Governor Markell Signs Teacher Evaluation Bill With No Press Release Or Media Mention

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Yesterday, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed House Bill 399, a teacher evaluation bill that began its journey with great intentions and wound up a victim to horrible amendments put on the bill by Senator David Sokola.  There was no announcement of the bill signing to the press.  It was not on the Governor’s public schedule  There has been no press announcement or even a mention of this bill signing anywhere on the internet.  Until now.

In attendance were Governor Markell, State Rep. Earl Jaques (the primary sponsor of the bill), Senator Bryan Townsend, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky, DSEA President Frederika Jenner, one of the co-chairs of the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee, Jackie Kook (Christina), Jill League (Red Clay teacher, on the DPAS-II Advisory Committee), Markell Education Policy Advisor Meghan Wallace, and Delaware parent Kevin Ohlandt.

Markell invitied the parties into his conference room and engaged in a conversation about the bill.  As he looked around and commented how it was an interesting group in attendance, Markell thanked Jaques for all his hard work on the bill.  Markell and Jaques talked about how they had many conversations about this bill.  He then went around the table and asked for folks thoughts on the bill.  Many were supportive of the bill.  One person, the parent, said he felt it was a great bill until Senator Sokola put his amendment on it.

Secretary Godowsky said two charter schools were picked for the pilot program coming out of the bill, which would allow for a teacher and an administrator to choose which test to use for Part A of Component V (with the administrator having final say), all components would be equally weighted, and student and parent surveys.  Sokola’s amendment added the administrator always having final say, the student and teacher surveys, and the pilot of three schools.  The two charter schools invited by the Delaware DOE were Providence Creek Academy and Odyssey Charter School.  Oddly enough, Providence Creek announced in a board meeting on June 21st, eight days before the Senate Education Committee and nine days before Sokola put his amendment on the bill on June 30th, that they were picked for a DPAS study by the Delaware DOE.  Governor Markell expressed an interest in having districts participate in the pilot program.  Secretary Godowsky said he thought Appoquinimink was on board but they opted out.  Markell stated he may want to see Christina or Red Clay participate.  Jenner said she would put out some feelers.

Markell was very cordial with the audience.  He asked the teachers how their school year was going and how the schools they worked at were.  He reflected on a program at Kirk Middle School from many years ago called “I Am Kirk” which was an anti-bullying program.

The time came for the bill signing, and everyone in attendance stood besides Markell as many pictures were taken by Markell staffers, James Dawson with Delaware Public Media, and even State Rep. Earl Jaques wanted a picture of the event.  When Markell was signing the bill, the parent noticed he wrote each letter with a different pen until he reached the second letter of his last name which he finished signing with the same pen.  Afterwards, he gave each participant one of the pens he signed the bill with, as seen in the above picture.  He shook hands with everyone as the crowd drifted off, with the exception of Senator Townsend who stayed.

Yes, my first bill signing.  I was very happy for the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee when this legislation was first announced.  It was finally an end to the very harmful effect of standardized testing on teacher evaluations.  It opened a door for more medicine on the corporate education reform wounds inflicted on Delaware education.  But one ex-DOE employee (who worked in the Teacher Leader Effectiveness Unit there) was able to influence one advocacy group from Wilmington to intervene.  Then throw in Senator Sokola into the mix, and the amendment hijacked a great bill.  I firmly believe having student and parent surveys as a part of a teacher’s evaluation is very dangerous.  I am not sure why the DOE contacted schools to participate in this pilot program before Sokola even introduced the amendment (much less having the Senate approve the amendment).  That isn’t the first time they have done something like that, way before something else had to be done first.

I do think it is good the pilot program could morph into a permanent thing.  With Component V not always needing the Smarter Balanced Assessment, and giving the actual professionals: the teacher and the administrator the ability to collaborate and talk about a teacher’s choice is a good idea.  As well as the equal weighting of each component.  The DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee worked very hard for many months and they deserve major kudos for that.  The disrespect for teachers that stand up for their rights is alarming.  It is very disturbing that the Governor would not honor this bill the same as other bills he signs by making a pre-announcement of his signing and inviting any teacher who wanted to attend.  But to make it worse, by not even acknowledging he signed this bill shows something I don’t want to say right now but the words are in my head.  The disrespect for teachers that stand up for their rights is alarming.

As I eagerly awaited a picture or some type of announcement of the signing, from the Governor, Delaware Public Media, DSEA, Senator Townsend, or Rep. Jaques, with nary a paragraph or photo in sight, I was stuck with a Bic pen signed by Jack Markell.

DSEA Statement On House Bill 399

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

Update on House Bill 399:

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

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

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

The main victories which were maintained in the bill:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House Bill 399 Senate Transcript Part 1: Sokola Gets His Pinocchio On

Senator David Sokola did not present the entire truth to the Delaware Senate last night when he gave his introductory remarks to House Bill 399 and introduced an amendment to the bill.  I immediately saw what he was doing and it worked because the amendment which completely changed the original bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate.  I find this legislative process, with no one able to rebut or correct Sokola’s statements a serious flaw in our law-making process.

His remarks concerned the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee, forged out of legislation last year.  The group met last fall and this winter to come up with new recommendations in the DPAS-II evaluation system for Delaware teachers.  The group had many recommendations, but the sticking point with the Delaware Department of Education was an administrator not having the final say for which assessment to use in the Component V of DPAS-II.  They didn’t feel as though teachers and an administrator should have an adult conversation and be able to mutually agree on this.  I wrote extensively about what happened during the last few sub-committee meetings and it completely contradicts the version Sokola gave his peers in the Delaware Senate.  As well, in reaction to comments given by ex-Delaware DOE employee Atnre Alleyne at the Senate Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, one of the chairs of the sub-committee gave her version of other events transpiring out of those meetings.  In return, Atnre had many things to say about House Bill 399 in the past week.  He was absolutely right on one point:

But if anyone is paying attention, this is the week when powerful interest groups take the unsuspecting masses to school. It is the last week of Delaware’s legislative session and while most are ruminating on 4th of July plans, pressure groups are seeing their bills breeze by on their way to becoming law.

What he fails to distinguish is how he himself represents several public interest groups which I have referred to numerous times as corporate education reform.  Stacked to the brim with flawed research and reports, they manipulate the masses into thinking teachers are bad and the unions will make sure they stay in schools no matter how bad they are.  I may have had issues with the Delaware State Education Association over opt out last winter (to which I admittedly overreacted), but I think most can agree that if a teacher is really bad, they most likely aren’t going to be around for too long.  Is there such a thing as a perfect teacher?  Probably not.  We are, after all, only human.  No one is perfect.  But I will stress, once again, that anything using a monstrosity like the Smarter Balanced Assessment as an indicator of a student or a teacher’s performance is the high point of insanity.  But Senator David Sokola doesn’t seem to care about that aspect, as indicated by the below remarks he gave the Delaware Senate last night:

Sokola: Thank you Madam President. I’m going to talk very briefly about House Bill 399 before going to the amendment.  It was, the process of the DPAS II Advisory Committee was to, uhm, set up, uh, in the past from House Joint Resolution #6.  And we had various stakeholders who, uhm, met quite a few times, as well as a sub-committee, uh, to this group to look at the evaluation of, uhm, teachers.  Uhm, that, uhm, process got a little discombobulated towards the end of the process, and uhm, there were a number of versions of a bill drafter over a period of a few weeks.  And I was not satisfied at, at that.  Various groups were continuing to meet, and discuss, to try to come to a consensus on the issues. So, uh, with that in mind I would like to ask that Senate Amendment #1 to House Bill #399 be read and brought to the Senate.

Senator Patti Blevins: Senate Amendment #1 is before the Senate. Senator Sokola…

Sokola: Thank you Madam President. This amendment actually does a few things.  The one that it does is it does give the administrator final say on components, the components of the teacher evaluation process.  Dr. Susan Bunting (Superintendent of Indian River School District and Chair of the DPAS-II Advisory Committee) had, uh, sent a letter to the education committee for the last meeting.  That was very important.  It turned out a number of the proponents in the bill as it was indicated that they thought, uhm, uh, that was the intent of the bill anyhow.  I made a suggestion that we make that very clear in the amendment.  This amendment does clarify that the administrator does maintain the final say or discretion to determine whether the state standardized assessment should be used as part of the educator’s evaluation.  It also clarifies proposed changes to DPAS-II evaluation system as recommended, uhm, intended to be piloted in three education institutions over a work period of two years.  It has an input, information and deletes section 7 of the bill in its entirety.  Are there, uhm, any questions?  I’ll attempt to answer them.  Otherwise I’d like to ask for a roll call on Senate Amendment 1.

Roll call on Senate Amendment #1: 18 yes, 2 no, 1 absent

Sokola makes it sound like the consensus issues were within the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee.  They were not.  It was between the group’s recommendation and outside groups, like PACE, which was meeting with Alleyne and former Teacher Leader and Effectiveness Unit Chief Chris Ruszkowski in the weeks prior to their engagement with the committee.  To say Alleyne had a bias would be an understatement.  He and Ruszkowski were the two main guys at the DOE for the DPAS-II having Component V in it to begin with.

What Sokola never mentioned in his remarks and with little time for every Senator on the floor to read the full and lengthy amendment while discussion was also going on about the amendment, was a brand-new insertion into the legislation.  This insertion was to include student and parent surveys in the pilot program.  This drew the ire of teachers all across the state today if social media is any indication.  This idea came from Atnre Alleyne in his many comments and blog posts about this bill.  But Sokola took all the credit for it on Mike Matthews Facebook page today:

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To be continued in Part 2 dealing with a 2nd amendment, heartburn, and more!

 

Guest Post By Jackie Kook Concerning House Bill 399 & The Senate Education Committee Meeting Today

House Bill 399 was heard in the Senate Education Committee today, June 29, 2016, the penultimate day of the 2015-2016 legislative session. This bill, which passed the House unanimously (with two absent Representatives and one amendment), was one of only two bills heard by the committee, yet the public filled the small meeting room beyond capacity. Among the onlookers were the usual subjects; individuals from the Department of Education, the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, a handful of educators, lobbyists, and the general public affiliated with different groups of their own. It was the general tenor of the public comment that compelled me to pen this post, as although I have studiously refrained from engaging in the raging online debate up to this point, I do feel that misconceptions need to be cleared and the process, as transparent as it has been, should be outlined.

 

Please note that all of the information I am sharing comes directly from the information that can be found through the online state calendar if you care to scroll back through each and every Department of Education meeting from September 15, 2015, through March 8, 2016. The only two meeting dates that do NOT have associated minutes were November 9 and 30 of 2015, although draft minutes are floating around.

 

Let’s take this back to the beginning, shall we? That’s always a good place to start.

 

In April of 2015, I was contacted by the Delaware State Education Association to participate in a workgroup of teachers, specialists, and administrators, co-facilitated by the Delaware Association of School Administrators. The pitch was novel: Let’s get teachers, specialists, and administrators in a room and give them a task discussing the evaluation system and see what happens. As I have undergone the training for new administrators at the Department of Education and was, at one time, a credentialed observer, and because of my continued interest in and work with the evaluation system, I understood why I was invited. As for the other members of the workgroup, I cannot say, but as I got to know them I realized that they were all amazing individuals with really spot on observations and unique perspectives on the evaluation system. Only one of the nine other educators did I know prior to our first meeting.

 

On April 21 we met, broke into groups, and began the task of looking at the current rating system to make a proposal for alignment of formative component ratings with summative component ratings as well as to look at the summative component ratings and how they could roll up to an overall rating for teachers and specialists. The groups were random, although an effort was made to have teachers/specialists mixed in with administrators, so no group had just one category of educator. By the end of our allotted time together, we realized that more work needed to be done, and we were eager to continue, so we met again a week later, on April 28.

 

After the two work sessions, the team had come up with terminology that would be consistent across formative and summative categories, designed a numerical system that would go along with the ratings and reduce the potential for inconsistencies and “discretion” in the system, and made a few recommendations that addressed some issues we discussed, including the concept of an annual summative process (instead of the current biennial process) and a pilot for the numerical system (which is being referred to publicly as an algorithm).

 

The workgroup recommendations and proposals were presented to the DPAS II Advisory Committee, a group of educational stakeholders who meet regularly to discuss the evaluation system and offer suggestions for changes as necessary. Based on feedback from the committee members, the workgroup reconvened and refined the process accordingly on May 12, 2015. What has come forward into HB399 that bears mentioning here is the mathematical algorithm, and specifically how it was established and the criteria for “cut scores”.

 

It was not really a question that an Unsatisfactory rating should be unacceptable, and as such a numerical value of 0 was assigned to that. To further differentiate Unsatisfactory from Basic, which can be acceptable as a starting point in some circumstances (hence the need for discretion), Basic was assigned a value of 2, with Proficient and Distinguished assigned values of 3 and 4, respectively. It was agreed that, if multiple data points were available for specific criteria and/or components over the course of a two-year summative cycle, those data points would be averaged to come up with an overall score for the summative rating. It may be important to note here that, under current regulation, all teachers and specialists must be evaluated by a credentialed observer at least once a year, with recommendations and accommodations made to facilitate more regular observations. For instance, certain categories would warrant additional evaluations (novice status, under improvement, etc.), and shorter observation times could be used for supplemental evaluations as necessary.

 

Let me say that again. Under current regulation, every teacher and specialist must be observed and have a formative feedback document at a minimum of once a year. The summative rating can be done every year in current regulation, though it must be done at minimum every two years.

 

Let’s say I am evaluated, and in Component I, Planning and Preparation, I receive Proficient scores on all 5 criteria. That means I have earned an average score of 3, Proficient, for Component I. In Component II, Classroom Environment, I receive Proficient scores on 2 criteria and Basic on the other 2. I have earned an average score of 2.5, which falls under Basic. In Component III, Instruction, I received an Unsatisfactory in 2 criteria and a Basic in the other 3. That averages to 1.2, which is an overall Unsatisfactory rating. In Component IV, Professional Responsibilities, I score Proficient for all 4 criteria, earning an average score of Proficient for that category. Finally, in Component V, Student Improvement, I earn an Unsatisfactory, giving me an overall 0 score for that area.

 

Component I = 3. Component II = 2.5. Component III = 1.2. Component IV = 3. Component V = 0.

 

Total rating is 1.94, which puts me into the Basic category. Which we could have guessed, because so many of my scores are low. These ratings would also trigger an Improvement Plan, and my teaching career would be in jeopardy unless I followed the plan and earned higher ratings in the next observation and evaluation.

 

I would be a Basic teacher even with two of five Components rated as Proficient.

 

I’ve earned 11 Proficient ratings at the criteria level, 5 Basic ratings, and 3 Unsatisfactory ratings, yet am still rated as Basic and warranting an Improvement Plan.

 

That’s how the algorithm would work. The cut scores are based on the full workup of the entire set of possible ratings combinations, which I calculated using an Excel document with the gentle prodding and patient guidance of my husband, who neither saw nor cared about what I was actually doing, just told me how to get it done. This document was made available to the workgroup, and due to the areas where there was significant potential for the rating to be really inaccurate based on a quick glance at the numbers, a pilot program was suggested. The pilot was generally regarded as a simple thing to do, as the possibility of having one system (Bloomboard, for instance) write in the algorithm so it automatically calculates seemed easy.

 

Let me repeat that this time that these workgroup meetings, though not “public”, resulted in group consensus on recommendations that were presented to, refined as a result of feedback from, and then endorsed by the DPAS II Advisory Committee. Furthermore, all documents created were made available to the Department of Education, DSEA, DASA, and the Advisory Committee as well as the Sub-Committee later on.

 

Who was on the workgroup? Who were these educators who sat in a room together and dared to create a set of recommendations and proposal to change the entire evaluation system so dramatically (end sarcasm font) without the possibility of public input?

 

The members were published in the document made available to all entities listed above, and are as follows: Sherry Antonetti, Clay Beauchamp, Cheryl Bowman, Kent Chase, Charlynne Hopkins, Chris Jones, Jackie Kook, Suzette Marine, Dave Santore, and Nancy Talmo. Four teachers, two specialists, and four administrators.

 

Two of those individuals were also sitting members of the DPAS II Advisory Committee.

 

Six of those individuals became members of the DPAS II Advisory Sub-Committee.

 

When it is alleged, as it has been, that the information from the workgroup was never shared with the DPAS II Advisory Sub-Committee, and that no questions were asked about it, the data shows differently. A presentation on the workgroup recommendations was made on September 28, 2015, at the second meeting of the Sub-Committee. Discussion was held around the recommendations over the September and October meetings, and it is noted several times in the minutes that “discussion was held”, though not every word uttered was captured. Many committee members have their own notes, but the minutes could not possibly be a transcription of the level and detail of conversation that occurred.

 

The pilot was requested at least in part because there was no way to see all the possible kinks in the system, and rather than going full-on statewide with an untested program we felt it was more responsible to try it out and make sure it was accurate. After all, these are folks’ jobs we are talking about, as well as the education of students. We must get it done right, even if that means it cannot be hasty.

 

I do not pretend to speak for this diverse, talented, dedicated group of individuals. The legislation was inspired by the recommendations of the Sub-Committee, and although the words may not reflect verbatim the discussions that were held (after all, even the minutes don’t) and this may still be an imperfect system, the group did work hard and have impassioned discussions about what would be best not only for the educators in the system but also for our students. Keep in mind that The Conjuring was inspired by a true story…

 

One final point of note, since the data is readily available in the published minutes.

 

On September 15, the Department of Education was represented by Shannon Holston, who is documented as arriving at 4:45, and Christopher Ruszkowski, documented as arriving at 5:50. The meeting began at 4:30.

 

On September 28, the Department of Education was represented by Angeline Rivello and Laura Schneider.

 

On October 12, the Department of Education was represented by Angeline Rivello.

 

On November 9, the Department of Education was represented by Eric Niebrzydowski, Shanna Ricketts, and Laura Schneider. *Note that these are draft minutes, as final approved minutes are not available on the State Calendar.

 

On November 30, minutes were not available in draft or final form.

 

On December 14, the Department of Education was represented by Eric Niebrzydowski, who is documented as leaving at 4:30, Laura Schneider, who is documented as leaving the meeting at 3:30, and Christopher Ruszkowski. The meeting began at 2 pm.

 

On January 13, the Department of Education was represented by Atnre Alleyne, who is documented as arriving at 4:49. The meeting began at 4:30.

 

On February 1, the Department of Education was represented by Atnre Alleyne, Laura Schneider, Shanna Ricketts, and Christopher Ruszkowski, who is documented as arriving at 5:01. The meeting began at 4:30.

 

On February 16, the Department of Education was represented by Atnre Alleyne, Shanna Ricketts, Laura Schneider, and Dr. Steven Godowsky, Secretary of Education.

 

On February 29, the Department of Education was represented by Atnre Alleyne, Shanna Ricketts, and Christopher Ruszkowski, who is documented as leaving before Public Comment.

 

On March 8, the Department of Education was represented by Christopher Ruszkowski, who is documented as leaving before Public Comment.

 

For those of you keeping track, that brings Department of Education representation to a total of 8 different individuals, including the Secretary of Education, and no single representative was present for every single meeting. Again, this is based on the minutes from each available meeting (including one set of draft minutes I personally had for a meeting which minutes are not posted online) that had the individuals listed as “Department Staff/Other Members” and does not differentiate between those who sat at the table and those who did not. The final submitted report lists only Christopher Ruszkowski, Atnre Alleyne, Eric Niebrzydowski, and Angeline Rivello as Department of Education representatives (non-voting members) of the Sub-Committee. Any notation of late arrival and/or early departure is from the minutes themselves and included solely to be comprehensive in providing information. Of the 10 meetings for which documentation is in my possession, no single DOE representative attended more than 5.

House Bill 399 Is The Official Legislation On Fixing The Wrongs Done To Delaware Teachers

Last week, I wrote about pending legislation that would make Component V of the Delaware teacher evaluation system an equal part of the evaluation system and that both the teacher and administrator would have to agree on the state assessment being a part of it.  Today, that bill was filed as House Bill 399, seen below.  There are sixteen days left in the month, and only a few education committee meetings left.  Will there be enough time to get this bill out there?  I have no doubt we will hear from at least one other blogger on this issue.

Updated, 4:01pm: This is on the agenda for the House Education Committee tomorrow at 4pm.  If you are a Delaware teacher or are interested in what this means for students, please attend!

 

 

Delaware DOE Hits All-Time Low With A Very Scummy Move Against Teachers…

Those no-good, rotten bastards at the Delaware Department of Education have done it again.  This time the after-effects will cause much more than a ripple.  This is going to really damage relations between the Delaware DOE and the Delaware State Education Association.  Things were supposed to be better with Secretary of Education Godowsky, but they really aren’t.  Instead, we have more humiliation for the educators of our state. This post does have an update at the bottom. Continue reading

The 21st Century Racism That Pits Parents Against Teachers While Companies Profit

Yesterday, a presentation was given to the Delaware Senate Education Committee by the Parent Advocacy Council for Education (PACE) on the highly controversial Component V portion of the teacher evaluation system in Delaware. Component V is the part of Delaware’s teacher evaluation system tied to standardized tests.  The group also felt that the recently concluded DPAS-II Sub-Committee on teacher evaluations was found lacking with a diversity among its members.

PACE is an initiative of the Christina Cultural Arts Center, which advocates and promotes the arts in education. Centered out of Wilmington, PACE is comprised of concerned citizens who feel that parent education organizations are underrepresented by minorities.  The Christina Cultural Arts Center is run by Raye Jones Avery, who also sits on the board of the Rodel Foundation.

PACE began a few years ago but gained more momentum last fall when Elizabeth Lockman began running the organization. As a result of Lockman’s connections and influence in the Wilmington community, the group was able to define themselves and began conducting workshops to gain perspective on education in Delaware.

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The workshops offered different topics in education. Some examples of their workshops included presentations  from or topics on the following: Parent Information Center of Delaware (PIC), members of the Delaware Department of Education Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit, Early Education advocates, the Metropolitan Urban League, School Board governance, Community Schools, Title I Schools, Education Funding, College Readiness, “Opportunity Gaps”, the School To Prison  Pipeline, the State Legislature, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC), the Wilmington Education Strategy Think Tank (WESTT), TeenSHARP (run by former DOE employee Atnre Alleyne), Discipline and School Climate, ACLU/Coalition for Fair and Equitable Schools, and a presentation by Alleyne shortly before he resigned from the Delaware Department of Education.  This last presentation is very important in the context of this article, but I will touch on that later.

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Upcoming presentations include State Rep. Stephanie Bolden explaining how Education Policies become law, the education landscape in Wilmington, School Choice & Climate, Quality: Teacher Inequity & Ed Quality, Readiness: Getting from Early Ed to College & Career, Accountability: Inside Title I & Assessment, and Support: Empowered Parents = Ready Children. In addition, PACE partnered with the Delaware Charter Schools Network on the Public School Choice Expo and hosted the Michael Lomax presentation in January.

The DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee is an offshoot of the DPAS-II Advisory Group. Created through House Joint Resolution #6 last year, sponsored by Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques and Senator David Sokola, the legislation stated the following about the goals of the committee:

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The group met for the first time on September 15, 2015. Based on the first meeting minutes, the membership of the group consisted of the following:

DPAS-II Sub-Committee Members

  • Jackie Kook, (Delaware State Education Association, Christina School District) – Chair
  • Dr. David Santore, (Delaware Association of School Administrators, Caesar Rodney) – Co-Chair
  • Sherry Antonetti, (DSEA, Caesar Rodney)
  • Clay Beauchamp, (DSEA, Lake Forest)
  • Rhiannon O’Neal, (DSEA, Woodbridge)
  • Kent Chase, (DASA, Woodbridge)
  • Dr. Clifton Hayes, (DASA, New Castle County Vo-Tech)
  • Dr. Charlynne Hopkins, (DASA, Indian River)
  • Bill Doolittle, (Parent Representative, Delaware PTA)
  • David Tull, DE (Delaware School Boards Association, Seaford Board of Education)
  • Dr. Lisa Ueltzhoffer, (Charter School Representative, Newark Charter School)
  • Dr. Susan Bunting, School Chief’s Association/(DPAS-II Advisory Committee Chairperson, also Superintendent of Indian River)
  • Donna R Johnson, (Executive Director of Delaware State Board of Education, non-voting member)
  • Delaware State Senator David Sokola
  • Tyler Wells, Higher Education representative
  • The following Delaware DOE members served as staff for the committee:
  • Christopher Ruszkowski, (Delaware DOE, Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit, non-voting member)
  • Atnre Alleyne, (Delaware DOE, TLEU, non-voting member)
  • Shannon Holston (Delaware DOE, School Leadership Strategy, non-voting member)
  • Renee Holt (Delaware DOE, TLEU, secretary for committee)

As well, Senator Sokola’s Aide, Tanner Polce, sometimes sat in for Senator Sokola.

Various members of the DOE attended meetings, usually from the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit.

The biggest recommendation to come out of the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee was reducing the weight of Component V. This part of the DPAS-II Teacher Evaluation system is tied to the state assessment. In lieu of using the state assessment as a measure of growth, the assessment could be one of several other measures. As well, the weight with component V, both parts, would be equal to the other four components. Each one would carry a weight of 20%.

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When this recommendation came out in its full context at the Sub-Committee meeting in January, Delaware Secretary Dr. Steven Godowsky was most likely planning for another big event coming the next day, on January 14th. Neither Donna Johnson nor Chris Ruszkowski from the DOE attended the meeting on January 13th. The very next day, the Delaware House of Representatives knew State Rep. John Kowalko would attempt to get an override of Delaware Governor Markell’s veto of the opt out legislation, House Bill 50. To do this, he would need to have a majority of the House vote to suspend the rules to have it get a full House vote. While that didn’t happen, I am sure Secretary Godowsky was in constant contact with Governor Markell and his Education Policy Advisor, Lindsay O’Mara. Since Alleyne attended the Sub-Committee meeting on January 13th, it would stand to reason Godowsky was notified the group was leaning towards the Component V recommendation. On the evening of January 14th, the PACE sponsored Michael Lomax presentation occurred.

At some point in February, Atnre Alleyne announced his resignation at the Delaware DOE. His last day was on February 29th. On February 13th, an announcement went up on PACE’s Facebook page announcing their next set of workshops.

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At the 2/16 meeting of the Sub-Committee, Secretary Godowsky showed up and listened to the group’s recommendations.

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Alleyne attended this meeting as well. He was very concerned about the wording on part of the draft for the final report of the committee

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Two days later, on February 18th, Alleyne was the speaker at the PACE Workshop on Teacher Quality and Assessment. Without knowing what was said at this workshop, I am speculating that a discussion ensued about the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee and their findings. Keep in mind he was still an employee of the Delaware Department of Education at this point.

By the time the next meeting came on February 29th, it was Alleyne’s last day at the DOE. Several people gave public comment, including two members of PACE: Althea Smith-Tucker and Mary Pickering.

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Alleyne served his last day at the Delaware DOE after this meeting. On March 7th, the day before the next meeting of the Sub-Committee, Alleyne put a post up on his blog, “The Urgency of Now”, entitled “Do #blackvoicesmatter in Delaware schools?” The blog article touched on many points which do show an underrepresentation of African-American students in the teaching profession in Delaware. Citing some other examples that I somewhat agree with, Alleyne brought up the DPAS-II Sub-Committee. In writing about both the DPAS-II Advisory Committee AND the DPAS-II Sub-Committee, he touched on the fact the Advisory Committee had no members of color aside from himself and he was a non-voting member (as an employee of the DOE). But what he did in the next paragraph failed to distinguish between the Advisory Committee and the Sub-Committee:

At the committee’s most recent meeting, a few black parents from Wilmington sat through the meeting and provided comments during the public comment section.

But what happened next made it look even worse for the committee:

After the meeting, they followed up on their critique of the committee’s lack of parent representation (it has one parent representative from the PTA) with the PTA representative. He noted that he agreed we need more parents on these committees. One of the parents pressed further and said, “Well I’ve seen you as the one representative of parents on a number of state committees. You should share the wealth.” His response: (paraphrasing) I’d love to not be the only one on these committees if other parents could learn enough about these issues and systems to be able to participate.

Apparently the two parents from PACE did not like this response. As well, Alleyne, who was STILL a DOE employee at this point (granted, it was his last day), jumped to their defense:

I joined the parents in letting him know that we found that notion offensive. He chided me for not understanding the research and advocating for ineffective and uninformed parent engagement. I retorted that perhaps the problem is we have policy wonks and interest groups advocating for adults at the table. Meanwhile, nobody is asking the simple questions and speaking from the heart about what is best for students.

I reminded him that ours is a democracy that lets everyone participate even if they are seemingly less informed. I also reminded him that the hoops and prerequisites he was promulgating as a barrier to participation seemed painfully similar to hoops black people had to jump through to prove they were smart enough to vote. One of the parents informed him (sarcastically) that she had a doctorate in education and that she was pretty sure she could figure out Delaware’s educator evaluation system–but it shouldn’t take having a doctorate degree to be worthy of sitting at the table.  

I found this assault on the parent representative from the Delaware PTA, Bill Doolittle, to be absolutely unfounded. In my years of blogging, I have met many people involved in education. As a parent advocate with the Delaware PTA and the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, as well as his own personal advocacy, there are not too many “non-educators” who have the resolve, knowledge, and depth of compassion for students that Bill Doolittle has. To turn his comments into an issue of race is very offensive to me. As well, by referring to “we” in his response to Doolittle, he removed himself from the reason he was there, as a non-voting member of the DPAS Sub-Committee, and became Atnre Alleyne.

But since Alleyne never made the distinction between the Advisory Committee and the Sub-Committee in the rest of the article, one would assume there was no person of color on either committee. What Alleyne left out was the fact two of the administrators on the Sub-Committee were African-American.

Now keep in mind, Alleyne had not written an article on his blog in eleven months. But by the time he wrote this, he was no longer an employee of the DOE and most likely felt he could express his thoughts as a private individual. This is certainly his right. But to leave an impression about a lack of diversity on an important education group when he very well knew there was diversity on this committee is disingenuous. I wouldn’t bring this up, but it does play a huge role in what happened after.

At the final meeting of the DPAS Sub-Committee on March 8th, the final recommendations of the committee came out, and Ruszkowski and Alleyne were not happy about them at all.

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As well, members of PACE, Alleyne (now speaking on behalf of TeenSHARP), and a Delaware student gave public comment:

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Now the name “Halim Hamorum” sounded very familiar to me, but I couldn’t place it. I Googled the name and couldn’t find anything. I tried the last name, nothing. Then I tried the first name and Delaware, and several hits came up. Halim Hamroun, a student at Newark High School, was one of the speakers at the launch of the Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025 last September. But I also remembered he wrote a column the same day in the News Journal about the student voice.

I am also a veteran of at least three state test programs meant to improve our educational system, and a guinea pig for various scheduling and teaching methods. Each year there’s a new flavor.

As I sit here writing this, I find myself wondering how a Newark High School student would find out about the DPAS-II Sub-Committee meeting, know exactly what it was about, and be able to attend and give public comment. This is conjecture on my part, but someone reached out to him. He was coached. They knew about his connection with the Rodel Foundation/Vision Coalition sponsored “Student Success 2025” and asked him to speak against the committee’s recommendations. In Delaware education, there is no such thing as a coincidence.

But what shocked me the most about the final meeting was the abhorrent behavior of the soon to be former DOE employee Chris Ruszkowski. His comments, especially suggesting that the committee was conducting secret meetings and “hoodwinked” the process and goals of the legislation is absolutely preposterous, especially coming from one of the most controversial employees of the Delaware Department of Education during Governor Markell’s tenure as Governor of Delaware. We all know transparency is an issue in Delaware, but I have seen many meeting minutes for all sorts of groups in Delaware. The minutes and transparency surrounding the DPAS-II Sub-Committee are some of the best I have seen in Delaware. I frequently look at the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar, and I always saw their meeting notices, agendas, and minutes faithfully listed.

What Ruszkowski may not be aware of is the large amount of DOE emails that were part of a FOIA request by another Delaware citizen that have his name on many of them. I’ve published some, and others I haven’t due to the nature of the emails. I have seen his disdain for many traditional school districts. I’ve heard the tales of his tirades against school districts who opposed his initiatives, such as the Delaware Talent Cooperative. I personally haven’t had any face to face discussion with Ruszkowski, but the one time I did, it was a childish response to a comment I made during the last assessment inventory meeting. I would not be surprised in the least, and this is merely conjecture on my part, if Ruszkowski’s resignation from the DOE was somehow connected with his behavior at the final DPAS-II Sub-Committee meeting.

To read the entire minutes from this final meeting (and I strongly suggest you do), please read the below document. But there is much more that happened after this meeting!

Two days after the final Sub-Committee meeting, Alleyne posted another article on his blog about the meeting. This article, aptly named “Reflections after last nights educator evaluation commitee meeting”, went over his perception of the events.

The committee is also recommending that the use of students’ growth on the state Math/English assessment will no longer be required as one of two measures in a Math and English teacher’s Student Improvement component. This is currently the only statewide, uniform, and objective measure of educator effectiveness in the evaluation system.

Keep in mind this is coming from the perspective of someone who lives and breathes the same kind of education talk we have heard from Governor Markell, the Delaware DOE, the Delaware State Board of Education, the Rodel Foundation, and so many of the companies, non-profits, foundations, and think tanks that make up the corporate education reform behemoth.

What this led to next took many by surprise. PACE, somehow, was able to get a presentation before the Senate Education Committee yesterday. The man who sets the agenda for the Senate Education Committee is Senator David Sokola, the Chair. The same Senator who served on the DPAS-II Sub-Committee. The same Senator who wrote the legislation creating the DPAS-II Sub-Committee. The same Senator whose legislation stated the committee would present their findings to both the Senate and House Education Committees in the Delaware General Assembly. So how is it that a parent advocacy group from Wilmington presents their complaints about a committee that they didn’t really take action with until their last two meetings, well after the recommendations were put forth, is able to give a presentation to members of the Senate Education Committee, before the DPAS-II Sub-Committee even presented their final report to either Education Committee? And from what I’m hearing, the committee hasn’t even had a presentation date scheduled!

I attended the Senate Education Committee meeting yesterday, and I heard what Mary Pickering, who spoke on behalf of PACE, had to say. As well, a handout was given to members of the education committee and I was graciously given a copy. This document was written on March 31st, but nothing shows up anywhere online about it. PACE does not have a website, just a Facebook and Twitter page. I copied the entire document, but to prove its authenticity, I did take a picture of part of the first page:

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March 31, 2016

 

To The Members of the Delaware Legislature:

The Parent Advocacy Council for Education (PACE) is an organization whose mission is to raise awareness among parents and people who care about the need to improve public education across the state of Delaware, and in particular, for students living in the city of Wilmington.

Earlier this year PACE became aware of the DPAS-II subcommittee (created through HJR 6) and their efforts to recommend changes to Delaware’s teacher evaluation system. We began attending these meetings, sharing our perspectives as parents during the public comment porting of the meetings, and asking questions.  How teachers should be evaluated in Delaware was the focus of this committee, a very important topic that will impact all Delaware teachers, parents, and students.  Yet this 14-member committee has only one parent representative, very little diversity, and each of the meetings we attended had little participation from the general public.  The perspectives many parents shared during the public comment portion of the meeting, as well as those we’ve heard from other parents in our community, are not reflected in the Sub-Committee’s final recommendations.  As such, we are sharing this letter in the hopes that you will consider a diverse set of perspectives on this issue. 

As you discuss the future of teacher evaluation in Delaware’s public school system, we would like you to consider the following:

The importance of parent and student voice in teachers’ evaluations: Parents and students had very little voice in the DPAS-II Sub-committee process and have no voice in teachers’ overall evaluation process. Although this was mentioned in the Sub-Committee numerous times, our request was excluded from their recommendations.  Parents and students can offer unique perspectives on their experience with various teachers that will complete the picture of a teacher’s overall performance.  Parents are routinely subjected to surveys, none of which ask about our children’s experiences in the classroom.  Although all teachers receive ratings through the DPAS-II system, this information is not made available to parents to make informed decision and protect against inequities in schools.  We ask that you emphasize the importance of parent and student voice by adding a requirement that parent and/or student surveys be included in our Delaware teacher evaluation system.  We also ask that legislature make information about teachers’ evaluations more transparent to parents.

The importance of diverse perspectives in decisions about teacher evaluation: The DPAS-II Sub-committee had four representatives from the teacher’s union, four from the administrator’s association, and only one parent to represent the entire state of Delaware parent population. There were no teachers of color on the committee.  Although this committee is a poor representation of the diverse population you serve across the state, their recommendations will be presented as if there is a consensus.  We ask that you show your commitment to diversity by engaging a wider and more diverse set of stakeholders before taking any action on the sub-committee’s recommendations.  We also ask that legislation be amended to allow a more diverse set of stakeholders to serve on the DPAS-II Advisory Committee.

The importance of student learning and accountability for student learning: During the meetings we attended, we were appalled at how student learning took a back seat to the convenience of adults in the system. The committee is recommending reducing the weight of the Student Improvement component and making all 5 components equally weighted.  This would allow a teacher rated unsatisfactory on the Student Improvement Component to still be rated as an effective teacher.  The Sub-committee is basically saying that Planning and Preparation (Component 1) and Professional Responsibilities (Component 4) are as important as Instruction (Component 3) and Student Improvement (Component 5).  It is not clear to us how an education system designed to produce academically and socially successful students, implement an evaluation system that de-emphasizes accountability for student learning.  It is our concern that the recommendations of the subcommittee, if adopted, will widen the achievement gap for the children in places like Wilmington, DE.  We believe there should be an evaluation system that supports teachers, but also meaningful and consistent accountability.  We ask that you show your commitment to student learning and leave the weight of the Student Improvement Component as is. 

The importance of including the state assessment as a part of teachers’ evaluations: The committee is recommending that Math and English teachers no longer be required to use student growth from the state assessment as one part of their evaluation.  State test scores are the only objective measure of student improvements that are consistent across the state for educator effectiveness.  As flawed as the test may be (something we believe also needs to be addressed), it is still the only consistent measure of student growth.  The measures that the committee is recommending to replace state assessments are substantially less rigorous and comparable across the state.  Removing this measure will only serve to remove accountability, widen the disparity among schools, and eliminate the ability to monitor the impact of inequitable funding in disproportionately children of color.  We ask that you show your commitment to creating an objective and consistent evaluation system by leaving the state assessment as a required measure of Student Improvement for Delaware Math and English teachers.

We believe that an evaluation system where 99% of teachers are told they are effective or highly-effective does a disservice to educator professional growth.   It is also inconsistent with the experiences we have (and our children have) in schools each day.  We believe our recommendations will help Delaware create an evaluation system that values student learning, gives teachers accurate information they can use to improve, holds teachers accountable fairly, and values student perspectives.  We would appreciate the opportunity to further discuss our recommendations as the legislature discusses this important matter.  Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

 

Mary Pickering

Advocacy Coordinator

Parent Advocacy Council for Education (PACE)

What I would like you, the reader, to do at this point is compare the handout from PACE with Alleyne’s blog article from March 10th.

This is what bothers me about this whole situation.  I like the idea of PACE. I think the idea of community members getting together, no matter who may provide the funding, in an effort to improve education is honorable.  I love the fact that they are very organized and set up workshops on a multitude of education subjects.  I agree with many of PACE’s goals.

I firmly believe minority students are not always given the same level playing field as their non-minority peers. The African-Americans in America are still marginalized in many areas of society.  But they have also come a long way depending on the path they took.  We have a black President.  We have very successful African-American business executives, both male and female.  In pop culture, the African-American culture thrives in music.  While there are still some hurdles to overcome, Hollywood is very welcoming to African-Americans.

But what hasn’t changed is the plight of inner-city youth. We still have far too many minorities who deal with poverty, violence, crime, drugs, and a gang culture that draws far too many of them away from the potential for success and into prison.  Many of these children have single parents, or no parents at all.  Many of these children are traumatized through the events in their lives.  Some of them, and by growing numbers, also have disabilities.

Somewhere along the way, corporate businessmen decided they could make a profit off this. As a result, we saw the growth of charter schools and school choice.  We saw testing companies spring up overnight.  With funds sponsored by the Gates Foundation, the Koch Brothers, the Walton Foundation, and so many more, education “reform” companies came out of the woodwork.  All of a sudden schools and states were contracting with these companies.  Report after report came out with the following statements: Our schools are failing.  Our teachers were not effective.  The unions were calling the shots.  Teach For America and similar teacher prep programs had better results than regular teachers.  Charter schools are better than traditional schools.  And every single report, every finding, came from one single thing: the standardized test score.

There are many names for these standardized tests: High-Stakes testing, state assessments, Smarter Balanced, PARCC, and the list goes on. But they all wind up with the same results, plus or minus a few abnormalities: they are socio-economic indicators that do not determine a student’s abilities but their zip code.  And many in the African-American community believe it is a valid measure.  In some ways, I can’t blame them.  They have a valid history of marginalization.  There have been equity gaps that still exist to this very day.  In Delaware, we have some schools that do not accept a large population of African-Americans or other minorities, even though the demographics surrounding these schools strongly suggest something is amiss.  These schools argue back and forth that they don’t get the applications from these communities, or the placement test scares them off.  But these are public schools, barred from any type of discrimination whatsoever.  If they have things in place that are preventing any group of students from attending, that is against the law.  But this is Delaware, and we seem to think it is okay as a state to let those things slide.

Which brings me back to PACE. A group, which started with honorable intentions, has been sucked into the madness of standardized testing.  In their handout to the Senate, they openly admit the current assessment in Delaware, the Smarter Balanced Assessment, is flawed.  Knowing that, they still want our teachers evaluated by it.  They feel that the potential price teachers could pay based on those evaluations is less important than the mirage standardized test scores give.  If anything, standardized test scores have widened the equity and proficiency gaps more than anything else since black and white schools.  And this is happening right now, in the 21st Century.

But here is the kicker to all of this. There is one group in education that performs far worse than any minority group.  They are always at the bottom of these lists.  And that is students with disabilities.  I am a parent of a child with a disability.  So no one can say I don’t have a voice or a stake in what is going on with standardized tests.  But we don’t see parents of students with disabilities advocating for these kinds of measurements for our children.  Many of us see them as an impediment to progress as opposed to a road to progress.

I was the first member of any type of media in Delaware to announce the DOE’s Annual Measurable Objective goals for all of the sub-groups in Delaware Education for 2015-2021. I was at the State Board of Education meeting in November.  I saw the document just placed on the State Board of Education website that documented what the Delaware DOE’s growth goals were for all of the sub-groups, all based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I saw immediately what the DOE’s growth goals meant for any high-need student: students with disabilities, English Language learners, African-Americans, Hispanics, and low-income students.

Take a very good look at the below two pictures. Note the growth that is expected out of these different sub-groups on one single measure: the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Look at the gains they will have to make compared to the groups with the least amount of growth expected: Asians and Whites.  Think about the vast amount of work expected out of educators to get to those levels.  Think about the struggles and “rigor” those students will need to get to those levels, if they make it at all (which I highly doubt).  Think about the state assessment, how it is designed, the anxiety in schools based on them.  Think about the vast amount of instruction time that is taken away for these tests.  Time your child will NEVER get back.  Think about the fact that most of us are in agreement that the Smarter Balanced Assessment is a very flawed test.  Think about the fact that the Delaware DOE openly admitted these are the highest goals of any other state in the country.

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Think about this: During this meeting, when I saw these goals, I assumed a DOE Employee was behind this. Her name is Penny Schwinn, and she no longer works for the DOE.  She left in January.  Her title was the Chief of Accountability and Assessment.  When I saw these pictures, I put her name in the title of this article.  After I posted it, I saw her in the hallway.  She had been crying and was very upset.  After the meeting, I approached her.  She explained to me that she didn’t set these goals.  She also explained that they are impossible goals to reach for these students.  I said to her “I know who set these goals.”  She looked at me and said “Chris?” to which I responded, “No, Governor Markell.”  I changed the name on the article since she openly admitted to myself and another person she did not make these goals.  I knew Penny Schwinn ultimately answered to the Governor, so I assumed he made the goals.  Or at the very least, approved them.

Upon retrospection of this conversation and all I have learned since, Governor Markell is a corporate guy. He is a persuasive public speaker and he knows how to sell a product.  But he doesn’t know how to build a product.  This growth model, in all likelihood, came from Chris Ruszkowski at the Delaware DOE.  The very same individual who, along with his second-in-command, Atnre Alleyne, used flawed data in every possible way to perpetuate the myth that school district teachers in districts with high poverty are failing our students.  In particular, students of color.  This is the pinnacle of the corporate education reform movement’s essence for being.  This is the heart of everything that comes out.  They use groups like PACE to further their own agendas.  Both Ruszkowski and Alleyne came to the Delaware DOE with well-established resumes in the corporate education reform movement.  I have no doubt they speak very well to a group like PACE.  They live and breathe the data they read, study, and create every single day.  They were paid by the Delaware DOE, with more money than most of us will ever see in an annual salary, to prove that public school education teachers are failing students of color.  Their data is, in large part, based on standardized tests.

So when I hear groups like PACE advocating for Component V in the DPAS-II teacher evaluation system, I know for a fact these aren’t conclusions they came up with by themselves. The timing of events suggests otherwise.  If you ask people in Delaware what they know about Component V, they would give you a puzzled look and think you were strange.  Unless you are an educator, a legislator, or deeply involved in education matters, it isn’t something that comes across the radar of everyday citizens.  But a group that has had multiple visits by Alleyne and Ruszkowski, who knew the exact right words to say to pull their chain, they would.  PACE came to two of the DPAS-II Sub-Committee meetings with very advanced knowledge of the DPAS-II process within a week of a presentation to their committee by the Delaware DOE employee who opposed the recommendations of the committee.  They were fed the same line of malarkey all of us have been fed.  But groups like PACE are organized and they want to see different lives for the children in their community.  I do not fault them at all for that.  But because they so desperately want these changes in education, they can easily fall prey to the very bad data and myths surrounding standardized tests and educators.

I have no doubt there are issues of racism in our schools. We do need more African-American teachers in our schools.  But to judge the teachers we do have in our schools with the highest needs, based on a test we know is horrible, what message does that send?  Let me put this another way: many parents who tend to advocate for their children the most believe there is an actual barrier to their educational success, whether it is the color of their skin or a disability.  It is very easy to blame a teacher when our children don’t succeed.  And I am sure, in some cases (but not as many as some think), there could be a valid argument there.  But to judge any teacher based on a flawed test that defines a child based on their zip code, color of their skin, disability, or income status is just plain wrong.  These tests are discriminatory in nature.  They are judgmental of our children, their teachers, and their schools.  They are, to put them in one word, racist.

Let that word hang there for a few minutes. Racist.  Standardized tests are racist.  Racism doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing it did twenty years ago.  Racism has evolved.  If standardized tests are racist, and we have people of all diverse cultures promoting them, what does that even mean?

It is the 21st Century version of racism: the sub-groups.  The African-American students.  The Hispanic students.  English Language learners.  Students with disabilities.  Low-Income Students.  Students from inner-cities who are homeless or come from severe poverty.  The children of the drug addicts who are born into trauma.  The children whose father is in prison.  This is the modern form of racism.  We hear it all the time.  We only have to look at some of the very racist comments when any article about race comes up on the Facebook account of Delawareonline.

None of these education groups out of the DOE or the foundations, think tanks and non-profits have the first clue about how to truly change these children’s lives. What they know is how to make a lot of money pretending to.  And it goes all the way to the top.  Do you want to know who has the best shot, aside from the parents of these children?  Their teachers.  The ones who devote their lives to helping them.  Even when they know they have no control over what happens outside of their classroom.  Even when they know they will most likely lose that student at the end of the year when they go into the next grade.  Sure, they get tough over the years.  The teachers in high-needs schools see it all.  They see the poverty.  They see the hunger.  They see the disabilities.  They see the cries for help that come out in anger from these kids.  They care so much more than you think they do.  They know a once a year test can’t measure the sum performance of these children.  They also know these tests are flawed, but the only way they can fight this ideology is by making sure these tests don’t stop their ability to try to help your child.

When I hear advocacy groups like PACE talk about “our community”, it makes me sad. I fight some of the exact same battles for students with disabilities but it seems like we are on opposite sides in the fight.  When I hear civil rights groups blasting opt out and continuing these very sick lines that are force fed to them by those who profit off the lies, I have to wonder why.  When they say “our community”, it is not.  All of us, we are all our community.  There should be nothing that divides us.  Not wealth, not religion, not the color of our skin or our hair or our language or the way our eyes are shaped.  Not our disabilities, of which we are all disabled in some way to some degree.  Not who we love or choose to spend our life with.  We all struggle, in our own ways.

Those with money and power are blinded to the realities of the real world. They justify their decisions because they don’t come from that perspective.  They look at us from their microscopes and think they know how to fix it.  And if they can get their buddies to help them out, to fix all those people below them, then it’s a party.  But they either don’t know or don’t care what kind of damage they leave in their wake.  They measure success by their paycheck.  If they make more money, or gain more power, they feel the decisions they make are the right ones.

This is the new racism. The haves and the have-nots.  The same story but with a much different twist.  This time, they are using children in the biggest high-stakes test of all time.  They get richer, while the rest of us either stay the same or slide down the scale.  We allowed this into our schools, slowly, over time.  We believed the lies they were telling us.  So many of us still do.  But this time, they are playing for keeps.  What they are setting up now will forever divide the rich from the poor and the rapidly declining middle class.  They are the ones telling us what to do.  Telling us our children can’t possibly succeed unless we make our schools do what they say.

Every single time your child takes a standardized test, you are giving them the power and the ability to sever themselves from the rest of us. This will continue, until we rise against them.  Rome fell.  The Soviet Union fell.  And Corporate America will fall.  It is the nature of power.  But until we revolt and take back the stability our children need, we will fight this war.  They will pin us against each other while we suffer.  While our children suffer.  The only way to stop it is to stop listening to them.  Demand our teachers be able to adequately instruct our children without the shadow of high-stakes standardized testing looming over their heads.  Demand our children be given better assessments that give true and immediate feedback.  Demand that if they don’t, we won’t let them take their tests.  We will opt them out.

Whatever you do, don’t ever be fooled into believing that your child or their teacher or their school is failing because of a standardized test. Do believe that the measurement, or the growth to that measurement, is designed to keep your child exactly where they are.  Don’t believe that any standardized test will ever show the vast majority of students as proficient.  They will always give the illusion that the majority of students are failing.  This is how those in power stay in power.  They rely on your belief that they are right.  It is their constant energy source.  This is the way they will keep most of the population in low-paying jobs.  They want to control us.  This is 21st Century racism.  End it.  Now.