Action Alert: Opt Out Bill To Be Heard In House Education Committee Next Wednesday, It Needs YOUR Support!

Here we go again!  House Bill 60 is on the agenda for the House Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, June 14th, at 2:30pm.  It is the ONLY bill on the agenda.  Most educators should be done with school by then.  Parents, teachers, students, and Delaware citizens: I invite you to attend this committee meeting and give public comment on why you feel this bill should pass!

Delaware Governor John Carney has been very quiet on the subject of opt out.  When he was a U.S. Congressman, he voted against a part of the reauthorization of the ESEA which would have honored a parent’s right to opt their child out of the state assessment prior to the bill becoming the Every Student Succeeds Act.  When the last opt out bill, House Bill 50, overwhelmingly passed the Delaware House and Senate, former Governor Jack Markell vetoed the bill within weeks.  An attempted override of that veto led to a lot of shady deal-making between Markell’s office and legislators and the attempt failed.

While opt out has not been a huge topic, it is more important than ever.  I feel the bill should also include personalized learning assessments and any “stealth” assessments embedded in digital technology.  While these aren’t the norm in Delaware yet, they will be.  These mini assessments will replace the once a year test in a competency-based education arena.

Due to an actual “gag order” by National PTA concerning opt out, we will not be able to get support from the Delaware PTA this go-around.  So any participation in this committee meeting will have to be a grassroots effort by parents.  Please spread the word.  If you are unable to attend the meeting, please email the members of the House Education Committee asking for their support of House Bill 60.  As well, you can sign this petition on Change.Org which can be found here: Please release House Bill 60 from the House Education Committee

Here are their emails:

earl.jaques@state.de.us

kimberly.williams@state.de.us

sean.matthews@state.de.us

sean.lynn@state.de.us

michael.ramone@state.de.us

Charles.Postles@state.de.us

joseph.miro@state.de.us

edward.osienski@state.de.us

charles.potter@state.de.us

debra.heffernan@state.de.us

david.bentz@state.de.us

melanie.g.smith@state.de.us

harvey.kenton@state.de.us

stephanie.bolden@state.de.us

ruth.briggsking@state.de.us

timothy.dukes@state.de.us

kevin.hensley@state.de.us

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social justice means to me…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Governor Markell Loses His Voice Tonight. Now Is The Time To Seize The Moment.

delawaregreetings

At some point later this evening, Delaware will have a newly elected Governor. No matter who it is, they can’t be worse than Governor Jack Markell. I truly hope I don’t eat those words, but I can’t think of any Delaware politician who has sold out Delaware children to corporations more than Jack. Well, there is one, but I’m really hoping he gets ousted in the 8th Senate District today. If not, I expect some very frosty stares between the two of us come 2017.  But it is also my fervent hope that this particular Senator, no matter what the outcome is today, begins to see deep inside his soul what certain viewpoints on education can have on the state as a whole.  But Jack Markell…

I never gave Delaware politics much thought before 2013. I was just one of those guys who stayed in his own neighborhood and didn’t truly care about the state politics. I couldn’t even tell you who my State Rep was before that year. Or my State Senator. But then things changed in my life and I reached a point where I couldn’t live in my insular little bubble anymore. Circumstances demanded I get involved. When things happen to your child, beyond the point of a parent to control it, something happens. A shifting of thoughts begins and a need for understanding takes over. I may have gone way past the point of sanity most parents do when faced with this reality, but I felt it was my obligation to do all this.   I have regrets, but I also know everyone makes mistakes.  But no one, not even Senator Sokola or Mark Murphy, has ticked me off over education more than Jack Markell.

I quickly learned Jack cares more about corporations and their profits than Delaware students. Sadly, he found a way to combine the two and turned Delaware schools into profit centers for companies that could give two craps about student outcomes. Jack knows this. He knows the only way those companies will continue to flourish is with a steady stream of data and fix-it schemes. I suppose most states have a Jack Markell. How else can we explain the onslaught of Common Core and crappy tests like Smarter Balanced? I also learned Markell and Rodel are two sides of the same coin. They feed off each other, like twin parasites infecting their host.

My worst fear is having to continue beating up on Jack Markell. That would only happen if he were put in a more dangerous position than he is now. I see two potential Cabinet positions he could be placed in if the “nasty woman” wins. I’m hoping a rumor I heard long ago about him taking a Cyber Security position in Israel comes true. I would have loved to sit in a debate with him for a few hours and blown apart his theories and thoughts on education.

The most dangerous thing Jack Markell did with education in Delaware happened before he even became Governor. He did the interview for a man from the Massachusetts Department of Education, in their charter school office. A guy named Dr. Paul Herdman. This set up 12 years of education policy in this state that very closely aligned with what was going on across the country. And those plans aren’t done yet. Both of these men are actually very brilliant. They are strategists of the highest measure. They are futurists who plant seeds that bloom years in the future. I actually find them to be very worthy opponents in that respect. But one half of that equation is coming to an end in this state. And hopefully his replacement will be able to sever that cord.

It will be up to our next Governor to see through all the smoke and mirrors involved with the Every Student Succeeds Act. Whoever our new Governor is, I will attempt to meet with him. I intend to have a very long conversation with him, if he will let me, and let him know what I know. Maybe he already knows it already. Maybe he doesn’t. But I truly don’t want to fight him. I will give him a fresh and clean slate from day one, regardless of whatever policies he may have come out with during his campaign. I will also give every single member of the General Assembly that same respect, regardless of what may have happened pre-January 2017. They can choose to hang on to the past and hold a grudge against me.  I haven’t been easy on many.  But whether they are new or old, it is a new day. This also goes for the Department of Education and the State Board of Education. That doesn’t mean I won’t continue to expose what I find out, or file FOIA requests or complaints if something happens. Everything I have fought for will continue. But I won’t do it alone.

There are many who are on my side of things on many issues. There are some who are just now beginning to see the big picture. There are those who can’t see the forest through the trees. There are so many moving parts to education and understanding the full scope of it all takes time and patience. But I refuse to allow any child to be a guinea pig or a pawn for profit. I refuse to let their personal data go out to anyone who makes one penny off it. I refuse to let our Department of Education get away with what they have been doing.

January won’t just see new leaders in politics. We will also have new leadership in the Delaware State Education Association. Knowing what little I know about potential leaders and conversation that has taken place in the last week based on a few of my posts, I firmly believe that change in leadership can’t come quick enough. But we also need changes in the charter school landscape. For far too long, advocates for charters have ignored the elephant in the room. I am not saying it is all of them, but those with the loudest voices tend to get what they want. The funding and equity issues involved are killing us as a state. I personally believe there is enough funding in our state budget as it currently stands to have every child get the resources they need. There is a ton of wasted money being spent. We just have to convince the 149th Delaware General Assembly of this fact despite what will be a tsunami of opposition from districts and charter schools alike. I am leaning towards a weighted funding system more and more but not before we make sure every single district and charter schools is held fully accountable for the funds they already have.

The next six months are going to be very slippery in Delaware. One wrong move could send Delaware education sliding off the cliff. Now will be the time for voices like never before. Opt out was a drop in the bucket. But I don’t see those voices. Not front and center. Parents need to speak up like they never have before. They need to be louder than the state, louder than the administrators, and louder than our legislators. We need to become a force to be reckoned with. We need to organize and band together. We won’t agree on everything, but I think the majority of parents in this state can agree that what we have now is not working. We need to make sure Rodel is reduced to a low decibel noise that doesn’t hold the weight it used to. We need to make sure Delaware education is what we want, not what corporations want. This does not mean increased membership in the Delaware PTA either, but they will play a role. You will be hearing from me on this more in the next few weeks. Eyes will open to things that have happened right underneath all our noses with no one the wiser.

I need you. Our children need you. We are Delaware, not them. We need to finally make sure that is understood. We need to end the discrimination and segregation in this state. We need to end the racism that is underneath it all. We need to end the hate and make peace with the past. It is the only way we can truly move forward. I won’t have all the answers. You won’t. But maybe together, we can figure it out.

Will Stakeholders Be Able To Stop The Delaware DOE With ESSA? And What Delaware Entity Is Already Cashing In?

The Delaware Every Student Succeeds Act Discussion Groups held their third meeting on October 17th.  Below are the minutes from those meetings.  The next meeting will be on November 7th at the Collette Center in Dover from 6pm to 8pm.  Big topics like Special Education, Opt Out, the infamous “n” number, and the “whole child”.  As well, a major Delaware entity is holding a non-transparent event with some mighty big players and charging for it to boot!

essasssdiscgroupmembers

The Student and School Supports group found the following items to be priorities in Delaware education:

  1. Schools are the hub of the community so they need more services brought to them.
  2. Schools need more psychologists as well as psychiatrists and neurologists on call to assist with special education.
  3. Schools need more realistic ratios of guidance counselors.
  4. More trauma-informed schools.
  5. Funding for the “whole child” approach.
  6. Greater funding for high-needs schools.
  7. Invest in Birth to 8 with weight put on social and emotional learning (this also included discussion around providing basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade).

This group is top-heavier than the other discussion group with folks from the services side of education, and it definitely showed.  I don’t mind more services in schools.  But the key is in the eagerness.  It was my perception that some were very pushy with what they would like to see.  These very same people would also benefit financially from more of the recommended services in schools.  Are they a stakeholder at that point or a benefactor?

 

essamssprdiscgroupmembers

The most popular items brought for by this discussion group were as follows:

  1. Not having the 95% participation rate penalty in the Delaware School Success Framework.  Since participation rate in state assessments is beyond a school’s ability to control, it should not be used as a punishment.
  2. English Language Learners accountability needs to look at factors in access for these students, how much formal education they had prior to coming to Delaware schools, age, how proficient they are in their native language, if they live in a city or rural environment, and how well they are able to read in their own language.
  3. The “n” size, which is the lowest number a school can have for reporting populations of sub-groups so they are not easily identifiable, was 30

The “n” number is always a tricky beast to tackle.  I support a high n# for student data privacy.  But on the other side, schools with small populations in their subgroups (charter schools) aren’t obligated to provide information on those students and it can make them look better than they really are.  This helps to perpetuate the myth that certain charters provide a better education.  I think the notion of being able to easily recognize a student who has disabilities or is in a sub-group is somewhat ridiculous.  I have never believed special education should be a stigma.  I think schools should celebrate every single child’s uniqueness.  By not reporting the results of those students (even if they are based on very flawed state assessments) does those students a disservice.  It makes it look like they don’t matter when they most certainly do.  It doesn’t look like too many people in this group were in favor of keeping the opt out penalty in the state accountability system.  Obviously, I echo that sentiment!

Last week, the Delaware ESSA Advisory Committee held their first meeting.  You can read the highlights here.  As well, Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams, who is also on the Advisory Committee, had some thoughts on the meeting, the US DOE’s pending regulations around Title I, and how they could affect Delaware schools.

The first draft of Delaware’s ESSA plan comes out at the end of this month.  From there, the discussion groups and Advisory Committee will reconvene.  As well, the Delaware DOE will be hosting more Community Conversations in each county.  Those groups will meet on the following dates from 6pm to 8pm:

11/16: Community Education Building, 1200 N. French St., Wilmington

11/21: Cape Henlopen High School, 1200 Kings Highway, Lewes

11/29: Seaford High School, 399 N. Market St., Seaford

12/1: John Collette Education Resource Center, 35 Commerce Way, Suite 1, Dover

12/8: Newark Charter School, 2001 Patriot Way, Newark

I find it VERY interesting they are holding the Wilmington meetings at charter schools.  The Community Education Building is the home of Kuumba Academy and Great Oaks.  Sussex County also gets two meetings while Kent County only gets one.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the general public, the University of Delaware Institute of Public Administration is holding a 5 1/2 hour event tomorrow at the Outlook at the Duncan Center in Dover.  This event is called the School Leader Professional Development Series: The Opportunities and Challenges of Implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act.  This event is NOT on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar nor was it mentioned at the discussion groups or the Advisory Committee.  I was able to get my hands on what is happening at this not-so-transparent event.  The event is described as the following:

This workshop is an additional forum for multi-stakeholder district teams to interact and discuss the opportunities and challenges introduced by this new legislation.

Major players are coming to Dover at 9am tomorrow morning.  Folks like the American Association of School Administrators, the National Association of Secondary-School Principals, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Education Association, and the National School Boards Association.

Presenting on Delaware’s ESSA plan will be Deb Stevens from DSEA, Dr. Terri Hodges from Delaware PTA, Executive Director from Delaware State Administrators Association Tammy Croce, Executive Director John Marinucci from Delaware School Boards Association, and a rep from the Delaware DOE.

Working groups will also be formed to discuss ESSA.  Another one of the workshops will focus on state accountability systems will be led by Robin Taylor with R²  Educational Consulting (never heard of them, time to start digging), one on school interventions led by Director of State Assessment and Accountability Joseph Jones from New Castle County Vo-Tech and Director of Elementary Schools Amy Grundy from Red Clay.  Finally, Laura Glass with the Delaware Center for Teacher Education and Jackie Wilson of the Delaware Academy for School Leadership/Professional Development Center for Education will lead a workshop on Teacher and Leader Training and Evaluation.

Will the Delaware DOE use what is said in this non-transparent event to help in the creation of their first draft?  Why is this event not public?  Shouldn’t those outside of education be able to hear what is being said about what could happen in their local schools based on this act?  One of the biggest challenges of ESSA is the perception that the Delaware DOE already knows what will be in their state plan and all of this is just details.  I suppose someone could crash this event if they registered, but they would have to fork over $85.00 to go.  But if you got in with a local school district or charter school with four or more members that price would jump way down from $85.00 to $75.00.  Cashing in on ESSA!  Gotta love the University of Delaware.

If you are not informed about the Every Student Succeeds Act and Delaware’s proposed plans, you won’t know the future of education in this state.  Period.  I have been imploring parents and citizens to get involved with this for a long time now.  I understand people are busy and they have their own lives.  But this one is really big.  It has not escaped my notice that they are doing all this during a major election cycle and around the holidays.  That is how the Delaware DOE rolls.  Either they plan stuff in the summer when no one can show up (or even knows about it) or they cram it in during very busy times for families, teachers, and citizens.

When the first draft comes out, I will be dissecting every single word and punctuation mark in the document.  I will break it down for you.  I will filter through what they think the public will see and what it really means.  That’s how I roll.  But it can’t stop there.  YOU must lend your voice.  Whether it is in person or email.  Keep a copy of what you say at all times.  Make sure your voice is not only heard but recorded as well.  We will get exactly what they submit.  If you don’t make your voice heard now (or when the drafts are released), it will be far too late.  It comes down to trust.  Do you really trust the Delaware DOE to do the right thing for students without selling them out to Education Inc.?  I don’t.  We need to upset the apple cart.  Are you in?  Or will you lament not speaking up later?

Delaware Competency-Based Education, Part 3: Union? We Don’t Need Your Stinkin’ Union!

How did the Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition get around the Delaware State Education Association?

The Rodel Foundation, Delaware DOE, and the Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition had a meeting coming up on November 20th, 2014.  In the meantime, things were heating up with the priority schools, especially a looming showdown between the Christina School District and the Delaware DOE.  Many people felt no matter what Christina or Red Clay did, the DOE was going to take the six schools and convert them to charter schools.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium was getting ready to release the cut scores on the upcoming high-stakes test based on the field tests administered earlier that Spring.  The Delaware DOE was starting their town halls for their “school report card”.  They had released surveys to the public with ridiculous things like stop lights for grades (this eventually became the Delaware School Success Framework).  The IEP Task Force was in full swing and they were actively working on their final draft.  Unbeknownst to most, former Rodel employee Matthew Korobkin began his job in the Secretary of Education’s office at the DOE to begin work on the Special Education Strategic Plan.  This blogger had started doing some serious digging into Rodel after what I found out at the end of October of 2014.  The General Election came and went.  Matt Denn won the Delaware Attorney General slot in a landslide.  Two new state reps would have a dramatic effect on education in the General Assembly in the next year.

On November 19th, 2014, I released my mammoth Rodel article.  Knowing this little group was meeting in back-door meetings would have been good to know when I was writing that article.  It would have filled in some holes.  From what I heard from a few people, this article really rattled Rodel CEO Paul Herdman.  I know he was upset with me for daring to allege that Rodel would ever make money from hedge funds and somehow profit off Delaware education.  But in any event, the CBL Guiding Coalition was about to meet…

guiding-coalition-2nd-meeting

I tried the link referenced in the email to an Ed Week article, but the link no longer exists.  I have no doubt it reference some personalized learning school and how great it was.  When you look at the above email, note the word barriers.  If competency-based learning is supposed to be so great, why would there be any barriers?  At this point, it is probably a good idea to let folks know who was on both the Core and Advisory groups for this.

cbladvisorygroup

cblcoregroup

In terms of involvement, I don’t know if every single person participated in this CBL Guiding Coalition that was now divided into two groups. I do know, for example, that Yvonne Johnson with the Delaware PTA did not go to any meetings of this group whatsoever.  There were six district Superintendents and one charter Head of School on the coalition.  Quite a few of the teachers were also on the Rodel Teacher Council.  Note the presence of university and college members.  There was a specific reason for that which will come in later parts.  Now, on most education committees and task forces, or any type of education group, there is always representation from the Delaware State Education Association.  But not on this coalition!  To me, the key figures in this group were Michael Watson, Susan Haberstroh, Wayne Hartschuh and Donna Johnson.  They were (and still are) important people at the DOE who were in a position to let the ideas of this group come into being.

In terms of the barriers, the coalition was very visible with what the policy and system barriers could be:

cblbarriers

In answer to why DSEA wasn’t represented on this committee, I think the words “collective barg”, which would be “collective bargaining” gives a clear answer to that question.  Unless this is all about some secret archaeology plan, I can only assume “dig learning” is “digital learning”.

guiding-coalition-3rd-meeting

Policies on seat time?  What does that mean?  In a competency-based world, a student doesn’t move on until they master the assignment or concept.  They must be proficient.  So what measures that proficiency?  The teacher?  Or a stealth assessment embedded into the ed tech the student is working on?  I love how the DOE and ed reformers turn simple words like “jigsaw” into something else.  I know what they mean, but why do they do that?

By the time their January 2015 meeting came around, the holidays came and went.  All eyes were on the Christina School District as they valiantly fought the DOE on the three priority schools in their district.  Red Clay signed their Memorandum of Understanding with the DOE.  A financial crisis occurred during Family Foundation’s charter renewal.  The community rallied for Gateway Lab School.  Parents were talking more and more about opt out.  And the General Assembly was back in session…

To Be Continued in Part 4: Playing with regulations, priorities change, and the DOE and the Governor freak out…

Prologue

Part 1

Part 2

Delaware Competency-Based Education, Part 1: Rodel, DOE & Achieve Inc. Team-Up

Personalized Learning, as a concept, has been around since the 1960’s.  In its original form, it was an effort to personalize learning between a teacher and a student.  Students don’t always learn at the same pace.  The term has been bastardized by corporate education reformers over the past five years.  Their idea is to launch a technology boom in the classroom where investors and ed-tech companies will get tons of money.  To do this, they had to use education “think-tanks” and foundations to sway the conversation towards this lucrative gold-mine.  No one has been a bigger supporter of personalized learning in Delaware than the Rodel Foundation.  They began talking about this new and exciting education reform movement as early as November, 2011.  A company called Digital Learning Now! released their 2011 report card on different states ability to transform into a digital learning environment and Delaware scored poorly on their report.  According to this Rodel article on the report written by Brett Turner (the link to the report card doesn’t exist anymore), Turner wrote:

…the initial results are not promising, demonstrating that we have significant work ahead of us before the necessary policies are in place to ensure our students benefit from high-quality next generation learning opportunities.

Digital Learning Now! was an initiative of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.  Other digital “experts” the company thanks in their 2012 report include the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Data Quality Campaign, iNACOL, SETDA, Chiefs for Change, Getting Smart, and the Innosight Institute.  The Foundation for Excellence in Education was founded by Jeb Bush in 2008, just as Common Core was in its formation stages.  In the Rodel article, Turner talks about how Delaware needs to adapt to this environment so our students can succeed.

Over the next two and a half years, as Race to the Top became more of a nightmare than a promise of better education, Rodel began to take steps to have Delaware become a part of this next big thing.  They formed the Rodel Teacher Council to recruit well-intentioned teachers to join their personalized learning dream team.  I don’t see these teachers as evil but rather teachers who are easily manipulated and coerced into being connected with the “next big thing”.  I see them as unwitting pawns of Rodel.

Rodel didn’t write much about personalized learning too much during this time, but they did release a Personalized Learning 101 flyer in 2013.  At the same time, four Delaware districts formed BRINC: Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech, and Colonial.  Using funds from Race To the Top and a Delaware DOE “innovation grant”, the districts used Schoology and Modern Teacher to usher Delaware into the digital learning age.  Rodel’s blog posts about personalized learning didn’t touch on the concept again until February, 2014 when a Rodel employee by the name of Matthew Korobkin began writing posts about digital learning.  More followed by other Rodel employees in the coming months.  At this time, Dr. Paul Herdman of Rodel was palling around with an ed-tech company called 2Revolutions and went around Delaware talking to groups about the glory of personalized learning.

In the beginning of June in 2014, Rachel Chan with the Rodel Foundation attended a seminar in Washington D.C. on personalized learning sponsored by iNACOL.  She wrote about this extensively on the Rodel website.

Later that month, the United States Department of Education released their state reports on special education in America.  Delaware received a rating of “needs intervention”, prompting Governor Jack Markell to set aside funding in the state budget for a special education “Strategic Plan”.  What no one knew until recently was this plan consisted of hiring Korobkin away from Rodel and into Secretary of Education Mark Murphy’s office to put this plan together.

Later in the summer of 2014, the Delaware Department of Education, with the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, banded together to form a clandestine group of “stakeholders” to look at competency-based education in a personalized learning environment in Delaware.  The biggest hurdle in getting this going in Delaware was the barriers in the state code.  Their were many players in this non-public group, including members of the Rodel Teacher Council who were also working on a “Personalized Learning Blueprint” at the same time.  This group shaped the future of education in Delaware.  But they used people to do so, including some of the members of this group.

The timing for this group couldn’t have come at a better time.  There were many distractions happening that allowed them to fly under the radar with no one the wiser.  Invitations were sent out to select participants from Theresa Bennett at the Delaware DOE.  She was an Education Specialist for English/Language Arts in the Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development area of the DOE.  She was the person who scheduled all the meetings.  An introductory webinar, sponsored by Achieve Inc., was held on August 14th, 2014.

After an explanation of competency-based education and personalized learning from some folks at Achieve Inc., they opened the webinar up for questions.  At the 30:07 mark on the video, Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows explained his district already began the process for personalized learning.  He mentioned several hurdles, especially the teachers’ union.  Next came Judi Coffield, the former Head of School at Early College High School, a charter school run through Delaware State University.  Coffield asked how Carniege units and high school grades would come into play with this.  Bennett explained what role the DOE played in this and how she and Rachel Chan from the Rodel Foundation were going to run the group.  Bennett went on to explain that select allies were invited to participate in this group.  She also talked about a meeting with Achieve Inc. in Washington D.C. in May of 2014 to pave a path forward.

Bennett did a roll call of who was participating in the webinar.  Jose Aviles, the director of admissions at the University of Delaware, was not on the call.  Bennett explains how Aviles accompanied her to the Achieve Inc. meeting.  “Is there a representative from Delaware PTA on the call?”  No response.  “Is Donna Johnson on the call?”  Silence.  “Kim Joyce from Del-Tech?”  Nothing.  “Pat Michle from Developmental Disabilities Council?”  Empty air.  She added Laurie Rowe and Stanley Spoor with Howard High School of Technology would be joining them.  Susan Haberstroh with the Delaware DOE joined later in the Webinar.

Rodel and Markell knew they needed to stage a distraction to further this personalized learning agenda away from prying eyes while at the same time steering the conversation towards their end goals by using the distraction.  They knew one of these distractions would automatically happen based on federal mandates from the US DOE, but the other would need careful planning and coördination.  The first drove the need for the second.

A few weeks later, Governor Markell and then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy announced the six priority schools in Wilmington.  The DOE picked the six “lowest-performing” schools in Wilmington, DE and announced the two school districts involved, Red Clay and Christina, would have to sign a “memorandum of understanding” and submit to the demands of the Delaware DOE.  This put the entire city into an educational tailspin.  Teachers in the affected schools felt outrage at the Governor and the DOE.  Parents didn’t know what this meant.  Politicians scrambled to make sense of it all as primaries and general elections faced them while constituents furiously called them.  Teachers in Delaware were still reeling from the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment and the scores tied into their evaluations.  Meanwhile, the secret meetings of the Delaware Department of Education Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition began without any public notice as an email went out from Bennett…

Thank you for your interest in the Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition.  If you were unable to attend the informational webinar, please use this link to access the recording:   http://www.achieve.org/DelawareCBLwebinar  

The Guiding Coalition will be charged with laying the foundation for competency-based learning in Delaware. This will include creating a working definition of competency-based learning and what it could look like in Delaware, understanding current barriers to implementing CBL in Delaware, and establishing support for CBL initiatives to take root in the state. Once we have a common understanding of CBL, we will surface key ideas and develop recommended strategies for helping CBL take shape in the state.

The time commitment for the Advisory Group of the Guiding Coalition will be attending approximately two or three 2-hour meetings during the coming school year, with 30-60 minutes of pre-work for each meeting. There will also be opportunities to engage further through optional readings, school visits, webinars, and other convenings if your schedule/level of interest allows.

We are excited to share that an expert facilitator will be guiding each of our meetings; we would like to collect information to inform our meeting agendas.  Please complete the following survey by September 10th:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DECompetency-BasedLearning.  

Please complete a Doodle to help us best schedule the meetings for this group.  We hope to begin late September/early October, with meetings held in Dover. Responses to the Doodle poll will help us find the best day/time for the first meeting. Please use this link: http://doodle.com/mts6ncf74v77mnf

Best,

Theresa

Theresa Bennett

Education Associate, ELA

Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development

Delaware Department of Education

401 Federal Street, Suite #2

Dover, DE 19901-3639

Coming up in Part 2: Delaware gets Marzanoed

So It Appears Rodel Is STILL Getting A Lot Of Say With ESSA Conversations Before More Important Stakeholders

listen_to_your_stakeholdersThe Delaware Dept. of Education must think the sun rises and sets with the Rodel Foundation of Delaware.  Today, at the State Board of Education meeting, an update was given on the Every Student Succeeds Act Stakeholder Consultation (ESSA).  Many things in the below presentation and what were said sent major red flags up.

The biggest concerned Rodel.  A question was asked about getting the Chamber of Commerce involved with ESSA.  Susan Field-Rogers with the DOE stated that was brought up during consultation with Rodel.  A couple of minutes later, Secretary Godowsky chimed in that was brought up during a Vision Advisory Committee meeting.  Both of those meetings were closed to the public.  And why is Rodel chiming in on other stakeholders to bring into the process?  They have no authority over anything involved with ESSA.  They are a non-profit foundation.  But you would think they run the Delaware DOE.

State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray noticed that local boards were shown as groups the DOE had conversations with.  She expressed how she heard from local board members with questions about ESSA and was happy to see that.  But then the DOE clarified that local boards were included because they participated in the State Board Workshop on ESSA last month at Grotto’s Pizza in Dover.  So they did NOT have one-on-one meetings with local boards but rather list them as participants from a workshop.  But the charter leaders they DID meet with.  And Rodel.  If they are going to meet with charter leaders, who typically have 1-2 buildings to take care of, why aren’t they meeting one-on-one with every single school principal?  This is beginning to smell really bad.  As well, they said their meeting with the Delaware School Boards Association (DSBA) ties into meeting with local school boards.  Huh?  No it doesn’t.  Not every single local school board belongs to DSBA.  Many have opted out of paying the fees to be a part of them.

After it was pointed out at their board meeting last month that legislators need to be a group to consult with, they STILL weren’t listed on their “stakeholder slide”.  At what point do they clue the legislators in on any of this?  When the ink is dry on the plan?

The DOE made a big deal that no part of the plan has been written and that it will be shaped by all of these meetings.  But they did inform the State Board that the US DOE did submit a “draft plan” to all the states.  Not that they are required to follow it… Okay…

In terms of the ESSA discussion groups coming out, Field-Rogers said there will be two discussion groups with approximately 30 members in each group.  90 people were nominated.  They are in the process of picking members and DSEA and the Charter Schools Network are helping to pick who will be in the groups.  I’m seeing a lot of charter love in this process.  But for schools that only represent up to 12% of Delaware students I’m not sure those scales are even.  And nothing against both of those organizations, but they represent schools and teachers.  They are, when it comes right down to it, lobbying organizations.  I’m just not digging this process.

Want to know what else is missing on that slide?  Parents.  But I guess we have to go to the “Community Conversations” to make our voices heard.  Aside from the Delaware PTA, there are no other parent groups.  No PTOs, no advocacy groups like GACEC or Autism Delaware.  There are also NO students.  You would think the biggest federal education law to come since 1965 would have some student input.  Nope.  Not with our education overlords.

These community conversations start next week in Georgetown.  I am sending out a plea to Delaware parents to get to these meetings and make your voice heard.  Do not let the DOE hijack this process.  Let them know what you want, not what they want.  The DOE wants people to register for the meetings so they can get a headcount and how many facilitators they will need.  I say fill the joint up with parents and those who care about saving public education from the poverty pimps and corporate pirates who want to permanently hijack our schools.  Click on the date to register for the meeting(s) you want to go to.

6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, September 20 at the CHEER Center, 20520 Sandhill Road, Georgetown  Registration : Discussion Topics

10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, September 24 at Christina Cultural Arts Center, 705 North Market Street, Wilmington  Registration : Discussion Topics

6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, September 27 at Bunker Hill Elementary School – 1070 Bunker Hill Road, Middletown Registration : Discussion Topics

5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, September 29 at the Collette Education Resource Center, 35 Commerce Way, Dover Registration : Discussion Topics

 

Good Luck Brian “Smarter Balanced Guy” Touchette!

DOEPersonnel81816SBOEMeeting

The Delaware State Board of Education released the agenda for their August 18th meeting, a week from today.  Included in the agenda was the Delaware Department of Education personnel changes.  One of the employees leaving the Delaware DOE is Brian Touchette.

I always felt kind of bad for Brian.  He was the front guy at the DOE for the Smarter Balanced Assessment when they were doing the field test for it and when they were determining accommodations for students with disabilities.  When the opt out movement started kicking up dust, Brian went from Assessment Director to an Education Associate in a very short time after two Delaware PTA Opt Out Town Halls.  I gave him a rough time at a Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens meeting about accommodations a couple of years ago.

I haven’t heard much in the way of Touchette news since those opt out town halls and I wondered what became of him.  But it appears Touchette is no longer with the DOE now.  Good luck Brian!

 

Hey Terri & Yvonne! DE PTA Needs To Get Back On The Opt Out Bus! If NY PTA Can Do This, You Should Too!

As part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the United States Department of Education is required to issue regulations associated with the new law.  Of course U.S. Secretary of Education John King saw this as his big chance to make his national mark for his corporate education reform buddies, so he stuck with the accountability script and harsh rules about opt out of high-stakes tests.  The New York Parent Teacher Organization wrote a letter to King as part of their public comment for the regulations.

Something to keep in mind is the National PTA’s bizarre stance on parent opt out.  They are against it and don’t want the state PTA’s advocating it either.  Last February, they threatened Delaware with severe sanctions if they continue to advocate for a parent’s right to opt out.  This caused a complete shutdown with Delaware PTA on the issue.

Here is the letter the NY PTA sent to King:

There are a few other things readers need to be aware of when it comes to this issue.  Sanctions against the NY PTA would not be as damaging as ones against Delaware PTA.  If even ten percent of NY parents belong to their PTA, that is still at least ten times the amount of members as Delaware PTA.  Which means they have a lot more cash and pull with National PTA.  Plus, New Yorkers are a hell of a lot fiestier than Delawareans.  That doesn’t mean I would seriously mess with the Dynamic Duo of Dr. Terri Hodges and Yvonne Johnson.  I wrote a few articles about this issue last winter, as well as poking a bit at Johnson’s involvement with the Christina School District.  I caught holy hell for that.

But I do wish Delaware would follow New York’s lead on this.  They are basically telling John King AND National PTA “We don’t care what your stance on opt out is.  We are going to tell parents what their rights are.”  New York leads the way with opt outs, followed by New Jersey.  Yes, Delaware’s PTA could get into a heck of a lot of trouble with National PTA if they get back on their opt out positions, but who cares?  This a PARENT-TEACHER organization, not Laura Bay and Friends.  If the former district testing coördinator wants to hate on opt out, let her.  But she should not get a whole parent organization to stop doing what they feel is best for parents.  It’s kind of what they are there for Ms. Bay!

In the meantime, the next few months will be very interesting, not only in Delaware, but across the country.  As these regulations go forward, I predict a lot of pushback from many states, teacher unions, parents, schools, and advocates for public education.  Hopefully, the members of Congress who like to call out John King on a monthly basis will continue to do so.  If they don’t, John King gets his way, and the punitive mandates of Race To The Top will still be here.

The Delaware Illuminati, Part 1: Jeb Bush Inspires Rodel

Personalized Learning, as a concept, has been around since the 1960’s.  It is an effort to personalize learning so a student doesn’t always learn at the same pace as other students.  The term has been bastardized by corporate education reformers over the past five years.  Their idea is to launch a technology boom in the classroom where investors and ed-tech companies will get tons of money.  To do this, they had to use education “think-tanks” and foundations to sway the conversation towards this lucrative gold-mine.  No one has been a bigger supporter of personalized learning in Delaware than the Rodel Foundation.  They began talking about this new and exciting education reform movement as early as November, 2011.  A company called Digital Learning Now! released their 2011 report card on different states ability to transform into a digital learning environment and Delaware scored poorly on their report.  According to this Rodel article on the report written by Brett Turner (the link to the report card doesn’t exist anymore), Turner wrote:

…the initial results are not promising, demonstrating that we have significant work ahead of us before the necessary policies are in place to ensure our students benefit from high-quality next generation learning opportunities.

Digital Learning Now! was an initiative of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.  Other digital “experts” the company thanks in their 2012 report include the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Data Quality Campaign, iNACOL, SETDA, Chiefs for Change, Getting Smart, and the Innosight Institute.  The Foundation for Excellence in Education was founded by Jeb Bush in 2008, just as Common Core was in its formation stages.  In the Rodel article, Turner talks about how Delaware needs to adapt to this environment so our students can succeed.

Over the next two and a half years, as Race to the Top became more of a nightmare than a promise of better education, Rodel began to take steps to have Delaware become a part of this next big thing.  They formed the Rodel Teacher Council to recruit well-intentioned teachers to join their personalized learning team.  I don’t see these teachers as evil.  I see them as unwitting pawns of Rodel.  Rodel didn’t write much about personalized learning too much during this time, but they did release a Personalized Learning 101 flyer in 2013.  At the same time, four Delaware districts formed BRINC: Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech, and Colonial.  Using funds from Race To the Top and a Delaware DOE “innovation grant”, the districts used Schoology and Modern Teacher to usher Delaware into the digital learning age.  Rodel’s blog posts about personalized learning didn’t touch on the concept again until February, 2014 when a Rodel employee by the name of Matthew Korobkin began writing posts about digital learning.  More followed by other Rodel employees in the coming months.  At this time, Dr. Paul Herdman of Rodel was palling around with an ed-tech company called 2Revolutions and went around Delaware talking to groups about the glory of personalized learning.

In the beginning of June in 2014, Rachel Chan with the Rodel Foundation attended a seminar in Washington D.C. on personalized learning sponsored by iNACOL.  She wrote about this extensively on the Rodel website.

Later that month, the United States Department of Education released their state reports on special education in America.  Delaware received a rating of “needs intervention”, prompting Governor Jack Markell to set aside funding in the state budget for a special education “Strategic Plan”.  What no one knew until recently was this plan consisted of hiring Korobkin away from Rodel and into Secretary of Education Mark Murphy’s office to put this plan together.

Later in the summer of 2014, the Delaware Department of Education, with the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, banded together to form a clandestine group of “stakeholders” to look at competency-based education in a personalized learning environment in Delaware.  The biggest hurdle in getting this going in Delaware was the barriers in the state code.  Their were many players in this non-public group, including members of the Rodel Teacher Council who were also working on a “Personalized Learning Blueprint” at the same time.  This group shaped the future of education in Delaware.  But they used people to do so, including some of the members of this group.

The timing for this group couldn’t have come at a better time.  There were many distractions happening that allowed them to fly under the radar with no one the wiser.  Invitations were sent out to select participants from Theresa Bennett at the Delaware DOE.  She was an Education Specialist for English/Language Arts in the Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development area of the DOE.  She was the person who scheduled all the meetings.  An introductory webinar, sponsored by Achieve Inc., was held on August 14th, 2014.

 

After an explanation of competency-based education and personalized learning from some folks at Achieve Inc., they opened the webinar up for questions.  At the 30:07 mark on the video, Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows explained his district already began the process for personalized learning.  He mentioned several hurdles, especially the teachers’ union.  Next came Judi Coffield, the former Head of School at Early College High School, a charter school run through Delaware State University.  Coffield asked how Carniege units and high school grades would come into play with this.  Bennett explained what role the DOE played in this and how she and Rachel Chan from the Rodel Foundation were going to run the group.  Bennett went on to explain that select allies were invited to participate in this group.  She also talked about a meeting with Achieve Inc. in Washington D.C. in May of 2014 to pave a path forward.

Bennett did a roll call of who was participating in the webinar.  Jose Aviles, the director of admissions at the University of Delaware, was not on the call.  Bennett explains how Aviles accompanied her to the Achieve Inc. meeting.  “Is there a representative from Delaware PTA on the call?”  No response.  “Is Donna Johnson on the call?”  Silence.  “Kim Joyce from Del-Tech?”  Nothing.  “Pat Michle from Developmental Disabilities Council?”  Empty air.  She added Laurie Rowe and Stanley Spoor with Howard High School of Technology would be joining them.  Susan Haberstroh with the Delaware DOE joined later in the Webinar.

Rodel and Markell knew they needed to stage a distraction to further this personalized learning agenda away from prying eyes while at the same time steering the conversation towards their end goals by using the distraction.  They knew one of these distractions would automatically happen based on federal mandates from the US DOE, but the other would need careful planning and coordination.  The first drove the need for the second.

A few weeks later, Governor Markell and then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy announced the six priority schools in Wilmington.  The DOE picked the six “lowest-performing” schools in Wilmington, DE and announced the two school districts involved, Red Clay and Christina, would have to sign a “memorandum of understanding” and submit to the demands of the Delaware DOE.  This put the entire city into an educational tailspin.  Teachers in the affected schools felt outrage at the Governor and the DOE.  Parents didn’t know what this meant.  Politicians scrambled to make sense of it all as primaries and general elections faced them while constituents furiously called them.  Teachers in Delaware were still reeling from the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment and the scores tied into their evaluations.  Meanwhile, the secret meetings of the Delaware Department of Education Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition began without any public notice as an email went out from Bennett…

Thank you for your interest in the Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition.  If you were unable to attend the informational webinar, please use this link to access the recording:   http://www.achieve.org/DelawareCBLwebinar  

The Guiding Coalition will be charged with laying the foundation for competency-based learning in Delaware. This will include creating a working definition of competency-based learning and what it could look like in Delaware, understanding current barriers to implementing CBL in Delaware, and establishing support for CBL initiatives to take root in the state. Once we have a common understanding of CBL, we will surface key ideas and develop recommended strategies for helping CBL take shape in the state.

The time commitment for the Advisory Group of the Guiding Coalition will be attending approximately two or three 2-hour meetings during the coming school year, with 30-60 minutes of pre-work for each meeting. There will also be opportunities to engage further through optional readings, school visits, webinars, and other convenings if your schedule/level of interest allows.

We are excited to share that an expert facilitator will be guiding each of our meetings; we would like to collect information to inform our meeting agendas.  Please complete the following survey by September 10th:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DECompetency-BasedLearning.  

Please complete a Doodle to help us best schedule the meetings for this group.  We hope to begin late September/early October, with meetings held in Dover. Responses to the Doodle poll will help us find the best day/time for the first meeting. Please use this link: http://doodle.com/mts6ncf74v77mnf

Best,

Theresa

Theresa Bennett

Education Associate, ELA

Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development

Delaware Department of Education

401 Federal Street, Suite #2

Dover, DE 19901-3639

To be continued…in part 2…coming soon…

To read the prologue to this series, link to The Delaware Illuminati, Prologue

Parent Action Alert: Attend The Next Delaware Assessment Inventory Meeting Scheduled For April 26th

HighStakesTesting

The Assessment Inventory Committee for Delaware finally has a date scheduled for their next meeting.  It will be on April 26th, from 4pm-6pm, at the main Department of Education Building in Dover.  The meeting will be held in the Cabinet Room where the State Board of Education meets on a monthly basis.  No agenda has been set for the meeting at this point in time.

I highly encourage parents and teachers to attend this meeting and give public comment.  This is the time and place to make your voices heard where it could potentially have some sort of impact.  At the last meeting, I sensed some hesitation from State Rep. Tim Duke.  Prior to this meeting, I perceived Dukes as a pro-standardized testing, anti-opt out legislator.  He talked about walking through schools and really listening to teachers and hearing their concerns.  I would have not thought this was possible a few months ago.

This is a committee that is largely controlled by the DOE.  There is a parent representative on the group, but she only attended the first meeting.  I find this to be unacceptable.  State Rep. Kim Williams has emailed the DOE several times about this glaring hole on the committee without any response from them.  The Delaware PTA has also been very vocal about the lack of parent representation on the committee.

It is very important for parents and teachers to give their opinion on these matters to those who have the ability to make a difference.  While you may think your voice does not matter, it does.  It always has.  Don’t be afraid to use it.  The timing on this meeting is crucial given that the Every Student Succeeds Act is in the process of issuing regulations that could dictate how much control states have over high-stakes testing.  Our children need you to speak up.  They need you to be their voice.  Do not let them down!  The Smarter Balanced Assessment must go.  But we also need to make sure it is not replaced by something comparable or worse.  As well, the data output from the state assessment and personalized learning must be protected so children are not tracked and used as guinea pigs for testing companies or other corporate entities.  This is a non-negotiable in my opinion!

The Appo Vs. Opt Out Parents War Is Building…

Appoquinimink does not want parent opt out at all.  They don’t want parents talking about it with outsiders.  Especially me.  Parents are getting VERY upset and they have justification.  I wrote about the latest intimidation tactics the district is taking earlier last week.  It turns out that isn’t all they are doing!

Last Thursday, I spoke with the Public Information Officer for Appo, Lilian Miles.  I advised her the Appo letter about opt out is very confusing to parents and it is hard for them to understand what it even means.  Between the “absent” for the purposes of testing portion and the illegal portion with federal and state code with their glaring omissions surrounding parents, I told her they need to change the wording  in the letter.

Lilian explained she understands but they are following the Delaware Department of Education’s suggested template.  She was going to check with some district folks and get back to me.  She asked which parents were coming to me about this.  I advised her I didn’t feel comfortable giving out that information.  Apparently, she didn’t like that.

From: Miles Lilian <Lilian.Miles@appo.k12.de.us>
To: “kevino3670@yahoo.com” <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Sent: Friday, March 11, 2016 1:12 PM
Subject: wording on letter

Mr. Ohlandt:
 
Thank you for your time on the phone yesterday. If you find yourself in conversation with an Appoquinimink parent who feels unclear about the language in the letter they received (which employs a template supplied by DDOE), we encourage you to have them reach out to the educational leader in their child’s building. Parents are partners in our district and as such, we respect their decision-making process. We would appreciate the opportunity to address any concerns they may have personally.
 
Thank you in advance for your support and understanding!
 
Lilian Miles
Public Information Officer
Appo is trying to make parents sign an illegal letter so Appo is “off the hook” with opt out.  Even they are naïve enough to think that is acceptable for the testing overlords at the DOE!  Another parent approached me after I received this email.  The district was really pushing this parent to sign their illegal letter.  I responded to Lilian Miles and decided a few more people may want to be aware of what is going on in Appoquimink…
From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
To:
Miles Lilian <Lilian.Miles@appo.k12.de.us>
Cc:
Denn Matthew (DOJ) <matthew.denn@state.de.us>; Kowalko John (LegHall) <john.kowalko@state.de.us>; Burrows Matthew L. <matthew.burrows@appo.k12.de.us>; Godowsky Steven (K12) <steven.godowsky@doe.k12.de.us>; Lawson Dave (LegHall) <dave.lawson@state.de.us>
Sent:
Friday, March 11, 2016 4:33 PM
Subject:
Re: wording on letter

Lilian,
With all due respect, Appoquinimink is making this much harder than it has to be.  The DOE and the Appo letter are both wrong with their wording in the letter.  The US DOE code, which I informed Appo of last year, is for schools to administer the test.  It doesn’t mean a student has to take it or that a parent can not opt their child out.  As well, the Delaware code is completely wrong because they only provide the part that states “individuals” without including the part of the code that defines who “individuals” are, like school teachers, principals, administrators, etc.  Not once is “parents” any part of that definition.  Just because Attorney General Matt Denn did not have the Dept. of Justice do a legal opinion on this letter does not mean it couldn’t be challenged in court.  This letter was one of many reasons parents and legislators in Delaware fought so strongly for House Bill 50.
I would strongly encourage Appoquinimink to stop using this outdated and complete fabrication of a letter.  It is not enforceable and nor should the Appoquinimink district make it so.  If parents were indeed partners in your district, you would not be sending them a letter like this.  As far as my telling parents to reach out to the district, I will not do that.  I informed the district about the fallacies in this letter a year ago and here we are a year later having the same conversation.  Delaware DOE is well aware of this as well with the wording in this letter.
Thank you,
Kevin Ohlandt
Opt out is a little bit different this year.  For the second timers, they know what they are doing.  But for the first timers, they don’t have as much support from the state or organizations.  The Delaware PTA was hushed into compliance with National PTA who is against opt out.  The legislators of the General Assembly could not muster enough votes to override the Governor’s veto of House Bill 50, the parent opt out legislation that would have prevented the bullying and intimidation Appoquinimink is practicing.  So what is a parent going to do?  If they do a Google search on opt out in Delaware, my name or this blog is going to come up pretty fast.
If a parent reaches out to me, I am not mentioning their name if I deal with a district.  If a parent is taking the time to come to me about this, I trust they have already done their own due diligence and already dealt with an administrator in their child’s school.  Appo just needs to gut this letter, period!  Upon discussion of this with another parent, they shot off a response to the district referencing the response I sent to Lilian Miles.
I will do this for any parent in Delaware if they want me to.  If I have to be the only opt out advocate you have, I will gladly take on that mission.  I have no qualms about doing so.  I don’t care if it ticks people or districts off.  Parents have no one else to turn to.  So until our state can put a law into place honoring this fundamental and Constitutional right for parents, schools and districts need to know that if they bully or intimidate, I will act on a parent’s behalf.  If they don’t like it that is just too bad!
I have not received a response from anyone since my latest email.  That may change tomorrow.

Is There A Conflict Of Interest With A High-Ranking DE PTA Member Involving Christina School District?

Yvonne Johnson serves as the Vice-President of Advocacy for the Delaware PTA, sits on the board of the National PTA, and in news that most people don’t know is also employed with the Christina School District as the Parent Engagement Coordinator.  The issue with this surrounds transparency.  Nothing has ever been officially announced with Johnson’s hiring in this role.  There is no official name on the Delaware Division of Corporations for Yvonne Johnson as a business.  According to her National PTA profile, Johnson is a self-employed education consultant:

YvonneNationalPTAProfile

She has also been very involved in several current initiatives with the Christina School District, including their upcoming referendum and the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School.  The Christina referendum is on March 23rd.  As for the elementary school, Johnson is listed as the Christina Parent Engagement Coordinator in an announcement for a meeting at the school on March 1st:

MarshallInterestMtg

I looked on the Christina School District website, and it seems Christina already has someone else listed as their Family & Community Engagement Supervisor, Whitney Williams.  What is even more interesting is this idea for Thurgood Marshall in turning it into a Kindergarten to 8th grade school.  Quite simply, this is not in the district’s official plans for their upcoming referendum.  The current building for the school would not even be able to house a K-8 program.

As for Johnson’s role in this idea, is it proper for someone to be paid to have parents lobby the school board?  As the next three pictures show, taken from notes and a presentation on the “Marshall Plan”, Johnson has very specific ideas about this idea and the referendum.  Johnson also served as the head of the Referendum Committee for the Red Clay Consolidated School District last year.  Red Clay’s referendum was subject to a lawsuit that has not been decided on as of this date.

MarshallPlan1

We don’t see a Christina School District email address for Johnson, but that makes sense if she is self-employed and has some type of contract with the district.  However, no such contract exists on their website.

MarshallPlan2

This is where we see Yvonne Johnson actively soliciting parents to advocate for the “Marshall Plan” by essentially lobbying the Christina Board of Education.  But the next picture paints an even bigger picture:

MarshallPlan3

We see the line “Get out and vote for the referendum for planning $$”.  Should a paid consultant to the district be advocating for parents to “get out and vote” for increased money for the school district in which she is paid to consult for?  Is this plan even a part of the board-approved referendum?

The referendum does call for planning funds for potential grade reconfiguration in the amount of $100,000.00.  However, the “Marshall Plan” is looking at getting this going in the 2017-2018 school year.  That would require extensive capital costs to reconfigure an existing school that does not have the capacity.  If they shrunk the class sizes, the district does not have the ability to pay for that either.  The upcoming referendum is strictly for operating costs and not capital costs, which would be needed to move the school if necessary.  So my big question would be what in the name of Thurgood Marshall is going on with all of this?  While there is nothing in writing on the district website or in board documents indicating Johnson has a contract, several sources who wished to have their name withheld for this article have indicated Johnson has openly told them she is being paid for her services to the Christina School District.

In my opinion, Johnson’s capacity as serving on several different groups as well as her self-employed advocacy job, the Delaware PTA, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, several different Red Clay initiatives, and now her job with Christina, has far too many potential conflicts of interest for her to be issuing fair and impartial judgment on the Wilmington education scene.  As well, her position as a National PTA board member forbids her from advocating for opt-out of standardized testing but she is a consultant with a school district that had their board pass a policy honoring a parent’s right to opt out.

Don’t get me wrong here, I very much want Christina’s referendum to be successful.  I was not happy when their referenda did not pass last year.  But I also believe in full transparency, especially when a school district is asking for trust from their voters.  Trust is a two-way street.  Which means all aspects of school finances, contracts, and vendors need to be visibly apparent for all to see.

On a personal note, Yvonne Johnson is a great advocate.  There aren’t too many people in Delaware who have advocated for students as long as she has.  But the lines get blurry at times when people in Delaware jump on too many trains.  Yes, Delaware is a small state and if we had more parents taking on these kinds of roles, this wouldn’t be an issue.  But for those who do, they must recognize any potential conflicts of interest and act accordingly for the betterment of students.

Something Doesn’t Add Up With National PTA’s Intimidation Letter To Delaware PTA…

PTABullying

I was thinking about this a lot the past two days.  Since I posted the National PTA “Comply Or We Will Make You” letter to the Delaware PTA, something didn’t feel quite right.  Was it the absolute absurdity and gall of National PTA, or the timing of it?

The Delaware PTA heavily advocated House Bill 50, the Delaware opt-out legislation that our cowardly weasel of a Governor vetoed last July.  When an attempt  to have our legislators do the right thing and override Markell’s veto, the Delaware PTA staged a rally outside of Legislative Hall in Dover.  This was a month and a half ago.  The very next week, the Delaware PTA announced National PTA would be coming out with a position statement against opt-out very soon.  They did so in the beginning of February.

Let us flash forward to last Wednesday.  The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission has their post-State Board meeting where State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray is grilled and served on a plate by Wilmington school districts and members of the Commission.  State Board Executive Director Donna Johnson is most likely highly embarrassed about the allegation she advised State Board members how to vote on the WEIC plan.  The very next day, President of Delaware PTA Dr. Terri Hodges gets the comply or die letter from Laura Bay, the President of National PTA.  Right before the assessment inventory meeting at the Delaware Department of Education.  Right before.  As she walks into the meeting, handouts are provided to the committee and members of the public.  One of them is the National PTA position statement on assessment and opt-out.  It was a very odd choice for a hand-out.  Especially since it was NEVER discussed at all during the meeting.  Dr. Hodges attended the previous meeting, and I’m sure the DOE knew some type of Delaware PTA representation would attend the meeting.  I’m not coming right out and saying this, but I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

Yes, the National PTA did issue the position statement against opt-out.  For what reasons, I absolutely cannot fathom.  But Kilroy’s Delaware did present something very interesting today in regards to National PTA President Laura Bay.  It turns out she is the coördinator for assessment and instruction in her Washington school district.  And she essentially runs National PTA.  But was there some outside influence to have Bay pull a sword on Delaware PTA?

We have January and February of 2016 as two key months with a lot of Delaware PTA/National PTA/State Board of Education/Delaware DOE/WEIC activity.  All involving some very key players in this very bizarre game of Russian Roulette with parental choices.  Add in some referendums, priority schools, and redistricting and we have a huge mess on our hands!

In the backdrop of it all: a very power-hungry Delaware Governor Jack Markell and John King, the very controversial figure at the US Department of Education who is hoping to become the next US Secretary of Education instead of Acting.  Surrounding all of this is the massive tome called the Every Student Succeeds Act.  The mammoth legislation that has not been clearly defined but will in the coming months when the US DOE begins issuing regulations around it.  To make matters more complicated, this will be going on during most state’s testing windows for their state assessments, including the Smarter Balanced Assessment in Delaware.  Also during an election year.

The bridge between Delaware PTA and National PTA has one person on both sides: Yvonne Johnson.  She serves as the Vice-President of Advocacy for Delaware PTA and is a board member of National PTA.  The Governor was not pleased with the Delaware PTA’s defense of House Bill 50 at all.  The Delaware PTA has some choices ahead of them.  Fight, submit, or secede.  None will be easy decisions.  Secession is not an easy thing.  Fighting could result in major issues for them.  Submit will assuredly permanently scar the organization that has made a name for itself over the past year by supporting a parent’s right to opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment in Delaware.  Dr. Hodges is not one to surrender quietly.  This will definitely be something to watch over the coming months.  Perhaps a little push is in order…

 

 

National PTA Forces Delaware PTA To Back Down From Honoring Parent’s Right To Opt-Out, Time To End That Relationship!!!!

Immediately cease advocacy efforts in support of the Delaware PTA Position Statement on Parent Opt Out HB50 including but not limited to website promotion, action alerts, e-newsletters, media interview and information flyers.

Per National PTA SOA Policy, if you are unable to comply with the SOA requirements by April 26, 2016 (60 days from this notification), a support team will be assigned to Delaware PTA to help create and implement a plan to move your PTA back into compliance.

Unbelievable!  It’s one thing to say you don’t agree with someone for doing something.  But then you force them to take a position on it? And if they don’t you will make sure they do?  I say the Delaware PTA renames itself and kicks National PTA to the curb!  Who do they think they are?  What a bunch of arrogant jerks!  It is the PARENT-Teacher Association.  Not the “we got more money from Bill Gates so we are going to force our state PTAs to shut up about opt-out” Association.  What a bunch of sell-outs!  What the hell kind of parent organization doesn’t honor parent’s rights?  Terri and Yvonne, do the right thing for the parents of Delaware, not this bureaucratic nightmare in Washington D.C.  Absolutely ridiculous!

And the Delaware PTA sent some questions to National PTA:

Yeah, they may not say places like the Gates Foundation won’t fund you if you support opt-out.  But guess what, they just won’t give you money in the future.  National PTA knows this.  Time for a clean break Delaware PTA!  Meanwhile, Delaware PTA President Terri Hodges sent this out to the Delaware PTA membership this afternoon:

PTA members and supporters,

            As you are aware, National PTA issued an updated position statement in January 2016 regarding state assessments. The position statement, developed by the National PTA Legislative Committee and approved by the National Board of Directors, also outlines National PTA’s opposition of the growing parent opt-out movement across the United States.

            When the position statement was released in January, we were initially informed that our advocacy of parental rights was not in conflict with the updated position statement, as Delaware PTA has never encouraged parents to opt of testing. However, upon further review National PTA has determined that our advocacy of parental rights is in fact in conflict with the updated position statement. As a result, Delaware PTA has received the attached DE Sanctions Letter from National PTA informing us that as a state association we are not in compliance with the Standards of Affiliation.

            As a state association, we are obligated to comply with the National PTA Standard of Affiliations which governs the relationship between National PTA and the state associations. Similarly, our bylaws define the relationship between the state association and our local units in that the local units may not collectively take up any position that contradicts the position of Delaware State PTA and by extension National PTA. As indicated in the letter, the position statement can only be amended /rescinded by the voting body. This will be an action item on the agenda for our upcoming Board of Managers meeting, where we will also accept a motion to amend the legislative priorities at the next state convention. In the interim, Delaware PTA is required to cease all advocacy related to parent opt out.

            We recognize that with the support of parents and teachers, several of our school districts have adopted policies, resolutions and/or procedures for honoring a parent’s request to opt out of the state assessment. National PTA’s prohibition on our advocacy only extends to the state association and thus the local units. This position does not have any impact on individual activity and advocacy.

            We want to ensure our members that we have done our due diligence in sharing our concerns with National PTA and requesting complete transparency around the new position statement via the Questions posed to National PTA(attached). Delaware PTA remains committed to our membership and advocating for the students of Delaware. PTA is a multi-issue advocacy organization. As such, we will continue our advocacy in the following key areas:

  • A reduction in testing across all grade levels
  • A reliable and valid state assessment that measures student growth
  • A fair and representative teacher evaluation system
  • Weighted funding
  • Anti-Bullying compliance

            We thank everyone for your continued support. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us at de_office@pta.org

 Delaware PTA

Sorry If I Made You Storm Out Of The Assessment Inventory Committee Meeting!

The Delaware Senate Joint Resolution #2 Assessment Inventory Committee, otherwise known as the Achieve Inc. payday, had their fourth meeting tonight.  Most of the discussion was around the district inventories and the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Don’t get too excited Delaware!  The discussion about Smarter Balanced was by some members of the committee wondering why the Smarter Balanced wasn’t a major part of the discussion and the DOE trying desperately to work around it and misinterpreting the actual legislation that created the committee.  Once again, Senator David Sokola, who wrote the bill, didn’t show up.  I think he has been at one or two of the four meetings.  He hasn’t been to most of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission meetings either, of which he is a member.  But his Legislative Aide did sit in his place, unlike State Rep. Earl Jaques who also championed this legislation last spring as an anti-opt-out bill and didn’t show up nor did he have someone come in his place, but I digress.  I do reserve the right to re-digress later though.

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky was there for about the first third of the meeting.  State Rep. Sean Matthews asked if any state in the country has received a cut in federal funding due to participation rate.  The answer was no.  He then asked if any school or district in Delaware has.  Michael Watson from the DOE explained there have been Title I reallocations but didn’t specify why (and it wasn’t because of opt-out and we all know it).  Colonial Superintendent Dusty Blakey gave a presentation on Colonial’s assessment inventory process.  Many wondered right away why Smarter Balanced wasn’t included in their inventory even though most of the other districts and charters who participated did include it.  No clear answer was given except further clarification of the legal interpretation of SJR #2.  At some point, questions came up about the expectation of the district and the information supplied to them from the Delaware DOE for the process (of which schools and districts did receive grant money).  I yelled out “Achieve Inc. created it,” to which I was told public comment was at the end of the meeting.  😉  I can see the two DOE representatives were not happy with my comment and one of them was visibly pissed off.  State Rep. Matthews asked what the purpose of the Smarter Balanced is and why we need it.  He explained parents are more upset about their children not being able to go to the library to do research since their computer labs are tied up between March and June.  Even State Rep. Tim Dukes, a fervent supporter of standardized testing in the past, was questioning what this is all about.  He explained how he has been talking to teachers and, in my opinion, he may be walking towards the light in regards to how bad high-stakes testing really is.

Discussion continued around the federal role in Delaware education.  State Rep. Matthews asked why the DOE doesn’t push harder against federal mandate.  DSEA member Kirstin Dwyer, also on the committee, explained that when teachers pushed very hard for another year off from Smarter Balanced scores tying into their evaluations, they were told prior to this that the feds would never grant it, but they did.  A discussion came up about states that do not have to take assessments and were granted waivers.  The DOE explained there are seven states involved in something called the Innovation Network, which rang a bell in my head.  State Rep. Matthews asked why Delaware can’t try to join this group.  A vote was taken to get more information about these kinds of programs before they make their final recommendations.  It passed the committee.  Talk continued about the federal role, and Susan Haberstroh from the DOE said something to the effect of “Maybe the feds will let us do that”.  At this point, the Teacher Leader Effectiveness Unit leader Christopher Ruszkowski, who was sitting in the back, said “No they won’t.”  I said “Yes they will.”  We both repeated ourselves.  But the sad truth is Delaware doesn’t want to have anything to do with the Council of Chief State School Officers Innovation Lab Network.  Just ask the many teachers and citizens who are seeing this guinea pig experiment taking place in states like Maine, Colorado and New Hampshire.  I actually touch on one of the key parts coming out of these “Innovation Labs” later on in this article.  You will know it when you see it!  Scary stuff!

Teachers gave public comment about, you know, how bad SBAC is and how the test doesn’t give any useful information.  Red Clay Education Association President Mike Matthews complimented the Christina School District for giving a recommendation to dump the Smarter Balanced in their assessment inventory (Capital didn’t give it a ringing endorsement either).  He lamented Red Clay didn’t do the same.  But he did advise the committee his executive membership unanimously voted on a resolution to have Red Clay change their recommendation about SBAC and he questioned the transparency around Red Clay’s inventory process.

And then came my public comment.  To give some background, the meeting was already running late, and public comment was limited to two minutes.  One public commenter already went over their time (and continued), which didn’t bother me at all.  I knew exactly what I was going to say cause I wrote it out.

In 1992, the CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy wrote an 18 page letter to Hillary Clinton. Bill was just elected, and the CEO, named Marc Tucker, took it upon himself to write Hillary his ideas for the future of America.  Tucker wanted America to become like Germany and Switzerland, where students are “apprentice-trained”.  This begins at a very early age.  As part of Tucker’s plan, public education must become standardized.  As well, career paths are chosen through the tests implemented through these higher standards.  This is all part of a much larger plan to merge the US Departments of Education, Labor, and the Immigration division of Homeland Security.  By crafting this agenda, children will be tracked and catalogued through massive data systems, tied to state longitudinal data systems.  These “pathways to prosperity”, or career tracks for children, are contingent upon data.  Data that is provided by every single state to a joint system shared by the US Department of Defense and the US DOE. 

In 1996, a company called Achieve Inc. was created by our nation’s governors, corporate leaders, and Tucker’s group. Achieve eventually created the Common Core standards, but gave the illusion it was created by stakeholders.  Yes, the very same company that assisted with the assessment inventory in Delaware and gave the matrix for districts to follow.  The same company that created the standards is now telling districts how they should utilize their own assessments.

Bill Gates, through his foundation, began funding this over 15 years ago. Delaware allowed this into our state with the Race To The Top grant.  Yes, Senator Sokola and Attorney General Matt Denn wrote Senate Bill 79 last year which passed the General Assembly and was signed by the Governor.  This bill, supposedly meant to protect student data, was heavily lobbied by companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.  There is a gigantic loophole in this.  Eventually, Smarter Balanced will be broken down into chunks through personalized learning.  Using a competency-based education model, students will advance based on how they do on these mini-standardized tests.  This data will flow freely to the feds which will in turn be shared with employers, non-profits (especially those who really push personalized learning), and corporate interests.  What Sokola and Denn allowed into the final bill appears, on the surface, to protect student data.  But whether it was intentional or not, the algorithms for personalized learning and state assessments are allowed to be shared.  We already see 7-8 Delaware districts using the BRInC Consortium’s “Blended Learning” models.  Every single time a student logs in or enters a keystroke, the data recording begins by the companies tracking all of this data.  All of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, through the algorithms created by American Institutes for Research, fall into this category as well.  Our Governor is one of the very early pioneers of this agenda in Delaware, along with the Rodel Foundation. 

So really, who are we kidding with this nonsense?  This IS about students: cataloguing them, tracking them, and allowing the government to decide what they should be based on data.  But for students with disabilities, they will remain on the bottom of all things concerned with education.  Something Delaware fully allows by not granting these students funding in Kindergarten to 3rd grade unless they are so impaired the state doesn’t have a choice.  Meanwhile, Governor Markell is getting ready to go down to D.C. to hobnob with yet another education foundation instead of taking care of his own state.  

As I mentioned earlier, Senator Sokola did not attend the meeting but his Legislative Aide did.  I’ve met him a few times and he is a nice guy.  During my public comment, at the second mention of “Sokola”, he picked up his things, had a VERY angry face, and stormed out of the meeting.  I certainly hope it wasn’t anything I said, but he looked very troubled.  I have talked to Matt Denn about this bill, along with the representative from his office who wrote the legislation, and I don’t know if they are even aware of the “algorithm loophole” that is causing student data to go out like a burst dam.  But, and I am only guessing here, it bothered Sokola’s legal aide.  I could be wrong and something else was going on that I was not privy to.   As well, when I got my two minute flag, I did keep going.  I was almost done!  As I got into the part about students with disabilities somebody said “Kevin…” like I was saying something bad.  Or perhaps it was my angry tone.  But I already had to speed through my public comment due to a ridiculous two minute time limit.  I’m not a big fan of being cut off over parliamentary rules and procedures (which is why you don’t see me on these committees, task forces, or public office).  Or maybe some people didn’t like what I was saying and it cut a little to close to the bone for them.  Either way, I got it out.  And I have a ton more to say about all that.

Delaware PTA President Dr. Terri Hodges gave public comment about the Smarter Balanced Assessment that echoed many of the opponents of the test throughout the evening.  (As an aside, the DOE actually gave out the National PTA’s position statement against parent opt-out to members of the committee and the public).  Finally, State Rep. Kim Williams, https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/state-rep-kim-williams-slams-state-board-exec-director-donna-johnson-at-weic-meeting-tonight/ again questioned where the parent representative of the assessment inventory committee was.  She informed them this parent rep came to the first meeting and not the other three.  She was not happy the DOE hasn’t responded to her about this issue and that parents are once again being shut out of the process.  With that the meeting adjourned.  And I am left with the same conclusion I have always had about the Achieve Inc. Party Assessment Inventory Committee: it will get rid of the good diagnostic district tests that give immediate feedback and allow teachers to help students in lieu of more interim Smarter Balanced Assessments (which will eventually be broken down into mini-tests at the end of units).  More data.  More tracking.  More pre-determined “pathways” for every single student in Delaware.  Unless you opt out now.  Out of Smarter Balanced AND Personalized Learning.  Unless you are okay with your child’s social-emotional, academic, behavioral, and personal data going out to Education Inc.  In that case, keep on opting in!

One Of Markell’s Hand-Picked Education Top Dogs To Resign

Someone very big in the Jack Markell education world is resigning.  This is as close to the top as you can get.  This is someone Markell hand-picked for the position.  Who is it?  And more important, who will replace this person?  From what I’m hearing, the title won’t be replaced but the duties will be delegated to different people.  This is big folks!  This person has been around long enough to have an impact on how things go that this void will have an effect on things.  Of course, it was, is, and always has been Jack Markell’s show.  I can’t say I’m surprised by the exit, but I am surprised at the assignment of duties to other people.  Who is it?  Did you think it was going to be that easy?  If you are drawing a blank on this one, don’t fret.  Continue reading “One Of Markell’s Hand-Picked Education Top Dogs To Resign”

American Parents Go It Alone As National PTA Opts Out of Opt-Out

Sending a very confusing message to American parents, the National PTA will be issuing a position statement on testing and opt-out in the next couple days.  In anticipation of this, the Delaware PTA issued a press release indicating they still support House Bill 50 because it supports parent’s rights, and in turn, children’s rights.  The National PTA will not support the opt-out movement according to the Delaware PTA statement.  The Delaware PTA has always advised they do not tell parents to opt out or tell them not to.  But they have done a lot for opt-out in their support for House Bill 50.

As state teacher’s unions and the national unions, National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, have never really supported the movement one way or another, the focus for all these groups has now become the nature of testing.  In other words, the reformers have won.  They have convinced the biggest organizations concerning schools that the problem isn’t with these upstart parents opting their kids out, it is the actual tests.  Which is why we are seeing these assessment inventory committees popping up all over the country.

The end goal will be the same tests parents object to, but in smaller chunks, embedded in tests throughout the year.  As students reach the end of units they are learning in their personalized learning environment, they will be given unit tests.  They will still be standardized assessments, but not on the surface.  Students will only progress when they have become proficient on the material.  Based on “their” material.  Not the standards most people grew up with, but the Common Core standards.

It is a disgrace.  I still believe the only way to stop the takeover of our children by these reprehensible companies and organizations is to make a lot of noise and opt-out.  The PTA’s and unions have been lulled into a false sense of security by these animals.  They still don’t get what the essential problem is here.  But many parents do.  It is Common Core.  It is the resources pouring out of the classroom and into corporations that disguise themselves as think tanks and non-profits.  Where their CEO’s make more than most people make in six years.  Where they buy off legislators and politicians with their big money and big words.   With promises of power and security at the expense of children.

I have felt many betrayals in the past year and a half, but none have stung like the ones in the past two months.  Organizations and people I thought were allies.  They know who they are.  If they don’t, be assured I hear a lot.  Much more than you probably realize.  Delaware isn’t that big.  People who think the world will stop revolving if they don’t make sure they are heard.  I respect the Delaware PTA for getting this out there ahead of time.  I joined the PTA back in September so I could hopefully get some more access to things.  That never happened, despite assurances from someone that it would.  So I will not be paying my “membership fee” again.  I truly can’t support an organization that thinks a parent’s right to opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced is okay but still thinks Common Core is a good thing.  I always knew this day would come, but it happened much sooner than I expected.

Delaware and American parents are on their own.  We can’t rely on anyone but ourselves.  We must shoulder the fight for our children by ourselves, without any true support.  And you know what, I kind of like it better that way…

Delaware PTA, House Bill 50, House Resolution 22, House Bill 243: What Happened Today

Chaos.  There is no other word for it.  The rally went great, we got a good turnout, and there was a lot of media there.  By the time Rep. Kowalko brought the suspension of rules motion to the floor, I had an ominous feeling.  Too many of the reps, who know who I am, were not looking at me.  The suspension of the rules was seconded, and a voice vote was called.  13 yes, 26 no, 1 no vote, and 1 absent.  I can say Rep. Bennett, who was absent, reached out to me a couple weeks ago giving her support for this.  Unfortunately she was not able to attend today.

State Rep. Byron Short gave a long talk about standardized testing and how he wants a valid look at what we are doing with state assessments.  He indicated this last Spring, but he felt he wasn’t heard.  Short was NOT talking about the assessment inventory currently going on, but the state assessment.

State Rep. Debbie Hudson indicated she had brought two bills to be filed regarding opt-out, but they were not filed before today’s session.  She indicated that they had “wasted their time” on House Bill 50.  Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf indicated the bills would be filed today.  Rep. Kowalko indicated he wanted House Bill 50 put on the ready list.  This means it would come to a full House vote… if Schwartzkopf puts it on the agenda.  If anyone wants to know what this means, Kilroy got Hudson to introduce legislation in the 147th AND 148th General Assembly.  Both times it went out of the education committee, but Schwartzkopf NEVER put it out for a full House vote.

I made a point to thank as many of the legislators who voted yes on the suspension of rules that I could.  I went up to Rep. Hudson and told her flat-out, “I’ll be sure to tell my son who was physically assaulted nine times after I opted him out that you thought this was a worthless bill.”  She came up to me and Yvonne Johnson, Teri Hodges, and Ashley Sabo and indicated she wanted to show us the new bills.  As we ventured down into the Republican office, I had a bad feeling in my stomach again.  This feeling was soon realized when State Rep. Mike Ramone, with a huge smile, showed me House Resolution #22.

While this certainly looks good, as I wrote a couple weeks ago, a House Resolution in Delaware is not enforceable and it is only passed by one chamber.  So while it looks like the answer, I knew it was not.  Then I was given a copy of the as-yet unnumbered House Bill 243.

HB243

Again, it looks great and it stops the DOE from implementing opt-out penalties against schools on the Delaware School Success Framework, or the school report card.  Fantastic!  NOT!  Here is the fatal flaw.  The DOE already submitted their ESEA waiver at the end of November.  They will most likely get that back in the next few weeks.  That is then tied to Federal Law, ESEA, which does not expire until the end of this year.

So the unenforceable House Resolution and the bill that would get tied up in education committees and protects schools more than parents and students, is not a win at all.  I don’t view either of these as good solutions to House Bill 50.  But the very bizarre nature of today is yet to come.  While all this is going on, there was a corporate tax bill introduced by Valerie Longhurst the other day.  It gets fast-tracked out of the appropriations committee, but it still requires a suspension of rules to get to a vote today.  Now this is a bill, who many legislators told me, would NEVER be introduced by a Democrat.  Longhurst is a Democrat.  Longhurst is very loyal to the Governor, who suggested this last week.  So it is more than obvious this bill is coming from Governor Markell.

As the legislators were in caucus discussing all of this I’m sure, I sat with the PTA and legislators slowly drifted out.  The Republicans two bills were talked about, and originally Reps. Williams and Kowalko were willing to be co-sponsors on it.  However, two other legislators informed us the House Resolution does nothing, and the House Bill does nothing for parents.  It protects the schools.  As well, without support from the Senate, House Resolution #22 is just a piece of paper.  To get something with strong support from both sides that would not require the Governor’s signature and is enforceable would be a concurrent resolution.  Legislative Hall is a funny place.  If you are at the right place, at the right time, you can hear people talking.  There are enough columns and stairs and hallways on the first floor of that building.  I heard folks talking about HB50.  And HB235.  And how the Republicans will get that.  It is more than obvious there was a deal made.  Most likely from Governor Markell himself.

Back to legislative session.  Secretary Godowsky, Susan Haberstroh (from the DOE), Lindsay O’Mara (Markell’s Education Policy Advisor), and State Rep. Earl Jaques are huddled around each other.  To be a fly on that wall!  I made a point to talk to Rep. Charles Potter about House Bill 56, the charter school “freeze” bill where no new applications for charters in Wilmington could be submitted until the state figured out what to do with all this transition.  I advised him of the Wilmington charters that are submitting modifications to increase their enrollment and add grades.  He said he would take a look at that.  House Resolution #22 was introduced and floated around to the legislators.  Rep. Joe Miro is the primary sponsor.  Which told me the House Republicans behind this were still going through with their idea.  Schwartzkopf said House Bill 50 is now on the ready list.  But once again, the ready list can either be a full House vote or the limbo list like Kilroy’s bills.  State Rep. Stephanie Bolden talked about House Joint Resolution #10 which is a bill whereby Delaware officially apologizes for slavery.  I fully support that bill, however the discussion that ensued from some legislators, especially the one who talked about honoring the rights of people and the other who talked about the Bible and scripture, you know, the book that actually does go into parental rights quite a bit, I found it all to be a little hypocritical given their earlier votes.  After that ended (which passed), House Bill 235 came up.  The corporate tax bill.  The suspension of rules was put forth by Longhurst, and seconded by a few voices in the chamber.  Kowalko asked for a roll call.  And it came, numerous yes votes.  Many who VOTED NO ON THE SUSPENSION OF RULES FOR HOUSE BILL 50.  I kept track of all of them and published it right away.  Aside from the one Yearick vote I messed up, they are all here.  As I was getting ready to walk out the door, Rep. Mike Ramone whispered to me about how Kowalko goes on and on and their bills are better.  I whispered back to him, “I don’t trust any of you.”  As I walked out of Legislative Hall today, with House Bill 50 in limbo, crappy bills trying to take its place from Republicans so desperate not to get publicly thrashed over their vote today they would thrown anything to the wall to see if it sticks, a clear indication of who in the Delaware House cares an iota about parents and who doesn’t, and knowing the PTA would support these upcoming bills, I just smiled.

After a nice dinner with my wife and son and a trip to Toys R Us, I came home to a billion Facebook notifications, tons of emails, and knowing I had to write this.  House Resolution #22 passed after I left.  So did House Bill 235.  The Delaware PTA issued a statement on today’s events, which once again, looks good to read…

All Is Not Lost With The Parent Opt-Out- Discussion Still On The Table

It is important to remember that we had 3 primary goals with HB 50:

  1. Protections in place for parents that chose to opt their student(s) out of the state assessment
  2. Alternate academic instruction for students not taking the assessment
  3. A clear and consistent opt out process implemented statewide

Even with all the events that took place today at Legislative Hall, we are still primed to meet those goals, and it is looking like that is going to happen! Interestingly enough, we spoke with enough legislators today to see that they are definitely not supporting the Governor’s agenda and firmly believe that parents and schools should be protected during the opt out process.

As a recap to the events today at Legislative Hall, the House voted against a suspension of House rules on HB 50. While we are disappointed in our legislator’s actions, we do not see this as a loss. After conversations with multiple legislators with regards to their vote, we were informed that if HB 50 and been voted down under a suspension of the House Rules, the bill would have been dead. Given the mood in Legislative Hall today, it is likely that the bill would not have passed. HB 50 has been placed on the House Ready list.

In an unexpected turn of events, the House Republicans informed us of their intent to introduce legislation that would prohibit the state from using participation rates against a school or district. Delaware PTA supports this. The bill has been filed as HB 243. (See Below)

They also introduced a Resolution that prohibits schools and/or districts from penalizing students/parents from opting out. In addition, it requests that the Department of Education develop several options that outline a uniform opt out process. (See Below). Although a Resolution cannot mandate action from the Delaware Department of Education, Representatives Miro and Jaques both confirmed that they had spoken with interim Secretary of Education Dr. Godowsky and that he has committed to following the resolution and developing several options for a statewide process on parent opt out. In addition, our Vice President of Advocacy spoke with Dr. Godowsky to request parent input on the development of these options. We were informed that even though the Secretary cannot be compelled to act under this resolution, he has indicated that he will do so and he has the authority to mandate compliance from the schools/districts.

Everyone should be very proud of the energy that they put into advocating for parent rights, but our work is not done. We have never seen so many parents and teachers come together on a single issue as we have with the Parent Opt Out. We realize that sometimes compromise is necessary to achieve the ultimate goal. Our goal is to ensure that neither schools nor districts can send threatening letters to parents choosing to opt their child out of the assessment. We want to make sure that every district respects a parent’s decision and that they clearly communicate the parent’s options with regards to opting out of the state assessment.  Our message was definitely received. We will continue with our advocacy with the same amount of fervor that you have seen over the last several weeks. We must keep the pressure on, so please keep sending those emails to your representative. We will be reevaluating and disseminating the next steps in our advocacy plan in the coming days and weeks.

Thank you to everyone that has supported parent’s rights and our advocacy efforts.

 Delaware PTA

I truly have to think this one through.  Our legislators could have passed HB50 in the House today.  They could have overridden the veto in their chamber.  They chose not to.  So now we have Republicans, obviously working with Earl Jaques of all people and the DOE and the Secretary of Education, and not telling anyone about this, for weeks (I know this because Mike Ramone told me they have been working on this for a while.  When I said you could have given me a heads up, he said “We couldn’t.”  Makes sense, get the crowd to show up for the rally, stick the knife in parents and students backs, and then try riding in on the cavalry saying “We have something better!”  Nice try.  First off, I don’t trust Dr. Godowsky.  This is the man who said “looks like harsh opt-out penalties won’t rule the day” and then said he is recommending those very same opt-out penalties with no logical justification as to why.  Second of all, he indicated he “has the authority to mandate compliance from the schools/districts”.  If he has this magic wand, why hasn’t it been used already?  Why didn’t Mark Murphy use this all of a sudden too great to be true authority?  Why does it take all of this for them to get it?  And would I ever trust anyone at the DOE to determine opt-out policies for our schools and districts?  Furthermore, the PTA newsletter indicates a request was made to Godowsky to have parents as part of this process.  There is no answer from Godowsky on that very important issue.  Many parents who have opted their children out do not belong to the Delaware PTA and do not believe everything the Delaware PTA believes in.  And the due date for these “policies” is “on or before May 1st”, well into the testing window for Smarter Balanced when most students have already taken it or are finishing up.  Not a lot of protection for parents.  Not a lot to protect students.  Nothing to indicate schools will honor the spirit of this.

So where do we stand with opt-out in Delaware?  Pretty much the exact same place we were a year ago.  So once again Delaware parents, I beseech you to search within your hearts to do the right thing, and make the right choice for your child like I did with mine.  And I pray none of you have to experience what happened as a result of my decision.  As always, I am here to help and guide, and call out any school who gives you a hard time if that is what you wish.

For the citizens of Delaware, I would take a very strong look at my post about the votes today.  I would look at those districts, and if you know anyone who wants to run, tell them to do it.  If they are on the fence, explain how those House reps went against parents.

For the House Reps who voted yes today on the suspension of rules: thank you.  For those who voted no on those rules for HB50 and yes on the rules for HB235, everyone will know.  I will make sure of it, every day if need be.  You betrayed parents today.  We heard you, loud and clear.  And don’t think for one second that your “rescue legislation” means anything.  It is tied to the DOE, Markell, and tainted in legislative blood money.  This is not solely directed towards Republicans, but Democrats as well.  All of you who did this today.  The 13 who voted yes are safe.  Rep. Bennett is safe.  The rest… I have no words…

These are the things revolutions are made of.  This is how America was made.  When the rights of the people are violated, they will demand change.  And it will come.  Nothing stinks more than betrayal.  I told all of you, a vote of no on a suspension of rules is the same as a no vote on the override.  You lost the right to say “I would have voted yes” because you hid behind another vote.  Your motivations and affirmations are gone.  They don’t matter.  You played cards with the devil and now you are on the table.  You are all cowards and weak, all 27 of you.  And trust, that is gone with me and MANY others.

One last thing, for those who mock John Kowalko, I want to make something clear.  Don’t whisper in my ear about him.  Don’t talk about how he shouldn’t be in that chamber.  This is an honorable man.  He has conviction and passion.  He will fight like a dog, but he will do it with honesty.  Compared to what I saw from many of you today, I would take that any day of the year.  House Bill 50 was NOT a waste of time.  It was a simple bill, grounded in what is best for students and parents.  It wasn’t based on what the DOE wanted to do.  It wasn’t based on what was best for the districts and charter schools.  It was about parental rights and students.  I believe you all knew this.  Which makes what you did today so horrible, and morally wrong.

And Jack, don’t think you are slipping away.  As the rumor mill talks about your upcoming job at Alliance for Excellent Education, a corporate education reform company that has more Kool-Aid coming out of each word in its website than I have ever seen before, and the rumor mill talks about a crazy thought about you actually getting a payout to make sure House Bill 50 didn’t go through, be assured I will find out the truth to ALL of that.  You and I aren’t done yet.  You may be fooling people into thinking you are done in a year and you are just winding down, I know you are at your most dangerous now.  I know you fear opt-out more than anything that has ever come before your desk.  We both know what opt-out does.  How it undermines what you and your buddies have planned.  For our children.  I know.  I am not fooled.  Everything you touch is tainted with this plan.  Delaware children are not your children.  And tell your buddies, America’s children are not their children.  You will all be hearing from us VERY soon, you can take that to the bank.

Jacob’s Opt-Out

Right now, I am sitting in a coffee shop while my son is at school.  The Delaware PTA sponsored rally to override the veto of House Bill 50 is going to happen today outside Legislative Hall in Dover at 1pm.  I hope to attend and speak.  Below is what I will be saying and what I emailed to the Delaware House of Representatives today.  Should circumstances not allow me to be present at the rally (as I am writing this at 10am), I wanted to make sure this got out there.  This is the heart of my personal reasons why I have fought so hard for House Bill 50 and a parent’s choice to opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Jacob’s Opt-Out

I want to thank everyone who could make it today. Thank you to Yvonne Johnson, Terri Hodges, and the Delaware PTA for their incredible and outstanding support on House Bill 50.  Thank you to the DSEA for their support of a parent’s right to opt their child out of standardized testing.  Thank you to Rep. John Kowalko and Senator Dave Lawson for seeing the wisdom in bringing this bill forward in support of student and parental rights.  Thank you to all the legislators who voted yes for the bill last Spring, and I pray you will find it in your hearts to echo your votes today.

While all of this has been going on for the past year, I have been unable to talk about my personal experience with opting my son out. Many have asked me what kind of response I received, and I said that I didn’t believe there was any.  Now that matters have been resolved with my son Jacob’s former district, I feel it is important to let folks know what happened to him and my family when we opted him out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

My son had an IEP at his school. It was a very difficult IEP process as my son’s disabilities are very unique.  There was a great deal of conflict with some of the members of his IEP team, I will not shy away from that.  But we were always at the table and able to work through the issues.  Until I opted my son out in a letter to the Delaware State News on October 7th, 2014.  Immediately afterwards, my son’s situation at his school deteriorated.  We received a very threatening letter from the district superintendent within days of the article posting, even going so far as advising us we would not be allowed to be involved in our son’s IEP process unless we “behaved”.  While the letter did not mention opt out, it became more than obvious the school was not in the same collaborative mood they had been previously.  At the end of October that year, my son was denied social skills services that were a part of his signed IEP.  Accommodations were not being followed with fidelity.  Communication over things going on with my son came to a stop.  The principal would not address me at all.  On December 23rd, after eight physical assaults against my son at his school, he received a concussion.  He went on homebound instruction for the rest of the school year, and we had no choice but to pull him out of his district and send him to a private school, at great personal pain and expense to my family.

I love my son more than anything in this world. He suffered immensely, I believe, due to my decision to opt him out.  I wrestle with guilt over that every single day, but I stand firm in my belief that I made the right decision for him.  My son is not a test score.  He is not data.  He is a human being.  I support House Bill 50 because it is about protecting a parent’s choice and it gives protection to students.  I firmly believe, with every fiber of my being, that if House Bill 50 was put into law in October 2014, my son’s life would be completely different.  This is Jacob’s story, and I hope and pray no student ever has to go through the pain, loneliness, and depression my son went through.  No parent should ever have to question decisions they make for their child when it is supported by something they feel is right for their child after careful research and consideration.  This is something I haven’t shared with anyone until now because of how personal it is, but I believe now is the time.

To the Delaware House of Representatives: Please vote yes for both the suspension of rules and the override of House Bill 50 today. Please put aside the political bickering over suspension of rules for this one issue today and vote for what is right for the students and parents of Delaware.  The people of Delaware are watching you and they want their voices to be heard.