Kendall Massett And I Agree On Something!!!! Del Met & Other Charter News

Just kidding Kendall!  But seriously, the more I am hearing about this Delaware Met meeting, the more I can’t wait to see the transcript!  Meanwhile, both Avi with Newsworks and Matt Albright with the News Journal covered this big news today as well.  One clarification which I am now hearing about.  The school did not have most of their population as Moyer students.  There were about ten of them I am now hearing.  According to Avi’s article, if Godowsky and the State Board shut it down, the students will have the choice to go back to their district feeder schools or other charters.  But back to Kendall, from Avi’s article:

School safety also emerged as a major theme. Wilmington police have visited Delaware Met 24 times since the school year began and made nine arrests, according to the testimony of state officials at Tuesday’s meeting. Last month, in response to a CSAC request for information, school officials said local police had only visited Delaware Met six times.

That discrepency irked Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter School Network and a non-voting member of CSAC.

“It’s not the number of times the police came, it’s that they need to be honest about it,” Massett said.

Massett said she “absolutely support[ed]” the committee’s recommendation to shutter Delaware Met.

I supported this recommendation before it was even made!  One important thing to take note of is the timing.  The way charter school funding works, they get their next big chunk of funding in February.  By shutting the school down in January, this would prevent them from getting those funds and squandering them if they knew the school was going to shut down at the end of the year. Even the DOE issued a press release on this:

The Delaware Department of Education’s Charter School Accountability Committee today recommended the revocation of Delaware MET’s charter in January because of academic, operational, governance and financial problems at the Wilmington school.

A public hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Carvel State Office Building at the corner of 9th and French streets in Wilmington. Public comment will be accepted through December 11. After reviewing the full record, Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky will present his decision regarding the school’s future to the State Board of Education for its assent at the board’s December 17 meeting.

Issues considered by the committee include:

Educational program, specifically:

o    Fidelity to the school’s approved curriculum and instructional program, including the Big Picture Learning instructional model, use of technology, participation in various coalitions, and implementation status of project-based learning. Lessons plans submitted to CSAC also were found to be out of alignment with the state’s academic standards.

o    Special education services, including the results of a recent monitoring visit by the Department of Education’s Exceptional Children Resources staff that found the school was out of compliance with all 59 of its students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

School culture, specifically safety and discipline concerns
Governing board and leadership capacity, specifically lack of compliance with open meeting laws
Financial viability, specifically due both to decreased student enrollment and the school’s budget not reflecting full compliance with programmatic requirements, including special education

Delaware MET, which opened this fall, was placed on formal review by the State Board of Education on October 15.

Should Secretary Godowsky and the State Board follow the committee’s recommendation to revoke the charter, the school would close on January 22, the end of the second marking period. The state would assist the school’s 210 students and their families in moving to other schools for the rest of the academic year. The children may return to the district schools in their home feeder patterns or choice into another district or charter school that is accepting students. The receiving schools would receive prorated funding for the returning students.

As they look toward next year, families also may fill out the state’s School Choice application for another district or charter school for 2016-17. The application deadline is January 13, 2016.

I feel bad for these kids.  I truly do.  It is one thing to have a school not service you and give you a proper education.  Delaware Met is another thing altogether!  I really hope the State Board of Education and Godowsky do the right thing here.  Perhaps the State Board won’t be so quick to approve so many charter schools all at once and will really look at the wisdom of that decision.  Perhaps it is time to take a fresh new look at the whole charter school application process.  Because it isn’t just Delaware Met.  Yes, the spotlight is on them, and they made the most unwise decisions.  But other new charters are experiencing severe growing pains.  First State Military Academy is now going on their third special education coordinator.  I’m not sure if they made their IEP compliance deadline as a new school, but I don’t like what I’m hearing in terms of the school’s issues with understanding the IEP process and what they feel are appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities.

One thing that will become a huge problem in the future for all schools is the concept of personalized learning.  If you have a personalized learning program at your school, the IEP is covered under a federal program called IDEA.  For those who may not know this, the decisions of an IEP team, covered by federal law, trumps the online learning system.  As an example, if a student is required to do 15 out of 20 math problems based on their IEP, than the school needs to honor that.  You can’t say the computer score is right and you have to go by that.  Unfortunately, the state standardized assessment is another issue.  But for unit tests and quizzes, and even homework done on the computer, these schools need to contact these companies like Schoology and learn how THEIR system can accommodate students with IEPs, not the other way around.

As for Delaware Met, they had plenty of time to get it right and it comes down to very bad choices.  I’m sure they knew their head of school was pregnant when she got the job last March.  Knowing that, why would you not plan for the eventual maternity leave?  Sorry, I’m just getting really tired of hearing that excuse.  I have to wonder how much training and professional development teachers really got at this school.  Positive Outcomes has the same Big Picture Learning program, and they haven’t had the issues Delaware Met is experiencing.  And they are a school with about 60% of their population having IEPs.  I’m sure the school will play the blame game on the districts and other charters for failing to send them information about the students.  But given the issues with the staff and Innovative Schools, I have to wonder how much effort was put into actually requesting those records.  We can’t assume everything coming from the school is the Gospel truth.  I caught Innovative Schools in at least three lies at their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting.

At the end of the day, it is about doing the right thing, and Delaware Met failed.  I have no doubt the intention was there with many of their board members, but this needs to be a lesson learned for those wanting to start a school without the experience to back it up.  First State Military Academy and many other schools are using models that are strongly suggested by Innovative Schools.  Perhaps it is past time Innovative Schools has a state investigation and audit to see how useful the services they are offering Delaware charters truly are and how much is wasteful.

Delaware Met To Face Delaware DOE Tomorrow…A Sneak Peak At Their Response

At 1:30pm tomorrow, the Delaware Met will appear before the Charter School Accountability Committee to answer questions surrounding their Formal Review.  At the October Delaware State Board of Education meeting, the board unanimously agreed to placing the brand new charter school on formal review two months after they opened.  The school wrote a response to the allegations surrounding the Formal Review.

The school has also submitted many documents, which can be found here.  But I thought a peak at the financial information they submitted to the DOE is warranted for this article.  These documents confirm their current enrollment at 218 students.

DelMetFinancial2016

DelMetFinancial2016_2

DelMetFinancial2016_3

DelMetFinancial2016_4

Also in these documents are charts showing which traditional school districts their students are coming from along with their estimated unit counts for funding from Delaware:

DelMetEnrollment1

DelMetEnrollment2

DelMetEnrollment3

Last week, Wilmington Mayor Williams and the police went to the school to address matters as well.  An advocate well known in Wilmington by the name of CEO Hope attended as well.  This will be a very interesting meeting tomorrow as a formal review this early in a charter school’s history is unprecedented.  Note to attendees: there is no public comment at these meetings.  That will occur on November 16th, and this is listed on this blog’s Education Meetings and Events page:

11/16: Delaware Met Formal Review Public Hearing, 5pm, Carvel State Office Bldg., Auditorium, 820 N. French St., 2nd Floor, Wilmington

The final recommendation by the Charter School Accountability Committee will not happen until their 11/30 meeting.  After that, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky will submit his final decision to the State Board of Education at their December 17th meeting where the board will vote for final action.

Anani Maas Returns And Looks At The Big Picture At Delaware Met

This is the second guest article by Anani Maas in a week, and I have to say I am very impressed! Thank you Anani!

By Anani Maas
Delaware Educator
In response to the discussion on the Delaware MET and the interest in their model, here are some things that I know about Big Picture Learning:
1. It is a charter chain with over 60 schools nationwide.  The first school was opened in Rhode Island in 1995.  They are non-profit, but that doesn’t mean the founders aren’t bringing in big bucks.  If I were a teacher there and I was making peanuts while the leaders are pulling big $$, I’d be pretty mad.
2. It sounds good. From their website: “In the schools that Big Picture Learning envisioned, students would take responsibility for their own education. They would spend considerable time doing real work in the community under the tutelage of volunteer mentors and they would not be evaluated solely on the basis of standardized tests. Instead, students would be assessed on their performance, on exhibitions and demonstrations of achievement, on motivation, and on the habits of mind, hand, heart, and behavior that they display – reflecting the real world evaluations and assessments that all of us face in our everyday lives.” – See more at: http://www.bigpicture.org/big-picture-history/#sthash.ecQGJHsw.dpuf
The problem with good theories is that they are hard to replicate, and hard to meld with DE state requirements.   Delaware requires charter school students to take standardized tests and those tests determine their funding and charter renewal, no matter what their model describes. So, the charter will have to decide to trust their model and risk reduction in funding and difficulty in renewal, OR, teach to the test anyway and attempt to do both.  This almost always means that the model cannot be followed with fidelity.
I personally agree with the model IN THEORY, but as an educator, I know that educational theories and educational realities are usually not the same thing!  For example, their model says students SHOULD take responsibility for their learning.  So, what is their plan if a student doesn’t?  They also say that students will be assessed on their habits of mind, hands, heart, etc.  Again, I ask, what is the plan if students come with horrible attitudes, bad habits, poor motivation, low skill levels, and etc.  What if they won’t or can’t find mentors?  What if the students use their freedom to do nothing at all, or worse, to harm and take advantage of others?
We don’t live in utopia, we live in a real city with students with real problems.  Having good intentions and great ideas isn’t enough to help students who are at-risk!  They need resources, wrap-around services, guidance counseling, qualified educators, etc.  If the school isn’t providing these things, then all the theories and research in the world won’t help them.  In fact, removing them from a school that has those services could actually be hurting them.  Why would you choose to put children who need the MOST resources in a school with the LEAST?
3. They exist through grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as others.  Because Big Picture Learning is promoting “individual” learning, each student needs a computer, and Gates supports those kinds of charter schools.
4. Their website does not offer any independent research that has been done on the model outside of that performed by the founders themselves.  This sounds like more radical changes to education not based on research.