I’ve seen a lot in Delaware education over the past four years. I’ve seen people say some very brilliant things and I’ve heard very stupid things. I’ve seen the full range of human emotion, from happy to sad, from angry to depressed. But what I heard today made me feel many negative things like never before. How someone could be so blind to reality yet be in such a position of power is beyond my comprehension. Who is this person? Continue reading
It looks like you need special permission to introduce legislation to help students with disabilities. At the Joint House and Senate Education Committee today in Delaware, State Rep. Earl Jaques asked one of the presenters of the special education strategic plan if she checked with the Delaware Chamber Of Commerce first before pushing legislation for special education diplomas. Currently, many students with disabilities with complex and intensive needs get a certificate in lieu of a diploma. Many businesses will not hire these young adults after graduation because they do not have a diploma.
The legislation, which was filed last week by State Rep. Kim Williams, would award these students a diploma based on modified standards. It is not exactly the same as a regular diploma because of those modified standards, but it is still a diploma. That way, these students would be able to check the box on job applications indicating they have a diploma.
During a question and answer session after Michele Marinucci and Bill Doolittle gave the special education strategic plan presentation, State Rep. Earl Jaques (also the Chair of the House Education Committee) asked Marinucci if she consulted with the Delaware Chamber of Commerce and the business community over the proposed legislation. Marinucci indicated she had not. I took severe offense to this question from Jaques. As if legislators need some type of special permission from big business to allow things to get better for people with disabilities. We don’t need permission from the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber should be begging for this type of bill to allow equal access to employment for ALL Delaware citizens. As State Senator Anthony Delcollo pointed out, there exist certain laws already such as the Americans with Disabilities Act that prevents discrimination against disabled citizens.
The entire Delaware certificate system needs to disappear. There are plenty of jobs where former students are more than qualified but this discriminatory certificate prevents them from getting those types of jobs. Our legislators and Governor need to stop bowing down to big business in Delaware and do what is right for ALL the citizens, especially the most vulnerable. While big business lobbyists run rampant throughout Legislative Hall telling legislators how they should vote and which bills they support and which ones they don’t, our legislators are missing the point of making laws. It should be what is best for all the citizens, not just those with the fattest wallets. There are those legislators who understand this, State Rep. Kim Williams being one of them. But far too many listen to those who have the most money.
While Jaques indicated he doesn’t want to see potential problems arise from persons with disabilities just checking a box and not being qualified for those jobs, there is also a thing called an interview process. As well, many job applications do ask an applicant about their qualifications to meet the need for the job. Having a certificate instead of a diploma is an instant barrier that serves to weed out these job applicants from the get-go. I find this practice disgusting and barbaric. For this comment to come from Jaques, who has publicly acknowledged having a grandchild with Autism, I found it particularly disturbing. I’m sure he is trying to get all his ducks in a row and making sure there has been enough stakeholder engagement. And while I do agree the business community should certainly be a part of the discussion in how to best help students with disabilities and improve upon the process, I do not think any group involved in getting common sense legislation through needs permission first. I wonder if Jaques read my article on the current Chair of the Delaware Chamber of Commerce from yesterday. Maybe then he would understand why I am vehemently opposed to any pre-consultation with the damn Chamber over education legislation.
The actual presentation was top-notch. The plan is designed to help students with disabilities and schools to improve special education. While the plan is not set in stone and is a “living document”, I think it is a major step in the right direction. This group did their homework and while I always think there should be more parents not affiliated with any other organization on these things, there is an excellent amount of diversity from all aspects of special education. To see the actual strategic plan and what was discussed today, please go here.
I did see one moment of political maneuvering and it was very blatant in my opinion, but since I am unable to verify that as fact, I will stop right there. I will say it did not involve anyone involved with the Special Education Strategic Plan. But I expect more from that legislator than to ask questions on behalf of the Governor. If the Governor’s circle of advisers want to ask a question, they should just do it themselves. They are more than welcome to do so. By using a legislator to get a point across is just slimy in my opinion. Especially when it really doesn’t have much to do with the actual presentation being discussed and more about a priority of Governor Carney. I will say to this legislator as well as Carney’s guy, the article I posted yesterday with the actual plan embedded into it was posted on the Solutions for Wilmington Schools Facebook page and was read by many.
In another brilliant moment of the Joint committee session, State Senator David Sokola (the Chair of the Senate Education Committee) suggested to Marinucci that they should really take a look at Finland’s special education and what a bang-up job they do recognizing special education needs at an early age. State Rep. Sean Matthews replied to Sokola’s statement that the educational barriers that exist in Delaware, such as charter and choice school enrollment preferences, do not exist in Finland. He indicated Finland is at the top of education in the world because they do not have those barriers and grant equal education to all in Finland. As well, Matthews said you don’t see actions like “counseling out” going on in Finland. That is a practice with certain charter schools where parents are told “we aren’t sure if your child is the right fit here”. While I don’t know how much this goes on now, it has been an allegation thrown at certain charters in Delaware. Many students in the past would wind up back in their traditional school district in the middle of a school year. Many of these were also special education students. Sokola is a firm believer in enrollment preferences, usually those that protect the largest school within his own voting district, Newark Charter School.
In terms of the entire House Education Committee it would have been nice if the Republican House members actually stayed for the entire presentation. About twenty or so minutes in they all walked out. But along those lines, State Rep. Melanie Smith was a no-show as she usually is. No offense to the GOP guys, but if you are on a committee you should stick around for, you know, the actual meetings. It is special education. Not sure what was more important than that. But I digress. On the Senate side, the only missing Education Committee member was Senator Bryan Townsend.
Despite Jaques’ assurance to me yesterday that this meeting would be on the live audio feed on the General Assembly website, it was not. But there were also issues in getting a smart-screen going for the strategic plan presentation so I would chalk that up to technical issues going on. Legislative Hall is a very old building.
Yes, there will be two parts to this. Part 1 represents about 60% of the question and answer session from the Christina School District Legislative Briefing on the charter school funding issue. If you haven’t read it yet, you may want to read this post first as it has the presentation Christina Chief Financial Officer Bob Silber gave to legislators and members of the public at the meeting this morning. It could be difficult to understand everything in these questions until you read that first.
Welcome back to those who left. Without further ado, here it is:
Monica Moriak (member of Christina’s Citizens Budget Oversight Committee): The district did not mean to exclude something specific? They noticed that in 2014 you were not including the 10 cent Referendum in the financial position report because you did not see that as something you could use for anything and that’s when they noticed that and so that’s when they decided, “Ooo, we need a different number” so Dr. Meece walked away from the charter bill? Is that when that got separated because you used a different number?
Robert Silber (Christina’s Chief Financial Officer): Yes, for those of you who didn’t ask the question, I’ll repeat. In 2014, the Department of Education recognized that there are, at least for the Christina School District, there are three series of numbers that are used or assigned to our district: 9100 series, 9800 series, and 9900 series. The 9100 series and the 9900 series are dollars that are excluded, the 9800 series are dollars that are included. If I take a look at… well, why don’t I do it this way… our Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committee, about a year or two ago, as the district started having its financial challenges, started asking the district to provide information on a monthly basis, focused on what our local unrestricted expenditures are. So every month, we prepare financial statements that are unique within the state, that also include a breakdown of what we know to be excluded, and what we know to be included. It’s a very simple issue- 9800, included, and everything else, excluded. And last year, as an example, when you look at FY2015’s financial results, not (FY)16’s, but 15’s financial report, and we take a look at what was our total spend of what we consider to be unrestricted local dollars, that number matched to the penny to what the Department of Education calculated on their form what the local cost per student should be. So that was validation, if you will, of the process over the years. The components, as to what goes where, again, I can’t answer. But specifically, there was a question raised, I believe, because one of the goals of the Department of Education is to take the process that they use today and automate it. But if you’re gonna automate something to say I want to include certain numbers and exclude certain numbers, you’re going to want to make sure that everything that is in that included bucket all have a common number that you can pull from. So any appropriation beginning with 98, which is included, anything that begins with something other than 98, would be excluded. That’s what their goal is.
State Rep. John Kowalko: Yes, a couple questions. I appreciate the effort you put into this the effort to explain this. My concern is this- as we’re dealing with a very complex issue, which has a parameter of a coding issue put in place. You have to have an understand the finances of a public schools in Delaware, and it’s very complex, very complicated, with coding issues that are not always as capturing of the actual expenditure as we would like to see happen. But with that being said, in 2014 the DOE asked you to, more or less, justify some things and if it wasn’t justified, they were going to ask you to put a separate code for that mechanism in place. Do I have that right?
Silber: I would probably express it another way. In 2014, every district, three times a year, is required to do a financial position report. I don’t know what triggered their follow-up questions. In 2014, when Christina School District submitted theirs, we showed, without any question, that we had sufficient resources to pass the test. So the question the Dept. of Education had on a response may have been directed towards, or may have been triggered, by the district that may not have been able to reflect that they are in good standing, that I don’t know. All I know is that the question was raised. The question was raised by the Department, “Why are you not listing all of these appropriations? You’re giving me a short list.” And the answer came back, for any reason, from different individuals, ours was “We’re restricted on certain funds.”
Kowalko: I’m going to pass forward now to recent events and the new determinations, that apparently a decision was made August 24th, this stands out, the districts were informed of a meeting with select Superintendents, the key word is select Superintendents, and business managers would not be included. It’s mind-boggling to me that your office, Christina and the other districts I’m sure, would be offering a path forward, they would have done it in a collaborative process. But it seems to me that DOE has no intention of collaborating. When they asked you for a report, a spreadsheet of how you do it, then they make a final determination at the end of that tunnel without having said to you, “We question this or we think this or can you justify that”, to me, that’s almost a ruling, a one-sided rule that is not going to benefit the districts and/or public school systems. I know you don’t have the answer to that. I’ve asked Secretary Godowsky for a timeline and dates of who was at these meetings. I will follow-up, because his answer to me yesterday was very, very shallow. It was “I’m going to send out the report to everybody to explain the process.” This doesn’t ask for an explanation of the process. I know the process. I talked to Bob (Silber) for an hour yesterday. This asks for a timeline of who was involved when the decision-making, from May on to this point in time, and why were they excluding people that have knowledge, that actually put their pencils on paper. I find this to be an almost disgraceful performance by the DOE and I’m not here to pontificate, but I am angry that they tarnished the reputation of a district that has more challenges than any district in this state probably, cause of the special needs, the impoverished of the community. But that’s not to give an excuse here, but you have made remarkable strides and I really, really challenge any Department within this state that would unilaterally decide that they’re going to impose or question something without asking you for an answer. This is a ridiculous way for us to operate on behalf of our children. And I’m tired of it and I intend to follow-up with Secretary Godowsky. If I don’t get an answer for this, and his answer isn’t going to be responsive, I do have another letter prepared that I will release to the press and I’m telling you, it does not look good. I would ask the Chair of the Education Committee, and to think over it, the fact that we don’t get an appropriate answer to where we are today and how this embellishment of no facts or answers has caused a situation of turmoil, an anxiety, that has pitted charter schools against traditional schools for dollars. I’ve asked the Chair to consider that if we don’t get a response to hold hearings on this charge. Between now and then there should be a corrective course by DOE. This is not a one-sided issue. This is not something that you’re on the defense about. This is about due process. There has been no due process in the immediate discussion of this from May till now. No due process.
Kevin Ohlandt (“The Blogger” or “Sneaky Snake Blogger” as one person called me last week): I have two questions. Newark Charter School referenced a meeting with Dr. Andrzejewski that would be taking place in regards to this subject, the local cost per pupil. This is more for Dr. Andrzejewski. Were you aware that this would be coming up, I guess, last March or April?
Dr. Robert Andrzejewski (Acting Superintendent of Christina): I never met with the board of Newark Charter. I met with Greg Meece on the referendum. This issue we talked about has an ongoing history. And that was it. At some point, I offered to meet before the Board President to go through a similar thing.
Ohlandt: Senator Sokola had mentioned, in an email, something about funds going from $700,000 in 2011 to $9.2 million last year or the year before. Do you know what that was about and why he would choose that flashpoint in time to use in this issue?
Silber: I’ll go back to a couple of comments. If you take a look at the composition of the students within the Christina School District, and almost any other district in the state and certainly with charter schools, you’ll see that Christina School District has a significant higher population of students with special needs, not just within special programs but within our district. I can take a look at what has transpired over the five to seven years. There has been a very steady increase in our tuition tax rate as a result of needing to generate those dollars. Some of those programs, as I said, are unique to Christina. But where the Dept. of Education chooses to put those dollars… if it were my call, it would in that tuition fund. But if their putting it into the district specific program bucket, you’re going to see those dollars increase dramatically. I have no knowledge as to what causes them (the DOE) to put something in bucket A versus bucket B. All I can do is suggest that during one of those years, as I took a quick look over the past five years, we had a drop in dollars over on the tuition side. I can tell you, or our board can tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever generated a financial statement for the district that has shown our tuition related expenses were for students with special needs has gone down. If anything, it has consistently gone up. That’s a triggering question of… I don’t know who does the reports. I can’t direct you to go see Bob Silber at the Dept. of Education. That is their report. They should be held accountable and transparent for what’s behind those dollars. I would love to be able to see it to argue it, to challenge what should go to any one bucket if you will, but that’s obviously not a part of the process with the Department.
Bill Doolittle (Special Education Advocate): Did the Department ever provide a full list of the accounting codes they intend to move to 9800 or 98 class and the amounts for each district in those classes?
Silber: For this year?
Doolittle: For their initial intent.
Silber: No. The only thing that has transpired was, as I said at the beginning, there was a request from the Department, “Every business manager go through this list.” And they generated, when they sent that list out, probably, if I had to guess, the top 15 rows were items that they specifically said, “Yup, these are items we already know the answers to. So for Christina, the other 254, you have to tell us one way or the other.” I think one of the important things to recognize is that every organization, it doesn’t matter if it’s a charter school, a traditional public school, or a business entity, or any organization. You have to make decisions around budgets and you have to be able to depend upon systems associated with that. So if there are variations, something that’s going to happen that creates a wild swing, you can’t afford those things to occur. In the public education arena, one of the issues that we tried to bring to the Secretary’s attention, it was the longer you delay the communication around this process or the challenges to the charter schools, the less informed they’re going to be. Every charter school should have been told, by the Department of Education, that for FY2017, this current school year, every one should have been informed that expect your local cost per students for the Christina School District to go down this year. Because the Christina School District had reduced our local unrestricted expenditures by about $9 million dollars last year. The department was aware of it. Did the Department inform the charter community, “Brace yourself, this is coming”? At our board meetings, we clearly articulated our charter bills for last year were predicated upon the prior year. They will not feel the pain we are feeling this year until the following year. Just as when we are successful in an operating referendum, the monies don’t hit until the following year and then the following year after that from a sequencing perspective route how the law recognizes what local costs per student are. I don’t know if that answered your question.
Doolittle: I think the answer is DOE still hasn’t told everybody what they’re doing.
Silber: No, no. They’re given a list and some of the response around some of the detail had to be pulled. So, as an example, in this list that they provided to us initially, they said MCI, minor capital improvements, would be included. Well the language associated with match taxes forever has been bundled with MCI. They were called MCI/Match. And our tax warrants, all districts, up and down the state, are predicated on its match dollars. It includes funds that are match for minor capital, and match for these unique legislative driven programs. It wasn’t until we asked a question that they said, “No, all of those programs that legislators approved and have been included for the past 14-17 years, they’re no longer going to excluded, they’re going to be included.”
(Editor’s note: I know for a fact that any charter school that went through a charter renewal or modification process with the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware DOE in FY2016 was told to expect this.)
Kowalko: A follow-up, on that very statement you just made. They said that, without you having any ability to or chance to retort? They assumed that, presumed that, decided that? Did they say why it shouldn’t be done that way?
Silber: Their answer, not to me but to another business manager, was that they believe they are interpreting the code correctly.
Kowalko: I just want to clarify one thing for Mr. Ohlandt. Correct me if I’m right here, or wrong here. There is not a 98110 that had several hundred thousand dollars in it that now has $9 million in it?
Silber: It’s not that simple. No.
Kowalko: Cause that seemed to be the message…
Kowalko: …that was put out there and resonated. I just wanted you to confirm it. Thank you.
State Rep. Michael Ramone: First off, thank you. This is very helpful. It definitely solidifies and clarifies the perception, at least for us, to be able to speak intelligently to people and say what the heck is going on. You just said the interpretation, interpreting the code correctly, and to me, it seems the biggest issue is not only communication, which I agree with Representative Kowalko, this should have been handled differently with different people at the table. Whatever. It is what it is. I think communication could have been better. I think clarity is an issue, and the word that you use- interpretation- it sounds to me that the interpretation that used to be the interpretation is a different interpretation today. I’m not looking for a comment. It’s my perception of what I’m hearing. So, I guess, to me, a big question, and maybe the dialogue should go to the Chair and the Co-Chair of the Education (Committee), do we need to do anything, in your opinion, as the guy doing the work, as the manager’s opinion to clarify the current law so their isn’t, quote, an “interpretation” maybe one year that would be a different interpretation next year. Or even have new laws added. And I’m not asking you to answer that today, I’m saying that’s a discussion we need to have. But a point of clarity I do need to hear, because I don’t know if I’m interpreting what you wrote or what you said here, but right or wrong, is there an issue or was there an issue with the referendums that were passed in the specific designation of how much tax money, or the referendum was going to be added? Are you suggesting that there is a question of how we’re passing or wording the referendums we are passing or not? Because the way I’m reading that it seems like some of the lack of clarity, or quote “interpretation”, that they have seems to stem from the verbiage as its written in the referendum that was passed or am I interpreting that wrong?
Silber: I would argue that, again I would preface that by saying I didn’t author the document, the document that was put before the community was specific. It said “You will use the money for the following programs. Let me give you a shift for a moment. It didn’t come to pass but you can use this to crystalize the thought. This last year, Brandywine School District, as some of you may know, ran a referendum that failed. That referendum had multiple parts to it. One of the parts of that referendum was, “Will you guys give us additional money so that we can build turf fields?” A very specific request. And if the answer to that question had been yes, that money coming into the Brandywine School District, for the years that they were asking those dollars to follow, could not have been used to pay for teacher salaries or higher administrators. It would have been used for the purpose intended by that referendum, similar to the referendum that we had in 2003. The interpretation that I would get from the actions of the Department of Education, as I’m trying to do today, would suggest that once those dollars came in, that were a very specific purpose for Brandywine, to be used to build a turf field, would then the following year have to come out of their discretionary funds to help support their charters. And I don’t believe the intent, it is very clear, we’re giving you money to build this, or we’re giving Christina School District opportunities for these programs. There are a number of ways, a number of questions, in our perspective that go around the Christina School District and programs that are unique to the Christina School District. A question could be asked when a parent chooses not to go to the Christina School District and chooses to go to the Red Clay School District through the choice process, are they leaving the programs of the Christina School District they took advantage of, if they leave the Christina School District to go to Kuumba Academy, then yes, they are leaving the programs of the Christina School District. So in one respect, to look at those unique programs and say “they’re unique to the Christina School District,” and the taxpayers agree to that. That’s why it’s restricted to you for these particular purposes. What the Secretary and the Dept. of Education are suggesting is that those dollars that are restricted over here move over here as an unrestricted basis. And what I’m suggesting is that in 2014, when the Department said, “No, they’re restricted,” they made a decision that it couldn’t move over here to unrestricted. I’m not necessarily sure that it’s about wording or it’s about interpretation. I think it’s more around intent. Is the intent to find ways to increase the amount of money flowing to a charter school as opposed to what should? That’s an intent question that my personal perception may not necessarily… Everything I’ve tried to share with you today is a statement of fact.
Ramone: Let me just follow-up, because what I think, I understand what you’re saying. My question is, the monies, the referendum…First of all, referendums are, we have to find a different way to… they’re not working. I think everyone in this room agrees on that. But that’s the beast we’re dealing with. In order to make them more plausible, more acceptable, more digestible, for people to have more clarity on the taxes you’re raising that might pass in the referendum, you started become very creative in the referendum requests, which I actually thought was a good thing. All I’m asking, is in that creativity of making very specific… letting people have a better idea of where the money was going and how it was going… was there a lapse in our legislative body in not clarifying the laws or doing something that makes something more specific, and I don’t mean to say it this way, but then yes, it would take discretion away from the Secretary of Education and whether it’s Joe Schmo today or Peter John tomorrow, but they would have less discretion, it’s clear, it’s a law, we should, is there something that we should be considering or would you all review whether there is something we should be considering to give clarity so you don’t have any subjectivity to these decisions that could be a little chaotic when you tell everybody that one year it’s one way, the next month (meant year) it should be…
Silber: The best way that I can answer your question Representative, is to state the following- The Dept. of Education this year has taken actions that are substantially different than the actions that they’ve taken for any number of years. The laws that are on the books for the past 14-17 years didn’t seem to have that same degree of challenge. Something triggered this year that all of a sudden those individuals that are currently at the Dept. of Education are now saying that something’s wrong. So if there is a question associated with that, again, what was the impetus behind making the change? Is there someone saying, “Okay, here’s a flaw, I’m going to take advantage of it?” Again, I come back to the initial statement. The district does not make these decisions. The district does not define, the State has to define process to prevent me from doing just that.
Part 2 will be up later tonight or tomorrow morning! Stay tuned!
At Grotto’s Pizza in Dover, DE, the State Board of Education held a workshop on the Every Student Succeeds Act. The Capitol Room at Grotto’s was jam-packed with administrators, teachers, advocates, Delaware DOE employees, State Board members, a Congressman, education company employees, and even a blogger or two. Sadly, there were not that many parents there. Yes, many of these people play that role as well as their other jobs, but for a meeting the Delaware DOE will say is a true “stakeholder” meeting, this key group was missing. I recognized a lot of the faces, but there were some I didn’t. Some I was able to put together based on conversations I overheard. This was the State Board of Education Workshop on ESSA. Notice some of the tables where certain people are sitting together. Especially the one Secretary Godowsky was sitting at…
I did not take these 60 pictures. They were taken by an employee of Secretary of Education Dr. Godowsky’s office and put on the Delaware DOE Facebook page this morning. Which means they are part of a state agency which puts them in the public domain! Thank you DOE Photographer!
State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson at the microphone, Deputy Secretary of Education Karen Field-Rogers in the pink jacket with striped shirt in the back, Susan Haberstroh with the DOE with the mid-length brown hair and glasses, Governor Markell’s Education Policy Advisor Meghan Wallace with the ponytail and glasses, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky to the right near the screen. Continue reading
Delaware WILL get a “Needs Intervention” label for their Annual IDEA Determination from the Office of Special Educations Programs at the United States Department of Education. The Delaware DOE knows this, but they aren’t announcing it. My guess is they are waiting for the “formal” letter to come from the feds before they publicly release this information to the public. Even though they were told this information at least four weeks ago. If I were a betting man, we won’t find this out until after June 30th. I predicted this three weeks ago when I found the letters that went out to the districts and charters.
At the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens meeting on Tuesday night, the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the DOE gave a presentation to the council on the Local Education Authority (LEA) portion of the annual determination. The presentation was given by Barbara Mazza and Maria Locuniak from the DOE. In this presentation, there were several absolute lies that are in this article, for which I caught them red-handed. It is very alarming they would try to dupe a state council devoted to the improvement of outcomes for persons with disabilities. Continue reading
I can now reveal why Bill Doolittle stepped down as President-Elect of the Delaware PTA. He is in the process of forming an advocacy group for the children in Delaware who need it the most! And he wants parents help in the formation of this group. Bill asked me to help get the message out:
Beginning today, I am starting the effort of forming a group of parents/families and other interested individuals to begin the formal process of developing a mission/vision, purpose and to incorporate as a nonprofit for such an organization.
I have an initial concept which is a non dues (donation only) grassroots organization for parent/families and others who are interested in making sure that every child at risk can be fully supported to have the opportunity meet their potential. I see the efforts including: providing information, peer-to-peer support and of course strong focused advocacy. My initial vision is of Delaware as the first chapter with 2 divisions. One for children with disabilities and special health care needs and a second for children living in poverty and impacted by other environmental factors such as trauma, home and food insecurity, non-English speaking, any type of discrimination and so forth. Of course it will be the people who join in this effort to make the final decisions as to all of this.
I am asking for individuals who are interested in being part of the formation, or who simply want to add their voice once it is formed, to contact me. The emails I am using for this initiative is DEARCPA@gmail.com
Shortly after I first started this blog, Bill contacted me about starting a group like this which I was looking to do eventually. I firmly believe now is the time for a non-partisan, non-State Government affiliated group like this to get going. Far too often, our state only listens to groups that are already a part of state government and that needs to change! I will certainly be adding my voice to this effort, and I strongly encourage all like-minded parents to do the same. Parents are an integral part of education and the community at large, and our voices need to be heard!
Happy Thanksgiving to all the readers of Exceptional Delaware. It’s been a crazy year, and we all know what the issues are. But today, I want to give thanks for what we do have and some of the accomplishments brought forth by others this year.
Thank you to State Rep. John Kowalko and Senator Dave Lawson for listening to parents of Delaware and introducing House Bill 50!
Thank you to John Young for his passion and words of wisdom!
Thank you to the victories! Like when House Bill 50 cleared the House by a 36-3 margin!
Thank you to State Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf for letting my son Jacob play with your gavel!
Thank you to Delaware Governor Jack Markell for signing House Concurrent Resolution #36 recognizing “Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month” in Delaware!
Thank you to beautiful summer days and the beach!
Thank you to the Progressive Democrats of Delaware for an honor!
Thank you to the friends I’ve made along the way during my sojourn into Delaware education!
Thank you to the world for reading my crazy blog!
Thank you the legislators and stakeholders who fight for our kids and schools!
Thank you to my dog Bella who helped take care of me after my hernia operation!
Thank you to my son Jacob who is the inspiration for all I do! He is becoming an amazing young man who, despite everything, has a heart of gold! As well, thank you to my awesome wife who puts up with more than anyone I know!
Thank you once again, to all my readers and those who are allies and enemies, and those in-between! We will prevail, somehow, someway!
The audio recording of the State Board of Education meeting yesterday is up in record time. I went ahead and transcribed all of the public comments. Every single one. As well, I listened to the part where they discuss 103 and I took copious amounts of notes. Here it is. To understand the different portions of Regulation 103, and how everything culminated and reached a boiling point, please read this. This whole saga with the Delaware School Success Framework started to boil a few weeks ago when I found information on the Accountability Framework Working Group while looking for the magical Smarter Balanced toolkit.
Good afternoon, my name is Bill Doolittle. I will first speak on behalf of Delaware PTA in regards to Regulation 103. With regard to the accountability system the Delaware Department of Education and Delaware State Board of Education are seeking to include parent opt-out rates in the school report card. This is not only misleading representation of the school’s performance, but it is another attempt to coerce and intimidate parents who choose to exercise their right to opt out their students. Although the Delaware DOE maintains that including participation rates is mandated in US (Department of) Education, Delaware PTA has confirmed that the US Department of Education that this is not the case, that students are not required by federal mandate to include opt-out rates in the calculations. This is only one of an array of problems and concerns with this proposed regulation. Delaware PTA will provide further comment.
I will now change hats and speak as a volunteer advocate for children at risk. Proposed Regulation 103 is just a milestone in a larger plan that fails to meet the most fundamental components necessary to meet the needs of our most at-risk children. It fails to provide accurate, timely and useful data for parents and teachers to support their children. It fails to use any metric directly measuring the known risk components related to our children being able to learn. Primarily, (as) it relies on end of year summative exams is the least able to accurately measure our most at-risk children. As many as 15% may not be assessed accurately with the risk characteristics and being crowded into the lowest 10% percentile. We have a statistical growth model, that at best, within the confidence interval, cannot differentiate between the middle 70% of our schools. And unless your child is that average child, it provides only an illusion of useful information to parents as to their child’s growth. Think about the rate of children with disabilities and all you have to compare to is an average child with a disability. And what about children with multiple risk groups and multiple factors? This growth model is worthless at best and grossly misleading at worst. I took the time to scan through other states ESEA waivers and one thing is clear, that is Delaware’s plan is based on punitive actions and bureaucratic compliance and not a robust education system which was the point of ESEA and other states that move forward with this. Even where there are good components, it is not manageable with fidelity. For example, can you explain why, out of $3 million dollars allocated in epilogue for ESEA school support only $900,000 actually made it to schools with approved plans? And even if the full $2.7 million had been in, that would only represent half of what was necessary to actually meet the goal. Our State Board should be asking all of these questions not just accepting spin and rubber stamps. (time ran out)
Good afternoon. I’m Frederika Jenner, President of the Delaware State Educators Association. I’m here today to address the proposed changes to Regulation 103: accountability for schools, districts, and the state. After careful review of the published regulation, we at DSEA cannot support the recommended changes for the following reasons. #1: the proposed changes in Regulation 103 are incomplete. We see this in Section 1, under purpose and definitions, in sub-section 1.2, Action Schools, the definition does not define the conditions that place a school within this category. Although the Department mentions significant academic achievement gaps in their sub-groups and overall low achievement, the parameters of these terms are not defined either in the proposed regulation changes or in the Delaware ESEA Flexibility Waiver application. In Section 2, in Delaware School Success Framework (DSSF), the Academic Framework Group, AFWG, has not yet finished their work on DSSF. For example, discussions are ongoing on issues related to participation rates. In Section 6, performance ratings, this section indicates there will be up to five performance ratings for schools yet does not name them nor does it identify the criteria for any school to be placed in one of these categories. In Section 7, classifications for schools identified for improvement or recognition, Subsection 7.1, Action less schools, this section does not specify whether a planning period is part of the two academic years given for improvement. Do these schools really have two full years to improve? This is unlike the Focus and the Priority schools in which the planning year is separated out. In 7.3, the section on Focus Plus Schools. It does not say how a school can exit Focus Plus school status.
Our second concern involves the proposed regulation changes that we think are confusing. We see this in 2.5, participation rate. Under this condition, can schools have their accountability rating reduced if a single sub-group falls below the 95% participation rate? Looking at the requirement that n=30, if only two students do not participate as part of a sub-group, it appears that a school could have its full rating reduced. Under the section for proration, this section is confusing and needs refinement. Why are academic achievement scores spread over four years in K-3 (grade) when students take the summative assessment in grade 3? This section attempts to hold schools and educators accountable for the 3rd graders performance by assuming that the student attended the same school. What if the student came from Oklahoma? How will the Department apply the rating? Also, does it make sense and is it fair to use the scores of students no longer in a school if the school has no tested grades such as a K-2 school? In 2.8.1, the language in this section makes very little sense and is very confusing. In Section 4, assessment criteria, in 4.1.1 and 4.1.2, the term “non-participant” is not defined in the document . This section also raises the question of whether the non-participant is included in the school’s overall data. In 7.2.4, to get out of Focus School status, why does the school have to meet the academic targets for two consecutive years within the three year period? Is it fair to not allow the school to exit the status if they meet the target in the first and third years?
A third concern, Section 7 is at times inconsistent with State law and does not allow for significant input from educators and parents. In 7.4.5 and 7.4.7, this section does not allow the flexibility and creativity to be granted when considering what to do with Red Clay and Christina Priority Schools. As a result of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, it could possibly lead to redistricting. DSEA appreciates the Department’s recognition of House Bill 82, which mandates that matters regarding collective bargaining are exclusively subject to the public employee rather than the relations board. DSEA further believes that any proposed regulation that gives a school leader the ability to override existing collective bargaining agreements is against the law. Section 11, review process. Again, this does not allow for significant input from parents and educators. In 11.3.1, this section provides for review committee selected only by the Secretary. In 11.3.2, this section significantly limits the evidence that could be considered to only that information provided by the District. In 11.5, this section does not provide for independent appeals process. And finally, what we consider the most important point in which to make today, the epilogue language does not require the Board to take action now. The language explicitly states, “Upon approval, the flexibility waiver by the United States Department of Education, the Department shall publish updated regulations to be consistent with the approved ESEA Flexibility Waiver request within sixty days.” The Department has met their published obligation. As stated before, nothing in this language requires Board action now. Neither does it bar the Board from taking no action. Sending the regulation back to the Department, and having the regulation republished once it has been completed, clarified, and revised. We urge the Board to send the regulation back to the Department. Thank you.
Good afternoon. My name is Deborah Stevens. I am the Director of Instructional Advocacy for DSEA and I am also a member of the Accountability Framework Work Group, also known as AFWG. The group, or let me be specific please, the non-DOE members of the AFWG charged me with coming before you today to talk a little bit about the work but more specifically to talk about Regulation 103 and why we feel a decision on this regulation needs to be deferred. We believe that the work that has been done by AFWG has been a very long and painstaking process. The commitment by the people that have worked this part of the group, and this includes district representatives, superintendents, representative from the PTA, and representative from DSEA, myself. We were all conscious of presenting to the public a very accurate, full narrative about the capabilities and status of all of Delaware’s schools. That has been first and foremost in our minds in the creation of the Delaware School Success Framework. That being said, the work is not done! You see a section within the regulation titled Delaware School Success Framework and there are still incomplete sections contained within. It is a work in progress. Even today, as we met earlier, a little more than an hour ago, this group took a vote to alter the calculation for proficiency to not include participation rate. With that in mind, and understanding that this is still a work in progress, and as has been previously noted that we have already met the intent of the epilogue by having the regulation published within sixty days. We would advocate that the State Board consider that the work still needs to be finished and send the regulation back to the Department for review, further discussion, and completion. Thank you.
Good afternoon. My name is Mike Matthews. I’m the President of the Red Clay Education Association, also a teacher on release from Warner Elementary School. It’s nice to see a crowd here. I would urge the State Board to consider, maybe, no, I’ll do that another time. Also, I am going to urge the State Board again, as I did last month, to amend your public comment policy to allow public comment for items that are going to be voted on that State Board’s meeting. If you want to operate with full and complete transparency and make sure you are giving as much opportunity for your constituents to hear what they would like to say, please change that policy.
Regulation 103. Our association has not taken an official position. It’s challenging for me to hear about these issues from bloggers. I first heard about this from Kevin Ohlandt on his blog. I immediately sent out a communication to my membership asking them to pore through it. It’s a very long regulation. Our association will be taking a vote at our meeting on Monday. I plan on drafting a letter to present to them. I’m officially announcing our a vote of no support for this so as long as they approve that, you will be getting that before the public comment has expired for next month’s meeting. But the initial thoughts that I’ve heard from members are that “Wait, does this mean more Priority Schools?” We saw what happened last year, we saw how ineffective and quite frankly, disgusting the process was. Does this mean more priority schools? There were some concerns about the participation rate issue. Someone came up to me and said “Wait, our General Assembly, by a super majority in both Houses passed the bill saying that opt-out is fine, so what right does the State Board through regulation, have to override what the publicly elected General Assembly has said? One member said “This sounds like a backdoor support of the Governor’s veto.” I’m also concerned that AFWG hasn’t completed its work, yet there are some recommendations, there are some regulations in this language that, I think, should that group be allowed to complete its work would mean this regulation would be written differently. I’m looking forward to joining the team from the Department of Education at they visit my former home, Richardson Park next week. I will be doing the walkthroughs with you. You will be coming to my former school . The staff has requested my present because they are now a Focus School. So I plan on joining DOE and the administrative team and the staffers who will be at that meeting, to see what’s going on. And a genuine good luck to you Secretary Murphy and I hope everything goes well. We’re looking forward to Dr. Godowsky and thank you, have a great month.
Good afternoon. My name is Jackie Kook. I am a teacher in the Christina School District and I’m Vice President of the Christina Education Association (CEA). I’m also working with the DPAS Advisory Sub Committee, the advisory sub group committee, I’m going to be working on the sub-committee and I worked on the committee that worked last year as well! That’s a lot of committees (laughter). I’m knee-deep now! When this came out, when I had a chance to look through the regulations, we were focused on 106, and 107, we were looking at the evaluation changes and things like that and 103 kind of caught me a little off guard. Although I am Vice President of CEA, we have also not discussed this formally. We just haven’t had time because we’ve been focusing on the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, participating in that and making sure our Priority Schools plan is worked on, dealing with Superintendent issues, so we’ve got a lot going on in Christina. But my concern is, as more of a parent, my child is not taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment. And it’s not because I think it’s a terrible test, it’s not because I think that it’s the Devil incarnate, it’s because it’s not useful to their teachers. So by requiring schools to count that as part of their accountability, the participation part of literally useless test, right, to inform kids instruction, to inform the teacher’s classroom, there’s just no point. Your just punishing the schools for the parents decision. I’ve been very clear with all the communications I’ve made with the schools where my children go to school in Red Clay, neighborhood schools. I’ve been very clear with my children and I’ve been very clear with their administrators and their teachers. And they will take every test you throw at them, the MAP, the SRI, whatever you want to give them, any test that you can use to figure out where their needs are and meet those. I feel like Regulation 103 has that, whether it’s intentional or not, places that as a negative on my child’s school. I can only imagine the pressure that they will try to levy on me, to keep at Linden Hill Elementary School, to keep their 100%, you know, everybody’s proficient, everybody’s passing, we met AYP, because my child is not going to be taking that test it’s going to hurt their rating. It’s not fair to the school, it’s not fair to me as a parent, it’s also not going to be effective because they’re still not going to take the test. It’s going to divide that school community cause there will be those of us who want to help the school. We volunteer our time, send in supplies, do what’s necessary but still, this is not the right thing for them, for their families, and our children. Like everyone that’s spoken before me, to put it more eloquently, I urge you to reconsider, especially that part. We don’t need to be rated A B C and D. The parents come into this school. They can figure out how their kids are doing and the teachers. The tests we have in place allow for that. Thank you for your time.
Thank you very much. Secretary Murphy, I did want to wish you luck in your future endeavors. Today is Parent Strike. This is a nationally coordinated event for parents to oppose the Smarter Balanced, corporate education reform, and to promote every single student in America for refusing the Smarter Balanced Assessment. I filed several complaints against the Department of Education, the Delaware State Board of Education, Dr. Gray, and Donna Johnson. The first one is in regards to your ESEA Renewal request submitted last March. The public was not given an opportunity to comment on the participation rate portion. It was snuck in on the March 31st draft as evidenced by your website and it was not available for public comment. I have filed with the Delaware Department of Justice (DOJ) and the US Department of Education Office of Inspector General based on that.
I have filed a complaint with United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. This Department has allowed a multitude of charter schools to deny Individualized Education Programs for students with disabilities. I spoke with that department, the Exceptional Children Resources Group, last summer and I was told there is no method by which this Department can evaluate charter schools for that and that the due process system is more than fair. There has been a handful of actual due process hearings in this state, meanwhile thousands of children are denied IEPs all the time.
I have also filed a couple complaints with the DOJ in regards to FOIA complaints. Last Monday, you had a State Board retreat, which was a public meeting. At this meeting I was told there would be embargoed information. You cannot embargo information at a public meeting. As well, it is my contention that Ms. Johnson, as well as two members of the Department, attempted to conceal information they would have otherwise talked about had a member of the public not been present. I also filed a FOIA request for emails concerning submissions for Regulation 103. Instead of giving a list of estimated charges, I was immediately told you have to pay DTI $300.00 without any timeframe or anything.
Dr. Gray, you sit on the board of the US Education Delivery Institute, of which the Department of Education has paid almost $350,000 over the past five fiscal years and I have no recollection of you publicly acknowledging your capacity on this board. If you want to see more of the complaints, I just put up an article on Exceptional Delaware at 12:35pm. Thank you. (I had more to say, but the timer went off).
Delaware State Representative John Kowalko
Good afternoon Board members, Secretary Murphy. I’m John Kowalko, the State Representative in the 25th District. I’m here today, in spite of the fact that it’s my birthday and I’m missing face time with my seven and a half month old granddaughter, but the importance of this goes beyond that. We are on the brink of the cusp of a Constitutional crisis in the State of Delaware. Regulation 103 is an example of how far we’ve tread of the Constitutional track that we are set upon and bound to be set upon by the State. We have regulations that are imposed with no checks, no balances, that are owed, Constitutionally owed a guarantee to the General Assembly. Meetings, draftings, and mandating regulations while the General Assembly is out of session. It constitutes almost an abuse of power by an unelected body. I will point over to that building (points to Legislative Hall). I just stood outside at a press conference. These regulations, more often than not, are discussed, imposed and mandated while that building is empty. That’s our authority. We can concede the right for the State Board of Education, the DOE, to draft regulations, to consider regulations. We are not allowed to concede to all members of the General Assembly your right to impose regulations which become virtual law. This is an appointed board, State Board is an appointed board, DOE is appointed. There is no allegiance of this body so far to the elected, duly elected General Assembly.
Pennsylvania has their General Assembly members, Senator Denman is one of them, that sits on their State Board of Education. I met with him, we talked about opt-out legislation in Pennsylvania and he was stunned when he found out that we can have almost a contradiction in the will of that body, over there in the General Assembly. By construction of Regulation 103 which could in fact disarm the intentions of House Bill 50. And when I said to myself “what would you do about it?” He said all of our State Board of Education regulations to the Feds and ESEA flexibility, are bound to go through and be approved by the General Assembly. We had a bill last year, I believe it was Kim Williams bill, to do just that. And leadership wouldn’t let it through. And I’ll tell you, in all this mess that makes sense, that wouldn’t let it go through is the Governor. The Governor appoints you guys, the Governor appoints the employees of the DOE (through the Secretary of Education). So when we look at this separation of powers, we are woefully inadequate. (timer goes off) And having an honest dialogue about who runs this State, the General Assembly runs this State on behalf of the people. Not on behalf of any special interests, not on behalf of any agenda, the only agenda we have is the people and the children of this state. (Dr. Gray advises Rep. Kowalko he has five seconds) Well I’m going to ask this Board to hold Regulation 103 until we reconvene that General Assembly. I think it’s the only right thing to do, it’s the only respectful thing to do. And anything else is bordering on an unconstitutional subversion of our power. And I’ll take every means I can to prevent that from happening. So I’m hoping you’ll consider that. Thank you.
Not to give Lorrie the boot here, but what she wrote on Delaware First State was essentially what she said at the State Board of Education meeting. And if you haven’t, check out State Rep. Kim Williams awesome new blog, now would be a good time!
At this point, I’m going to summarize what happened with Regulation 103 at the State Board of Education meeting. DOE Director of Policy and External Affairs Susan Haberstroh spoke to the board about the regulation and what it means. She stated it was created years ago based on the days of No Child Left Behind and Annual Yearly Progress. It was updated during Race To The Top. Haberstroh explained how the US DOE approved Delaware’s ESEA Flexibility Waiver request on July 9th. Within 60 days, based on the epilogue language in Delaware’s budget bill, House Bill 225, the DOE was required to submit the publishing of a regulation tied to the ESEA approval. Which they did. But they were not required to approve it or take action on it based on Delaware state law. According to Director of Accountability and Assessment Penny Schwinn, only part of the application was approved and the part about the “school report card”, the Delaware School Success Framework (DSSF) had to be resubmitted with all the “weights and targets” by October 31st. Since the majority of AFWG voted down the participation rate as a punitive measure in regards to proficiency, Schwinn has asked the US DOE for “very specific answers to bring back to the group.”
The existing ESEA approval is only good through June 30th, 2016. If the update is approved with the DSSF, the waiver is good for three years, until 6/30/18. Schwinn stated the portion about naming Priority and Focus schools was already approved in the waiver, and Delaware named all the schools through that waiver, thus the crop of Focus and Focus Plus schools this year. She did state, at minimum, no schools will be designated Priority or Focus for three years. The Reward and Recognition portion of the ESEA waiver was not required, but DOE wanted to do it. As Schwinn said, “There’s no harm in giving schools money and calling them out for great performance.”
Regulation 103 will have to be republished in the Delaware Register of Regulations if there are “substantive” changes to it. Which there now will be. Based on the law for the regulations, the DOE must submit the updated regulation to the Register of Regulations by the 15th of the month before the month it is published in.
The purpose of the updated Regulation 103 is because it does not match with ESEA flex waivers and the designation of Priority or Focus Schools, as well as the proposed accountability system called DSSF. The DOE has been operating without this in regulation and “where it was inconsistent, that’s where ESEA actually was in place of the regulation,” Haberstroh said. “This was tied in with ESEA inflexibility. This was the original No Child Bombs,” board member Pat Heffernan joked. He added “Right now this regulation is out of whack, which might make us want to hurry and get it finished but the point is that we haven’t had it finished and we have a way around it and we’ll continue until we get a final regulation in place, is that right?”
So if AFWG comes up with an updated DSSF, it has to go back to the board by their October 15th meeting. The DOE has to submit the updated request by 10/31/15. By January 1st, everything has to be approved by the US DOE, and everything would have to be implemented by 7/1/16. So essentially, the DOE could submit the DSSF to the US DOE without Regulation 103 in place. Haberstroh clarified that Regulation 103 would “not be moved for action next month” by the State Board of Education.
The DOE extended the currently published Regulation 103 comment period until 10/8 to give the Delaware Education Support System (DESS) Advisory Council and other stakeholders the opportunity to discuss the regulation. Schwinn said if it isn’t approved by the feds by 1/1/16, Delaware goes back to the NCLB requirements where they are out of compliance if all schools aren’t proficient by 2014. Obviously, that date has come and gone, so personally I say let them call the US DOE’s bluff on that one, but I don’t see them having the bravery to do that.
So the earliest Regulation 103 could go back to being published would be November. That is IF the AFWG is able to come up with a new system for the DSSF. If they aren’t, will the DOE put something through anyways? Since the group already voted down the participation rate penalty, what authority is greater, AFWG or the US DOE? So with a November 1st republishing date, and the mandatory 30 day comment period, which would last until 12/1, the State Board of Education would have to approve the updated Regulation 103 by their December board meeting, 12/17. Meanwhile, the DOE could resubmit the DSSF to the feds by 10/31 and get approval for the update prior to the 12/17 board meeting. Once again, I say avoid all that and call their bluff with the absolutely insane No Child Left Behind mandates. And if Schwinn is able to get the “specific answers”, aka, the participation rate penalty, anything the US DOE sends will not be regulatory and will merely be guidance since there is no law which explicitly states parents can’t opt their child out of the assessment and there are no laws mandating punitive action based on that. I think Schwinn believes the US DOE can make it mandatory, or has convinced people she believes it, but she is wrong.
And the big monkey wrench in all of this is what happens if the U.S. Congress approves the whole ESEA reauthorization and renders a lot of what is in Regulation 103 meaningless?
Will the US DOE come back and say the participation rate penalty is mandatory? I emailed Penny Schwinn and Ryan Reyna at the Delaware DOE about this yesterday. I will be writing an article about the responses later today….
In the meantime, if you want to listen to the State Board of Education meeting, the public comments and the whole Regulation 103 discussion, you can go to the DOE website and have a listen. Part 1 has the public comment, and Part 4 has the Regulation 103 discussion. You can even listen to the Smarter Balanced discussion at the beginning of Part 4. If you listen to the public comment, stick around after Lorrie Gloede’s public comment to hear Dr. Gray disrespect a parent and not let her give public comment. But I got her comment and published it yesterday! And this was Mark Murphy’s last meeting!
An individual transcribed the complete Delaware Parent Teachers Association Parent Opt Out Town Hall from February 19th. Transcription is a very difficult endeavor. I’ve done it before, and it is time-consuming at best. The longest I’ve ever done it for was a forty-five minute meeting. This person did it for a two-hour meeting with multiple participants. I posted the part with “Mr. Brandywine” yesterday, but this also has this individual’s conversation with him afterwards.
If you are on the fence about opting your child out, this is an essential document for you to read. If you will never do so, you may want to read this anyways to find the “true value” of these tests.