The Delaware Department of Education released the 2019 September 30th Unit Count report earlier this month. Special education numbers are rising each year. This is now the 6th year I’ve written about this report. This covers everything: special education, demographics of each district and charter school, and enrollment trends in Delaware’s public education. One of the demographics in Delaware public schools is actually decreasing which came off as shocking to myself. Continue reading 2019 September 30th Numbers Show Special Education Is Up But Another Key Demographic Is Decreasing
The Delaware Department of Education released the September 30th counts report for the 2018-2019 school year. Enrollment in Delaware is up by 775 students. Special education is on the rise, jumping to over 16%. There are some very odd trends going on with different sub-groups in Delaware. Ones that are making me VERY suspicious. Continue reading Special Report: Red Flags In Delaware Student Enrollment Trends & The Increase In Special Education
Greg Meece runs Newark Charter School. For 18 years, Newark Charter School is rated not only one of the top charter schools in Delaware but one of the top schools. There is a multitude of reasons for this but it boils down to diversity. At their public hearing for their charter renewal process, Meece made a comment that is sure to rile up the diversity crowd all over again. Meece openly lied about his own school. Continue reading The Lies Greg Meece Says About Newark Charter School
A month ago, I posted an article about an In-School Alternative Program the Capital School District Board of Education would be voting on at upcoming board meeting. When I read the contract and heard the board audio recording, I had several questions about the program. I do understand the Christina School District runs the same program but I had some concerns for it in Capital’s middle schools and high school. Continue reading 16 Very Tough Questions With Capital School District About In-School Alternative Placements
Last week, at the Red Clay Board of Education meeting, a huge and heated conversation took place about the lack of diversity at Cab Calloway School of the Arts. It turned into something ugly and what I would not expect from a sitting board member. Continue reading The Discussion About Racism Is Important But So Is The Tone. Tales From A Red Clay Board Meeting.
Which districts and charters saw big jumps with student enrollment? Which went down? What is the state of special education in Delaware? What key demographic is rising at a fast rate which contributes significantly to the budget woes in our state? Which charter school, based on their current enrollment, should no longer be considered financially viable and should be shut down? What is the fastest-growing sub-groups in Delaware? And which cherry-picking charters continue to not serve certain populations? Continue reading Enrollment Count Report for 2017-2018 & Demographic Information For Districts & Charters: The Rise, The Surge, & The Cherry-Picking!
Last night, the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education voted unanimously for the district to develop an Equity Plan through their long-standing Diversity Committee. The resolution, written by board member Adriana Bohm, would charge the committee to develop the Equity Plan, which will be presented to the board by April of 2018. Many community members came out to give public comment in support of plan.
Where this gets a bit sticky is the two charter schools Red Clay authorizes, Charter School of Wilmington and Delaware Military Academy. As their authorizing agent, Red Clay can conduct their charter renewal process along with formal reviews, modifications, and other such matters. But they cannot dictate district policy to those schools and make them follow it. Both schools have substantially lower populations of racial groups the Diversity Committee would talk about. Failure to address this huge gap between the districts and those charters would ignore the inherent and not-to-be ignored problems of race in the district. Based on enrollment preferences, those schools have the tendency to pick and choose who they want based on “specific interest”.
I definitely think Bohm’s resolution is a good one. Red Clay had mixed results with their Inclusion Plan over the past few years which has prompted significant changes in the way the district handles special education. Based on 2016-2017 data, Red Clay has more minorities than white students, with the largest of those minorities being Hispanic students at around 30%. But what I don’t want to see this committee doing is basing student success on Smarter Balanced Assessment scores. I do not believe these are a valid measurement of student success in any possible way. Many in the African-American community feel these are a valid measurement since they include all students, but when the test is flawed it is not a good measurement.
To read the entire plan, please see below.
Ask, and ye shall receive! Whenever I put up an article about Newark Charter School and what I view as their low sub-group population percentages compared to Christina School District, I am asked to do closer comparisons. That is absolutely fair and something I should have done a long time ago. So I plead guilty on that score. But sometimes wanting to know that information to shut me up isn’t always the best idea. Especially when the proof is in the pudding. Continue reading Taking A Deep Dive At Newark Charter School & Christina School District: 5 Mile Radius, Greater Newark Area, & District (Including Wilmington)
Earlier this afternoon, State Rep. Rich Collins led the Delaware House of Representatives in prayer and asked them, no matter what, to put children first in their mind when they are voting on legislation. Two and a half hours later, Collins along with 26 other state reps both Republican and Democrat, voted to keep Newark Charter School first.
House Substitute 1 for House Bill 85 passed the House today with 27 yes, 13 no, and 1 absent. The bill removes the 5 mile radius enrollment preference for Delaware charter schools with one exception. Since Christina School District has a portion of their district in Wilmington, that is not landlocked with the rest of the district, those Wilmington children will not be allowed to choice to Newark Charter School. Even though the Wilmington students from Red Clay and Colonial can choice to other charter schools, those Christina Wilmington students can’t choice to that one school. They can still choice to other charters within the district or even outside of the district, but not NCS.
The bill still has to go through the Senate. By primary sponsor State Rep. Kim Williams’ own admission, if the bill did not have that provision it wouldn’t have moved forward in the Senate. The Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Senator David Sokola, used to be on the board of Newark Charter School. It isn’t really a state secret that State Rep. Melanie Smith bought a house in that area so her child can go to Newark Charter School. Why does it always come back to Newark Charter School?
State Rep. John Kowalko put an amendment on the bill that would have removed that provision, but it failed to pass the House. 25 state reps voted no on the amendment.
I know State Rep. Kim Williams very well. I know her intent with this bill was to get a start on changing this process. It is better than what we had before. But it really isn’t. Yes, there will be a greater number of Christina School District students who will have the option of choicing into Newark Charter School. That is true, provided the bill passes and gets signed by Governor Carney. But it also sends a clear statement about Delaware as a state: we will allow de facto segregation. Any time we are disallowing students from having a free and appropriate public education, we are not moving forward as a state, we are moving horribly backwards.
State Reps Charles Potter, Stephanie Bolden, and J.J. Johnson, all African-American, voiced strong opposition to the bill for the same things I am writing. Bolden said it best. What does it say about Delaware as a state when legislation like this comes up? She couldn’t say this, so I will. It shows what a discriminatory state we are to the rest of the country. It says city kids aren’t good enough for a charter in the suburbs. It says we vote in legislators who would rather keep one charter school from opening up to ALL students than making Delaware, the first state to sign the U.S. Constitution, a fair and equitable state for all children.
Let’s be honest here, the only reason for this legislation in the first place is because of Newark Charter School. Taking what could be a good portion of their student population out of the picture in the coming years defeats the whole intent of the bill in the first place.
Which State Reps voted to keep de facto segregation going in Delaware today?
Bryon Short (D)
Paul Baumbach (D)
David Bentz (D)
Gerald Brady (D)
William Carson (D)
Rich Collins (R)
Danny Short (R)
Tim Dukes (R)
Ronald Gray (R)
Kevin Hensley (R)
Deb Hudson (R)
Earl Jaques (D)
Quinton Johnson (D)
Harvey Kenton (R)
Ed Osienski (D)
William Outten (R)
Trey Paradee (D)
Charles Postles (R)
Melanie Smith (D)
Joe Miro (R)
Mike Ramone (R)
Steven Smyk (R)
Jeff Spiegelman (R)
John Viola (D)
Kim Williams (D)
David Wilson (R)
Lyndon Yearick (R)
Only one Republican voted no on the bill, State Rep. Ruth Briggs-King. I find it ironic that many of the Dems who have part of their district in the 5 mile radius for Newark Charter School voted yes. A couple of the no votes surprised me, but I will take it. For those who aren’t familiar with what our state legislators look like, there are no black Republicans in the Delaware House or Senate. All of the above legislators are white.
No offense to Kim Williams, and I get her intent behind this bill, but I can’t support this bill. I vehemently oppose it. Any legislation that restricts a child from doing anything will never be a bill I can get behind. Any bill that gives Delaware an ugly stain on our perception is one I can not support. This is not progress. This is very sad.
We need elected officials in our state who won’t follow the whims of Newark Charter School. We need legislators who will look out for ALL students. We need lawmakers who won’t bow to the Delaware Charter Schools Network and do what is right. We need legislators who realize collaboration when it comes to education is NOT always a good thing. Today was no victory by any means. It was a horrible step backwards in Delaware. We might as well paint a sign on Newark Charter School that says Wilmington students not allowed. The original five mile radius for NCS was bad enough, but this… this is blatant discrimination by a public school that gets funding from taxpayers around the state.
Newark Charter School is one of the best schools in Delaware. It is because of laws like this that have allowed them to cherry-pick their students and take advantage of the law so they give a façade of excellence. If they truly let in any student, they would be no better or worse than the schools around them. But they would be equal. I would never let my child go to a school like that. What kind of lesson would that teach him? If he were picked in their lottery, I would tell him he won because so many kids could not. If I lived in Wilmington, would I really want my child going to a school that practiced discrimination and segregation for over 15 years?
I would tell you to voice your opposition to the Delaware Senate on this bill. But it really doesn’t matter. If it passes as is, it is the same story. If it fails, Newark Charter School still has their 5 mile radius and still keeps kids from the Christina School District out of their prestigious public school. Any attempt at amending the bill will fail. But the truest failure is how Delaware looks to the entire country with this one bill.
Updated, 6:52pm: I want to add one thing. My thoughts on this bill are not a knock on all Delaware charter schools. There are many charter schools in Wilmington who would be more than happy to take the students Newark Charter School doesn’t want. And they do. My main issues with charter schools in Delaware have been the very inequity I am writing about here.
At a recent basketball game between Delaware Military Academy and A.I. DuPont High School, a fight broke out when DMA or students in the stands allegedly used racial slurs including the “n” word. As a result, the A.I. team has been suspended the rest of the season while the DMA players seemingly have not been punished for instigating the incident. I do not condone using force to resolve issues. If there was fighting, then certainly the A.I. players should be punished. With that being said, the use of racist slurs should NOT go unpunished. Details are sparse on this incident and I did reach out to Red Clay Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty and Delaware Military Academy Commandant Anthony Pullella to see if they can confirm what actions took place. As of this writing, I have yet to receive a response from either of them.
Apparently, this is not the only incident involving charter schools within Red Clay and Red Clay high schools. Several parents have suggested there was an incident between Charter School of Wilmington and Cab Calloway and the incident with DMA is not the first time racial slurs were said by DMA players.
Without “actual” documentation, much of this is hearsay. However, when enough parents start talking about something, expect a lot of noise. I don’t think this matter is going to quietly go away. For the current school year, DMA has a population of African-American students of 5.8% while A.I. DuPont has 36.1% according to the Delaware Dept. of Education website.
Updated, 10:42am: The News Journal covered the team’s suspension but not a single word was written about the alleged racial slurs.
Updated, 10:55am: The incident did not involve actual assault but players from A.I. rushing to the student seats at the DMA home game. Their coach had explicitly informed them to stay in their seats. Red Clay closed the investigation last week but it was reopened as of today. If anyone has firsthand knowledge of racial slurs being used at this game, please contact the Red Clay Consolidated District Office and Delaware Military Academy.
Updated, 11:00am: I have not received any response to my request for information from Daugherty or Pullella.
Updated, 12:34pm: Red Clay Board of Education member Adriana Bohm put the following message on Facebook:
In regards to the AI/DMA situation and based on information I received I requested the case be re-opened and it was reopened this morning. If folks heard the “N Word” and other racially derogatory language being used at the game please file an official complaint and write a letter to the Red Clay School Board. The email address is RCBOARDMEMBERS@redclay.k12.de.us. You may also message me so we can talk.
Updated, 1:27pm: I heard back from Red Clay Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty. I will include my initial request as well as his response:
Several people have reached out to me this morning in regards to a fight at a DMA basketball game. What I’m hearing is the AI team has been suspended the rest of the season. I’ve also heard the catalyst for this fight was the use of racial slurs by DMA players that have gone unpunished. Can you confirm any of this? This is under the assumption you would not know or be able to control what kind of punishment would occur for DMA players.
Dr. Daugherty’s Response:
We have investigated this incident for several days. We have interviewed coaches, administrators, security personnel, and parents of players from both teams who were at the game. None of those persons interviewed reported hearing any racial slurs. The decision to forfeit the remainder of the season (one game) and the playoffs was made because of the players actions at the conclusion of the game. The account of the incident in today’s News Journal is accurate. And, you are correct in that Red Clay is not responsible for the discipline of DMA students.
I have yet to receive a response from Commandant Pullella at Delaware Military Academy. There appears to be some confusion on whether the alleged racial epithets were coming from DMA basketball players or students in the stands.
Updated, 2/23/17, 4:28pm: I have updated this article to reflect that the alleged racial slurs came from Delaware Military Academy students in the stands, not their basketball players. There have been several reports about a hostile attitude at the game towards the A.I. DuPont High School team.
Today, the White House released a very long report on school discipline entitled “The Continuing Need to Rethink Discipline”. The report has a plethora of recommendations for public schools in America. I agree with most of them based on a cursory glance, but like many reports of this nature that I write about, it fails to recognize the fact that Common Core State Standards or other similar standards along with the high-stakes testing environment accompanying those standards are causing more problems than they are worth in our schools. I will write more about this as I go through the report in the coming days.
The Every Student Succeeds Act addresses school discipline and how our schools carry out punishment for negative behaviors. On Monday evening, the ESSA Discussion Group I am a member of in Delaware addressed this very issue. As well, a Delaware newspaper is working on an extensive article about bullying in Delaware and how our schools respond to bullying reporting.
It remains unclear how the incoming Trump administration will view this report.
For now, please read the below report.
The Delaware Department of Education released the Restraint & Seclusion report for the 2015-2016 school year. The number of physical restraints this year were 2,695, up from 2,307 in 2014-2015. That means there were 388 more physical restraints of students last year compared to the year before. I have to ask why everything is increasing with discipline in our schools. I can’t help but think that Common Core really isn’t working, especially for students with disabilities. Like last year, most of these physical restraints are going to students with disabilities and over half of them were African-American students. The highest age group was 9-11, and boys were more likely to be restrained than girls. You can read the full report below. I broke it down last year, but I really don’t have the stomach for that today.
The Delaware Department of Education came out with the 2016 September 30th Enrollment Report. This document shows the head count for each school district and charter school in Delaware public schools. As I predicted, special education students rose again this year. To qualify for special education, a student must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). With the exception of vocational schools, both the traditional school districts and charter schools went up in enrollment statewide. The growth for traditional school districts was anemic at best, with only a .32% increase from last year. Overall state enrollment went up by .9%. Once again, charter schools saw the greatest growth with a rise of 7.8% over last year. No new charter schools opened this year, however many submitted modifications last year to increase enrollments and grades in one case. Other charter schools began new grades this year based on their approved charters. Some districts saw very steady growth but others saw continuing drops. Continue reading 2016 September 30th Report Shows 4% Increase In Special Education, 7.8% Increase For Charter Enrollment
Tony Allen issued a stern warning about Wilmington schools. He said a lawsuit is coming soon if we don’t fix it.
Last Wednesday evening, the Progressive Democrats of Delaware held a panel on Delaware education funding. The panelists were myself, Tony Allen (the Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission), Brian Stephan (on the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee), and State Rep. Paul Baumbach.
The main emphasis of the panel was to discuss the pros and cons of implementing a weighted funding system for Delaware schools. In this type of system, students with higher needs would have more money allocated to them. These would include low-income students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. For the last, this already takes place with the exception of basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.
All the panelists were in agreement that the system we have is not working at all. While I don’t necessarily have an issue with a weighted funding system, the devil is in the details. But beneath the surface, as I stated towards the end of the panel, is the huge elephant in the room concerning accountability. Not for standardized tests but where money is currently going. There is no viable mechanism in Delaware to ensure the funds we are using in public education are truly going to the needs of students. Our state auditor is supposed to audit every single traditional school district for all expenses, but when was the last time we saw one of those reports unless it was part of an official audit inspection? There is no consistency with where funds are going. There are so many sub-groups of payment allocations with many overlapping each other. It is a beast to understand. Coding expenses in definitive places is a must, but no one seems to want to address that at a state level. It is my contention that throwing more money into the system is a recipe for disaster.
Say the advocates for better education in Wilmington schools do file a lawsuit. What would the result be? The feds have made important decisions in the past that put temporary band-aids on the issues but eventually the situation with “failing schools” comes up again and again. The definition of a “failing school” is now tied to standardized tests. It is the heart of all accountability in public education. But it fails to address the issues facing students of poverty, spoken languages that are not English, and disabilities that are neurologically based. The “one size fits all” mentality, which the Delaware Dept. of Education is still pushing in their first draft of the Every Student Succeeds Act state plan, doesn’t work.
Tony Allen told the group he was disappointed the WEIC Redistricting Plan didn’t pass in the General Assembly. He said, without hesitation, that he fears a lawsuit will have to happen to truly address the issues facing Wilmington students. He did concede that one of the biggest issues facing WEIC was not having representation from Kent and Sussex counties in the group. This was something I advised WEIC about in public comment at their very first meeting in August of 2015. It was also why I didn’t go to as many meetings as I could have. But will a federal lawsuit fix Wilmington schools?
In my opinion, the biggest problem in Delaware education among high-needs students is a problem no judge, accountability system, General Assembly, or any advocate can fix: hopelessness. In our biggest cities in the state, and reaching out into the suburbs and rural areas, is a drug problem of epic proportions. And with African-American youth, that comes with a potential of joining a gang. Until that problem is fixed, we will continue to spin our wheels trying to fix education. We can have after-school programs and more guidance counselors in our schools. That will help, but it will NOT solve the problem. I don’t have the answer to that. I don’t know who does. But until we can fix that problem, making our schools the penicillin for the disease facing our state will not get to the heart of the issue. With the drugs and gangs come extreme violence and people getting shot in the streets. This “be tough or die” mentality is the deadliest issue facing Delaware. And when those issues come into our schools, that is when education gets put in the bulls-eye of blame.
I have no doubt, at some point, Tony Allen, Jea Street and others will file some huge lawsuit against the State of Delaware. And many will look towards a judge to solve all our problems. It won’t. Until we get really tough on hopelessness, we will fail.
The Indian River School District has seen better times. While the embattled district faces an upcoming referendum in November, they must also contend with a huge influx of new students, a discrimination lawsuit, a budget that cannot handle itself, and an audit coming out this month from the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office. Hopefully the last will answer the question of what their former Chief Financial Officer Patrick Miller was up to. As I reported last month, sources contacted me under anonymity that Miller somehow absconded with millions of dollars in his time as CFO of the district.
Coastal Point reported on September 23rd that Indian River is not the only school district under review by the state Auditor’s office. But, as usual, they are not ponying up any details. I get that, but at the same time it gives them the capability of making things disappear when things get too hot in the kitchen, like the charter school petty cash audit.
“We like doing these things quietly (and make the announcement) when we’re done and we have a report for the public, so there’s not speculation out there,” Wagner said. “People get into wild speculations, and we try to avoid all that.”
On November 22nd, the district will attempt an operating expense referendum, as detailed on their website:
The district is proposing a tax increase of 49 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The measure will raise $7,350,000 in additional local revenue. The average district taxpayer will see an increase of $95.41 in his or her annual property tax bill.
But Coastal Point indicates this may not be the only referendum the school will ask for this school year:
More students means less space for each, so IRSD is working with the Department of Education to potentially build new schools and classrooms. That could possibly mean another referendum in the spring of 2017, for major capital improvement (to build new schools) and current expenses (if more money is needed for continuing costs).
Taxpayers in the district, especially elderly ones, are not going to like the proposition of two tax increases in less than a year. In the Coastal Point article, Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner indicated the investigative audit against Indian River School District will most likely be released to the district first for them to review. After that it will be released to the public. Will it come out before the November 22nd referendum? That could be important for many reasons. If the audit comes back finding something bad, and it comes out before the referendum, that could cause voters to vote no. If it comes out after, taxpayers will say they felt cheated. As well, a post-referendum release could assure a failure of the potential 2nd referendum vote next spring.
The district was very clear about the ramifications of a failed referendum on November 22nd:
If the referendum is not approved by voters, the district could face cuts to school safety, a significant reduction in staff due to an inability to meet payroll, larger class sizes, further discretionary budget cuts, the loss of staff to other school districts and inadequate instructional supplies and materials.
But financial issues are not the only crisis in the district. There is also the matter of what happened earlier this week. On Tuesday, October 4th, it was publicly announced the Coalition for Education Reform filed a federal lawsuit against Indian River. Their allegations claim the district sent a disproportionate number of African-American students to an alternative special education school called the George Washington Carver Academy. According to Randall Chase with WDEL 101.7FM:
The Coalition for Education Reform claimed that the district is using the George Washington Carver Academy, a special education school, as a “punitive dumping ground” for black students branded as “troublemakers.” The group says black students are being removed from mainstream schools and sent to Carver in disproportionate numbers on flimsy pretexts and for arbitrary periods of time, while their educational needs are neglected.
As a parent of a special needs child, I can’t even begin to express how much this concerns me. Shuffling off any students to different schools over discipline issues has become the quick Band-Aid for many Delaware school districts. And some charter schools either expel the student or counsel them out. While a federal lawsuit may not play out for a long time, I have to wonder if the district knew this was coming and is beginning to look at this in future budgets should they lose.
It looks like the Christina School District is not the only district in the state facing an avalanche of issues all at once.
As announced about an hour ago, the Board of Directors at Prestige Academy opted out of renewing their charter in a letter to the Delaware Department of Education. While a specific reason was not given, my hunch is the decision was made due to low enrollment. The letter was dated October 1st, the day after the September 30th count in Delaware which determines funding for all Delaware public schools.
The school has certainly gone through enrollment woes since they opened. In the 2014-2015 school year, they had 246 students. After going on formal review in the Spring of 2015 based on their April 1st count, they were put on probation. Their enrollment for the 2015-2016 year fell to 224. Last Winter, they submitted a major modification to lower their enrollment and drop 5th grade. This modification was approved by the State Board of Education last March. They were up for charter renewal this fall, but apparently the board made the decision for themselves.
The all-boys charter school opened in August of 2011. The school had their fair share of discipline incidents as well as higher populations of African-Americans, low-income, and students with disabilities. In January of 2015, Jack Perry resigned as the original Head of School. He was replaced by Cordie Greenlea, a former Christina and New Castle County Vo-Tech employee.
The school never had any major scandals like some other charters in Wilmington, but based on their student population with high needs, the school never seemed to find its footing. Sadly, this is happening more and more in Delaware. The charters that service students with severe needs are the ones that shut down. Pencader, Reach, Moyer, Delaware Met, and now, Prestige Academy. Meanwhile, charters that get all the rewards and accolades that don’t have demographics anywhere close to the districts around them, continue to thrive. It isn’t working. For the students in Wilmington that are shuffled around city schools… it can’t be good for them.
The only heat I ever got from the school was based on an article I wrote from when Jack Perry resigned. But for the most part, they were quiet and did their thing. At the end of the day, they opened the school hoping to make a difference for minority city students. For those in Delaware who think all schools should be charters, there is a lesson to be learned here. If all schools were charters we would be seeing dozens of charters closing each year. We have become so obsessed with test scores we have lost sight of what truly matters… the students.
I’m sorry this school closed. I never like to see any school close because of the severe disruption it puts students and their families through. While Wilmington still seems to have a charter moratorium for any new charters, it didn’t stop the State Board of Education from approving several charters in the area for major modifications which increased their student enrollments. Perhaps Prestige Academy would’ve had a fighting chance had the State Board followed the spirit of the legislation behind the moratorium.
Delaware has to do better by its students, especially those in our city schools. I don’t believe having an influx of community organizations coming into our schools is the answer. We have to increase funding for the schools that need it the most. We need to stop with the slush money, in both charters and districts. The excuse of “grant money” being allowed for a specific purpose is losing its meaning. That money would be better off going to schools that need it more. I am wary of all that the Every Student Succeeds Act has to offer. So much of it is more of the same, just with more outside organizations coming into schools and the promise of what amounts to an eventual digital education for all. Something has to give. But our State Board and the Delaware DOE has to take a lot of the blame for this. I have no doubt they were following whatever Governor Markell told them. They play games with children’s lives with their wax-on/wax-off charter school agendas. It is killing Delaware education!
I get it now. A few months ago I was discussing parent opt out with an African-American friend of mine. He explained to me that African-American students don’t do well on standardized tests because they’re written for white kids. I disagreed with him. I couldn’t grasp what was right before my eyes.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment was made for white kids. Civil rights groups, usually backed by the Gates Foundation and other corporate education reformers, claim high-stakes standardized tests are important. They say they need to understand where African-American students rank compared to their peers. This only perpetuates the myth that these tests are necessary. These groups vehemently opposed parents opting out of these tests because they claimed it would only continue pathways to discrimination. Instead, the reality is staring them right in the face. Standardized tests do show achievement gaps. But not because they offer any solutions on how to close those gaps, but because they were written for a specific audience.
These tests fail to understand different minorities or cultures. They were created from a white culture perspective. They ask students to push themselves based on standards that don’t address poverty, low-income, special needs, violent environments, discrimination, segregation, or equity. Even for white students, many who also deal with issues of low-income in our country, don’t perform well on these tests unless they are from more affluent areas.
Charter Schools were supposed to be the savior of education. They were supposed to offer unique new ways of educating students and be models of innovation. Instead, at least in Delaware, they have served as incubators of discrimination, segregation, and racism. We can’t ignore this fact any longer. We have to address this as a state, head-on.
In all likelihood, our charters are merely copying what happens in our regular districts. We see that African-Americans in our traditional school districts do not fare any better on these tests. Charter schools and districts with higher populations of white students do better on standardized tests. This fact hasn’t escaped those who create these tests. They know this. Our politicians and education leaders know this as well. This story isn’t new, nor is it shocking. They have known this ever since standardized tests came about. But we expect African-Americans to perform the same as their white peers. If they don’t, our governments will label and shame the schools and teachers that administer these tests. Why? What is the point?
Education improvement programs make lots of money. If a school isn’t converted into a charter under the accountability schemes brought to you by Education Inc., you better believe some company out there stands to make a tidy profit off “fixing” the “problem”. In Delaware alone, a company called Mass Insight was paid $2.5 million dollars to help out six “priority schools”. All inner-city schools with, you guessed it, very high populations of African-American students.
Delaware Governor Jack Markell said the Smarter Balanced Assessment is the best test Delaware ever made. If that is true, then it shows Delaware to be a very racist state because we allow this to continue. Our Department of Education can throw out statistics and graphs until we are blue in the face, but the true facts are above, and in the article I did on low-income populations and Smarter Balanced proficiency. I have no doubt students will gradually do better on these tests. But not enough to give them the education they deserve. Not enough for African-Americans to catch up to their Caucasian peers. This isn’t defeat. This isn’t accepting a status quo. This is reality. A test solely designed for one pre-dominant culture under the assumption that other sub-groups will catch-up is always destined for eventual failure. Do we call that now? Or do our policy-makers only look at the cost of the test and not the cost to the children of their state?
For parents of African-American students: How many pictures that show the same thing do you need to see? Why are you continuing to let your children take a test that forces them to work harder to live to a different ideal and culture? I’ve seen some of you point out that your children have predominantly white teachers. If our schools and teachers are judged on a test that is written for white kids, and a white teacher is teaching a majority of African-American kids in a classroom, what do you think the results are going to show? This test serves a dual purpose: to keep African-Americans down and to push those unionized white teachers out of public education. If you want more African-American teachers in the future, how will today’s African-American youth even feel inspired to go into education when they are constantly told they are failures based on these tests? These same tests that will eventually break down and morph into end of chapter tests, taken by students multiple times throughout the year. This is not about helping students to become “college and career ready”. It is an elaborate and long-term tracking system. Think about it, and opt out until those in power change these pictures. Look at those in your community who want this. Follow the money. Who are they speaking for? Corporations or children?
In the wake of what happened at Howard High School of Technology a week ago, many are questioning how to fix what is happening in our schools. There are no easy answers. I have not heard anyone defending the perpetrators of Amy’s murder. But I have seen people describe students who exhibit behavior issues referred to as “animals” and “they should be sent to labor camps”. While this is an extreme, I’ve heard these types of comments more than once, and I hear it more and more. Once we go down that path we are essentially labeling these students as helpless and stating there is nothing we can do to help them. And let’s face facts: when people say this there is a very racist undertone and they are referring to African-Americans. I don’t agree with it on any level and every time I see it I want to ship the people who would say things like that out of our state.
Just this school year we have seen the following: a charter school that closed mid-year due to an uncontrollable environment, a change in feeder patterns resulting in many instances of bullying at a Red Clay middle school, a bizarre number of bomb threats resulting in many schools closing for the day, a child intimidated by a bus driver in Appoquinimink, a father suing Brandywine over what he alleges are due process violations and unsubstantiated searches, students sent to hospitals as a result of fighting that are never publicly acknowledged but whispered about on social media, inclusion practices that are not working, and a student who died from a brutal assault last week at Howard.
As our state grapples with these issues, we have not seen solutions put forth that look at the big picture. Why are our students acting out? Why are many of our schools attempting to hide many of these issues? I have attended many State Board of Education meetings this year and I listen to their audio recordings. We don’t hear them discussing these kinds of issues too much, if at all. They seem to be more concerned with student outcomes based on standardized tests, Pathways programs, charter schools, accountability for schools, and celebrating the good things in our schools while giving short shrift to the issues that truly impact school climate.
It starts there. To get to the heart of issues like this, you have to start at the top and have it trickle down to the Superintendents or Heads of School, to the building administrators, to the teachers, to the students and to the community. If we have that massive disconnect at the top, the issues can never truly be addressed. If our State Board and legislators can’t get these matters fixed, how can we expect our schools to do so?
To adequately blame one thing that started a lot of this, we can blame zero tolerance. After the Columbine shootings in 1999, a massive wave of zero tolerance spread throughout America. No school wanted to have a situation like that on their hands. Students would be suspended for frivolous things. It got to a point in Delaware where an African-American first grader was expelled in the Christina School District for having a cake knife. As a result of that one bad judgment call, a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) resulted in the district entering an agreement with the OCR. Because the OCR ruled too many minority student suspensions were happening, the district had to be very careful about how they were meting punishment to students. Other districts saw what happened to Christina and didn’t want to suffer the same fate.
As a result, there was no consistency throughout the state on best practices. For all the accountability and “standardization” of students based on very flawed state assessments, there has never been any definitive set of standards for school discipline and school climate. There is no consistency with how schools report instances of bullying, offensive touching, and fighting. Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn pointed this out many times but there has been no direct accountability to schools over these issues. Part of the problem with discipline issues is the unique nature of them. Because of student privacy and FERPA regulations, many situations can’t be discussed publicly. There is no accurate tracking method to make sure our schools are recording these instances on the state reporting system, E-school, as required by state law within a set time period. The result is very bad data in the one area we actually need it the most. Add in special education issues and behaviors exhibited by students with disabilities. Is it a result of their disability or is it everyday behavior? Sometimes we just don’t know.
Some schools are very faithful with recording issues, but far too many aren’t. How do we know which schools need help with issues if they aren’t being 100% honest about what is going on in their halls? What shape would that help even be? If it is a punitive measure from the state, is that going to solve the problem or persuade schools to hide things better? Non-profits and corporations are lining up to get into our schools to offer what amounts to for-profit assistance. Under the guise of the Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a call for companies to come into our schools like never before to offer after-school programs and to turn our schools into all-day community centers. As well, we are seeing some states allowing companies to essentially bet on student outcomes in return for financial profit through social impact bonds. Many of these ideas are concerning to parents. Should schools be a place where medical and therapeutic treatment for students occur? For neglected and abused children, this could be a life-saving measure for those children. But it also opens up more of our public education system to less control at the local level. Many feel government should not even be allowed to write something like this into any law. The Elementary/Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was designed to make sure minority students were given equal footing in schools and were not disadvantaged. Written in 1965, its goal was actually simple: equal rights for all. Fifty years later, we are still tackling many of the original issues. But now we want to turn our schools into more than what they should be.
As far as this insane filming of fights in our schools, it is a new environment with no oversight. Students want to become social media famous because people come to their profile to look at it. Something needs to happen immediately. It is fostering an environment that is not healthy and desensitizes kids to violence. Even community Facebook pages that have nothing but street fights on them exist unchecked and unmonitored. In some of these videos, you actually see people telling others how to evade the police and they give warnings when the police are in the area. For some reason, students are fascinated by this. But the effect is chilling. As well, the role of technology in our schools and homes is greater than ever. But why are we allowing students to carry iPhones around school? How much of the violence from gaming is warping young minds? For that matter, what is all this screen time doing to all our brains?
If Amy’s tragic death has shown us anything it is that something is very broken. We have to fix it, no matter what. Amy’s situation is by far the worst thing that could happen to a student in school. But many students bare physical and emotional scars from this broken system. They are the survivors of fights and bullying that cause trauma to the soul, if not the physical. On the flip side, we have students like Patrick Wahl’s son Joseph who many view as a victim of very bizarre due process circumstances for a district that still follows zero tolerance tendencies. There are good things happening in our schools. Don’t get me wrong on that. We see students participating in charity events and giving back to their community on many levels. But that can’t be all the public sees. We have to look at the bad too. We can’t put a blanket over the violence in our schools and pretend it isn’t there. Amy’s death shattered that illusion in our state.
In the shadow of all this is the other illusion the state has cast on parents. Many parents judge schools based on their performance without realizing the measurement of that performance is fundamentally flawed. To get a basic breakdown of how this works, many years ago corporations decided they could make money off education. They tailored reports to give the illusion that “the sky is falling” and all students were in danger of falling behind other countries. Politicians jumped on the bandwagon through concerted lobbying efforts on the part of these companies, and soon enough new laws came down from a federal level based on student outcomes from standardized tests. No Child Left Behind opened the door but Race To The Top opened the floodgates for this corporate invasion. As schools were labeled and shamed under “school turnaround” laws, the US DOE started their ESEA flexibility waiver scheme. They bribed schools with money to further these agendas. Our schools and districts took the money with immense pressure from state governments during a recession. A dramatic shift in school climate happened. As more and more teachers took part in professional development to train them on the Common Core and other company initiatives, something happened to students. They were not supervised the way they were prior to all of this and they found new ways to usurp authority, especially in schools with large populations of high-needs students. Add in the situation with the OCR in Christina, and it was a recipe for disaster. Diane Ravitch wrote today about the fifteen years of “fake” reform and how the impetus behind it all, NAEP scores, show students who are now seniors more behind than they were compared to their counterparts in 1992. Common Core doesn’t work.
What if what we are seeing with student behavior and the reasons behind it are all wrong? What if those who come from poverty, special needs, and low-income minority populations isn’t just misbehavior but something else altogether? What if it is a direct result of a system designed for conformity? The supposed goal of the Common Core was to make all students get the same set of standards across the country. I hear many consistent things from parents in Delaware. For smarter kids, Common Core isn’t so tough once they get it. But for struggling students, basically the ones from sub-groups that perform poorly on state assessments, it is much more difficult. Perhaps what we are seeing with this absolute disregard of authority in schools is a natural defense mechanism kicking in. A fight or flight mechanism when their way of living, of being, is attacked. The natural instinct for teenagers is to rebel. Compound that with an entire education system designed to make students question authority less and use “critical thinking” based on standards that actually give children less choices, and something will give. We are seeing this now. And if we continue on the same track, it will get far worse. If a “smart” student gets it faster, it would naturally put other students behind. This is the impossible bar the Common Core puts on students. For the intelligent who come from wealthier and more cohesive home environments, this isn’t a problem. But for students with disabilities who cannot always control their actions and minority students who do not have the environmental stability their more advantaged peers have, it will take a great deal of effort to catch up with their peers. Add in the stress and anxiety they have from their environment outside of school to the pressure to perform in school, and the pressure gage gets higher. Then add the explosive need every teenager has, to belong and have friends, and the gage gets closer to the point of no return. Throw in a fixation on violence mixed with wanting to be accepted and the Pompeii of public education is set. Last week we saw the volcanic eruption of rage unchecked and bystanders filming it and doing nothing.
The biggest victims of the education reform movement are inner-city African-American students. While civil rights groups demanded more equity for these students they fell into the trap the corporate education reformers methodically laid out for them with financial enticements. The reformers echoed their complaints and pitted parents against teachers. The reformers used standardized test scores to give a false impression of schools and invented a whole new language based on the word “gap”: the equity gap, the proficiency gap, the honesty gap, and on and on and on. Add in school choice, a growing charter school movement, forced busing based on a horrible Neighborhood Schools Act in Delaware, and the rise of Jack Markell as Governor wrapped in a corporate bow and the perfect storm began in our schools.
To ignore the plight of African-Americans in Delaware would be a gross injustice. It goes way beyond apologizing for slavery. A friend of mine sent me an article about the 1968 Occupation of Wilmington. The article written by Will Bunch with philly.com talked about the nine-month Occupation of Wilmington by the National Guard following the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. For the African-American community in Wilmington at the time, this was a grave injustice:
On the other hand, in a sign of some of the deep divide and mistrust in Delaware that lingers to this day, the white Democratic governor down in Dover decided to send in the National Guard – and then kept troops on the streets of Wilmington for nine long months, the longest military occupation of a U.S. city since the Civil War.
And this quote from former Wilmington Mayor James Baker:
But the memory still burns for those who lived through the occupation. “It sent a shock wave through the social-service agencies . . . and the city as a whole,” Baker recalled. “People said, ‘What are we doing?’ “
Many African-American communities in Wilmington are very distrustful of the government, and for very good reasons. This belief gets handed down from generation to generation. But when drugs enter a city like Wilmington, followed by violence and murders, that distrust can get out of control. How do we tackle this? How do we lift a whole city out of a problem of this magnitude? When my friend sent me this article, it was a response to my question about why we don’t just send in tons of cops and clean it all up, all the drugs and gangs. She informed me the last time this happened it didn’t work out too well. It astonishes me that we are still dealing with issues of race in the 21st Century, but we are and we need to face it and deal with it, all of us. But at the same time, we cannot ignore what individuals are doing in individual circumstances.
We need to be very careful on how we plan to deal with the situations in far too many of our schools. Far too much is tied into the very bad education reforms that show, time and time again, how it just doesn’t work. But our current system has been infiltrated with far too many people tied to these efforts. I expected to see a late rush of legislation coming forth at Legislative Hall in the final days of June. With very little community input and transparency, we need to watch our legislators like a hawk and make sure what they put forth is best for students and not the broken system some of them are trying desperately to make permanent. The funding mechanisms for our schools are under the microscope, but if we squeeze the property assessment orange too fast, it could cause many to leave the state they moved to because of low taxes. As well, we need to be mindful of laws Delaware could pass in anticipation of the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. The law is still being flushed out in a lot of areas and the DOE and Governor Markell WILL take full advantage of that to please the hedge funders and corporations.
If businesses want to come into our schools and turn them into community schools, they should pay rent to our schools. If they want to turn education into a marketplace, like any other store they need to pay their rent. Why are we giving them a free ride while they make millions and millions and our districts get less? It makes no sense when you look at it like a business model. But no, our state wants to give them tax discounts for doing business in our state. We are giving them free reign to pump out the same products over and over again with no actual results.
While these aren’t the solutions we need to make our schools safer, it is a big start. Our district administrators are far too distracted with all of the nonsense around Common Core, state assessments, personalized learning, and career pathways when they should be focused on the more important things. The first steps to ending violence in our schools are actually quite simple. A rebellion like none seen before in public education. A collective and concerted effort to rid ourselves of the catalysts that are stroking the flames in our children’s lives. End Common Core. End state assessments. End the testing accountability machine that destroys morale in students, teachers, and schools. End the corporate interference in education that perpetuates the false ideals that if students have more “rigor” and “grit” they can become college and career ready. We are indoctrinating children at a very young age to be something they are not meant to be. The human mind won’t allow it. Some will conform. But for the growing poor and disabled in our country, they will not be what the reformers want them to be. You can’t guide a four-year old towards a certain career path based on data and scores. You can’t say they don’t qualify for special education if a disability has not manifested itself yet. End the abhorrent amount of data collection on our students for “educational research”.
This is the start. Let’s get back to more human education. Why are we doing this to our future? No child should be a victim of a padded resume or a fattened wallet. The majority of teachers will tell you privately what we are doing is not working. Administrators will as well if you catch them on a good day. But they feel threatened that if they don’t comply their profession will disappear. They will fight for certain things but when they need to openly rebel against the system, it doesn’t happen. It is their self-defense mechanism. The closest we have come to ending this era of education reform is opt out. But even that is in danger of disappearing if the education tech invaders get their way and have the state assessment embedded in small chunks instead of a once a year test. The personalized learning and competency-based education models are already calling for this.
When I hear people say “all you do is complain, what are your solutions?”, I cringe. The problem is so epic in scope, so large in diameter, that it will take a great deal of effort by many well-meaning people to find all the answers. And when I say well-meaning, I don’t mean the Rodel Foundation or the Governor. I mean the people who are not affected by corporate greed and a lust for power. I’m talking about the people who truly want to save our children.
Yesterday, a presentation was given to the Delaware Senate Education Committee by the Parent Advocacy Council for Education (PACE) on the highly controversial Component V portion of the teacher evaluation system in Delaware. Component V is the part of Delaware’s teacher evaluation system tied to standardized tests. The group also felt that the recently concluded DPAS-II Sub-Committee on teacher evaluations was found lacking with a diversity among its members.
PACE is an initiative of the Christina Cultural Arts Center, which advocates and promotes the arts in education. Centered out of Wilmington, PACE is comprised of concerned citizens who feel that parent education organizations are underrepresented by minorities. The Christina Cultural Arts Center is run by Raye Jones Avery, who also sits on the board of the Rodel Foundation.
PACE began a few years ago but gained more momentum last fall when Elizabeth Lockman began running the organization. As a result of Lockman’s connections and influence in the Wilmington community, the group was able to define themselves and began conducting workshops to gain perspective on education in Delaware.
The workshops offered different topics in education. Some examples of their workshops included presentations from or topics on the following: Parent Information Center of Delaware (PIC), members of the Delaware Department of Education Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit, Early Education advocates, the Metropolitan Urban League, School Board governance, Community Schools, Title I Schools, Education Funding, College Readiness, “Opportunity Gaps”, the School To Prison Pipeline, the State Legislature, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC), the Wilmington Education Strategy Think Tank (WESTT), TeenSHARP (run by former DOE employee Atnre Alleyne), Discipline and School Climate, ACLU/Coalition for Fair and Equitable Schools, and a presentation by Alleyne shortly before he resigned from the Delaware Department of Education. This last presentation is very important in the context of this article, but I will touch on that later.
Upcoming presentations include State Rep. Stephanie Bolden explaining how Education Policies become law, the education landscape in Wilmington, School Choice & Climate, Quality: Teacher Inequity & Ed Quality, Readiness: Getting from Early Ed to College & Career, Accountability: Inside Title I & Assessment, and Support: Empowered Parents = Ready Children. In addition, PACE partnered with the Delaware Charter Schools Network on the Public School Choice Expo and hosted the Michael Lomax presentation in January.
The DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee is an offshoot of the DPAS-II Advisory Group. Created through House Joint Resolution #6 last year, sponsored by Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques and Senator David Sokola, the legislation stated the following about the goals of the committee:
The group met for the first time on September 15, 2015. Based on the first meeting minutes, the membership of the group consisted of the following:
DPAS-II Sub-Committee Members
- Jackie Kook, (Delaware State Education Association, Christina School District) – Chair
- Dr. David Santore, (Delaware Association of School Administrators, Caesar Rodney) – Co-Chair
- Sherry Antonetti, (DSEA, Caesar Rodney)
- Clay Beauchamp, (DSEA, Lake Forest)
- Rhiannon O’Neal, (DSEA, Woodbridge)
- Kent Chase, (DASA, Woodbridge)
- Dr. Clifton Hayes, (DASA, New Castle County Vo-Tech)
- Dr. Charlynne Hopkins, (DASA, Indian River)
- Bill Doolittle, (Parent Representative, Delaware PTA)
- David Tull, DE (Delaware School Boards Association, Seaford Board of Education)
- Dr. Lisa Ueltzhoffer, (Charter School Representative, Newark Charter School)
- Dr. Susan Bunting, School Chief’s Association/(DPAS-II Advisory Committee Chairperson, also Superintendent of Indian River)
- Donna R Johnson, (Executive Director of Delaware State Board of Education, non-voting member)
- Delaware State Senator David Sokola
- Tyler Wells, Higher Education representative
- The following Delaware DOE members served as staff for the committee:
- Christopher Ruszkowski, (Delaware DOE, Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit, non-voting member)
- Atnre Alleyne, (Delaware DOE, TLEU, non-voting member)
- Shannon Holston (Delaware DOE, School Leadership Strategy, non-voting member)
- Renee Holt (Delaware DOE, TLEU, secretary for committee)
As well, Senator Sokola’s Aide, Tanner Polce, sometimes sat in for Senator Sokola.
Various members of the DOE attended meetings, usually from the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit.
The biggest recommendation to come out of the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee was reducing the weight of Component V. This part of the DPAS-II Teacher Evaluation system is tied to the state assessment. In lieu of using the state assessment as a measure of growth, the assessment could be one of several other measures. As well, the weight with component V, both parts, would be equal to the other four components. Each one would carry a weight of 20%.
When this recommendation came out in its full context at the Sub-Committee meeting in January, Delaware Secretary Dr. Steven Godowsky was most likely planning for another big event coming the next day, on January 14th. Neither Donna Johnson nor Chris Ruszkowski from the DOE attended the meeting on January 13th. The very next day, the Delaware House of Representatives knew State Rep. John Kowalko would attempt to get an override of Delaware Governor Markell’s veto of the opt out legislation, House Bill 50. To do this, he would need to have a majority of the House vote to suspend the rules to have it get a full House vote. While that didn’t happen, I am sure Secretary Godowsky was in constant contact with Governor Markell and his Education Policy Advisor, Lindsay O’Mara. Since Alleyne attended the Sub-Committee meeting on January 13th, it would stand to reason Godowsky was notified the group was leaning towards the Component V recommendation. On the evening of January 14th, the PACE sponsored Michael Lomax presentation occurred.
At some point in February, Atnre Alleyne announced his resignation at the Delaware DOE. His last day was on February 29th. On February 13th, an announcement went up on PACE’s Facebook page announcing their next set of workshops.
At the 2/16 meeting of the Sub-Committee, Secretary Godowsky showed up and listened to the group’s recommendations.
Alleyne attended this meeting as well. He was very concerned about the wording on part of the draft for the final report of the committee
Two days later, on February 18th, Alleyne was the speaker at the PACE Workshop on Teacher Quality and Assessment. Without knowing what was said at this workshop, I am speculating that a discussion ensued about the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee and their findings. Keep in mind he was still an employee of the Delaware Department of Education at this point.
By the time the next meeting came on February 29th, it was Alleyne’s last day at the DOE. Several people gave public comment, including two members of PACE: Althea Smith-Tucker and Mary Pickering.
Alleyne served his last day at the Delaware DOE after this meeting. On March 7th, the day before the next meeting of the Sub-Committee, Alleyne put a post up on his blog, “The Urgency of Now”, entitled “Do #blackvoicesmatter in Delaware schools?” The blog article touched on many points which do show an underrepresentation of African-American students in the teaching profession in Delaware. Citing some other examples that I somewhat agree with, Alleyne brought up the DPAS-II Sub-Committee. In writing about both the DPAS-II Advisory Committee AND the DPAS-II Sub-Committee, he touched on the fact the Advisory Committee had no members of color aside from himself and he was a non-voting member (as an employee of the DOE). But what he did in the next paragraph failed to distinguish between the Advisory Committee and the Sub-Committee:
At the committee’s most recent meeting, a few black parents from Wilmington sat through the meeting and provided comments during the public comment section.
But what happened next made it look even worse for the committee:
After the meeting, they followed up on their critique of the committee’s lack of parent representation (it has one parent representative from the PTA) with the PTA representative. He noted that he agreed we need more parents on these committees. One of the parents pressed further and said, “Well I’ve seen you as the one representative of parents on a number of state committees. You should share the wealth.” His response: (paraphrasing) I’d love to not be the only one on these committees if other parents could learn enough about these issues and systems to be able to participate.
Apparently the two parents from PACE did not like this response. As well, Alleyne, who was STILL a DOE employee at this point (granted, it was his last day), jumped to their defense:
I joined the parents in letting him know that we found that notion offensive. He chided me for not understanding the research and advocating for ineffective and uninformed parent engagement. I retorted that perhaps the problem is we have policy wonks and interest groups advocating for adults at the table. Meanwhile, nobody is asking the simple questions and speaking from the heart about what is best for students.
I reminded him that ours is a democracy that lets everyone participate even if they are seemingly less informed. I also reminded him that the hoops and prerequisites he was promulgating as a barrier to participation seemed painfully similar to hoops black people had to jump through to prove they were smart enough to vote. One of the parents informed him (sarcastically) that she had a doctorate in education and that she was pretty sure she could figure out Delaware’s educator evaluation system–but it shouldn’t take having a doctorate degree to be worthy of sitting at the table.
I found this assault on the parent representative from the Delaware PTA, Bill Doolittle, to be absolutely unfounded. In my years of blogging, I have met many people involved in education. As a parent advocate with the Delaware PTA and the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, as well as his own personal advocacy, there are not too many “non-educators” who have the resolve, knowledge, and depth of compassion for students that Bill Doolittle has. To turn his comments into an issue of race is very offensive to me. As well, by referring to “we” in his response to Doolittle, he removed himself from the reason he was there, as a non-voting member of the DPAS Sub-Committee, and became Atnre Alleyne.
But since Alleyne never made the distinction between the Advisory Committee and the Sub-Committee in the rest of the article, one would assume there was no person of color on either committee. What Alleyne left out was the fact two of the administrators on the Sub-Committee were African-American.
Now keep in mind, Alleyne had not written an article on his blog in eleven months. But by the time he wrote this, he was no longer an employee of the DOE and most likely felt he could express his thoughts as a private individual. This is certainly his right. But to leave an impression about a lack of diversity on an important education group when he very well knew there was diversity on this committee is disingenuous. I wouldn’t bring this up, but it does play a huge role in what happened after.
At the final meeting of the DPAS Sub-Committee on March 8th, the final recommendations of the committee came out, and Ruszkowski and Alleyne were not happy about them at all.
As well, members of PACE, Alleyne (now speaking on behalf of TeenSHARP), and a Delaware student gave public comment:
Now the name “Halim Hamorum” sounded very familiar to me, but I couldn’t place it. I Googled the name and couldn’t find anything. I tried the last name, nothing. Then I tried the first name and Delaware, and several hits came up. Halim Hamroun, a student at Newark High School, was one of the speakers at the launch of the Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025 last September. But I also remembered he wrote a column the same day in the News Journal about the student voice.
I am also a veteran of at least three state test programs meant to improve our educational system, and a guinea pig for various scheduling and teaching methods. Each year there’s a new flavor.
As I sit here writing this, I find myself wondering how a Newark High School student would find out about the DPAS-II Sub-Committee meeting, know exactly what it was about, and be able to attend and give public comment. This is conjecture on my part, but someone reached out to him. He was coached. They knew about his connection with the Rodel Foundation/Vision Coalition sponsored “Student Success 2025” and asked him to speak against the committee’s recommendations. In Delaware education, there is no such thing as a coincidence.
But what shocked me the most about the final meeting was the abhorrent behavior of the soon to be former DOE employee Chris Ruszkowski. His comments, especially suggesting that the committee was conducting secret meetings and “hoodwinked” the process and goals of the legislation is absolutely preposterous, especially coming from one of the most controversial employees of the Delaware Department of Education during Governor Markell’s tenure as Governor of Delaware. We all know transparency is an issue in Delaware, but I have seen many meeting minutes for all sorts of groups in Delaware. The minutes and transparency surrounding the DPAS-II Sub-Committee are some of the best I have seen in Delaware. I frequently look at the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar, and I always saw their meeting notices, agendas, and minutes faithfully listed.
What Ruszkowski may not be aware of is the large amount of DOE emails that were part of a FOIA request by another Delaware citizen that have his name on many of them. I’ve published some, and others I haven’t due to the nature of the emails. I have seen his disdain for many traditional school districts. I’ve heard the tales of his tirades against school districts who opposed his initiatives, such as the Delaware Talent Cooperative. I personally haven’t had any face to face discussion with Ruszkowski, but the one time I did, it was a childish response to a comment I made during the last assessment inventory meeting. I would not be surprised in the least, and this is merely conjecture on my part, if Ruszkowski’s resignation from the DOE was somehow connected with his behavior at the final DPAS-II Sub-Committee meeting.
To read the entire minutes from this final meeting (and I strongly suggest you do), please read the below document. But there is much more that happened after this meeting!
Two days after the final Sub-Committee meeting, Alleyne posted another article on his blog about the meeting. This article, aptly named “Reflections after last nights educator evaluation commitee meeting”, went over his perception of the events.
The committee is also recommending that the use of students’ growth on the state Math/English assessment will no longer be required as one of two measures in a Math and English teacher’s Student Improvement component. This is currently the only statewide, uniform, and objective measure of educator effectiveness in the evaluation system.
Keep in mind this is coming from the perspective of someone who lives and breathes the same kind of education talk we have heard from Governor Markell, the Delaware DOE, the Delaware State Board of Education, the Rodel Foundation, and so many of the companies, non-profits, foundations, and think tanks that make up the corporate education reform behemoth.
What this led to next took many by surprise. PACE, somehow, was able to get a presentation before the Senate Education Committee yesterday. The man who sets the agenda for the Senate Education Committee is Senator David Sokola, the Chair. The same Senator who served on the DPAS-II Sub-Committee. The same Senator who wrote the legislation creating the DPAS-II Sub-Committee. The same Senator whose legislation stated the committee would present their findings to both the Senate and House Education Committees in the Delaware General Assembly. So how is it that a parent advocacy group from Wilmington presents their complaints about a committee that they didn’t really take action with until their last two meetings, well after the recommendations were put forth, is able to give a presentation to members of the Senate Education Committee, before the DPAS-II Sub-Committee even presented their final report to either Education Committee? And from what I’m hearing, the committee hasn’t even had a presentation date scheduled!
I attended the Senate Education Committee meeting yesterday, and I heard what Mary Pickering, who spoke on behalf of PACE, had to say. As well, a handout was given to members of the education committee and I was graciously given a copy. This document was written on March 31st, but nothing shows up anywhere online about it. PACE does not have a website, just a Facebook and Twitter page. I copied the entire document, but to prove its authenticity, I did take a picture of part of the first page:
March 31, 2016
To The Members of the Delaware Legislature:
The Parent Advocacy Council for Education (PACE) is an organization whose mission is to raise awareness among parents and people who care about the need to improve public education across the state of Delaware, and in particular, for students living in the city of Wilmington.
Earlier this year PACE became aware of the DPAS-II subcommittee (created through HJR 6) and their efforts to recommend changes to Delaware’s teacher evaluation system. We began attending these meetings, sharing our perspectives as parents during the public comment porting of the meetings, and asking questions. How teachers should be evaluated in Delaware was the focus of this committee, a very important topic that will impact all Delaware teachers, parents, and students. Yet this 14-member committee has only one parent representative, very little diversity, and each of the meetings we attended had little participation from the general public. The perspectives many parents shared during the public comment portion of the meeting, as well as those we’ve heard from other parents in our community, are not reflected in the Sub-Committee’s final recommendations. As such, we are sharing this letter in the hopes that you will consider a diverse set of perspectives on this issue.
As you discuss the future of teacher evaluation in Delaware’s public school system, we would like you to consider the following:
The importance of parent and student voice in teachers’ evaluations: Parents and students had very little voice in the DPAS-II Sub-committee process and have no voice in teachers’ overall evaluation process. Although this was mentioned in the Sub-Committee numerous times, our request was excluded from their recommendations. Parents and students can offer unique perspectives on their experience with various teachers that will complete the picture of a teacher’s overall performance. Parents are routinely subjected to surveys, none of which ask about our children’s experiences in the classroom. Although all teachers receive ratings through the DPAS-II system, this information is not made available to parents to make informed decision and protect against inequities in schools. We ask that you emphasize the importance of parent and student voice by adding a requirement that parent and/or student surveys be included in our Delaware teacher evaluation system. We also ask that legislature make information about teachers’ evaluations more transparent to parents.
The importance of diverse perspectives in decisions about teacher evaluation: The DPAS-II Sub-committee had four representatives from the teacher’s union, four from the administrator’s association, and only one parent to represent the entire state of Delaware parent population. There were no teachers of color on the committee. Although this committee is a poor representation of the diverse population you serve across the state, their recommendations will be presented as if there is a consensus. We ask that you show your commitment to diversity by engaging a wider and more diverse set of stakeholders before taking any action on the sub-committee’s recommendations. We also ask that legislation be amended to allow a more diverse set of stakeholders to serve on the DPAS-II Advisory Committee.
The importance of student learning and accountability for student learning: During the meetings we attended, we were appalled at how student learning took a back seat to the convenience of adults in the system. The committee is recommending reducing the weight of the Student Improvement component and making all 5 components equally weighted. This would allow a teacher rated unsatisfactory on the Student Improvement Component to still be rated as an effective teacher. The Sub-committee is basically saying that Planning and Preparation (Component 1) and Professional Responsibilities (Component 4) are as important as Instruction (Component 3) and Student Improvement (Component 5). It is not clear to us how an education system designed to produce academically and socially successful students, implement an evaluation system that de-emphasizes accountability for student learning. It is our concern that the recommendations of the subcommittee, if adopted, will widen the achievement gap for the children in places like Wilmington, DE. We believe there should be an evaluation system that supports teachers, but also meaningful and consistent accountability. We ask that you show your commitment to student learning and leave the weight of the Student Improvement Component as is.
The importance of including the state assessment as a part of teachers’ evaluations: The committee is recommending that Math and English teachers no longer be required to use student growth from the state assessment as one part of their evaluation. State test scores are the only objective measure of student improvements that are consistent across the state for educator effectiveness. As flawed as the test may be (something we believe also needs to be addressed), it is still the only consistent measure of student growth. The measures that the committee is recommending to replace state assessments are substantially less rigorous and comparable across the state. Removing this measure will only serve to remove accountability, widen the disparity among schools, and eliminate the ability to monitor the impact of inequitable funding in disproportionately children of color. We ask that you show your commitment to creating an objective and consistent evaluation system by leaving the state assessment as a required measure of Student Improvement for Delaware Math and English teachers.
We believe that an evaluation system where 99% of teachers are told they are effective or highly-effective does a disservice to educator professional growth. It is also inconsistent with the experiences we have (and our children have) in schools each day. We believe our recommendations will help Delaware create an evaluation system that values student learning, gives teachers accurate information they can use to improve, holds teachers accountable fairly, and values student perspectives. We would appreciate the opportunity to further discuss our recommendations as the legislature discusses this important matter. Thank you for your consideration.
Parent Advocacy Council for Education (PACE)
What I would like you, the reader, to do at this point is compare the handout from PACE with Alleyne’s blog article from March 10th.
This is what bothers me about this whole situation. I like the idea of PACE. I think the idea of community members getting together, no matter who may provide the funding, in an effort to improve education is honorable. I love the fact that they are very organized and set up workshops on a multitude of education subjects. I agree with many of PACE’s goals.
I firmly believe minority students are not always given the same level playing field as their non-minority peers. The African-Americans in America are still marginalized in many areas of society. But they have also come a long way depending on the path they took. We have a black President. We have very successful African-American business executives, both male and female. In pop culture, the African-American culture thrives in music. While there are still some hurdles to overcome, Hollywood is very welcoming to African-Americans.
But what hasn’t changed is the plight of inner-city youth. We still have far too many minorities who deal with poverty, violence, crime, drugs, and a gang culture that draws far too many of them away from the potential for success and into prison. Many of these children have single parents, or no parents at all. Many of these children are traumatized through the events in their lives. Some of them, and by growing numbers, also have disabilities.
Somewhere along the way, corporate businessmen decided they could make a profit off this. As a result, we saw the growth of charter schools and school choice. We saw testing companies spring up overnight. With funds sponsored by the Gates Foundation, the Koch Brothers, the Walton Foundation, and so many more, education “reform” companies came out of the woodwork. All of a sudden schools and states were contracting with these companies. Report after report came out with the following statements: Our schools are failing. Our teachers were not effective. The unions were calling the shots. Teach For America and similar teacher prep programs had better results than regular teachers. Charter schools are better than traditional schools. And every single report, every finding, came from one single thing: the standardized test score.
There are many names for these standardized tests: High-Stakes testing, state assessments, Smarter Balanced, PARCC, and the list goes on. But they all wind up with the same results, plus or minus a few abnormalities: they are socio-economic indicators that do not determine a student’s abilities but their zip code. And many in the African-American community believe it is a valid measure. In some ways, I can’t blame them. They have a valid history of marginalization. There have been equity gaps that still exist to this very day. In Delaware, we have some schools that do not accept a large population of African-Americans or other minorities, even though the demographics surrounding these schools strongly suggest something is amiss. These schools argue back and forth that they don’t get the applications from these communities, or the placement test scares them off. But these are public schools, barred from any type of discrimination whatsoever. If they have things in place that are preventing any group of students from attending, that is against the law. But this is Delaware, and we seem to think it is okay as a state to let those things slide.
Which brings me back to PACE. A group, which started with honorable intentions, has been sucked into the madness of standardized testing. In their handout to the Senate, they openly admit the current assessment in Delaware, the Smarter Balanced Assessment, is flawed. Knowing that, they still want our teachers evaluated by it. They feel that the potential price teachers could pay based on those evaluations is less important than the mirage standardized test scores give. If anything, standardized test scores have widened the equity and proficiency gaps more than anything else since black and white schools. And this is happening right now, in the 21st Century.
But here is the kicker to all of this. There is one group in education that performs far worse than any minority group. They are always at the bottom of these lists. And that is students with disabilities. I am a parent of a child with a disability. So no one can say I don’t have a voice or a stake in what is going on with standardized tests. But we don’t see parents of students with disabilities advocating for these kinds of measurements for our children. Many of us see them as an impediment to progress as opposed to a road to progress.
I was the first member of any type of media in Delaware to announce the DOE’s Annual Measurable Objective goals for all of the sub-groups in Delaware Education for 2015-2021. I was at the State Board of Education meeting in November. I saw the document just placed on the State Board of Education website that documented what the Delaware DOE’s growth goals were for all of the sub-groups, all based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. I saw immediately what the DOE’s growth goals meant for any high-need student: students with disabilities, English Language learners, African-Americans, Hispanics, and low-income students.
Take a very good look at the below two pictures. Note the growth that is expected out of these different sub-groups on one single measure: the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Look at the gains they will have to make compared to the groups with the least amount of growth expected: Asians and Whites. Think about the vast amount of work expected out of educators to get to those levels. Think about the struggles and “rigor” those students will need to get to those levels, if they make it at all (which I highly doubt). Think about the state assessment, how it is designed, the anxiety in schools based on them. Think about the vast amount of instruction time that is taken away for these tests. Time your child will NEVER get back. Think about the fact that most of us are in agreement that the Smarter Balanced Assessment is a very flawed test. Think about the fact that the Delaware DOE openly admitted these are the highest goals of any other state in the country.
Think about this: During this meeting, when I saw these goals, I assumed a DOE Employee was behind this. Her name is Penny Schwinn, and she no longer works for the DOE. She left in January. Her title was the Chief of Accountability and Assessment. When I saw these pictures, I put her name in the title of this article. After I posted it, I saw her in the hallway. She had been crying and was very upset. After the meeting, I approached her. She explained to me that she didn’t set these goals. She also explained that they are impossible goals to reach for these students. I said to her “I know who set these goals.” She looked at me and said “Chris?” to which I responded, “No, Governor Markell.” I changed the name on the article since she openly admitted to myself and another person she did not make these goals. I knew Penny Schwinn ultimately answered to the Governor, so I assumed he made the goals. Or at the very least, approved them.
Upon retrospection of this conversation and all I have learned since, Governor Markell is a corporate guy. He is a persuasive public speaker and he knows how to sell a product. But he doesn’t know how to build a product. This growth model, in all likelihood, came from Chris Ruszkowski at the Delaware DOE. The very same individual who, along with his second-in-command, Atnre Alleyne, used flawed data in every possible way to perpetuate the myth that school district teachers in districts with high poverty are failing our students. In particular, students of color. This is the pinnacle of the corporate education reform movement’s essence for being. This is the heart of everything that comes out. They use groups like PACE to further their own agendas. Both Ruszkowski and Alleyne came to the Delaware DOE with well-established resumes in the corporate education reform movement. I have no doubt they speak very well to a group like PACE. They live and breathe the data they read, study, and create every single day. They were paid by the Delaware DOE, with more money than most of us will ever see in an annual salary, to prove that public school education teachers are failing students of color. Their data is, in large part, based on standardized tests.
So when I hear groups like PACE advocating for Component V in the DPAS-II teacher evaluation system, I know for a fact these aren’t conclusions they came up with by themselves. The timing of events suggests otherwise. If you ask people in Delaware what they know about Component V, they would give you a puzzled look and think you were strange. Unless you are an educator, a legislator, or deeply involved in education matters, it isn’t something that comes across the radar of everyday citizens. But a group that has had multiple visits by Alleyne and Ruszkowski, who knew the exact right words to say to pull their chain, they would. PACE came to two of the DPAS-II Sub-Committee meetings with very advanced knowledge of the DPAS-II process within a week of a presentation to their committee by the Delaware DOE employee who opposed the recommendations of the committee. They were fed the same line of malarkey all of us have been fed. But groups like PACE are organized and they want to see different lives for the children in their community. I do not fault them at all for that. But because they so desperately want these changes in education, they can easily fall prey to the very bad data and myths surrounding standardized tests and educators.
I have no doubt there are issues of racism in our schools. We do need more African-American teachers in our schools. But to judge the teachers we do have in our schools with the highest needs, based on a test we know is horrible, what message does that send? Let me put this another way: many parents who tend to advocate for their children the most believe there is an actual barrier to their educational success, whether it is the color of their skin or a disability. It is very easy to blame a teacher when our children don’t succeed. And I am sure, in some cases (but not as many as some think), there could be a valid argument there. But to judge any teacher based on a flawed test that defines a child based on their zip code, color of their skin, disability, or income status is just plain wrong. These tests are discriminatory in nature. They are judgmental of our children, their teachers, and their schools. They are, to put them in one word, racist.
Let that word hang there for a few minutes. Racist. Standardized tests are racist. Racism doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing it did twenty years ago. Racism has evolved. If standardized tests are racist, and we have people of all diverse cultures promoting them, what does that even mean?
It is the 21st Century version of racism: the sub-groups. The African-American students. The Hispanic students. English Language learners. Students with disabilities. Low-Income Students. Students from inner-cities who are homeless or come from severe poverty. The children of the drug addicts who are born into trauma. The children whose father is in prison. This is the modern form of racism. We hear it all the time. We only have to look at some of the very racist comments when any article about race comes up on the Facebook account of Delawareonline.
None of these education groups out of the DOE or the foundations, think tanks and non-profits have the first clue about how to truly change these children’s lives. What they know is how to make a lot of money pretending to. And it goes all the way to the top. Do you want to know who has the best shot, aside from the parents of these children? Their teachers. The ones who devote their lives to helping them. Even when they know they have no control over what happens outside of their classroom. Even when they know they will most likely lose that student at the end of the year when they go into the next grade. Sure, they get tough over the years. The teachers in high-needs schools see it all. They see the poverty. They see the hunger. They see the disabilities. They see the cries for help that come out in anger from these kids. They care so much more than you think they do. They know a once a year test can’t measure the sum performance of these children. They also know these tests are flawed, but the only way they can fight this ideology is by making sure these tests don’t stop their ability to try to help your child.
When I hear advocacy groups like PACE talk about “our community”, it makes me sad. I fight some of the exact same battles for students with disabilities but it seems like we are on opposite sides in the fight. When I hear civil rights groups blasting opt out and continuing these very sick lines that are force fed to them by those who profit off the lies, I have to wonder why. When they say “our community”, it is not. All of us, we are all our community. There should be nothing that divides us. Not wealth, not religion, not the color of our skin or our hair or our language or the way our eyes are shaped. Not our disabilities, of which we are all disabled in some way to some degree. Not who we love or choose to spend our life with. We all struggle, in our own ways.
Those with money and power are blinded to the realities of the real world. They justify their decisions because they don’t come from that perspective. They look at us from their microscopes and think they know how to fix it. And if they can get their buddies to help them out, to fix all those people below them, then it’s a party. But they either don’t know or don’t care what kind of damage they leave in their wake. They measure success by their paycheck. If they make more money, or gain more power, they feel the decisions they make are the right ones.
This is the new racism. The haves and the have-nots. The same story but with a much different twist. This time, they are using children in the biggest high-stakes test of all time. They get richer, while the rest of us either stay the same or slide down the scale. We allowed this into our schools, slowly, over time. We believed the lies they were telling us. So many of us still do. But this time, they are playing for keeps. What they are setting up now will forever divide the rich from the poor and the rapidly declining middle class. They are the ones telling us what to do. Telling us our children can’t possibly succeed unless we make our schools do what they say.
Every single time your child takes a standardized test, you are giving them the power and the ability to sever themselves from the rest of us. This will continue, until we rise against them. Rome fell. The Soviet Union fell. And Corporate America will fall. It is the nature of power. But until we revolt and take back the stability our children need, we will fight this war. They will pin us against each other while we suffer. While our children suffer. The only way to stop it is to stop listening to them. Demand our teachers be able to adequately instruct our children without the shadow of high-stakes standardized testing looming over their heads. Demand our children be given better assessments that give true and immediate feedback. Demand that if they don’t, we won’t let them take their tests. We will opt them out.
Whatever you do, don’t ever be fooled into believing that your child or their teacher or their school is failing because of a standardized test. Do believe that the measurement, or the growth to that measurement, is designed to keep your child exactly where they are. Don’t believe that any standardized test will ever show the vast majority of students as proficient. They will always give the illusion that the majority of students are failing. This is how those in power stay in power. They rely on your belief that they are right. It is their constant energy source. This is the way they will keep most of the population in low-paying jobs. They want to control us. This is 21st Century racism. End it. Now.
The News Journal wrote about Delaware’s latest graduation rates. It seems after years of increasing rates, the numbers are now flat! Tomorrow, at the State Board of
WEIC Education meeting, we will hear the State Board members justifying why this isn’t a bad thing. Someone, probably Pat Heffernan, will say something to the effect of “it looks like Common Core is working”. But they will remain oblivious to the facts before them.
In 2014’s graduating class, 8,202 out of 9,713 students graduated for a rate of 84.4%. For 2015, 8,293 graduated out of 9,832 students at 84.3%. Yes, 91 more students graduated, but 28 more dropped out. In 2014, 1,511 students dropped out and in 2015, 1,539 dropped out. That isn’t really something to be proud of. On the downward trend are students with disabilities, English Language Learners, Hispanic students, multi-racial students, and low-income students.
In comparing the 2014 rates to 2015, the biggest drop in graduation rates was for English Language Learners, dropping over six percentage points from 75% to 68.7%. Low-income students also took a pretty big drop. But this is hard to figure out, when you look at the numbers, since the Delaware Department of Education changed the definition of “low-income” from those eligible for free and reduced lunch to those on public assistance. But still, in 2014 only 77.8% of low-income students graduated compared to 73.7% in 2015. Even though more graduated in 2015, the percentage of students with disabilities dropped .4% between 2014 and 2015.
These are the statements I predict we will hear tomorrow at the State Board meeting:
“This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At least we didn’t take a sharp drop.”
“We have to stay on course. We cannot relent.”
“I think personalized learning will be a driver for future growth.”
“After four years of Common Core implementation, we are seeing the fruits of a rigorous educational environment.”
“We will continue to have robust conversations on how to make all students college and career ready.”
“I don’t understand all these numbers. What does all this mean?”