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

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.

Opt Out And The House Bill 50 Veto Override Hits The Blogs & Major Media!!!

The never-ending saga of House Bill 50 and opt out marches on.  Since a couple of days before Christmas, it has grabbed a lot of headlines.  When the US DOE issued letters to states about potential funding cuts for opt-out, I knew the conversation would heat up fast.  Here is a chronology of links to the latest on the override of Governor Markell’s veto of House Bill 50 in Delaware, with a few other kernels thrown in:

12/23/15

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/parent-opt-out-veto-override-rally-11416-i-know-what-you-have-been-up-to-governor-markell/

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/us-does-threat-letter-to-delaware-doe-about-opt-out-is-ridiculous/

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/us-doe-promises-funding-cuts-to-states-who-miss-participation-rates-two-years-in-a-row-contact-president-obama-now/

12/24/15

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2015/12/24/secretary-godowsky-had-no-choice-with-opt-out-penalties/

12/29/15

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2015/12/29/governor-markells-secret-weapon-against-house-bill-50-veto-override-exposed/

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2015/12/29/delaware-house-reps-and-senators-who-support-the-house-bill-50-veto-override-and-those-who-dont/

12/30/15

http://www.doverpost.com/news/20151230/update-opt-out-supporters-rally-jan-14–to-override-veto

12/31/15

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2015/12/31/house-democrats-letter-to-governor-markell-to-remove-smarter-balanced-for-11th-grade/

1/1/16

http://www.sussexcountian.com/article/20160101/NEWS/160109972

1/2/16

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/education-everybodys-got-a-price-stand-up-and-refuse-awesome-video-about-data-mining-sharing/

1/3/16

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/predicting-delawares-assessment-inventory-report/

1/4/16

https://kilroysdelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/04/delaware-pta-pokes-finger-in-eye-of-delaware-governor-markell/

http://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/education/2016/01/04/opt-out-veto/78270050/

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/04/opt-out-heats-up-again-during-arctic-chill/

1/5/16

https://kavips.wordpress.com/2016/01/05/the-pros-and-cons-of-opting-out-of-the-smarter-balanced-assessment/

http://elizabethscheinberg.blogspot.com/2016/01/dear-rep-jaques-youre-wrong-but-its-not.html

https://kilroysdelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/05/breaking-news-delaware-state-rep-jaques-masturbates-gov-markell-in-public/

https://kilroysdelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/05/rep-mike-ramone-playing-the-political-fence-re-testing-opt-out/

http://delawarestatenews.net/schools/15006/

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/05/dsea-supports-opt-out-all-dsea-members-need-to-support-the-override-of-markells-veto/

1/6/16

https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/my-daughter-is-not-a-widget/

http://www.delawareonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/01/06/importance-overriding-veto/78361916/

http://delawarepublic.org/post/smarter-balanced-opt-out-supporters-aim-push-bill-past-governors-veto#stream/0

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/african-american-opt-out-in-delaware-part-1-the-lomax-factor/

http://www.delawareonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/01/06/opt-out-veto-override-vote-students-teachers/78362468/

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/governor-markell-gives-godowsky-authority-to-replace-sbac-with-sat-without-general-assembly-approval-or-an-executive-order/

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/kowalko-to-ask-for-suspension-of-rules-to-override-markells-veto-of-house-bill-50-this-is-the-minefield-legislators-are-stuck-in/

https://delawarefirststate.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/sat-to-replace-smarter-in-11th-grade-in-delaware-less-testing-is-a-good-thing-but-are-there-unintended-consequences/

http://delawarepublic.org/post/state-will-drop-smarter-balanced-sat-official-11th-grade-test#stream/0

http://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/2016/01/06/juniors-wont-have-take-smarter-balanced-exam/78367630/

https://kilroysdelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/delaware-governor-markell-chokes-on-his-soap-on-the-rope-re-student-testing/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/delaware-scraps-state-assessment-for-high-school-juniors/2016/01/06/3f7c8c6a-b4cf-11e5-8abc-d09392edc612_story.html

1/7/16

http://www.delawareonline.com/story/opinion/readers/2016/01/07/letters-editor-greedy-dupont/78410616/

http://www.delawareliberal.net/2016/01/07/the-general-assembly-needs-to-override-the-governors-veto-of-opt-out-bill/

http://delawareway.blogspot.com/2016/01/will-legislature-stand-up-for-their.html

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/secretary-godowsky-and-governor-markell-recklessly-whitewash-the-satsbac-debacle-while-violating-state-federal-law/

http://www.doverpost.com/news/20160107/sat-replacing-smarter-balanced-assessment-for-high-school-juniors-

https://kilroysdelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/delaware-governor-markell-should-be-required-to-register-as-a-child-abuser/

https://transparentchristina.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/warning-gates-is-infiltrating-opt-out/

1/8/16

https://kilroysdelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/08/one-mother-to-another-mother-governor-markell-re-test-op-out/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/delaware-should-not-make-it-okay-for-parents-to-opt-their-kids-out-of-testing/2016/01/08/36cd6410-b586-11e5-a76a-0b5145e8679a_story.html

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/08/governor-markell-sends-the-washington-post-editorial-hit-squad-to-disrespect-delaware-parents-even-more/

1/9/16

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/house-bill-50-gives-protection-for-student-rights-and-honors-parental-rights/

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/delaware-house-republicans-weigh-in-on-veto-override-of-house-bill-50/

https://delawarefirststate.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/the-washington-post-article-chimes-in-about-de-parents-opting-out-and-the-needed-data/

https://kilroysdelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/washington-post-throws-gov-markell-a-rope-as-it-slap-de-pta/

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/frederika-jenner-jeff-taschner-dsea-needs-to-side-with-parents-on-the-veto-override-of-house-bill-50/

1/10/16

https://delawarefirststate.wordpress.com/2016/01/10/letter-from-state-pta-to-delaware-legislators-asking-them-to-support-house-bill-50-veto-override/

https://www.facebook.com/GovernorMarkell/?fref=ts

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/10/governor-markell-takes-it-to-facebook-and-receives-the-beat-down-of-his-life/

1/11/16

http://www.wdel.com/story/72793-education-budget-city-crime-top-priorities-in-upcoming-legislative-session

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/red-clay-education-association-officially-supporting-house-bill-50-veto-override-and-more/

1/12/16

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/for-the-love-of-god-godowski-what-are-you-even-talking-about-and-general-assembly-a-no-is-a-no-to-your-constituents/

http://www.wrdetv.com/index.cfm?&ref=60200&ref2=3461

http://www.wboc.com/story/30948519/2016-legislative-session-begins-in-delaware

http://www.wmdt.com/news/more-local-news/de-rep-senators-explain-their-points-of-emphasis-for-148th-gen-assembly/37399824

1/13/16

http://www.doverpost.com/article/20160113/NEWS/160119913

 

Red Clay Education Association Officially Supporting House Bill 50 Veto Override!!! And More!

While it isn’t the DSEA, the Red Clay Education Association officially voted tonight to support the House Bill 50 Veto Override.  Thank you the members of the RCEA for doing this.  The Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education passed a board policy honoring opt-out a couple months ago, so it looks like Red Clay supports opt-out all over the district.

Mike Matthews, the President of RCEA, just posted this on Facebook:

At tonight’s Representative Council, the Red Clay Education Association took an official position of support for the legislature to override Gov. Jack Markell‘s veto of HB 50, the Parent Opt Out Bill.

The rally the Delaware PTA is sponsoring will be held on Thursday, 1/14, at 1pm on the steps of Legislative Hall in Dover.  All parents and students are encouraged to attend to lend support.  As well, the Delaware PTA petition is still live:

https://www.change.org/p/delaware-state-house-vote-to-override-delaware-hb50-veto

State Rep. John Kowalko will be asking for a suspension of rules when the Delaware House of Representatives meets in legislative session on Thursday.  A suspension of rules, which would prevent House Bill 50 from going back to the House Education Committee led by State Rep. Earl Jaques, would open up House Bill 50 for a vote by the State Representatives.  If the suspension of rules doesn’t go through, it doesn’t mean all hope is lost.  It would be up to Jaques to allow the bill to be heard in the House Education Committee.  It would go through the same process as last Spring if it progresses from there: House Education Committee to Full House Vote to Senate Education Committee to full Senate vote, assuming it passed each step along the way.

This has been a very long journey for many of us supporting this bill, and probably for those who oppose it as well.  While some may question the importance of it, and why it is such a big deal, I would hope those people understand this bill is about student and parent rights.  I have heard someone say it is a waste of “political capital”.  I wouldn’t say that at all.  Every bill in the General Assembly is important to someone.  To myself, there are certainly matters (like the state budget) that take on more public importance than House Bill 50, but this one that hits very close to home for a lot of parents.

Opt-Out Heats Up Again During Arctic Chill

Here we go again!  The opt-out movement is back!  And smack dab in the middle of it all is Delaware’s 62 legislators in the House and Senate.  Matthew Albright with the News Journal wrote about the Veto Override of House Bill 50.  There are some great quotes in here… and then there is Earl…

“If you’re a Democrat, and the governor’s a Democrat, you have to think long and hard, ‘Do I want to override my governor?” said Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, chairman of the House Education Committee. “It has to be a really big issue for you to do that.”

Jaques was one of five representatives who voted against House Bill 50. He says parents already have the right to opt out, so he doesn’t understand the need for a new law.

Earl, Earl, Earl… when are you going to get what this is all about?  I’ve already put Earl in the no column on this.  I don’t expect him to change his vote at all.  There is no law when it comes to parents opting out, thus House Bill 50!!!  It protects the parents, but it is more than obvious Earl wants to side with the Governor.  Luckily, State Rep. John Kowalko is able to comment on this insanity with a breath of fresh air”

“If it’s a good policy, you voted for it because it’s a good policy,” Kowalko said. “That policy does not change its makeup just because the governor has decided that he doesn’t like it. If we start considering another branch of government as dictating to us how our decisions should be made, we are seriously compromising our rights as an independent body.”

State Rep. Mike Ramone is once again thinking this is all about the amount of testing kids take.  Mike, I’m going to tell you right now I have never once heard from any parent about any other test but the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Parents don’t want to opt out of any other test but the Smarter Balanced.  Once again, those who are pro “assessment inventory” are missing some basic facts.  When DCAS was around, it was taken two to three times a year depending on how the students did on the first Spring test.  If they didn’t hit proficiency, they had to take it again.  That’s when parents were talking about “too much testing”.  But what happens when we do get rid of the assessments that do matter in favor of SBAC and the interim assessments that accompany it?  Then you will have opt-out and NO assessments that give good feedback.  I am not anti-assessment.  Like the PTA, I support assessments that give timely feedback with a validated test.    I already gave my predictions on the final results for the Assessment Inventory Committee.  But Ramone… does he realize what House Bill 50 actually is?

Ramone also said he wants to see a statewide process for opting out, since the current rules are a patchwork of district-by district rules.

A statewide process for opting out?  It’s called House Bill 50.  It specifically states when schools would receive letters from parents and that students who are opted out need to receive another form of instruction.  Does he want us to do it through the DOE?  That would be a never-ending nightmare!  Let’s not muddy the waters any more Mike.  House Bill 50 is what it is.  You are either for parental rights or you’re not.  At the end of the day, this is what it all boils down to.  Something Delaware PTA President Dr. Terri Hodges agrees with:

“The message we’re trying to send is that parents and teachers and the community have spoken,” said Terri Hodges, the PTA’s president. “We are hoping our legislators honor the will of the people and follow their original vote.”

I am already hearing the DOE is talking about Smarter Balanced results coming in before kids leave school for summer.  I saw that one coming a mile away!  This will be another one of their attempts to dissuade legislators from voting for the override.  “Look, parents said they wanted quicker feedback.  We’re going to make that happen.”  But no matter when the results come in, we have to face facts.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment is a BAD test.  Period.  I am all for getting rid of SBAC for high school juniors.  But I am also for getting rid of it for ALL Delaware students. Until that happens, parents will opt out, and there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do about it.  Yes, the legislators do need to look at the reasons why.  I won’t disagree with that.  But talking about it doesn’t do anything for parents.  The legislators who voted for the Smarter Balanced Assessment knew there were issues with it.  But they voted it in anyways.  This is the consequence of that action.  Yes, Murphy already bought the test.  We all know that.  But look at the results.  Has it changed anything for our students?  Not really.  It has brought disruption and chaos to our children’s education.  The only ones who support this assessment are the very ones who seem to profit, whether financially or through an illusion of success by having “great scores”.

As for the infamous letter the ten Democrats sent Governor Markell about the SAT replacing the Smarter Balanced Assessment, this is NOT their idea.  The Delaware DOE has been talking about this publicly since last May.  The College Board is redesigning the SAT to be more like the Smarter Balanced and make it all about the Common Core.  So guess what, it’s not like it will be that much of an improvement.  Can’t wait to see those SAT scores on top of Delaware’s already horrible scores.

This is a bill that comes down to basic and fundamental parental rights.  Meanwhile, over 200 parents have already signed the Delaware PTA Petition.  More will sign as well before it is all said and done.  This is a battle parents aren’t giving up on.  We won’t stop until our rights are protected.  I am frankly shocked that some legislators would rather see parents fighting with schools than overriding a ridiculous veto by a Governor who is so entrenched in corporate education reform he can’t see the forest from the trees.

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: Hodges & Johnson

DEPTA

Hodges & Johnson is not the latest detective show hitting television.  But it is an appropriate name for the powerhouse behind the Delaware PTA.  They really stepped up this year for parent rights.  President Dr. Terri Hodges and Vice-President of Advocacy Yvonne Johnson started the year off with a bang by announcing two town halls for those interested in opting their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I will fully admit to being blown away when I heard this but I quickly got in touch with Dr. H and let her know I was in full support of this.

In March, the duo held the first opt out town hall in New Castle County.  To say the first town hall on opt-out was controversial would be an understatement.  Confession time again: I truly thought I was advocating on my own for opt-out.  I knew others in the state who supported it and a couple school boards were behind it, but in terms of rallying the troops I thought it was going to be a solo act.  With that first town hall I knew there was massive support for the rising movement in Delaware.  Around the same time, the very controversial House Bill 50 was introduced in the General Assembly, State Rep. Earl Jaques was blasting opt-out parents, and Governor Markell was taking steps in his failed effort to squash the movement.

By the time the second opt-out town hall in Kent County happened a couple weeks later in early March, Brian Touchette from the DOE and Donna Johnson with the State Board of Education were forced to admit there was no law preventing parents from opting out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  This was a major breakthrough in the opt-out movement and cleared the path for everything that went down at Legislative Hall over the next four months.

Johnson & Hodges, or at least one of their carefully chosen representatives, were present for every single opt-out meeting or vote at Legislative Hall.  By the time the Delaware Senate finally passed the bill on June 25th, summer was here and everyone who supported the bill needed a well-earned break.  But not even a month later, Delaware Governor Jack Markell vetoed House Bill 50 and spit on parental rights everywhere.  Immediately the talk went towards overriding the Governor’s veto, but the General Assembly went out of legislative session for six months.  Since then, Hodges & Johnson, with the PTA membership, have been gearing up for next month when the legislators return.

In the past few months, the Delaware PTA again stepped up to help prevent the harsh opt-out penalties as part of Delaware’s new state accountability system.  Unfortunately, Secretary Godowsky caved in to pressure and recommended the opt-out multiplier penalty as opposed to districts and schools having to come up with a plan to prevent opt-out.  The State Board of Education approved the final part of their ESEA Flexibility Waiver last month and they are awaiting word from the US DOE on final approval.

I have no doubt that will happen, especially given the stab in the back from the US DOE announced today about definitive funding cuts for states who dip below the 95% participation rate two years in a row.  But the Delaware PTA is on it, and the recently announced House Bill Veto Override Parent Rally at Legislative Hall on January 14th will show the legislators parents should not be underestimated.  In the thick of it will be Yvonne and Terri, Delaware’s own Hodges & Johnson!

Both of them truly believe parents have a voice in education, and they have proved it time and time again.  While I don’t agree with 100% of everything the PTA endorses, I respect their ability to draw consensus from a large group of parents for whatever they decide as a group.  That is how it should be in education, but we have too many Markells and Rodels in our country.

Parent Opt-Out Veto Override Rally 1/14/16, I Know What You Have Been Up To Governor Markell

The Delaware PTA is hosting a parent rally at Legislative Hall in Dover on January 14th, at 2pm.  This event is changed from January 12th.  Please make every effort to attend: parents, students, citizens, teachers, administrators, superintendents, charter heads, and anyone else you can think of.  The latest bomb from the US DOE about opt-out is a slap in the face of every single parent of a child in public school America.  We need to make this standardized high-stakes testing madness stop.  Take off work that day, bring your kids, and support the God-given, fundamental and constitutional rights of parents.  This is YOUR moment.  Do not let it pass.  For school employees, bring the students on a field trip that day and show them how democracy in America works best.  This is about parents rights, pure and simple.  This is not a civil rights issue.  If anything, the Smarter Balanced Assessment has proven how disgusting and vile one test can cause illusions and perceptions about students who have the most needs for instruction.  And if you are the parent of a brilliant child who did great on the test, that is excellent.  Your child is going to be brilliant either way and doesn’t need this money-wasting time-consuming test to tell you what you already know.

I’VE HEARD FROM SEVERAL FOLKS THAT GOVERNOR MARKELL IS CALLING ALL OF THE HOUSE REPS AND ASKING FOR THEIR SUPPORT IN NOT VOTING YES TO THE OVERRIDE OF HOUSE BILL 50.  While everyone who told me this asked me not to share it, and I pretended with each one this was the first time I heard it, it is far too many for my comfort zone.  Jack Markell is telling legislators about how it would be so disrespectful to his office if they override HIS veto.  Sorry Jack, this is not YOUR bill.  This is not YOUR decision.  Our legislators sided with parents over your diabolically insane testing mentality.  You are a bully.  You do not care about parents.  How many of your children took the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  We both know the answer to that one!

FOR OUR DELAWARE LEGISLATORS: If you vote no to the veto, you are nothing more than a bully.  You are a pawn of Governor Markell and you care more about disrespecting one already disrespectful person than thousands of your constituents.  You serve Delaware.  The People of Delaware.  Not Jack Alan Markell.  The people.  A no vote on the veto could very well cost you your re-election if you are up again next year.  And if you aren’t running or don’t face the ballot until a later date, good luck getting any support from the thousands of Delaware parents who have been spit on, disrespected, bullied and intimidated.  I know for a fact some of you have already given your support to Jack on this issue.  I would think long and hard about that costly mistake if I were you.  Republicans and Democrats alike.  This is not the time for you to lend support to a failed Governor on education.  Seven out of twelve states who received the latest US DOE threat letter were Smarter Balanced Assessment states.  Do more than override the veto. Get rid of Smarter Balanced, and come up with a meaningful and productive assessment for our students without all the strings attached.  We don’t need to hire outside consultants and companies to do this.  We don’t need to spend tens of millions of dollars to do this.  We have the teachers and educators in our very own state to come up with something better for our children.  And as for you John Carney, you need to get your head out of the clouds and oppose Markell’s bullying tactics.  Loudly and clearly.  Stop being quiet on everything and just assuming you are a shoe-in on Election Day.  That is weak and tiring, and Delaware deserves better than that.

FOR GOVERNOR MARKELL: Do you hear that?  That is the sound of parents becoming more important than you.  That is the sound of the legislators in your state supporting those same parents and honoring their rights.  It rang like a bell on June 25th when the Delaware Senate cleared the final passage of House Bill 50, and it will ring again when they override your veto.  This is your legacy.  This is your thumbprint on Delaware: causing parents to rise in opposition to a tyrannical eight years of you.  We are done with you.  We are casting you aside and praying the next one is infinitely better.  For all the talk you had about education, you are no better than a school yard bully taunting those you believe are weaker than you.  We are stronger than you and we will show you once and for all how much stronger we are.  We know you taunt and tease our legislators with threats about not supporting this bill or that bill, or how you use your executive power to make promises when it comes to the budget.  We know you allowed Rodel to use their influence so you could hand-pick your leaders in the Delaware DOE and your unelected members of the State Board of Education.  We know which legislators are in your pocket.  No more.  Your power is waning and you know it.  Instead of succumbing to the will of the people you actually think exerting more power will make people listen.  No.  You are done.

As a state, we need to STOP making every single education decision that is surrounded by the measurements of standardized assessments.  The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission is doing it.  Our schools do it.  Our DOE certainly does it.  Our businesses aligned with Markell and Rodel do it.  Enough.  What about YOUR child.  What about their INDIVIDUAL rights?  Do they mean anything anymore?

US DOE’s Threat Letter To Delaware DOE About Opt-Out Is Ridiculous

The United States Department of Education sent letters to 12 states about issues with lower participation rates for either all students or sub-groups of students on the state assessment.  Delaware’s letter, from the US DOE Director of State Support Dr. Monique Chism, has all the intimidating and bullying language we have grown to expect from these federal intrusionists.  So much for the Every Student Succeeds Act and the clause about states determining how to handle participation rates.  The US DOE has learned nothing about standing up on the bully pulpit and telling states what to do.

So what bully lingo do we see in this letter about Delaware not meeting the 95% participation rate for English Language Learners and high school students?  The biggest “threat” is turning a school that has multiple years of low participation rates into a priority or focus school.  There are the usual funding cut threats.  But Delaware already addressed this in their last ESEA Flexibility Waiver edit sent to the US DOE on November 30th.  You know, the one where they have the participation rate multiplied against a school’s participation rate.  The one that nobody but the DOE, Godowsky, State Board of Education, Rodel, and the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens wanted.  DSEA, Delaware PTA, district and charter superintendents and heads of school opposed it.  Parents opposed it.

The timing on this couldn’t be better.  As the Smarter Balanced season begins next year, opt-out will become a huge conversation.  Our legislators have an awesome responsibility to override Governor Markell’s parent disrespecting veto of House Bill 50.  This final vote from the legislators over this issue will decide once and for all who they stand with: a departing Governor’s absolutely horrible education legacy or the constituents who elect them.  The Delaware DOE is probably emailing this letter to every single legislator as we speak.  But guess what?  I am calling the US DOE’s bluff.  Let them try to cut funding.  Let them try to interfere with a parent’s God-given, fundamental and constitutional rights to dictate the best interests of their children.  We will fight them all the way to the United States Supreme Court if need be.

Every single parent of a public school student in Delaware needs to make a choice for their child if they haven’t already: do they continue to let corporate education reform allow our children to be in huge classes with little funding going to support and resources in favor of a once-a-year test that dictates everything about their child, teachers, and school?  Do they allow our Governor, DOE, State Board, Secretary and the US DOE continue to take away local control from our schools and spend our taxpayer dollars on tests that do not give immediate feedback, do not impact the level of instruction an individual student receives and actually tramples the civil rights of every single sub-group of students in our state?  These are the questions parents need to ask.  Parents can and have made a difference, and their voices are growing stronger every single day.  Say no to the US DOE.  Say no to Governor Markell.  Say yes to your child.

15 Who Made On Impact On 2015 AND 16 To Watch In 2016: The Parents of Delaware Students

2015 had something happen that hasn’t happened in a long time.  Parents voices were heard loud and clear with education, and the Delaware General Assembly acted on their behalf with House Bill 50.  Parents also spoke out about bullying at Skyline Middle School in the Red Clay Consolidated School District and made a difference.  I expect this trend to not only continue in 2016, but also to increase.

The General Assembly has a big choice in front of them when they return to session on January 12th.  House Bill 50 WILL come up for a veto override.  Will they listen to parents or will they stick with Governor Markell?  Let’s be crystal clear: he has no intention of getting rid of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  The key to this will be the parents.  They need to start emailing and calling their state senators and state representatives in their district NOW.  On January 14th (not January 12th as previously reported), parents will rally at Legislative Hall in support of the veto override.  Sponsored by the Delaware PTA, this will be big.

Democrat Governor hopeful John Carney has kept mum on his position with opt-out.  Colin Bonini, the main Republican contender voted yes both times the bill came before the Delaware Senate.  I’m hoping you have a hat trick on this one Senator Bonini!

I have a feeling as more and more parents become upset with the way special education is going for many of their kids across the state more and more of them will speak up.  Many want to act but don’t know how or even if they can.  It only takes one person helping another.  Reach out to them and let them know there is no reason to be afraid to advocate for your child.

I’ve heard many parents tell me they won’t opt their child out unless a law is passed.  There is NO law that could pass that could give or take away your constitutional and fundamental right to opt your child out.  Know that, and act on it.

I personally want to thank all the parents who came to make their voice heard at Legislative Hall this year.  No matter which side of the fence you were on, the important thing is you were acting in the best interest of your children.  That is something to be proud of!  Whether it was bills on Autism, or teen suicide prevention, or opt-out, your voices were heard.  We will have a lot to fight for next year!  And really stepping forward to help parents was the Delaware PTA.  House Bill 50 would not have become the success it was had it not been for them.  Let’s stop the Governor from disrespecting parents!

16 To Watch In 2016: Ashley Sabo

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Ashley who?  That might be a question many of you are asking.  But for those who know her, I’m sure they can contest that Ashley Sabo is a force to be reckoned with.  The first encounter I had with Ashley was during the Vision Coalition annual conference at the end of October.  For the past two years I have made it a point to “crash” their Twitter hashtag party.  I usually instinctively know where someone stands on Delaware education, but Ashley stood out.  She responded on many of the tweets, and it went from there.

Ashley is, first and foremost, a mother and wife.  One of her children is special needs.  Ashley became very involved in the Red Clay Consolidated School District to make sure her child was getting the best education possible.  Red Clay recently adopted a massive inclusion push for students with disabilities and their regular peers.  When the initiative started, Ashley knew she had to become involved right away.  As a result, Ashley was the co-chair of the Red Clay Secondary School Inclusion Committee.  She is now the co-chair for the District Inclusion Oversight Committee.

Her other volunteer activities are as follows: President of the Meadowood PTA, Secretary and member of the advocacy committee for the Delaware PTA, and she is working on becoming a trained Educational Surrogate Parent.  The last position is where someone acts as a parent in the special education process for children with disabilities in the Delaware foster-care system.  As well, she is also working on becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate, which is a court-appointed position which helps abused or neglected children find a safe and healthy environment in a permanent home.

Back in March of 2014, Ashley and her husband were very involved in the feud between Nemours and United Healthcare.  For parents of special needs children, there is usually some catalyst that forces them to act.  For Ashley, this was that moment.  Once a special needs parent becomes involved in advocating not only for their child but others, it is very hard to put that fire out.  Shortly after I started this blog, another Delaware blogger left a comment on an article that always stuck with me in his accurate description of parents of special needs children:

I’ve always felt that God picks his greatest works and gives them special needs children, knowing full well that through their advocacy, care, and love, the envelope will be stretched enabling others who are weak, tired, and poor to be able to slip in and have their causes addressed too……. Meaning that if someone forces you to address an issue due to their advocacy, it is an easy next step to widen the breadth of the process to include the others as well. But the latter effort would be deemed totally impossible to attempt, were there never those advocates who initially force one to start the process. Across many states, there is a high preponderance of those who are considered the doers of good for society, who themselves are parents of special needs children. It is those parents, whose work keeps all of society human… That of course is my humble opinion. But it has become my explanation as to why all parents of special needs children seem to be, again in my opinion, bordering superhuman…

I wouldn’t say we are “superhuman”, but very dedicated to doing everything we can to make sure our children have the best life possible.  If that means going against authority or even state agencies in the attempt, so be it.  For Ashley Sabo, a life-long resident of Delaware with two masters degrees, she is well-armed for this.  There are many Ashley’s in Delaware and across America.  But Ashley has that extra fuel to keep the conversations going AND to make a difference.  I would strongly urge any district officials in Red Clay, state legislators, and those in power who have the capability of making true and lasting change for our special needs kids to truly listen to Ashley.  She is wise beyond her young years and this is clear when you meet her.  I have no doubt Ashley will be a force for change in the coming years.

As recently last night, I published an article about Red Clay’s inclusion push.  While it is certainly a very noble gesture, it won’t work if the resources and staff are not able to meet the needs of the students.  This is Ashley’s biggest fight at the moment, getting those in the district to listen to what is glaringly obvious.  Should the redistricting proposal from the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission pass, Red Clay will have even more students.  If they can’t get this now, how are they going to do this with a large influx of new students?  Whatever happens, I have faith Ashley will be at the front of the debate.  While she lists Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn and State Rep. Kim Williams as an inspiration, I can say she is a light in the darkness for all the special needs children in Delaware.

News Journal Gives False Impression Of Every Student Succeeds Act

The Delaware News Journal’s Jon Offredo wrote an article about the United States House of Representatives passage of the “Every Student Succeeds Act” and how in a rare moment of consensus, most stakeholders in education agree on the legislation.  Citing the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA), the Delaware PTA, New Castle County Vo-Tech Superintendent Dr. Vicki Gehrt, and Governor Markell in the article is not a completely accurate picture of consensus.  Many in Delaware feel the bill, while giving states more authority in education, opens the door to all sorts of new problems.  But the News Journal didn’t reach out to anyone else who could have offered a negative opinion of this bill.

States, districts and parents decried a one-size fits all education policy and many of the goals, including one that mandated every student to reach a proficiency on tests by 2015, were not met.

Since then, Congress has been unable to come up with a better education law so the Obama Administration has issued waivers to states exempting them from the requirement. The waivers mean states won’t lose federal money.

It is those very waivers that have allowed the Delaware DOE and Governor Markell to steer Delaware education towards a disastrous path since Markell took reign in January of 2009.  It is my contention Congress refused to act on reauthorizing this bill due to immense pressure from corporate education reform lobbyists who got exactly what they wanted with the ESEA Flexibility Waivers and with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Perhaps the biggest cheerleader for ESSA is Governor Markell, because he got to keep his precious standardized testing…

“The Every Student Succeeds Act preserves some of the most important elements of our existing system, including annual testing requirements in 3rd-8th grade and in high school, which ensure that every student counts,” the statement said. “We would have liked to see stronger requirements for timely intervention in schools where students are struggling, but overall, the Every Student Succeeds Act is an important step forward that will give states more flexibility to meet their students’ needs.”

What I worry about this is states like Delaware who lead the corporate education reform movement.  Every move Markell made in the past ten plus years has been towards the goals of companies who thrive on “fixing” education.  In giving states more authority in education, states who already abuse that power are ripe to continue  DSEA, along with their national counterpart, the NEA, has trumpeted the ESSA as a great bill because it does not have as big an impact on teachers in terms of evaluations.

Many people are very concerned about the huge pot of money available for new charter schools which will result in a sort of “Race To The Top” for new charter schools.  Others are concerned about the consequences “community schools” and services can have on parental decisions and rights.  Technology and personalized learning are touched on in this bill but in a way that gives the controversial practice a wide berth in the future.  Standardized testing is still here, and Common Core is so embedded in education now that it would be very difficult to just do away with it as the bill allows.

The only parent voice in this article belonged to Dr. Terri Hodges with the Delaware PTA who wisely stated she is “cautiously optimistic” about the ESSA.  The News Journal rarely goes out to ask everyday parents who don’t belong to some organization about their thoughts on education matters.  Not one Delaware legislator commented on this article.  But if it is something Rodel or Vision Coalition related, the News Journal goes out of their way to write huge articles and allow multiple letters to the editor on what those groups promote.  Many understand this is because those groups and those of the Delaware Business Roundtable provide a lot of advertising dollars for the News Journal.  As a result, many folks in Delaware have lost respect for the newspaper based on this and other biases.

 

#StopESEA @DelawarePTA @DSEA1 @gacecoffice Don’t Drink The Kool-Aid!!!!

Delaware PTA, DSEA & Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens:

You  hold a great deal of power in your groups.  We the people need you to band together and unite for the students of Delaware.  The ESEA reauthorization is all about more testing, more federal mandates and waivers, and even “social impact bonds”.  I know your bosses in the National PTA, NEA and Governor Markell are all behind this federal legislation.  But that does not mean you need to endorse legislation that has not even been seen by the public yet.

Delaware PTA: You know I love you for your support on the opt-out movement and House Bill 50!  We need you to take a serious look at the personalized learning models and competency-based education supports embedded in this legislation.  These are not good for students over the long-term, especially those students who are most in need.  This bill is big on accountability systems created at the state level, and we all know what that kind of power can have in a few corrupt minds in our state.  Please, do not endorse this bill and let your National PTA know they shouldn’t either.

DSEA: I have to admit, you folks are an enigma to me!  From my perspective, the best words I can think of are this- you always want a seat at the table but don’t realize you are actually on the table as the main course.  I’ve seen this with the Delaware School Success Framework, teacher evaluations, and Race To The Top.  I know you wish there didn’t even have to be opt-out, but the plain simple fact is that it is here and it is necessary for parents to do this.  I get that teachers endorsing opt-out could put them in rough waters, but they are already in that position because of the state and federal mandates coming down.  Please do not endorse this bill that will make sure teachers lose even more voice.

GACEC: You are a Governor’s council run by the state, which puts you under the shadow of Governor Markell.  But your mandate is to look out for exceptional citizens, those with disabilities.  Please tell me how supporting the Governor against opt-out helps those citizens.  Please tell me you truly want the best outcome for children with special needs.  Please tell me you do not support this latest edition of the ESEA reauthorization.  We’ve seen the outcome of Smarter Balanced for our children with disabilities.  They are now further behind.  That isn’t progress, and I’m sure you have seen how Delaware wants these children to go from 19% proficiency to 59% in six years.  That is insanity, brought on by Governor Markell.  Please stop siding with the DOE on matters that only negatively impact our kids.

 

Appoquinimink Up To Their Dirty Tricks Again With Opt-Out/Legal Letters…Just Refuse The Test!

The Appoquinimink School District in Delaware is continuing their intimidation of parents when they opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  It looks like they added some wording to the 2015-2016 edition about the testing windows.  Once again, with gusto, the ESEA doesn’t even address parents opting their children out of the state assessment.  The laws in ESEA deal with schools not testing students,  not parents.  Once upon a time, schools would discourage students from taking the test to improve their scores.  That was why that law was written.  Why is Appo continuing this false impression after I posted their 2014-2015 letter 8 months ago?  Say, didn’t the Delaware PTA ask Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn for a legal opinion of this letter?  Whatever happened to that?  Paging Yvonne Johnson…

I love how this letter states it was sent via regular mail AND certified.  From what I’m hearing, a child under the age of eighteen signed for it.  So does that make the certified mail drop-off even legal?  Delaware parents, you may get letters like this from other school districts or charters.  I would be creative with it.  Teach a younger child how to make paper airplanes.  Teach them how to do origami.  Or that thing where it becomes eight sides with all the questions on it.  Don’t sign it, and don’t send it back.  They want you to acknowledge a law that doesn’t even apply to you.  Continue opting your child out, and when the district comes back and asks why you didn’t respond, let them know you already gave them your letter, conversation over.  The override of Governor Markell’s parent disrespecting House Bill 50 veto by the 148th General Assembly can’t come soon enough.

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Hey Appo Board: How about getting off your weak knees and actually pass an opt-out policy like Red Clay and Christina did this fall.  Or even a resolution like Capital did.  Stop kissing DOE’s  you-know-what and show some spine!

Delaware PTA President-Elect Bill Doolittle Steps Down

The Delaware PTA President-Elect announced he is stepping down from that position today at the Delaware PTA State Convention held at Del-Tech in Dover.  Bill Doolittle has been with the Delaware PTA since 2011, and has probably served on more committees and task forces in our state than most.

Bill is a good guy, and he is a strong advocate for students with disabilities.  I know him from the IEP Task Force.  I wasn’t a member, but I attended every meeting so I got to know him pretty well.  I also saw him in action as a member of the Accountability Framework Working Group the past couple months.  Doolittle was not happy with the opt-out penalty, even if the DOE’s minutes from last Winter may have suggested otherwise.

Doolittle will remain with the Delaware PTA as part of their advocacy committee run by Yvonne Johnson.  And he still holds a seat on the Governor’s Advisory Committee for Exceptional Citizens.  I have no doubt Bill will continue to be an active voice for our special needs kids here in Delaware!

Dr. Terri Hodges remains the President of Delaware PTA, and Ashley Dalzell-Gray was voted in as the first Vice-President of Delaware PTA at the convention today.

I Thought I Should Actually Honor Jack Markell

Delaware Senate Confirms Secretary Of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky

Dr. Steven Godowsky is the new Secretary of Education in Delaware.  Today, the Delaware Senate voted 19-2 to confirm Dr. Godowsky to serve at the pleasure of the Governor as the new Secretary of Education.  The sole nay votes belonged to Delaware Senators Colin Bonini and Greg Lavelle.  Red Clay Educators Association Mike Matthews was present at the Senate Confirmation and put a lot out there on Twitter.