What Will Be The Big Delaware Education Stories When School Starts?

This is entirely based on predictions of my own and what I have seen people post in social media.  But I think some of these will come up quite a bit in conversation!

Smarter Balanced Assessment Scores: These should be out in mid-September or later.  We will know what the true opt-out numbers are for Delaware, along with if the test was a success or if Mark Murphy’s predictions of 70% non-proficiency were on the mark.  Or maybe they were even worse.  If the scores are low, we will get the very Markellian chant of “C’mon guys, it’s only the first year.  There were some flaws, but we have our top people on it.  But it’s very important that we have this data so we can see where our greatest needs are.”  Murphy will agree, as will the State Board of Education, and the DOE, and the Delaware Business Roundtable, and so on and so on.

Charter Schools: there will be at least one major charter story involving financial abuse of taxpayer funds.  I’m just going with the trajectory here folks!  At last count, there are still six more reports coming from the State Auditor’s office, none of which involve traditional school districts, all charters.

Wilmington Redistricting/Priority Schools: This will be the hotbed of activity in Delaware education this fall.  A lot of the Red Clay Consolidated School District’s demands for this will be adequate funding.  But with the state not even giving Red Clay the promised priority school amounts, will Red Clay be willing to take a chance like this?  And will Christina, already having many financial issues, be willing to just give up all their Wilmington schools?  Will any 3rd parties enter the landscape?

Opt-out/Refuse The Test Delaware: This could go either way.  People want the General Assembly to override Markell’s veto of House Bill 50.  But they are still very angry about the veto.  Will the release of SBAC scores cause more parents to join the Refuse crowd?  And will the Refuse crowd get a bit more aggressive when the stories start about schools bullying parents?

Christina School District: Anything can happen here.  Add some board turmoil, a Superintendent review, funding cuts, teacher layoffs and whatever else comes down the pike, and this will be a cauldron of controversy.  Can the district unite and come together to blaze a new and daring path?

Delaware DOE: They are going to do something that makes people upset.  It’s what they do and it comes with the territory.  But with everything they did in the past year, will the School Accountability Report Card push districts to the edge?

Rodel/Vision 2099/etc.: They will announce a brand new marketing push to help get the students of Delaware where they need to be in the next ten years.  For the weeks following this, we will hear numerous people saying “didn’t they just do this last year?”

ESEA Reauthorization: The U.S. House and Senate will come together and go back and forth adding and subtracting from a joint bill.  Will opt-out still be in play?  How much power will the US DOE lose at the end of the day?  Will the compromises not really change much at all?  And whatever happens, will President Obama even sign it?

Markell & News Journal Education Article: My Spin On This & The Two Words Not Mentioned By Anyone

The Delaware News Journal had an article about Governor Markell and education as a front-pager today.  Some of the comments certain folks made were very shocking while others had the usual drivel coming from their education reform views.  What nobody talked about was special education in Delaware.  While the DOE reports about 13% of students having IEPs in Delaware, I’m going to say as many as 20% should have an IEP.  So with 1/5th of Delaware students not even being mentioned in an article on Delaware education is insulting.  Even though my estimate of an IEP population of 20% is high, I would definitely say it affects over 50% of education in Delaware.  Read on as I go through this article part by part with some cold hard reality.

After years of pushing education reforms in Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell is facing a revolt in the General Assembly.

You are also facing a revolt from parents and teachers.  We are sick of all of this.  Especially parents of special needs children.  While you think you are helping, you are making it worse for our children.

Lawmakers, including many from his own party, have little faith Markell’s Department of Education knows what everyday educators think is the best way to improve schools. They are skeptical the $119 million federal Race to the Top grant, one of Markell’s signature education achievements, has done any lasting good.

Markell’s signature education achievement was using $59 million to beef up the DOE with high-paid employees and contract after contract with little or no results.  And it keeps going on.  In the month of May, the DOE has put up seven proposals for “professional services” because they don’t know how to do the work themselves.

Legislators are sending a clear message that they need to more actively make policy on behalf of classroom teachers and district leaders, rather than approving a top-down state agenda led by Markell and his education secretary, Mark Murphy.

But there are still some very tricky legislators who still bow to the Emperor.  Unfortunately, they run the education committees for the House and the Senate.  How long until their house of cards crumbles?

“It’s not just the representatives and the senators who are having problems with the way things are going, it’s parents, it’s teachers, it’s people on the local level,” said Rep. Kim Williams, D-Newark. “There are loud voices out there saying, ‘We’re done. We’re tired of being told how to teach and how to run our schools.’ “

Amen Kim!  No one should be afraid to stare Markell dead in the eye and say “You are wrong!”  It is also parents who have less to fear about speaking up.  Those of us who are screaming at the DOE and Markell are not easily intimidated or fooled.

Markell acknowledges he and Murphy are taking heat for some of their proposals.

Now this is the understatement of the year…  You and Murph are taking heat, but it isn’t for some of your proposals.  It’s for about 90% of them.  And the only reason we aren’t tackling the other 10% is because we haven’t found the catch in those yet.

He contends the education system is improving, pointing to a steadily declining dropout rate, a growing number of students taking and passing Advanced Placement and college-level classes, more low-income students in highly-rated preschool programs and more students applying to college.

I’ll give you a sort-of pass on this.  I question the validity of some of these numbers.  What I can say is homeschooling in Delaware has never been higher.  These are mostly special needs children.  What does that say about special education in Delaware when parents reach such a high level of anxiety and don’t feel the public school system in Delaware can provide a Free Appropriate Public Education for their children?  This will go down as your greatest failure.  While you are trying to “improve” the lives of these children, they have been drop-kicked out of the rights they are legally entitled to.  We have so many denied IEPs, schools openly violating IDEA law, and “counseling out” going on in charters, and no one on your staff is addressing these issues.

“It’s no surprise to me that there’s some controversy and angst over some of the things we’ve done,” Markell said. “But the results speak for themselves. And I’m more concerned about results than I am about what people think about me.”

No matter who pays the price, right?  And I don’t buy for one iota of a second that you don’t care what people think of you.  You and I both know this to be true.  Don’t try to play the “I’m going to take the high road on my actions now” card cause you aren’t fooling anyone.  Everything you have done with education in Delaware has been to serve YOUR future and those of your corporate education reform buddies.

A bill strongly opposed by Markell that would let parents pull their kids out of standardized tests sailed almost unanimously through the State House of Representatives, and several other bills aimed squarely at reducing the authority of the Department of Education are in the works. Budget-writing lawmakers slashed in half a request to continue Race to the Top initiatives and balked at a request to pick up the tab for 10 department positions paid for in the grant.

I am appreciative of what these legislators did, but the DOE doesn’t need a budget increase, they need an audit and an accountability of every single penny they have spent.  Those who have squandered taxpayers funds need to be sent packing.

“I think there’s frustration among parents and educators and students that education policies don’t seem to be based on feedback coming from the classroom,” said Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark. “I think also though that now is a natural time for us to take a step back and re-assess what we’re doing. Race to the Top has naturally come to an end, and I think we’re at a point where the question is, what’s next?”

Massive improvement Senator Townsend!  We need to take an excruciatingly hard look at special education in Delaware.  We need to find out why a student was kicked at a charter school by a special education teacher.  We need to find out why, as of a year ago, there were 60-70 pending special education lawsuits and only a handful of due process hearings.  We need to know why the DOE wants to write Common Core into IEPs without having the ability to fix the IEPs that are already out there.  We need to find a way for parents, teachers, and school districts to effectively collaborate with special education and stop the battleground mentality.  Why are these children and their parents being put through the wringer while the DOE and school districts think they know best?  This philosophy is a dying breed, but no one is listening.

The challenge, Townsend argues, is moving in a new direction without abandoning some of the good things that have happened in schools.  “It’s about our educators who are very justifiably tired of yet another iteration of education reform, but it’s also the business community that sees a lot of progress and wants to see some accountability,” Townsend said. “It’s parents who are trying to be involved in the process. I’m worried that, whatever the next steps are, that people are going to view them as just another round.”

Then my suggestion would be to invite more of them to the table.  The biggest problem with Markell’s policies is they are approved with little or no oversight, and then parents and teachers are invited to rate them with pre-determined results.  As well, the amount of lobbying by companies like Rodel and the Delaware Charter School Network needs to stop.  And yes, I will throw this in there as well, DSEA as well.  Here is a novel idea: parent lobbyists.  They are the most important.  We also do that little thing called VOTING!!!!

There is no better symbol of lawmakers’ willingness to buck Markell’s will than House Bill 50, which would explicitly allow parents to “opt out” of the statewide standardized test.  Markell says that’s a bad idea because the state needs good test-score data to make smart policy, especially when it comes to closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students.

If the state needs “good test-score data” then what the hell are we doing with the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  And enough about the achievement gap.  The only gap I want to see closed is the one between your upper and lower lip when it comes to education.  The only “smart” policy going on right now is parents exercising their rights when it comes to the educational outcomes of their children.

But when the House took up the opt-out bill, sponsored by firebrand Markell critic Rep. John Kowalko, only three representatives out of 41 voted against it.  That’s a massive margin in a Democrat-controlled chamber for a bill that a Democratic governor has so strenuously protested.  “I was frankly stunned by the margin,” Kowalko said. “That hasn’t happened before.”  Kowalko, who has fiercely criticized Markell in previous years, believes there is a “new awakening” where lawmakers are starting to look more critically at what the executive branch proposes.  Lawmakers say they voted for the bill because they routinely hear from teachers and parents that Delaware tests students too much and stakes too much on the results.

It was also about hundreds of parents actually opting out and emailing the legislators.  It was a wake-up call for the legislators that said “we vote for you and the power we give you we can easily take away.”  This is something folks like Earl Jaques, Michael Barbieri, Timothy Dukes and David Sokola don’t understand.  I don’t buy the whole idea that lawmakers voted yes on HB50 cause they heard from parents their children were being tested too much.  That was the same rationale they used to pass House Bill 334, which allowed Smarter Balanced to officially infest our lives.  I think it was them actually listening to parents and realizing Smarter Balanced is a horrible test.

The Delaware Parent-Teacher Association and the Delaware State Education Association union both urged lawmakers to vote yes.

I would definitely say the Delaware PTA urged lawmakers to vote yes.  They came through hitting grand slams left and right.  DSEA…maybe a bunt here and there.  I see the DSEA’s contribution as being a bit sheepish.  They kind of sort of supported it, but they could have done a lot more.  Look at the New Jersey unions.  They put up billboards and videos all over the place.  That is the kind of support I would have liked to see from the DSEA.  Instead we got the “time to teach, time to learn” videos without once even mentioning parent opt-out.  If that’s the full pressure DSEA can use to support a bill as important as House Bill 50, it’s obvious new leadership is needed.

Markell has acknowledged the concerns over testing, and the Department of Education is reviewing tests to see if any extraneous ones can be eliminated. But Markell says he isn’t backing away from the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the state test that teachers complain is overused in judging students, teachers and schools.

Albright and Starkey, you keep talking about the teachers.  What about the parents?  That’s what House Bill 50 is about.  You are both making the SAME mistake Markell and the DOE keep making: underestimating the will and resolve of parents to protect their kids.

Markell has not said whether he will sign the opt-out legislation if it clears the Senate and reaches his desk. If not, it would not be the first time Markell has wielded his veto pen.  But the governor, working throughout his term with a Democrat-controlled General Assembly, has not found himself in that position much.  Markell has vetoed just 13 pieces of legislation since 2009. And he has never vetoed a bill related to education.

I heard the WDEL interview with Rick Jensen, and when Markell was asked if he would veto House Bill 50 if it came to his desk, there was a distinct “yeah”.  It might have been edited out, but it was there.  I heard it, and so did others.  I hope he realizes if he does veto it, parents will haunt him as long as he holds any semblance of power in Delaware.

The other major education legislation this year would redistrict Wilmington schools and create a weighted funding formula to students. The Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, led by Bank of America Executive Tony Allen, has led the charge for those changes.  Though Markell created the Committee, it has operated independently of the governor and the Department of Education.

Nothing operates independently of Markell and the DOE.  And throw in Rodel there for good measure.  I’ve met Tony Allen, and he’s a great guy.  But I have to wonder what the grand picture is here.  The timing on this was a little too perfect…

Markell supports those bills. But he said his primary focus right now is making sure some of the programs he thinks are most important and have already passed the legislature — higher academic standards and more access to good preschool, for example — grow and are implemented well.  “I don’t have any big new bills that I’ve spent a lot of time on, for sure,” he said. “We’ve started a lot of big things. So a lot of it is not necessarily legislative in nature at this point.”

Except holding the DOE accountable for their actions during your reign.  I can see why you wouldn’t be a big supporter of those bills.  You will sign anything that gets your agenda going, but if it doesn’t you make a few phone calls and get bills stalled or killed.

Legislators are taking steps to shrink the size and power of the Department of Education, which many school district educators believe has grown too powerful under Race to the Top and Markell’s tenure.  There were signs this would be a tough legislative session for the Department well before HB 50.  Near the start, lawmakers grilled Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and senior Department of Education staffers for hours, both in the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee and the House Education Committee.  “You may have a view of the wonderful things Race to the Top has done, but the public does not appear to share that view,” said Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley.  During legislative budget meetings last week, lawmakers expressed concerns with Markell’s education policy, and voted to cut by half the governor’s $7.5 million plan to fund high-paid positions in the Department and programs previously covered by the Race to the Top.  “I can’t support this spending, this continually throwing money at something that’s not working,” said Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel. “It’s just a poor investment. I don’t think anyone in this room, at this table, would put money into it out of their own pocket. I’m very disappointed in what I’m seeing from the top.”  Members of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee took extra steps to show they had little confidence in Markell’s education bureaucracy to use the money as intended.  They moved most of the remaining appropriations, more than $3 million, into budget lines that directly fund school district operations, not the Department of Education. And they approved epilogue language that prevents the Department of Education from using any of the money to add or retain positions in the department.  “We want to make sure the money that we did fund goes to the purposes that we’ve specified,” said Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Bellefonte, a budget committee member. “I just think that the epilogue language clarifies and makes it perfectly clear where that money is going to go.”

Why does it take the amount of money being spent before some legislators wake up after falling asleep at the wheel after years of rampant spending by this Department?  It’s good they are doing it, but next time we get some program like Race To The Top, please do this before millions upon millions of dollars are spent with little or no results for the students.

In addition to shrinking the size of the department, some lawmakers think the state exerts too much influence over schools that should be locally run.  Williams, for example, has filed a bill that would give local administrators and school boards sole authority over hiring and firing.  That’s a direct response, she says, to the state’s controversial Priority Schools plan to improve six inner-city Wilmington schools. State leaders said the plan would funnel much-needed money and talent into schools with sagging test scores, but they soon drew outrage from those schools’ parents and teachers.

What the Delaware DOE should be doing is holding school districts and charter schools more accountable for special education results.  Solely going by the 17 indicators for US DOE compliance and sending letters to schools saying “fix this” is not effective.  I am not against a DOE in and of itself, but they should only be monitoring activities that are outright illegal or not truly for the benefit of students.  Just think what this Department could actually accomplish with special education if they actually did what is necessary?

The Department of Education, which said elite educators could turn around those schools’ sagging test scores, clashed with the Red Clay and Christina School districts, which bristled at the notion that state leaders should have any say in who runs their schools.  Williams and other lawmakers say the fight over Priority Schools, more than any other debate over education, energized opposition among teachers and parents.

What the priority schools initiative did was open the eyes of the general public to what the DOE is willing to do in accomplishing their goals at any cost.  It was very stupid of them to attempt this at the time they did.  That’s what cockiness and arrogance will do every time: bite you in the ass.

Some lawmakers have taken aim at Secretary Murphy in particular.  “We don’t see him day-in, day-out in Legislative Hall, having conversations with us,” Williams said. “I think, unfortunately, people have lost faith in the Department and Secretary Murphy. They’re not willing to just go along with them anymore.”  Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, has filed a bill that would require the Secretary of Education to have at least 10 years’ experience in schools, at least of six of them as a classroom teacher.  That bill aims to address criticism of Murphy, who was a classroom teacher for only three years before climbing the ranks of administration and education nonprofits.  The Delaware State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, voted no confidence in Murphy earlier this year, the first time the organization has taken such a step.

I think Townsend’s bill obviously sends a message, but it could also cause someone with Murphy’s ideology but more experience to insert themselves into the DOE.  It would be a very frightening thing what a more knowledgeable and assertive Secretary of Education would be like in this education reform world.  A vote of no confidence is only as good as the ability to follow-up on it, which I have not heard from DSEA.

Murphy, in a statement issued through a spokesperson, cited the same educational achievements as Markell.  “There’s no question that this work has not been easy and we have asked a lot of everyone involved in our education system,” the statement said. “We understand that not everyone agrees with everything we have done and that many pieces of legislation proposed have been in direct response to certain initiatives that have been controversial. That said, the progress our students are making shows that an enormous amount of positive work is happening. We are committed to continuing to make that progress.”

Please Murphy, just be quiet.  We are ALL sick of hearing the same boring things coming out of your mouth.  You have more corporate education reform Kool-Aid around it, and I don’t think you even realize what an idiot you sound like anymore.

Markell said people are rushing to judge the Department because of a few controversial proposals. The Department doesn’t get enough credit, he argues, for coordinating things like the state’s College Application Month, where kids signed up for college during the school day, or Pathways to Prosperity, where students get real-world experience that sets them up for careers.  “Most of what the Department does is not controversial,” Markell said. “And even our biggest detractors have recognized that [Priority Schools] has brought some much needed attention to these schools, even if it got a lot of people really riled up.”

And who has benefited the most from these initiatives Jack?  That’s something on my to-do list.

Markell has his defenders, including Rep. Melanie George Smith, the budget committee’s co-chair who came to the governor’s defense amid criticism last week.  “What we have in front of us is our governor….who has spent an awful lot of his administration really focused on what we can do better to help teachers, what we can do better to help students,” Smith said during public budget negotiations.

Wow! I would say he has spent far too much time during his administration interfering and causing disruptions in education.  The fact you want to defend this man while our education is damaged is very telling….

Some political observers say backlash is almost a given.  “When you try to make drastic change, you’re going to hit nerves, on both sides,” said Rhett Ruggerio, a longtime Democratic operative and Dover lobbyist who represents charter schools. Everybody is well intentioned. The problem is they have strong philosophical differences.”  Ruggerio said much of the disagreement appears to have stemmed from Race to the Top, and questions over whether the program’s experiments have helped Delaware’s public schools.  Ruggerio defended Murphy, saying he “has been pretty aggressive, I think for the right reasons. He wants to make change,” Ruggerio said. “It’s very difficult to do that unless you’re willing to take a risk.”

Who let the Delaware Charter School Network in on this article?  Out of all the folks not hired by the state, you use DCSN as your “impartial” third party observer?  When any legislation is opposed by Markell and the Kool-Aid gang, these non-profits like Rodel and DCSN send in their overpaid lobbyists to whisper sweet nothings in the legislators ears.  Ruggerio and his boss Kendall have obviously benefited from the reform agendas Markell thrust upon Delaware.  This is where you lose a tremendous amount of credibility News Journal.  How many everyday parents did you contact for this article?  By my estimation, that would be a grand total of zero.  I guess parents aren’t part of the process…

The growing backlash against “education reform” in Delaware mirrors a national trend that has seen the rise of groups like the “Badass Teachers’ Association,” a loose coalition of fed-up educators. In places like New York, the outcry has gotten so loud that some school districts have seen more than half of parents opt their kids out of standardized tests.

A loose coalition with well over 50,000 members.  Wake up Albright and Starkey.  Just like that “small but vocal minority” of parents who want to opt-out.  I love the way you try to reduce these groups that have tremendous impact while pumping up groups like DCSN.  No bias here…

Delaware lawmakers “are focused on making sure all Delaware public school students have a real chance to achieve success,” said Frederika Jenner, president of the Delaware State Education Association, the teachers union.  With the expiration of Race to the Top funding, “now is the time for the General Assembly to weigh in on what they believe has worked and what hasn’t worked,” Jenner said.  If the momentum really is shifting in Delaware education policy, many people, like Sen. Townsend, hope that doesn’t mean everything built in the past few years crumbles.  “I think a key point is that there have been successes and there have been some not-so-successes,” Townsend said. “We understand there’s a need for course-correction. But let’s not pretend that everything hasn’t gone well.”  Townsend said, for example, that the state’s move to the Common Core State Standards will be a good thing, even though some schools have faced hiccups in implementing it. Common Core is a set of new, higher academic expectations for students.

So Senator Bryan Townsend is a supporter of Common Core but is against many of the evils that crawled through the back door in Delaware education when the DSEA, Delaware PTA and all the school districts and charters signed up for Race To The Top?  After coercion and political wrangling by the DOE and Markell?  This is part of the whole education reform movement.  People want to remove bits and pieces, but as long as the foundation is there, it remains.  I define this movement as Common Core, high-stakes standardized assessments, labeling and punishing schools over test scores while increasing the number of charter schools, the illusion of increasing supports for special needs students while teachers and administrators fight parents over the most basic of supports, hundreds of reform “non-profits” and “for-profits” invading every aspect of education and making billions of dollars that should be going to our schools, and the eventual destruction of public education and the teacher unions.  Senator Townsend, you can’t cherry-pick what stays and goes.  And let your legislator and DSEA friends know this too.  It’s all for one, and one for all.  I would be very wary about trying to fill the power vacuum when all of this crumbles without getting everything cleaned out of the wound.  I would be even more wary about your support for Common Core if you hope to get elected again.

Markell frequently says adopting and defending those standards in Delaware in the face of growing national criticism is one of his highest school priorities. In other states, lawmakers have eliminated or drastically modified Common Core, but, though some teachers have criticized the standards’ implementation here, no serious repeal effort has gained steam in the General Assembly. 

See my previous paragraph.  What Jack is saying here is even though he is being challenged on many fronts, he is working behind-the-scenes to make sure the foundation is still there long after he is gone.  Don’t worry Jack, Common Core and it’s elimination is coming sooner than you think.  This isn’t a forgotten issue.

Some of the inroads Markell’s administration has made with getting the business community involved in education, connecting students with jobs, internships and real-life learning experiences, should be made more common, Townsend said.

Markell has made it a priority to get the business community to take over education in our state, whether it was homegrown in Delaware or out-of-state.  And all of these lower-paying jobs and internships save these companies millions of dollars in salaries they would otherwise be paying.  Some of it is good, but the motivation behind it is not for the benefit of students.  It was, is, and always will be about money with Markell.

Though Townsend agrees with many teachers that the state’s way of judging teachers needs a great deal of work, he says Delaware is ahead of other states in some ways.  “I think this concept of trying to have accountability is important,” he said. “We need to improve it, definitely, but let’s not just get rid of this idea entirely.” 

This is the big elephant in the room.  If we don’t judge teachers by standardized tests, what do we judge them on?  Should teachers be blamed for events outside of the classroom in students regular lives?  Absolutely not.  But if their actions contribute to those actions, than I would say yes.  As an example, say a student with disabilities doesn’t have her IEP followed.  As a result, she doesn’t perform to the best of her ability because those supports aren’t being enforced.  As she becomes more frustrated, she starts acting out at school.  This becomes a part of her very fabric and it spills over into the “outside” world.  So while she was having problems in school, it is now everywhere.  Should teachers and schools be held accountable for things like this?  I think every single parent of a special needs child who has faced these kinds of issues would say yes.  It is essential that teachers and schools know special education and IDEA law like the back of their hand.

With Markell approaching the end of his second term, many lawmakers say the next governor will play a big role in steering the state’s educational future.  “I think one of the things our next governor is going to be elected on is education,” Williams said. “I know that’s going to be the biggest factor for me.”

Some would say Jack Markell was elected because of his talk about education before he was elected. I would personally like to see a gutting of the Delaware DOE, build it up from the bottom all the way to the top with employees who care more about education than what we have seen in this “corporate education reform” world.  I would also like to see less talk from a state Governor about education and more about creating more jobs in our state and reallocating funds so the citizens of the state don’t suffer needlessly.  Whoever the new Secretary of Education may be, it would be my hope he/she is the spokesperson for education in our state, and has the skills, knowledge and compassion to truly fix education in our state, not make it worse.

Say House Bill 50 Becomes Law….What Happens Next?

Steve Newton is a Professor of History and Science at Delaware State University.  He also ran for State Representative last fall as an independent.  I fully endorsed him at the time, and it would have been very interesting to add him to the dynamic down at Legislative Hall.  Steve wrote an excellent post today on Facebook about what happens after House Bill 50 is decided on.  With Steve’s permission, I share his awesome ideas with you.  Please let me know what you think and we can start to build a foundation for something.

The important truth to understand is that Opt-out is really a political and not really an educational strategy. That’s not a bad thing, but critical to understand. First, opting-out as an individual family educational strategy only avoids visiting the consequences of high-stakes testing on your child; it DOES NOT change the aim of the several months of classroom experience before that, which is–in many schools–directed preparation toward a test that the student will not take. By itself, opt-out will only be a bump in the road, unless …

… unless we recognize that opt-out is the most effective political strategy that anti-corporate-reformers have come up with to date. Resistance to Common Core has been too easily pigeon-holed as right wing or conservative, and the potential coalition of left and right wings behind education is going to get severely undermined in a presidential election year. Simply put, Democrats as a group are not going to vote for Rand Paul or Marco Rubio simply based on Common Core.

But opt-out is different. Opt-out focuses on the potential harm (or lack of value) to MY child, and offers ME a chance to do something. Moreover, it is about local politics. The Governor may rant and rave (he usually does), but this is an issue where (again, in an election year) voters WILL punish their legislators. Moreover, opt-out has DSEA and DPTA back on the same page, resisting a government mandate.

Even if opt-out passes, however, the momentum will be lost UNLESS an equally wide-ranging follow-up goal is established. This will have to be selected carefully. Resistance to charters or teacher evaluation programs is all well and good for education activists, teachers, and other insiders, but those are unfortunately NOT propositions that are going to reach as wide an audience as opt-out has. There are way too many pro-charter parents and voters, and way too few people who will do more than shake their head about teacher evaluations. They certainly won’t vote out the state rep who got their sewer fixed because of it.

Here’s my initial suggestion, (and being a libertarian there’s an agorist twist): let’s put DSEA, DPTA, and as many parents and academic partners as we can find at work on a new Delaware Content Standards Project. We did this as part of Pat Forgione’s New Directions agenda two decades ago, and there is a lot to learn from that process. First lesson: we don’t need to have government sanction or even government participation–in spite of how they act, for example, Rodel is not part of the government. We can create our own organization to do this work, and invite the districts to participate. If DOE would like to observe the process, well, it’s still supposedly a free country.

Second, let’s invert the usual approach. Common Core started with ELA and Math. Instead of going head-to-head with that initiative, let’s start with one or more of the following:

Standards for integrating the Arts and Music into the core academic curriculum.

Standards for developing interdisciplinary units that combine Social Studies and Science to examine how technology and new research is affecting the way we live.

Standards for the services necessary for special needs children with disabilities not normally covered under the easier rubrics of IDEA.

Standards that integrate healthy living (Physical Education/Health) with Civics (building healthy communities) and Technology (building platforms–apps if you will–to allow people to have more control over what they eat, how they exercise, and how they live).

The beautiful part about starting here is that by starting with integrative standards, not content-level standards, we get back toward actual teaching and learning that matters. Meeting the Math and ELA proficiency requirements is easily addressed within that more meaningful context.

More to the point, these standards would be voluntary, but schools that met specific benchmarks toward implementing them could receive certification from DSEA, DPTA, National Council for Social Studies, and other organizations. Eventually, if we did this right over a 2-3 year period, I’m pretty sure we could even build up some financial support from a variety of carefully considered sources.

This is an endeavor that, realistically speaking, I doubt will happen. I doubt it because I’m not the person to put it together, and any group of people that gets together with the time, energy, and motivation is going to come up with its own plan. But I offer this as an alternative–a non-governmental political alternative–run by parents and teachers themselves to having to always sit back and respond to the horrible things being done to education today, rather than initiative our own mechanisms for positive change.

In other words, it is time to go on offense in a strategic sense.

Steve is absolutely right on all of this.  What I love about the opt-out movement in Delaware is the bi-partisanship of it all.  Democrats and Republicans are coming together and uniting in a common cause…our children.   Steve is not asking to lead a group, and I can’t say I would want that either, but coming together would be good.  I tried to get something going with parents of special needs children last summer, but this blog was brand new and the readership certainly wasn’t anywhere close to where it is now.  We have already changed the conversation with the opt-out movement.  Let’s keep talking….

Governor Markell Wants A Conversation But Parents MUST Be An Equal Party

From the Delaware.gov website, my thoughts on the bottom.

Governor Initiates Statewide Plan for Future Education Offerings

Date Posted: Thursday, March 19th, 2015
Categories:  News Office of Governor Markell

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Announces review of public schools and programs to address unmet student needs

Dover, DE – Governor Markell today announced a needs assessment and strategic planning process for the future of Delaware public schools, including charter, vocational-technical, and magnet schools. The State will review current opportunities available to students, analyze trends, and quantify areas of unmet needs for Delaware families.

“Many amazing schools and programs across the state are offering students diverse and innovative opportunities to meet their individual needs,” said Markell. “However, not all of our students have access to the programs of their choice. Many schools are oversubscribed and should be expanded or replicated. At the same time, we don’t want our districts to start new programs, and we don’t want to open new charter and magnet schools, if families aren’t asking for what they offer.

“This effort will ensure that state and district plans are designed to best meet individual students’ needs and spark their interests.”

Launching the effort during a meeting of the State Board of Education, the Governor specifically referenced the tremendous progress made at Vo Tech schools in each county, noting that they don’t have the capacity to serve all of the students who select them in the school choice process.

Other trends include four new middle and high schools that will open in the City of Wilmington this fall, reflecting the desire for new options in the city. In addition, programs focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills that are needed for jobs in growing industries, like those offered at Conrad Schools of Science, as well as the college prep courses at Mount Pleasant High School, have garnered increased interest. However, no process has existed to systematically ensure that more students can gain from the experiences they want at traditional, magnet, and charter schools.

The strategic plan developed through the Governor’s Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities for Delaware Students will quantify programs where demand exceeds the state’s capacity and analyze demographic trends to project future needs. That will help the state, school districts, and charter school operators know where and how to invest, from which dual-enrollment programs are most valuable and popular to the types of curriculum from which more students would benefit.

“For the past two years, the State Board of Education has referenced the need for the state to develop a comprehensive analysis of our portfolio of public schools, a thorough needs assessment to identify strengths, weaknesses, saturations, as well as opportunities for success and innovation,” said Teri Quinn Grey, President of the State Board of Education President. “We believe that such an analysis would aid the state in the development of this strategic plan, as well as be a useful tool for local boards and school leaders in deciding school programming decisions, facility decisions, and other educational opportunities. It also will be a tool to be utilized by policy leaders, community members, and businesses to evaluate opportunities for further investment and expansion in Delaware.”

The review announced today was inspired by a proposal by the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC) – a group formed by the Governor last year that has urged the state to be smarter and more strategic about the growth of educational opportunities, particularly for charter schools in Wilmington. Markell said he agreed with the Committee’s recommendation, but also believes we can’t limit this effort to one city or county, or to charter schools alone.

“It can benefit our education system statewide,” said Markell. “All schools are part of the solution.”

WEAC Chair Tony Allen voiced support for expanding on the group’s recommendation.

“There is no question that charter schools will remain a critical part of public education in Delaware and that many students throughout the state will be served by them, and in many cases served well,” said Allen. “However, we cannot continue to operate two systems with little interaction and coordination and expect the quality benefits that all of our children deserve. It is our hope that a plan for charter schools extends itself to public education in Delaware broadly and forces stronger collaboration across the traditional district, charter and vo-tech boundaries.”

Representative Charles Potter Jr. (D-Wilmington North), who the Governor recognized at the event for his advocacy in establishing WEAC as an opportunity for members of the community to have a stronger voice on issues involving education of Wilmington children, voiced his support of the plan as well.

“I’m in support of the governor’s efforts to undertake this statewide strategic plan,” said Rep. Potter. “I feel strongly that we have to take a comprehensive look at what is happening in Wilmington and address those issues as well.”

It sounds like someone is realizing education is a mess in this state.  I think the people are the ones who need to control this conversation though.  For every person in this group, you need to have an EQUAL and state-wide amount of parents.  And not parents who are in this group or that group.  I’ve been to meetings like that.  We need down to earth, grassroots parents.  It is very easy to pick out the good and capitalize on that, but if you aren’t looking at the bad, the rot will still be there.

Nobody knows children like a child’s parent.  I defy you to find anyone that knows more than a parent that loves their child.  I think we are willing to hear a conversation, but we want to be an EQUAL part of it.  Otherwise, this just isn’t going to work Governor Markell.

 

What If Delaware Education Became A Comic Book Series?

In a world gone mad, what if education in Delaware became a series of comic books?  What would we see?  Read into this bizarre alternate universe!

B.A.T. Men #42, Written by Mike Matthews, Art by Jackie Kook

Last issue, our heroes faced down the T.L.E.U. in a fight to the finish.  But what price was paid by one of our stalwart heroes?  And which B.A.T. is scheduled to meet with the Governor?

Dr. H & The Agents of R.O.D.E.L. #23, Written by Paul Herdman, Art by Fred Sears III

When a new contract comes up at the DOE, Dr. H must get to Dover right away to make sure his agents are the ones at the start of the line.  But they must get threw an onslaught of other vendors.  Who will win “The Race”?

Mark Murphy: The Secretary #84 (Last Issue), Written and Drawn by Alison May

In this final issue, Mark Murphy must face his last days as The Secretary.  What is the final straw that makes him resign?  Guest starring the Governor, Dr. H, and the mysterious W.E.A.C.

The Board #100, written by John Young, art by Elizabeth Paige

Having successfully fended off the DOE from the Initiative, the Board must face their next villain, and it is a doozy!  Meanwhile, what has St. George done now?  The ramifications of this one will last for years to come.  In a side story, John Young and Captain Kendall from The Network come face to face at The Forum.

The Governor #0, written by Lindsey O’Mara, art by Ryan Fennerty

In this special issue, find out how Jack Markell became the Governor!  With special guest stars Dr. H, Kilroy, and Lillian.  This prelude leads into the upcoming Ed Wars, the summer block-buster that will decide the fate of education in Delaware once and for all!

The Union #64, written by F. Jenner, art by Mike Kempski

Now that the resolution has passed, our heroes are faced with the day after tomorrow.  The Secretary has thrown the resolution back in their face, and the Governor has told them they must stand down.  Introducing the new group, Standards That Matter.

The Network #58, written by K. Massett, art by Charles McDowell

Last issue, the President took a hiatus from the group.  Who will replace him?  As pressure mounts from all sides, who will be left to face The Auditor?

Opt Out Kids #1, written by Kevin Ohlandt, art by Terri Hodges

In this brand new series, spinning out of HB #50, this group of renegades must find something to do with their hours in school while all the other kids are testing.  Will this force of nature be for the betterment of mankind, or a sign of the apocalypse?  Meanwhile, Jaques has created his squad of Measure Uppers, and he is hunting the Opt Out Kids one by one.

General Assembly #148, written by John Kowalko, art by Kim Williams

The battle-lines are drawn, and one side must face their friends and enemies as the last day of The Session looms closer.  With parents screaming for change, and the DOE putting pressure on the chamber, what will the Heroes of Education do?  And will the Governor make a last-ditch effort to stop The Bills?  This crucial issue also ties in to Ed Wars #1.

The Human Capital Gambit #8, written by Chris Ruszkowski, art by M. Watson

As the sinister T.L.E.U. launches their next wave of humiliation on the unsuspecting teachers, Chris has a lunch date with an enigmatic figure.  What affect will this have on the leader of the T.L.E.U.  This story is one we could only call “The Haircut”.

Charterville #19, written by Penny Schwinn, art by Donna Johnson

The aftermath of The Audit continues to destroy the Individuals.  Will they be able to unite, or will they fall before KIPP?  And why is W.E.A.C. closing in on the endgame?  In a bonus story, see the reactions of the group when they realize they now have to legally record their board meetings.

The D.O.E. #225, written by David Blowman, art by Catherine Hickey

This one is so shocking we can’t give any details.  All we can say is it spins out of the last page of The Secretary #84 and leads into Ed Wars #1.  Find out the secret in “The Replacement”.

 

 

 

The Sneaky And Crafty Delaware DOE, The Responsibilities of the General Assembly & Student Rigor

The Delaware DOE is making a push for another year of the Smarter Balanced Assessment not counting towards teacher evaluations.  So that will mean, if the US Department of Education allows this, the scores won’t hit the teachers ratings.  Pretty cool, right?  WRONG.  This means nothing for the schools themselves.  They will still be counted in the Annual Yearly Performance ratings.  Not a big deal, right?  WRONG.  Does the term priority schools ring any bells?

At the January House Education Committee meeting, Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams asked Penny Schwinn, the Chief Accountability and Performance Officer for the DOE if there would be any new priority school announcements this year.  Schwinn said no.  But was she talking about 2015 or Fiscal Year 2015?  The last priority schools announcement was made on September 4th based on the DCAS ratings, a test the state isn’t using anymore because it wasn’t aligned with the Common Core State Standards.  But if teachers were implementing those standards in schools as far back as three years ago, then all of the data is skewed at the DOE with accountability ratings.  They don’t care.

Even though legislators met with the DOE about holding off on the teacher accountability ratings for another year and we have no transparency on that, the DOE still ignored the request, thus the request to Governor Markell.  Do not see any attempt by the DOE to be a peace offering to the citizens of Delaware, including teachers, schools, parents and students.  They have become a bureaucracy filled with a lot of young people who are using Delaware as their stepping stone to their next big thing.  When the Schwinns, Ruszkowskis, and Watsons leave the DOE, another KIPP/TFA/Charter Leader will be waiting in the wings to fulfill the bastardized legacy of the Markell/Rodel vision.

If these legislators who are so desperately trying to help the students and teachers of Delaware truly want to make true and lasting change, they need to do the following:

1) Introduce legislation to repeal House Bill 334 from the 147th General Assembly allowing the Smarter Balanced Assessment to begin with and ban any high-stakes assessments in the State of Delaware.

2) Introduce legislation to make the Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education elected officials.

3) Introduce legislation banning Common Core in Delaware.

4) Introduce legislation that the State Board of Education cannot approve any  Elementary and Secondary Education Act waivers without approval by the General Assembly.

Do these things, and the “getting angrier by the day” citizens of Delaware who put you in office will begin to take you seriously when it comes to education.  These are bold moves, but all four of these have put Delaware in the position it is now: stagnant education tied to federal standards with a Department that has fattened themselves up at the expense of the students of Delaware.  You may get some flack from Governor Markell over these matters, but there could be a strong case for http://delcode.delaware.gov/constitution/constitution-07.shtml if you were able to get a subpoena for a certain individual’s full financial records including stock portfolios and any pertinent information tied with the sources of said funding.

For the students of Delaware who are not opted out of the state assessment, you will be told on Monday to make sure you get a lot of sleep in the coming weeks, eat your Wheaties, and do your best.  All the rigor will have paid off, cause it’s Smarter Balanced time!  You will be in front of computers for hours with expectations that you can all type.  You will see teachers attentive to your every need during these tests.  Some may offer you incentives to do well.  Others may tell you what will happen if you do bad.

Know this students of Delaware: the last thing the DOE wants is a corruption of data.  They don’t want to see students start the test and then intentionally get problems wrong.  They don’t want to see students scores not even count because of this.  That would be oh so very wrong to do.  It would tamper with the whole system and cause headaches from Dover to Washington D.C. and could make certain politicians ask some very tough questions about the validity of these tests.  I know students are doing this in other states, at very high levels, but let those states deal with that.  We are Delaware, and we believe every student deserves a top-notch education.  Let’s close those performance gaps kids.  Just because you may have special needs, or you are a minority, or you are low-income doesn’t mean you can’t perform just like everyone else.  Ignore the scientifically proven facts that show these facts.  That kid next to you, you can be the same as him.  The one to the other side of you, ignore his frustration when he can’t type.  This is what 3rd grade should be about!  And 10th!  You should all be the same.  Take that original thought out of your head.  If you want to paint something in art, do that at home.  Art is about writing about art.  Don’t worry about playing in a band.  We want you to explain how bands have changed 4th of July ceremonies as opposed to playing pre-recorded music.  We want you to evaluate and elaborate the same as everyone else but don’t question anything, because that’s wrong.  There is one standard for all, and we must follow it.  Why play sports when through the joy of personalized learning you can learn about sports on a computer.  You won’t have to deal with a teacher, cause she will just give you some quick guidance on how to do your online programs for the day.  This is your life, but don’t worry, it’s all been predetermined for you.  And don’t worry about your teachers, because they will all be the same.

Meanwhile, students in Finland have NO standardized testing, lower classroom sizes, shorter school days, better special education, less poverty, teachers who have high value in society, and to top it off, students get more recess.  And they are considered the best in the world.

 

Where Do We Go From Here? The State of Education in Delaware @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @RCEAPrez @Apl_Jax @ecpaige @nannyfat @Roof_O @DelawareBats #netde #eduDE #Delaware #edchat

The last major education meeting of 2014 happened yesterday, and it was a doozy!  As I look back at all the events of 2014 in our 1st state with regards to education, I have to wonder about the future.  There are several things going on simultaneously.  Something happened yesterday at the DE State Board of Education meeting that can change everything.

The board voted 4-3 to renew the charter for Gateway Lab School.  Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy’s comment about why he chose to renew their charter stemmed from about a month of the public pounding on the choice not to renew.  This means the public does have a voice and is able to influence education in Delaware.  The problem is not enough of us have been using that voice.  If the groundswell of support for Gateway happened with things like the removal of Common Core and parental opt-out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, just think what could happen.

Over half of the Delaware General Assembly wrote to renew Gateway’s charter.  Some of them were ones who already speak out about the changes in education and the priority schools.  But many of them are ones nobody ever affiliates with education.  The Gateway crisis actually opened a lot of ears to education in Delaware.  It also exposed the DOE as being to beholden to test scores.  This is a good thing.

Our next moment of direct attention needs to be towards the priority schools initiative.  While I’m not an expert on state code and the Delaware Constitution, I can see things are manipulated and twisted in order to allow the priority schools demands.  Governor Markell and Mark Murphy have looked for the most miniscule of loopholes to do this, but did they find them all?  Some, like State Representative John Kowalko, do not think they did and he has a strong case for the legality of the initiative.

Common Core and Smarter Balanced Assessment will be a hot button of talk in the coming months.  More and more parents are waking up to the reality of this, and anyone who finds out what the true purpose of it all is wants it to be gone.  A message for those parents: spread the message fast and furious and do it yesterday.  Because everything the DOE and Markell have done, want to do and will do ties directly to standardized test scores.  It is their sole focus.  We are no longer a state where true education, occurring everyday in our schools, is a concern.  It’s about a once a year test that will judge teachers, principals and students.  And by a large default, parents as well.

I firmly believe the purpose of these “initiatives” is not for the betterment of our children’s education but the creation of more and more charter schools.  Some may ask, “Then why are they closing charter schools?”  Because even Super Bowl winners need to cut the weak links on a team.  This becomes a reverse choice option for parents.  They’re forced to make a choice against their original choice.

For the charter supporting parents out there: I know you will defend these schools and I support you for doing that.  But do not be blind to the realities behind charter schools.  They have boards that are not publicly elected, they have budget committees (or don’t in some cases) that do not have the proper representation, and their version of transparency is very clouded.  Nobody was talking about Family Foundations a month ago, but in the past week it is all anybody is talking about.  Years of financial mismanagement and allegations of outright theft at that school will hopefully lead to a careful examination of all the charter schools and how they spend their money.  I am not saying all the charters do this, but it is more than you think.  And I will expose them if the state doesn’t.

We need to do what is best for our children.  Every single one of us.  Far too many of us disagree on what the best course is, but we all need to come together one way or another, before any choice is gone forever.