Atnre Alleyne, a former employee of the Delaware Department of Education and the current head of DelawareCAN, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the DOE back in March. He was not satisfied with their response and filed a FOIA complaint with the Delaware Department of Justice. The Delaware DOJ issued their opinion on the complaint on May 4th and found the Delaware DOE did violate FOIA. Continue reading
Last night the Christina Board of Education, in front of a packed house, passed the Memorandum of Understanding between the district, the Delaware Department of Education and Governor John Carney’s office with a 4-2-1 vote. Board members John Young and Elizabeth Paige voted no while member Angela Mitchell abstained. The tense meeting, which lasted over three hours, had Carney sitting in the audience the entire time. While the News Journal, WHYY, and WDEL all came to the meeting, many parts of the meeting were not covered in their articles. Continue reading
In one of the most interesting pictures I’ve ever received, it made me question why we even have a Delaware Secretary of Education. On Tuesday, Atnre Alleyne (the former Delaware Department of Education employee, the co-founder of TeenSharp, and the Director of DelawareCAN) posted a Facebook memory from a year ago. The interesting part is the picture he put with it because that was NOT in the original post at all. Continue reading
State Rep. Earl Jaques showed off his “Big Man on Campus” persona in an embarrassing display of supposed power today which he may be wrong about.
Advocates for any opt out bill in Delaware knew there would be opposition. Those of us who have advocated for a bill which codifies and honors a parent’s right to opt their child out of the state assessment knew this going in. However, hanging your hat on a superficial and made-up procedure the way Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques did is shameful and embarrassing. State Rep. John Kowalko, the primary sponsor of the bill, was composed and polished today. There was no back and forth between himself and Jaques as there was two years ago.
House Bill 60 was not released from the House Education Committee. With only eight out of seventeen members voting to release the bill, Jaques declared the bill dead. However, there is a big caveat to his declaration. Although there were 12 members on the floor, the committee is made up of 17 state representatives. Five bills were heard in committee today. For the other four, Jaques indicated he would walk the bill to the members. For the opt out bill, he said he would not release the bill since there was a majority of members on the floor during the vote. State Rep. Sean Lynn called for a parliamentary inquiry on the matter. There is a chance Jaques could be overruled on his refusal to walk the bill for signatures and it could be released. However, Jaques absolute disdain and contempt against this bill is clouding his better judgment. He set the precedent for this by agreeing to walk the other four bills in my opinion.
After the committee adjourned the second time (since Jaques declared the meeting over a first time without asking for or getting a motion to adjourn), I spoke to him in the lobby of Legislative Hall. I said “Earl, you have to walk the bill.” I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t upset. He began yelling at me and said “The bill is not released.” I asked him why he was yelling at me and advised I wasn’t yelling at him. He continued to yell and said “The bill is not released. It’s done. The bill is dead,” as he stormed off.
About fifteen minutes later, I found myself in Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf’s reception area. In the office were Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting, Meghan Wallace, and Jaques. The receptionist said there was a wait and I advised I would just send him an email. The email is below.
In terms of the discussion on the bill in committee, it was very much a repeat of 2015. The usual suspects opposed the bill: Delaware DOE, State Board of Education, Delaware Business Roundtable, State Rep. Tim Dukes, a couple of women from Wilmington who were sitting next to DelawareCAN’s Atnre Alleyne, etc. Even the Delaware School Boards Association opposed the bill because they believed it is a local decision and detracts from the issues surrounding testing. There was a lot of discussion around losing federal funds even though it has never happened. The excuse this time was “We don’t know what will happen with Secretary Betsy DeVos.” I love when a State Rep. has something important to say about a bill they oppose after they get a piece of paper from someone in the audience, but I digress. There was talk about how bad Smarter Balanced is, the amount of time wasted on testing, and so forth, but there was far too little about the heart of the bill: the parental right to opt out.
No state has ever lost federal funding over dipping below the 95% participation rate. And I don’t think little old Delaware would be the first. If the feds really put their money where their mouth is, it would have happened in New York or New Jersey years ago. So I don’t care what they say (and no one is actually saying it these days), it is not a good idea to cut federal Title I money from schools with poor kids. Secretary Bunting did say Delaware got feedback on its state ESSA plan last evening and believes the US Dept. of Education will be tougher than she thought, but as a state with a 97% participation rate, I don’t think we are on the Title I money chopping block. Let’s get real here.
To be fair, I don’t ever expect the Delaware DOE and the usual cast of opposers to ever support an opt out bill. It just isn’t going to happen. Expecting it is as likely as convincing the wind to change direction. It isn’t something I’m even upset about anymore, it just is.
My public comment was as simple as the bill: it is a parental right bill. And since there was a question about what districts or charters have given parents a rough time about opting their child out, I named them: Red Clay, Christina, Freire Charter School, and so forth. I even advised Rep. Dukes a constituent in his own district tried to opt their child out two years ago, the only one in that school district. When the school refused, they told the mother he could not opt out. It got so bad the mother was ostracized by members of her community. After, Dukes came up to me and told me he didn’t appreciate me calling him out. He asked me which district, and I told him which one I believed it was. He said “you don’t know?” I said it was two years ago and I talk to a lot of parents. He said next time I better know before I call him out like that. I advised him the parent tried reaching him at the time and he claimed he never heard from the parent.
One public commenter said he wasn’t even there for that bill but felt he had to comment. He said, as someone who makes six figures and works for Fortune 500 companies, he has never looked at a single standardized test score. He said if a college student in an interview told him they opted out of the state assessment, he would give them an internship based solely on that.
Here is the email I sent to Schwartzkopf:
Speaker of the House Peter Schwartzkopf,
Good evening. I attempted to see you in person, but you had a long line in your office about half an hour ago. I advised your receptionist I would email you, which I prefer to do at this point since it is in writing.
As you are no doubt aware, I am very passionate about education. But I have calmed down with my public comments regarding certain legislation. I wish the same could be said of the Chair of the House Education Committee. The behavior I saw from him today regarding House Bill 60 was offensive, both as a citizen of Delaware and as a parent.
I am sure you know about the situation with “walking the bill” after Rep. Jaques set the standard for that with four other bills in the committee today. It was very obvious to all he wanted this bill to die a messy death and he wanted to be the one to do it. That is conjecture on my part, but based on his attitudes and attempts to kill the bill in 2015, I would say that is a fair assessment. But his behavior in the lobby of Legislative Hall was unacceptable. I simply said “Earl, you have to walk the bill.” He began yelling at me, loud enough for many folks nearby to overhear. When I asked him why he was yelling at me and that I wasn’t yelling at him, he continued to yell at me claiming “the bill is dead” and stormed off like a petulant child. While I certainly can’t say I have never shown anger about legislation, I believe a certain decorum is expected out of our elected officials. I don’t agree with Earl’s decision about deciding not to walk the bill, but I have to believe two grown adults can treat each other with respect and discuss the matter like two gentlemen. I wanted to advise you of this issue because of his position as Chair of the House Education Committee. Please consider this a formal complaint against Rep. Jaques. I do believe this is something the House leadership should investigate. I would have accepted a decision on the bill if it was given a fair shake, but I found Rep. Jaques behavior and conduct unbefitting for a Chair of a committee.
As I’m sure you know, I am a firm believer in transparency, so this email will be a part of my article about the opt out bill heard in committee today.
A University of Delaware class called Documentary Production produced a video called “The Deed: Fixing Education In The First State”. The cinematography of the video was good, but I feel it should have been renamed “Fixing Education In Wilmington” because that was pretty much what the video was about.
It gave a good history of segregation before 1954, but after that it focused solely on Wilmington. But I found the stereotypes to be a bit too much. The video primarily focuses on two Caucasian mothers. One is in what appears to be a classroom, and the other is out in the suburbs in a very nice home. When they do show African-Americans (aside from Tony Allen), it is primarily urban Wilmington. As if there are no African-Americans in the suburbs.
The TedX Wilmington videos shown in this are from Tony Allen, the Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, and Dr. Paul Herdman, the CEO of the Rodel Foundation. Other folks shown in the video are Dan Rich from the University of Delaware and one of the main WEIC players, Atnre Alleyne from DelawareCAN and TeenSHARP, and Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick. There are cameos from Delaware Teacher of the Year Wendy Turner and the not-even sworn in yet Christina Board Member Meredith Griffin Jr.
Here is a newsflash. There are 19 school districts in Delaware. Up and down the state. I love Wilmington, but if you are going to make a video called Fixing Education In The First State, you have to focus on the whole state. This was one of the biggest mistakes WEIC made, focusing on Wilmington and expecting the rest of state to pick up the tab to fix Wilmington issues. Yes, Wilmington is the biggest city, but many issues with poverty and low-income exist all over Delaware.
Like most discussions about “fixing” education in Delaware, we go through the history and the present situation. Add some current events like the upcoming Colonial Referendum to make it current. Show some shots from a WEIC meeting a few months ago when Governor John Carney and Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting attended for some extra oomph and importance.
I recognize segregation in Wilmington schools and what school choice has done to Northern New Castle County as major problems in Delaware. But there are other equally important issues, only one of which was briefly touched on in the video- education funding. We also have special education with a rapidly growing population of students with disabilities, standardized testing, a growing population of English Language Learners, a General Assembly that generally makes some very bad choices for our schools, bullying in our schools,the continued fall-out from the Race To The Top accountability era, a State Auditor who doesn’t audit school districts every year even though that office has to by state law, referenda, a new Governor that is putting a ton of cuts towards school districts (but not charters), the Rodel Foundation’s stranglehold on decisions made in education, data mining of personal student information, and the upcoming and very real threats of competency-based education, personalized learning, an eventual replacement of real teachers with glorified moderators instead in a digital technology wonderland, and the upcoming Blockchain technology which will institute a full-blown “digital badge” scenario, tracking children from cradle to grave and predetermined careers and what their societal worth will be. And yes, even Social-Emotional Learning is in the process of getting hijacked by the corporate education reformers (more on that soon).
Many of these things aren’t on the radar as much as they should be. We are still bickering over how to “fix” education but we are stumbling with talking about what is right in education. We are in a constant state of flux, in a state of constant improvement. This obsessive need for improvement is actually what is fracturing education the most in Delaware. The problem comes when we try to measure all these changes by one standardized test.
For an eleven minute video, it would be impossible to catch all the issues in Delaware education. But showing very old videos of Tony Allen and Paul Herdman don’t do much for me. Most Delawareans really don’t know who the two of them are. Just because they have a TedX stage doesn’t give them more importance than a teacher giving a lecture to a class or a parent giving public comment at a school board meeting. Those are actually the voices we need to hear more of in Delaware education, the everyday citizen. Not a CEO of a “non-profit” making over $344,000 a year or a well-meaning Bank of America executive. Don’t get me wrong, I think Tony Allen is a great guy, but it has become more than obvious that WEIC isn’t heading towards the destination it dreamed of and it is time to move on. As for Dr. Paul “Rodel” Herdman, I have never been shy about my dislike of his “visions” for Delaware schools that have its roots in corporate profit.
We need to focus on what is going right in Delaware education and build from that. It begins at the grass-roots level, in the classroom. For that, the student and teacher voice are the most important. And then the parent. We go from one reform or initiative to the next, and the cycle goes on and on.
In the “October Surprise” for the 2017 Delaware School Board Election season, Atnre Alleyne of DelawareCAN dropped a huge bomb all over Christina Board candidate Jeff Day’s campaign with less than a week before the election. When a former News Journal reporter jumped in on the controversy, it fanned the flames… Continue reading
Atnre Alleyne came out with a blog post this morning supporting a Governor Carney idea where Delaware rates schools with stars. Of course he did! I don’t care what you label them with: stars, letter grades, numbers, or rocket ships. It all translates to a comparison between apples and oranges. What I find most ironic about Alleyne’s post is how self-serving this is for him. As the guy behind Delaware Can, any school labeling further perpetuates the myth that companies like that thrive on: label, shame, and punish. Alleyne’s personal war against the Delaware State Education Association is filled with holes and misdemeanors! I thought I would pick apart a few of his “facts” and “myths”.
The Fallacy of Surveys
Thousands of Delawareans responded to the Delaware Department of Education’s 2014 survey indicating they want school performance ratings.
When you come out with a survey that doesn’t even ask the question “Do you think Delaware should have school performance ratings?” and you continue that survey with questions about those ratings, I don’t think it is fair to say that means “thousands of Delawareans” wanted this. The survey predetermined the school report cards was going to happen (as required by federal law) but that in no way to translates to the citizens of Delaware demanding this system.
Recently a coalition of 24 community and business groups also sent the Department a letter with recommendations for the state’s ESSA plan that called for a “single summary rating for schools and districts…in order to ensure clarity for parents and community members.”
And who led that band of public education marauders, disguised as organizations wanting to help public education? Who corralled and convinced these 24 mostly non-profits who would benefit from what Alleyne wants? Who was also on the Governor’s Advisory Committee for the state ESSA plan and in a position to leverage his agenda? Yes, none other than Atnre Alleyne.
The Rating-Label Scheme
MYTH: School ratings are more of the type of “testing, labeling, and punishing” we do not need in our schools.
Yes, they are. Given that the weighting of these report cards is over 50% towards results from the Smarter Balanced Assessment so carefully masked as two different categories: growth and proficiency, it most certainly is a testing, labeling, and punishing apparatus.
Even The Feds Are Backing Away From Bad Education Policy
Today, federal law requires that we identify and “label” the bottom 5 percent of schools in our state. The school report cards to which the Department has committed renames those schools – from Priority and Focus schools to Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) schools – and continues its support for these schools with access to more money and assistance. That’s not punishment. It’s being honest about where and how we need to help our schools.
A label is still a label even if you change the wording. I love the word “Targeted” because that is exactly what this system does. Jack Markell loved this and apparently Governor Carney does as well. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos seems to be backing away from a federal accountability system and leaving it up to the states. Governor Markell embedded that system into Delaware and our whole education system is based on this. Alleyne, who used to work for the Delaware Dept. of Education, is very familiar with this system and knows exactly what it is meant for.
The Growth In Our Education System Is Malignant
It’s also important to remember that growth measures, which take into account how much a student’s performance has grown over a school year, also benefits schools with higher performing students in ensuring they help their students grow, as well.
Okay, this is the part that absolutely kills me! If a school has higher performing students, i.e., the average proficiency on SBAC is 3.87 out of 4, that does not leave much room for growth. But the illusion of having a growth goal of students reaching a 3.9 proficiency is not out of the ballpark. It is doable and can certainly happen. Take a school with a high population of low-income and students with disabilities, where the average SBAC proficiency is 1.24 and the growth goal to proficiency is 2.0, the whole system changes. The work needed to get to that score, with more challenging students with much higher needs, multiplies at an exponential rate. The odds of that school reaching that goal are much lower than the “high-performing” school that only needs to go up a tiny bit to reach their growth goals. It is comparing apples and oranges.
Judging The Haves and The Have-Nots And Voucherizing Students
MYTH: If you give schools a rating parents are just going to use that single rating to judge schools and ignore all the other information about a school’s performance.
This is an exercise in futility. This is the difference between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. The “haves” will utilize this system to find the “best” school for their child. Many of the “have-nots”, who in many cases aren’t even aware a system like this even exists, will simply send their child to the local neighborhood school. In the midst of this landscape we have the issue of school vouchers coming to the front burner. So much so that the feds are willing to dump all this truly bad accountability crap out the window in favor of a voucher system that will make private schools the next big thing. For reasons they aren’t saying, this will be the cushion for students from wealthier families for what happens next. See more on this later.
How To Place Yourself In An Area Of “Importance”
Our goal, as advocates and policymakers, must be to equip parents and taxpayers with school quality information that is easy to understand, fair, and consistent.
Notice Alleyne uses the word “Our”, as if he is the man behind the curtain waving the magic wand that mesmerizes his audience into taking his every word as the Gospel truth. For a guy that makes a living based on the very worst of corporate education reform Kool-Aid disguised as helping disadvantaged students, I encourage all Delawareans to take what he says with a grain of salt. Having met Alleyne in person, he is a nice guy. But his education policy and what he advocates for causes alarm bells to go off in my head. I get why he does what he does, but he is just another victim of the bad education policy that is fighting for its last legs in the new era of Trumplandia. I completely understand that he wants better education outcomes for minority students. I do as well. I also want that for students with disabilities and English Language learners. It is the way Alleyne wants this that bothers me. If society as a whole has not learned the valuable lesson that the continued use of high-stakes testing is just plain bad for public education, than folks like Alleyne will continue to spread their “myths” and “facts”. I say opt out of not just the high-stakes testing but also opt out of false edu-speak that exists to sway parents of student populations and trapping them in a system where testing reigns supreme.
What’s Up With All The Teacher Union Hate?
If there is one consistent question I’ve been asked by parents who seek to understand this system of high-stakes tests it is this: if we don’t use these tests how do we measure how our schools are doing? It’s a damn good question and I won’t pretend to have the answer. I have always suggested that a student’s classroom grades are more of a true measure than these once a year test scores. I don’t believe in students going on to the next grade if they aren’t ready. That is when parents need to carefully watch their child’s progress. It is not the end of the world if a student is held back. We need to also trust our teachers that their years of preparation and continued training serve to benefit our child’s success in education. If you have doubts about a teacher’s effectiveness than certainly question it. I believe it is our sacred duty to do so. But when we are given lie after lie about teachers from these education think tanks about how bad unions are and how they only want what is best for them, we have to recognize the truth: these companies do NOT want teacher unions to exist at all. They don’t like the idea of teacher’s organizing on behalf of themselves because it takes away from their profit-making ventures. The sad part is how so many parents actually believe these horrible lies about public education. So when unions fight against these bad policies they are immediately painted as the villain in articles like the one Alleyne wrote today. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the teacher unions are perfect. But I don’t think any organization, school, parent, student, or state agency is perfect. But there is a clear difference between offense and defense. I see corporate education reformers as a vicious marauder into areas where they have no business being in. The predictable result is teacher unions going on the defense against these schemes and agendas.
Opt Out Is The Only Defense
The only way to fight a bad system is to ignore it. This is why I have always defended a parent’s fundamental and God-given right to opt out of these silly little standardized tests. I refuse to give them the clout these companies think they deserve. I would rather hear the word of the teacher in the classroom who is on the ground floor watching the colossal waste of time these tests have. They are expensive, take up true teaching time, take up school resources, kill libraries during testing time, and the results serve no true purpose. If you haven’t opted your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment this year, please do so now. Even if they are already in the middle of testing. When many parents get the Delaware DOE suggested letter from the school about how opt out is illegal and the school can’t allow it, treat it as fire-starter material for a fire-pit in your backyard. Just write a letter to your child’s school stating you are opting your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, hand it to the principal, and state there is to be no further discussion on the issue. If they attempt to dissuade you, give a pleasant “thank you but no thank you” and stand firm on your decision.
What Is A Governor To Do Facing A $385 Million Dollar Deficit?
For Delaware Governor John Carney, he faces a crucial moment. He has to make cuts in the state budget. There won’t be easy choices, but one should be a no-brainer: get rid of the dead and expensive weight at the Delaware DOE and get rid of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Sever the ties between the Delaware DOE and these “non-profit” for-profit education companies. If that means getting rid of DOE employees whose sole existence is to continue what amounts to lobbying off the backs of children, just do it!
The True Goal Behind Alleyne And The Rodel Foundation
These are the end goals behind all this:
- Get rid of the teacher unions
- Have students learn in a 100% digital learning environment
- Create a competency-based education system which will prevent students with high needs from advancing more than ever before
- Track the hell out of the data in this ed-tech wonderland and create what amounts to a caste system where the best students get the best jobs and the struggling students get the menial jobs
- Do away with brick and mortar schools and have teachers become glorified online moderators
- Send young children to 3rd party organizations to get their “personalized learning” with Teach For America and other fast-track educator prep “teachers” guiding students
- Have older students logged into whatever Blockchain technology is coming our way where they “earn to learn” and companies profit from teenagers
Surf-And-Turf or Filet Mignon?
We see this in agendas like Delaware’s “Pathways to Prosperity” program. I attended Governor Carney’s Inaugural ball. All the food was prepared and served by students in the culinary program. The food was awesome. But did any of those students who prepared this food get paid for their servitude? I highly doubt it. I have no doubt they received some type of education credit for their service while the State of Delaware says “thanks for the cheap labor”. Or what about these “coding schools” where students pay thousands of dollars to train themselves on coding while at the same time doing work for very big companies through the training material? Our students are nothing more than fodder for corporations. They are the true victims in this new world and are being used by those whose biggest concern is if they should get the surf-and-turf or just the filet mignon at their next country club dinner.
In the shot heard round Delaware teachers email yesterday around 4:00pm, the Delaware State Education Association election results came in for President and Vice-President. Shock followed shock. Mike Matthews and Karen Crouse tied for President at 862 votes each. Stephanie Ingram (not Ingraham) won the Vice-President position. Some (including myself) are crying foul. Matthews and Kook ran as a ticket as did Crouse and Ingram. Logic would dictate that Matthews and Kook’s votes would align more with Matthew’s total. But this was NOT the case. Ingram won with 400 something votes while Kook had 300 plus.
First off, with 12,000 teachers in Delaware, why did only 2,100+ vote in this election? That is my biggest concern. Second, how the actual hell do you get a tie? Off the record, I have heard DSEA did not want the powerhouse of Matthews/Kook ruling the teacher union halls in Delaware. Did things happen? Of that I am certain. When an obvious fake Facebook account with the not-so-genius name of Sam Muskrat showed up at the same time as the election went into full swing, I paid very close attention to the writing style of the you really aren’t fooling anyone Mr. Muskrat. I’ve seen that style before. With another anonymous commenter somewhere else. I won’t out the person, but I can promise you it is NOT Publius from Kilroy’s Delaware. That guy is probably sucking down some Shirley Temple’s in his batcave.
The next big question surrounds the ballots. There were mentions on social media of teacher’s getting the ballots in their spam folders. While the plausibility of that is suspect if it was coming from DSEA (do all DSEA emails go to spam?). If it was an outside company, such as Intelliscan, based out of Phoenixville, PA, I could somehow see that. Some teachers reported not receiving any ballots. Some did not know who was running, or actually know some of the people running (to them I would say “Hello! This is the future of your teaching profession calling, wake up!”).
I’ve heard that campaign literature was suspect in certain situations. While there is nothing against the DSEA rules about the President endorsing a candidate, Frederika Jenner made it transparently obvious who she wanted. And that person wound up tying and is not a man. And her VP choice won as well. Crouse would not have won if it weren’t for Kent County. Which I find ironic considering her popularity in certain places. I don’t mean to bash her. I’m sure she is a fine person. But there is something VERY shady with this election. I’m sure the current DSEA crew will get offended I posted this. First off, too bad. Second, you can sit there and say it isn’t my business but I choose to make it my business and you can’t stop me. We live in a country where Donald Trump is President so I think any rules went out the window last November!
So what happens next? Some more ballots could come trickling in by Monday (since it is soooooo possible for something postmarked 1/23/17 or earlier to take a week to get to Dover in our huge state). There could be a run-off election if it remains a tie, in which case Presidential candidates Danny Rufo and Dom Zaffora’s votes would go to either Matthews or Crouse. Or another option could be the tie remains and the Executive Board at DSEA would vote on a winner. Which would, in all likelihood, be Crouse. Since these election results are not part of an official state or county election, DSEA is under no obligation to release the full results to the public. A teacher’s union is a private organization. If I were Matthews or Kook, I would be issuing a challenge right away. Something doesn’t smell right. I could, of course, be wrong. But I would err on the side of caution in just blindly accepting these results.
While this potential mystery starts to get some heat, feast on the famous Samuel Muskrat posts, from an anonymous person whose Facebook account was created the VERY same day Matthews and Kook had a live Facebook feed answering questions. And disappeared the next day.
Yes, I am the Kevin this Samuel Muskrat is referring to. This kind of makes it my business now! I will fully admit I am not the most popular person in the executive offices of DSEA. Once upon a time the stars were in alignment around the time I wrote a huge article on the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, but I burned that bridge with them during the whole House Bill 50 veto override fiasco when I called out DSEA (very strongly I might add) with a twinge of regret. I don’t regret calling them out on their non-support of the override but rather how I did it. I apologized, but while some accepted that apology, some were less than cordial with me. In fact, one of them decided to viciously attack me many times somewhere else. That person knew I knew that when I commented on the above Facebook comment bringing me into it. I dropped a couple of words in my comment which vanished as soon as it appeared. Muskrat knew I had them and ran for the hills. Muskrat seemed to know a lot of things about Mr. Matthews. Things your average teacher would not know unless they were really involved with DSEA. But the tone and attitude, and especially the reference to me, shows a personal beef. Trolling is one thing. Going on Facebook during a candidate forum and disguising yourself when they are potentially a staff member of DSEA is another thing entirely. Like I said yesterday, shenanigans with this election.
Both Mike Matthews and Jackie Kook are well-known in Delaware as teachers who will really fight for their causes. This doesn’t mean they won’t sit down with you, but it also doesn’t mean they will swallow the Kool-Aid which happened so many times in teacher matters involving the Delaware Dept. of Education, the General Assembly, and yes, even DSEA. Most recently, Kook ruffled feathers with the teacher evaluation bill last Spring. It wound up getting Senator Sokola amendments attached to it. A large part of that was the insertion into the process of former DOE employee Atnre Alleyne, now promoting his role as Executive Director of DelawareCAN which is an offshoot of the corporate education reform company 50CAN. Another big part was a letter from the DPAS-II Advisory Committee Chair Dr. Susan Bunting. Bunting was confirmed by the Delaware Senate three days ago as the new Delaware Secretary of Education. But neither of them are Sam Muskrat. In Delaware, if you aren’t calling out legislators here and there, than democracy really isn’t taking place. And some really shouldn’t throw stones like that because the hypocrisy involved is astounding! But I guess many wrongs make a right?
Yes, Rodel has some competition coming to town! My fervent hope is that they compete with each other so much they just cancel each other out. Has Rodel’s time come and gone? Or is there more to this new corporate education reform company setting up shop in Delaware? Continue reading
A week ago, I published an article about the Alleyne Consortium. They wanted to give Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky some suggestions for the Delaware Dept. of Education’s Every Student Succeeds Act first draft of their state plan. A source was able to give me the emails Alleyne sent to Godowsky. The irony that Secretary Godowsky didn’t respond to Alleyne is not lost on me.
From: Atnre Alleyne <email@example.com>
Date: Wed, Oct 26, 2016 at 11:23 AM
Subject: An Open Letter: Opportunities for Delaware under the Every Student Succeeds Act
Dear Secretary Godowsky,
I am writing to share an open letter (see attached) a collection of 20+ Delaware community and business organizations crafted to provide an initial set of recommendations regarding Delaware’s implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in Delaware. Specifically, this first letter from our group focuses on school accountability and reporting under ESSA.
The diverse set of organizations that came together around this statement did so because we believe ESSA offers us an opportunity to turn the tide for Delaware students and renew our commitment and urgency toward ensuring equity for every student. As a group, we recognize that while there are examples of success in Delaware’s education system, our system has a long way to go before we can claim every Delaware student is receiving the high-quality education he or she deserves.
Where possible, many of our organizations have participated in the opportunities created by the Delaware Department of Education to provide input on the transition to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for the state. Some of us also have the opportunity to directly provide feedback on the state’s ESSA plan as members of the Governor’s ESSA Advisory Committee.
We compiled this letter understanding that, in order for the state’s implementation of ESSA to be successful, advocates and community groups need to play a more active role in pushing the system toward excellence.
Thank you in advance for considering the recommendations above as the state develops its ESSA plan.
Hell no, he didn’t try to get Rodel and the gang to usurp Delaware’s ESSA plan, did he? He sure did. But nine days later, not only did he email Godowsky again but he made a broad claim that more organizations joined in.
Good Morning Secretary Godowsky,
I hope all is well with you. Last week I emailed to share an open letter a collection of 23 Delaware community and business organizations crafted to provide an initial set of recommendations regarding Delaware’s implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in Delaware.
As we have not yet received a response from the Delaware Department of Education, we are sending the letter again. I have also copied the members of the ESSA Advisory Committee so that they can consider the perspective of the community groups represented via this letter as they review the DDOE’s ESSA plan.
The version of the letter attached to this email now includes 24 Delaware organizations. Thank you in advance for considering the recommendations in the attached letter as the state develops its ESSA plan.
Now this is the funny part. Because in Alleyne’s march towards educational excellence, he seems to have forgotten to count. He put, in bold, there are now 24 organizations. In looking at this letter, I only saw 23. I blame Common Core for this.
I didn’t miss something here, did I? I counted 23. Luckily, I wasn’t raised with the Common Core standards. I imagine everyone at the Delaware DOE is given the Clockwork Orange brainwashing with Common Core so I am able to understand how 23 becomes 24 in Alleyne’s world. Unless he forgot to put in one of the pretty pictures for a 24th organization. But, I must admit, Alleyne did inspire me. Oh, how he inspired me. He is absolutely right. We DO need more input on this state plan. Much more! And I plan to get that. Because there is no way in hell Alleyne, Rodel, Teach For America, the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the Delaware Business Roundtable and TeenSHARP are going to steal this plan. So be on the lookout for my “stealing the thunder” plan. It will be marvelous! Okay, bad terminology to use in this day and age, but you get my point!
I’ve written about Atnre Alleyne more than any other Delaware Dept. of Education employee (aside from Godowsky) in the past six months and he doesn’t even work there anymore! On Wednesday, Delaware Public Media released a letter Alleyne wrote to the Delaware DOE for input on the first draft of their Every Student Succeeds Act which should be out tomorrow. With a ton of other sponsors on the letter, including Rodel, Teach For America, the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the Delaware Business Roundtable, the Delaware Chamber of Commerce, and of course, TeenSHARP, an organization run by Alleyne and his wife. An organization he could potentially benefit from through ESSA grants. No conflict of interest there. But to make matters worse, he also sits on the Governor’s ESSA Advisory Committee.
Alleyne and the Delaware Corporate Education Reform Network (my new nickname for the above-mentioned companies) also rounded up every single civil rights group they could for this letter. The PACE Network, Christina Cultural Arts Center, the Wilmington Education Strategy Think Tank, Aspira of Delaware, and oddly enough, the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware. The same organization who submitted a Civil Rights complaint against the State of Delaware and Red Clay Consolidated School District for authorizing charter schools that continue segregation in Delaware (22 months later and no word on that one).
To say Alleyne is making a move would be an understatement. This was the same person who did everything in his power to kill legislation on teacher evaluations. He pretty much got his wish when Senator David Sokola added his amendments to the bill. Why should anyone listen to what amounts to a benefactor of ESSA? Thanks to Delaware Public Media for putting this letter up on Scribd. While I agree with very few of the points of the letter, it is definitely a power grab by Alleyne. Alleyne is also an “education fellow” at 50CAN, just another one of those education think tanks that sprung up in the past decade with funding by the Gates Foundation and a gazillion other foundations that support charter schools. And one of the documents Alleyne brings up in his letter was something Alleyne was compensated for at the Delaware DOE. He worked in the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit before he sprouted his wings to do… this kind of stuff.
I have no doubt the Delaware DOE gave this letter very serious consideration and will incorporate the thoughts of it in the plan. Kind of like how Senator Sokola took Alleyne’s charges with House Bill 399 very seriously. But they were in cahoots the whole time. This is Rodelaware you know…
For Delaware Governor Jack Markell, a great deal of time is spent during his summer months signing legislation passed by the Delaware General Assembly. But some legislation has not received a signature by the Governor. Three education bills, in particular, all show what can only be seen as resistance to many of the policies and agendas Governor Markell, Rodel, the Delaware Charter Schools Network, and the Delaware DOE have put forth in Delaware the past eight years. The Governor has nothing on his public schedule this week. That doesn’t mean he won’t sign bills this week. But when he has nothing, that usually means he isn’t in Delaware.
House Bill 399 w/House Amendment 1, Senate Amendments 1 and 2
This is the controversial teacher evaluation bill that stretched into the wee hours of July 1st this year. Coming out of the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee recommendations, this bill generated a lot of heat after Senator David Sokola butchered the intent of the bill. It was originally designed so other state-approved assessments could be used as a measure in Component V of the DPAS-II teacher evaluation system. By forcing the Smarter Balanced Assessment scores to factor into teacher evaluations, the Delaware DOE and Markell got a ton of heat the past few years. The bill was supposed to change that. But Senator Sokola decided to intervene with a lot of help from ex-DOE employee Atnre Alleyne and the usual suspects over at the DOE and State Board. So why hasn’t Jack signed the bill yet? Rumors circulated at Legislative Hall that Markell did not like this bill. We all know what happened the last time Jack “didn’t like” a bill. Engrossed version of bill.
House Bill 408 w/House Amendment 2
The school breakfast bill, which would also give free breakfast to students in Delaware, caused a lot of controversy with a part about charter schools not being included. An amendment in the House made sure they were. Gee, when did a charter school meal program last cause a lot of conversation? Perhaps when they applied for a major modification and it came out their meal program was not what it appeared to be? Hello Newark Charter School! Engrossed version of bill.
Senate Bill 93 w/Senate Amendment 1 and House Amendment 1
This bill is awesome. The Autism community in Delaware spoke loud and clear in support of this bill. But when an amendment was tacked on in the Senate giving the Delaware DOE a seat at the table through the very controversial Special Education Strategic Plan, led by ex Rodel employee Matthew Korobkin, the Autism community was outraged. An amendment in the House stripped the entire Senate amendment out. Over two years after Governor Markell signed this Special Education Strategic Plan into the FY2015 budget, we have yet to see it. I’m hearing it is due any time now. I can’t wait to see what Rodel and the charter lobbyists comes up with for this one! Engrossed version of bill.
I see confusion on Markell’s part. Does he sign these or not? If he does, what does that say to some of his key allies? If he doesn’t, he invites the wrath of many. He is a lame duck, but he still has political aspirations. Depending on what they are, could signing some of these bills affect those plans? What to do, what to do…
Senator David Sokola did not present the entire truth to the Delaware Senate last night when he gave his introductory remarks to House Bill 399 and introduced an amendment to the bill. I immediately saw what he was doing and it worked because the amendment which completely changed the original bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate. I find this legislative process, with no one able to rebut or correct Sokola’s statements a serious flaw in our law-making process.
His remarks concerned the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee, forged out of legislation last year. The group met last fall and this winter to come up with new recommendations in the DPAS-II evaluation system for Delaware teachers. The group had many recommendations, but the sticking point with the Delaware Department of Education was an administrator not having the final say for which assessment to use in the Component V of DPAS-II. They didn’t feel as though teachers and an administrator should have an adult conversation and be able to mutually agree on this. I wrote extensively about what happened during the last few sub-committee meetings and it completely contradicts the version Sokola gave his peers in the Delaware Senate. As well, in reaction to comments given by ex-Delaware DOE employee Atnre Alleyne at the Senate Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, one of the chairs of the sub-committee gave her version of other events transpiring out of those meetings. In return, Atnre had many things to say about House Bill 399 in the past week. He was absolutely right on one point:
But if anyone is paying attention, this is the week when powerful interest groups take the unsuspecting masses to school. It is the last week of Delaware’s legislative session and while most are ruminating on 4th of July plans, pressure groups are seeing their bills breeze by on their way to becoming law.
What he fails to distinguish is how he himself represents several public interest groups which I have referred to numerous times as corporate education reform. Stacked to the brim with flawed research and reports, they manipulate the masses into thinking teachers are bad and the unions will make sure they stay in schools no matter how bad they are. I may have had issues with the Delaware State Education Association over opt out last winter (to which I admittedly overreacted), but I think most can agree that if a teacher is really bad, they most likely aren’t going to be around for too long. Is there such a thing as a perfect teacher? Probably not. We are, after all, only human. No one is perfect. But I will stress, once again, that anything using a monstrosity like the Smarter Balanced Assessment as an indicator of a student or a teacher’s performance is the high point of insanity. But Senator David Sokola doesn’t seem to care about that aspect, as indicated by the below remarks he gave the Delaware Senate last night:
Sokola: Thank you Madam President. I’m going to talk very briefly about House Bill 399 before going to the amendment. It was, the process of the DPAS II Advisory Committee was to, uhm, set up, uh, in the past from House Joint Resolution #6. And we had various stakeholders who, uhm, met quite a few times, as well as a sub-committee, uh, to this group to look at the evaluation of, uhm, teachers. Uhm, that, uhm, process got a little discombobulated towards the end of the process, and uhm, there were a number of versions of a bill drafter over a period of a few weeks. And I was not satisfied at, at that. Various groups were continuing to meet, and discuss, to try to come to a consensus on the issues. So, uh, with that in mind I would like to ask that Senate Amendment #1 to House Bill #399 be read and brought to the Senate.
Senator Patti Blevins: Senate Amendment #1 is before the Senate. Senator Sokola…
Sokola: Thank you Madam President. This amendment actually does a few things. The one that it does is it does give the administrator final say on components, the components of the teacher evaluation process. Dr. Susan Bunting (Superintendent of Indian River School District and Chair of the DPAS-II Advisory Committee) had, uh, sent a letter to the education committee for the last meeting. That was very important. It turned out a number of the proponents in the bill as it was indicated that they thought, uhm, uh, that was the intent of the bill anyhow. I made a suggestion that we make that very clear in the amendment. This amendment does clarify that the administrator does maintain the final say or discretion to determine whether the state standardized assessment should be used as part of the educator’s evaluation. It also clarifies proposed changes to DPAS-II evaluation system as recommended, uhm, intended to be piloted in three education institutions over a work period of two years. It has an input, information and deletes section 7 of the bill in its entirety. Are there, uhm, any questions? I’ll attempt to answer them. Otherwise I’d like to ask for a roll call on Senate Amendment 1.
Roll call on Senate Amendment #1: 18 yes, 2 no, 1 absent
Sokola makes it sound like the consensus issues were within the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee. They were not. It was between the group’s recommendation and outside groups, like PACE, which was meeting with Alleyne and former Teacher Leader and Effectiveness Unit Chief Chris Ruszkowski in the weeks prior to their engagement with the committee. To say Alleyne had a bias would be an understatement. He and Ruszkowski were the two main guys at the DOE for the DPAS-II having Component V in it to begin with.
What Sokola never mentioned in his remarks and with little time for every Senator on the floor to read the full and lengthy amendment while discussion was also going on about the amendment, was a brand-new insertion into the legislation. This insertion was to include student and parent surveys in the pilot program. This drew the ire of teachers all across the state today if social media is any indication. This idea came from Atnre Alleyne in his many comments and blog posts about this bill. But Sokola took all the credit for it on Mike Matthews Facebook page today:
To be continued in Part 2 dealing with a 2nd amendment, heartburn, and more!
The Senate Education Committee just ended their 2:30 meeting about half an hour ago. House Bill 399 was discussed with many proponents and a few opponents. The opponents were Secretary Godowsky, Donna Johnson, and Atnre Alleyne (former DOE employee who has become very active in trying to stop meaningful teacher evaluation reform). Senator David Sokola expressed more than once his feelings of “heartburn” with the bill. I recorded the whole thing. Excellent comments were provided by Mike Matthews, Kristen Dwyer with DSEA, Jackie Kook, a teacher from Caesar Rodney (I will have to get his name later), and others. Hopefully the other members of the Senate Education Committee will see through the obvious smoke and mirrors. But a few thoughts here. Godowsky and Johnson were not this vocal during the House Education Committee. Judging by the fact Godowsky just left from meeting with Governor Markell’s office in conjunction with Godowsky’s adamant opposition of the bill, I think we can all safely assume who is calling the shots here.
As the lead Senate Sponsor, I felt Senator Bryan Townsend could have supported the bill more than he did. I have found he tends to play to both sides on education issues. During his second “round” so to speak on the bill, he did defend Delaware teachers and appeared to be more on their side. As usual, Sokola played it up for the audience. At one point he made a comment about how there is good news in education and something to the effect of not being able to see that on the blogs. So I made a point in my public comment, as well as supporting the bill, to point out the DOE can get the “good” news out and I’ll do my thing. Perhaps he didn’t like that but I truly don’t care. He can stare daggers into me until the general election if he wants.
I don’t know if it will be released from the committee. I hope it will. New York is already getting out of the kind of teacher evaluations Delaware’s DPAS-II is similar to. In regards to my comment about the Native Americans waiting to meet the Governor, Governor Markell literally just walked past me and we greeted each other. I am assuming the Governor was out of the building. I don’t see the Native Americans now, but the Delaware House did pass House Concurrent Resolution #97 recognizing November, 2016 as “Native American Heritage Month” in Delaware. Yes, it is going to be one of those days! Or possibly one of those lifetimes!
Hell froze over! A bill currently in circulation for sponsorship would give Delaware teachers a choice if they want the state assessment in their annual evaluation. As well, it gives all components equal measurements. This revelation came about yesterday at the DPAS-II Advisory Committee when State Rep. Earl Jaques whipped it out and showed the committee. This is big folks! Of course, a certain former Delaware DOE employee isn’t too happy about it but that’s what happens when you leave a “company”. They dismantle all your work and try something else. I’m sure we will hear more whining about this bill in the coming weeks from those who profited immensely from how DPAS-II is currently.
Teachers in Delaware will breathe a collective sigh of relief over this one if it passes. Which is great for the teachers. But this isn’t the best for students. It still leaves the state assessment, Smarter Balanced, in play. If teachers can have the option for it not counting, how about students? If teachers can opt in, why not students? Until then, I hope the students’ parents opt out!
I imagine the sponsors on this bill are looking ahead to November at this point. Their prior history of courting favor with Governor Markell will cost them votes unless they take some radical action now. The Markell education foundation is starting to crack and crumble.
This draft legislation was found at the blog linked above. Along with a lot of crying and complaining. Boo-friggin’-hoo!
Those no-good, rotten bastards at the Delaware Department of Education have done it again. This time the after-effects will cause much more than a ripple. This is going to really damage relations between the Delaware DOE and the Delaware State Education Association. Things were supposed to be better with Secretary of Education Godowsky, but they really aren’t. Instead, we have more humiliation for the educators of our state. This post does have an update at the bottom. Continue reading
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.
This has been a huge question on my mind for the past six months: How secure is student data? Next Tuesday, March 15th, Open Data Delaware is hosting a presentation with Atnre Alleyne and Shana Ricketts from the Delaware Department of Education to talk about data in the Department. From the announcement on Meetup.com:
We’ll hear from Atnre Alleyne & Shanna Ricketts, both with the Teacher Leader Effectiveness Unit at the Delaware Department of Education. Most recently Atnre has been the Director, Talent Management & Educator Effectiveness, while Shanna has worked as a Data Strategist. They will be discussing how the DDOE uses data, what education data is currently available to the public, and what some high impact projects could be.
I really want to know what happens to the data once the DOE uses it. How much is going to the Federal Learning Registry, the joint system shared by both the United States Department of Education and the Department of Defense? What happens to data from algorithms in existing programs? How much data from personalized learning and standardized assessments is going out to education vendors? How much social-emotional student data is going out? Will Delaware ever see the very frightening “data badges” Colorado is doing a pilot program for?
For those interested in these kinds of things (something ALL Delaware parents should really know about before it is too late), I highly recommend attending this presentation at 1313 N. Market St. in Wilmington on March 15th at 6pm. If you are unable to attend, I plan on going and I will definitely let everyone know what I am able to find out. Open Data Delaware is sponsored by 1313 Innovation and Zip Code Wilmington.
The Delaware Met is drowning. I don’t know any other way to put it. If this school is open for the 2016-2017 school year, I will be completely shocked. The Delaware charter school had their first Formal Review meeting today at the Delaware Department of Education, where they faced nearly two hours of questions from the Charter School Accountability Committee. The answers, when they provided them, caused great concern with the members of the committee, members of the audience, and myself.
To start, let me name all the players in today’s meeting, because there were many.
Charter School Accountability Committee: Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman, Exceptional Children Resources Group DOE Employee Barbara Mazza, Associate Secretary of Adult Education & School Supports Karen Field-Rogers, Educator Effectiveness & Talent Management Atnre Alleyne, Community Representative & Former DOE Employee Paul Harrell, Education Associate at DOE for Science Assessment and STEM April McRae
Staff To The Committee: Charter School Office Director Jennifer Nagourney, Deputy Attorney General & Consul to the Committee Catherine Hickey, Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson, from the Charter School Office: John Carwell, Michelle Whalen, & Sheila Kay Lawrence, from the DOE Finance Office: Brook Hughes
Delaware Met Representation: Innovative Schools Chief School Officer Teresa Gerchman, Delaware Met Board President Nash Childs, & Innovative Schools Financial Services School Support employee Karen Thorpe
The meeting began at 1:30pm with a roll call of the participants. While the exact wording may not be exact in all conversation, I did my best to type notes as fast as I could. If there is a specific quote, I will highlight that.
Blowman: purpose of meeting is to discuss and review relevant material to see if remedial measures against the school need to be taken, there will be no specific recommendations coming out of this meeting. This is a preliminary discussion. The initial report will be out by November 9th and Delaware Met has 15 days to review and comment on the report. The grounds for formal review were outlined in the letter sent to the school, including potential violations of the school’s charter in respect to the school’s educational program, school culture, board and leadership capabilities, and financial viability. On November 1st, the Delaware Met submitted documents to the DOE and the committee will consider any documents and discussion at the meeting to determine if charter holder is compliant in these areas and the committee will let the school know if they need additional information.
There was some initial confusion right off the bat as Blowman wanted to discuss the educational program, and Gerchman mentioned something about the Code of Conduct being included in the formal review, to which Blowman responded he was more concerned if the procedures were followed with fidelity.
The first conversation surrounded the technology and computers at the school:
Teresa Gerchman: In addressing computers at the school, she said the school has a firmer grip on what is needed and the school is having meetings with parents so students and parent can understand the computer policy. The school is working with Positive Outcomes which has the similar Go Guardian software which tracks the computers students have, websites students visit, and any connections for safety of students. They will be handing out computers on 11/12, will be used starting in the 2nd quarter.
Jennifer Nagourney: At the 10/12 Del Met board meeting, it was discussed there was damage to the computer lab.
Gerchman: The school had a brownout but it was not the one-on-one technology the students will be using
David Blowman: Was the plan for computers to hand them out in mid-November or was that reflective of enrollment?
Gerchman: It was planned for 1st quarter but discipline issues came up and wanted to make sure parents understood the computer policies.
Donna Johnson: How can students check out computers each morning in a personalized learning environment?
Gerchman: Advisors help with that.
Johnson: (Asks same question again, Gerchman interrupts Johnson as she is asking her question)
Gerchman: We will be using the computers to set up internships and to do blended learning in the classroom.
Johnson: How will the computers be used outside of the school?
Gerchman: Students will be using other materials for outside work and by the 3rd quarter students will be able to take computers outside of school.
Johnson: What about teacher training for the technology (for some reason it was difficult to hear this part)
Gerchman: Training was done last summer.
Johnson: Is there after school or extended day to use computers?
Gerchman: Not now but the school will be able to do that. Basketball starts soon so students involved will have 4-5pm study hall but right now there is no afterschool transportation.
Atnre Allyne: What determines readiness (for computers)?
Gerchman: It is intership readiness.
Johnson: What type of digital citizenship are students taking?
Gerchman: Not sure. That is with Big Picture (model for school).
Johnson: How long is advisory each day?
Gerchman: 90 minutes. Charly Adler with Big Picture Learning is involved. He is providing training and hands on coaching for teachers and for advisory curriculum.
April McRae: What is the ratio of advisors to students?
McRae: If advisors are also teachers, liaisons, and internship counselors how does that work?
Gerchman: They work with students during advisory period to go over personalized learning.
McRae: How long was training over the summer?
Gerchman: One month. Charly was there to help there to help trouble shoot.
Blowman: Was there an awareness teachers weren’t ready?
Gerchman: No, teachers felt like they were prepared. What they were not prepared for was what it took to engage students in advisory. They thought the kids would be ready to jump in and they were not prepared for what happened. Many kids were not engaged in the Big Picture Model.
Karen Field-Rogers: Was there something else that could have helped?
Gerchman: The Summer Institute was not required but going forward they will make it required. Less than 50% of the students participated.
Blowman: Is there a difference in retention performance for students that went through the Summer Institute?
Gerchman: Yes. The advisors are determining which students are internship ready but they do not have a percentage calculation.
Blowman: The model was always Big Picture. The school had four years from the beginning of the application process. I’m wondering how much planning and implementation was done by the ??? (couldn’t understand)
Gerchman: No. We clearly stated what it was. The majority of students who applied or went to open house knew it was clearly defined. I don’t know if application fully embraced the model when students applied. Big Picture was not (created?) for an urban setting. We did not have right connection with the right school models (named schools from California)
McRae: That surprises me because the whole model is based on an urban setting. I would have assumed Charly and his trainers would have based it on that. This is a big disconnect.
Gerchman: The Providence schools were the foundation for this.
McRae: I have great concern.
Gerchman: We never heard this till after they opened.
At this point, DOE employees were passing out Halloween candy in Carmike Cinemas popcorn bucket
Gerchman: We are about to start matching potential careers in advisory. We are having parent meetings and both parents and students will sign off on those.
Blowman: When does the internship program start?
Gerchman: It will vary by student. Every student will be in one by the 3rd quarter. The plan was never for 9th graders to start on 9/1.
Blowman: There is a big gap between 9/1 and the 3rd quarter.
Gerchman: It was always the plan to have 10th graders start within 10 weeks. Not all students are ready. We will be doing internal internships instead of external for kids with a disciplinary record. They will stay at school to learn expectations for the workplace.
Alleyne: How do you know they are all going to be ready?
Gerchman: When we say internship ready we mean external. We have a lot of resources coming into the school to help out, and the internal students can do IT at school.
Barbara Mazza: What training have you given teachers for students with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs)?
Gerchman: We are having meetings with parents for one hour instead of a half hour. All teachers have been given student goals and have a spreadsheet with all the goals. Sue Ogden, the head of Special Education, is driving those meetings and she has worked w/teachers.
Mazza: Is she working with teachers on professional development for instruction?
Gerchman: Sue Ogden was not there during the summer.
Blowman: Do all eligible students have approved IEPs?
Gerchman: I can’t answer that. I don’t know. We are having meetings and they all have to do with transitional (not sure of next word after that)
Mazza: It has to be done within 60 calendar days of the schools opening date. When did the school open?
German: 8/24. Sue Ogden has a chart she is following closely.
Blowman: How many are handling special education?
Blowman: No, teachers.
Gerchman: We have Sue Ogden and two paraprofessionals and outside services for counseling, occupational therapy.
Blowman: That is equivalent to 4 units.
Mazza: How many unit counts did you estimate based on 9/30 student counts?
Karen Thorpe: 4 complex, 39 basic, 17 intensive.
Mazza: That is more than 4 units. We want assurances every student had an IEP meeting before the 60 day mark.
Editor’s note: It got very quiet at this point.
Gerchman: Do you want a breakdown of service related hours?
Mazza: Not just that. Also any behavioral needs being met.
Gerchman: We have social workers.
Mazza: You have 8 students identified with a disability?
Gerchman: That is where the mentoring team comes in. We have a social worker, a psychologist to do the functional behavioral analysis and create the BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan). Sue is involved in deciding if the behavior was a manifestation of the disability. When a student brought a weapon to the school, we did a full manifestation determination hearing with the psychologist.
Blowman: Are you pushing inclusion?
Gerchman: Yes, and pull-out groups. Classes are co-taught with special education teachers and there is time allotted for pull-out services.
Blowman: How are you implementing RTI (Response to Intervention)?
Gerchman: We are utilizing intervention blocks of times. Students will be pulled for 45 minute times based on tier 1 or tier 2 services. We are using pevious years of DCAS and Smarter Balanced scores and looking for kids that were consistently low. Sue did additional testing to get to current levels. Students get those additional services in addition to special education.
Johnson: Funds generated for special education students must be used for those students. I want a follow-up on how much money is being spent on special education currently and how much is for unit counts and staffing.
April: Science & Social Studies. I have questions. The school provided a curriculum outline, but I have concerns. You also provided 1st quarter objectives and they not in compliance with the science coalition that was provided. It is not compliant, and it almost feels like you will join the social studies and science coalitions but the application stated the school would be members of that coalition before the school opened and the school year started.
Gerchman: In my role now I can’t explain what happened. When we saw we were put on formal review we reached out to those coalitions.
Nagourney: Is there anyone in this room that can explain this? Any board members?
Gerchman: I can’t explain it.
Nagourney: Is there anyone here that can answer this?
NO ONE IN ROOM THAT CAN ANSWER!!!
Johnson: Delaware Met had an additional year of planning to get ready. The charter was approved by the Secretary and the Board (State Board) did not go through the exact science and social studies curriculum because they were joining that coalition. I see them joining now because they are on formal review. I don’t see this matching to state standards and don’t see teachers have already gone through training to understand current state standards.
Nagourney: Who was responsible for overseeing this process?
Johnson: I don’t care who was responsible. I want to know what happened and why because they had an additional year. Those are basics and that’s very concerning.
McRae: Kind of what Donna (Johnson) said but since you are not currently members of the coalition we would like to see lessons aligned to state standard to see students are getting that curriculum.
Blowman: How long into the school year before that impacts students? A lot of what should have been done over the past two years is being done once the school opened. It is sacrificing instruction. You had two years. (Blowman goes over everything discussed up to this point)
Johnson: I have a question about the 1st week of school plan. Was that week considered an on-ramp to high school or are those hours including instructional hours for the school year?
Gerchman: It was considered on-ramp for Big Picture Learning. It was also an on-ramp to high school but more Big Picture.
Johnson: That does not count towards instructional hours.
Gerchman: We will subtract them out.
McRae: What does it mean to be intern ready?
Gerchman: Charly has worked with advisors to understand this. It means the student is ready to go external: they will be ready with how to dress, language, behavior and expectations. For students we feel are not ready to go external we will give internal (internships).
Paul Harrell: How often does the school psychologist visit the school? 3, 4 days a week?
Gerchman: I’m not sure. I don’t have that information.
Harrell: The mentoring program, who does it?
Gerchman: It is run by AJ English, it is called English Lessons. He has two other people for three total.
Harell: Are they local?
Gerchman: It is a local mentoring business, one is a licensed social worker.
Harrell: Does anyone else in Delaware use AJ English?
Gerchman: I’m not sure.
Nagourney: We would like a list of external internship partners.
Gerchman: We don’t have that because no one is in an internship yet but we do have have interested parties.
At this point, the CSAC dove into what everyone wanted to hear: School Culture!
Gerchman: My assessment on the school culture is it is not what is was supposed to be. This is not a surprise to anyone walking through the door. AJ English was supposed to be an after school program but we saw the need for additional support for students, a need to understand what is triggering behavior and not just punishing behavior. They have a rubric. Some mentors know students. We added a school climate officer who was hired before the start of the school year. I was not part of the process for hiring him. I’m not sure why he wasn’t there the first week of school. He was given additional support and we brought people in: An In-School suspension person with experience at that to make it more effective- consequences when they are there, doing school work. He worked in the Philadelphia school system (Note to self: but is he credentialed in Delaware?). We brought in Rob Moore who works in the community and runs a basketball program and knows students and families. He is a climate monitor and he can remove students from class with a goal of getting them back into class. Mr. Wilson has enough people on his team, a one-person team can not handle it.
Blowman: How is the current climate?
Gerchman: Not where it needs to be. Teachers need to do a better job of fully engaging all the students with instruction and professional development, and using the Teaching for Excellence framework. I just got to the school on 10/27. That was always the plan and teachers trained on this in August. With Tricia Hunter (the official Head of School, out on maternity leave until mid-November) going out on maternity leave those were not fully taking place but since she came on they are. When my kids are better engaged they are learning. When we determined the 4-5% of students causing problems, we do check-in and check-out with their advisor or mentor, we are using behavior intervention plans, and we are trying to stop what is going on outside of school from coming into school. The school is implementing Teaching for Excellence and teachers got training over the summer.
Johnson: That was a minor modification and that didn’t happen until after school year started.
Gerchman: I was mistaken.
Mazza: How is ISS (In-School Suspension) handled?
Gerchman: Sue Ogden administers that.
Nagourney: When was the last time a police officer was called to the school?
Gerchman: The Mayor (of Wilmington, Dennis Williams) came last week. We have a police officer there every day for 2 hours at dismissal. Kids come from other high schools to meet friends or for other reasons. Yesterday we had a student that was suspended come back to school to start a fight with another student.
Blowman: How many times have the police been called in?
Gerchman: I don’t know.
Nagourney: Are those incidents being recorded?
Harrell: When was the code of conduct issued?
Gerchman: The beginning of school.
Harrell: Wouldn’t it have been better to send during summer given the population at the school?
Gerchman: We wanted to review it with the students instead of just giving them a document.
Blowman: What plans do faculty have in place to engage students? Are teachers fully able to get engaged with students?
Gerchman: They have lessons plans and they are giving feedback on lesson plans. We are making sure teachers know who to put out and we are working with those teachers first. This is not a kid issue, it’s an adult issue. We need to help teachers get stronger with that, have better relationships with the students.
Harrell: How is the morale of the teachers?
Gerchman: Not great.
McRae: It sounds like you are having an issue with fighting. A student came back to finish fighting…
Gerchman: We suspended the student for a vocal altercation.
McRae: Have adults been trained to handle physical altercations?
Gerchman: No, not all
McRae: You have 62 IEP students, THAT IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST, AN ABSOLUTE IMPERATIVE
Gerchman: I just found out AJ English has programs in two other schools.
Johnson: Can you provide an outline of how school board and staff used the additional year to plan?
Nash Childs: It was difficult since we didn’t have a building. We acquired the MBNA building bought by the state. It took a long time. We didn’t know we had the building until before the school year started (Innovative Schools officially purchased the building in November 2014). We had to get a certificate of occupancy for the building. The board was so focused on facilities and student recruitment that they lost valuable time working on the educational program and the code of conduct. We had a school leader acquired but didn’t have the money to pay her. We had all these financial issues come together.
Johnson: What was relegated to the CMO (Charter Management Organization, in this case Innovative Schools)? It seems to me they should have been working on those aspects.
Childs: As far as facilities that was the board.
Johnson: That makes sense. How did the board hold the CMO accountable?
Editor’s note: No one answered this question. I am guessing here, but I believe at least two board members were sitting in front of me but they were not a part of the response team. There was quite a bit of whispering between the two women at this point.
Childs: We work as a team. I’m not an educator, but we have a lot of passionate volunteers on the board that love this model. We thought this was perfect for downtown Wilmington but it is obvious we could have spent more time on the education program and climate. The board didn’t know they were going to be faced with these issues.
Johnson: What are the current responsibilities the board is putting on Innovative Schools?
Childs: They have been a great partnership and the board is not throwing blame.
Johnson: What role is the board having on Innovative Schools?
Childs: We gave them a list in September 2015. Our contractual agreement was not 100% implemented until after May of 2015. They were doing work and not getting paid a dime for a while.
Gerchman: We are currently in the school and not charging the school for that. Hodges (another Innovative Schools employee) is in the school and we are not charging for that. We are working on filling gaps with no additional charge.
Blowman: Is that a deferral, cause we had that situation last year…. (I would love to hear more about that one!)
Gershman: It is not a deferral, when we looked at the numbers we rearranged their plan and how we could support them.
Johnson: In response towards the school leader, it says Innovative Schools additional roles would incur greater expense. Is the school having additional costs to cover your (Teresa Gerchman’s) primary duties?
Gerchman: I am working nights and weekends, no.
Johnson: Are you still CSO of Innovative Schools?
Blowman: I am concerned about the capacity to serve all these schools.
Johnson: You are serving more schools now. That was a concern last year and it is now. I have questions around board governance training, due process training, and financial training.
Childs: We had training that started over a year ago. I can’t say who got what but I can get that list.
Johnson: How many board members have been on the board since you started the training process?
Childs: The majority.
Johnson: For new board members training?
Gerchman: The entire board received DANA training and repeated this in September.
Kendall Massett: I was there and everyone did.
Gerchman: Not everyone got budget training.
Blowman: Financial Viability…
Thorpe: The current student count is 215. We have contractors in place for services, transportation, staffing in budget, our financial goals were not to draw any outside credit, to be able to reserve summer pay as required, as well as instructional goals to provide one on one technology. The budget you received was for 218 enrollment.
Nagourney: They submitted a new budget two hours ago.
Thorpe: We submitted a budget before the 9/30 count, but since we have had additional special education and what services are needed, and trying to get all the right people together for the budget.
Field Rogers: The budget submitted did not show funding streams.
Thorpe: It does now.
Gerchman: I was on leave when the letter came out so that is why we didn’t submit a budget.
Field-Rogers: The summer pay is part of a budget.
Thorpe: Those are in-school expenses
Field-Rogers: It shows a surplus of $10,000. Is this through 6/30?
Thorpe: It is a 12 month budget. This is before encumbrances, expenses from encumbrances are in current year budget.
Field-Rogers: This says there was a $65,000 line of credit was drawn in June.
Thorpe: Some bills did not get paid until July.
Field-Rogers: Are there any outside bank accounts?
Field-Rogers: There were 215 students by 9/30. Have any students left since then?
Blowman: How many students left since 9/30?
Gerchman: I am not sure. We sent four students back to Red Clay. (Discussion around working plan out with Red Clay to send the funding for those students to Red Clay)
Blowman: Were they special education?
Nagourney: We received complaints as of this morning that students were not released for good cause.
Blowman: How is the school providing related arts: phys ed, fine arts, drivers ed, health? Cause you have a budget of that for $35,000.
Gerchman: We have a person doing phys ed and health, and some drivers ed.
Field Rogers: I’m confused cause revenues received doesn’t match the budget recieved, as well as transportation eligible students.
Thorpe: The local revenue matches what is on the DOE website. The state revenue is a little bit higher because we have some teachers that will be credentialed.
Blowman: Page 3 says Academia. Is that correct?
Thorpe: That is correct. I will be more careful of that in the future.
Field-Rogers: Cafeteria funds of $189,000 seems really high…
Thorpe: That is correct, but that is what we are trending at.
Field-Rogers: Special Education is nine units and I see two teachers (paras) and one coordinator.
Mazza: Is Sue Ogden the Educational Diagnostician?
Gerchman: She is the Special Education Coordinator. (believe this to be the title that was said)
Nagourney: Are you planning for next year yet?
Gerchman: I don’t think my being the actual leader is effective. We are waiting on the school leader (Tricia) to come back on 11/19.
Massett: I want to point out this isn’t required.
Nagourney: We are looking at long-term financial viability.
McRae: I’m concerned with students leaving the school because of bullying, seven students left with good cause, police reports… do you feel students are safe on your campus?
Gerchman: More students feel safe now. Four bullied students left but one parent has expressed interest in returning. The parents are concerned about retaliation for coming forward about bullying. We have lots of students where that level of chaos is comfortable for them but for students not from those environments it is very hard.
Blowman: Do you believe students are safe in the school (looked directly at Gerchman)?
Gerchman: Yes. (long pause) We are reviewing applications for special education staff and having interviews tomorrow. Sue is the specialist and we want to make sure she is comfortable.
Johnson: Can we get detail around engagement of parents and students with addressing culture, when the application was in process and when the school opened, with other Met schools, and the steps taken to engage parents and plans to move forward?
Blowman went around the committee asking members and staff to state what information was needed from Delaware Met.
McRae: Calendar of instructional hours and social studies and science lesson plans, units, and alignment to standards.
Mazza: We need confirmation they have reached out to John Sadowsky (Climate and Discipline Director at DOE, who did attend the meeting but left early, was not announced) for physical restraint training. We want a list of IEPs and the 60 days, we aren’t seeing it in the system.
Gerchman: We got some expired IEPs, and we had problems with IEP Plus since 10/1.
Michelle Whalen: Please make sure all private information is redacted.
Mazza: If we find services were not being met what is the plan for making up time so services are met? And for the internships, we want to make sure these don’t provide barriers for students with disabilities.
Gerchman: We are using Positive Outcomes as a resource.
Harell: I want to know what other schools AJ English has a mentoring relationship with. Two teachers have left, I want to know of any other teachers leaving.
Johnson: I’ve asked for a lot. I’m asking for Schoology training, prior training, current use, additional follow-up on training for teachers, the training teachers got for social studies and science, the units are aligned to state standards, specific financial information about how much money receied for special education and how funds are being used and special education units staffed with those funds, documentation on board docs to CMO, board training, detailed information on how board and staff utilized the additional planning year, and board engagements with parents and family members for school culture before school opened and after. How many times have police been called? Are there costs for Wilmington police to provide services?
Gerchman :Yes, $100 for two hours. This just started yesterday.
Field-Rogers: This isn’t budgeted.
Gerchman: We gave all the discipline information to John Sadowsky and the charter school office.
Johnson: (directed to DOE). I would like that information provided to our office (State Board of Education).
Blowman: The goal today is to assess where the school is today with concerns and to determine if there are still areas of concern. Meeting adjourned.