Holy Crap! Paul Herdman and I Agree (Mostly) On Something Involving Delaware Education!

The end times are nigh.  I read an opinion piece by Paul Herdman on delawareonline and found myself agreeing with a lot of what the CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware was saying.  No, I don’t have food poisoning.  I haven’t been drugged.  I didn’t slip on a banana peel and pass out.  But Dr. Paul Herdman and I both seem to agree on disagreeing with some of the cuts the Delaware Joint Finance Committee proposed a few weeks ago.  I know, I couldn’t believe it myself!

What Doc Herdman is lamenting are cuts to early childhood education and college access.  I believe every student, if they have the means and even if they can get help, should go to college.  I also think early childhood education is very important.  While the Doc and I disagree on the methods, I have to believe we both want kids to get the best education possible.  While he may think Common Core, Smarter Balanced, Personalized Learning and Competency-Based Education are the best ways, I think true instruction in the classroom with teacher-created tests and assessments are the way to go.  I don’t think kids need all this educational technology in the classroom.  I don’t think we need all these leadership training classes.  Leaders should come naturally, not some profit-induced seminar brought on by Education Inc.  The best education leaders are those with advanced knowledge of education through advanced masters degrees and come up through years of teaching.

But any cuts to education aren’t good.  I wish the Doc would go a step further and go after wasteful spending at the Delaware Dept. of Education and all that trickles down to our schools as a result of their continued corporate education reform shenanigans.  I wish he would urge our General Assembly to fully fund our state auditor’s office so they can, you know, actually follow Delaware law and properly audit our school districts each year.  I was really hoping he would recommend our General Assembly (finally) implements basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade, especially with his background in special education.  But I’ll take what I can get.

The final week of the 149th Delaware General Assembly’s 2017 session is going to be absolutely crazy.  I’ve told others.  It won’t be over by July 1st.  The gap is just too big and I’ve heard several legislators say “I won’t vote for the budget if (insert this cut or this attempted revenue here).”  I don’t blame them.  But some pain will have to come in this budget.  It is my fervent hope students won’t lose out.  I do support district consolidation in Delaware and while there are those who think it won’t amount to much saving, we won’t know unless we really study it.  It is my contention there would be considerable savings.  I do support shared resources, like Herdman.  Whether it is a traditional, charter, or vo-tech, why wouldn’t we come together as a state to make sure students have all the resources they need?  I don’t think school boards should be given a one-time chance to raise the match tax without a referendum as I truly believe that will hurt school districts when they do need to go out for a referendum.  If districts and charters can actually share, all students would win.  It takes some pride swallowing on both ends.  Get rid of the charter school transportation slush fund or any perks for charters out of the budget.  It only aggravates the us vs. them mentality.  Truth is, there should be no us vs. them.  It should be education for all students.  Get rid of old, antiquated laws that create any type of de facto segregation.

The truth is, the Doc and I probably agree on a lot of things but our differences cast us as polar opposites.  I’m sure he is a good guy, and yes, I think he should be taxed at a higher tax bracket along with the rest of the $150,000 and over club.  This does not mean, by any stretch, I will attempt to get on the Rodel Advisory Council.

Governor Carney Is NOT Letting The Sunshine In!!!!

In February, Delaware Governor John Carney brought back the Family Services Cabinet Council through Executive Order #5.  Many in Delaware thought this was a good thing.  But apparently transparency took a backseat to this return.  The group met on Wednesday, April 5th, 2017 in a meeting that was closed to the public and press.  What is the point of this council if it is not able to be seen by the public?

I discovered this when I was looking at the Governor’s public schedule last week.  I also view the Delaware Public Meetings Calendar and did not see this on there.  I would have attended this meeting had it been made public but I never had the chance.

For a council that is responsible for recommendations for so many issues in Delaware, I am shocked they wouldn’t let the public in on it.  To that end, I emailed Governor Carney’s staff about this gross oversight on April 6th.  Over a week later and NO response.

This is the kind of crap I would expect from former Delaware Governor Jack Markell.  I truly hoped Governor Carney would be different.  But I am not seeing that marriage between the state and the public.  Especially with a council as important as this one.  So what are the areas this council covers that Carney doesn’t want the public to hear conversation about?

If this council isn’t open to the public will we ever see any minutes from their meetings?  Attendance?  Who else is invited?  What they are even doing?  I urge Governor Carney to answer these questions and make this council open to the public.  Delaware got an F for transparency and came in 49th out of 50 states in an evaluation of public transparency at the end of 2015.  That should have ended on January 17th, 2017, the day Governor Carney swore his oath of office and promised the citizens of Delaware he would listen to the people.  I expect more from you Governor Carney!

For those who have been following this blog the past few years, I have written many articles about the eventual goals of the corporate education reformers and this council seems to be moving things along in that direction.  Especially when it comes to strengthening the “public-private partnerships”.

The mission of the Council shall be to design and implement new service alternatives for school and community-based family-centered services, and otherwise act as a catalyst for public-private partnerships to reduce service fragmentation and make it easier for families to get supportive services.

In a nutshell, this is inviting non-profits into our schools.  While some may see this as a step in the right direction, I am hesitant to think this is the cure for what ails the youth of Delaware.  Every single time a company, whether it is for-profit or non-profit, comes into our schools, it is siphoning money away from students and into the more than welcoming hands of corporations.  With that comes bad education policy because the corporations only make money off education if there is something to fix.  The measurement of what needs to be “fixed” is the standardized test, currently the Smarter Balanced Assessment in Delaware.  If there is one thing we have learned in Delaware it is the Smarter Balanced Assessment is very flawed and their consortium is extremely non-transparent and secretive.

Carney was also instrumental in getting the whole Blockchain thing going in Delaware.  If you want your children to morph into drones in the Common Core/personalized learning/digital tech/stealth testing/digital badge environment than please ignore this article.

As citizens of Delaware, we need to demand transparency from Governor Carney.  Please call the Governor’s office today.  The Dover office phone number is (302) 744-4101 and the Wilmington office phone number is (302) 577-3210.  Or you can email him here: Email Governor Carney

Early Childhood Education Exec. Director Susan Perry-Manning Resigning From Delaware DOE

I heard this as a rumor a few weeks ago, but the State Board of Education agenda for their meeting on October 20th confirms it. Susan Perry-Manning, the Executive Director of the Office of Early Learning, is resigning from the Delaware Department of Education effective tomorrow, October 7th. She joined the Department in February of 2015, just as the Every Student Succeeds Act and its push for more early childhood education became a very big topic in Delaware and the rest of the country.

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Prior to her stint at the Delaware DOE, Perry-Manning was the Executive Director for the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation. Early childhood education hasn’t been on my radar too much since I began this blog. K-12 education keeps me busy enough! But as I see this corporate push for what many are now calling a “cradle to grave” thing going on, I expect that to change. I’m all for kids learning as soon as they can, but I also worry about what pushing kids at too early of an age, before they are developmentally ready for certain things, will do to future generations of children. I joked once about a fetal Smarter Balanced Assessment. That was years ago. While we haven’t quite reached that point, I am skeptical of more and more corporations getting in on education. I don’t believe in “toddler rigor”. But I do admit I need to understand early childhood education more and see if I can separate the opportunists from those who truly want to help. There is a fine line at times…

Another noteworthy departure is Wayne Hartschuh. He is the Executive Director of the Delaware Center for Educational Technology (DCET). I find that one very interesting because of the personalized learning push in Delaware. He has been with the DOE for over twenty years, so he is definitely a lifer! It looks like the last of the bigger names at the Delaware DOE are leaving before Jack Markell leaves his post as Governor in three months. There is still one more who I wouldn’t shed any tears over if they left. “Elementary, my dear ______” There are a few others who look like they may stick around into the next Governor’s term: Susan Haberstroh, Karen Field-Rogers, David Blowman, and Donna Johnson. Time will tell on them! But the big question is who will be the next Delaware Secretary of Education! Or will Godowsky stick around for a while?

As well, we see the “official” announcement of Denise Stouffer taking over for Jennifer Nagourney, which I wrote about last week. Stouffer has to be having one hell of a week between Prestige Academy turning in their charter at the end of this school year and the bombshell charter school lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE.

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What Are “Delaware Readiness Teams”? Could We Expect Toddler Rigor In Our Future?

The Delaware Dept. of Education put out a press release about the Delaware Readiness Teams.  What are they?  They are a combination of early learning providers, community organizations and non-profit companies that are banding together to promote early learning in children.  I’m sorry, but every time I see Rodel involved in anything with education, I immediately get suspicious.  I really try not to, but I know if they’re involved, there is probably something more going on.

I went to a Senate Education Committee meeting a few months ago where Susan Perry-Manning, the Executive Director of the Office of Early Learning at the Delaware DOE, gave a presentation in an attempt to get the Senate Education Committee to commit to the $18 million dollars Governor Markell allocated to early learning in his FY2017 proposed budget.  The goal is to catch special education issues early and get kids reading.  I have several problems with this.

One, if a child is getting special education it means they have a disability.  You can’t cure a disability.  Sure, you can help them with it and make accommodations but it doesn’t make a neurological disability go away.

Two, there is NO funding for statewide basic education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  Can someone please tell me what the point is in attempting to avoid special education for kids and then they go to Delaware public schools where their disability will most likely manifest.  But because Governor Markell has some sort of beef with funding this beyond what regular students get, these kids will get royally screwed.

Three, there was more mention of the words “corporation” or “corporate” than any other education committee meeting I have ever attended.  My fear is that early learning will become so corporate that it will steer away from good education to profit centers.  If we have learned one thing through corporate education reform it is this: trying to turn public education to profit is extremely harmful to children and schools.

Four, if the eventual goal is to get Social Impact Bonds going in these early learning centers, that is VERY dangerous.  You can’t hedge bets on student outcomes.  Especially students with disabilities.

Five, parents across the state are going nuts about the massive reduction in recess time for students in Kindergarten.  Kindergarten Rigor is real and it is happening throughout our state.  Children develop at different levels and not giving them enough play time is insane.  Any doctor or psychologist will tell you this.  If this spreads to earlier ages, I view this as something almost evil.  When are we going to let kids be kids?

Six, the original funding for Delaware STARS was provided from the US DOE for an early learning Race To The Top.  That program ran out last year which is why we have such a high price tag in the Governor’s budget.  What happens when the State of Delaware stops providing the funding and it trickles down to the local level?

Seven, the Rodel Foundation.  The proud helpers of Common Core, high-stakes testing, teacher evaluations based on those tests, charter school growth, and much, much more.  I pray John Carney doesn’t submit to Rodel’s bidding the way Jack Markell has since he became Governor (and well before that as well).

I’m going to have to do a wait and see on this.  While it is a very good thing for all this community input and collaboration, I have serious concerns with it.  Read the below press release from Alison May at the DOE and make sure you click on the links in it.  While the Great Starts Delaware website doesn’t go into my concerns, keep them in the back of your head as this moves forward.  I don’t mind many things Great Starts is already doing, but my concern is with the future.

Delaware Readiness Teams celebrate impact on kindergarten readiness

More than 100 representatives of the 21 Delaware Readiness Teams from across the state gathered in Dover today to celebrate family, school, business and community engagement in promoting children’s success in early childhood and beyond. The Readiness Teams are a partnership between the Delaware Department of Education’s Office of Early Learning and private funders and supporters — including the United Way of Delaware, the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, PNC Foundation, and Nemours — that promote grassroots collaboration to support young children’s healthy development.

Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky recognized the dedication and hard work of educators, students, parents and community partners whose collaboration helped the teams make an impact on children’s readiness for school and life.

“This is the kind of progress only achieved through dedicated efforts by many thoughtful early learning educators and school community supporters,” Godowsky said. “It takes the partnership of families, teachers, school and district leaders and community members to build the foundation that will support children’s intellectual and social-emotional learning. We have the opportunity to learn from these models of collaboration.”

Delaware Readiness Teams bring together families, early childhood programs, educators, and community and business leaders to build strong links connecting birth to third grade. Teams include the members and representatives of the faith community, fire and police departments, state agencies including the Division of Public Health, health promotion and service organizations, libraries, parent teacher organizations and associations, and more.

The teams’ work supports professional development among early learning providers and elementary schools and strengthens families and communities through activities including: holding parent resource fairs, partnering with libraries and the Summer Food Service Program on bookmobiles, co-hosting kindergarten academies for incoming kindergarten students with districts, building school-community gardens, and shared professional development of early learning providers and elementary school teachers. They also work to increase on-time kindergarten registration and boost early learning provider participation in Delaware Stars.

Ten of the teams recently collaborated to win grants from Prevent Child Abuse of Delaware totaling $90,000 to promote family outreach, expand professional development for providers, host kindergarten academies and provide bedding, bags and books for homeless children. Teams have received awards from the USDA, published children’s books, created resource kits for families at libraries, and created teaching toolkits in areas such as fine motor development.

“Delaware Readiness Teams make a difference in local communities by focusing on the ‘Readiness Equation,’ which means, ready families + ready schools, + ready early learning providers + ready communities = ready children.  Readiness Team volunteers are going above and beyond to ensure their community’s children have the opportunity for a great start in school and life,” said Madeleine Bayard, Vice President of Policy and Practice for the Rodel Foundation and chair of the Delaware Readiness Team Advisory Committee.

To find out more about local teams and to join a team in your community, visit www.greatstartsdelaware.com/readiness.html.

Find photos here.

Alison May

Special Education Front & Center In Budget Talks With DOE

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The Delaware Joint Finance Committee grilled Secretary Godowsky yesterday about the dramatic rise in special education numbers this year.  The News Journal, Delaware Public Media and Delaware State News covered the hearing with very different takes on the events of the day.  All of them cited the increase this year of 848 students classified as special education.

Delaware State News provided the quote of the year from Senator Harris McDowell:

A large portion of the dialogue centered on enrollment figures, with committee members questioning the discrepancy between predicted and actual growth and the JFC chairman referring to the funding formula as “‘Harry Potter’ calculus.”

Both legislators and DOE officials seem to be perplexed at the rapid rise in special education students and don’t know how to figure this out.

“We’ve really been in the position of, is this a bubble, is this a one-time or two-time increase in special education enrollment that’s driving that growth?” said department finance director Kim Wheatley.

The News Journal had a different take on the matter:

Department officials and several lawmakers said much of that increase was likely due to the state’s recent efforts to better screen students to catch disabilities and learning differences. Godowsky said the department was working with the University of Delaware to study the state’s population and see if the increase could be a long-term trend.

But Delaware Public Media offered more insight into Godowsky’s thoughts on the issue:

“It’s the unknown factor of students identified as ‘exceptional’ and are eligible for special education services. So that’s the variable that we haven’t really been able to tap exactly,” Godowsky said.

But the shell shock award of the day definitely goes to Delaware Public Media:

Many parents of kids with learning differences choose to move to Delaware because of the state’s quality special education, Dr. Godowsky said.

Are you kidding me?  Really?  Quality special education.  That is a complete lie.  When I talk about special education with people from different states they laugh and tell me how horrible Delaware is in comparison to other states.  For a state listed as needing intervention three out of the past five years this is a complete joke.  This is not a knock against our teachers, but a complete slam on the DOE who seems to think special education’s sole purpose is to bring up test scores.  Meanwhile, our bloated classrooms, some with well over 30 students and one teacher in some districts are suffering immensely.  If Delaware had quality special education this blog would not exist.

I’ve told people for going on two years now that special education numbers are too low in Delaware.  Many of the increases this year are coming from the charter sector of Delaware public education.  Now that accountability is really kicking in I’m not surprised the charters are waking up to this fact.  Now that their schools are on the line just as much as traditional school districts are, their excuses with low special education numbers just don’t cut it any more.  While this is not all charters, there are certain ones who have insanely small special education populations that do not match any realistic demographics in the state.  The vo-techs aren’t much better in some respects.  There could be other factors at play here as well.

We all know Delaware has some major pollution issues.  There have been concerns about chemical waste and toxins for years.  Delaware Senator Greg Lavelle wants Delaware’s water tested to make sure we aren’t having issues like the crisis in Flint, Michigan.  My son has Tourette Syndrome and it is a mystery about how children develop the disability.  The disability is not present in any of his relatives on both sides, nor was it in past generations.  I have questioned the origin of my son’s disability.

In 2006, a company called Reichhold in Cheswold had a chemical leak.  A railroad car released a chemical called styrene which is used in plastics.  The smell of the chemical was felt up to five miles away from the now closed plant.  My house is a little over a mile away from the now closed chemical plant.  My wife and son were home on that summer day, with all the windows open.  He was two when this happened.  Twenty people went to the hospital.  Route 1 closed down in that area for most of the day.  Everyone within the five-mile radius of the plant was told to stay indoors.  In my neighborhood, every single child I knew that was home that day has some type of disability that was not present before the leak.  I actually contacted Erin Brokovich about this a few years ago but I never received a response from her.  I don’t think it is a coincidence events like this occur and we see a rise in children with disabilities.  While Delaware didn’t see an immediate health danger to citizens in the area, we don’t know what long-term effects these unstable chemicals can do to developing minds in children.

Yesterday, State Rep. Kim Williams attended the JFC hearing with the DOE and after hearing the special education numbers, she tweeted an astonishing figure that none of the major media covered:

That is a lot of unfunded special education!  3rd grade is also the first year students take the Smarter Balanced Assessment folks.  I wrote in great detail about the 2015-2016 September 30th enrollment numbers back in November.  Delaware charter schools special education numbers rose nearly 15% on average while traditional school districts rose 4.4%.  At that time, 2,467 students in Delaware who have IEPs received no additional funding for the simple fact they are considered basic special education in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  This is a travesty.  William’s House Bill 30 would take care of this issue but nobody seems eager to make sure it passes aside from a handful of legislators.  Meanwhile, Governor Markell wants to boost early education by over $11 million dollars.  While funds would go to daycare centers, the discussion at the JFC hearing also talked about funds going to “coaches” to train the daycare center providers.  How much of that money will go towards these “coaches” and who are they?  The DOE and Governor Markell stress the need for this and the General Assembly seems to be accepting everything involved with it at face value.  I fear this is just another money grab by companies wanting to profit off children and an all-too-willing DOE and Governor who put money before children in their priorities.

When is our General Assembly going to stop blindly believing all the DOE and Markell have to say about how to “fix” education?  While Godowsky has certainly made some good staff changes at the DOE, it is merely window dressing to the true problems with the DOE and State Board of Education.  Those who suffer the most are the nearly 20,000 special education students in Delaware who do not have the funding, resources, and support they so desperately need.  But we have no problem sending millions upon millions of dollars to outside companies who come up with their mythical reports and their ridiculous high-stakes tests which tell us nothing we don’t already know.

Exceptional Winterfest Weekend: No Holds Barred Education Forum!!!!

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Since the snowmageddon is upon us, I thought this might be a good time to hold the very first Exceptional Winterfest Weekend.  This event will be going on ALL weekend long during the Blizzard of 2016.  Below are the links to discuss education issues.  I want ALL sides of the issues to feel welcome and this will be no holds barred.  I encourage everyone to log in as their real name.  I would avoid personal attacks for all.  I would comment on this thread now to avoid your account going into moderation.  If my power goes out, I won’t be able to moderate comments and release them if you are a first-time user.  I would ask that if you are an elected official to send comments through your state email address to avoid any potential impersonations of elected officials.

I would love to see Governor Markell, Paul Herdman, Earl Jaques, David Sokola, Kendall Massett, Donna Johnson, Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, Chris Ruszkwoski, and Dr. Steven Godowsky come on over and comment.  If any of you have the means to contact them, please invite them to this one of a kind chance to really get to the heart of the issues.

My hope is that by the end of this weekend, if this experiment doesn’t fail miserably, that maybe we can reach consensus on some of these issues in Delaware education.  We are not going to agree on everything, but maybe we can understand the different sides and have more respect for each other’s opinions when all is said and done.  There is no better time than a blizzard to do this, as most of us will be in our homes with our loved ones.

These are the topics, all of which will be under the title of this blog:

Bullying

Charter Schools

Common Core

Corporate Education Reform

Delaware DOE/State Board of Education

Delaware Teachers

Early Childhood Education/Kindergarten

Legislation in Education/General Assembly

Low-Income/Poverty Needs

Parents In Education

Personalized Learning

School Funding

Smarter Balanced Assessment/Opt-Out

Special Education

Traditional School Districts

Wilmington Education

All comments are now turned on.  I apologize.  I didn’t realize these “pages” on my blog had to be individually turned on.  Thank you for your patience!