Next Tuesday, January 15th, Delaware Governor John Carney and Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting will hold a press conference at Legislative Hall to announce a weighted funding system for Delaware students. Luckily, this blogger got the details of it this evening. The devil, as they say, is in the details. Continue reading
In a shocking announcement, the Delaware American Civil Liberties Union wants to sue the State of Delaware over education funding. But the announcement was not made by the ACLU but rather a Capital School District Board of Education member at their meeting last evening. Continue reading
Ask, and ye shall receive! Whenever I put up an article about Newark Charter School and what I view as their low sub-group population percentages compared to Christina School District, I am asked to do closer comparisons. That is absolutely fair and something I should have done a long time ago. So I plead guilty on that score. But sometimes wanting to know that information to shut me up isn’t always the best idea. Especially when the proof is in the pudding. Continue reading
I attended the first half of the Delaware Education Funding Task Force meeting tonight. After Delaware Governor Jack Markell gave some brief opening comments thanking the members of the committee for their hard work, he advised them this isn’t an easy task force. As he was leaving, he made a point to greet and shake hands with everyone in the room. And I mean everyone!
Members trickled in so the meeting didn’t start until about 5:20. There are some very vocal members on this committee with very strong ideologies. The bad part is when many of them are different. I have no clue how this group is going to come to a consensus in the next couple months. I saw members on this task force who belong to the General Assembly (who listened for the most part), DOE, State Board, the traditional districts, the charter crowd, Rodel, school boards, the business community, Delaware PTA, GACEC, and advocates for ELL students.
Donna Johnson from the State Board of Education did make it a point to talk about the group’s discussions about basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade. I do recall seeing a potential funding model where funds were reallocated in the needs-based funding formula for the state. But this shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation for an education funding task force. Put House Bill 30 up for a full vote and get it done. It’s what, $11.5 million to fund that bill? Make it happen. Maybe the DOE can get rid of a ton of their vendor contracts and their non-vendor paychecks for all these people who show up on Delaware Online Checkbook with no transparency surrounding these payments whatsoever. After all, the DOE were the ones that torpedoed this funding when the topic first came up six years ago.
It was interesting hearing some members talk about the lack of authority for a school principal to make funding decisions. This was more from the charter side of the equation. But members on the other side disagreed, saying they have the authority based on the pool of money they get from the district. One member said even if they do find the right number or formula for funding, how do you audit that? Does that money allocated as extra support for low-income and ELL students mean reduced classroom sizes or more teachers? Some members felt that because 41 states have successful funding formulas that will translate as success for Delaware. But how is that success measured? By standardized tests? Graduation rates? Will they have pilot schools or districts to try it out? What does low-income and poverty mean in terms of percentage of students? Since the state changed how they measure poverty, but the DOE goes by one thing and DHHS goes by another, which is right? If the group doesn’t necessarily agree with the WEIC funding formulas, what does that mean for the General Assembly when they vote on the redistricting in Wilmington? If the majority of the group believes changing property assessments is the way to go what does that mean for the property owners who have no voice on this committee? We should do what California does and vote on propositions like this. Then we will see where the real voting power exists!
There were people at this meeting who I have never seen face to face but I have written about them a bit. One as recently as last Thursday. I had to pick up some groceries and my son REALLY wanted Dairy Queen so I snuck out while the group was on their pizza break. I wished I could have stayed, but family first! I am very curious what comes out of the final report.
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.
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.
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:
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%.
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.
At the 2/16 meeting of the Sub-Committee, Secretary Godowsky showed up and listened to the group’s recommendations.
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
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.
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.
As well, members of PACE, Alleyne (now speaking on behalf of TeenSHARP), and a Delaware student gave public comment:
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:
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.
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.
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.
The United States Department of Education will continue to exert authority in regards to parents opting their child out of state assessments through regulations.
Congressman Jared Polis from Colorado asked Acting Secretary of Education John King, during the “Next Steps for K-12 Education: Upholding the Letter and Intent of the Every Student Succeeds Act” hearing, about opt-out and participation rates.
By stating “we all know states have a historically checkered record of making sure all vulnerable sub-groups are served,” Polis referenced Oklahoma’s State Superintendent as saying “While a state is welcome to pass bad laws as relating to opt-outs, we have Section 4-C-E of ESSA that says states must assess 95% of students. That means all means all.”
Polis quoted US DOE as responding “While it is up to states to determine the consequences of failing to assess students, the Department will provide oversight and enforcement to ensure that states are assessing all students, regardless of what the states laws are and how opt-outs occur.” He then asked John King what steps he plans to take to make sure “all means all” with participation rates.
King responded: “I take that responsibility quite seriously to ensure that all means all. This implementation of the law advances equity in excellence. I think we have an opportunity in the regulations and guidance that we help to provide guardrails that will ensure that states use their new flexibility around accountability and interventions to advance equity. For example, as we begin the negotiated rule-making process around assessments, the kind of questions we’ve been getting have been questions around the participation of students with disabilities, the participation of English learners, the implementation of computer adaptive assessment, in a way that protects equity. And so as we move forward, that negotiated rule-making, a central question will be how do we ensure that regulations we do on assessment protect civil rights of students. And we’ll take a similar approach to the work on the on our negotiated rule-making for supplemented non-supplant and we continue to review, comment, and feedback from stakeholders to define other areas where we need to move forward with regs and guidance.”
Polis went on…. “And while the consequences of meeting the requirements are left up to state law, do you feel that you have sufficient leverage to ensure that those consequences are meaningful and not meaningless?”
King replied: “We do, and I will say it will require vigilance from the part of the Department, especially as states implement their first round of interventions and identify whether or not those interventions are helping to achieve progress, particularly for at-risk sub-groups. We’re gonna have to be vigilant to ensure that states continue to move forward to shift strategy, if a strategy is not working for the highest-need students.”
Define vigilance John King! This violates parental rights at a massive scale. Opt-out is an individual parent choice for their child, not a school’s responsibility to make sure it does or does not happen. It is our right that we choose to exercise. This law gives parents, teachers, and schools absolutely no protection from the iron fist of the federal government. We are back to square one…
As I was updating the Education Meetings & Events tab at the top of my blog, I was perusing through the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar. I found an entry in December, January, and February for the Delaware Hispanic Commission. Their education committee is having meetings to discuss the treatment of English Language Learner students in Delaware. This is actually becoming a VERY big topic lately. I’ve been hearing both Red Clay and Christina are ill-equipped to handle this growing population. The students services are not being met, and parents are not happy.
If you are a parent or a teacher of an ELL student and you want to talk about the status of ELL in Delaware, please come to their next meeting on December 15th, 3pm, at 198 Commerce Way, Administration Building in Dover. It appears last month’s meeting of this committee was canceled.
Sussex Academy, the only Delaware charter school in Sussex County, was one of the best Smarter Balanced scoring schools in the entire county. This is not an accident, nor is it an indication they are the “best” school in the county. Like the Charter School of Wilmington, Sussex Academy was named in the ACLU lawsuit against the State of Delaware last December for discrimination against minority and special needs students. Or what the blogosphere collectively calls “cherry-picking”. The school is smack dab in the middle of Sussex County.
On the Delaware Department of Education school profiles part of their website, it shows the school’s demographics. Sussex County has a very large population of Hispanics. Western Sussex County is considered one of the poorest sections of the state and that trend is expected to increase over time.
In previous articles, this blog and Delaware Liberal have focused on New Castle County, Capital School District, and all the Delaware charters. Our graphs have shown the effect low-income and poverty has on Smarter Balanced performance. Unfortunately, this trend continues in Sussex County as seen below. Since Sussex Academy is primarily a middle school (although their high school is increasing, with 9th grade added two years ago, 10th grade last year, and 11th grade this year), I ran the graph with just the middle schools surrounding the school. Sussex Academy appears to be siphoning away the “better” students from their surrounding districts.
To put this in perspective, Laurel Intermediate School is currently a Priority School in Delaware, which slipped under the radar of most bloggers until recently. Meanwhile, Sussex Academy is praised by Governor Markell and the Delaware DOE as a great success. All schools would be considered awesome if they were allowed to do what Sussex Academy does with their application process and mythical “lottery”. Like Charter School of Wilmington and Newark Charter School to some extent, the veil has been lifted and these schools are not superior schools. They have merely placed themselves on that stage by picking who they want, and more importantly, who they don’t want.
While their Hispanic population seems high, 9.6%, compared to many of the other schools, it is very low. Sussex Academy is in Georgetown, the same as Georgetown Middle School. Watch what happens…
In theory then, does the same hold true for the percentage of English Language Learners in Sussex County? Not exactly. Even though a few schools have less Hispanic students, Sussex Academy has the lowest percentage of English Language Learners.
How does Sussex Academy compare to the other schools with special education? I’m sure you know the answer already, but there is a very wide margin between the school and the others.
In fact, they are in the low single-digits compared to the schools surrounding them. When I see this, it always reminds me of the scene in Forrest Gump, when young Forrest tries to find a seat on the bus and the one kids says to him “Can’t sit here.” This is what Sussex Academy does with their blatant discrimination against low-income students, Hispanics, and students with disabilities. But I’m sure they will be recognized as a “reward” or “recognition” school for their exemplary performance…
After months of hard work, the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee issued its final report today. This mammoth 204 page report has many suggestions based on interviews, research and community input. Please read the below report. I will post my own thoughts in an update on this article after I have read through the entire report.