It’s not often NBC Channel 10 from Philadelphia comes to a Delaware State Board of Education meeting, but this happened yesterday after the Parent Strike press conference outside Legislative Hall in Dover. You can watch the video here and see reporter Tim Furlong cover the events.
At the State Board of Education meeting today, it was a packed house as several public comments were given in opposition to Regulation 103. The Delaware State Educators Association slammed it, the Red Clay Educators Association slammed it, Delaware PTA slammed it, I slammed it, and parents slammed it. One parent slammed DOE’s Smarter Balanced Assessment and their obsession with proficiency. In my public comment, I advised the DOE and State Board of Education of the state and federal complaints I filed against them in the last week. I could have gone on, but the clock ran out. State Rep. John Kowalko lambasted the State Board of Education on their regulatory practices when the General Assembly is not in session and vowed to fight DOE and the State Board on these matters.
One parent was denied the chance to speak. Because of the huge crowd, and a regulation stating you must sign up for public comment 15 minutes prior to the meeting, several people were told they couldn’t speak. Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray did give one last chance to sign up for public comment, but the sign-up sheet was at the Board table, not in the hallway like it usually is (even way after the 15 minute “regulation” mark). After all the comments ended, I advised Dr. Gray there was one more speaker who didn’t hear her “last chance” comment. Dr. Gray refused to let the parent give public comment. This parent is going to be sending me her public comment today and I will post it on here.
The ParentStrike press conference went well. NBC Philadelphia and reporter Tim Furlong were there, and will be airing a segment during their 5pm broadcast. The News Journal, Dover Post, and others were in attendance between the Press Conference and the State Board meeting as well. I spoke, as did Rep. Kowalko, State Senator Dave Lawson, and RCEA President Mike Matthews. I had to leave the State Board of Education early to pick my son up from school, but I will be getting updates on their discussion of Regulation 103 and the Smarter Balanced Assessment results for all the sub-groups.
Any goodwill the Delaware DOE had is quickly evaporating as no one seems to be taking their side anymore. The House of Cards has collapsed, but I did wish departing Secretary of Education Mark Murphy good luck in his future endeavors, as did others. He was given a gift by the State Board so he could “write it all down”, which if I had to guess would be a future book???? Please don’t call it “Murphy’s Law” Mark…that would be too much…
Oh yeah, what about the Accountability Framework Working Group, otherwise known as AFWG? Apparently, the notes from their meetings I published a few weeks ago, did not show the true story about what went on during these meetings. It wasn’t all harmony and agreement like the minutes suggest. DSEA member of the group, Deb Stevens, gave public comment. She spoke as the representative for all of the non-DOE members of the group. She indicated that this coalition from the AFWG wants the State Board of Education to defer a ruling on this until it can be flushed out even further and does not believe it is a final product at all and needs a lot of work.
I did find out former US DOE employee Deborah Delisle apparently sent a letter to the Delaware DOE indicating the participation rate MUST be used on the ESEA mandated school report card as a “consequence”, although there is nothing on the US DOE or Delaware DOE website with this letter or language. I just emailed Penny Schwinn for a copy of this letter. Even if it is in there, it is not regulation and the Delaware DOE is in way obligated to enforce a simple warning.
Today is Parent Strike! I will be holding a press conference shortly in front of Legislative Hall. It could be five people, or it could be a hundred. Either way a message will be sent and it will be one the Delaware Department of Education will NEVER forget. I found their Achilles heel, actually, many of them once I knew what to do. For some of this, it took weeks of culminating information. For others, it was just a matter of attending a meeting. It is past time the Delaware DOE was held accountable for THEIR actions. They know this is coming, and they have not reached out once to explain anything.
It is not my intention to demolish the DOE. It is my intention for them to want to change their actions.
In the below document, I sent an email to United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan earlier this morning. For clarity purposes, SEA stands for State Educational Agency, or what we all refer to in Delaware, as the DOE. LEA stands for Local Educational Agency, commonly known as school districts or an individual charter school.
So what are the complaints I filed against the Delaware Department of Education, the State Board of Education and Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson?
Delaware Department of Education:
It is my contention for the following: Delaware DOE failed to adequately provide for public comment on Delaware’s ESEA Flexibility Renewal in March of 2015- the DOE released a draft of their ESEA waiver to the public. The DOE failed to include the “participation rate” category in the draft they released to the public even though it was already an approved category for the Delaware School Success Framework by the private, non-public Accountability Framework Working Group. The DOE put it in their final draft on 3/31/2015 without any public comment on this portion. This was, in my opinion, done deliberately to prevent support for House Bill 50, the opt-out legislation which was stirring a lot of public debate in March of 2015.
Complaint filed with the US Department of Education Office of Inspector General on 9/16/15, Complaint filed with Delaware Department of Justice on 9/10/15
It is my contention the Delaware Department of Education has failed to monitor crucial special education practices in respect to Delaware charter schools and a continued practice of denied Individualized Education Programs. Because of the very low n number in relation to school accountability with standardized test scores, it has allowed Delaware charter schools to keep a low number of special education students. All too often, many students are either expelled or counseled out from the charter school, or the parents do not return the child to the charter school the next school year. The Delaware DOE is very much aware of these issues as I met with the Director of the Exceptional Children Resources Group last year and she advised me there is no method by which the DOE can keep track of these instances and they will not because the “due process system is more than fair”. The DOE has allowed this environment to continue without any repercussions for anyone except the aggrieved student and their families. All too often, parents are forced to seek outside counsel to resolve issues which tends to resolve itself in a mediation, but the damage has already been done for the student with disabilities.
Complaint filed with the US DOE Office of Civil Rights on 9/16/15
The Delaware DOE charged $300 for a Freedom of Information Act request I submitted on 9/10/15. The request was for an email search for a few people at Delaware DOE in the past month to another state agency. It is my contention they failed to provide a list of all charges for the request. They claimed DTI is the one charging the costs for the email search, which is correct, but they did not provide a breakdown of any other charges for the FOIA. They stated in email they would not continue with the request until I paid $300 for the DTI search. As well, I asked if their public information officer could simply ask the individuals for the emails and I received no response to this. This is after the DOJ already issued a legal opinion on another FOIA matter and stated the DOE failed to adequately follow this part of state law.
Complaint filed with the Delaware Department of Justice on 9/11/15
Delaware State Board of Education:
By approving an ESEA flexibility renewal for submission to the US DOE without public comment on a crucial section, the State Board, as directed by their Executive Director Donna Johnson, approved a non-transparent and illegal ESEA draft because they duped the public by leaving out crucial parts, similar to the DOE complaint
Complaint filed with the Delaware Department of Justice on 9/10/15
Delaware Department of Education AND Delaware State Board of Education:
I attended part of the State Board of Education Retreat on Monday, September 14th. This was a public meeting, announced by the State Board of Education on their website and also on the Public Meeting Calendar on the state website. I was the only member of the public in attendance at this meeting. As the Delaware Department of Education was about to present information on the state assessment, Smarter Balanced Assessment, I openly asked if there was any embargoed information. State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson said “No, this is a public meeting.”
During a presentation by the head of instruction, Dr. Michael Watson, he was going through a slide show, and as he was going to the next one, he told me “This is embargoed information.” But he presented it anyways, at a public meeting. Later on in the afternoon, as the DOE and State Board were about to discuss information on the Smarter Balanced results, Donna Johnson, Shana Young (DOE) and Dr. Penny Schwinn (DOE) kept looking at me, whispering, and announced they would not be showing some information but it would be sent to the State Board members. Even later, DOE employee Ryan Reyna advised of a slide with “embargoed” information concerning Smarter Balanced Assessment results for sub-groups. It is my contention the State Board of Education and the Delaware DOE conspired to hold information they would have otherwise shown if I was not present, and when they did present information that was “embargoed”, they attempted to persuade me to not reveal it. This is not in the spirit of an “open meeting” and violates FOIA in my opinion. I am requesting a legal opinion on this matter.
Complaint filed with the Delaware Department of Justice on 9/17/15
State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray:
In her capacity as President of the State Board of Education, Dr. Gray is in a position of making education decisions for the students of Delaware. Frequently, the Delaware Department of Education contracts or pays certain vendors to provide information to the Delaware State Board of Education to enact policy or regulatory changes. One such vendor is the U.S. Education Delivery Institute. Dr. Gray sits on the board of that company as well. This company has received $345,218.50 from the DOE since FY2011 without any public acknowledgment from Dr. Gray of her capacity on this board. This is a conflict of interest, both morally and financial.
Complaint filed with the Delaware Department of Justice on 9/17/15
State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson:
In her capacity as a State of Delaware employee and the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, Donna Johnson emailed personal student information as well as medical information about the student to a person who did not need to know this and asked this person to intervene instead of the local school district authority, she also emailed medical information about a Delaware Department of Education employee to the same person. Both of these, in my opinion, are clear and blatant violations of FERPA and HIPAA laws. The person she emailed this information to is myself. As well, through personal email, Donna Johnson sent official state business to the same individual, and it is my contention, she sometimes conveyed false information, such as suggesting two members of the Christina School Board reported their own district to the Delaware State Auditor resulting in an official investigation by the State Auditor’s office. The State Auditor’s office publicly stated there is no investigative audit going on with the Christina School District. It is my contention Donna Johnson used this false information in an attempt to publicly ridicule and demean a traditional school district which had failed in two referendum attempts and was in the midst of internal tension due to a leave of absence of their Superintendent. Both board members openly informed me they never made a call to the State Board of Education about a request for an investigative audit against the school district they serve. In addition, through various blog commenter handles, Donna Johnson attempted to sway public policy using pseudonyms and aliases while she was privy to information the public did not know.
Complaint filed with Delaware Department of Justice on 9/10/15.
So there you have it. And I will say this now, every single time the Delaware Department of Education, the State Board of Education, or any employee violates FOIA, or any other single law in this state, I will report them. I urge every single citizen in the state to do the same. They wanted accountability. I just hope they are able to give the same rigor and grit during the coming months, when they have to answer for all this, that they expect out of Delaware students and teachers. This is Delaware education, the sides the public doesn’t see. And it is just beginning…
Below is just part of the formal complaints issued with the Delaware Department of Justice.
Believe in parents because we know what is best for our children!
Believe in parents because we know what is best for our
Believe in parents because we know what is best for
Believe in parents because we know what is best
Believe in parents because we know what is
Believe in parents because we know what
Believe in parents because we know
Believe in parents because we
Believe in parents because
Believe in parents
Believe we can make a difference!
Believe we can make a
Believe we can make
Believe we can
Believe we will fight for our children!
Believe we will fight for our
Believe we will fight for
Believe we will fight
Believe we will
Believe your child is just data to the DOE
Believe your child is just data to the
Believe your child is just data to
Believe your child is just data
Believe your child is just
Believe your child is
Believe your child
Believe the DOE knows nothing about individuals and creativity
Believe the DOE knows nothing about individuals and
Believe the DOE knows nothing about individuals
Believe the DOE knows nothing about
Believe the DOE knows nothing
Believe the DOE knows
Believe the DOE
Believe and refuse the test for your child
Believe and refuse the test for your
Believe and refuse the test for
Believe and refuse the test
Believe and refuse the
Believe and refuse
LET’S MAKE SOME NOISE!!!!!!!
These are the questions Delaware parents have been asking me for the past five days, and it is time for some answers. Parent Strike is a national effort on September 17th, coordinated with Constitution Day, whereby parents across America attempt to stop the insanity that has become public education.
What Is So Bad About Public Education?
- The high-stakes testing environment which has culminated in the Smarter Balanced Assessment
- The lost school-time based on test prep and interim assessments
- The penalties to schools and teachers over low-scores in our high-needs schools
- The hundreds of millions of dollars that have gone to outside companies instead of into our schools
- The extreme amount of interference from companies without educators who think they know how to “fix” education
- The lack of transparency from the State of Delaware with the Smarter Balanced Assessment
- Regulations inserted into code without any legislative input by the State Board of Education
- The very structure of the Smarter Balanced Assessment
- American Institutes for Research as the testing vendor for Smarter Balanced
- Classroom sizes that are way too big and even the most advantaged children are not able to learn
- Schools with low demographics of sub-groups being labeled as “Recognition” or “Reward” schools
- Schools with high demographics of sub-groups being labeled as “Focus” or “Priority” schools
- The lack of true stakeholder input in the creation of standardized assessments
- The complete and utter disregard by Governor Markell in failing to listen to parents and the legislators of Delaware with his veto of House Bill 50
- The continued bullying and intimidation of parents by districts or charter schools when they give an opt-out letter
- The charter schools even giving a hint that students may not get a spot or won’t be able to keep their spot over opt-out
- The Common Core implementation and many disturbing aspects in it that have nothing to do with education
- The lack of oversight over special education in our schools and listening to parents
- Regulation 103 and it’s punitive measures against students, teachers, schools, and communities
How Can I Help?
- Write a Refuse The Test letter to your child’s school advising them your child will not take the Smarter Balanced Assessment during this school year and you expect your child to have an education while other students are testing and hand it to the administrator of the school first thing in the morning
- Attend a press conference outside Legislative Hall in Dover at 12:30 pm and go to the State Board of Education meeting at 1pm and give public comment about your opposition to Regulation 103
- Talk with other parents at your child’s school about opt-out if they are not aware of it
- Wear a red shirt as a symbol of protest for Parent Strike
- Drop off flyers everywhere you go with a print-out of these bullet points
- Paint REFUSE THE TEST on your car (with temporary paint)
- Use stealth guerilla tactics: Put sticky notes everywhere (bathroom stalls, school supplies, in cereal and toy aisles at stores, anywhere you can think of) with REFUSE THE TEST written on it
- Thank your child’s teacher for all they do and that you are willing to fight for them
- Help a parent write a REFUSE THE TEST letter
- On the night before, use sidewalk chalk on pathways parents use to walk their children to school
- Whatever you can think of to legally spread the message
What If I Can’t Come To Dover?
- You aren’t required to come, but all are welcome and a larger crowd always sends a larger message
- You can write letters to the editor of your local paper
- You can go to your local board meeting and give public comment about opt-out and your thoughts about what is going on with education
- Plan an event for a future date to gather parents in your district to discuss what is going on with pubic education
- Email your State Representative, State Senator, Congressmen, Governor Markell, the Delaware Department of Education and the State Board of Education
- You can read all about it with hashtag #parentstrike on Twitter and the Parent Strike Facebook page and see what others in Delaware and the USA are doing
I’m going to tell a story. The first time I went to a public meeting knowing I would give public comment, I was scared out of my mind. I didn’t believe my voice could make a difference. It was the State Board of Education meeting in April 2014. Since then, I have spoken at several events. I’ve reached out to fellow citizens across the state, from Wilmington to Rehoboth, and answered questions to the best of my ability. I’ve educated, informed, and spent a great deal of time helping other parents. But I won’t ever forget that first time, the hardest time.
The power of voice is one of the most amazing things in creation. I encourage anyone speaking publicly on something they believe in for their children to reach back to the moment your child was born. When you first looked into their eyes and vowed you would do whatever you can to protect them. Over the years, we lose some of that. It gets lost in all the noise. We may know something could be bad for our child, but other factors get in the way. We worry about the implications and overthink things to the point where we are unable to act. Many have asked me how I can do all I do. I don’t have an easy answer for that. But I always remember that initial promise to my son. The one moment that matters most of all, born out of unconditional love.
It’s not an easy thing, being brave. It takes courage you may not think you have. It means taking yourself out of your usual comfort zone. Any advocate or activist started out this way. It’s not a matter of being practical, it’s about being radical. Too many of us see “radicals” as sign-carrying flower children from the 1960s yelling and screaming all the time or protests getting arrested. Being radical means going against the viewpoint of those you think are wrong. That’s it. There is no formula to it. I can promise you, once you start, it gets easier. I won’t say the words get easier, but it gets easier to speak them. The very best public comments I’ve ever heard are those initial ones, because they come from the heart and usually carry a great deal of emotion.
You need to ask yourself: who is going to speak for my child? Teachers can’t. Not when it comes to standardized testing and opt-out. Your friend can’t, your neighbor can’t and your child can’t. Only YOU can.
These are the groups or people that talk a lot about education and what’s best for your child but they also brought us to this point and you should take what they say with a grain of salt: Governor Markell, the Delaware Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, the Vision Coalition, the Delaware Business Roundtable, and the Delaware Charter Schools Network. As well, for parents of minority children, I implore you to do research. There are many civil rights groups who speak the same kind of language as the above entities. Always find the connections. For example, the Wilmington Metropolitan Urban League spoke out against opt-out claiming it would put at-risk children even further behind. As we have seen from the initial results of Smarter Balanced, the gaps widened even further than they did last year. I like to think these groups go with the governmental flow and take things at face value without doing their own research.
People will tell you that you are wrong. They will argue your points until you are blue in the face. That’s alright. Ask them how they know they are right and you are wrong. Ask them for research to support their points of view. But never, ever, just give up and throw your hands up in the air. Don’t let Governor Markell tell you what you speak out about is a recipe for the status quo. Don’t let Rodel tell you what your child needs to succeed. Listen to your heart and your own convictions.
Some will tell you I am just a rebel rouser, or a fire-starter, just looking to cause chaos due to injustices inflicted on my son in the past. They couldn’t be further from the truth. I have no vested interest whether your child is opted out or not. I don’t get paid one single solitary cent for what I do. Blog stats are just numbers that mean nothing to anyone. I believe. I believe education can and should be more than what it has become. There are far too many in power dictating every single move, and the result is a generation that will suffer immensely. Unless we stop it, and we stop it now.
Please share this post on your Facebook page, or your Twitter account, or Instagram. Email it to friends. If you believe, don’t be afraid to let others know. Any movement starts with a few voices but it can rise to a legion more powerful than anything.