Delaware Charter School Crowd Needs To Support The Parent Opt Out Bill, Two Major Reasons Why

I’m talking to you Delaware Charter Schools Network, Rodel, Schools That Care, and Publius!  In the next six days, Delaware legislators will be signing on to co-sponsor Kowalko and Lawson’s Parent Opt Out House Bill.  You may even be scratching your head at some of the legislators that will put their name on this.  But it’s going to happen.  This bill will be submitted.

The first reason you need to support this is because it’s a parent’s CHOICE.  I was reminded of this last night by two school board members.  You folks are all about the CHOICE.  You live and die by that one word.  Now it’s time to put your support where your mouth is.  While choosing a school for your child’s education is a CHOICE, so is determining how your child is educated.  It’s a parent’s CHOICE.  If you do not support this bill, we will all know that you don’t truly believe in CHOICE.

The second and more important reason is because of the nature of this bill.  Students who, for various reasons, may not be able to take the test will not count in the proficiency ratings.  This will make your scores go up!  Why is this good, aside from the obvious?  I know you aren’t going to go away.  You are a part of the landscape, and that’s not a bad thing.  But when the ACLU complaint goes forward with the OCR, and they rule on it, you know what’s going to happen.  You will be court-ordered to include more of the minorities, low-income and special education kids in your communities.  By default, test scores will go down.  You will be screaming for parent opt out then, so why not be proactive and do it now!  Many charters in Delaware pride themselves on their academic framework and proficiency ratings.  But when your populations change, and the new School Accountability System kicks in with the letter grades of A-F, your school could very well become the next priority school!

Gateway Lab School Saved In Close State BOE Vote No Thanks to Pat Heffernan! @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @RCEAPrez @Apl_Jax @ecpaige @nannyfat

As everyone assuredly knows by now, Gateway Lab School was saved from closing at the end of this school year in a 4-3 vote yesterday at the Delaware State Board of Education meeting.  What you may not know is what was said during the discussion prior to the vote.  Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy all but said the public outcry over the school’s possible closure saved the day for them.  More specifically, the amount of comments made from the Delaware General Assembly trying to save the school with a very high population of special needs children.

What shocked me though was board member Patrick Heffernan’s immediate attack on the school.  Half an hour earlier he had voted yes for the renewal of Delaware Academy of Public Safety’s charter renewal.  Questions were raised about the upcoming academic framework all schools will have based on the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment.  For this reason, Heffernan voted yes for their charter renewal, despite the fact the school had some academic issues based on the prior DCAS scores.  So why would he not be consistent with Gateway Lab School?

In commenting on the school, Heffernan said “I know we’re seeing some good things going on there now, but I think the information we have in front of us shows that this has not been a very well-run school.”  While not acknowledging the administration and structure for a school of this type would be run very different than a traditional school, Heffernan proceeded to base all his arguments for closure based on comparisons to traditional schools.  Even Mark Murphy publicly stated it would not be fair to do so.

His wife, Debra Heffernan, a State Representative in Delaware, served on the IEP Task Force in Delaware, and she pushed for discussion about standards based IEPs, but nothing came of that out of the task force.  The Heffernans have publicly commented about their own special needs child in the past, so I am very curious why they are judging special education so harshly and are trying to get special needs parents to blindly accept the Common Core State Standards.  Research has shown these standards are not “one size fits all” and that children with special needs do not perform relative to their regular classroom peers on these tests.

While three members of the state board voted no, Heffernan, Melendez, and Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, the majority voted yes, and Gateway is saved.  On the school’s previously titled Save Gateway Lab School, Head of School Catherine Dolan wrote the following:

Dear Gateway Gladiator Parents/Guardians,

Mark Murphy, Secretary of Education, recommended a Conditional Renewal and the State Board voted to support him. We get one year to show major improvement.

Gratefully,

Catherine Dolan – Head of School

While some were confused over what this renewal meant for the school, Executive Director of the State Board of Education commented this morning on a Facebook post:

Actually the action taken today was the renewal of the charter for Gateway, which is a five year renewal, however they were renewed with a condition to meet standards on an alternate academic framework by the end of the 2015-16 school year. If they are not meeting standards at that point then the state would pursue revocation through formal review.

Delaware State Representative Trey Paradee, of the 29th District, wrote the following:

Schools like Gateway and Positive Outcomes fill a very special and necessary niche: to help children who have not been able to find success in a traditional classroom setting. The parents of children who attend these schools are fiercely supportive of them and are grateful that they exist. To judge the students and teachers at these schools by the same standards that are applied to the traditional public schools is ludicrous. Hats off to the teachers who step up to the challenge of teaching at Gateway, Positive Outcomes, and the schools that serve a disproportionate number of disadvantaged children.

Meanwhile, I’m sure Gateway Lab School parents, students and teachers are breathing a collective sigh of relief as their school has been saved.  As the Smarter Balanced Assessment is mere months away, schools in Delaware are all worried about the ramifications this already controversial tests will have on their own academic framework.

Charter Schools Under The Microscope in Delaware…Again! @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de #netde #eduDE

Due to academic performance frameworks, special education issues, application enrollment preference controversies, and another failing charter school in Delaware, charter schools in Delaware are being looked at in a negative light in Delaware.

According to Kilroy’s Delaware, a mandatory request was put out to all Delaware charter schools to meet with the Delaware Department of Education. As per Kilroy, the United States Department of Education is not very happy with the Delaware DOE’s method of evaluating charter schools through their academic performance framework. This has played in the charter schools favor in annual performance calculations. Because charters are stand-alone districts, many of their subgroups do not count in proficiency models due to a low number in some of the subgroups. As a result, this makes the charters look better in certain circumstances.

As well, the Office of Civil Rights has been investigating Delaware charter schools for quite a long time now. All Delaware charter schools were told by the OCR to let them see applications for two years. Anyone can look at the school profiles section on the DOE website and see clearly where certain charters are either very low in special education students or minorities. These allegations have been made against the Delaware charters as well as ones around the USA for many years now.

I am hearing from many parents in Delaware how the month of September has been the worst ever at some Delaware charters for special education. Either IEP requests are flat-out being denied, or evaluations are not being done, or already-existent IEP accommodations aren’t even happening. Students are being treated as behavior issues and not as a student with disabilities. And yet the IEP task force has had two meetings and no one on the task force is even bringing this up. Everyone knows it happens, but no one wants to hold them accountable. I guess the charters are “too big to fail”. But we have yet another charter school that has done just that. Moyer’s second chance has resulted in a failure more disgusting then that of Pencader, the charter that was closed by the state last year. Moyer had one part-time special education worker in the school.

The state legislature and the DOE have made small inroads to fixing these issues, but nothing to hold them accountable for their biggest problems. And reform bills like House Bill 165 passed in 2013, has resulted in brand-new charters, open only for the 2014-2015 school year being given bonus money under a performance fund. Yes, you read that right.

Parents are slowly opening their eyes to the fact that the great charter experiment is not as grand as they thought. Schools that six months ago had no slots open or only a couple spots left in a few different grade levels, are now accepting applications for all grade levels. Brand new charters that haven’t even opened yet have gone under review for not being able to fill the minimum enrollment numbers. But the DOE and Governor Markell, in their most brilliant idea yet (please note the sarcasm here), have designated six public school district elementary schools as failing based on standardized test scores and have labeled them as “priority schools”. Everyone knows they will probably become charter schools eventually. What most don’t realize,  as  Kavips pointed out here: http://kavips.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/behind-the-choice-of-the-six/they are all within a mile of a building designed to hold multiple charter schools. Maybe this can explain the look of glee on Delaware Secretary Of Education Mark Murphy’s face during the priority schools announcement on September 4th. And there was also a Delaware state senator who could not stop smiling during this announcement. It’s all on Delawareonline. Yes, these are appropriate facial gestures when your boss is announcing what amounts to state takeovers of the schools with the most dire low-income students in the state. Unless it will benefit them somehow…