Big Year For Charter Renewals Coming: Academia Antonia Alonso, Early College High School, First State Montessori, Sussex Academy & Thomas Edison

Five Delaware charter schools will go through their charter renewal process next Fall.  The Delaware Department of Education’s Charter School Office had what I am sure was a huge task of sending out reports to the schools.  Academia Antonia Alonso, Early College High School, First State Montessori Academy, Sussex Academy, and Thomas Edison Charter School are all up for renewal.  With any charter school renewal, the DOE goes through everything: Academics, Financial, and Organizational.  No stone is left unturned.  With five charters and all three Delaware counties represented in these renewals, the public hearings will be everywhere.  But it looks like the Charter School Office has planned ahead and scheduled different public hearings on different days.  Last year, there was only one charter school (Academy of Dover) that went through the renewal process.  There would have been two but Prestige Academy opted to close their doors at the end of this school year.

In reviewing the below renewal reports and the charter schools responses to those reports, I didn’t have any alarm bells going off.  I do have concerns about the demographics of two of these schools, First State Montessori Academy and Sussex Academy.  At least one of these schools has some financial issues that seem to have flown under the radar for a long time now.  Hopefully more will come out during this process.  And one of them, I strongly suspect but can’t prove…yet, has a secret going all the way back to the origin of their school…

Here are all the schools renewal reports from the Charter School Office, their responses, and the timeline issued by the Charter School Office for this mammoth process:

Academia Antonia Alonso:

Early College High School

First State Montessori Academy

Sussex Academy

Thomas Edison Charter School

Charter School Renewal Timeline:

 

Look For New Charter Schools In Delaware For The 2018-2019 School Year

The Delaware charter school train is back on the schedule.  The Delaware Department of Education is accepting applications for new charter schools.  The moratorium on new charter school applications will be lifted once the DOE finished the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities strategic plan.  The committee coming up with this has one more meeting (tentatively scheduled for 12/19) and the strategic plan will come out.  Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman hinted at the meeting last week that the DOE anticipates at least two new charter school applications.

While this doesn’t mean these charters will get past the application phase, it means the machine is revving its engines again.  No new charter schools have been approved for Delaware since the very crazy Spring of 2014 when the State Board of Education was handing out charters like they were candy.  The ramifications of their carelessness and haste caused two charters to close.  Delaware Met closed less than six months after they opened and Delaware STEM Academy never even opened.

Meanwhile, the settlement between the Christina School District and 15 charter schools will set precedent that all charters will get more money from the tuition tax if they are implementing special education with fidelity.  Say what you will about the settlement, but this will provide greater oversight of special education in Delaware charter schools.  In my eyes, greater oversight is needed for ALL Delaware schools.

Will Delaware STEM Academy make another attempt at a new school?  Last Spring, the school underwent a formal review due to low enrollment for their opening.  This resulted in the State Board of Education taking their charter back.  Will the Mapleton Charter School try to come back in some form in some town?  Last year they submitted a modification to open up a charter school in Dover instead of at Whitehall (a new development in the Middletown area) but rescinded the request and handed their charter back to the DOE.

In my opinion, Wilmington is still saturated with charter schools.  More is not the answer at all for that city.  Sussex County, with only one charter school, would be my best guess for the next wave of Delaware charters.  The way Kendall Massett kept giving comment at the above strategic plan meetings about Sussex districts collaborating to meet programs they couldn’t do on their own tells me the Delaware Charter Schools Network really wants more charters in lower Delaware.

We shall see who applies this year.  At this point, no applications have been uploaded on the DOE website, but give it time!

2016 Delaware Charter School Inspection Shows Severe Lack Of Transparency

MOTCharterSchool

Many Delaware charter schools failed a recent inspection on financial, organizational, and governance transparency.  No charter school received a perfect score on this inspection.  The ones who failed did so miserably.

Delaware law is very clear about what charter schools are required to do.  Other public meeting laws in Delaware, which have been supported through legal opinions on FOIA complaints, are very clear as well.  Last night, I went through every single charter school website to look for eight things: Their monthly financial information was up to date (July 2016), they posted their last annual audit (2015), they posted their IRS 990 Tax Form (as a non-profit), they posted their board agenda for their most recent meeting, they posted their board minutes (based on when they had their last meeting and were able to approve those minutes), they put an agenda up for their Citizens Budget Oversight Committee, they put up the minutes for their CBOC meetings, and a Delaware Department of Education representative was present at those CBOC meetings.

Most of the Delaware charter schools failed this inspection.  One of them (considered to be a very successful charter school) didn’t pass any category.  Some charter schools feel as though they don’t have to meet during the summer and prepare for the new school year.  There was no charter school that received a perfect score.  I understand things slow down in the summer, but not meeting is inexcusable in my book.  Some charters need to do a lot of work on their websites.  Hunting and pecking to find information is not in the vein of transparency.

The most disturbing aspect is the apparent lack of oversight coming from the Delaware Department of Education.  More specifically, the Charter School Office.  They may monitor the charters, and I’m glad a DOE representative is attending most of their CBOC meetings, but where is the public transparency of that monitoring?  Jennifer Nagourney worked very hard to get this aspect turned around with charters.  I would hate to see her hard work disappear.

The way CBOC laws are written, quarterly meetings are okay.  But some charters meet monthly.  I’m not going to dink you if you don’t meet every single month.  I think districts and charters should have monthly CBOC meetings.  A quick note about IRS 990 tax filings: these can vary on the tax year.  If a school had their 2014 return on there, I counted them as being in compliance.  If it was older or they didn’t have any tax filings on their website, they got hit.  This is required by law.  Only one charter school in Delaware is not required to file a 990: Newark Charter School.  I don’t agree with it.

*This article has been updated to include Great Oaks Wilmington which was inadvertently left out of the original article.

Academia Antonia Alonso

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: FY2012

Board Agenda: 7/27/16

Board Minutes: June 2016

CBOC Agenda: June 2016

CBOC Minutes: June 2016

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Academy of Dover

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: FY2014

Board Agenda: 8/25/16

Board Minutes: June 2016

CBOC Agenda: 8/25/16

CBOC Minutes: June 2016

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Campus Community School

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: None (searched, said “access denied”)

Board Agenda: 8/30/16

Board Minutes: June 2016

CBOC Agenda: 8/30/2016

CBOC Minutes: 5/5/2016

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Charter School of Wilmington

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: None

Board Agenda: 8/16/16

Board Minutes: June 2016 (no meeting in July)

CBOC Agenda: 5/18/16

CBOC Minutes: 5/18/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: None

Board Agenda: none (has standard agenda)

Board Minutes: June 2016 (no meetings in July or August)

CBOC Agenda: May 2016

CBOC Minutes: April 2016

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Delaware Design-Lab High School

Financials: May 2016

Yearly Audit: n/a

990: n/a

Board Agenda: 8/22/16

Board Minutes: 5/26/16

CBOC Agenda: None

CBOC Meeting: 4/25/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Delaware Military Academy

Financials: 6/30/16

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: None (no search button on website)

Board Agenda: 6/27/16

Board Minutes: 5/23/16 (states no meetings in July or August)

CBOC Agenda: None (has standing agenda)

CBOC Minutes: June 2016

DOE Rep: No

 

Early College High School

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: FY2014

Board Agenda: 8/25/16

Board Minutes: 4/28/16      

CBOC Agenda: 7/21/16

CBOC Minutes: 4/28/16 (states no quorum at May & June Mtgs)

DOE Rep: Yes

 

EastSide Charter School

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: None

Board Agenda: 8/17/16

Board Minutes: 6/16/16

CBOC Agenda: 7/26/16

CBOC Minutes: 7/26/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Family Foundations Academy

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: FY2012

Board Agenda: 7/27/16

Board Minutes: 6/16/16

CBOC Agenda: 7/25/16

CBOC Minutes: 4/26/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

First State Military Academy

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: n/a

990: n/a

Board Agenda: 8/23/16

Board Minutes: 7/26/16

CBOC Agenda: 6/24/16

CBOC Minutes: 6/24/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

First State Montessori Academy

Financials: 2/29/16

Yearly Audit: None

990: None

Board Agenda: 9/1/16

Board Minutes: 5/26/16

CBOC Agenda: None (Standard Agenda)

CBOC Minutes: 5/19/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Freire Charter School of Wilmington

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: n/a

990: n/a

Board Agenda: 8/17/16

Board Minutes: 6/16/16

CBOC Agenda: 6/20/16 (noted August mtg canceled)

CBOC Minutes: 6/20/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Gateway Lab School

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2014

990: None

Board Agenda: 8/16/16

Board Minutes: 5/24/16

CBOC Agenda: 7/19/16

CBOC Minutes: 2/16/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Great Oaks Wilmington

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: n/a

990: n/a

Board Agenda: 7/27/16 (schedule shows 8/22 board meeting, no agenda)

Board Minutes: 7/27/16

CBOC Agenda: None (shows area for this but none listed)

CBOC Minutes: None (shows area for this but no minutes listed)

DOE Rep: None

 

Kuumba Academy

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2014

990: None

Board Agenda: 5/12/16

Board Minutes: 5/12/16 (states no meeting held in June)

CBOC Agenda: 7/12/16

CBOC Minutes: 7/12/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Las Americas Aspiras Academy

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: FY2014

Board Agenda: 8/25/16

Board Minutes: 5/26/16

CBOC Agenda: 8/22/16

CBOC Minutes: 6/20/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

MOT Charter School

Financials: None

Yearly Audit: None

990: None

Board Agenda: 6/14/16

Board Minutes: 5/25/16 (June Mtg. Canceled)

CBOC Agenda: None

CBOC Minutes: None

DOE Rep: None

*website states for further information to call the business office

 

Newark Charter School

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: not required

Board Agenda: 8/16/16

Board Minutes: 7/19/16

CBOC Agenda: 5/17/16

CBOC Minutes: 5/17/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Odyssey Charter School

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: FY2011

Board Agenda: 8/17/16

Board Minutes: 6/21/16

CBOC Agenda: 7/20/16

CBOC Minutes: 6/26/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Positive Outcomes

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: FY2014

Board Agenda: 7/20/16

Board Minutes: 5/18/16 (no meeting in June)

CBOC Agenda: 7/20/16

CBOC Minutes: 7/20/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Prestige Academy

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: None

Board Agenda: 8/16/16

Board Minutes: 7/19/16

CBOC Agenda: 8/16/16

CBOC Minutes: 2/16/16

DOE Rep: None

 

Providence Creek Academy

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: None

Board Agenda: 8/23/16

Board Minutes: 7/26/16

CBOC Agenda: 8/18/2016

CBOC Minutes: 8/18/2016

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Sussex Academy

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: FY2014

Board Agenda: 7/27/16

Board Minutes: 6/15/16 (no August meeting)

CBOC Agenda: 5/17/16

CBOC Minutes: 5/17/16 (says next meeting won’t be until October)

DOE Rep: None

 

Thomas Edison Charter School

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: None

Board Agenda: 8/15/16

Board Minutes: 7/18/16

CBOC Agenda: 9/14/16

CBOC Minutes: 3/2/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Charter schools are public schools.  You set some autonomy based on how the laws are written.  But you still have to adhere to the law.  You don’t live in a separate bubble in Delaware.  On one hand, charters beg to be treated the same, and on the other, they beg to be treated different because of that “autonomy”.  I don’t buy the excuse that any single charter school in this state doesn’t know about these requirements.  If you open a bank, you better believe that bank looks into all of the operating laws they have to adhere to.

These inspections didn’t even get into the meat of your board minutes.  A lot of you feel you don’t really have to give any detail.  Some of your CBOC meetings don’t list which members are community representatives.  I gave many of you bad scores if you haven’t had a CBOC meeting in over three months.  Even if you don’t have a quorum, you still have to post minutes.  And MOT… really?  Call the business office to get more information?  Just because you do great on Smarter Balanced doesn’t mean you are immune from transparency.  Last year, the Charter School Accountability Committee found nothing wrong in MOT’s charter renewal process.  They were approved unanimously for renewal without this subject EVER coming up.

I could file a ton of FOIA complaints today.  I’m not going to.  I’m going to give you until September 30th to correct these things.  If I don’t see any improvement or very little, I start filing.

There were five charter schools who I felt, even though they got hit on one thing, have made a sincere effort to be transparent: Academy of Dover, Campus Community School, First State Military Academy, Las Americas Aspiras, and Providence Creek Academy.  Honorary mentions go to Newark Charter School, Positive Outcomes, Sussex Academy, and Thomas Edison.  But the rest of you need  a lot of work.  Sadly, some of you haven’t come far when I did this two years ago and a Valentines Day blitz inspection in 2015 and then another inspection in July 2015.  Some actually did worse.  Out of all the charters that did well on these inspections, they included most of the Kent and Sussex County charters but only two New Castle County charters.  That I don’t get.  I beat up on charters a lot.  But I am getting around to beating up on districts more as well.  I will give all of you a very fair warning: record your meetings and put the recordings up in seven business days.  Kilroy may be quiet now, but he didn’t fight for the “all boards must record” legislation for kicks.  He will monitor if you are doing this, and if you aren’t… watch out!

Perhaps Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network will agree or not agree with me on these transparency issues.  But I believe, as a non-profit that supports charter schools, this should be their fight as well.  Charter schools are at a crossroads right now.  Many states are issuing moratoriums on charter schools.  Delaware did this a year and a half ago.  They can either operate as public schools or face the wrath of public perception.  I don’t believe ALL charters are like the ones depicted on the John Oliver Show last weekend.  But we all know Delaware could have easily been portrayed on that episode with some things that have happened here.  Some of the charter schools in this inspection: don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because of this article.  Know that I know things and you are on my radar.

Which Delaware Charter School Is Under Investigation By The State Auditor Now? How About ALL Of Them!!!!

It turns out the Delaware State Auditor’s office is investigating the September 30th Enrollment Counts at certain charter schools in Delaware.  Which ones?  How about ALL OF THEM!!!  Schools were notified in November that the Auditor of Accounts would be coming for a visit.  They started going to the charters the past couple months.  How do I know this?  A few charters actually told me.  But my question would be this: why would the auditor’s office announce they were coming ahead of time?  Isn’t the point of an audit investigation that it takes you by surprise?

POCS930Audit

“September 30th Procedures.”  The above picture came from Positive Outcomes board minutes from November.  All schools in Delaware are required to submit their enrollment counts on September 30th of each school year.  This determines the unit-based funding for special education children in Delaware.  If ALL the charters under investigation by the auditor, is this for their special education counts or their TOTAL counts?  This could be a VERY interesting report when it comes out!  I went to the state auditor’s website, and I saw NO reports from the last three fiscal years on any type of September 30th count investigation.

NCS930Audit

Newark Charter School already had their audit done.  I have to wonder why all of them are being investigated.  I know Delaware Met’s numbers were in some flux for a while there.  But ALL of them?  I would have to imagine if ANY charter school in Delaware is reporting false numbers that would have a huge impact on their funding.  As well, it is the law.  But if they are fudging around with special education numbers…that’s federal as well!  IDEA-B funding comes from federal coffers, and you DON’T want the feds coming after you for that kind of fraud!

 

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.

Charters Making Out Like Bandits With Minor Capital Improvements Loophole!

Delaware State Representative John Kowalko requested information on how much Delaware charters are getting in minor capital improvement funding through Governor Markell’s proposed budget.  In the past three fiscal years, Delaware charters were allowed to receive $351,857 total from the state budget.  This year, Markell has an astonishing $1,587,310 allocated for charter school minor capital funding.  This is approximately four and a half times the average yearly amount.  Kowalko is not happy about this and asked to share this letter he wrote his colleagues in the 148th General Assembly.

Dear Colleagues,

Here is the amount of minor cap improvement money spent on Charter School facilities. This is out of a proposed $11 million in the Governor’s budget for MCI allotted for all public schools in Delaware including the many crumbling and outdated buildings in Wilmington and elsewhere.  It should not be necessary to point out to all of you that none of these charter school facilities are owned in whole or part by Delaware taxpayers and every dollar spent goes to enhancing the value of privately owned facilities. Not one penny will come back to the taxpayer if these buildings are sold or abandoned. This is an abuse of taxpayer monies and an abdication of our responsibilities to those taxpayers.

Representative John Kowalko
A voice of reason in an out of control charter friendly General Assembly!
And here are the amount each charter will get.  Of course, this is subject to the approval of the General Assembly when they pass the budget.

CharterMinorCapFundingPt1

CharterMinorCapFundingPt2

Yeah, I wasn’t too happy when I saw this either.  So aside from this surplus funding which was not part of the original charter school law but got added in to House Bill 165 in 2013, charters also get funds from the charter school performance fund, the charter school transportation slush fund, and many donations from places like the Longwood Foundation, Rodel, and The Welfare Foundation along with others.  When will the madness stop?  Kendall Massett spoke at the House Education Committee meeting last week to speak against House Bill 231, sponsored by State Rep. Sean Matthews.  His bill would require charters to have all teachers as part of the state retirement fund.  Massett spoke against it stating that the original charter school bill allowed charters to have extra flexibility from state bureaucracy.  But apparently when it benefits the charters, they don’t speak out against that…

What Is Wrong With So Many Delaware Charter Schools?

I’ve been racking my brain on this for a long time now.  If it isn’t financial abuse, it’s bad enrollment preferences.  If it isn’t the DOE praising certain charter schools, it is a lack of due process.

I think what it comes down to is arrogance.  We see that in traditional school districts as well, but what makes it so pronounced with the charters?  Charters are smaller.  When they make noise, everyone hears it or points it out.  Nothing gets some Delawareans pissed off more than seeing some charters blatantly flaunting their admissions process.  For others, it is the amount of money being wasted by school leaders and not making it to the classroom.  But when a charter has issues, hearing or seeing the leaders defend problems that are so inherently wrong makes them look rather foolish.

Just about every charter school in Delaware, since I started this blog, had one of the above issues I mentioned since I started this blog back in June of 2014.  Three charters have shut down, with another going down at the end of this year.  When things go down at a charter, we often see the bulk of the parents defending the school as if they can do no wrong.  Is it that they are blind to the facts or is the option of sending their child to a traditional school district so frightening for parents they are willing to overlook these infractions?

There are the true horror stories like Delaware Met and possibly Delaware Design-Lab High School.  Brand new charters that don’t seem to have a clue how to run a school.  And as we’ve seen time and time again, the DOE, with rare exceptions, doesn’t do anything until after that Wednesday in January when the choice window closes.  We find out what they knew all this time, and the DOE gets away with it every single time.

What are we teaching our children?  That it’s okay to send the more fortunate and the more knowledgeable to the “better” schools?  That it doesn’t matter if you go to a school that is 98% African-American?  That if you are “counseled out” of a charter it’s okay to be out of the system for over a month?  Behind all of this is the shadow of standardized test scores.  For all Delaware schools, including charters, this is the measurement over which the DOE’s judgment is severe.  Many think the DOE is too charter friendly, but when there are issues, the DOE comes down on them like white on rice.  Which is good, but had the DOE acted sooner in many of these situations things wouldn’t get as bad.

There are no easy answers or solutions to these issues.  What we need is a culture change when it comes to charters.  In the meantime, the war, yes, the war, continues.  It bubbles over into every aspect of education in our state in one form or another.

The Sokola Williams House Bill 186 Charter Funding “Town Hall” Debate: What If We Are All Wrong?

Sometimes the best conversations happen when there is a freedom to it with no strings attached, just honest questions and answers.  Yesterday, Senator David Sokola responded to a post of Mike Matthews on Facebook about House Bill 186 and Senate Bill 171.  The two competing bills both deal with charter audits. What happened next on the “debate” was pleasantly surprising.  I actually admire Sokola for entering into what I’m sure he knew could be “hostile territory” so to speak.  What ensued was very interesting.

Here is the bottom line, as I wrote in one of the final replies on this: something needs to be done to make sure the charter school fraud just stops.  We can’t have school leaders going rogue and raiding the public coffers.  It’s just wrong.  I think House Bill 186 would prevent that quite a bit.  Will it prevent any school employee from ever absconding money for personal use?  No, I don’t think anyone could ever 100% stop that.  But it is one hell of a deterrent.  There are more than enough issues with school funding in Delaware, the last thing we need is for one cent to be wasted like this.  It is criminal, it is illegal, and it needs to end.

Given all that has occurred since Senate Bill 171 was introduced last week, I would actually love to hear Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network response to this thread.  So I invite Kendall to comment on here.  This is not a free-for-all to jump on her should she take up the invite.  It is just a debate about the issues at hand.  If Kendall does take me up on this, I believe it could shed light on what the charters may be looking at for this.

In my opinion, the way charters were set up in Delaware is miles away from the present reality.  It is much more visible in New Castle County, but the whole traditional school district/charter school debate has morphed into something with both sides pitted against each other.  I will fully admit it’s something I’ve been guilty of.  But is it good for the education landscape of Delaware?  Should charters be funded separately from regular school districts?  But even bigger than that is the competition.  This need to be the best school in the state and all that comes with that.  Since the catalyst for that is standardized test scores, what would happen if those scores all of a sudden didn’t hold the weight they currently have?  What if schools were judged on their own merits, good or bad, based on something not so exact?

Our Department of Education, in line with the US DOE, certainly set up this kind of environment.  But let’s get real for a moment.  The traditional districts and the charters aren’t going anywhere.  I know I’ll probably get shot for even bringing this up, but a lot of us look at education in Delaware under the lens of how the charters affect the schools around them.  But I’m going to attempt to look at this from the charter perspective.  They view themselves as not getting as much money as districts, thus their assumption they do “more with less”.  In defense of that, they don’t have the sheer size and multiple capital costs the way districts do, so there is that.  Most of their teachers are not unionized, so turnover is most likely greater.  So they need to retain their good teachers and find ways to keep them and attract them to their schools.  They also need to make sure their enrollment stays at certain levels or the DOE will come after them.  To do that, they need to make their schools look as attractive as possible, so they need to sell it as such.  While some schools do indeed have enrollment preferences that are very questionable, a lot of them do not.  But still, the lure of charters for many parents is the escape from the local school districts who do “less with more”.  Most parents who are engaged at that level, and have made a choice to keep their kids out of a district, will certainly be more active in their child’s education, which results in more of a collaborative relationship between charter parents and their schools.  But the flip side to all of this, as those students who most likely have more parental engagement with their child’s education (not all) and  pull their kids out of districts, it has a rebound effect on the traditionals.  It can draw out the “better” students resulting in more issues at the local level for the remaining students.  This is certainly not the case in every school in every district, but we have seen this happen in Wilmington most of all.

So how do we get around all of this and work to make both co-exist?  The conversation gets very heated very quick with parties pointing fingers and making declaratory statements that don’t serve to solve the issues but actually polarize both sides into their position of defense.  As a result, we see legislators with differing opinions proposing laws that the other side opposes.  In the case of the charter audit bills, Kim Williams wins that one, hands down.  Will it cost charters more money?  Like I’ve said before, probably.  But we should have never reached this point.  It should have always been equitable for both when it comes to audits.  It isn’t now, and it wouldn’t be with Senator Sokola’s bill.  I’m not saying this cause I like Kim better than Dave, I’m saying it cause it makes sense.  There are some Republican bills I think make a lot of sense, and vice versa.  But let’s face it, the Democrats have controlled Delaware for a long time now, so their bills tend to get more press and traction because of that control.

This is what I would like to eventually see in the charter/traditional debate.  All schools, be it charters, magnets, or vo-techs, have no enrollment preferences whatsoever.  This would put everyone on the same level playing field.  As well, charter schools should be funded the same way vo-techs are.  But there could still be a problem of a district shedding students as we see in Christina.  How do we solve that issue?  Not an easy answer.  When districts do lose a lot of students, it is bound to cause financial concerns.  But obviously we can’t just close districts.  But we can’t let them go to the poorhouse either.  And when a referendum goes south, it doesn’t just affect the traditional school districts, it flows into charters that receive the funding for those students.

Finally, our legislators need to find a way to minimize the importance of standardized testing.  At a state level, not a district level where those assessments do actually help students.  I posted an article on American Institutes for Research last September where their CEO admits standardized testing is actually accountability tests against teachers and schools.  Because our states and federal government have allowed this to happen.  They set up this crazy chess match but is very bad for schools, students, teachers, administrators, and even communities.  Whenever there are high-stakes, there are also consequences.  While some are intended, others are not.  Setting our schools up to compete against each other can bring innovation, but then it becomes a matter of “who has the better test scores?”  It’s not good, it’s not healthy, and this is leading all our students into the assumption that if they do well on a once-a -year test they are actually a success and “college and career ready”.   But even more dangerous, the schools actually think this and instruction is aimed around the test as opposed to the individual student and their own individual success.  The question that always comes up after this argument from the proponents of standardized testing is “How do we measure our student’s progress?”  There are measurements that don’t have to be the focal point of everything.  But yet our DOE has the Smarter Balanced Assessment with most of the weight on the Delaware School Success Framework.

Until we can get out of this testing obsession, nothing will ever change.  If charters and traditional school districts want to survive, they should join together to eliminate this abusive practice, not to perpetuate it.  There is no stability in it, and it is very destructive.  To those who do profit off this, they truly don’t care.  As long as they are making money.  This should be something parents of students should want as well.  They may not see it now, but they certainly will after their child graduates and they find they are really struggling in college.  This is why we are seeing more students taking college-level courses in our high schools because even the corporate education reformers know this.  But what we should really be doing is focusing less on test scores and letting children progress naturally in schools without the test stress.  So by the time they go to college, they are ready for what comes next.  College is supposed to be hard.  It shouldn’t be easy.  If we are seeing so many kids taking remedial classes, maybe this isn’t a reflection on our schools but on the emphasis society places on test scores.

For me personally, I care deeply about these issues.  Because I believe the students that pay the price the most are those who need the most.  By leading all students toward these very specific goals of “proficiency” and “growth”, we are allowing students with disabilities and those who come from poverty to start at the gate with a disadvantage.  And wanting to “close the gaps” without changing their inherent disadvantages results in an explosion just waiting to happen.  I’m not saying these kids can’t learn, or that they don’t want to learn.  But the instruction they need may not be the same for their regular peers.  If the end goal of accommodations is to make a student do better on a test, then we are losing sight of the true picture.  We can’t erase a disability or poverty in schools.  There are far too many outside factors to make that ever happen.

The charter/district debate is a systemic issue, but it is symptomatic of the far greater disease: standardized testing.  We have many excellent teachers who can become even better by allowing them to flourish in an environment that isn’t poisoned and set up as a competition.  Education isn’t a race.  It isn’t a contest.  It is education.  No child learns the same, and no child tests the same.  It needs to stop.  Until our leaders learn this, parents will continue to opt out.  At greater numbers than each year before.  Because we see it and we have the power to act on it.  Sooner or later they will get the message.  But in the meantime, the reformers and leaders continue to spin their wheels looking for the next big thing in order for them to survive.  They do not care if a school is doing bad.  They love it and they will pounce on it.  They use our schools and students so they can get rich.  And their method of measurement: the standardized test.  And far too many lap it up and believe it.

 

 

Odyssey Charter School And Other “Successful” Charters Want Money To Grow

Matthew Albright with the Delaware News Journal wrote an article today about Delaware charters, and centered on Odyssey Charter School.  Delaware charter schools face obstacles to growth is the name of the article.  I think it’s funny, because many disadvantaged students face obstacles to getting into these “dream” charters like Odyssey, Charter School of Wilmington, Newark Charter School and Sussex Academy.  Their student populations always have less African-Americans, students with disabilities and low-income students than those around them.  And their cheerleaders always say the same thing: “Their lotteries determine who gets in.”  Yeah, and I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

School leaders and parents at successful Delaware charter schools say the state can and should do more to help them grow.  While understanding that the Department of Education has to crack down on charters showing evidence of financial mismanagement or a failure to provide high quality education, parents and educators wonder: If a school has top test scores, deep community connections and parents clamoring for expansion, can’t the state help?

Did Publius from Kilroy’s Delaware write this article?  If a charter school has “top test scores”, which doesn’t mean squat to me because I don’t value any standardized test score as a true measurement of any school, than they have trimmed the fat and picked the better students and essentially recruited (stolen) them from their local districts.

Albright talks about Odyssey’s latest money problems, something I wrote about six days ago.  But of course, Albright, being a reporter for a somewhat major metropolitan newspaper would get more information.  I’m just a blogger!  Should Odyssey get more money from the state?  Hell no!  Charters wanted to have it their way, but when they can’t get things their way, they call the State.  Enough.  They get more financial perks from non-profits and loop-holes in the budget to make up for what they don’t get from the state.

Charter skeptics maintain that the state shouldn’t spend a cent more on charters while traditional school districts cry out for more resources to serve at-risk students. They argue charters don’t serve enough of the kids who need the state’s help the most, and every dollar that goes to a charter is a dollar less for districts charged with that mission.

Damn straight!  Some schools are literally falling apart, and Odyssey and other charters want more?  After they have siphoned money and students away from their local districts?  Sorry, you missed the boat.  Why don’t they call the Longwood Foundation?  They are always giving away money to charters.  Delaware State Rep. John Kowalko got the Albright call and didn’t mince words:

“Until you can prove to me, and I mean show me proof on a piece of paper, that these schools are taking in the same kind of students as our districts and doing a better job, then maybe we have a different discussion,” Kowalko said. “Until then, it is unconscionable for us to be sending additional taxpayer dollars to them.”

Why would we give more money to a school that is facing this on their latest financial framework with the DOE:

The problems reported include deficits, high debt-to-asset ratios, low cash reserves and negative cash flow over the past three years.

So we give them a get out of jail free card while Christina bleeds?  I don’t see the state rushing to help them.  And the article even has Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network joining the fray!  I’m not sure when she finally figured out there were other schools in Delaware aside from charters, but I’m not sure I buy what she wrote:

“If any public school, not just a charter, is doing great things for kids, we should be enabling them to do more of it,” Massett said. “Odyssey is a great example of that.”

The timing on this is impeccable.  The DOE and Donna Johnson will be presenting to the State Board on the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities.  This is the strategy to “determine how charters operate in Delaware” along with all the other great programs our schools offer.  Another US DOE non-regulatory non-Congressionally approved “suggestion”.

During the last legislative session, lawmakers approved a moratorium on new charters until June of 2018, or until the state finishes a comprehensive strategic plan that would address how charters fit into the state’s overall public education system.

If anyone really thinks there will be a moratorium on charters until 2018, they are smoking something funny.  Once the State Board celebrates Donna and the DOE’s hard work and does their high-five party, the charter applications will flow.

Charter Update To State Board of Education Puts 8 Charters At “Tier 3” Status

The Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education will give a presentation to the State Board of Education on Thursday, November 19th.  Among other things, they have rated charters on a scale of 1-3.  These tiers will have 1 being good, 2 some issues, and 3…not so good.  The charters at the Tier 3 status are Academia Antonio Alonso, Academy of Dover, Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security, Delaware College Prep, Family Foundations Academy, Gateway Lab School, Odyssey Charter School, and Prestige Academy.  This list does not include the charters that opened this year because there is nothing to compare their organizational and financial frameworks to.  But even though Delaware Met and Delaware Design Lab are not on this list this does not mean they aren’t in trouble.

Delaware Design Lab High School is on probation following their formal review last year for low enrollment before they opened.  The school did get their enrollment up, but according to this report the Charter School Office is reviewing their budget and enrollment and are on some type of corrective action.  Delaware Met is on formal review for pretty much everything not even three months after they opened.  One interesting observation was their final Charter School Accountability Committee meeting has been changed from November 30th to December 1st.  I would imagine this is because the DOE has to face the Joint Finance Committee over at Legislative Hall on the 30th.    It looks like the Charter School Office will be pushing more involvement with parents at the charters with Parent Teacher Organizations.  Parent involvement is never a bad thing!

Delaware DOE To Form Working Group For Charter Schools & Organizational Framework

Move over AFWG, there’s a new, uhm, FWG coming to town!  The Delaware Charter School Office at the Delaware DOE looks like they are gearing to change the organizational part of the charter school Performance Framework.  This is mighty interesting, and I have to wonder how this came about.  Perhaps many of the events going on at some of the newer charters that opened this year?  Like Delaware Met, First State Military Academy, Freire, and Delaware Design Lab High School.  This could cover a lot of issues several Delaware charters go through, such as board transparency, charter heads of school going crazy with money, and leadership which is vitally needed at the newer charters.  Maybe Kilroy’s lifelong dream of having charters record their board meetings will come out of this!

Here’s the way I look at this: charters aren’t going anywhere and neither are traditional school districts.  Since charters are public schools but get more leeway for how they do things, they are also under the microscope more.  I’ve actually heard some charters say they would prefer more accountability so they can ensure they are doing the right thing and not wind up on formal review.  Charters in Delaware have had a few rough years, starting with Pencader.  I will have to assume these are going to be public meetings.  The last things charter schools in Delaware need are closed-door secret meetings.  If I know Jennifer Nagourney at the DOE, this will be very transparent.  She has done an excellent job with transparency of charters on the DOE website.

My suggestion?  They may not want to make this JUST charter related members.  Having the perspective of a traditional school district financial administrator, board member or superintendent could potentially help charters to see things in different ways they may not be used to.  And it would go a long way towards the charter-district collaboration that was discussed at the Vision Quest thing today.  Just my two cents!  Here comes the OFWG!

Call for Organizational Framework Working Group Members

The DDOE is convening a working group to review the Organizational component of the Performance Framework. The Organizational Framework Working Group (OFWG) will review the existing Organizational Framework against national models and requirements under Delaware law. The OFWG will also identify areas of potential further improvement and potentially make recommendations for future changes.  
Who We Are Looking For: A total of 10-12 participants from Delaware charter schools (may include school leaders, board members, administrators, parents, teachers, and community partners)
Time Commitment: A maximum of 6 3-hour meetings from November to February (exact times and dates to be determined when group formed)
Deadline to Express Interest in Participating: November 13 
How to Express Interest in Participating: Complete the form below:
Name *

  • E-mail *
  • Charter School *
  • Affiliation *

    Charter School Leader
    Board Member
    Charter School Staff
    Parent
    Community Partner
    Other

  • Why do you think you would a good addition to the Organizational Framework Working Group?
  • Submit

Delaware Quarterly District, Charter & DOE Expense & P-Card Spending

We are already a quarter of the way into Fiscal Year 2016.  I went through Delaware Online Checkbook and the Delaware Online Credit Card Transactions and made lists of which districts and charters spend the most.  Since the procurement card (also known as P-Card) is also a part of the total spending, I made two different lists.  As well, I put in all the major education reform companies the DOE shells funds out to, along with our state universities and colleges.  One thing to keep in mind is that P-Card spending is not an admission of guilt to financial abuse.  Many districts and charters use them for easier use of spending.  While some charters have been under the gun in the past couple years over this kind of abuse, it is not a general practice.

Total 1st Quarter Spending for FY2016
School Districts:
Christina $65,949,468
Red Clay $64,359,994
Brandywine $38,941,201
Indian River $34,451,340
Colonial $33,581,753
Appoquinimink $27,235,242
Capital $26,920,056
Caesar Rodney $25,365,753
Cape Henlopen $24,462,771
New Castle Co. Vo-Tech $20,459,061
Smyrna $18,781,120
Lake Forest $13,360,017
Seaford $12,380,371
Milford $11,056,539
Woodbridge $7,931,473
Laurel $7,513,240
Sussex Technical $7,401,832
Poly-tech $6,775,292
Delmar $3,303,696
Charters:
Newark Charter $7,513,240
Odyssey $3,820,528
MOT $2,714,233
Charter School of Wilmington $2,157,353
Thomas Edison $1,987,107
Providence Creek $1,890,432
Kuumba $1,769,796
Del. Military Academy $1,641,501
East Side $1,619,359
Family Foundations $1,615,134
Las Americas Aspiras $1,611,533
Sussex Academy $1,566,229
Del. Acad. Public Safety $1,065,013
Gateway Lab School $991,959
Campus Community $966,644
Prestige Academy $938,260
Academy of Dover $937,442
Positive Outcomes $741,137
First State Montessori $718,311
Early College High School $651,222
Academia Antonio Alonso $645,448
Delaware Met $518,340
Freire $492,507
Delaware College Prep $478,976
Great Oaks $430,763
First State Military $293,564
Delaware Design Lab $236,174
Delaware STEM Academy $829.15
Department of Education and sub-groups within DOE:
Department of Education $28,311,420
Special Needs Programs $7,414,664
Driver Training $303,940
Education Block Grants $239,953
Transportation $970,166
Advisory Council $70,974
DOE Education Expenses unless noted:
Achievement Network $69,000
Advanced Educaction Products $13,181
American Institutes For Research $2,048,269
Applied Technologies $107,480
Bloomboard $48,000
Delaware Community Foundation $93,381
Delaware Technical College (entire state spending) $11,363
Delaware State Educators Association $937,417
Delaware State University (entire state spending) $795,514
Derek J. Nino (Relay) $13,240
Double Line $95,515
Education Analytics $125,700
Education First Consulting $21,868
Education Pioneers $40,000
Empower Education Consulting $10,900
ESP Solutions Group $20,560
Essential Teaching & Learning $18,722
Evergreen Evaluation $11,700
Federal Education Group $87,725
Greatschools $15,000
Harris Mackessy Brennan $165,000
Hendy Avenue Consulting $43,900
iAssessment $49,999
Innovative Schools $618,441
Insight Public Sector $620,566
Jobs For Delaware Graduates $921,255
KSA Plus Communications $39,105
Marshall Consulting $15,500
Mass Insight $360,000
MH Miles Company CPA $66,800
Middlebury Interactive Language $26,146
Myriam Met $14,000
National Louis University $23,313
NCS Pearson $83,600
NCS Pearson (Districts and Charters) $465,428
New Teacher Center $29,962
Partnership to Advance Learning $26,000
Rand Corporation $156,136
Research For Action $100,000
Richard Colvin $18,200
Rodel Foundation $175,000
Ronald Berry $14,000
Schoology $264,588
Sungard Public Sector $948,245
Teach For America $35,143
Teaching Strategies $114,228
Tembo Inc. $85,000
The Center For Better Schools $28,000
The Hanover Research Council $33,000
The New Teacher Project $20,000
Transact Communications $14,750
University of Delaware (entire state spending) $41,111,614
University of Wisconsin-Madison $110,492
US Education Delivery Institute $20,793
Wesley College (entire state spending) $242,452

Total Procurement Card Spending 1st Quarter FY2016

School Districts:
Cape Henlopen $219,585
Appoquinimink $180,107
Red Clay $147,338
Sussex Technical $140,334
Poly-tech $81,610
Seaford $71,230
Colonial $63,021
Lake Forest $62,102
Delmar $58,599
Capital $45,762
Milford $28,486
Brandywine $25,431
Caesar Rodney $22,563
Smyrna $22,487
Woodbridge $20,612
Indian River $17,890
New Castle Co. Vo-Tech $17,427
Christina $16,715
Laurel $0.00
Charters:
MOT $88,221
Kuumba $48,971
East Side $48,349
Thomas Edison $37,808
Sussex Academy $30,137
Positive Outcomes $24,653
Odyssey $24,632
Las Americas Aspiras $20,924
Charter School of Wilmington $19,077
Delaware College Prep $12,972
Family Foundations $12,597
Del. Military Academy $12,428
Campus Community $9,942
*Academia Antonio Alonso $0.00
*Academy of Dover $0.00
*Del. Acad. Public Safety $0.00
Delaware Design Lab $0.00
*Delaware Met $0.00
*Delaware STEM Academy $0.00
*Early College High School $0.00
*First State Military $0.00
*First State Montessori $0.00
Freire $0.00
Gateway Lab School $0.00
*Great Oaks $0.00
Newark Charter $0.00
Prestige Academy $0.00
*Providence Creek $0.00
*indicates Innovative Schools handles bookkeeping for those schools
Department of Education and related organizations:
Department of Education $113,915
Education Block Grants $28,504
Special Needs Programs $24,449
Gov. Adv. Council $1,078
Advisory Council $879
Transportation $434

Kuumba, DE College Prep, Academy of Dover, Family Foundations, Providence Creek, DE Military Academy, Pencader…When Do We Make It Stop?

Charter school financial abuse.  It happens.  All the time in Delaware.  It doesn’t matter what the amount is, despite what the News Journal writes.  These are adults, playing with taxpayer money meant for students, not their own pocket.  But our State Government allows this to happen.  Delaware has no Inspector General.  Legislation meant to curtail these types of activities and lend transparency is held in limbo or doesn’t pass.  And the Delaware Charter School Network lobbies against it.  State Rep. Kim Williams House Bill 186 would allow more oversight of charters through more extensive audits.  Every single one of the House Republicans, along with the House Education Committee Chair Earl Jaques and the Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf voted no.  It passed the House on June 30th, but Senator David Sokola refused to let it be heard on the Senate floor unless it was heard in committee first.  Yet, numerous other bills had rules suspended that evening.

These schools are under the purveyance of the Delaware Department of Education and Red Clay Consolidated School District.  Why do these matters come out years after the fact after the damage is already done?  These are not elected board members at charters.  And their leaders are picked by these unelected board members.  Many of the charters websites are a joke.  Minutes aren’t always posted, agendas aren’t posted, sometimes even financial monthly statements aren’t put up.  No charter board records their meetings.  No purchase card activity is listed separately from their monthly financial statement, if it even includes that.  None of these so-called leaders have ever done jail time.  The average citizen would in a New York minute.  But we want to hold up these leaders as if they don’t walk on the same ground as the rest of us.  We don’t want to hold them accountable, but by God, we will get those traditional school districts in line.

Let me get one thing straight.  I like Jennifer Nagourney, the executive director of the Charter School Office at the DOE.  I think if she had her way, there would be many changes with charter schools.  I also believe her hands are tied by her bosses who look the other way over these kinds of offenses.  The school goes on formal review, we have the dog and pony show with the Charter School Accountability Committee, a public comment period, a formal Public Hearing, and then the State Board meets and says “Golly gee, how did this happen?” or “Why is this happening so much?”  But they put forth nothing to attempt to stop it.  But they will sneak in regulation after regulation to hold teachers and schools accountable based on a bogus assessment.  It has become a joke.  The State Board and the leaders at the DOE will kiss Rodel’s ass while they pay millions of dollars to consultants to “fix” our schools.  And the results of all these reports are always the same.

The Head of School at Kuumba Academy, named in the Delaware State Auditor’s report today sits on the Accountability Framework Working Group.  If you are not aware, this committee has the task of how to frame Delaware’s accountability school report card.  If Sally Maldonado can’t manage finances correctly and allows herself to be reimbursed for funds that are already included in her job function and her salary, can we trust her to help lead our public schools with decisions as big as this?

And then we have Delaware College Prep Board President Yardise Jones telling the State Auditor’s office “I am not following why DCPA needs to justify expenses incurred to run its business.”  While schools deal with business, the problem in Delaware is far too many “leaders” and “reformers” look at and treat schools like a business.  Children are not a profit center.  They go to school to learn.  They are not there for kickbacks into your piggy bank.  They are not there for the extra perks you get for your non-elected position on a board or your “entitlement” as a leader picked by a non-elected board.  If you want to steal from children (yes, it is stealing no matter how you slice that cake), get the hell out of education.  I have no sympathy for thieves who recklessly allow themselves to take funds that are not their own and then make excuses later.  And Delaware General Assembly legislators: you need to do something about this.  About all this education nonsense in our state.  You don’t answer to Rodel, or the Delaware Charter Schools Network, or even to Governor Markell.  You answer to the people that elected you.  The people are sick of the abuse and scandal.  And we are waking up.  Just because you get 200 emails from charter school parents after a p.r. blitz from Kendall Massett with a scripted response, that doesn’t mean passing a bill designed to fend off this kind of abuse is wrong.  It is the only right thing to do, so get off your buts and do something.  Pass House Bills 186 and 61 in January.  Stop the fraud playing out in our state.  Unless you want to join the unelected on some charter school board.

*This article has been corrected to state every single one of the House Republicans voted no on House Bill 186, not the House Democrats.   The only House Dems that voted no were Pete Schwartzkopf and Earl Jaques.

All You Need To Know About Delaware Charter Schools, Rodel, and DE Charter Schools Network

If I’ve written an article about a Delaware Charter School, Rodel or the Delaware Charter Schools Network, you can now find all of it in one convenient place.  Most of the articles are on there, but I still have some to add.  The major stories are all there.  And each charter school has their own section from earliest to latest.  Eventually, I would like to add other blogs stories about Delaware charter schools.  But that is not today!  For now, you can go to the Delaware Charters/Rodel/Vision tab at the top of this page.  Going through this, I realized it is very hard for someone to get all the information about one school in one shot.  Now you can.  Unlike the DOE, I don’t mind putting everything in one easy to find spot!

For the naysayers who say I beat up on charters all the time, I think the ones with the most articles are the ones that have been in the hot seat in the past year for one reason or another.  Most of the time it is either financial or organizational reasons.  There are many I have never written anything bad about them.  Some of had some minor stuff.  I don’t write bad stuff about the kids who go to charter schools.  I write about the adults who can’t get their act together at the charters.  I think all public schools in Delaware, traditional and charter alike, are in a tough spot with Smarter Balanced and Common Core.  The accountability gurus over at Delaware DOE and the corporate education reformers at Rodel, Delaware Charter Schools Network and the Longwood Foundation are a different story.  They are the ones putting all of Delaware’s public education students at a disadvantage with their false ideology.  At the end of the day, it comes back to two things: it’s not good for students and for them it’s all about the money.

US DOE Issues Letter To Charter Schools Regarding Spending Of Federal Funds

The United States Department of Education released a “Dear Colleague” letter to charter schools and State DOEs in regards to charter school responsibility for spending of Federal funds issued to them.  It also warns about board oversight and conflicts of interest.  Something that never happens in Delaware, right?  This page on my blog is in the process of being updated in the next few days, and it is huge!

This letter goes out on the same day the US DOE gave away $157 million to US charter schools.  But read the letter.  Count the many ways in which Delaware charter schools are out of compliance with this guidance:

Delaware Doesn’t Get Any Money From Huge US DOE Charter School Grant Award of $157 Million

The US Department of Education announced a huge $157 million grant to “improve the charter sector”.  Delaware received nothing.  I wonder why that is with all of Governor Markell’s big connections…

From the US DOE Press Release:

U.S. Department of Education Contributes to an Improving Charter Schools Sector 

September 28, 2015
 
 

The U.S. Department of Education announced today new grants totaling more than $157 million through its Charter Schools Program (CSP), which funds the creation and expansion of public charter schools across the nation.

Since the program’s inception, the Department has invested over $3 billion in the charter school sector, and worked to strengthen accountability and quality of charter schools that are creating opportunities for students facing challenging circumstances.

These grants have had a major impact on the nation’s charter school sector. During the 2013–14 school year, for example, nearly half of the nation’s public charter schools benefited from CSP investments. Today’s announcement follows a period of significant growth, as well as academic and operational improvement, within the charter sector. Educators are leading innovative, community-based public charter schools that educate almost 3 million students across the country. The Department is proud to support high-quality public charter schools, especially those that are creating pathways to college, credentials and careers for low-income students and first-generation college-goers.

“All students have the right to an education that prepares them for college and their careers, and we’re thrilled that a growing number of charter schools create opportunities for students to achieve just that,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “In particular, we are excited to see so many high-quality charter management organizations focused on replicating successful models in high-needs communities. As we celebrate charter schools that help children from disadvantaged backgrounds, we must continue empowering educators to create great schools while holding ourselves to the highest possible standards of excellence.”

This year’s state grant program awarded $125 million in new grants to eight states. The funding will enable them to run state-level grant competitions to support approximately 400 new and expanded public charter schools.

This year’s CSP replication and expansion program will invest more than $32 million in 12 high-quality charter management organizations (CMOs) that serve students from low-income families. These organizations have a history of effectively serving high-need students, and will use these funds to replicate their successful programming for more than 40,000 additional students. Most of this year’s grantees are newer CMOs who are receiving their first charter grant. They are particularly focused on educating students who would otherwise be enrolled in low-performing schools and on encouraging diversity within their student populations. Prior to today’s announcement, the CMO program had previously invested over $230 million in planning and implementing more than 400 high-quality public charter schools and opening over 250 public charter schools across 20 states.

Many public charter schools, especially those serving students in high-poverty, urban areas, have seen promising improvements in student achievement. According to a 2013 study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), the relative performance of charter schools compared to traditional schools has improved each year. The most recent CREDO study showed that charter school students in urban areas gain roughly 40 days of additional learning per year in math and 28 additional days of learning per year in reading.

The Department is committed to working with its partners at the state and local level to hold charter schools and their operators to high expectations for academic and operational excellence. While the charter schools sector has improved quality and oversight in recent years, the Department continues to be concerned about charter schools’ impact on student learning and about proper financial management of scarce public dollars. As part of this effort, the Department asked this year’s state grantees to focus on establishing rigorous performance expectations for all public charter schools, including ensuring equity for all students.

To help bring more clarity to states’ responsibility when it comes to fiscal oversight of charter schools, the Department is releasing a Dear Colleague Letter to states today emphasizing the importance of financial accountability for charter schools receiving federal grant funds. And as part of its commitment to transparency, the Department is also planning on releasing initial data on the more than 4,000 charter schools funded under CSP since its inception.

In my opinion, this is just more “cash in the trash”.  It’s a waste of money to an industry that hit its peak, but desperation leads to desperate measures.  As more US citizens wise up to the corporate education reform, look for more funds thrown charter schools way…

Comment Rescue: The Truth About Charter Schools

Thanks to commenter Lori Michelle for putting into words what the heart of the problem is with far too many charter schools.

Charter schools, most of the time, are started by people who have read about this cool educational theory or idea that is working somewhere else (sometimes even an exclusive private school who aren’t beholden to state tests and CCSS and who can pick and choose their students and expel whoever they want…) and think it would be great to get an awful lot of grants and tax money to create a “public school” in the same model. These people are usually not educators who know better and who actually have experience with real live students. Even if these charter school founders aren’t corporate reformers trying to line their pockets with tax dollars, it takes more than good intentions and a good idea to run a school. I feel sorry, first, for the students, and second for those poor teachers who are trying to teach and earn a living under an unprepared and probably unqualified administration. Been there, done that…won’t ever do it again.

Students With Disabilities & Delaware Charter Schools: OCR Complaint & We Need Your Help!

Last week, I filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights against the Delaware Department of Education for allowing a culture of discrimination against students with disabilities at Delaware charter schools.  All too often, children with disabilities are either denied an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or they are “counseled out”, meaning the school either expels the students or very strongly suggests to the parent they don’t have the resources to help their child.  Both are illegal under Federal and Delaware law.  To this extent, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has responded to my complaint and they need a lot more information.

I need every single parent or guardian who has run across any of the below issues to contact me as soon as possible.  The OCR has given me a very small window of opportunity here.  For some parents, they may be worried if this interferes with any type of legal resolution they had with a school in the past.  It would not.  This is a complaint against the Delaware Department of Education, not any individual school.  I will not make any of this information public, but it would be included in the complaint.  We need to stop this culture of lawlessness in our state in respect to special education.  It must stop.

While the below information states anything prior to 180 days would need a waiver, I fully intend to request this waiver since this has been an ongoing system issue in our state.  The Delaware Department of Education has no method by which they track IEP denials in Delaware schools.  If things progress too far, it can wind up going into mediation or a due process hearing.  But this is not an easy task for parents and it takes up a great deal of time, money, and resources.  We need to stop this problem from happening in the first place.  While far too many parents can’t change what happened to their own child, we can stop this from happening to other children.  I need your story!

If you have any information in regards to the following, including the funding issues when a student leaves a charter school, please reach out to me at kevino3670@yahoo.com.  If you are just reading this article and it does not apply to you, please share this link on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media.  If you know anyone this may apply to, please share this with them specifically.  Thank you!

Below is the letter I received from the Office of Civil Rights in regards to my complaint:


Dear Mr. Ohlandt,
This refers to the complaint you filed with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE).  OCR enforces regulations that prohibit discrimination on the bases of race, color, disability, sex and age.  The regulations enforced by OCR also prohibit retaliation against individuals who assert or defend a right or privilege secured by the laws OCR enforces, or participate in an OCR proceeding.
In order to proceed further with your complaint, we need additional information regarding your allegation[s].  Please respond to the questions below as specifically as possible. In responding to questions about your belief that an action by the recipient is discriminatory, please provide information indicating that the action was inconsistent with a recipient policy or practice (be as specific as possible), you were treated differently than others in a similar situation, and/or that members of the recipient staff made statements that would indicate dislike/hostility on the basis of disability.
 
  1. Based on your review of your complaint, it appears that you are alleging that the DDOE is discriminating on the basis of disability by:
  1. Permitting Delaware charter schools to deny students with disabilities an individualized education program (IEP);
  2. Permitting Delaware charter schools deny or discourage the enrollment of students with disabilities; and
  3. Permitting Delaware charter schools to maintain funding for students who leave the charter school after the September 30th count, but requiring the funding to follow a student who leaves a traditional school district to attend a Delaware charter school.
  1. Do the allegations listed above in #1.a.-c. fully and completely capture the allegation(s) that you wish to raise at this time?  Yes or No (please circle or highlight your answer).  If not, please edit the above allegations accordingly and/or list your additional allegations.   Please provide the following information about each additional allegation:
  1. Describe the discrimination (who, what, when (date), where, how, please list the applicable names and dates);
  2. State the basis for the discrimination (e.g., disability); and
  3. State your reasons for believing that the discrimination is related to that basis (es).
  1. With regard to allegation #1.a., provide the following information for each student was denied an IEP:
  1. Name of student;
  2. Name of charter school;
  3. Date of parent request to charter school to evaluate the Student for an IEP or Section 504 plan;
  4. Date of charter school’s denial of request;
  5. If request was denied, indicate whether parent was provided with notice of procedural safeguards;
  6. If the denial occurred as a result of an evaluation meeting and you believe the meeting did not comport with the regulations enforced by OCR, please provide information indicating that the meeting was not attended by persons knowledgeable about the child, the evaluation data, and the placement options, or that the parent was not provided with notice of procedural safeguards.
  1. With regard to allegation #1.b., provide the following information about each instance when a charter school denied or discouraged the enrollment of students with disabilities:
  1. Name of student;
  2. Name of charter school;
  3. A description of the discriminatory conduct by charter school officials, including the date;
  4. The names or titles of the charter school officials engaging in the discriminatory conduct; and
  5. Most recent date of charter school’s denial of enrollment or student withdrawal.
 
  1. With regard to allegation #1.c., please state your reasons for believing that this practice constitutes discrimination against students with disabilities, identify any harmed students with disabilities, and the date of the harm.
 
  1. In your complaint, you identified September 1, 2015, as the most recent date of discrimination.  If not already explained in responses to the questions above, please provide the information requested under #2.
 
  1. OCR will generally only investigate allegations of discrimination that have been filed within 180 days of the most recent act of discrimination unless the complainant is granted a waiver.  You filed your complaint on September 16, 2015; therefore, any incidents occurring prior to March 20, 2015, are untimely.  To the extent that you are requesting a waiver of the 180-day filing requirement, please state the reason(s) for not filing sooner.
 
We need to receive your response within 20 calendar days from the date of this email (i.e., by October 14, 2015). If we do not receive this information within 20 days, we may close your complaint.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.  Thank you.
 
Joseph P. Mahoney
Program Manager
U.S. Department of Education
Office for Civil Rights
100 Penn Square East
The Wanamaker Building, Suite 515
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Serious Questions About Delaware Secretary of Education & Charter Modification Approvals

I was told last week by Alison May, the Public Information Officer for the Delaware Department of Education, that any change in teacher evaluation is considered a minor modification for Delaware charter schools.  If this is the case, why are there no applications shown online?  The DOE website clearly lists applications for other major and minor modifications, but for Freire and the Wilmington Charter Collaborative (EastSide, Prestige, Kuumba, & Thomas Edison), it does not show any of these.  At least not for the change in teacher evaluation.

The state law is very unclear about this aspect in relation to charter schools.  The code states all schools must use DPAS-II unless they have been otherwise approved for a different teacher evaluation system.  A minor modification is a change in school practices that does not go against their charter.  Since the DOE doesn’t list Freire’s actual charter, it is very hard to see if this meets the criteria for a minor or major modification.  And still, the DOE needs to be putting any application, from any school or district, up on their website.  But Freire seems to get a pass for some reason as their original application is not listed on the Delaware Charter Schools page on the DOE website.

So the unanswered question is this: Can Mark Murphy, in one of his last acts as Delaware Secretary of Education (his last official day is September 30th), approve an alternate evaluation system for Freire without consent from the State Board of Education?  I would assume a teacher evaluation part of a Delaware charter school would be embedded in their actual charter.  And was the approval for the Wilmington Charter Collaborative legal as well?  If anyone has the answers to this, with actual state law to prove it, please let me know.  I have searched extensively for this but I am unable to find it.  And it’s not like the DOE is actually being proactive and forthcoming with information these days, unless it’s to cover their own ass.  And the even bigger question, if it is proven this is a minor modification, should it be considered a major modification?

Poverty Matters! The Smarter Balanced Impact: Delaware Charter Schools

charterPovertyCorrected

According to Delaware Governor Jack Markell, throwing our hands up with poverty is a recipe for the status quo.  As we can see in the above chart, poverty had a tremendous impact in Delaware charter schools.  The higher the low-income status, the lower the Smarter Balanced Assessment scores.  There is no hiding this.  Even the highly-praised EastSide Charter School was not immune to the wrath of the high-stakes test.  Below is part of Governor Markell’s speech he gave at the Imagine Delaware Forum in March of this year:

One of the reasons that we often hear for the struggle of our kids in the inner-city schools is poverty. And it is absolutely true that poverty presents enormous, enormous challenges for many children across our state. They face barriers to learning that the rest of us can’t imagine. And that’s why we need to do everything in our power to lift our children and our families out of poverty and to reach these children from the beginning of their lives, to counter the effects of growing up poor. And we are committed to addressing the root causes of poverty, by increasing access to the best early-learning programs, by investing in economic development and reducing crime and battling the addiction epidemic, and more. But as we pursue these goals we can’t delay improvements to the education kids in these communities receive. I, and I know that many of you, refuse to throw up our hands and say that we can’t truly improve education in these schools as long as poverty exists. That’s a recipe for the status quo, a recipe for fewer of our most vulnerable children to get the skills they need to escape poverty.

What Governor Markell seems to lack insight into or just plain ignores is the impact of poverty on children’s education.  It isn’t something “rigor” and “grit” can fix.  It’s a matter of increasing the funding to these schools, and not under the guise of priority schools or focus schools.  It means lowering the size of classrooms, increasing special education funding, and judging children based on a once a year test the clearly shows how much poverty does matter.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment is not improving education. It is making it more difficult for schools to get the true reform they need.  The Delaware Department of Education will be releasing their school report cards with the Smarter Balanced Assessment carrying most of the weight for school grades.  This is highly destructive to schools that do not do well on this test.  With the Delaware DOE and the State Board of Education pushing Regulation 103 into state code, we need parents to see how that will affect all school districts in Delaware.

This is just the first of many articles based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment and how it affects students of low-income status, students with disabilities, and the most vulnerable minorities in our state.  In conjunction with Delaware Liberal, Exceptional Delaware will be publishing articles in the coming week on this high-stakes testing epidemic that is destroying schools in our state.  This very unique “blog crossover” will paint the picture the Delaware Department of Education doesn’t want the public to see.  But numbers don’t lie.  They present facts that cannot be disputed.  Please come to Delaware Liberal and here to see further articles “Poverty Matters! The Smarter Balanced Impact”.  Delaware Liberal will be covering New Castle County while Exceptional Delaware will be covering Kent and Sussex Counties.  We may cross reference each other here and there, and I highly recommend reading what they have to write, especially with all the potential redistricting in Wilmington and the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.

A very special thanks to the always awesome Pandora and LiberalGeek from Delaware Liberal, Brian Stephan of the excellent blog Those In Favor, and Delaware State Representative Kim Williams for their assistance in the data collection and formation of the graphs in this series.  This is truly a collaborative effort on all ends, and Delaware is a better place for it!