give those schools a disproportionate advantage over the rest of the state.  More funding means more teaching units in the classroom, whether it is more teachers or more paraprofessionals.  In case you haven’t checked, there are poor kids south of the Canal as well.  Kids with disabilities and many English Language Learners, especially in Sussex County.  I guess it’s okay to make them wait until FY2020 or never based on your plan.

But this goes beyond just funding, because all these organizations like the United Way of Delaware (not Wilmington) and other community service associations will be pouring support into Wilmington schools as well.  I’m not saying Wilmington doesn’t need all of this.  I’m saying ALL of Delaware does.  The problems in Wilmington schools are not necessarily unique to just Wilmington schools.  They are all over the state.  Wilmington doesn’t get to receive $22-26 million in additional funding on top of community organization support AND $3 million going to the University of Delaware over the next few years while the rest of the state watches AND pays for it.  It’s like going to a birthday party and watching someone open up all their presents.  But this birthday party will go on for three years.  And this party isn’t in Wilmington, it’s in the whole state of Delaware and we all have to pay the rent for the party while Wilmington gets all the presents.  Meanwhile, we won’t get any of those cool presents but we will be judged on the same level as if we got those presents.  And the result…

cliff_hanging

 

Tony Allen, I met with you last March.  I told you then about my concerns with Delaware special education.  I told you about the funding issues, the charter issues, and the district issues.  I told you if special education isn’t a major part of this, I can’t support it.  To date, I’m not seeing it.  I don’t see it in the plans for the next few years.  I don’t see a committee that is just about special education and how to improve it.  Even though you told me this would happen.  When Tony?  Next year?  The year after?  Or never?  That really pissed me off Tony.  You gave me your word.  That word doesn’t mean anything now.  Sorry to call you out like this, but I don’t appreciate being told something and then it doesn’t happen.

But I do see WEIC will take all the propaganda and corporate education reform lingo and throw it into their plans to appease the State Board of Education and the Governor.  WEIC swallowed the bait.  All this birth to eight crap, and birth to college.  Who do we think we’re fooling?  Wait until the Social Impact Bonds start coming out.  When students futures are hedged for the investors.  That’s what all this is about: Student Capital.

If the goal of all of this is to turn schools in Wilmington into community centers, I can’t back this.  At all.  That’s where we’re going with all this.  I feel for the kids up there.  I truly do.  My heart bleeds when I read about the murders and violence in Wilmington.  But pouring all this money into education doesn’t even address the problem.  Get the social workers out there, get the police to effectively put an end to the drug and gang problems, and get the Attorney General to clean up Wilmington.  Where are the jobs for the unemployed up there?  Where is the drive to end homelessness?  You are ignoring these crucial issues that impact education.  But what you are really doing is placing the burden on the whole state for Wilmington’s problems!  Who pays for this?  Every single taxpayer in the state.  All of us.  If it comes from the state budget, it comes from every single one of us.  But you want us to pour all this extra money into Wilmington schools while the rest of the state sits stagnant and waits?  So high-stakes testing scores can go up?  Really?  What happens if those test scores remain the same or actually go down?  Do we call all of this a failure?  What happens when the Red Clay schools show the coveted “growth” in test scores because they got more money.  It makes the schools and districts who don’t get this funding look worse.  More labeling.  More shaming.  We will prop Red Clay and the other Wilmington schools up at the expense of the rest of the state.

All of you involved with this who don’t have the guts to address the true issues here need to wake the hell up!  The biggest problem is the illusion of failure!  You are allowing the DOE and Markell to dictate the terms of success for this without realizing those terms consign every student in Delaware to their money-making Ponzi education reform buddies on Wall Street!  And those buddies are going to start betting on the outcomes.  That’s all a Social Impact Bond is: a bet.  Between a governmental unit and a company.  It’s a gamble.  Our children, all the children of Wilmington, all the children of Delaware, are pawns.  WEIC is just making sure it happens sooner than expected.

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Last month, WEIC got played by the State Board of Education.  It was out there for everyone to see it, in real-time.  But now WEIC is kissing the State Board’s ass!  Completely ignoring the fact they broke the law is one thing, but now you are going to play kissy-face with them?  It’s disgusting.  It’s appalling.  But I guess that’s the Delaware Way, hard at work again.  This whole thing kicked off because of two things: priority schools and charter schools.  Let’s not forget that.  Based on two things: standardized test scores and discrimination.  We can sit here and pretend it’s all about sixty years of Brown vs. the Board of Education, but the reality is simple.  It’s about the damn scores.  It’s what we measure success and failure by.  What the hell is WEIC doing to address those things?  You recommended a moratorium on new charter schools but many of them are increasing and decreasing their enrollment all over the place up there.  And nobody is saying boo about it.  Those charters are taking full advantage of this cause they know they have the full support of the State Board, DOE, and Governor Markell.  Wasn’t that the biggest thing to come out of WEAC?  And now you’re going to put all these students into a district that can’t even get an inclusion plan right?  While you ignore the cherry-picking and discrimination by two (possibly three) of the biggest offenders in the state, let alone America?  You have now become part of the problem WEIC.  My issue with WEIC isn’t that I underestimate them, it’s that I don’t trust them.  And please, change the name of your website.  These aren’t solutions for Delaware schools, these are solutions for Wilmington schools.  You aren’t fooling anyone.

To read all the latest on the WEIC plans, read below:

 

State Board Of Education’s Statement On Action For WEIC Plan Ignores The Fact They Took No Action

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Gotta love the Delaware State Board of Education.  Only they are arrogant enough to consider their “not an approval or a denial” of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan an action.  Don’t believe me?  It’s on their own website: Statement from the State Board of Education with regard to action taken on the WEIC plan – January, 21, 2016.  And yes, they did put a comma after January.  For a group that takes action all the time (usually to the detriment of public education), why are they now sitting on the fence?

The State Board is now in violation of the law as dictated by Senate Bill 122.  I wrote about how they were in danger of breaking the law last Friday.  As of today, there is no notice of a public meeting by January 31st on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar.  The State Board, by not taking action on the WEIC plan, has failed to give WEIC the sixty day window to make improvements in the plan.  What happens if they vote no at their March board meeting?  They have to vote by this coming Sunday, but without putting an agenda up for a meeting a week prior, they can’t have a meeting without violating Delaware State Code in regards to public meetings.  Meanwhile, State Rep. Kim Williams found some other potential violations that went on at last week’s State Board meeting.

Who watches the Watchmen?  In Delaware, in terms of the State Board of Education acting (or not acting in this case) without impunity, it seems nobody does…

To read their official statement on their action inaction taken at last week’s State Board meeting with WEIC, read below:

Major Time Change For January State Board of Education Meeting Due To Governor Markell’s State Of The State Address

This should be interesting.  The Delaware State Board of Education will be voting on the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan on January 21st at their regular meeting.  Typically, their meetings begin at 1:00pm, but on this date it will begin at 9am.  Governor Markell is giving his State of the State address this day based on the comment made on the State Board of Education schedule.

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Teachers, educators, and parents have commented many times about the inaccessibility of State Board of Education meetings given that they occur in the middle of the day when parents are typically at work and teachers and educators are in schools.  As well, this will be a very big meeting with the WEIC vote.  For anyone from Wilmington to get to Dover, park, and get to the room by 9am, they would have to leave anywhere between 7:30-8:00am depending on traffic.  I have a feeling based on history this is not going to make a lot of people happy.  While the time has not been released for the State of the State Address, it is typically in the afternoon.  State Board meetings typically don’t last longer than four to five hours, but this will not be an ordinary State Board of Education meeting.  The agenda for the entire meeting will most likely go up on 1/14/16 and I will post it here as soon as it is up.  I could picture the State Board shortening the meeting by not having too many other presentations or reports from the DOE.  I won’t even begin to guess what would happen in the event of inclement weather.  But all of this makes the State Board workshop on the WEIC plan on January 11th even more interesting…

Will Governor Markell have to change his State of the State address based on the State Board of Education vote on the WEIC plan?  Unless he plans on showing up for the vote???  Maybe someone should try to convince the State Board of Education to livestream this important meeting…

Public comment, as always with the State Board of Education, is not allowed for any action item on their agenda.  But as well, WEIC has a formal comment period which expires January 14th.

State Board of Education Having “Workshop” On WEIC Ten Days Before They Vote On The Plan

The Delaware State Board of Education is having a workshop at 9am on January 11th concerning the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan.  The purpose of the meeting is to discuss and review the WEIC Final Proposal.  This is a public meeting as it appeared on the Delaware Public Meeting calendar.  It does not state whether public comment is allowed or not.  There is not an end time for the meeting either, but the final proposal is very long.  At the December State Board of Education meeting, WEIC leaders Tony Allen, Dan Rich and Elizabeth Lockman, along with Joe Pika, presented the proposal to the State Board.  There was a lot of discussion during the meeting about whether or not moving the Christina School District schools in Wilmington to Red Clay was the best for students.  Later on in their board meeting, President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray was visibly upset about the Christina Priority Schools getting another planning year based on the recommendations of WEIC’s predecessor, the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee.  This will definitely be an interesting conversation on the 11th.  The State Board of Education will officially vote on the plan at their January 21st regular meeting.

In the plan, WEIC is asking for the state to chip in $6 million to fund the plan, which would bring the Christina students to Red Clay during the 2018-2019 school year.  Typically, the Governor of Delaware does not release the following Fiscal Year’s budget until the final days of January.  With the board voting on the plan on 1/21 and the budget not being publicly released until most likely a week later, how can the State Board of Education vote on this if they don’t know where the funding will come from?  I would not assume the $8 million Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn is asking for from the foreclosure crisis settlement fund, which he would like to see go towards Delaware’s 16 schools with the highest populations of low-income students, would be allocated for the WEIC initiative.  Though the funds Denn is asking for are similar in scope to what WEIC would like to see for this new Red Clay Consolidated district map, there are schools outside of that potential new district that would be included in the 16 schools he is requesting funds for.

On December 9th, Governor Markell appeared at the regular meeting of WEIC and announced Red Clay taxpayers would not have to pay for this.  If the receiving district of the Christina students (Red Clay) taxpayers aren’t paying for it, then who is?  The logical answer would be the taxpayers of Delaware, which by default would include the Red Clay taxpayers.

Oddly enough, this meeting does not appear on the State Board of Education website.  Any state board meetings usually appear on there in advance, but it is not known when this meeting was scheduled.  Delaware state law does call for any public meeting to have seven-day notification, and by it appearing on the public meeting calendar it did fulfill that requirement.

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Christina Priority Schools & The Weird Behavior Of The DOE & State Board

On Christmas Eve, Avi with Newsworks/WHYY published an article called “A year later, still no money for three Delaware ‘priority’ schools”.  I found this article to be fascinating and revealing.  Especially since it gave information that, apparently, the Christina Board of Education wasn’t even aware of.  One thing is for certain: the Delaware Department of Education is gunning for the Christina School District and they don’t care who knows anymore.

Last year, the DOE labeled six Wilmington schools as priority schools based on standardized test scores.  Three in Christina, and three in Red Clay.  Red Clay submitted their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), their plans for the schools, and received funds from the state for the initiative.  Christina fought it tooth and nail in many intense board meetings.  Finally, the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee released their recommendations for redistricting in Wilmington.  The Christina Board signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the DOE giving a one-year pause on their priority schools and granting them a second planning year.

The Christina priority schools seemed like a dead issue until October of this year.  At the Delaware Education State Support (DESS) meeting, a DSEA representative asked Penny Schwinn (Chief of Accountability at the DOE) what would happen to the three Christina priority schools if the redistricting effort fell through.  Schwinn responded that had been a recent topic of conversation at the DOE.  But as per several members of the Christina board of education, nobody from the DOE contacted them about the priority schools or even mentioned them until the State Board of Education meeting on December 17th.

Both Avi and I were present at this meeting and we both saw State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray’s very bizarre behavior.  Avi described it well in his article:

The issue surfaced publicly during last Thursday’s State Board of Education Meeting. In the middle of a presentation, board president Terri Quinn Gray grew so upset she rose from her chair and blurted, “I need to take a break.”  She meant it literally. Gray grimaced, clutched her stomach, and walked out of the board meeting.  The source of Gray’s discontent wasn’t charter schools or testing or redistricting in Wilmington. It was priority schools.

There were several contentious moments at this board meeting.  But for Dr. Gray it was something that should have been a throwaway line during a presentation from Penny Schwinn’s Accountability department.  The second Penny Schwinn mentioned Christina was on their 2nd planning year for their priority schools, Gray either was truly surprised or she was putting on a show for everyone to see and hear.

The State Board is presented with information for their meetings from Executive Director Donna Johnson.  Most of the time, the information can be seen by the public on the State Board website.  But sometimes, information isn’t seen until the day of the meeting.  I truly don’t know if this applies to the actual State Board members or not.  But based on attending one of their State Board retreats, I did see the information was available to them and not the public when it came to a presentation on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Now whether they actually read this information or not ahead of time, or any of the information presented to them, cannot be determined.

During a late September 2014 Christina board meeting, Dr. Gray and fellow State Board member Gregory Coverdale gave public comment and pleaded with Christina to sign their MOU.  The audience was filled with Christina board members, and Gray and Coverdale were booed and left when board member John Young was talking about how the DOE needs great leaders.  As revealed in a FOIA of DOE emails a year ago, Donna Johnson accused Christina Board member John Young of giving a speech that was most likely written by State Rep. John Kowalko or State Senator Bryan Townsend.  Both Gray and Johnson were hammering Christina at the State Board of Education.  And we can’t forget Donna Johnson’s very bizarre and strange accusation leveled at the Christina School District last summer.

Based on the last link, I filed a complaint with the Delaware Department of Justice’s office of Civil Rights & Public Trust against Johnson.  Over three and a half months later and I have not received an answer to that complaint.  No one has contacted me to clarify any of the information about it.  I did speak with Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn a week ago about the status of these complaints.  He explained to me that the new office in the DOJ is still in the planning stages and they are still sorting out what they can and cannot do based on state code.  He also said someone from that office would be contacting me in a few days.  That never happened.

In my perception, this is a very personal amount of contention against Christina between Gray and Johnson.  I do not think the State Board will approve the WEIC plan for the redistricting of Christina’s Wilmington Schools into Red Clay.  I think they are reintroducing the Christina priority schools conversation to put us back to the exact same moment we were at a year ago where the State wants to take those schools and convert them into charter schools.  The Delaware Met building is in the Christina School District.  There is room in the Community Education building for another school, which is also in the current Christina School District.

The true disconnect here seems to also be taking place within the Christina School District itself.  Acting Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski admitted to having conversation with the DOE about Christina priority schools earlier this month.

Andrzejewski, who started as acting superintendent on October 1, told NewsWorks/WHYY he didn’t know money was available for the three priority schools until early December. He said the district will submit sub-grant applications for each of the three school before the month ends.  “It kind of surprised all of us when we heard come December that there was money available,” Andrzejewski said.

But this is something the Christina Board had no idea even came up until the State Board meeting on 12/17.  And it doesn’t stop there, because Andrzejewski submitted an application for a grant without anyone on the Christina Board even knowing about it.

State and district officials say they’re working together and that both want the schools to receive money as soon as possible. As this article was being reported, a Christina spokesperson told NewsWorks/WHYY that grant applications for each of the three schools were sent to the Department of Education on December 23.

It sounds to me like Andrzejewski needs to get it together and actually speak with his board.  The board hired him so he is beholden to informing them before anything like this is submitted to the DOE.  Beyond that though, this shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation.  The DOE should have given those funds to Christina once they had them available.  Instead, they are pretending this is a big deal to give it a media push.  Behind the scenes, they are just biding their time and waiting for the pushback from Christina so they can take the schools.  And lest we forget, Schwinn herself said one of the consequences of Christina not agreeing to the DOE’s terms on the priority schools is making Christina a “high-risk district”.  Imagine if the DOE could somehow take the whole district lock, stock and barrel?

State Board President Questioning Why Christina Gets 2nd Year For Priority School Planning

“I’m totally confused!”

Dr. Teri Quinn Gray is freaking out at the State Board of Education meeting right now about the Christina School District getting a 2nd year of planning for their priority schools. Penny Schwinn explained to Dr. Gray how, because of the WEAC recommendations, a deal was basically cut with Christina to get additional time to plan.  Dr. Gray said WEIC just left and basically said they aren’t able to distribute education recommendations.  As Penny tried to explain this to Dr. Gray, she became more flustered.

“So this is a five year plan, until 2019.  Am I the only one hyperventilating here?  Excuse me.  I have to step out.”

And she did, looking like she hasn’t read anything about this in THE PAST 10 MONTHS!!!!

Penny is going over the options if Christina doesn’t get their plans in on time.  Here we go… and the war begins anew.  I hope everyone in Christina is reading this!

Melendez and Heffernan are talking about how Christina plays games.  “They did it with the Race To The Top money,” said Melendez.  “They’re getting hurt.”

Secretary Godowsky is talking about interventions Christina is implementing in the district.  He brought up the DASL reports!  He is reiterating the deal Christina made.  He is actually calming the conversation down…

Gray came back.  She asked Penny when their plans are due.  Penny said December 4th.  It is up to the Secretary’s discretion for any punitive action if it doesn’t happen.  Donna Johnson is saying the educators are great but she is laying the blame on the district and the board.  This got REAL tense.

Dr. Gray is visibly livid about this.  She wants follow-up on this…

Gray. Melendez. Heffernan. Rutt. Coverdale. Whitaker. Bunting.

These are the names of the unelected Delaware State Board of Education.  In 12 hours they will begin a meeting that will place their mark on Delaware education history.  This will be a defining moment for each one of these board members.  Anything they have voted on before will pale in comparison to the vote they will take action on later today: the Delaware School Success Framework.  Specifically, the participation rate multiplier.  This is Governor Markell and the Delaware DOE’s attempt to kill opt-out.  But they already failed.  They just can’t accept it.  So they will continue this charade of test, label and punish.  And the State Board will go along with it, because the consequence the AFWG voted on was not “harsh enough”.  Somewhere down the line, one or more of these board members will want to do more in Delaware.  But we will remember their vote on November 19th, 2015.  We will remember this one for a long time.  And if anyone forgets, I will remind them.  The day the State Board of Education chose to punish schools for parental rights.  We already know the outcome.  We know Secretary Godowsky, who looked like a guilt-ridden Benedict Arnold of the education world yesterday but still plowed ahead with this opt-out punishment recommendation, will not betray the Governor.  Every student, teacher, parent, educator, school, board member, citizen, and legislator is okay to betray, but not the almighty and arrogant Jack Markell.   This is the time when we see if predetermined outcomes will clear the way for rational thought.  This is the State Board’s moment when we find out if do have their own mind or if they are just Jack Markell’s unelected lapdogs.

Delaware State Board of Education Pulls Regulation 103 As Action Item For October Meeting

Finally! Something proactive! The Delaware State Board of Education just announced they will not be acting on Regulation 103 in their October State Board meeting.  What remains to be seen is if the Delaware Department of Education will submit it by their October 31st deadline to the United States Department of Education.  This is a good thing.  I can’t wait for the 148th General Assembly gets back in January.  They really need to do a top-down review of all regulations and the entire Title 14 in our Delaware law.  But parents won this one today, along with teachers, organizations, legislators, and even our own State Board of Education.  This could be the sea-change Delaware needs!

DOE’s Own Accountability Framework Working Group Slams Regulation 103 At State Board of Education Meeting

At the State Board of Education meeting today, it was a packed house as several public comments were given in opposition to Regulation 103.  The Delaware State Educators Association slammed it, the Red Clay Educators Association slammed it, Delaware PTA slammed it, I slammed it, and parents slammed it.  One parent slammed DOE’s Smarter Balanced Assessment and their obsession with proficiency.  In my public comment, I advised the DOE and State Board of Education of the state and federal complaints I filed against them in the last week.  I could have gone on, but the clock ran out. State Rep. John Kowalko lambasted the State Board of Education on their regulatory practices when the General Assembly is not in session and vowed to fight DOE and the State Board on these matters.

One parent was denied the chance to speak.  Because of the huge crowd, and a regulation stating you must sign up for public comment 15 minutes prior to the meeting, several people were told they couldn’t speak.  Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray did give one last chance to sign up for public comment, but the sign-up sheet was at the Board table, not in the hallway like it usually is (even way after the 15 minute “regulation” mark).  After all the comments ended, I advised Dr. Gray there was one more speaker who didn’t hear her “last chance” comment.  Dr. Gray refused to let the parent give public comment.  This parent is going to be sending me her public comment today and I will post it on here.

The ParentStrike press conference went well.  NBC Philadelphia and reporter Tim Furlong were there, and will be airing a segment during their 5pm broadcast.  The News Journal, Dover Post, and others were in attendance between the Press Conference and the State Board meeting as well.   I spoke, as did Rep. Kowalko, State Senator Dave Lawson, and RCEA President Mike Matthews.  I had to leave the State Board of Education early to pick my son up from school, but I will be getting updates on their discussion of Regulation 103 and the Smarter Balanced Assessment results for all the sub-groups.

Any goodwill the Delaware DOE had is quickly evaporating as no one seems to be taking their side anymore.  The House of Cards has collapsed, but I did wish departing Secretary of Education Mark Murphy good luck in his future endeavors, as did others.  He was given a gift by the State Board so he could “write it all down”, which if I had to guess would be a future book???? Please don’t call it “Murphy’s Law” Mark…that would be too much…

Oh yeah, what about the Accountability Framework Working Group, otherwise known as AFWG?  Apparently, the notes from their meetings I published a few weeks ago, did not show the true story about what went on during these meetings.  It wasn’t all harmony and agreement like the minutes suggest.  DSEA member of the group, Deb Stevens, gave public comment.  She spoke as the representative for all of the non-DOE members of the group.  She indicated that this coalition from the AFWG wants the State Board of Education to defer a ruling on this until it can be flushed out even further and does not believe it is a final product at all and needs a lot of work.

I did find out former US DOE employee Deborah Delisle apparently sent a letter to the Delaware DOE indicating the participation rate MUST be used on the ESEA mandated school report card as a “consequence”, although there is nothing on the US DOE or Delaware DOE website with this letter or language.  I just emailed Penny Schwinn for a copy of this letter.  Even if it is in there, it is not regulation and the Delaware DOE is in way obligated to enforce a simple warning.

The Oxymoron At The State Board of Education Retreat Today **UPDATED**

The hardest part about writing this article was coming up with the title.  There were so many things I could have named it.  Such as “It could have been worse, it could have been rocket ships.”  Or “Vermont and Connecticut are really going to hate Delaware soon.”  Or “We gotta grow them.”  Or “Is it still an embargo if they reveal it at a public meeting?”  In any event, I attended part of the State Board of Education retreat today.  I arrived at 1:30pm, and I was the ONLY member of the public there.  I received some stares.  All but two members of the State Board of Education were present.  Those that were there were President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, Vice-President Jorge Melendez, Gregory Coverdale, Pat Heffernan, and Nina Bunting.

When I got there, head of the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit Christopher Ruszkowski was giving a presentation on, what else, teacher effectiveness.  There was a slide up which said TEF- 5 charters, TEF- 6 charters, Freire, Colonial, Aspira.  If I had to guess, these are schools or “collaboratives” that have or will have their own teacher evaluation system.    The Rus Man (sorry, spelling his last name is a huge pain!) said Lake Forest School District believes DPAS-II is more equitable.  Rus said “Districts not using the new evaluation methods are not as successful.”  He explained how some districts get “caught up in the structure” and “the rules”.  He said principals want more high-quality data, and they are having better conversations about Measure B in the DPAS-II system.

This was followed with a presentation by Dr. Shana Ricketts.  She explained how that state trained 125 principals over the summer, and there will be training sessions over the next two weeks, and DSEA will be holding workshops over the changes in the DPAS-II.  The Rus Man explained how Delaware has the “most decentralized system in the country for teacher evaluations and goals are different across the board.”  A question came up about assessments.  Discussion was had about reducing assessments even more.  “If we standardize chemistry exams why have teacher ones as well,” Rus Man asked.  “But some are teacher-created, which is good cause it shows growth.”  Dr. Gray responded with “Gotta grow them!”  Rus man explained how “teachers need to be empowered”, “our obligation to be world-class is students have to be proficient when they graduate”, and “We are trying to ask the right questions.”  Rus man also said “There is not enough rigor.”

At this point, Dr. Penny Schwinn came in, followed shortly by Ryan Reyna, who works under Schwinn.  Actually, I should say next to her as they are both easily the two tallest employees at the DOE.  While I was distracted, Rus Man said something about “Commitment to proficiency…mindblocks….set the target, work my way back” followed by something about the “culture of the building”.  To which board member Pat Heffernan responded with “We can’t put blinders on and have no idea.”  Gray responded with “We want growth AND proficiency!” followed by “We don’t set the goal based on average, we set it on growth.”  Rus Man responded by saying “We are to be compared to everyone.  Not Delaware, not other states, but everyone in the world.”  He stated our principals are aware of this.  Someone asked if our principals understand this.  He explained how the alternative is the “same way we’ve done for 100 years, mastery of standards to grade book…”  Gray burst out that “It should be proficiency based!”  Board member Nina Bunting thanked Rus Man for the presentation and said “It was very informative.”  Heffernan said we need to “encourage principals to encourage good data entry.”

The State Board took about a ten minute break at this point.  Dr. Gray asked how I was doing, and I proceeded to tell her all about my hernia and my operation.  She explained how her brother had that done.  I asked if it was stomach or groin.  She said stomach. I told her mine was groin.  She just kind of stared at me for a few seconds, unsure of what to say.

At this point the accountability trio of Dr. Penny Schwinn, Ryan Reyna, and Dr. Carolyn Lazar began to give a presentation on Smarter Balanced.  I actually asked if this meeting had any embargoed information I shouldn’t know about.  Donna Johnson, Executive Director of the State Board of Education, explained this is a public meeting.  Most of the information was already on the state DOE website.  Lazar explained how 21 states took the field test, and 17 Delaware districts participated.  All told, 4 million students took the field test in the USA.  Schwinn explained how elementary schools outperformed middle schools and high schools in both math and ELA.  Heffernan asked if this included charters on the data they were seeing, but Schwinn explained the charters were on a separate slide.  Lazar said there was a 15 point gap between Math and ELA, but the “claim area” was only 10 points.  At this point, Dr. Gray asked what the proficiency level was.  For the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Lazar explained it is the students who score proficient or above.  That is good to know!  Next they went over slides showing how close or how far districts were between Math and ELA scores.  Donna Johnson commented how Capital School District’s proficiency lines attached which is very unique.  Schwinn responded that this “speaks to the rigor of assessment.”  Schwinn brought up the student survey and said that 7,000 students self-selected to perform the survey at the end of the test.  Dr. Gray said that isn’t statistically normed.  Schwinn explained it was not, but the survey will become automatic next year, like how it was on DCAS.

Michael Watson, the teacher and learning chief at the DOE, presented next on Smarter Balanced in relation to teaching and instruction.  He explained how we need international assessments so we can compare against India and China.  He explained how Delaware had “strong positive indicators with National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) trends.”  Watson proceeded to show the board a chart showing how Delaware compared to nine other Smarter Balanced Assessment states that released their data.  Delaware came ahead for literacy in third to fifth grade, but much lower in ELA for 8th grade.  Next, Watson gave a long talk about comparing Delaware to Connecticut with Smarter Balanced results and the two states NAEP results.  He found that Delaware trailed behind Connecticut in NAEP, but we were closer to their scores with Smarter Balanced.  I wanted to burst out “That’s cause SBAC sucks so I would expect most states to suck equally on it”, but I bit my tongue.  But as I thought about it, comparing two different states NAEP scores to SBAC is like comparing a clothing store to Chuck-E-Cheese.  There really isn’t a comparison as they are two different entities.  In talking about the states Delaware scored near the same as on SBAC, Watson actually said “Either Connecticut and Vermont didn’t take SBAC seriously or we are working harder.”  Bunting explained how in Indian River, “when state says jump we say how high!”

**At this point, Watson looked over at me and said the next slide is embargoed information but he presented it anyways.  So I can’t write about the embargoed information presented to me at a public meeting about a survey done showing that in Delaware, 88% of Superintendents feel we have implemented Common Core, followed by 87% of principals and 67% of teachers.  For some reason, this is top-secret embargoed information that won’t be released until next month or something like that. (**SEE UPDATE ON BOTTOM)

I had to leave to pick up my son from school.  I brought him home and checked my email real quick.  I did get an email from Yvette Smallwood who works for the state on the Delaware Register of Regulations.  She informed me, in response to my request they remove Regulation 103 from their September publication due to issues of non-transparency surrounding it, that they couldn’t remove it but the DOE did agree to extend the public comment period until October 8th, which would be 30 days after Regulation 103 was put on this blog!  I drove back to the State Board retreat and as I walked in I heard Dr. Gray talking loudly about parents needing to understand.  At which point Reyna pointed to a chair for me to sit in and Dr. Gray stopped talking about whatever parent thing she was talking about.

The infamous “toolkit” has been fully released on the Smarter Balanced website.  It includes a link to the DelExcels website, some other “very informative” websites called Great Kids and Be A Learning Hero.  The DOE is working with DSEA to get information out for parents to understand the Smarter Balanced results.  According to Donna Johnson, many districts are excited to get the information to parents, and are aligning curriculum and professional development in an effort to gain more awareness.  The DOE is working with superintendents, principals, social media, and their partners (Rodel).  The test results won’t be mailed out from the DOE until Friday, September 18th and Monday, September 21st.  Which is probably their way of screwing up my well-designed article from earlier today about education events this week…  But I digress.  Schwinn said the resutls will come out earlier in future years, but this is a transition year.  Johnson said “some districts are excited to dig in” with releasing data.  Lazar explained how teachers are getting “claim spreads” which are tied to “anchor data”.  At this point, it’s all Greek to me when they start speaking in that language.  The DOE is working with journalists (no one asked me, and I had already received embargoed information at a public meeting) to write articles on how to educate parents on “how to read reports and grade spreads”.  Because parents don’t know how to do that.  I don’t think parents are confused about the data.  They will be confused why Johnny is doing awesome with grades but he tanked the SBAC.  And no one will be able to present this to them in a way they will clearly understand so hopefully they will come up with the same conclusion as many parents already have: Smarter Balanced sucks!

At this point, Johnson wanted to play one of the new videos, just released Friday in an email blast to anyone the DOE has worked with (which didn’t include me, but I got it forwarded to me on Friday).  So here it is, the world premiere (if you haven’t been so blessed to be included in the email blast), of the Delaware DOE Smarter Balanced Guide For Parents Video 2015:

http://www.doe.k12.de.us/cms/lib09/DE01922744/Centricity/Domain/4/DE_REPORT_VIDEO_REVISED_MIX_1.mp4?_=1

*video may not be working, I will work on it…

This won’t be the last time you hear this video, because apparently some districts want to put this on their morning announcement! I kid you not…

This next part is actually somewhat frightening.  When asked how many hits the DOE website is getting for this, Johnson was unable to answer, but they can track the hits or work with partners on sites they don’t own to get that information.  Tracking plays a LARGE part later on in this retreat…

The final part of the presentation was my whole reason for coming: The Delaware School Success Framework.  A slide came up from the State Board of Education agenda for Thursday’s meeting, but it had attachments that said “embargoed”.  These links don’t appear on the public agenda.  There was a lot of whispering between Penny Schwinn, Shana Young, and Donna Johnson at this point, as if they could be discussing something they didn’t want me to hear.  I don’t obviously know this for sure, just a hunch! 😉

She went over the state’s new accountability system called the Delaware School Success Framework (DSSF).  I covered most of this last week in my Regulation 103 article and how much of a game-changer this system is, but I found out quite a bit of information on it today.  The DSSF will go live next month with what they are calling the “paper framework” until the full online system launches by June 2nd (a must date according to Penny Schwinn).  Schwinn said the reason they are including 4, 5, and 6 year graduation rates is because of special education students who may not graduate in four years.  She proudly said “Delaware is the first state to have college and career preparation” as part of the state report card (which is what the US DOE calls state accountability systems).  When talking about the Accountability Framework Working Group (AFWG), Schwinn stated Ryan Reyna is leading this group.  She said there is a lot of opinions in this group, and not everyone is going to agree, which makes it a good group.  She said no accountability system is going to have 100% agreement, so it took some compromising.

“Delaware has the most aggressive rate in the country for growth,” Schwinn said.  This was her explanation for the VERY high portion of the DSSF which has growth.  She said it “feels more appropriate with Smarter Balanced to set the bar high.”  She acknowledged they are “pushing it with US DOE” but feels they will be approved.  How this all works with the DSSF is this.  There is a Part A, which counts toward a school’s accountability rating, and Part B which will show on the DOE website and is informative in nature but has no weight on a school’s grade.  Part A includes proficiency (multiplied by the school’s participation rate on SBAC), growth to proficiency, college and career prep (for high schools), average daily attendance, and so forth.  The numbers have changed somewhat since I last reported on the weights of each category.  For elementary and middle schools, 30% of the weight will be proficiency, and high schools will be 25%.  For growth, in elementary and middle schools this will be 45%, and high schools 40%.  So in essence, 75% of a school’s accountability rating will be based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment in elementary and middle schools, and 65% for high schools.  The bulk of the rating system that will determine reward, recognition, action, focus, focus plus and priority status will be based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Schwinn said this is very aggressive and is “not comfortable backing down on it.”  Not one word was said about the participation rate or Regulation 103 during this presentation.  The categories were presented for the ESEA Flex Waiver last March but the weights have to be submitted to the US DOE by 10/31/15.  So the State Board has to make a decision on it by their 10/15 meeting.

Reyna talked about proficiency and growth with some scatter graphs.  “We’re really valuing schools that are showing growth with students” he said out of thin air.  Schwinn talked about the school survey parents will receive (school report card).  They are going with the “5 Essentials Survey” for the non-accountability rated Part B.  The DOE is creating a survey working group which will start next month and will include the “usual stakeholders”.  They sent emails to all the superintendents to participate, just like they did with the AFWG.  The state is holding itself accountable as well, but there was no discussion about what they are measuring themselves against.  Schwinn explained that on the survey last fall, parents liked the idea of letter grades on the school report and teachers hated it.  So they won’t have that on the report.  In news I know many will like, THERE WILL BE NO ROCKET SHIPS, TRAFFIC LIGHTS OR TROPHIES on the Delaware School Success Report sent to parents.  There was a lot of discussion about design and different ideas.  Heffernan said DOE can tell parents “It could have been worse, it could have been rocket ships.”

Schwinn explained on the online report, parents will be able to map and graph data.  As an example, Dr. Gray said if a parent is looking for a school that has choir, they will be able to find that, to which Schwinn agreed.  Schwinn said “accountability is intended to be a judgment on a school.  But we want to make sure parents see other data as well.”  Schwinn said they WILL TRACK THE INFORMATION PARENTS SEARCH FOR ON SCHOOLS to see if they can let schools or districts know about needs in their area.  Or at least that’s what she said.

Schwinn had to leave to “feed her family” and Reyna took over.  They are resetting assessment targets for the state and each subgroup which must be done by 1/31/16.  At this point, the next slide Reyna presented had embargoed information at a public meeting (just love saying that!).  So I cannot, by threat of force or violence, tell you that the overall state proficiency for SBAC was a little over 51% and for the overall subgroups, it was 38.8% for SBAC.  But here is the real kicker.  Delaware has to pick their choice to hold the state accountable.  With a six year plan, the state must close the proficiency gap between the overall sub-groups (including low-income, students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and minorities) by 50% in six years.  This is what Delaware DOE wants.  Other choices were all schools are 100% proficient by 2019-2020, or “any other method proposed by state that is educationally sound and results in ambitious but achievable Annual Measurable Objectives for all schools and subgroups.”

Pat Heffernan was not a fan of DOE’s choice because of the impact on students with disabilities.  He even made a comment about how they won’t reach this goal either.  It was discussed how ALL students will be included in this state accountability rating.  The infamous “n” number won’t apply (when students are below 15 at a school in a sub-group, they are NOT counted towards the individual school’s accountability) on this state system since ALL students that are in a sub-group will be included in the state’s rating.  But students will not be double-counted.  So for example, an African-American student with disabilities will only count towards one of those sub-groups.  The DOE must increase the 38.8% for the sub-groups to 45% in six years to meet the state rating with the US DOE.

And with that, the meeting ended since they had already run over time for the meeting, and they used a room at the Duncan Center in Dover.

UPDATED, 9/17/15, 9:34pm: Michael Watson from the Delaware DOE spoke with me at the State Board of Education meeting during a break.  He informed me the slide he presented to me at the State Board Retreat was NOT embargoed information, but the name of the upcoming report is.  Since I didn’t remember it, it’s a non-issue but I do appreciate him letting me know.  As for Ryan Reyna, that’s another story.