No Cuts To Education Funding Rally Draws A Crowd

 

Teachers, parents, and even kids gathered on the East side of Legislative Hall for a No Cuts To Education Funding Rally.  All told, I would estimate there were somewhere in the ballpark of 50-75 participants in the rally.  Speakers included Eugene Young with Network Delaware, income President-elect of DSEA Mike Matthews, Christina PTA representative Mary Schorse, incoming Christina Board of Education Member Eugene Griffith Jr., PACE of Wilmington representative Swiyah Whittington, Christina CBOC member and Blue Delaware writer Brian Stephan, and Senator Bryan Townsend.

All of the speakers do not want any cuts to education funding and favored more state revenue in the form of higher taxes.  They urged folks to get involved in education and speak up.  They said the best way to do that is by letting their legislators know their thoughts on this.  Senator Townsend referred to Delaware’s teachers as “magicians” in that he believes they do great things for Delaware’s students.  Instead of writing about what will surely be covered by the major media in Delaware, I am presenting a photo gallery of the event.  This event leaned toward the Democrat way of thinking as the Republicans tend to favor large cuts as opposed to increasing revenue by increasing taxes.  The only legislator who attended the rally was Senator Townsend.

Paul Baumbach’s Education Forum In Newark Taken Over By Students And Teachers

Delaware’s budget deficit hit a new stage last night when Christina School District students took over State Rep. Paul Baumbach’s Education Forum at Newark High School. As well, Senator David Sokola said the issue with the 5 mile radius bill was about transportation. It was an evening full of dodged questions and skirting around the issues.  It was a night when things were as confusing as Twin Peaks and the Mighty Thor put her hammer down! Continue reading

Tony Allen: Lawsuit Coming If We Don’t Fix Wilmington Schools

Tony Allen issued a stern warning about Wilmington schools.  He said a lawsuit is coming soon if we don’t fix it.

Last Wednesday evening, the Progressive Democrats of Delaware held a panel on Delaware education funding.  The panelists were myself, Tony Allen (the Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission), Brian Stephan (on the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee), and State Rep. Paul Baumbach.

The main emphasis of the panel was to discuss the pros and cons of implementing a weighted funding system for Delaware schools.  In this type of system, students with higher needs would have more money allocated to them.  These would include low-income students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.  For the last, this already takes place with the exception of basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.

All the panelists were in agreement that the system we have is not working at all.  While I don’t necessarily have an issue with a weighted funding system, the devil is in the details.  But beneath the surface, as I stated towards the end of the panel, is the huge elephant in the room concerning accountability.  Not for standardized tests but where money is currently going.  There is no viable mechanism in Delaware to ensure the funds we are using in public education are truly going to the needs of students.  Our state auditor is supposed to audit every single traditional school district for all expenses, but when was the last time we saw one of those reports unless it was part of an official audit inspection?  There is no consistency with where funds are going.  There are so many sub-groups of payment allocations with many overlapping each other.  It is a beast to understand.  Coding expenses in definitive places is a must, but no one seems to want to address that at a state level.  It is my contention that throwing more money into the system is a recipe for disaster.

Say the advocates for better education in Wilmington schools do file a lawsuit.  What would the result be?  The feds have made important decisions in the past that put temporary band-aids on the issues but eventually the situation with “failing schools” comes up again and again.  The definition of a “failing school” is now tied to standardized tests.  It is the heart of all accountability in public education.  But it fails to address the issues facing students of poverty, spoken languages that are not English, and disabilities that are neurologically based.  The “one size fits all” mentality, which the Delaware Dept. of Education is still pushing in their first draft of the Every Student Succeeds Act state plan, doesn’t work.

Tony Allen told the group he was disappointed the WEIC Redistricting Plan didn’t pass in the General Assembly.  He said, without hesitation, that he fears a lawsuit will have to happen to truly address the issues facing Wilmington students.  He did concede that one of the biggest issues facing WEIC was not having representation from Kent and Sussex counties in the group.  This was something I advised WEIC about in public comment at their very first meeting in August of 2015.  It was also why I didn’t go to as many meetings as I could have.  But will a federal lawsuit fix Wilmington schools?

In my opinion, the biggest problem in Delaware education among high-needs students is a problem no judge, accountability system, General Assembly, or any advocate can fix: hopelessness.  In our biggest cities in the state, and reaching out into the suburbs and rural areas, is a drug problem of epic proportions.  And with African-American youth, that comes with a potential of joining a gang.  Until that problem is fixed, we will continue to spin our wheels trying to fix education.  We can have after-school programs and more guidance counselors in our schools.  That will help, but it will NOT solve the problem.  I don’t have the answer to that.  I don’t know who does.  But until we can fix that problem, making our schools the penicillin for the disease facing our state will not get to the heart of the issue.  With the drugs and gangs come extreme violence and people getting shot in the streets.  This “be tough or die” mentality is the deadliest issue facing Delaware.  And when those issues come into our schools, that is when education gets put in the bulls-eye of blame.

I have no doubt, at some point, Tony Allen, Jea Street and others will file some huge lawsuit against the State of Delaware.  And many will look towards a judge to solve all our problems.  It won’t.  Until we get really tough on hopelessness, we will fail.

Education Funding A Hot Topic At The PDD Monthly Meeting Tonight

The Progressive Democrats of Delaware will have a panel tonight on the subject of education funding.  I was asked to be one of the panelists for this to which I happily accepted.  But I’m up against some heavy hitters!  One of the most knowledgeable experts on school district funding, Brian Stephan, will join myself, Tony Allen, and State Rep. Paul Baumbach on this important discussion.  As well, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission will receive the 2016 Bob Stachnik Progressive Courage Award for their advocacy efforts on improving education in Wilmington.  Tony Allen is the Chair of WEIC.  Brian Stephan serves on the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee and is a contributor for Delaware Liberal.  State Rep. Paul Baumbach is running unopposed for the 23rd State Rep. Seat which will give him his third consecutive term for the district.

I highly recommend coming out for this.  The event begins at 7pm and runs until 8:30am.  This will take place at the New Castle Democrat HQ at 19 East Commons Blvd., 2nd floor, in New Castle.  I will gladly answer any question presented to the best of my ability but I do not consider myself an expert on this stuff.  I know many facets but it is a very broad topic with many moving parts.  But I do plan on talking about a few things I’m pretty sure none of the other panelists would mention as I have just discovered them myself.  I have to imagine the very controversial charter school lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware Dept. of Education will come up.  As well, funding for WEIC will surely be a topic as well.  Many of the panelists want to revamp funding to include a weighted funding formula so children with higher needs are given a greater weight of money.

Who Was Pulling The Strings At Delaware DOE? It Wasn’t Godowsky. And A Message For NCS Parents.

Chartergate 2016 and the aftermath took over social media in Delaware yesterday.  When I searched “Secretary Godowsky” last night on Facebook I saw tons of posts.  Many people were outraged about Godowsky’s actions, but a fair number were upset about my comments concerning Mr. Greg Meece.  I won’t apologize for that.  Chances are probably pretty good I know a bit more about some behind the scenes stuff than you do.

Let me be perfectly clear on something.  I am not the News Journal.  First off, the News Journal wouldn’t write about most of the stuff I’ve figured out over the years.  Second, a blog is not true journalism.  That doesn’t mean the facts are wrong.  But bloggers do not have a journalistic credo they need to have like members of the Associated Press do.  I saw tons of posts about how I’m so wrong about things all the time.  I’ll own that up to a point.  Sometimes I am wrong.  And when I am called out on it, I will either correct it or write about how someone felt I was wrong.

I always use this as a classic example.  When the Family Foundations Academy fraud was going on at the school, I wrote about it before the mainstream media picked up on it.  One gentleman, and I know he won’t mind me saying this, blasted me for it.  How dare I disgrace the school and their leaders by writing about that.  Turns out I was right.  The same thing happened with Academy of Dover.   I wrote about the Smarter Balanced shenanigans, and still there were doubters, but it turned out I was right about everything.

I don’t mind people doubting my information.  I’ve received bad information in the past and ran with it, much to my chagrin.  Here’s the deal though: if our schools and the DOE were more transparent about things, I wouldn’t have to write at all.  But the hard truth some of you may not realize is this: there is a ton of shadiness that goes on in this state.  That’s what I write about.  I can’t just out sources all the time.  I can’t always produce a smoking gun.  But it’s out there.  Most of the time I turn out to be right.  And when I’m wrong and someone actually lets me know that, I’ll do what is right.  Let’s really be honest with ourselves.  With the stuff I find out, am I really going to get an honest answer?  If I emailed Godowsky about this before I published it, he would have ignored me.  I like Steve.  I think he has a very tough job, but at the end of the day, he answers to the Governor.  With what I do and what he does, there really isn’t a time where we can collaborate.  We have talked many times in person.  We’ve even joked around here and there.  But when it comes to the really tough questions I present to him… he can’t own up to them.  I get that.

Here are some facts for the whole mess.

Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, and Stephen Dressel met with Delaware Associate Secretary of Education David Blowman and the director of the Finance area at DOE, Kim Wheatly, last April.  Meece wanted more money from Christina.  Somehow this evolved to all districts and charters.  Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky is telling people he didn’t know about this until August 19th.  I do know David Blowman was out of the office all last week because I received an out-of-office reply from him.  Blowman and Wheatly set this whole thing up.  Which means Godowsky didn’t know about the letter sent to all the districts on August 8th asking them to justify their restricted and non-restricted sections of their local funds.  I can say with certainty Godowsky was not on that letter.  But I don’t believe it was solely Blowman and Wheatly who knew about this.  Blowman’s boss is Karen Field Rogers, the Deputy Secretary of Education.  And I have always believed that State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson makes it a point to know every single thing that goes on there.  Did it go up higher than that?  I would assume it did.  Education is Jack Markell’s baby, and nobody touches that baby without him knowing about it.

The charters have been holding meetings at the DOE, some public and some private, to change their organizational and financial framework sections of their budget.  They had representation on the Education Funding Task Force this year.  David Blowman was on that task force.  This issue, to the best of my knowledge, never came up during those meetings.

The change in the local pupil cost for charters and choice schools was all set to change.  I found out about this, ironically enough, when I was working on an article about charter school funding.  This news changed that whole article so you may not ever see it.  I heard from one person in one district, then another, and then another.  24 hours later I wrote the article and published it.  When it comes to stuff like this, I explained it the best way I could.  I’m sorry I didn’t pass the News Journal sniff test.  When I break big news, it isn’t going to be easily tied up like an episode of Murder She Wrote.  There isn’t going to be forensic evidence.  Sometimes I’m able to provide that.  But you need to understand that nothing in Delaware is neat and tidy.  We are a very non-transparent state.  There is a good reason we came in 49th place on a national state transparency ranking last year.  Trust me, I would love to have a smoking gun for everything I write.  I want that more than you do.

With stuff like this, you can either take my word for it or don’t and wait for it to be “officially verified”.  I can take the heat.  What I won’t take is someone trying to make an anonymous comment and attacking my son.  That is intolerable.  I’ve written over 2,800 articles on this blog and no one has ever done that until this article.  You don’t like me attacking your school?  I get that.  Blast me all you want.  But don’t you dare make an attempt to come after me through my son with false information.  There is a line, and you went way past it.  I never attack children on this unless they do something so heinous and it is already in the public spotlight, like the Howard High School of Technology murder.  I will write about adults, but attacking kids… no.  And if you disagree with me on something, that’s fine.  But I hope whoever this was realizes this.  You know who you are.

Today, Brian Stephan with Delaware Liberal wrote an excellent article going into the actual financial implications and what it all means.  Thank you Brian!  Brian has much more knowledge about education funding as a member of the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee.  I appreciate him explaining this better than I ever could.  In the article, Brian wrote about what the charter schools seem to be looking for.  It is bogus, in my opinion.

This is my big question, especially for Newark Charter School.  If you have such a great school, great classrooms, great teachers, manageable classroom sizes, students behave better than traditional schools, and so forth, what do you need all this extra money for?  Many charters get extra money when their transportation budget is higher than what they actually spend.  Some charters, like Newark Charter School, get tons of money from this.  Probably more than they would have made had this gone through with Godowsky.  Newark Charter School got free money from the charter school performance fund last year.  $250,000.  They got money from various foundations.  Is it worth all this fuss, especially when they know districts aren’t exactly swimming in money.  Lets face it, all Delaware schools have some fat they can trim.  This isn’t a charter thing, this is a Delaware thing.  I saw many comments about how I am so biased against charters.  I’m not.  I’m biased against financial abuse, closed-door meetings, things done in secret, high-stakes testing, an out of control DOE and Governor, and some legislators who care more about profit and pleasing the rich than they do about kids.  I will fully admit I didn’t understand a ton of aspects with district financing until the past few months.  Charters are smaller so it is easier to find stuff.   I look at them as well now.  But this move that was going to happen until I wrote about it was shady beyond all belief.

Yesterday, the legislators swarmed Godowsky, and he backed down from doing it this year.  And it was a lot more than the four I saw on one legislator’s Facebook post.  But it is not over.  On Thursday morning, all the district business managers are having a meeting at the DOE.  This is a closed meeting.  The charter leaders aren’t backing down on this, and I’m sure the district leaders aren’t going to let this just happen.  This will get ugly.  The legislators are involved now, so a lot could happen either way.  Godowsky and Markell will be gone in January.  So if Markell wants this to happen, he would need to do something now or after the election.

In terms of charter funding overall, the way we are doing it does NOT work.  At all.  It sets up animosity between districts and charters.  We also need to get rid of the false competition which is based on standardized test scores.  And I’m going to say this NCS parents.  Constantly saying we are “jealous” or “his kid must not have gotten into the school” is elitist.  To be honest, I never heard of Newark Charter School until a few years ago.  Ask Greg Meece about me.  See what he says.  Ask him all the questions I’ve written about.  The only time he has ever reached out to me was last winter over a lottery issue with a parent of a disabled child.  Ask him the following:

Why doesn’t NCS show other bank accounts run through the school or school activities on their website?

Why did the board remove their May 2016 board minutes?  These minutes were put back on the NCS website at 5:17am this morning by NCS CFO Joanne Schlossberg, and does discuss the meeting with Blowman:

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New Question: Why were the board minutes modified this morning and put up without approval of the Board of Directors at NCS who has to approve the minutes as per your very own bylaws?

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Why does the school refuse to file a tax return based on very bogus reasons for not doing so in the first place?

Why did Greg Meece ignore the IRS Guidance letter stating charter schools really aren’t exempt from filing tax returns?

Did the school divert funds from allocations they weren’t allowed to in building their STEM lab and their new auditorium?

Why did the school accept a Title I award from the US DOE when they have one of the smallest Title I populations in the entire state?

Why did a teacher from the school publicly state yesterday on a Facebook post that in a year NCS will be over 50% minority?

How can NCS make a claim (from the same teacher) that they have more kids in Basic Special Education in K-5 than many Red Clay schools?

Why would Meece email all the teachers and parents to support the Christina referendum but wouldn’t do it publicly?

Why does Senator Sokola write so much legislation that benefits charters, especially NCS, but has no problem writing laws that make things harder for teachers and parents?  How much input does Greg Meece have on that legislation?

Why does Meece refuse to collaborate on his innovative discipline practices with other schools?

Which, if any, legislators knew about this change in the way districts pay charters before a week ago?  Did any help in the organizing or structure of these secret meetings?  Did any attend these meetings?

Why have I heard from so many teachers in this state that if they disagree with Meece on even the slightest thing they are fired?

And the most important.  Does he believe NCS is better than everyone else?

When he can answer all those questions, which I publicly ask him to do, then I may change my mind about him.  But until then, no, I don’t have a high opinion of him as the Head of School at Newark Charter School.  Sorry, but I have seen and heard far too much to think otherwise.  I understand that for the parents and teachers at NCS it is the greatest place on earth.  There is a reason for that.  And maybe you don’t want to face it, but NCS supposed success is based on very selective enrollment preferences.  Set up a long time ago, this prevents many at-risk kids from attending the school.  Sure, some get in, but not enough based on the demographics.  There are key parts set up which prevent the often-heard excuse of “it’s a lottery, anyone can get in”.  You need to understand that choice has consequences.  It may be great for your kid, but when people like Meece want more money, after he gets tons of it already from Christina and other districts, that takes from the very same at-risk kids who can’t get into that school.  Not in the numbers where it would be a true picture of the surrounding area.  And setting it up with a five-mile radius also prevents kids from not even being able to apply.  So when folks see Meece wanting more money, that is what they see.  They see your kid going to a school built on a façade while their kids will have less.  This isn’t all charters.  But enough.  And when the one that is very guilty of this modern-day social engineering is the genesis of this funding change, you shouldn’t be surprised when there is major blowback.  That’s not jealousy, that’s understanding the implications these actions have on the state.  You want equal funding?  You have to earn that.  Prove it by opening your doors to everyone.  Until then, you can say whatever you want, but we aren’t hearing it.  Not until your demographics show otherwise.

 

 

The Real Story About What Happened At The Christina Board Meeting Last Night…

Last night, Christina Board of Education member Elizabeth Paige was elected by her peers to be the next President of the board.  With a 4-3 vote, she took the post over from Harrie Ellen Minnehan.  What happened next was very surreal.  Acting Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski was going through different contract amounts which the board had to take action on.  When one of them came up, I was absolutely shocked and horrified.  It wasn’t even on the agenda.  Their Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber, disappeared shortly before this.  I think he knew what was coming.  Everyone was there: Acting Superintendent Robert “Bob A” Andrzejewski, Board members John Young, Fred Polaski, George Evans, Harrie Ellen Minnehan, Shirley Saffer, Elizabeth Paige, and newly elected board member Meg Mason.  There were some people I knew in the audience as well.  I don’t know if I’m supposed to be writing about this, so I will show you…

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Librarian-Gate In Christina Heats Up: Sophie’s Choice or Misinformation? You Decide!

I wrote a post yesterday about the Christina School District choosing not to rehire librarians that were cut as a result of their 2nd failed referendum last year.  Many have gone on the attack against the district and many have jumped to their defense.  One clear and obvious thing is Delaware needs to change their antiquated unit-based funding system to some extent.  I don’t think anyone is arguing that point.  But a lot of accusations were thrown out as a result of my article and I wanted to point out some of them.

During Christina’s 3rd referendum attempt, the situation was dire.  As a result of the last two failed referenda, they had to make some major cuts.  Teachers, para-professionals, specialists, and yes, including librarians.  In several places, whether in writing or spoken word, the district mentioned they wanted to hire back the positions they cut and reduce classroom sizes.  This year, there were anywhere between 35-45 kids in some classrooms.  That isn’t good for any student, much less some of the high-need populations in the district.  One of the members of Christina’s Citizen Budget Oversight Committee, Brian Stephan, also writes for Delaware Liberal.

Let me point out this simple fact: I like Brian.  I think he is a good guy and a very involved parent.  I wish more parents were as involved as Brian and his wife in public education (and on a volunteer basis at that).  I have no doubt in the world he is very well-versed in school financing.  But just as I get my readers stuck in the weeds on issues such as special education or regulations for example, I think that may happen to Brian when he is explaining district financing.  Like any television show, there is frequently a “previously on…” before the show starts.  The brains of everyday citizens don’t remember everything, so they need a constant refresh.  I have to reiterate things on this blog constantly, not only to refresh existing readers, but also for my new readers.  I don’t always succeed with this.  But I would never complain to my readers that I have to explain it again.  That would be an insult to my readers.  I believe this happens in education a lot.  I see it all the time in parent complaints about educators and administrators.  They perceive them as being arrogant, but the reality is they may know more about situations and assume you do to.  When they realize you aren’t aware, the communication style is perceived as condescending or arrogant.  It may be, or it may not be.  There isn’t always an easy answer.  But when both parties are equally aware of a situation, and they dance around it with bad communication, that can be very dangerous.  But I digress…

I like to refer to education funding as a Rubik’s Cube with 64 sides.  It is a beast!  God bless any average parent who has a firm grasp on it, because I know I don’t.  Charters I’m pretty good at breaking down, but that is not the case with school districts.  But I do look at what people write and things they say.  That is the anecdotal evidence I look for in most situations.

Back in March, a week before the referendum, Brian wrote:

What’s the District asking for? An additional $0.30 per $100 of assessed property value that would generate an additional $16.2 million per year. What would that do? $4 million would go toward bringing back the teachers and staff we had to cut (yes, including librarians), and reduce our class sizes. $4 million would go toward the operating fund to keep the district functioning at pre-budget cut staffing levels for the next 2 years.

Note the word “and” when talking about restoring the positions cut AND reducing the classroom size in the above statement.  On Facebook yesterday, Brian was telling folks the current situation with librarians was spelled out succinctly and clearly, but I could not find anything in writing stating that it was an “or” situation.  Currently, defenders of the district are stating it is a building leader’s (principal) choice to either fund a librarian with an earned teaching unit or hire a regular classroom teacher.  In the event that a board doesn’t like that decision, they could force a principal to hire the librarian.  In effect, this comes down to a gut-wrenching choice of either keeping classroom sizes bigger or having a librarian.  Brian alleges this situation plays out in many of our school districts.  I have no doubt he is correct about this, but does the average taxpayer know this?  I doubt it.  This situation wouldn’t have become as intense as it has had this been spelled out during the weeks before the referendum.  Had something been put in writing to the effect of “It is our desire to hire back what we lost but we may not be able to get back every single position”, I would have no issue with any of this.

In response to the firestorm that went down on social media yesterday, Brian wrote a response on Delaware Liberal last night.  In the comments for this, he writes:

I can say that we described the referendum as restoring what was lost. And there’s a reason I didn’t say “Restoring ALL that was lost” because if I could have said *that*, I would have without a doubt.

This is the heart of the matter, in my opinion.  As I wrote in my response to his comment, there isn’t any transparent difference between “restoring what was lost” and “restoring ALL that was lost”.  I completely believe that Brian understands the current situation, but it was not clearly pointed out to taxpayers that their vote would mean one or the other.  That is why I was upset about what is happening with the district not restoring the librarians.  I backed this referendum 100% and fought for the district.  Now I feel like I’m eating crow.  It’s very easy to come back afterwards and explain this in writing.  I called that Monday morning quarterbacking yesterday.  I became very confused when things were written on social media and Delaware Liberal yesterday where defenders of the district wrote the funding is there to restore librarians.  Many commenters were.  But to write things to the effect of “let me explain this again” is not in the best interest of trying to win a point.  Most people feel like they are being talked down to.  But if that is the flavor of Brian’s writing style, that is his choice.

But here is the million dollar question.  If the assumption is that building principals in schools that had librarians cut are not restoring those positions in favor of keeping classroom sizes smaller, will the district take the classroom size waivers next fiscal year?  These are waivers the districts request that actually keep classrooms bigger.  They are usually granted.  Most districts do this, including Christina.  But in doing so, should Christina choose to go that route in December, they are actually breaking another referendum campaign promise, that of reducing classroom size.  Technically, one could say all districts do it and if they are out of compliance in one school they have to do it based on the populations in the school.  But it has also kept classroom sizes at increased levels in many districts and has not made the problem any better.  I could not tell you, based on my limited knowledge of this aspect, how to fix that or who exactly controls that aspect.

But back to Christina.  To make matters even worse, several sources have informed me that Acting Superintendent Robert Andrzejewski told many students the librarian positions would be restored.  These were children who were upset their librarians were no longer there.  Perhaps he spoke out of turn in saying this, but the students are probably the most important stakeholders in any education decision.  Imagine if a librarian was a student’s favorite teacher.  That librarian got cut.  The student was very upset.  They go home after the Acting Superintendent says the librarians will be back.  The student is happy, the parents are hopeful, and the district can count on a yes vote from those parents.  Those kind of events can seriously impact referendum results.  That is a huge issue and could easily be seen, and justifiably so, as a broken promise.

To truly understand what happened here, we do have to look at Delaware’s unit-based funding system.  This is based on the September 30th count for each school in a district or a charter school.  The number of students in the school determines how much state funding the district or charter school gets from the state.  Schools also get funds from federal dollars and local dollars.  What a school can’t pay for from state or federal money, comes out of local dollars which is where taxpayers come in.  A district receives x amount of units based on the population of the district.  With this, there are all sorts of conditions, especially with special education.  Based on a student’s disabilities, the formula changes.

Looking at Christina’s 2015-2016 unit allotment based on their September 30th count, they received the following: based on 15,553 students, they received 1,236.40 units.  This does not mean every unit goes towards one teaching position.  For example, a CTE teacher counts as half a unit, or .5.  Based on the amount of units a district receives, the district determines how many units each building gets based on their student count.  Certain units, such as special education, have to go towards those services (or they are supposed to).  But a building leader, or principal, does have some discretion for how the funds generated from that unit-count are allocated.  They can’t make wild decisions.  If a school’s Smarter Balanced scores are low, they can’t hire 50 math teachers and only 3 English/Language Arts teachers.  But out of that pool of funds is how decisions are made.  The district’s Chief Financial Officer guides the schools with those decisions.  If enrollment is down, based on school choice or students moving from the district, a principal may face some difficult decisions.  I don’t envy a principal making decisions like this, but I also believe they should look at things like what was told to taxpayers in the latest referendum campaign.  Such as the case with Christina now.  Unfortunately, Christina loses a lot of students to charters and this has been going on for the past ten plus years.

So then a district is faced with difficult decisions.  They could either stay on the road they are on, or make changes.  In Christina’s case, they are wisely looking at school climate and discipline as one of the key issues which results in students leaving the district.  I have no issue with this as it is the number one complaint I see for Christina.  Part of their referendum promises was to take a “deep dive” at the situation, come up with a plan, and make changes.  That is completely acceptable in my opinion.  But what Christina also didn’t point out was the fact they would hire an outside vendor to help form this “strategic plan” who also happened to also work for the district in the past.  To the tune of almost $50,000 without a formal bid process.  These are the types of things that need to be spelled out to taxpayers during a referendum attempt.

One of the questions posed on the CSD Paving the Way referendum website concerned school resource officers and if the $1 million the district would use out of the funds generated out of the referendum would go towards bringing those positions back which were cut.  It was clearly spelled out that this decision was not going to be immediately made and that an action committee would form to determine how to handle this issue.  While it doesn’t look like anyone directly asked if all cut positions, such as librarians, would be restored, that would have been the place it would have most likely appeared.  In the absence of that question, many assumed all cut positions would come back.  Not to put the entire blame for this on a referendum website or a well-read blog in Delaware, but it is part of the issues.  As well, Andrzejewski’s comments to students played a factor.  As well, I had grave issues with the district spending $181,200 on what I initially viewed as more assessments for students when a state focus has been to reduce the amount of assessments.  I have since been informed this contract would replace two assessments at less of the cost of the other two assessments, which seems to be a prudent move on the district’s part.  Furthermore, you can’t just rob Peter to pay Paul.  Just because that $181,200 was available for assessments does not necessarily mean you can pay $181,200 in librarians in lieu of those funds.  There are different buckets for different aspects of education, as Brian has explained many times to people.

I received this information from an anonymous commenter named “John Doe”, seen below, but I felt the need to put it in the heart of the article:

Sir, I would please ask that you correct some misinformation included in this blog. It was made clear at the Christina SD Board of Ed. meeting that the district was consolidating, not simply adding, assessments. Yes, a new assessment will be purchased, but it is replacing two existing assessments which together cost the district more money than will be spent on the new assessment next school year. The district is indeed cutting assessments back in a number of sensible ways, and the district will benefit from cost savings as well as savings in instructional time because of these decisions. Teachers and administrators, like carpenters, need good tools to help them do high quality work. For a district the size of Christina SD, the assessment costs the author quoted are very reasonable.

In the past, districts and charters lave gotten themselves in trouble with misappropriated funds in the wrong bucket.  For example, last year Capital School District was warned by the State Auditor’s office they can’t use a Superintendent’s discretionary fund to help pay for band field trips.  That is just one of countless examples where districts did the wrong thing.  Intent plays a big part in that.  Was it an honest mistake or done on purpose?  In the case of some charter schools in Delaware in the past few years, taking school funds and using them for personal use is a big no-no.  But this hasn’t just happened in charters, but also public school districts as well.  But charters are held under more scrutiny than traditional school districts so it could be easier to find.  But by the same token, some of the charter employees who did abuse these funds had not been involved in public education to the extent others in traditional school districts have and were not as well-versed with the law.  This does not excuse their actions.  In fact, it makes the problem more acute and laws should reflect this troubling aspect.

As I learn more about district and charter funding, I am also looking towards the future in regards to corporate interference in education.  Out of the funds schools do receive, what funds are being wasted on assessment and useless programs?  How much is going towards outside vendors who have limited experience in an actual classroom but come out with reports that are utilized by those who support these agendas?  Are districts and charters riding the latest wave that has no factual research to back up the effectiveness of these programs, such as personalized learning in a digital environment?  Are funds being allocated based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment and how to increase scores while keeping bloated classroom sizes and not addressing the true needs of students?  These are the things that matter to me.  So when I see librarian positions not being restored (as of now), I have a major beef with that.  That is happening right now, in Christina.  If I am made aware of similar situations playing out in other districts, I will call them out on it.  Which is something, based on this current situation, I am going to be looking for.

Christina has a pocket of folks who do not enjoy any controversy based on decisions made coming out of that pocket, in my opinion.  And when they are called out on it, the fingers point to those casting the blame and not addressing the real issue.  This has landed me in a tough spot with the district in the past and in the present.  If information is not readily transparent, I go by what I do know.  And yes, I am opinionated and I am quick to reach judgment based on what I know, or believe I know.  I’m not denying this.  There are also other factors that play into how I write articles, such as sidebar conversations or issues I am unable to write about to protect others.  But those aspects definitely influence my opinion.  Do I get everything right?  Nope.  I’ll be the first to admit that, and when I don’t, I’ll fix it or write a follow-article.  But if you come on here and comment that I am wrong without explaining how I’m wrong, that I can’t do anything about.  I was accused of starting fires and then saying “I didn’t know” and trying to back out of my original post under that excuse.  Sure, that happens.  I write based on what information I do know and go from there.  Do I always seek clarification from other parties?  I don’t.  Here’s why: I am not a mainstream journalist.  I am a blogger.  The journalistic etiquette for mainstream journalism does not apply to bloggers.  Do I go for the “shock and awe” at times?  Absolutely.  And sometimes I just don’t feel like reaching out will serve a purpose.  All too often, I get no response, I’m attacked, or I get bad information.  That happens more often than not.  As well, the person who accused me of this, I have reached out to in the past over certain things but lately I had not been getting much response.  Until I posted about this latest librarian thing.

This is one of the reasons I admire and respect Christina board member John Young so much.  He is constantly attacked for attacking, or the perception of attacking.  John and I are very much alike in that aspect.  But it gets people talking and I would say it brings more transparency to issues facing public education.  The more people talk about education, the better.  We live in a state where a certain group of people tend to make ALL the decisions and that isn’t good for kids.  Period.  End of story.  If I can shock people out of an education awareness slumber, I certainly will.  This is how John operates, it is how Kilroy operates, and it is how Kavips operates.  It is the heart of Delaware education bloggers mindset, especially those who fight against the insane practices of the Delaware DOE and Governor Markell.  Most of the information we post (or used to in John’s case) is not information that is picked up on by the News Journal or other media outlets.  I don’t believe John’s goal, or my goal, is to intentionally divide, but to bring light to situations people may not be aware of.  But we are attacked for attacking.  If we don’t do these things, how the hell are people going to know these things?  Could we be more temperate in how we do this?  Sure, but would folks listen?  I can say I have defended Christina much more than I have “attacked” them, as some have said.

My intention is not to make things up in order to start a fire.  Unless it is one of my “fan fiction” posts, which are easily recognizable (such as Markell, Herdman, Godowsky, Jaques and Sokola going on a midnight horse ride in Dover), I am basing my information on something real.  If there is more information along the way, it’s going to come out.  If not from me, than in the comments or somewhere else.  Without going into a lot of details, there are some VERY strange things that go on behind the scenes with blogging.  Eventually, all truths are known or they are buried forever.

Updated, 9:32pm: This article has been updated to reflect the discussion about the assessments the district purchased.  I previously wrote these were more assessments, when the reality is they were to replace two other assessments to save instructional time and the district money.  While this is certainly a good thing, it does not change my issues with the librarian issue.

 

Christina School District & Delaware DOE Reach Agreement On Priority Schools

It was revealed yesterday that the Christina School District and the Delaware Department of Education finally reached a signed agreement over the eighteen month priority school battle.  As shown below, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky formally wrote a letter to the State Board of Education indicating this.  As one of their conditional approvals for the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan, the State Board can no longer complain about this in their meetings.

Christina School District citizens face a referendum in 13 days.  I really like a lot of what I’m seeing from the district in terms of what they have planned for the money raised from the referendum.  Brian Stephan wrote an excellent article on Delaware Liberal earlier this morning about what the district will allocate the funds for and I like a lot of their ideas.

In the meantime, see the letter that ends the long DOE-State Board-Christina battle over three schools.  Is this the same agreement from a year ago?

GodowskyLetter

Are Red Clay’s Administrative Costs Out Of Control?

A gentleman by the name of Jack Wells, a frequent commenter on Kilroy’s Delaware, has been hammering at Red Clay Consolidated School District for years over their administrative costs.  He makes my charter school financial stuff look weak in comparison!  I tend to focus on the Department of Education’s finances, but one of the major complaints I hear in Delaware is how administrative costs are out of control.  Every school district and charter school in Delaware should have a Jack Wells looking out for these types of things.

What has Mr. Wells upset right now?  The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan.  More specifically, the clause indicating the Red Clay board may raise taxes without a referendum…

 

  1. Chart 1 shows total state, federal and local funds received by the district during the period 2006/07 through 2013/14 as reported by our State’s Department of Education.  {Excludes 2 special schools.}
  2. Chart 2 shows the same information for the period 2006/07 through 2015/16, figures for 2015/16 were taken from the districts 2015/16 Budget. {DDOE has not published revenue information since 2013-2014.}

 

%                                                   %

State        Total          Fed             Local        Total       Total

116,745,319  54.82    14,604,025   81,607,040   38.32  212,956,384  2013/14

113,643,134  62.06    11,867,910   57,580,215   31.44  183,091,259  2006/07

3,102,185  10.38      2,736,115   24,026,825   80.45    29,865,125  Total Increase

 

119,089,298   53.44   11,747,926   92,107,040   41.33  222,844,264  2015/16

113,643,134   62.06   11,867,910   57,580,215   31.44  183,091,259  2006/07

5,446,164   13.70  {-} 219,984   34,526,825   86.85    39,753,005  Total Increase

 

These charts show that in 2006-2007 the state provided 62.06% of the revenue and the property owners provided 31.44%, eight years later the state was providing only 53.44 percent, property owners 41.33%, and the districts delinquent school taxes had skyrocketed. During this period the state cut funding to our schools while continuing to fund overhead in our districts and DDOE. The fact are clear, funding overhead is a priority over funding our schools.

In 2014 after property owners provided the district an additional $24,026,825, that represented 80.45 percent of the total increase in revenue.  The Board than told community, if you do not approve increasing your current operating tax rate by 19.97 percent, we will have to terminate teachers, paraprofessionals, activities, etc.,  To prevent these cuts, the community approved increasing the tax rate, than the board voted to deny property owners the right to vote to raise the tax rate.

Chart two includes the additional $10.5 million received this year as a result of the rate increase, since the increased tax rate will be phrased in over 3 years, local revenue with continue to increase. Since the referendum was approved, the district built a new 600 student K-5 school, regular and special enrollment student declined, regular units decreased while special education Div. I Units increased. {Chart below shows changes in enrollment and units.}

Regular      Units   Special  Units

Enrollment  Earned  Needs  Earned

14,364        777       2175      309     2014

13,925        752       2169      321     2016

{-}439   {-}  25     {-}  6        12

When property owners provide 86.85 % of the total increase in revenue, and the Board still has insufficient revenue to provide funding for ELL and low income children, the board has a major problem.  Rather than doing a review on how and where funds were being used by program, and than allocating funding by priority, the WEIC, the board and the boards Community Financial Review Committee recommended doing away with referendums and authorizing the board to raise taxes.  NOW THAT IS A SLAP IN THE FACE TO THE PROPERTY OWNERS, SHOCKING.

I strongly oppose providing the Red Clay School Board authority to raised local taxes without a referendum and wonder why after the property owners provided 86.85% of all the additional revenue, they determined it was necessary to do away with referendums. NOW THAT IS VERY TROUBLING. 

Jack Wells

As a taxpayer, I would find this very troubling.  Charter school and DOE finances are tough enough to figure out, but Mr. Wells brings up many valid points concerning district funds and spending.  I know Christina had to make a lot of sacrifices when their referendums didn’t pass last year.  Teachers lost jobs or were sent to other schools.  Some board members even turned in their district-paid cell phones last summer.  But I also know there are several districts with folks making over $100,000 across the state.  If the Every Student Succeeds Act actually does give more state and local control and less fed mandates, does this mean there would no longer be a need for so much district administration?  Or would it actually increase?  Dare I actually crack the yolk of district funding?  I think Brian Stephan from Delaware Liberal (who is on the Citizens Budget Oversight Committee in the Christina School District) and Jack Wells should hold a forum on district spending!

I plan on sharing a lot of Mr. Well’s material (with his permission) since it is so brilliant!  What do you think?  I would love to hear from some district admins, especially in Red Clay, about their side of this.  It is a conversation that is not going to go away.  One big takeaway I have from all this is that Jack Markell can talk education all he wants, but in his administration, the percentage of funding to education has actually gone down percentage-wise.  Jack Markell likes to talk big, but he leaves it up to the districts and yes, even the charters, to carry more of the financial burden for his (not-so) moments of brilliance.

Exceptional Delaware’s 2015 Hero Of The Year: Braeden Mannering

BraedenWhiteHouse

That family is awesome!

Christina Board of Education member John Young, when asked to describe Braeden Mannering, said the above.

I don’t usually write about individual students on here.  But Braeden Mannering is an exception, because he is a very awesome kid!  Braeden and his mom, Christy Mannering, run a foundation called 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags.  Their mission is to provide healthy food for those who can’t afford it.  From the 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags website:

Our mission is to provide healthy snacks to homeless and low-income individuals. Every bag includes a letter from Braeden, contact information for additional services who can provide further assistance. Three healthy snacks (each one is below 180 calories) and a bottle of water.  Our belief is that every person regardless of their financial situation deserves to have access to healthy food. This helps to balance the paradox between obesity and food insecurity.

I first heard about Braeden earlier this year.  All I knew was that he had a business of some sort to feed the homeless.  I had no idea he went to the White House a couple times, met Michele Obama, has won numerous awards, and very recently began appearing in the 2016 Scholastic Almanac For Kids.  His website tells his journey better than I ever could.  So how does a 12 year old boy who attends Gauger-Cobbs Middle School become a Delaware celebrity?

BraedenGiving

According to an article in CNN earlier this year, Braeden won a contest for the 2013 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.  His “Tortilla Bowl Deluxe” allowed him to become the winner for Delaware.  After an award dinner at The White House, Braeden made a decision that would change his life.  After seeing a homeless man begging for money in Washington D.C., Braeden came up with an idea.

During the trip home from the White House, Braeden asked his mom if he could give his souvenir money to a group of homeless people. A few days later, he came up with another creative way to pay it forward.

“Braeden was rummaging in the kitchen and emerged with a brown paper bag,” his mom, Christy Mannering, said. “Inside was a water bottle, potato chips, fruit snacks and granola bars. He asked me if we could go back and give it to one of the homeless people.”

Two and a half years later, Braeden is still giving nutritional meals to the less fortunate and the homeless.  Braeden and his mom turned it into a non-profit business called 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags.  As of a week ago, 3B handed out 4,500 brown bags to those who struggle the most in our state.  Brae has been to numerous schools around the state, and even to some other states as well.

I talked to Christy Mannering and asked for her permission to write this article.  She happily accepted.  She described Braeden for me.

Brae has an old soul and a huge heart. He is often asked if he thinks he will be “doing 3B forever” and his answer never changes. He says he hopes he doesn’t have to, because he wants hunger not to be a problem anymore, but that he will keep going as long as it is needed.

BraedenDelaware

Family friend Laura Nash agrees with Christy’s assessment of Braeden:

3B is Huge!  He is truly an amazing kid with a big heart.

A year ago, Braeden won a competition called #MazdaDrive4Good.  The sponsors of the contest, NBC Universal and Mazda, donated $30,000 to 3B Brae’s Brown Bags.  As a result, actress Minnie Driver and a film crew came to Braeden’s home in Bear and presented the check and Christmas decorations for Braeden and his family.  He appeared on the Today Show on NBC, his family was invited to the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, and he was even interviewed by Al Roker!

Braeden described this adventure on his own blog, in an article called Were You Watching NBC Last Week?

You know my Mom told Mr. Adam that one of the best things about all of 3B has been seeing it spread and help others. She says when you throw a pebble into the water the ripples can spread out all the way across a pond, she is humbled to see the ripple effect that 3B is causing and she’s so proud to know that I’m the pebble.

This fall, the pebble spread and Braeden and his mother created the 3B Ripples Student Chapter.  The first Delaware school to join was Kirk Middle School.  The mentor for the project, teacher Jackie Kook, had this to say about Braeden:

Braeden is an inspiration in that he allows others to realize that, no matter our ages or abilities, we can band together to help those in need.  The outreach of his initial brown bag has been tremendous, and we at Kirk Middle School are proud to continue his work and show our community that Kirk Cougars Care!

Braeden doesn’t believe it is his job alone to help those in need.  His outreach to students across the state is something I can only look upon with awe.  He is building community awareness in ways many adults are unable to do.  To speak in front of an audience is a talent learned over time, but this seems to be a natural gift for Braeden.

braeden-carrie-downie

Braeden’s story is amazing.  I agree with his mother that he is an old soul.  But he is also a new soul.  He is a pre-teen, not even in high school yet, who has a passion for those less fortunate.  It is enough to make a huge difference.  Braeden is a unique soul in Delaware.  He gives and gives and expects nothing in return.  The fact that he can help those who have less is a comfort for him.  I can only imagine feelings of that sort are a part of Braeden’s family dynamic.  In addition to running the business with Brae, his mother was also one of the key figures in the Christina School District referendums earlier this year.  Even though the referendum didn’t pass, Christy gave countless hours of her time to help the struggling district.  Her husband and Brae’s step-father, Brian, serves on the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee and writes for Delaware Liberal and his own blog, Those In Favor.  I met both of them this year, and they are very compassionate people.  While I have not met Braeden yet, I see the values he holds so dear in Brian and Christy as well.

Braeden was invited back to the White House in 2014 for the Annual Kids Dinner.  He was a speaker and he actually introduced Michelle Obama to the crowd.

brae-firstlady-hug

But something that stood out for Braeden even more than meeting the First Lady and President Obama, was an honor he received on May 1st, 2014.  Delaware Senator Bryan Townsend sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution #48.  This legislation recognized the boy who knows more about giving than receiving.

braedenscr48

I remember back in 1989, Phil Collins released a song called “Another Day In Paradise”.  It was a song about the homeless, and the words really impacted me.  I went into Philadelphia with family the day after Thanksgiving that year and it was freezing out.  I saw the homeless, shivering along buildings and laying on vents.  Grocery carts were their best friend on a holiday weekend.  It saddened me that there are those who don’t have homes for whatever reason, especially during the holidays.  I always wanted to do something about it, but the everyday trappings of a non-homeless life pushed it out of my mind.

One of the Delaware blogs I follow religiously is Homeless1 in Wilmington.  The author of the blog, a former homeless person, helps the homeless in Delaware as much as he possibly can.  It is an excellent blog, and you can find it on my sidebar.  When I read the articles on there, it brings me back to that 19 year old me who wants to do more, but doesn’t know how.  I live in Dover, and the homeless are here too.  I see them from time to time when I am driving in Dover, and I always say a prayer in my mind that they find themselves out of whatever circumstances they are in.  And then I see a bright light in Braeden Mannering, and my feelings of helplessness lift away.  Because I know that one 12 year old boy, who could be doing many other things with his life, has made it his mission to end hunger.  I’ve been reading Brae’s website for the past week, and I am overwhelmed at his unconditional love for those who are hungry, or don’t have a home.  Homeless1 said it best:

there is no such thing as a small effort in fighting homelessness. every effort has an impact. every person involved in advocacy, outreach or street ministry has an impact. the type of impact we have is a direct result of how honest we are with the homeless, with the public in general and with ourselves. every effort matters. every statement matters. every truth, or untruth matters. they both have far reaching effects whether or not we realize it. we need to become conscious of that fact.

Braeden’s impact on Delaware is huge.  Braeden sees the simplest truth of them all: helping others is the right thing to do.  Thank you Braeden Mannering for renewing my faith in humanity this holiday season.  You are the Exceptional Delaware Hero of 2015!  I write about education all the time, but I am still always learning.  As a state, we talk about improving education for low-income and poverty students all the time.  But if we can’t eliminate hunger and homelessness for all the citizens of our state, we will constantly be fighting a losing battle.  We can change the conditions of a classroom all we want, but for some students it is not what they need the most.  We can give grants to schools and open up wellness centers, but as long as one child comes to school hungry we are not doing everything we can for Delaware students.  I salute Braeden Mannering for teaching us all that if we allow our hearts to open up, change can be a very powerful force.  I may be late to catch up on Braeden Mannering, but he is definitely someone who gives with an open heart, one brown bag at a time…

As I was putting the finishing touches on this article, an article by Zoe Read with WHYY/Newsworks showed up on my Facebook feed.  Called The face of Delaware’s homeless children, the timing was uncanny.  This is what Braeden is all about.  Helping these children.

To see a recap of Braeden’s journey in 2015, please watch the below video:

Poverty Matters! The Smarter Balanced Impact: Delaware Charter Schools

charterPovertyCorrected

According to Delaware Governor Jack Markell, throwing our hands up with poverty is a recipe for the status quo.  As we can see in the above chart, poverty had a tremendous impact in Delaware charter schools.  The higher the low-income status, the lower the Smarter Balanced Assessment scores.  There is no hiding this.  Even the highly-praised EastSide Charter School was not immune to the wrath of the high-stakes test.  Below is part of Governor Markell’s speech he gave at the Imagine Delaware Forum in March of this year:

One of the reasons that we often hear for the struggle of our kids in the inner-city schools is poverty. And it is absolutely true that poverty presents enormous, enormous challenges for many children across our state. They face barriers to learning that the rest of us can’t imagine. And that’s why we need to do everything in our power to lift our children and our families out of poverty and to reach these children from the beginning of their lives, to counter the effects of growing up poor. And we are committed to addressing the root causes of poverty, by increasing access to the best early-learning programs, by investing in economic development and reducing crime and battling the addiction epidemic, and more. But as we pursue these goals we can’t delay improvements to the education kids in these communities receive. I, and I know that many of you, refuse to throw up our hands and say that we can’t truly improve education in these schools as long as poverty exists. That’s a recipe for the status quo, a recipe for fewer of our most vulnerable children to get the skills they need to escape poverty.

What Governor Markell seems to lack insight into or just plain ignores is the impact of poverty on children’s education.  It isn’t something “rigor” and “grit” can fix.  It’s a matter of increasing the funding to these schools, and not under the guise of priority schools or focus schools.  It means lowering the size of classrooms, increasing special education funding, and judging children based on a once a year test the clearly shows how much poverty does matter.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment is not improving education. It is making it more difficult for schools to get the true reform they need.  The Delaware Department of Education will be releasing their school report cards with the Smarter Balanced Assessment carrying most of the weight for school grades.  This is highly destructive to schools that do not do well on this test.  With the Delaware DOE and the State Board of Education pushing Regulation 103 into state code, we need parents to see how that will affect all school districts in Delaware.

This is just the first of many articles based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment and how it affects students of low-income status, students with disabilities, and the most vulnerable minorities in our state.  In conjunction with Delaware Liberal, Exceptional Delaware will be publishing articles in the coming week on this high-stakes testing epidemic that is destroying schools in our state.  This very unique “blog crossover” will paint the picture the Delaware Department of Education doesn’t want the public to see.  But numbers don’t lie.  They present facts that cannot be disputed.  Please come to Delaware Liberal and here to see further articles “Poverty Matters! The Smarter Balanced Impact”.  Delaware Liberal will be covering New Castle County while Exceptional Delaware will be covering Kent and Sussex Counties.  We may cross reference each other here and there, and I highly recommend reading what they have to write, especially with all the potential redistricting in Wilmington and the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.

A very special thanks to the always awesome Pandora and LiberalGeek from Delaware Liberal, Brian Stephan of the excellent blog Those In Favor, and Delaware State Representative Kim Williams for their assistance in the data collection and formation of the graphs in this series.  This is truly a collaborative effort on all ends, and Delaware is a better place for it!