Delaware Senator Bryan Townsend Gets Drop Out Of Race Letter… From His Own Party!!!!

Delaware Senator Bryan Townsend, considered by the News Journal to be the front-runner for the Delaware United States Representative seat in Congress, received a disturbing letter from the Chair of the Delaware Democrat Party today.  Chair John Daniello urged Townsend to drop out of the race.  The day after Hillary Clinton was the spotlight of controversy concerning her emails.  Even though the FBI is not recommending charges against her, it put a huge spotlight on the situation and put Hillary in a bad light.  What does this have to do with the letter Townsend received today?  Probably nothing.  I would just look at the banner!

TownsendLetter

And Townsend issued the following message to his followers on Facebook:

TownsendLetterFBPost

DSEA Statement On House Bill 399

The Delaware State Education Association issued a very strong statement on the passage of House Bill 399.  The teacher evaluation bill which was completely gutted by Delaware Senator David Sokola with his amendment will affect teachers throughout the state if certain aspects of the pilot program become a permanent thing.  Obviously, there is a lot more they could have said about what happened, but this is a an official statement from the organization.  I am fairly certain there will be many discussions about what happened with this bill moving forward.  If I were DSEA, I would think very carefully about who they are endorsing in the 8th Senate District…

Update on House Bill 399:

HB 399 finally passed the Senate in the wee small hours of Friday morning. However, it’s passage came with two senate amendments attached to the bill which the House had already passed by a unanimous vote.

DSEA is deeply appreciative to its members, parents, and members of the community who supported our efforts to secure passage of the original bill passed in the House. The letters, emails, and phone calls which were made to legislators were very helpful in maintaining a firewall of support for the bill as it endured an onslaught of attacks from groups who sought to kill it. While the results of the bill were not “perfect”, politics rarely produces “perfect” results. We believe this is an important step forward, one which will help repair the damage done to DPAS in years past.

It must be noted that the final result was not a “compromise bill” in our eyes. We fought throughout day and night (literally) to maintain the original integrity of the bill, opposing Senate Amendment 1, but were unsuccessful. Nevertheless, we think the changes will help improve the quality of educator evaluations in Delaware going forward. Full text of the bill is available at: http://bit.ly/hb399-final.

The main victories which were maintained in the bill:

(1) Each component of DPAS will have equal weight in the overall score. This ends the past practice where Component V, which was built on the student score on the state standardized test, played a disproportionate level of influence on an educator’s evaluation.

(2) Codified the requirement of annual evaluations for all educators holding an initial license and all other educators to be evaluated every two academic years.

(3) Codified the allowance for the educator to select/determine a measure which they feel will demonstrate student improvement, in addition to measure(s) selected by their evaluator.

Senate Amendment 1 (http://bit.ly/hb399-sa1) to HB 399 was authored by Sen. David Sokola. DSEA opposed the amendment. Sen. Sokola’s amendment made the following changes to the bill:

(1) Clarifies that administrators maintain the “final say,” or discretion, to determine whether the State standardized assessment should be used as part of an educator’s evaluation.

(2) Clarifies that the proposed changes to the DPAS II evaluation system, as recommended by the DPAS II Advisory Committee, are intended to be piloted in three local education agencies to evaluate their effectiveness before any changes are permanently incorporated.

(3) Inputs comments received from stakeholders to include parent and student surveys in the pilot as well as include the alternate evaluation systems in the evaluation study.

Senate Amendment 2 (http://bit.ly/hb399-sa2) to HB 399 was authored by Sen. Bryan Townsend. Sen. Townsend’s amendment helped to codify the requirement that the educator be able to select/determine one measure of student improvement (see item #3 in “victories” listed above).

Let It Go! Christina Referendum Calls For Change From The Past

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Robert Andrzejewski, the Acting Superintendent for the Christina School District in Wilmington, led a battle cry last night to lift the district from their troubled past and send it to a bright future.

Hundreds of students, parents, educators, and citizens attended the Christina Referendum kick-off last night at Christiana High School.  The district wants to raise school taxes by 30 cents.  According to “Bob A”, the Acting Superintendent’s nick-name in New Castle County, the increase will result in an additional $16.2 million for the district allowing them to bring more quality resources to the district.  Bob A alluded to eventual magnet schools within the district.  In an apparent snafu, he said this would only cost taxpayers in the district an extra $300 a month or $15 a week.  Both are wrong, but we can put the blame on that towards Common Core which puts everyone’s math skills in serious jeopardy!

As Bob A talked about Christina escaping from his past, he brought up the movie “Frozen”.  He talked about “that song” and the main character, saying “What’s her name”?  Someone shouted “Elsa” which led Bob A to say “Yeah, Let It Go, Let It Go, Let It Go”.

Bob A railed on the current testing environment in Delaware during his speech, stating there is too much focus on testing and not enough on teaching to teach, which led to a round of applause from the audience.  Other highlights included a call for more vocational certificates to be issued from the district as more and more districts around the state incorporate co-op programs.

Senator Bryan Townsend attended the event, along with Braeden Mannering from 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags.  Board members Harrie Ellen Minnehan, Shirley Saffer, and John Young also attended.  There was a significant amount of energy which was missing in last year’s unfortunate two failed referendum attempts.  The referendum is on March 23rd.

Social Impact Bonds: Will They Happen In Delaware Or Are They Already Here?

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Social Impact Bonds, or “Pay For Success” programs, exist in many states around the country.  To date, Delaware has only participated in a handful of these kinds of programs and none in the education arena.  Social Impact Bonds began in the United Kingdom and since 2011, companies have slowly started bringing them to different states.  Basically, these are programs where an investor (like Goldman Sachs) decides they can change some type of society issue (like getting pre-Kindergartners the resources they need so they don’t have to go into special education programs when they enter elementary school).  They go to the state, sign a very lengthy contract, and based on the goal (like 99% of over 200 students in Pre-K programs won’t get IEPs after their investment) and they get the money back.  If they exceed the goal, they may get more (like $277,000 for Goldman Sachs in the Utah Pre-K special education prevention program).

This issue has come up a bit in the past couple months because of a few entries in the Every Student Succeeds Act mentioning Pay For Success.  Today, Diane Ravitch wrote about it again based on a recent editorial in The Salt Lake Tribune by two federal US government employees.  One of them is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Policy and Early Learning at the US Department of Education, Libby Doggett, and the other is the Director of The White House Office of Social Innovation, David Wilkinson.

Instead of tearing down new ideas and innovative approaches before they have even had the chance to be fully implemented, let’s applaud those who recognize the urgency of educating children differently and better. Let’s roll up our sleeves. Let’s celebrate what’s working and improve where we are learning lessons.

The validity of the Utah Pay For Success program came under immediate scrutiny because of the 99% victory Goldman Sachs claimed.  Issues immediately surfaced around the reliability of the district’s data when it came to being able to identify these students for special education services.  This could never happen in Delaware though, right?  I wouldn’t be too sure about that.  Delaware Governor Jack Markell is all too aware of what Goldman Sachs was doing in Utah.  In fact, he praised them for it in a joint editorial in the online magazine called Roll Call in December, 2014.  In the opinion piece, Markell and his co-contributor stated:

In Salt Lake County, Mayor Ben McAdams is pioneering a new way for government to focus on what works best. Knowing the impact that quality pre-kindergarten programs have, particularly in lower-income communities, McAdams is using Pay for Success Bonds, where private investors pay for the up-front costs of pre-school and get paid back if the programs succeed in saving taxpayers money from fewer at-risk kids using more expensive programs such as special ed. This pay-for-success model gives government the tools to fund an ounce of evidence-based prevention on the front end out of cost savings on the back end—and can be applied to a variety of social services.

The same year, a company called Start It Up Delaware formed.  Using Social Impact Bonds as their source of funding to new companies, the company was formed based on capital provided by Discover Bank.  The funding for the Social Impact Bonds came from the Delaware Community Foundation, also the chief source of funding for the Rodel Foundation of Delaware.  While this particular company did not begin any education related projects, the link back to the Delaware Community Foundation and in turn, Rodel, could open this possibility in Delaware.  Markell was also well aware of this venture because he gave the opening remarks at their launch reception in June of 2014.

In 2013, Newsworks wrote about a program Delaware participated in along with the Corporation for National and Community Service.  This initiative placed AmeriCorps members in Delaware to give relief to the National Guard.  The program used part of its funding from Social Innovation Funds.  Markell, along with US Senators Chris Coons and Tom Carper, was on hand for the big announcement.

Last summer, the Delaware Department of Health and Human Services met to plan a potential new program called “Healthy Neighborhoods”.  One of the potential long-term funding machines for this initiative is social impact bonds.  In fact, the Chair of the Delaware Center for Health Innovation is also the Executive Chairman of Innovative School Development Corporation, Matt Swanson.  It was his idea for social impact bonds as part of the funding for the Healthy Neighborhoods project.  In the meeting minutes for the Delaware Health Care Commission, from July 2nd, 2015, Swanson explained the concept of social impact bonds:

Dennis Rochford asked how social impact bonds work in terms of the long term sustainable funding. Mr. Swanson stated that a social impact bond is a funding mechanism that allows philanthropy. Instead of making one time grants that have an end date it is more of a renewable approach where philanthropy can come in through bond funding that will eventually be repaid through marketable innovations that have a future cash flow. Sometimes that offset of dollars is measured against social impact. Instead of repaying actual dollars on the bond there is a measurable impact that offsets the dollar repayment.

And where would these funds come from?

Mr. Swanson stated that they have state resources available and have had multiple meetings with the Delaware Community Foundation.

Not to get off point, but to read the minutes for this Healthy Neighborhoods initiative as well as the presentation on it, go here and here.

So we have the Delaware Community Foundation/Rodel connection, and now an Innovative Schools connection.  Anyone else?

There could be a very large part of the Delaware Department of Education looking to use social impact bonds in their initiatives, especially since their funding from Race To The Top expired on June 30th, 2015.  The Office of Early Learning, which oversees pre-Kindergarten in Delaware, is getting $11 million in Governor Markell’s proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget, if approved by the General Assembly.  But I could easily see this area of the DOE utilizing the part of Every Student Succeeds Act to bring in investors to “Pay For Success” in Delaware nursery schools.  I recently attended a presentation by the Director of the Office of Early Learning, Susan Perry-Manning, at the Senate Education Committee a couple of weeks ago.  She talked about the funding this program needs now that the feds money has dried up.  Throughout the presentation I heard the words “corporation” and “business” several times.  It wasn’t just myself that took notice of that either.

In terms of legislation which would allow this in Delaware, it already happened when nobody was even thinking about it.  Last year, Delaware Senator Bryan Townsend sponsored Senate Bill 75 which allows more advantages to “social enterprising” companies incorporated in Delaware.  According to The National Law Review, this bill was huge:

Although not an early adopter of social enterprise legislation, Delaware has become one of the fastest growing jurisdictions in which social enterprises are incorporated, and is now home to some of the largest and best known benefit corporations, including newcomers Laureate Education, Inc. and Kickstarter, PBC.  Along with other amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL), Senate Bill 75, which was signed by Governor Jack Markell on June 24, 2015, amended Delaware’s public benefit corporation law (Sections 361-368 of the DGCL), effective August 1, 2015.

While I am certainly delving into areas outside of my comfort zone when it comes to corporations, I’m seeing this as a backdoor entrance for “benefit for profit” corporations to operate easier.  Was this done in anticipation of the Every Student Succeeds Act?  It wouldn’t surprise me.  I doubt Senator Townsend was aware of this unintended consequence, but Markell signed it and it is now a part of Delaware State Code.  House Bill 235, which was recently passed in the Delaware House of Representatives, could definitely be seen as a boon to companies looking to start-up in Delaware.  This bill, introduced on January 8th of this year and shot through the General Assembly at lightning speed and signed by Governor Markell on January 27th, “reforms Delaware’s business tax code to incentivize job creation and investment in Delaware, to make Delaware’s tax structure more competitive with other states, and to support small business by making tax compliance less burdensome.”  As well as potentially being a pawn in the opt-out House Bill 50 veto override scheme, House Bill 235 would certainly benefit Markell’s education buddies in the corporate world if they planted their company flag in Delaware.

As I told folks on a Facebook thread about social impact bonds earlier today, if Delaware ever tried something like what Utah did with Goldman Sachs, I would not rest until social impact bonds were gone from Delaware.  But since many of these type of companies tend to incorporate in Delaware, we have opened up the gates for the rest of the country and the Social Impact Bond invasion.  This is just yet another example of the raiding of public education dollars in another Ponzi corporate education reform scheme.

 

 

House Bill 50 Senate Vote: 15 Yes, 6 No, House Bill 50 Passes!!!!!

It looks like they are following the agenda today, and House Bill 50 is #5 on the list.  While we are waiting, I’ll update you on the latest.  Senator Bryan Townsend appeared in a WDEL article and discussed parent opt-out.  He indicated he supports the bill, it is coming back to the Senate, and “after the House stripped the amendment off that I put on, and I’m OK with that,” and reporter Frank Gerace said “Townsend supports the bill, even without his amendment.”   So that sounds like one definitive yes vote today!  Seven Delaware senators voted no last week out of the 21 present.  Exactly one-third of the Senate.

The current bill, Senate Bill 51, is taking a while, but listening to the testimony it is a very important bill about child witnesses.  Roll call on an amendment for SB51 happening now.  It passed.  The actual bill passed as well.

They are going off the agenda now.  Senator Henry is bringing in the Nelson Mandela Washington Fellows studying this summer at the University of Delaware.  All of them are from different countries in Africa.  Very cool!

We are back on the agenda.  Sokola deferred item #3.  Onto item #4…deferred.  House Bill 50 is up!  Being read into consideration right now with the amendments.  Lindsey O’Mara just walked in the room.  Sokola is explaining how Senate Amendment #2 was stricken.  Townsend is explaining he is okay with his amendment being stripped.  He is defending his amendment.  “They are able to drive and hunt,” and he is echoing what Senator Bonini said last week.  Townsend just said the fiercest parents are basing legislator votes as a high-stakes test for them.  Lavelle said he wants to opt-out of the vote.  Sokola opposes.

HOUSE BILL 50 PASSED!!!!!!

House Bill 50’s Wild Ride In The House Passes With New Amendment, Back To The Senate….

After a crazy failure for House Bill 50, the legislation was reconsidered with the originally failed House Amendment #2, which passed the second time around, and then the whole bill passed.  Now it goes back to the Senate.  Trust me, I’m confused, but maybe this will help.  Timeline time:

House Bill 50 timeline:

3/12/15: Introduced by Rep. John Kowalko and Senator Dave Lawson

4/22/15: House Education Committee releases bill from committee, brings it to full House Vote

5/7/15: House Amendment #1 added by Rep. Sean Matthews removing “state assessment” and changing it to just “Smarter Balanced Assessment”, passes House

6/11/15: Senate Education Committee releases bill from committee for full Senate vote

6/17/15: Senator David Sokola adds Senate Amendment #1, changing “Smarter Balanced Assessment” to all “state assessments and district-wide assessments”, passes Senate

6/17/15: Senator Bryan Townsend adds Senate Amendment #2, allowing high school juniors to opt-out of the assessment, passes Senate

6/17/15: Senate passes House Bill 50, but because two amendments were added, it goes back to the House

6/23/15: Rep. Jeff Spiegelman introduces House Amendment #2 which takes away Townsend’s Senate Amendment #2, fails to get enough votes

6/23/15: House Bill 50 fails 2nd House vote, bill is dead

6/23/15: Rep. Spiegelman asks for reconsideration of vote on House Bill 50 under Delaware House of Representatives House Rule #41, House passes motion

6/23/15: House passes House Amendment #2

6/23/15: House passes House Bill 50 again

Now it goes back to the Senate.  Whether it will be heard by next Tuesday or if it extends it until January when the 148th General Assembly is back in session is unknown.  But what I do know is this.  I blame all of this on three people: Rep. Earl Jaques, Senator David Sokola, and Senator Bryan Townsend.  They have played games with this bill and do not care about parents.  And from what I’m hearing Senator Colin Bonini had quite the chuckle after the bill originally failed in the House today.  These are legislators who really don’t care about parents or their rights.  I resisted Spiegelman’s amendment at first cause I just wanted it to pass, but he is absolutely right.  He brought up a point I didn’t think of: what if the junior wants to opt out but the parents don’t want him to?  That would set up some very thorny issues for all involved: student, parent, teacher, school, district, and even the state.  So thank you for your wisdom on this one Rep. Spiegelman!

Our no votes on the 2nd House vote today are as follows: Dukes, Gray, Heffernan, Jaques and Q. Johnson.  Not voting were Barbieri and Bolden.  So all the no votes or absents are the same from the original House vote last month, except for the additions of Gray, Heffernan and Q. Johnson.  What made them flip?

For the 2nd vote on the House Amendment, only Dukes voted no and Barbieri and Bolden didn’t vote.  Three reps had left so there were three absent.

If I were any Delaware parent (I am), I would be absolutely livid at the games being played with this bill.  Shame on Jaques, Sokola and Townsend for not caring enough about parents to even ask them about their bill-killing plans prior to their attempted hijackings.  If I were Townsend, I might want to reconsider that run for Congress.  You ticked off A LOT of voters tonight.

Senator Bryan Townsend and House Bill 50: Why He Voted To Release It From Education Committee

The only other Senator at the Senate Education Committee meeting who spoke on House Bill 50, aside from Senator David Sokola, was Bryan Townsend.  He left shortly after the beginning of the meeting, but did give a very passionate speech about the whole issue.  I am not putting the timestamps on this one he is a member of the committee.

I really wanted to be here today, but I can’t stay, unfortunately.  Personally, I’m not sure what the fate of the bill will be, but I want to note that it’s extremely disheartening to see the people who are so passionate for our school kids warring this kind of way.  I do think that- although I understand why many of my colleagues are sort of skeptical about the impact of this bill and why it’s become such a flashpoint-  I think I understand why parents are as passionate as they are about the issue.  Last year, I asked the Markell administration, very politely, to embrace the opportunity afforded to us by the Gates Foundation which had been instrumental in the development of recent education reforms.  The Gates Foundation announced support for the position that we should have multiple years of results before we try to introduce these tests live.  We try to make responsible decisions, we try to say we’ve got it all figured out, but what’s unfortunate is the approach that has been taken.  Part of the problem is that people hear threats in the name of a test which really is not familiar, but part of the problem also is the reaction from others that misses what the parents and educators are saying.  And I think the idea now comes down to opponents of HB 50 saying “you don’t care about accountability, you don’t care about improving education for our kids.”  But that’s not the case for most parents.  I think most of us want to see a test that works, a test that’s proven.  Educators I think are the same way.  It’s not that they don’t care about accountability.  I wish we could all work together, and kind of get to the heart of issues and not throw grenades across a battlefield by a line drawn inaccurately regarding people’s positions on those issues.  I wish I could stay much longer and hear the passionate testimony on both sides.  I’ll be signing the bill out when its circulated later on.  And I just hope that this please can finally be the end to the war that happens in Delaware public education. 

Live From The Senate Education Committee Meeting Discussing House Bill 50: Parent Opt-Out

The Senate Education Committee in Delaware is about to hear House Bill 50, the parent opt-out bill.  The bill already cleared the House in Delaware by an overwhelming majority, 36-3.  This is the next stop on the bill’s journey.  There are lots of proponents and opponents of this legislation here today.  If it passes here, it goes to the full Delaware Senate.  If it is voted down today in committee, the bill is dead.

Who is here?  Representatives from the Delaware Department of Education. Governor Markell’s Education Policy Advisor, Lindsey O’Mara.  Dr. Paul Herdman with the Rodel Foundation of Delaware.  Red Clay Educators Association President Mike Matthews.  Delaware PTA Vice-President of Advocacy Yvonne Johnson.  Executive Director of the Delaware State Board of Education Donna Johnson.  Wilmington Education Advisory Commission Chair Tony Allen.  John Radell with the Faith & Freedom Coalition.  Bill Doolittle with the Delaware PTA and also a member of the Governors Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens.  And More!

House Bill 50 is up first.

Senator Townsend is speaking about how frightening this issue is for parents to be this worried.  He is upset there wasn’t years of research done on this issue and the Smarter Balanced Assessment has not been proven.  Parents want to see a test that works.  He wants us all to work together to decide the issues.  He has to go to another committee meeting but he will vote yes for releasing the bill.

Senator Lawson, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, is speaking about the bill.  “Parents should in fact have the right to opt-out.  This lays it out so they can under Delaware law.  Senator Sokola is upset this test is aligned to international standards.  He would put in an amendment to allow parents to get the reasons for the test.   He is talking about an email from a 3rd grade teachers about all the testing going on.  He thinks if parents can opt out of this test, they should be able to opt out of all of them.  This is why he introduced Senate Joint Resolution #2.  “We all want what’s best for our kids.”  He doesn’t like the amount of time between the actual Smarter Balanced Assessment testing and when the results show up.  He refers to No Child Left Behind as No Challenge Left Behind.  He said the DSTP (the first major standardized test in Delaware) did give him a little bit of heartburn.

Senator Dave Lawson is talking about how the test has changed 3 times and how $70 million from Race To The Top went towards this test and the desired results.  Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy is speaking about children’s “educational journey to excellence”.   He is talking about how we use this measurement to understand what’s working, how we allocate budgets, which schools need which resources.  “We are testing too much.”  He is now talking about the assessment inventory, and whether the tests have quality or if they are redundant.  “These assessments help to unlock doors.”  “We all need this information to move forward.”

State Rep. Kowalko came in.  He is going over the essential facts concerning House Bill 50.  He is talking about the lack of law on opt-out which is for or against.  “This is not an indictment against Smarter Balanced Assessment or Common Core.”  He and Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, President of the State Board of Education, had an interview with WHYY earlier today.  He told her and he is telling the committee how this test is not needed and parents see this.  “If a parent feels…this can harm (their child) psychologically, they have that right.”  “It’s about parental rights, pure and simple the rights of the parents.”

Sokola has a problem with the local districts and the amount of money they spend on tests.  He served on an international committee going over the assessments, and all the kids are taking these tests in the high-performing countries of the world.  In no country, other than this country, are they taking these tests every year.  “If kids aren’t learning, we have to figure out a way to teach them.”  Kowalko said “It would be disingenuous for parents to opt their child out of any test.”  There is no track record in place, he explained, but the bill does not say we are getting rid of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  “All we are doing is giving an opportunity for those who know their child best.”

Sokola asked why it was changed to just the SBAC.  “What happens in two years if we change to the PARCC?”  (Dear lord, no!!!).  Kowalko explained that he didn’t want to shut the door prematurely if a test is designed that will give the results that matter.  Sokola said this was why he introduced SJR #2.  “We have real important issues we have to change.”  This test is needed, according to Sokola, to help students that are having issues.  He said “We can get real good data from this.”  Kowalko spoke about the many emails he received from parents regarding the psychological damage done to parents and students over this test.

Bob Byrd with the Delaware Business Roundtable is speaking about their group’s opposition to this bill.  “We think this is the wrong thing to do at this particular time.”  He presented a letter from their chair, Ernie Dianastisis.  Lorraine Gloede is speaking about how her neighbor opted her child out and there was definite repurcussions for his child in opting out.  John Radell said every professional in the country are saying this test is not proven.  “It is a disaster around the country.”  “This is an experiment.”  He said children should not be guinea pigs.  “We don’t need more gimmicks!”  We are testing kids based on empty skillsets.  These kids don’t have time to be told six years down the road to find out this test doesn’t work.

Dr. Paul Herdman from Rodel Foundation is speaking.  He has three kids in Delaware public schools.  He has tried for eleven years to bring public and private education together.  He opposes HB50.  He said there is a lot of frustration around testing.  He is referring to House Rep. Matthews News Journal opinion piece and how he said “He hopes that enough parents are getting out of the test that the data becomes invalid.”  His concern is what’s next, and all the expense gone into this.  “Every civil rights group in the country has come out against opt-out.”  If you make this test invalid for one student, you make it invalid for all students, according to the civil rights groups.  “We undermine the trust in public education.”  He said we get $90 million dollars a year from federal funding for Title I students, low-income students.  His concern is can we afford to risk losing these funds when we are already facing a $100 million dollar deficit in this state.  “I don’t believe House bill 50 is the right way to go.”

The Delaware Chamber of Commerce spokesperson is speaking in opposition to the bill.  They oppose HB 50 and support SJR #2.  Mike Matthews is talking about how it is business group’s rights to talk about education, but they aren’t advocating for higher wages for the parents of low-income students.  Yvonne Johnson is speaking about how she has never received so many emails and complaints in her many years with the PTA as they have with the SBAC.  She is opposed to SJR #2.  She doesn’t think SBAC is the answer to our children.  HB 50 is a symptom to a larger problem.  “No one is losing federal funding.” I spoke next and railed against the whole Smarter Balanced Assessment and how it is dangerous. Senator Sokola cut me off stating I was repeating things as I brought up the never-talked about in this meeting letters from the DOE indicating how it was illegal to opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. He said they have other bills to hear. Dr. Teri Quinn Gray spoke about the need for this data and how she is there to speak for the students. She was not cut off as she was allowed to speak much longer than myself. Tara Greathouse spoke and was cut off by Sokola when she asked questions about what is best for her children.

Due to other committees in session, the bill is being circulated so we do not know the results yet.

**UPDATED** 5:02pm, still no word on House Bill 50 and whether it has been released from the Senate Education Committee.

Markell & News Journal Education Article: My Spin On This & The Two Words Not Mentioned By Anyone

The Delaware News Journal had an article about Governor Markell and education as a front-pager today.  Some of the comments certain folks made were very shocking while others had the usual drivel coming from their education reform views.  What nobody talked about was special education in Delaware.  While the DOE reports about 13% of students having IEPs in Delaware, I’m going to say as many as 20% should have an IEP.  So with 1/5th of Delaware students not even being mentioned in an article on Delaware education is insulting.  Even though my estimate of an IEP population of 20% is high, I would definitely say it affects over 50% of education in Delaware.  Read on as I go through this article part by part with some cold hard reality.

After years of pushing education reforms in Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell is facing a revolt in the General Assembly.

You are also facing a revolt from parents and teachers.  We are sick of all of this.  Especially parents of special needs children.  While you think you are helping, you are making it worse for our children.

Lawmakers, including many from his own party, have little faith Markell’s Department of Education knows what everyday educators think is the best way to improve schools. They are skeptical the $119 million federal Race to the Top grant, one of Markell’s signature education achievements, has done any lasting good.

Markell’s signature education achievement was using $59 million to beef up the DOE with high-paid employees and contract after contract with little or no results.  And it keeps going on.  In the month of May, the DOE has put up seven proposals for “professional services” because they don’t know how to do the work themselves.

Legislators are sending a clear message that they need to more actively make policy on behalf of classroom teachers and district leaders, rather than approving a top-down state agenda led by Markell and his education secretary, Mark Murphy.

But there are still some very tricky legislators who still bow to the Emperor.  Unfortunately, they run the education committees for the House and the Senate.  How long until their house of cards crumbles?

“It’s not just the representatives and the senators who are having problems with the way things are going, it’s parents, it’s teachers, it’s people on the local level,” said Rep. Kim Williams, D-Newark. “There are loud voices out there saying, ‘We’re done. We’re tired of being told how to teach and how to run our schools.’ “

Amen Kim!  No one should be afraid to stare Markell dead in the eye and say “You are wrong!”  It is also parents who have less to fear about speaking up.  Those of us who are screaming at the DOE and Markell are not easily intimidated or fooled.

Markell acknowledges he and Murphy are taking heat for some of their proposals.

Now this is the understatement of the year…  You and Murph are taking heat, but it isn’t for some of your proposals.  It’s for about 90% of them.  And the only reason we aren’t tackling the other 10% is because we haven’t found the catch in those yet.

He contends the education system is improving, pointing to a steadily declining dropout rate, a growing number of students taking and passing Advanced Placement and college-level classes, more low-income students in highly-rated preschool programs and more students applying to college.

I’ll give you a sort-of pass on this.  I question the validity of some of these numbers.  What I can say is homeschooling in Delaware has never been higher.  These are mostly special needs children.  What does that say about special education in Delaware when parents reach such a high level of anxiety and don’t feel the public school system in Delaware can provide a Free Appropriate Public Education for their children?  This will go down as your greatest failure.  While you are trying to “improve” the lives of these children, they have been drop-kicked out of the rights they are legally entitled to.  We have so many denied IEPs, schools openly violating IDEA law, and “counseling out” going on in charters, and no one on your staff is addressing these issues.

“It’s no surprise to me that there’s some controversy and angst over some of the things we’ve done,” Markell said. “But the results speak for themselves. And I’m more concerned about results than I am about what people think about me.”

No matter who pays the price, right?  And I don’t buy for one iota of a second that you don’t care what people think of you.  You and I both know this to be true.  Don’t try to play the “I’m going to take the high road on my actions now” card cause you aren’t fooling anyone.  Everything you have done with education in Delaware has been to serve YOUR future and those of your corporate education reform buddies.

A bill strongly opposed by Markell that would let parents pull their kids out of standardized tests sailed almost unanimously through the State House of Representatives, and several other bills aimed squarely at reducing the authority of the Department of Education are in the works. Budget-writing lawmakers slashed in half a request to continue Race to the Top initiatives and balked at a request to pick up the tab for 10 department positions paid for in the grant.

I am appreciative of what these legislators did, but the DOE doesn’t need a budget increase, they need an audit and an accountability of every single penny they have spent.  Those who have squandered taxpayers funds need to be sent packing.

“I think there’s frustration among parents and educators and students that education policies don’t seem to be based on feedback coming from the classroom,” said Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark. “I think also though that now is a natural time for us to take a step back and re-assess what we’re doing. Race to the Top has naturally come to an end, and I think we’re at a point where the question is, what’s next?”

Massive improvement Senator Townsend!  We need to take an excruciatingly hard look at special education in Delaware.  We need to find out why a student was kicked at a charter school by a special education teacher.  We need to find out why, as of a year ago, there were 60-70 pending special education lawsuits and only a handful of due process hearings.  We need to know why the DOE wants to write Common Core into IEPs without having the ability to fix the IEPs that are already out there.  We need to find a way for parents, teachers, and school districts to effectively collaborate with special education and stop the battleground mentality.  Why are these children and their parents being put through the wringer while the DOE and school districts think they know best?  This philosophy is a dying breed, but no one is listening.

The challenge, Townsend argues, is moving in a new direction without abandoning some of the good things that have happened in schools.  “It’s about our educators who are very justifiably tired of yet another iteration of education reform, but it’s also the business community that sees a lot of progress and wants to see some accountability,” Townsend said. “It’s parents who are trying to be involved in the process. I’m worried that, whatever the next steps are, that people are going to view them as just another round.”

Then my suggestion would be to invite more of them to the table.  The biggest problem with Markell’s policies is they are approved with little or no oversight, and then parents and teachers are invited to rate them with pre-determined results.  As well, the amount of lobbying by companies like Rodel and the Delaware Charter School Network needs to stop.  And yes, I will throw this in there as well, DSEA as well.  Here is a novel idea: parent lobbyists.  They are the most important.  We also do that little thing called VOTING!!!!

There is no better symbol of lawmakers’ willingness to buck Markell’s will than House Bill 50, which would explicitly allow parents to “opt out” of the statewide standardized test.  Markell says that’s a bad idea because the state needs good test-score data to make smart policy, especially when it comes to closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students.

If the state needs “good test-score data” then what the hell are we doing with the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  And enough about the achievement gap.  The only gap I want to see closed is the one between your upper and lower lip when it comes to education.  The only “smart” policy going on right now is parents exercising their rights when it comes to the educational outcomes of their children.

But when the House took up the opt-out bill, sponsored by firebrand Markell critic Rep. John Kowalko, only three representatives out of 41 voted against it.  That’s a massive margin in a Democrat-controlled chamber for a bill that a Democratic governor has so strenuously protested.  “I was frankly stunned by the margin,” Kowalko said. “That hasn’t happened before.”  Kowalko, who has fiercely criticized Markell in previous years, believes there is a “new awakening” where lawmakers are starting to look more critically at what the executive branch proposes.  Lawmakers say they voted for the bill because they routinely hear from teachers and parents that Delaware tests students too much and stakes too much on the results.

It was also about hundreds of parents actually opting out and emailing the legislators.  It was a wake-up call for the legislators that said “we vote for you and the power we give you we can easily take away.”  This is something folks like Earl Jaques, Michael Barbieri, Timothy Dukes and David Sokola don’t understand.  I don’t buy the whole idea that lawmakers voted yes on HB50 cause they heard from parents their children were being tested too much.  That was the same rationale they used to pass House Bill 334, which allowed Smarter Balanced to officially infest our lives.  I think it was them actually listening to parents and realizing Smarter Balanced is a horrible test.

The Delaware Parent-Teacher Association and the Delaware State Education Association union both urged lawmakers to vote yes.

I would definitely say the Delaware PTA urged lawmakers to vote yes.  They came through hitting grand slams left and right.  DSEA…maybe a bunt here and there.  I see the DSEA’s contribution as being a bit sheepish.  They kind of sort of supported it, but they could have done a lot more.  Look at the New Jersey unions.  They put up billboards and videos all over the place.  That is the kind of support I would have liked to see from the DSEA.  Instead we got the “time to teach, time to learn” videos without once even mentioning parent opt-out.  If that’s the full pressure DSEA can use to support a bill as important as House Bill 50, it’s obvious new leadership is needed.

Markell has acknowledged the concerns over testing, and the Department of Education is reviewing tests to see if any extraneous ones can be eliminated. But Markell says he isn’t backing away from the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the state test that teachers complain is overused in judging students, teachers and schools.

Albright and Starkey, you keep talking about the teachers.  What about the parents?  That’s what House Bill 50 is about.  You are both making the SAME mistake Markell and the DOE keep making: underestimating the will and resolve of parents to protect their kids.

Markell has not said whether he will sign the opt-out legislation if it clears the Senate and reaches his desk. If not, it would not be the first time Markell has wielded his veto pen.  But the governor, working throughout his term with a Democrat-controlled General Assembly, has not found himself in that position much.  Markell has vetoed just 13 pieces of legislation since 2009. And he has never vetoed a bill related to education.

I heard the WDEL interview with Rick Jensen, and when Markell was asked if he would veto House Bill 50 if it came to his desk, there was a distinct “yeah”.  It might have been edited out, but it was there.  I heard it, and so did others.  I hope he realizes if he does veto it, parents will haunt him as long as he holds any semblance of power in Delaware.

The other major education legislation this year would redistrict Wilmington schools and create a weighted funding formula to students. The Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, led by Bank of America Executive Tony Allen, has led the charge for those changes.  Though Markell created the Committee, it has operated independently of the governor and the Department of Education.

Nothing operates independently of Markell and the DOE.  And throw in Rodel there for good measure.  I’ve met Tony Allen, and he’s a great guy.  But I have to wonder what the grand picture is here.  The timing on this was a little too perfect…

Markell supports those bills. But he said his primary focus right now is making sure some of the programs he thinks are most important and have already passed the legislature — higher academic standards and more access to good preschool, for example — grow and are implemented well.  “I don’t have any big new bills that I’ve spent a lot of time on, for sure,” he said. “We’ve started a lot of big things. So a lot of it is not necessarily legislative in nature at this point.”

Except holding the DOE accountable for their actions during your reign.  I can see why you wouldn’t be a big supporter of those bills.  You will sign anything that gets your agenda going, but if it doesn’t you make a few phone calls and get bills stalled or killed.

Legislators are taking steps to shrink the size and power of the Department of Education, which many school district educators believe has grown too powerful under Race to the Top and Markell’s tenure.  There were signs this would be a tough legislative session for the Department well before HB 50.  Near the start, lawmakers grilled Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and senior Department of Education staffers for hours, both in the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee and the House Education Committee.  “You may have a view of the wonderful things Race to the Top has done, but the public does not appear to share that view,” said Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley.  During legislative budget meetings last week, lawmakers expressed concerns with Markell’s education policy, and voted to cut by half the governor’s $7.5 million plan to fund high-paid positions in the Department and programs previously covered by the Race to the Top.  “I can’t support this spending, this continually throwing money at something that’s not working,” said Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel. “It’s just a poor investment. I don’t think anyone in this room, at this table, would put money into it out of their own pocket. I’m very disappointed in what I’m seeing from the top.”  Members of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee took extra steps to show they had little confidence in Markell’s education bureaucracy to use the money as intended.  They moved most of the remaining appropriations, more than $3 million, into budget lines that directly fund school district operations, not the Department of Education. And they approved epilogue language that prevents the Department of Education from using any of the money to add or retain positions in the department.  “We want to make sure the money that we did fund goes to the purposes that we’ve specified,” said Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Bellefonte, a budget committee member. “I just think that the epilogue language clarifies and makes it perfectly clear where that money is going to go.”

Why does it take the amount of money being spent before some legislators wake up after falling asleep at the wheel after years of rampant spending by this Department?  It’s good they are doing it, but next time we get some program like Race To The Top, please do this before millions upon millions of dollars are spent with little or no results for the students.

In addition to shrinking the size of the department, some lawmakers think the state exerts too much influence over schools that should be locally run.  Williams, for example, has filed a bill that would give local administrators and school boards sole authority over hiring and firing.  That’s a direct response, she says, to the state’s controversial Priority Schools plan to improve six inner-city Wilmington schools. State leaders said the plan would funnel much-needed money and talent into schools with sagging test scores, but they soon drew outrage from those schools’ parents and teachers.

What the Delaware DOE should be doing is holding school districts and charter schools more accountable for special education results.  Solely going by the 17 indicators for US DOE compliance and sending letters to schools saying “fix this” is not effective.  I am not against a DOE in and of itself, but they should only be monitoring activities that are outright illegal or not truly for the benefit of students.  Just think what this Department could actually accomplish with special education if they actually did what is necessary?

The Department of Education, which said elite educators could turn around those schools’ sagging test scores, clashed with the Red Clay and Christina School districts, which bristled at the notion that state leaders should have any say in who runs their schools.  Williams and other lawmakers say the fight over Priority Schools, more than any other debate over education, energized opposition among teachers and parents.

What the priority schools initiative did was open the eyes of the general public to what the DOE is willing to do in accomplishing their goals at any cost.  It was very stupid of them to attempt this at the time they did.  That’s what cockiness and arrogance will do every time: bite you in the ass.

Some lawmakers have taken aim at Secretary Murphy in particular.  “We don’t see him day-in, day-out in Legislative Hall, having conversations with us,” Williams said. “I think, unfortunately, people have lost faith in the Department and Secretary Murphy. They’re not willing to just go along with them anymore.”  Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, has filed a bill that would require the Secretary of Education to have at least 10 years’ experience in schools, at least of six of them as a classroom teacher.  That bill aims to address criticism of Murphy, who was a classroom teacher for only three years before climbing the ranks of administration and education nonprofits.  The Delaware State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, voted no confidence in Murphy earlier this year, the first time the organization has taken such a step.

I think Townsend’s bill obviously sends a message, but it could also cause someone with Murphy’s ideology but more experience to insert themselves into the DOE.  It would be a very frightening thing what a more knowledgeable and assertive Secretary of Education would be like in this education reform world.  A vote of no confidence is only as good as the ability to follow-up on it, which I have not heard from DSEA.

Murphy, in a statement issued through a spokesperson, cited the same educational achievements as Markell.  “There’s no question that this work has not been easy and we have asked a lot of everyone involved in our education system,” the statement said. “We understand that not everyone agrees with everything we have done and that many pieces of legislation proposed have been in direct response to certain initiatives that have been controversial. That said, the progress our students are making shows that an enormous amount of positive work is happening. We are committed to continuing to make that progress.”

Please Murphy, just be quiet.  We are ALL sick of hearing the same boring things coming out of your mouth.  You have more corporate education reform Kool-Aid around it, and I don’t think you even realize what an idiot you sound like anymore.

Markell said people are rushing to judge the Department because of a few controversial proposals. The Department doesn’t get enough credit, he argues, for coordinating things like the state’s College Application Month, where kids signed up for college during the school day, or Pathways to Prosperity, where students get real-world experience that sets them up for careers.  “Most of what the Department does is not controversial,” Markell said. “And even our biggest detractors have recognized that [Priority Schools] has brought some much needed attention to these schools, even if it got a lot of people really riled up.”

And who has benefited the most from these initiatives Jack?  That’s something on my to-do list.

Markell has his defenders, including Rep. Melanie George Smith, the budget committee’s co-chair who came to the governor’s defense amid criticism last week.  “What we have in front of us is our governor….who has spent an awful lot of his administration really focused on what we can do better to help teachers, what we can do better to help students,” Smith said during public budget negotiations.

Wow! I would say he has spent far too much time during his administration interfering and causing disruptions in education.  The fact you want to defend this man while our education is damaged is very telling….

Some political observers say backlash is almost a given.  “When you try to make drastic change, you’re going to hit nerves, on both sides,” said Rhett Ruggerio, a longtime Democratic operative and Dover lobbyist who represents charter schools. Everybody is well intentioned. The problem is they have strong philosophical differences.”  Ruggerio said much of the disagreement appears to have stemmed from Race to the Top, and questions over whether the program’s experiments have helped Delaware’s public schools.  Ruggerio defended Murphy, saying he “has been pretty aggressive, I think for the right reasons. He wants to make change,” Ruggerio said. “It’s very difficult to do that unless you’re willing to take a risk.”

Who let the Delaware Charter School Network in on this article?  Out of all the folks not hired by the state, you use DCSN as your “impartial” third party observer?  When any legislation is opposed by Markell and the Kool-Aid gang, these non-profits like Rodel and DCSN send in their overpaid lobbyists to whisper sweet nothings in the legislators ears.  Ruggerio and his boss Kendall have obviously benefited from the reform agendas Markell thrust upon Delaware.  This is where you lose a tremendous amount of credibility News Journal.  How many everyday parents did you contact for this article?  By my estimation, that would be a grand total of zero.  I guess parents aren’t part of the process…

The growing backlash against “education reform” in Delaware mirrors a national trend that has seen the rise of groups like the “Badass Teachers’ Association,” a loose coalition of fed-up educators. In places like New York, the outcry has gotten so loud that some school districts have seen more than half of parents opt their kids out of standardized tests.

A loose coalition with well over 50,000 members.  Wake up Albright and Starkey.  Just like that “small but vocal minority” of parents who want to opt-out.  I love the way you try to reduce these groups that have tremendous impact while pumping up groups like DCSN.  No bias here…

Delaware lawmakers “are focused on making sure all Delaware public school students have a real chance to achieve success,” said Frederika Jenner, president of the Delaware State Education Association, the teachers union.  With the expiration of Race to the Top funding, “now is the time for the General Assembly to weigh in on what they believe has worked and what hasn’t worked,” Jenner said.  If the momentum really is shifting in Delaware education policy, many people, like Sen. Townsend, hope that doesn’t mean everything built in the past few years crumbles.  “I think a key point is that there have been successes and there have been some not-so-successes,” Townsend said. “We understand there’s a need for course-correction. But let’s not pretend that everything hasn’t gone well.”  Townsend said, for example, that the state’s move to the Common Core State Standards will be a good thing, even though some schools have faced hiccups in implementing it. Common Core is a set of new, higher academic expectations for students.

So Senator Bryan Townsend is a supporter of Common Core but is against many of the evils that crawled through the back door in Delaware education when the DSEA, Delaware PTA and all the school districts and charters signed up for Race To The Top?  After coercion and political wrangling by the DOE and Markell?  This is part of the whole education reform movement.  People want to remove bits and pieces, but as long as the foundation is there, it remains.  I define this movement as Common Core, high-stakes standardized assessments, labeling and punishing schools over test scores while increasing the number of charter schools, the illusion of increasing supports for special needs students while teachers and administrators fight parents over the most basic of supports, hundreds of reform “non-profits” and “for-profits” invading every aspect of education and making billions of dollars that should be going to our schools, and the eventual destruction of public education and the teacher unions.  Senator Townsend, you can’t cherry-pick what stays and goes.  And let your legislator and DSEA friends know this too.  It’s all for one, and one for all.  I would be very wary about trying to fill the power vacuum when all of this crumbles without getting everything cleaned out of the wound.  I would be even more wary about your support for Common Core if you hope to get elected again.

Markell frequently says adopting and defending those standards in Delaware in the face of growing national criticism is one of his highest school priorities. In other states, lawmakers have eliminated or drastically modified Common Core, but, though some teachers have criticized the standards’ implementation here, no serious repeal effort has gained steam in the General Assembly. 

See my previous paragraph.  What Jack is saying here is even though he is being challenged on many fronts, he is working behind-the-scenes to make sure the foundation is still there long after he is gone.  Don’t worry Jack, Common Core and it’s elimination is coming sooner than you think.  This isn’t a forgotten issue.

Some of the inroads Markell’s administration has made with getting the business community involved in education, connecting students with jobs, internships and real-life learning experiences, should be made more common, Townsend said.

Markell has made it a priority to get the business community to take over education in our state, whether it was homegrown in Delaware or out-of-state.  And all of these lower-paying jobs and internships save these companies millions of dollars in salaries they would otherwise be paying.  Some of it is good, but the motivation behind it is not for the benefit of students.  It was, is, and always will be about money with Markell.

Though Townsend agrees with many teachers that the state’s way of judging teachers needs a great deal of work, he says Delaware is ahead of other states in some ways.  “I think this concept of trying to have accountability is important,” he said. “We need to improve it, definitely, but let’s not just get rid of this idea entirely.” 

This is the big elephant in the room.  If we don’t judge teachers by standardized tests, what do we judge them on?  Should teachers be blamed for events outside of the classroom in students regular lives?  Absolutely not.  But if their actions contribute to those actions, than I would say yes.  As an example, say a student with disabilities doesn’t have her IEP followed.  As a result, she doesn’t perform to the best of her ability because those supports aren’t being enforced.  As she becomes more frustrated, she starts acting out at school.  This becomes a part of her very fabric and it spills over into the “outside” world.  So while she was having problems in school, it is now everywhere.  Should teachers and schools be held accountable for things like this?  I think every single parent of a special needs child who has faced these kinds of issues would say yes.  It is essential that teachers and schools know special education and IDEA law like the back of their hand.

With Markell approaching the end of his second term, many lawmakers say the next governor will play a big role in steering the state’s educational future.  “I think one of the things our next governor is going to be elected on is education,” Williams said. “I know that’s going to be the biggest factor for me.”

Some would say Jack Markell was elected because of his talk about education before he was elected. I would personally like to see a gutting of the Delaware DOE, build it up from the bottom all the way to the top with employees who care more about education than what we have seen in this “corporate education reform” world.  I would also like to see less talk from a state Governor about education and more about creating more jobs in our state and reallocating funds so the citizens of the state don’t suffer needlessly.  Whoever the new Secretary of Education may be, it would be my hope he/she is the spokesperson for education in our state, and has the skills, knowledge and compassion to truly fix education in our state, not make it worse.

Delaware Senate Bill 72 Would Prevent Another Mark Murphy As Secretary Of Education

Delaware Senator Bryan Townsend is the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 72 in Delaware.  This bill would change the qualifications for the Delaware Secretary of Education.  Had this been law four years ago, Mark Murphy would not have qualified.  I believe the Delaware legislators are way past the point where they are sick of the Delaware Department of Education and their shenanigans.