Rep. Jaques Turns Simple Opt Out Parental Rights Bill Into A Three-Ring Circus

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. 

Respectfully,

Kevin Ohlandt

Pray For New Mexico! Surfer Boy Is In Charge Now!

If we could all take a moment of silence for New Mexico public education…

Thank you.  Earlier yesterday, I found out New Mexico’s Secretary of Education, Hanna Skandera, gave her two-week notice.  What I failed to recognize was who her replacement was.  As news trickled out to me, I found myself very concerned for public school educators in New Mexico.  Yes, the  former Race To The Top Delaware DOE darling, the Surfer Boy himself, is now New Mexico’s Acting Secretary of Education.  You heard me right folks, Christopher Ruszkowski is now in charge of New Mexico public education.

According to a U.S. News & World report article:

Deputy Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski will serve as acting cabinet secretary, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez said.

Teachers in Delaware will ALWAYS remember the Surfer Boy for his Human Capital and Component V contributions to Delaware education.  Shall we go on… the Delaware Talent Cooperative, his love affair with Teach For America, bringing Relay into schools, and so on.  Ruszkowski left the Delaware DOE last year when he became the New Mexico Deputy Secretary of Education under Skandera.  He had been the Director of the Teacher Leader and Effectiveness Unit at the Delaware DOE.

All I can say is this: New Mexico, what in the name of Breaking Bad are you thinking?  But then again, they had Skandera, the Wonder Girl to Jeb Bush’s, uhm, Captain Underpants?  But even Surfer Boy is connected with Jeb Bush as he took a fellowship position in Jeb Bush’s corporate education reform group, Chiefs For Change, about a year ago.  Rumor has it Skandera may take a job under U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

It wasn’t long after I began this blog that I began writing about Ruszkowski.  You can read all the articles in THIS LINK.

A moment of silence isn’t enough for the teachers, students, educators, administrators, education bloggers, and hell, any taxpaying citizen in New Mexico.  Please continue praying for New Mexico.

Carper & Blunt-Rochester Do Not Like Proposed Federal Education Budget

A couple of weeks ago, I sent emails to the Delaware members of Congress regarding President Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ proposed education cuts.  I received responses from U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt-Rochester and U.S. Senator Tom Carper.  To date, U.S. Senator Chris Coons has been silent.  Betsy DeVos’ education budget promises to give more money to charter schools and plants funds for a nationwide school voucher system.  I am opposed to both.

 

President Trump Issues Executive Order About Federal Control Of Public Education

Hot off the press, United States President Donald Trump just issued an Executive Order concerning federal control of education.  This order gives U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos a lot of authority to remove regulations that may interfere with state or local control of public education.  It also talks about Common Core.  Worth a read…

Jack Markell Under Investigation By Ed Authorities ***Debunked***April Fool’s Day***

Well, that didn’t take long.  It turns out former Delaware Governor Jack Markell is under investigation.  I can’t say I’m surprised given some of his questionable activities concerning education during his term as Delaware Governor of the First State.  It’s like I’ve always said, Delaware is the first to sign the constitution but the last to follow it.  But what is he under investigation for? Continue reading “Jack Markell Under Investigation By Ed Authorities ***Debunked***April Fool’s Day***”

Ron Russo Lost Me With Jeb Bush, I Think I’m Going To “Go Home”!

Ron Russo, a senior fellow at the right-leaning Caesar Rodney Institute, wrote a blog post yesterday with a BOLD PLAN for Delaware schools.  By even mentioning former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and the Foundation for Excellence in Education in the very first sentence, it was hard to lend any credibility to this piece.  But I read the whole thing out of morbid curiosity.

…Governor Jeb Bush, the keynote speaker, told the attendees that they had to, “Be big, be bold, or go home.”

I would have left at that point and proudly went home.  Jeb Bush has made a ton of money capitalizing off the backs of schools and students.  He is the very essence of corporate education reform.  I give anything he says zero weight.

Russo seems to view former Red Clay Consolidated Board President William Manning as the Messiah of Delaware education:

He recommended a confederation of independent schools each locally managed and free of regulations about who to hire and how to teach.  The schools would be evaluated only by performance data that would be shared with the public.

Manning’s vision created charter schools that do not serve the populations within their district boundaries.  Quite a few Delaware charters have selective enrollment preferences that seem to further segregation and push out kids with high needs.  Manning was the lead attorney in the lawsuit against the Christina School District when charters that serve Christina students sued the district to get more money per student.  Eventually the lawsuit wound up becoming a settlement that further stripped funds away from the district.  Russo’s BOLD PLAN is modeled after the original charter school bill, Senate Bill 200:

The Caesar Rodney Institute is supporting a systemic change to our education bureaucracy called the “BOLD PLAN”.  It significantly alters the way the current education system operates by empowering the individual schools to make operational decisions to best serve their students.

In theory, this would be a great idea.  However, Russo lost me yet again when he brought up the VERY controversial priority schools as a potential model for this plan:

CRI’s BOLD PLAN incorporates the best features of the 1995 Charter School Law and the Memorandum of Understanding designed by Delaware’s DOE for Priority Schools.  If the changes proposed in the MOU were expected to raise the performance of the state’s lowest performing schools, why wouldn’t those changes be offered to all public schools?

Sorry Ron, but the priority school Memorandums of Understanding were absolutely horrible and did more to create parent backlash in Wilmington than anything seen before.  So what would this plan consist of?  Therein lies the rub:

BOLD legislation would specify areas of local decision-making.  Such areas would include: 1) Authority to hire and dismiss all staff; 2) All programing inputs (school calendar, schedule, curriculum aligned to Delaware standards, instructional practices and methodology, textbooks, technology, etc.); 3) Marketing and planning; 4) Support services including transportation, food, and maintenance; 5) Budget preparation and expenditure control with surplus operating funds retained by the school.  Schools will have autonomy from any district or Delaware DOE requirements not mandated by state or federal law.

This legislation has more holes than a donut shop.

  1. What happens if the board membership or the Superintendent of the district is not operating under normal parameters of their function?  What if personal grudges get in the way of a sound decision to hire or dismiss all staff?  Delaware is a small state and conflicts of interest are well-known in this state.
  2. You lost me at “Delaware standards”.  If you truly want to give local education authorities the coveted local control, they would be free to set their own curriculum without being tied to any type of standard pushed down from the state or federal government.  I have yet to see any indication Delaware will get rid of Common Core which was created under false pretenses.
  3. Don’t they already do this anyway?
  4. See #3
  5. That would not be a good thing.  Delaware charter schools already keep their surplus transportation funds in a sweetheart deal with the General Assembly and there is no apparatus to make sure those funds are being used with fidelity.  What is the point of even having a district or charter board if the school can do whatever it wants with extra money?  This proposal sounds like anarchy.

Russo’s logic becomes even more confusing when he casually drops the Rodel Visionfests and Race To The Top into his conversation:

The BOLD PLAN complements Delaware’s other education improvement efforts (Visions, Races, etc.).  In fact, it may even complete them.

I don’t think completion of those plans is something anyone in Delaware really wants.  Race To The Top was an unmitigated disaster with funds going to the state Department of Education more than local school districts.  The Vision Coalition goals further perpetuate many bad corporate education reform policies.  It is hard to take anything they do seriously when the CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, Dr. Herdman, makes over $345,000 a year.

Ironically, Russo channels Dan Rich who has been very involved with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s proposed Wilmington redistricting.  But Russo doesn’t bring him up in any way related to that endeavor but rather his involvement with the Vision Coalition:

At the very first Vision 2015 meeting hosted by Dan Rich, then Provost of the University of Delaware, he ended the meeting by telling the attendees that if they wanted to improve Delaware’s public schools they had to be bold and, if they didn’t want to be bold, they should get out.  Hmmmm, it seems that Dan was way ahead of Jeb.

Comparing Rich to Jeb Bush almost seems insulting.  Of course, any education push should be bold.  But by telling people if you don’t like it to “get out” or “go home” it is essentially saying if you don’t agree with us we won’t give you the time of day.  That is NOT the way education issues should be ironed out and only creates more of a divide.  The Delaware charter school experiment, now well into it’s third decade, has met with very mixed results.  It has not been the rousing success the forefathers of the original legislation thought it would be.  Why would Delaware even entertain this idea based on that?  And lest we forget, all this imaginary “success” is based on standardized test scores, of which Delaware has gone through three different state assessments since then.  Sorry Ron, but this is not a BOLD PLAN.  It is an old plan, that just plain doesn’t work.

I have to wonder about the timing of this article.  The Caesar Rodney Institute has long been a fierce supporter of school vouchers.  Delaware has been very resistant to that system under Democrat control but under the Trump administration and the appointment of Betsy DeVos as the U.S. Secretary of Education, it is not surprising to see Russo coming out with this type of article.  President Trump and DeVos want a federal school voucher system that has already met with disappointing results in several states.

Opt Out Wins Big In Delaware

After more than two years of the Delaware Dept. of Education holding an opt out penalty against Delaware schools, the moment of victory for advocates of opting out of the state standardized test came in a big way last night.  Not with a bang, but what appeared to be a conciliatory moment for the Delaware DOE.

At the final meeting of the Governor’s ESSA Advisory Committee last evening, the group met for what appears to be the last time before the DOE submits their Consolidated State Plan to the United States Dept. of Education.  The DOE acknowledged they have no idea what to expect in regards to approval of their plan by the feds.  Deputy Secretary of Education Karen Field Rogers stated they knew what to expect from the feds under the Obama Administration but under new U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos they are in unchartered territory.

For advocates of opt out, an unexpected but meaningful change to the Delaware School Success Framework, the Delaware accountability system, signaled a clear shift in thinking from the Department.  Under the former framework, if a school went below 95% participation rate for the Smarter Balanced Assessment or other state assessments, an opt-out penalty would kick in.  Schools could have their final accountability rating lowered if the opt out penalty kicked in.

The opt out penalty saga began over two years ago, under former Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy.  At that time, the very controversial House Bill 50 was raging through the Delaware legislature.  The bill would have codified a parent’s fundamental and constitutional right to opt their child out of the state assessment.  The bill passed in both houses of the General Assembly but the corporate education reform leaning Governor Jack Markell vetoed the bill.  Shortly after, the Accountability Framework Working Group recommended not going ahead with the opt out penalty in the framework but were overturned by Markell and the new Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky.  When Delaware began working on the state plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act, the opt out penalty remained.  Even though advocates spoke out against it, many did not predict the Department would remove it.  But under Governor Carney and current Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting, there appears to be a change in thinking.

Field Rogers said the penalty is gone and they will be going with the recommendations from the AFWG, whereby a school must submit a letter to the Department on how they will work to get the participation rate back up to 95%.   She did mention that if they see the same schools with high opt out rates a few years in a row that they may seek “interventions” for those schools but nothing was specifically named.

To see the final Delaware ESSA plan, please see below.  There might be some tweaks here and there based on the final meeting last night, but for the most part, this is it.  I’ve heard quiet rumors concerning the Smarter Balanced Assessment in Delaware.  We could see a change in that area but nothing official has been announced.  We shall see…

 

Apples, Oranges, & The Myth Of Grading Schools: The True Goals Behind Bad Education Policy

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.

Self-Serving Agendas

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Unpresidential President

Today, President Donald Trump held a news conference with members of the media.  Full of boisterous self-praise and self-adulation, Trump got to cut off and interrupt reporters like it was a World Wrestling Federation prep rally.  Thanks to The New York Times for putting up the full transcript.  I got to watch part of it while at Wayback Burgers in Dover eating a late lunch (great burgers by the way).  I wanted to touch on a few of the highlights of the conference and put my thoughts around them.  Trying to formulate a thought for some of Trump’s comments is like trying to touch wind since there was no basis in reality for some of his comments.

I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done.

Yes, we have the billionaire club disguising themselves as a Presidential Cabinet and children of illegal immigrants crying to their teachers they are going to be deported.

This morning, because many of our nation’s reporters and folks will not tell you the truth, and will not treat the wonderful people of our country with the respect that they deserve.

Respect goes both ways.  Respect means letting others have a viewpoint and allowing them to convey it.  It’s also called The First Amendment in case you’ve forgotten.

North Korea – we’ll take care of it folks; we’re going to take care of it all.

How are you going to take care of a rogue nation that doesn’t show up on satellite maps at night because all the lights are off in the country?  If you do indeed fix it all can we make you the savior of the world?

We have had great conversations with the United Kingdom, and meetings. Israel, Mexico, Japan, China and Canada, really, really productive conversations. I would say far more productive than you would understand.

Is that because we are too dumb to understand President Trump?  Us little people and measly reporters just wouldn’t get it?  Unless we are in the boardroom, ahem, Oval Office during these conversations and meetings?

We’ve even developed a new council with Canada to promote women’s business leaders and entrepreneurs. It’s very important to me, very important to my daughter Ivanka.

No conflict of interest there.  Yes, let’s drain the swamp and create a council with Canada at taxpayer expense!  I can see all that government waste circling the drain (sarcasm intended).

I’ve ordered plan to begin building for the massive rebuilding of the United States military. Had great support from the Senate, I’ve had great from Congress, generally.

When you say this, please don’t think anyone believes it is because they want to work with you.  Both houses are controlled by the GOP so it is easy-peasy for all of you to get your way.  I highly doubt they will balk too much against your plans because you carry that veto pen.

And the wall is going to be a great wall and it’s going to be a wall negotiated by me.

Because that worked so well for Berlin… Yes, I have no doubt this great wall will be negotiated by you but paid for by we the people.

We’ve ordered a crackdown on sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal law and that harbor criminal aliens,

How long until they start coming into schools?

I keep my campaign promises, and our citizens will be very happy when they see the result.

Common Core is still here President Trump.  How many votes did you get based on that promise?  Quite a few I bet!  Instead of getting rid of it, we got Betsy DeVos!

Wal-mart announced it will create 10,000 jobs in the United States just this year because of our various plans and initiatives.

I think that had more to do with their plans to begin selling cars and beef up their online presence.

It’s all fake news. It’s all fake news.

Will this be the new “thing”? Anything that goes against President Trump will now be called fake news?  Better believe it!

You know, he was doing his job. The thing is, he didn’t tell our vice president properly, and then he said he didn’t remember.

For someone who made part of his vast fortune by telling people “You’re fired!”, wouldn’t part of his job be, you know, giving proper information to the Vice President and remembering what happened?  Duh Donald Duh!

And just while you’re at it, because you mentioned this, Wall Street Journal did a story today that was almost as disgraceful as the failing New York Time’s story, yesterday.

So the alleged purpose of this news conference was to improve relations with the media but he does so by referring to two of the biggest newspapers in the world as “failing” and “disgraceful”.  I can see that collaborative spirit flowing Don!

I mean, I watch CNN, it’s so much anger and hatred and just the hatred.

And Fox News is NEVER like that, especially when Dems were in power.  Okee-dokee!

Nobody mentions that Hillary received the questions to the debates. Can you imagine — seriously — can you imagine if I received the questions? It would be the electric chair. OK, he should be put in the electric — you would even call for the reinstitution of the death penalty, OK.

President Trump, if you lost the presidential election do you think anyone would still be talking about this?  No.  Why are you continuing to beat up on Hillary Clinton?

No, that’s how I won. I won with news conferences and probably speeches. I certainly didn’t win by people listening to you people. That’s for sure. But I’m having a good time.

Trump is referring to members of the media that didn’t like him here.  This is his victory lap around the news pundits and giving them a tongue lashing while also putting himself up in bronze for the whole world to see.  Look at me, I’m President Trump.  I’m King of the World.

But tomorrow, the headlines are going to be, “Donald Trump rants and raves.” I’m not ranting and raving.

I believe this should be the lead for any examples of idiocy going forward in history.

The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles off shore right out of the water.

This was said in jest by Trump, but given that this ship was 30 miles off the coast of the state I live in, Delaware, my ears perked up when he said this.  I don’t recall any big naval battles off the coast of Delaware in the past 200 years.  That could have been interesting!

I can’t believe I’m saying I’m a politician, but I guess that’s what I am now.

Lightbulb moment for the leader of the free world…

And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it, nuclear holocaust would be like no other.

Wow! Nuclear holocaust would be bad?  I never knew that.  I thought “The Day After”, which aired in 1983 and showed Kansas City getting nuked and the aftermath was just a pre-Thanksgiving special.  Nuclear holocaust is just that, the end.  Did you just learn this from reading a briefing?  Jesus wept…

…does anybody really think that Hillary Clinton would be tougher on Russia than Donald Trump?

When you refer to yourself in the 3rd person, that is nothing but a big old ego.  Mr. President, this isn’t Rocky III promoting a fight between Apollo Creed and Clubber Lang.  You are a leader.  Please act like it! 

Can’t believe I forgot this one!

Trump: Are they friends of yours?

Reporter: I’m just a reporter.

Trump: Well, then set up the meeting.

This was in response to an African-American reporter if Trump consulted with the Congressional Black Caucus to deal with his upcoming Executive Order to deal with crime in American cities.  Like we should just assume every African-American knows every African-American.  But this is the world we live in now.

Respect goes both ways like I said earlier.  If you want the media to respect you and your agendas, you also have to respect them.  You can’t cherry-pick who you like because they give you positive press.  Watching just part of the press conference today was embarrassing.  Reading the whole transcript gave me severe heartburn!  I have to believe Trump has someone guiding him who would say “Mr. President, I really don’t advise you holding this news conference.”  If not, I’m sure he will VERY soon!

 

 

 

What To Make Of Bad News Betsy’s Letter About ESSA To Chief State School Officers

On Friday, newly christened U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sent a, how shall I call it, awkward letter to all the education leaders of each state.  Alarm bells went up immediately.  Many people are scratching their heads about the missive dealing with state Every Student Succeeds Act implementation plans.  The word “may” in relation to Title I, II, III, IV and V funding is the part that is confusing many.  Is this Betsy’s way of phasing from Title funding to her school voucher plan?  And how many enemies of modern-day accountability standards are equally confused about Betsy gutting the John King regulations from last fall?  This could be a Trojan Horse leading to more Competency-Based Education.  We all know CBE is a darling of the ed reformers these days.  Read the below letter and sit and wonder like the rest of us!  I have no doubt President Trump is clueless about any of this and is applying his next daily helping of orange glow.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos… God Help Us All…

The United States Senate deadlocked in a vote for Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education with a 50-50 tie.  Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie, confirming Bad News Betsy as the next Secretary of Education in America.  Now we recoup, focus, and battle.  Hard.  Fast.  And Furious.  She is going to unleash holy hell on public education.  She who thinks grizzly bears can stop school shootings and IDEA is a state and local mandate.  She who does not know the difference between growth and proficiency.

This is a billionaire.  With no teaching experience whatsoever.  She buys power and support and does nothing to earn it.  Exactly what is wrong in education these days.  We are about to enter an era of voucher hell which will only further segregate our schools.  Hold on to your seats, this is going to be a very bumpy ride.

I salute Republican Senators Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) for their courage in voting no.  It is horrifying to think that 50 Republican Senators put party lines over the best interest of children.  But this is Trump’s world and we are just living in it…

**UPDATED**Delaware Senators Pettyjohn, Lopez, Lavelle, Simpson and DelCollo Publicly Support Betsy DeVos…Why? Please Withdraw Your Support

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*Please see below for a statement from Delaware Senator Brian Pettyjohn in regards to this letter.

This morning, Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams published a letter from several state legislators around the country supporting Betsy DeVos in her nomination for the United States Secretary of Education.  Senators Anthony DelCollo, Greg Lavelle, Ernie Lopez, Brian Pettyjohn, and Gary Simpson represented the Delaware contingent of these signatures.  I am publicly asking these five Delaware Republican Senators to withdraw their support for Mrs. DeVos.

Last week, DeVos had her Senate Confirmation hearing.  She did not know the difference between growth and proficiency.  She supported guns in schools to prevent grizzly bear attacks.  She stated when she was first nominated that she supported dismantling Common Core, but history with the DeVos Foundation suggests otherwise.  She is a fervent supporter of school vouchers which have the strong potential to further issues of discrimination and segregation in American schools the way they are currently set up in many states.  She supports charter schools which have not shown to be a greater success unless the pull smarter students in through selective enrollment preferences despite the legality of those preferences in many states.  But most disappointing was DeVos inability to understand that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA, is a federal law, not a state and local law.

As a father of a student with disabilities, I was appalled when Betsy DeVos said this.  The U.S. Secretary of Education is a person who leads all American students in public education.  The last thing we need is someone who does not understand special education going into the job.  DeVos is a billionaire but her ability to lead education in America is disturbing on many levels.

I have found myself in alignment with many bills that Pettyjohn and Lopez supported.  They stood with parents during the opt out saga.  They did not support the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Which is why I find their support of DeVos puzzling.  Education has become synonymous with standardized testing.  Students with disabilities do the poorest on these tests.  But they are expected to show the most “growth” in state accountability systems.  As a result, in my opinion, special education has become a gigantic mess.  It is now geared more towards the student outcomes on these tests than accommodating the true needs of each individual student.  If DeVos has her way, students with disabilities could be shuffled around different private schools through a very flawed school voucher system.  Private schools are not obligated to follow federal special education law unless they receive federal education funds.  Special education in public schools can be challenging enough, adding private schools to that mix with federal dollars could become a recipe for disaster for a population that is already marginalized to a great extent.

Once again, I urge these five Delaware Republican Senators to withdraw their support for Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education.  Our children deserve better.  Students with disabilities deserve better.  And my son deserves better.

**UPDATED**5:16pm: I spoke with Senator Pettyjohn about this issue shortly after I posted this article.  He echoed the statement he made on Facebook, which said:

Kevin, I agreed to support Betsy DeVos for her nomination to lead the US Department of Education based on my belief that an outsider view of the US DOE is necessary. In previous statements, Ms. DeVos had indicated her disdain for the Department and it’s overburdensome policies and regulations toward states and local districts. I have, for some time, been critical of the federal intrusion into our classrooms, and prior to Ms. DeVos’ confirmation hearings, those were concerns that she had also viewed with a critical eye.

That being said, I do have concerns that have been brought to light since her confirmation hearings; especially concerning her stance on special education. While this is an issue that our United States Senators will be faced with in the coming days, I believe that the letter that was sent, which I agreed to sign before the confirmation hearings took place, will have relatively little impact on the decision that will ultimately be made on Capitol Hill.

That Senate Confirmation hearing took a lot of folks by surprise.  In my eyes, it just proved that vast amounts of wealth does not always equal knowledge.  DeVos will face a vote for her nomination next Tuesday, January 31st.

 

Susan Bunting’s Senate Nomination Will Not Happen Today

Delaware Governor John Carney named Dr. Susan Bunting, the Superintendent of the Indian River School District, as his Secretary of Education for the First State. In a discussion with current Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky a week ago, he informed me Bunting’s nomination would take place today. There are Senate Confirmation Hearings on the agenda, but Bunting is not one of them. Godowsky told me she wanted to be confirmed by the time of the State Board of Education meeting tomorrow. It does not look like that will happen as a hearing date has not been set at this point.

Bunting’s nomination was read in for the Delaware Senate yesterday along with all of Carney’s selections. Those could not be formally recognized by the General Assembly until Carney was sworn in which happened yesterday. I don’t believe this means anything as the docket is very full today for nominations. I just talked to a source at Legislative Hall who informed me that if it is not on there it won’t happen today. But I have no doubt it will. It could happen tomorrow or next week knowing how things worked around these chambers.

Many in Delaware education have saluted the possibility of Bunting as the Secretary of Education. Many in lower Delaware were pleased this position went to someone from Sussex County which has not been a practice in many years. Many feel that the Indian River audit investigation seemed to place the blame on Patrick Miller, the former Chief Financial Officer who allegedly abused finances in the district for well over a decade. The scope of the audit investigation was limited to the past few years but many feel Miller’s transgressions occurred years before that. The Delaware Attorney General’s office did announce they would be looking into the matter with Miller shortly after the audit investigation came out.

It remains to be seen if the audit investigation will affect Bunting’s confirmation hearing. I would have to assume someone will bring it up and potentially ask her how she could have not seen what was going on. As Secretary of Education for Delaware, Bunting would be responsible to oversee roughly a third of Delaware’s state budget. I will let readers know when Bunting’s confirmation hearing is scheduled.

At a national level, Betsy DeVos had her own U.S. Senate Confirmation Hearing yesterday but the U.S. Senate has not taken a vote on her nomination by President-Elect Donald Trump as of this writing. Her hearing was somewhat controversial as some Democrat Senators grilled DeVos on her motivations with public education. At one point, Senator Al Franken asked DeVos a question about proficiency and growth and she did not appear to know they are two different things.

17 Who Will Make An Impact On 2017: Rodel’s Competition

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 “17 Who Will Make An Impact On 2017: Rodel’s Competition”

17 Who Will Make An Impact In 2017: Kevin Carson

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The former Superintendent of Woodbridge and Cape Henlopen, as well as the very recent former Executive Director of the Delaware Association of School Administrators could have a very big 2017.  As well, he served as the interim Superintendent in the Woodbridge School District.  Kevin Carson could be handed a role that will define his legacy in Delaware.  This is a man who knows the ins and outs of Delaware education.

I’ve met Carson several times, usually at Legislative Hall.  As the head of DASA, Carson represented every single Delaware school administrator during one of Delaware’s most tumultuous times in education.  He challenged former Secretary of Education Mark Murphy with a vote of no confidence, along with leaders from the two biggest local teacher unions in the state and the Delaware State Education Association.

If Carson is picked as John Carney’s Secretary of Education, he will have to juggle many balls all at once.  There is the mounting deficit in our state budget.  Delaware will be submitting it’s Every Student Succeeds Act state plan.  New charter school applications will begin pouring in.  A growing chorus of Delaware citizens are demanding more financial transparency with education.  The Rodel engine will want Carson on their side.  Education technology is poised to  dilute the teaching profession to something unrecognizable.  Education funding will continue to be a thorn in the side of Delaware students.

Carson would be in charge of a Delaware Department of Education that is ripe for change.  He has the logistic ability and intelligence to transform the Department into something that delivers on transparency and better communication.  As well, he would serve as the Secretary for the State Board of Education and would have valuable input on who would be good picks for future board members.  There is nothing in Delaware state code that would prevent Carney from picking an entirely new State Board of Education.  There is now one vacancy on the board and Carson’s opinion on who that replacement should be could be pivotal.

Carson would also have to deal with events transpiring at a federal level.  President Trump and his Cabinet of private sector billionaires will want to change education and privatize it.  As a blue state, Delaware will fight this tooth and nail.  But one compromise could threaten Delaware education in varying ways.  We need a Secretary that has vast amounts of experience in dealing with events at the local level.  Someone who sees the issues from a wide perspective.  Someone who would be the voice for Delaware students and educators, who understands the complexities that divide us.

I completely understand that any Delaware Secretary of Education would have to conform to Governor Carney’s platform.  With Jack Markell, he had a very clear agenda and God forbid if you disagreed with that agenda.  He micro-managed Delaware education to the point of absurdity.  But at the same time he let financial issues run amok in our schools.  While I don’t see Carney as well-versed in education matters as Markell was, I believe that will become a strength of a positive Secretary.  I would like to think Carney would give his Secretary more leeway in implementing education policy in Delaware.  Godowsky was a mixed bag.  Like I’ve said before, he would have been a great Secretary under a different Governor.

Nothing against the other potential choice for Carney’s Secretary of Education, but we need someone who has served as more than a leader of one district.  We need someone who has a multi-leveled array of experience in Delaware education leadership.  That man is Kevin Carson.

State Board Of Education Next Week: Academy Of Dover Renewal, WEIC, Priority & Focus Schools, ESSA, & Some Must-Read Educator Regulations

The Delaware State Board of Education meeting on Thursday, December 15th has some very interesting presentations and action items!  This could be Delaware Secretary of Education’s second to last meeting.  He announced today that the earliest he would leave his position would be January 18th.  More details on that, as well as his replacement, later in the article!

The most interesting presentation, in my opinion, will be the one about priority and focus schools.  Representatives from Red Clay, Christina, Capital and Laurel will give updates on how their “turnaround” schools are doing.  This includes the seven priority schools- three in Red Clay, three in Christina, and one in Laurel.  I pray this isn’t a repeat of the meeting last December when State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray had a meltdown over the Christina priority schools.  I would tend to doubt it since that all got sorted out in the middle of the WEIC/State Board fiasco last February.

Speaking of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, it looks like someone from WEIC will give a presentation on where their redistricting plan is six months after the Delaware General Assembly did not pass legislation to fund the plan but instead gave them an extra year in the process.  From what I’m hearing, there is some discontent on the main WEIC group and some tension is building.  I reported last week Christina was getting a facilities evaluation for all their buildings in Wilmington.  Tony Allen, the Chair of WEIC, did respond to me and stated this was part of the WEIC process from Senate Bill 300 but did not touch on the exact wording of the amendment on that bill.  This is a VERY gray legal area in terms of the wording for this facilities review to even happen, but once again, this is Delaware.

We will get the usual monthly update on how things are going with the Every Student Succeeds Act.  I expect a lot of head tilts from Gray as she tries to understand the new timeline.  I pray someone brings up Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of Education pick.  Please, make it happen!  I can say the ESSA Discussion Group will meet at the end of January but exact dates have not been determined yet.

Academy of Dover gets their charter renewal vote at this meeting.  I expect the State Board will approve it.  There will be some talk about getting their enrollment up, but it will pass.  Most likely a unanimous vote.  No drama here.

This meeting will be a Regulation bonanza though!  Regulations are a very tricky beast.  When you look at just the description for the changes on an agenda, the true meat is in the actual regulatory changes.  And there are tons and tons of changes for Regulations 1503 and 1510.  Teachers, especially new teachers, will want to read these!  But other staff in schools will also want to read these, especially counselors and nurses.  Other regulation action items deal with Secretary-only ones that actually repeal old regulations dealing with school nutrition.  A couple of regulations dealing with surrogates for IEP students above the age of 18 are also getting a State Board vote.

There are no major personnel changes.  Secretary Godowsky’s Associate Secretary, Candice Brooks, will be moving to the Title I Family and Community Engagement area as an Education Associate.  This signals a shift of employees coming at the Delaware Dept. of Education.  Secretary Godowsky WILL be leaving.  The question is when.  The new Secretary may not start right at the beginning of Carney’s administration if they have to facilitate an exit from their current Delaware job.  Yes, the new Secretary will be from Delaware.  Godowsky did confirm that today (not that anyone thought otherwise).  So Godowsky has publicly stated he will stick around during that transition.  The new Secretary of Education announcement could come as early as this weekend but most likely next week, along with all of Carney’s Secretary picks.  While this is not official, I am hearing the Secretary of Education pick is down to two people.  All I can say is that they were on my poll last week.  I will say no more!  But Carney could make other sweeping changes to the DOE besides the supreme leader.  The Governor picks the President of the State Board of Education, the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, and pretty much all the leadership positions at the DOE.  Will Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, Donna Johnson, and Michael Watson survive the new administration?

If you are in Dover next Thursday, and have some time to kill between 1pm to 5pm (or 7pm if Dan Rich gives the WEIC Presentation, just kidding Dan!), come on over to the Townsend Building and bring popcorn!  Maybe Governor Markell will pop over to give a farewell speech to the State Board!

 

17 Who Will Make An Impact In 2017: Kendall Massett

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Kendall Massett, the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, will soon be standing at a crossroads.  As someone who preaches district and charter collaboration on one hand, the other hand is busy trying to find ways to get more district money to follow students at Delaware charters.  This dichotomy is going to define the future of charter schools in Delaware.

As anyone breathing in Delaware is well aware, fifteen charter schools sued the Delaware Dept. of Education and the Christina School District over funds they felt should have been going to charter schools.  The defining moment in the lawsuit: when Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky reversed changes to the local funding formula for school choice payments after September 1st.  They could have been patient and allowed Godowsky or the next Delaware Secretary of Education and the General Assembly the opportunity to figure it out.  But instead, they took the legal route which was championed by Kendall Massett.  As a result, the law firm of Saul Ewing will get $300,000.  How many teachers could be hired with that kind of money?  How many students could have received a paraprofessional in a school room bursting with over 25 kids?

If the collaboration Massett truly desires took place, this lawsuit wouldn’t have happened in the first place.  If there is blame to be thrown around regarding who was at fault with the local funding formula, that blame lands solely at the feet of the Delaware Dept. of Education.  They should have been the ones answering the questions for the charters.  Christina performed their due diligence and submitted their exclusions to the Delaware DOE.  This originated last Winter, with Newark Charter School calling in the DOE who apparently “confessed” to the powers that be about the exclusions submitted by Christina.  The DOE had an opportunity right then and there to make good on this.  The charter schools could have gone public with this information and forced the DOE to do something about it.  And if that didn’t work, they could have brought in the General Assembly.  But instead, they kept this a secret for many months.  They had to know when the public found out about this they would be understandably upset.  These were huge funding changes with charter payments.  This was not a wise move for the charters involved.  By alleging that Christina was purposely withholding funds from these charters when the district did the same thing they had been doing for 12-13 years, which I might add was completely legal since the DOE approved them, the charters started a war.  It is not that difficult to see this was the original intent.  It boils down to Greg Meece having a hissy fit because his school wanted more money and if Christina wouldn’t willfully give it up, he was going to punish them and cast blame.

In an article on Delaware First Media, written by Meg Pauly on December 1st, Massett weighed in on the Christina Board of Education signing the settlement with the fifteen charters.  Massett, as the go-to spokeswoman for Delaware charter schools, seemed to have some very big misunderstandings about what this settlement really is.

She said the decision most likely won’t require a vote from each schools’ entire board of directors, which could make it easier to approve.

“Because there would not be any money going out – they’re not paying out a settlement, it would be money coming in – there’s not really a fiduciary responsibility that the board would have to approve,” Massett said.

There is certainly a fiduciary responsibility stemming from this settlement.  The charters, according to the settlement, would have to make sure the funds were allocated to certain functions similar to what those funds were used for in the Christina School District.  As well, the Pandora’s box called tuition tax funds were brought up in the settlement.  It states:

In the CSD settlement agreement, CSD has agreed to catalogue and describe, for DOE and CSD Charter Schools, those services provided by CSD to children with special needs (“Special Needs Services”) that are funded in whole, in whole or in part, with revenues generated by the levy of the so-called Tuition Tax by CSD.  The objective of this undertaking is to determine whether CSD shall be financially responsible under Section 509(f) for funding the same or similar Special Needs Services provided by CSD Charter Schools to their CSD resident students.  If requested, DOE will participate in the discussions and inquiry described in this subsection, and, where necessary, shall enforce this provision.

So what does Section 509(f) of Delaware State Code say?

For any student, who because of educational need requires services that are appropriately financed pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 6 of this title, either at the outset or subsequent to a decision to enroll in a charter school, the student’s district of residence shall remain financially responsible for such student and the charter school shall receive from such district a payment determined in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 6 of this title.

Which brings us back to Chapter 6 of Title 14:

(a) If any pupil is counted in the preschool, intensive or complex unit and attends school in a program operated by a district other than that in which the pupil resides, by an agency of the Department of Education or is in an approved private placement pursuant to § 3124 of this title, the receiving district or the Department of Education shall collect a tuition charge for the nonresident pupil, provided approval for attendance has been granted by the sending district. Such tuition charge shall be paid by the school board of the reorganized school district in which the pupil is a resident from the proceeds of a local tax levied for this specific purpose, except that in the case of a district assigned by the Department with the approval of the State Board of Education to administer a school or program for children with disabilities, or special programs approved by the Department of Education for persons without disabilities such as programs for bilingual students or programs for pregnant students, the district so assigned shall be both the sending and receiving district in regard to that school or program and is authorized to collect tuition charges accordingly.

(b) In determining the tuition to be charged for a pupil counted in the preschool, intensive or complex units or for a person without disabilities attending approved special programs, such as bilingual programs or programs for pregnant students operated by a district other than that in which the student resides or by an agency of the State Department of Education, the receiving district or the State Department of Education shall compute the tuition by adding such receiving district’s share of educational related expenses as allowed by the Department of Education regulations. The sum so obtained shall be divided by the total number of pupils in the special program as of September 30 of the current school year. The resulting figure shall represent the amount of the “tuition charge” per pupil.

(c) In determining the tuition charged to the sending district in the case of private placement for children with disabilities, tuition will be defined as in § 3124 of this title and the sending district will be charged 30 percent of the total tuition cost. The remaining 70 percent will be covered through funding provided by the State Department of Education from the annual appropriation for this purpose.

The charter schools get IDEA Part B funding from the federal government.  They receive special education funding from the state for Basic Special Education for students in pre-school (if they have those programs) and students in 4th-12th grade.  They get intensive and complex funding for students in all grades.  Where the tuition tax gets very complex is how it is determined.  The local school board votes to set the current year’s tuition tax rate for taxpayers.  It is not something the district can change on a whim.  And state code is very specific about what those funds can be used for.  What makes Christina very unique is that they are the management district for several special needs programs.  Those are not funds the charter schools could touch based on this settlement unless they are providing comparable services.  Then we get into the definition of a comparable service.  Would Gateway Lab School be considered the same school as the special schools within Christina?

Where Kendall, as well as the entire settlement, performs a massive overreach is in this particular section.  It is tampering with state code in unbelievable ways.  State code does not legally have to honor a settlement stemming from a lawsuit between a school district and a group of charters.  As well, it can not, and should not, dictate what a state agency has to do.  That is what we have our General Assembly for, to create and amend laws.  We can certainly discuss the merit of some of those laws, but that is the very essence of the Constitution of Delaware.  A settlement should not create new contradictions that try to negate existing law.  Which is why Secretary Godowsky wanted the General Assembly to intervene in this entire funding process.  I am assuming the Delaware DOE signed their settlement agreement with the fifteen charters.  Which is even more concerning in my eyes.  The fact they would allow changes in Delaware law without approval of the legislative body charged with performing that task.  A settlement cannot create laws or regulations.

What this section does is change the duty of charter schools in regards to their adherence of special education law which they should already be doing to the best of their ability.  This settlement is much more than a “fiduciary responsibility” in nature, as Massett put it.  Something that magnanimous in scope should be approved by a charter school board, not a Head of School or even an interim principal in one case.  It is fiduciary in a sense that the charters would receive more money from a tuition tax, but it would require an oversight of the special education services within each of those charter schools to make sure they are performing at a comparable level to Christina.  That could involve extra resources and staff those charters may not have.  Could a charter hire that staff and pay for those resources and then submit for those tuition tax funds?  Or would those services and staff have to already be in place to be eligible for those funds?  The settlement does not define that.

If, for some odd reason, legislation is created out of this part of the settlement, it would require districts to collect even more tuition tax from taxpaying citizens within their district.  They would have to because more would be required to go out to charter schools for those students.  They should not be tasked with divvying up the existing tuition tax they receive for the students within their own district with those needs or funds they are already sending to special education schools outside of their district.  That would take away from those students.  But here is the major problem with this: the local boards have to determine the tuition tax rate in the summer before the school year starts.  They base this on projections within their own district.  How can they determine the needs of special education students who reside in their district but attend charter schools before the school year even starts?  For some they can, but special education can be very fluid, evolving from year to year.  It is hard enough for the districts to do this for their own students.

If Kendall Massett wants more collaboration between districts and charters going forward, she needs to stop drawing this line in the sand when it comes to money.  She is going to continue to piss off the districts and they will not want to collaborate with the charters who keep demanding more and more from them.  Districts can’t always get performance funds or donations from foundations.  They can’t always have silent auctions like many charter schools do.  All Delaware public schools have the capability of applying for grants from the state or the federal government, including charters.  Districts don’t get to keep their excess transportation spending if they set their budget higher than what they actually spend.  And charters are free to use this money as they please.  So please, tell me Kendall, if the charters are getting what you view as their “fair share“, will you promote removing those extra perks for the charters that districts don’t get?  When it comes to education funding, there is a crystal-clear difference between what a charter school needs and what an entire district needs.  In some ways, it is like comparing apples to oranges.  You can’t complain about charters not receiving capital funding.  That was the way the law for charters was set up.  It was the price of admission into Delaware public education.  So by default, on paper, it would appear charters get less than districts for that very reason.

Some could argue that this latest misstep by the charters is just more of an ongoing agenda to privatize public education.  Just one more chunk taken from school districts and flowing into the hands of charter schools which are actually non-profit corporations.  By state law, those corporations are required to file IRS tax returns.  But because of loopholes in IRS guidance, the one charter school who actually started this whole charter payment mess is the one school that does not file those tax returns.  The guiding force behind the lawsuit was Greg Meece and Newark Charter School.  They created the very conditions that led to the lawsuit.  The settlement promises severe disruption to all Delaware schools involving special education and funding.  But Newark Charter School is not transparent with their own finances the same way the rest of Delaware charters are.  I have grave issues with that.  And I have no doubt in my mind Kendall is aware of this.

In a News Journal article from December 5th discussing the settlement details, written by Adam Duvernay, Kendall states the following:

“I’m glad everyone will have a seat at the table, and that the process will be transparent, so we don’t find ourselves in this situation again where charter schools go for years without answers and feel like they need to resort to legal action to make their voices heard,” Massett said.

What about the questions many Delawareans have been asking the charter schools for years without any real answers?  Like how certain Delaware charter schools can cherry-pick students in defiance of state and federal law?  When does Newark Charter School, which created this whole mess, finally implement their plan to balance their demographics at their school?  When does Newark Charter School become fully transparent with their own money the way every other Delaware charter school is required by law to do?  Massett cherry-picks her statements.  She wants districts to answer any questions charters have, but when those answers are needed by others, she either deflects or states it just isn’t true.  And when people do take legal actions surrounding charter demographics?  Like when the Office of Civil Rights asked for all charter school applications a couple of years ago going back the two years before that request?  The Delaware Charter Schools Network became the organization tasked with collecting that information.  And what happened?  Massett informed the Office of Civil Rights the charters did not know they needed to keep that information.  And then there is the matter of the now two-year-old complaint from the Delaware ACLU against the State of Delaware and Red Clay regarding practices of segregation and discrimination from some Delaware charter schools.  Kendall called that “a myth.”  Two years later and that complaint has gone nowhere.  Forcing someone to sit at the table with a menu where there are two choices, our way or no way, is not collaboration.  It is not legal action.  It is manipulation that doesn’t belong in education.  With education, every decision eventually affects students in a good way or a bad way.  For far too long, those decisions have existed for the benefit of charter school students.

Getting real here, Kendall’s job is to promote charter schools and to serve as a buffer between them and the state in certain areas.  At heart, Kendall is a lobbyist, seeking to influence the General Assembly and the Delaware DOE in ways that will benefit charter schools in the state.  Charter schools pay dues to the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  In a sense, they are very similar to some of the roles the Delaware State Education Association plays in education politics.  But the difference is that DSEA represents the teachers in district schools.  They promote or oppose legislation that will benefit the teachers within their organization.  I have no doubt DSEA would love to have charter school teachers unionize.  But the Delaware Charter School Network exists for a niche within public education that almost serves as a parasite on the districts they feed from.  It takes from the host body and sucks the energy out of it.  That is the price of school choice that Kendall cannot seem to fathom.

In 2017, education will once again be front and center in Delaware.  The corporate education reform movement, led by the Rodel Foundation in Delaware, will become more pronounced with the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  But in some ways, it almost seems like the charter movement in Delaware and those who advocate for them, seem to have become more emboldened with the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA.  He promised billions of dollars to charter schools.  To add salt to that wound, he appointed Betsy DeVos as the next U.S. Secretary of Education.  A charter school lover if there ever was one.  I have no doubt charter advocates across the country are feeling almost empowered by these events.  Supporters of public education are very worried about what will happen to further erode an education system that has been in place long before the very idea of a charter school was introduced.

In Delaware, Kendall Massett will continue to have great relationships with the Dept. of Education and the State Board of Education.  She will exert her influence on the General Assembly.  If any bill is introduced that will negatively impact charter schools, she will wield her power and influence to put a stop to it.  She is backed by some very powerful forces in Delaware that will not be trifled with in any way.  But none of these forces see what their choices and decisions make to education as a whole.  If charters and districts were funded the same way as the vo-tech schools in Delaware, I don’t think the issues with charter schools in the state would be as big.  But this parasitic relationship between districts and charters is paralyzing to education in Delaware.  There are other things that perform the same damaging results,  but we can control how this particular relationship evolves.  Districts and charters aren’t going anywhere.  If charters want to co-exist with districts and have true and meaningful collaboration, they have to stop these games.  And Kendall Massett, as the spokeswoman for the charters, will have to take on a different mantra.  It isn’t a question of choice at this point, it is an answer that demands immediate implementation.  Fair goes both ways.

If I were Kendall Massett, I would actually recommend the Christina Board of Education rescinds their vote on the settlement.  Funding is important, but shaking down a district like this which will only tick off the other districts in the state, is not something to be proud of.  It is not a victory when students continue to pay the price.

The Christina Settlement Memes You May Not Have Seen

Last night, I posted a series of memes on Facebook.  I also put them on Twitter.  I do recognize that some folks don’t participate in social media, so for those 21st Century hold-outs, here they are.

restrictedfunds

tuition-tax

attorneyfees

whatchatalkinbout

fieldtrips

shakedown

fundsmold

cafetorium

santachristina

swimminginextramoney

settlementduedate

rescindthevote

forthekids

mutual

murphy-resign

brandywine

donaldbetsy

blogvote

 

Kilroy, Stop The Union-Bashing! You Have MUCH Bigger Fish To Fry!

Every once in a while, Kilroy posts something about me.  It is usually in regards to some comment someone made over on his blog.  But lately, especially on social media, I see Kilroy taking potshots at DSEA and a couple of members in particular.  This led to a dust-up on Kilroy’s Facebook page tonight, over all things, social justice.

It appears Kilroy didn’t understand the context and went into a tirade over it.  This led to other commenters talking about the validity of unions and how the dues work.  Steve Newton completely evaporated the opposition and proved conclusively that union dues come with the application for a teaching job in Delaware school districts.  It isn’t a question of right or wrong, it is just the way it is.

Kilroy needs to stop trying to poke holes into DSEA and their upcoming elections and really focus on the things that are happening outside of teacher unions.  Like the complete and utter privatization of public education if certain parties get their way.  Like the Rodel-led hijacking of Delaware’s Every Student Succeeds Act state plan.  Like the Christina-charter school settlement that will take away funds from every single school district in the state for things that are rightfully excluded from charter payments.  Like an incoming Governor who has not announced any leadership positions for Delaware education with a little over a month before his inauguration.  Like the swarm of education technology in our classrooms that is collecting a plethora of private student information with algorithms we will never know about.  Like how it doesn’t matter who won President of the country, that march to privatization continues.  Like the “Bad News Betsy” that will make Arne Duncan and John King look like rank amateurs.  Like the stealth tests coming our way sooner than we think in Rodel’s when you wish upon a star personalized learning and competency-based education environment.

For someone who claims to support teacher unions, he sure does talk about them a lot.  Especially their role in Race To The Top.  Six years ago.  Which, I might add, all nineteen school districts signed up for, along with the Delaware PTA and every other education organization in the state.  To say DSEA was the only party that led RTTT into Delaware is very misleading.  Being real here, I wasn’t involved in all of this when RTTT came out.  So my window on this is seen in perceptions of that time from others after the fact in the past few years.  But there comes a time when beating it over us is not productive.  Who is still in DSEA leadership from that time?  I don’t think anyone running for DSEA leadership was instrumental in the decisions from six years ago.  But if Kilroy has a grandchild in Red Clay, he needs to get up to speed with what is going on in education.  Cause it is not pretty and he needs to be on the right side of things.  I admire the hell out of Kilroy.  He got me my start in the Delaware blogosphere.  And I want him to focus on more because he has a great deal of influence on education.

In terms of social justice, I’m not sure what context Kilroy took it in, but as a result of Kilroy’s post, Mike Matthews updated his status to show what his definition of social justice is:

Social justice means to me…

…standing at a school board meeting begging for more supports for special needs students.

…going to Dover and speaking in support of the Opt Out movement before the House education committee.

…reading a book to kindergarteners on why sharing and respect are key values.

…protesting the State’s attempts to shut down community schools because of test scores.

…letting a Black student know that when all around them they feel like the world hates them, that their life DOES matter.

…demanding that Delaware get off the list of four states that doesn’t fund ELL students.

…ensuring that ALL students know that a classroom is a place where they can be themselves — no matter how different — and be accepted.

…organizing educators to make sure they understand their rights to speak up and ADVOCATE for their students when the time comes.

Social Justice, to me, is about education and NEVER indoctrination. Social justice is about respect. Kindness. Acceptance. Organizing. Advocating. Speaking up. Believing in who you are as a human being and being able to take action to fight for the most vulnerable.

That’s what social justice is. While that phrase may be dangerous to some, I will always wear it like a badge of honor.

Besides, it’s too much fun being an outspoken pain in the ass sometimes.

 

Well said Mr. Matthews.  That is some social justice I can get behind.  While I have been critical of DSEA leadership in the past, I have always seen the potential of what a united and strong DSEA could become in this state.  A DSEA that will have to align with parents in the coming years if they want to save public education.  Perhaps that is why I have been critical of DSEA at times because I have high expectations for them to be the voice that has the power to influence public education in this state, not be an observer while others feast on the scraps.

We ALL need to be concerned about Donald Trump and his very poor selection of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education.  Trump really doesn’t have a clue about education.  But he will surround himself with people who do.  And what they know and what they have planned is not good.

 

17 Who Will Make An Impact In 2017: State Rep Paul Baumbach

paulbaumbach

A month ago, I participated in a forum on Delaware education funding at the monthly Progressive Democrats for Delaware meeting.  State Representative Paul Baumbach from the 23rd Rep District also discussed the issue.  Baumbach is very supportive of implementing a weighted education funding formula in Delaware.  Last Winter, Baumbach and then Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman presented a report on a weighted funding system to the Education Funding Improvement Commission.  That commission was unable to get a consensus on any particular funding apparatus and ended the 148th General Assembly with no final report.  The WEIC redistricting plan also called for implementation of a weighted funding system.

Education funding, with implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, will take center stage in 2017.  As more and more citizens realize the system we have now is not working for all students, attempts at fixing the problems will appear.  The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and their redistricting plan for Wilmington Christina School District students is still bubbling under the surface.  Last night, Christina’s board voted 4-3 to settle on a lawsuit filed against them and the Delaware Dept. of Education by 15 charter schools that receive students from Christina.  The charters claim Christina was filing exclusions that were “improper” to the Delaware DOE and the DOE signed off on them.  While the settlement has not been made public, it will assuredly have an impact on local funding formulas going forward.

Baumbach’s plan is to have more money go to students with higher needs, such as low-income or poverty, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.  Currently, students with disabilities do receive additional funding based on a unit-count system (with the exception of basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade).  This system determines how much staff each district or charter school receive based on their September 30th count of students.  With the funding system Baumbach is pushing for, the money would follow the student based on their needs.  Another question involving this funding system is if Talented and Gifted students would be considered high need as well.

This is not equality funding but equity funding.  Schools who have less sub-groups of students with higher needs would receive less money.  Final accountability regulations for ESSA will require each public school in America to show the amount of funding per student based on local, state, and federal funding.  The biggest problem with education funding in Delaware is property assessments.  No county in Delaware has increased their property assessments in decades resulting in severe imbalances to what the current assessed values would be.  As well, referenda held by school districts have had mixed results.  Adding to this mix is the potential of school vouchers coming to Delaware if President Donald Trump and his pick for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, get their way.  Baumbach argued against a bill that would allow vouchers for special education students last Spring and stated it would be a violation of Delaware’s Constitution to send state funds to a religious private school.  Trump also announced he wants to incentivize new charter schools across America.  Capital costs for school buildings is also a major issue.  Delaware has many outdated schools that have serious structural issues with the recent Christina mold problem as a glaring example.

Baumbach will most likely bring forth legislation in 2017 to change how we fund our schools.  As well, there is increasing talk in Delaware about re-examining property assessments.  Some state officials have even suggested consolidating school districts to save money, possibly to a county school district system with New Castle County having two districts based on the population.

For my part, I can’t support ANY changes to our education funding system until we can get more assurances the money we are already spending is used with fidelity and honesty.  The recent audit investigation into Indian River showed very clearly that this district was not being honest.  We’ve had far too many Delaware charter school leaders and employees committing major fraud with funds that are not getting to students.  Our state auditor is supposed to audit each school district every year and publish the results.  This is not happening.  Charter school annual audits, usually, do not have the ability to catch financial fraud.  The State Auditor of Accounts Office, run by Tom Wagner, is massively understaffed.  Why in the world would we dump more  money into education when we can’t accurately keep track of the money already there?  This is the viewpoint of many conservatives in Delaware, but more on the left are also waking up to a reality that can no longer be ignored.

As the chief legislative advocate for a weighted funding system, Baumbach will have his hands full in the first six months of 2017.  If the Republicans manage to take control of the Delaware Senate after the special election for Bethany Hall-Long’s Senate seat, the voucher conversation will become very loud at Legislative Hall.  Tony Allen also warned that time is running out to fix education for Wilmington students and advocates may file a federal lawsuit against Delaware which could leave education funding and districting in the hands of a federal judge.  The icing on this education funding cake is the very flawed measurement of success for Delaware schools- the standardized test.  If we use them as a barometer of success or need, the system will continue to be a confusing mess with no end in sight.

No matter how you slice and dice money for education, no system will please everyone.  This has become painfully obvious.  We need to look at what is best for Delaware students and not those of corporations who seek to profit from education.  As corporate education reform is more embedded in our schools, more administrators are implementing the very bad policies from those reformers thus turning them into profiteers of education.  Yeah, Baumbach is going to have a big fight on his hands with any legislation involving this system!

To read the final report conducted by Hanover Research for the Delaware DOE on a weighted funding system, please read below: