No sooner do I post an article about Odyssey than an email comes in from an Odyssey parent who is fed up with their Board! While this email has been circulating among Odyssey parents on social media today, this is the first time it has been open to the public like this. The parent gave me full permission to post this and considers it a public document! Continue reading
Last night I wrote an article about the Delaware Pay For Success legislation, Senate Bill #242. I stand firm in my convictions and I am calling on ALL Delawareans to contact their Delaware Senator and urge them to either table SB 242 or vote no today. The more I thought about this legislation, the more disturbed I am with it. Say the Pay For Success program an investor initiates does not reach its objectives. The state won’t pay the investor for this “project”. But what happens with all the data collected during the program? Does the investor get to keep that? As we all know, in the 21st Century, data is currency. It is bought and sold all the time. When that data concerns children, we have cause to worry. The whole point of the “investment” could very well be the data collection that comes with it. We see massive data collection on pre-schoolers in these kind of programs going on across the country. Investors love social-emotional learning and are investing millions of dollars for that treasure trove of data collection on students. Children. Think about that.
Let this sink in for a minute- the person pushing this the most is a DuPont. A member of a family that is worth billions of dollars. Someone with deep connections and the ability to snap their fingers so things go his way. His brother already runs Zip Code Wilmington, a coding school. There runs the Longwood Foundation. He is heavily involved in the Delaware Community Foundation which funds the Rodel Foundation. We need to wake up and question motivations here. They are already “invested” in Delaware education.
Good evening distinguished members of the Delaware Senate,
I am urging you to table Senate Bill #242. This bill, dealing with Pay For Success programs in Delaware, is being fast-tracked through the General Assembly.
My concerns with the bill are the eventual forays Pay For Success programs will make into public education. While this bill is being touted as an economic development bill (which I support), it will also be used for “social programs”. There are not enough safeguards in this bill to prevent potential fraud and abuse. I also believe any programs like this, that would use our children as guinea pigs for an investor, is fundamentally and morally wrong.
I have put out the call for Delaware citizens to attempt to stop this bill. But given that it was introduced Tuesday, released from committee today, and will be on the Senate Ready list tomorrow does not fill me with hope. I attended the committee session today and voiced my concern. I was pretty much told to trust the system and if problems arise those could be fixed later on.
This is a huge program that the general public knows NOTHING about. It was put in a committee that does not usually generate much citizen traffic aside from lobbyists. There was no big splashy article from the News Journal on this bill as we see so often with other bills. It is my contention the intention was to get this through as soon as possible which is not a sign of transparency whatsoever.
I put up an article on Exceptional Delaware tonight which goes more in-depth with my concerns. I urge you to table this bill or even vote no on it. I am not opposed to some parts of the bill, but I believe it should be held over until the 150th General Assembly. Let the public weigh on it. Let’s do some research into who this benefits. Please, let’s look at some of the very controversial ways programs like this are being used. The Salt Lake City program, run by Goldman Sachs, is praised by the investment community. But the data in that program was flawed to begin with. And it dealt with finding ways to reduce future special education services for students with disabilities.
I respect both the prime sponsors on this legislation, but it needs to be looked at very carefully before we rush into this sort of thing.
I contacted Mike Matthews from the Delaware State Education Association and urged him to have DSEA weigh in on this bill. After I emailed all the Delaware Senators, I forwarded the email to all of the State Representatives. I begged them to do what is right and to do their due diligence with this legislation should it pass the Senate.
Good evening members of the Delaware House of Representatives,
I sent the below email to every single member of the Senate. Several other Delaware citizens are sending similar emails to them as well. If this bill should happen to pass the Senate tomorrow with no changes, it would fall on the House to do what is necessary. I am not 100% opposed to this bill. But there are very real dangers that will come out of it. We talk about unintended consequences with education all the time. While this is not an education bill, it will dip into that sector. Please do what is right.
I spread the message far and wide last night. The clock is ticking. If you want to take action and contact your Delaware Senator but aren’t sure who they are, please go to this map: Who is my Delaware State Senator?
I have no doubt defenders of the bill are emailing the Senate at this very moment saying things like “This is a great bill that will help the Delaware economy”, or “This is from a blogger who thinks everything in education has some nefarious motive”, or “Just ignore him”. So I will ask the Delaware Senate this question: do you value children or profits? Because you have the chance to do something good here. To do what is right. Do it!
The Senate adjourns at 2pm today. It is #7 on their agenda but bills can be switched around. Time is running out…
You gotta keep ’em separated. -The Offspring
I received the following email today. This concerns the “solution” that Providence Creek Academy, a charter school in Clayton, DE, implemented when students weren’t getting along. Yes, let’s punish whole grades of classes because of the actions of a few. That is always a smart thing to do! Especially on the playground. Weird. Just weird…
From: Messick Joan
Sent: Tuesday, September 6, 2016 1:15 PM
Subject: Lunch/Recess – Seventh and Eight Grade Students
Good Morning Upper School Team
First, I apologize for not getting this out sooner.
On Thursday, there were several students reporting issues between the seventh and eighth grade students. The issues, in my opinion, seem to be brought on by some students intentionally starting arguments between other student and there seem to be issues about who should be where during recess time. Since seventh and eighth grade students must follow a similar schedule, there isn’t much we can do to separate them during lunch and recess. This morning I went to all special classes and stem so that I could have the opportunity to talk to all students. The conversation was pretty one sided and I asked them to listen. I did ask that if they had any questions, comments, suggestions, complaints or just want to share, they should write it down and ask that a staff member put it in my mail box.
Side bar, we did have students, a parent, staff members concerned that if we don’t try and do something to be proactive the issues would escalate and change the climate in the upper school for the worse. At this point it is fair to say that the issues are disrupting recess/lunch, disrupting the educational environment AND students are using social media to make comments that could be considered threatening in nature and there are implications that they might harm another student at school. We are going to try some things to see if we can calm the issues.
Starting today, we painted a line on the upper school playground. Please have the seventh grade on one side of the line and eighth grade on the other side of the line. We put a path on one side so that when those students are entering the building they don’t have to cross path with the other grade level. I would have one grade level go in and wait two minutes and have the other grade level go in allowing enough time for the first group to enter their classrooms. I am in the process in meeting with staff to keep them informed about what is happening and I would appreciate your feedback and suggestions since we will probably meet to discuss what is working, what is not and see if we need to make any additional changes. Recess is a privilege, not a right. Please reply to me, not “reply all”.
Seventh and Eighth Grade students can take turns using each side. I understand there is a upper school team meeting today after school, please decide as a team how you would like to rotate the grades by day or by week and please let me know. We think that day on day off would be better because some students might have basketball withdrawalJ. Honestly, I feel sad that we have to do this since SO MANY of our students love recess and are using that time to get some energy out and relax with friends….
Thank you for your consideration and help. Please keep me informed if there is anything you need and I would really appreciate it if you would send me an e-mail so that I have something that I can use as a resource with names, times and some basic information; And it will help to keep track in case I need to. I am required to report documented reports of bullying and your e-mails help me with that. More to follow….Take care.
Lastly, I have already gotten feedback from students and those that have responded think that this is a good solution.
While I salute Ms. Messick for attempting a solution, does she understand that sometimes kids will be kids? I understand schools sometimes have to think of creative solutions to problems, but what if some of these 7th and 8th graders actually enjoyed each other and had friendships? If some students are causing issues, deal with those students. With that being said, I do think it’s great 7th and 8th graders get to enjoy recess. This email is over a year old so hopefully it all got straightened out. Any PCA associated people know if this playground line is still in existence?
In other PCA news, many have reached out to me privately to find out how the We’re Worried group is doing. I have not heard a peep since their Labor Day email when they announced their intent to join DSEA (the state teacher association). All in good time!
I sent an email to Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn and Governor Carney a few seconds ago alleging the legal opinion in regards to my FOIA complaint about the Family Services Cabinet Council was false in nature. Since the Council disburses funds, they fit the category of a public body.
§ 1605A Prevention component.
The Family Services Cabinet Council (Council), with the Department of Education and the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families acting as lead agencies, shall administer a program to offer prevention-related student support services (prevention services) to students to prevent them from becoming discipline problems and from failing academically in our schools. Within the limits of appropriations made for this purpose, the Council shall provide rules and regulations for the award of prevention grants and the conduct of prevention programs authorized under this section, subject to the following limitations:
(1) The Council shall issue prevention funding to local school districts proposing to establish an integrated plan to deliver prevention services including, but not limited to, academic tutoring and student mentoring programs to provide at-risk students with the extra help they may need to succeed academically and with positive adult role models; outreach programs to promote parental, family and community involvement in students’ academic studies and in reducing and resolving school discipline problems; school-linked support services to help students with family or health problems that may be adversely affecting their academic performance and their conduct at school; training to help students and school personnel resolve conflicts peacefully and non-disruptively; and assistance to help teachers better manage the behavior of students in their classrooms.
(2) Applications for funding pursuant to this section shall be made by school districts in accordance with procedures and standards established by the Council. Each applicant shall set forth an integrated plan to provide prevention services consistent with paragraph (1) of this section. To avoid duplication of effort, maximize the impact of limited resources, and increase the effect of efforts by state, local, community and private, nonprofit agencies through increased coordination and cooperation, the Council shall give preference to applications which:
a. Are submitted by 2 or more school districts working in concert, where appropriate;
b. Include private, nonprofit agencies and community organizations as partners in the application, and identify the roles those agencies and organizations are to play in delivering prevention services in the community;
c. Indicate how grants from the federal government and foundations will be used or sought to help deliver prevention services in the community; and
d. Identify the roles state and local agencies are to play in delivering prevention services in the community.
(3) The Council shall provide technical assistance to districts preparing applications and ongoing assistance to districts awarded funding pursuant to this section.
(4) The Council shall establish a timetable for the award of grants pursuant to this section which shall provide, at minimum, for a period of 1 month for joint planning between the Council and the applicants that the Counsel selects as finalists eligible for a funding award. During such joint planning, the Council and the applicant shall refine the applicant’s prevention plan, ensure that the plan makes cost-effective use of the resources and services of state, local, community and private, nonprofit agencies, and consider the incorporation of successful elements of other districts’ prevention programs into the applicant’s plans. Final awards shall be made by the Council on or before January 15 of each year for the subsequent school year, contingent upon the appropriation of funds for such purpose in the annual appropriations act.
70 Del. Laws, c. 215, § 1; 71 Del. Laws, c. 180, § 92.;
any regulatory, administrative, advisory, executive, appointive or legislative body of the State, or of any political subdivision of the State, including, but not limited to, any board, bureau, commission, department, agency, committee, ad hoc committee, special committee, temporary committee, advisory board and committee, subcommittee, legislative committee, association, group, panel, council or any other entity or body established by an act of the General Assembly of the State, or established by any body established by the General Assembly of the State, or appointed by any body or public official of the State or otherwise empowered by any state governmental entity, which:(1) Is supported in whole or in part by any public funds; or
(2) Expends or disburses any public funds, including grants, gifts or other similar disbursals and distributions; or
(3) Is impliedly or specifically charged by any other public official, body, or agency to advise or to make reports, investigations or recommendations.
Here we go again! House Bill 60 is on the agenda for the House Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, June 14th, at 2:30pm. It is the ONLY bill on the agenda. Most educators should be done with school by then. Parents, teachers, students, and Delaware citizens: I invite you to attend this committee meeting and give public comment on why you feel this bill should pass!
Delaware Governor John Carney has been very quiet on the subject of opt out. When he was a U.S. Congressman, he voted against a part of the reauthorization of the ESEA which would have honored a parent’s right to opt their child out of the state assessment prior to the bill becoming the Every Student Succeeds Act. When the last opt out bill, House Bill 50, overwhelmingly passed the Delaware House and Senate, former Governor Jack Markell vetoed the bill within weeks. An attempted override of that veto led to a lot of shady deal-making between Markell’s office and legislators and the attempt failed.
While opt out has not been a huge topic, it is more important than ever. I feel the bill should also include personalized learning assessments and any “stealth” assessments embedded in digital technology. While these aren’t the norm in Delaware yet, they will be. These mini assessments will replace the once a year test in a competency-based education arena.
Due to an actual “gag order” by National PTA concerning opt out, we will not be able to get support from the Delaware PTA this go-around. So any participation in this committee meeting will have to be a grassroots effort by parents. Please spread the word. If you are unable to attend the meeting, please email the members of the House Education Committee asking for their support of House Bill 60. As well, you can sign this petition on Change.Org which can be found here: Please release House Bill 60 from the House Education Committee
Here are their emails:
An email from Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques and State Senator David Sokola sheds new light on the district-charter funding debacle that has taken over Delaware education talk in the past week. Meanwhile, the News Journal came out with another article on the issue that is sure to confuse everyone.
In the below email sent from Jaques to the House Education Committee, he gives a timeline of the events from the point in time he got involved in the issue and clarifies when Secretary of Education Dr. Stephen Godowsky found out about this. He also put in a reply Sokola sent to a constituent regarding the issue which has some very accusatory statements toward Christina School District.
From: Jaques, Jr, Earl (LegHall) Sent: Thursday, September 1, 2016 2:41 PM To: Bentz, David (LegHall); Bolden, StephanieT (LegHall); Dukes, Timothy (LegHall); Heffernan, Debra (LegHall); Hensley, Kevin S (LegHall); Williams, Kimberly (LegHall); Kenton, Harvey (LegHall); Lynn, Sean M (LegHall); Matthews, Sean (LegHall); Miro, Joseph (LegHall); Osienski, Edward (LegHall); Potter, Jr, Charles (LegHall); Ramone, Michael (LegHall) Cc: Schwartzkopf, Peter (LegHall); Sokola, David (LegHall)
Subject: School Funding Formula
House Education Committee Members, Late last week I received notice about a formula change between Charter Schools and our traditional Public Schools. I immediately called and talked with Secretary Godowsky to see if what I heard was correct and if so why was this change being made. I was told by him that yes a change was proposed and he wasn’t aware of this change until just the day before. On a side note, I wasn’t very happy to hear about this – since I and Dr. Godowsky just had breakfast only a couple of days before this news broke and no mention of this was discussed by him to me! I was told by Dr. Godowsky that he has put a hold on any possible changes to the funding formula until there are complete discussionswith all stakeholders. I then called Governor Markell to voice both my concern and outrage at how this proposed change was brought forward with no regards to public input, transparency or discussion with either myself or Senator Sokola. I then called Superintendent Burrows, this year’s head of the chiefs, and was assured by him that no discussions between the “chiefs” and DOE regarding this change had occurred. Their only acknowledgement came when they starting receiving bills from the charter schools and subsequently called DOE to find out what was going on. On the very next day I was at a public event with Governor Markell. He reinstated to me that no actions regarding the funding formula will occur this year and any discussions on this subject will be transparent and inclusive. Again, I followed up with Secretary Godowsky, requesting that any changes to the formula would require an open, transparent and inclusive process involving all stakeholders and plenty of public input. Today, there was a story in the News Journal that you might want to read to gain more insight.
In addition, I have attached below part of an email that Senator Sokola sent to one of his constituents which gives very good details and background on the formula mechanism. Although, his email talks about the Christina School District, I want to remind you that this formula applies to all public schools across our state.
“It turns out that the funding formula has not changed, and the Secretary does not have the authority to change the formula that is in the code. There have been times over the years when there have been disputes about how the formula works, and apparently we have one now. The dispute relates to the part of the code that allows for certain exemptions from the money that “follows the child” to a Choice or Charter alternative. The code allows for 4 specific areas and then has some general language that allows a district to petition the Secretary of Education to allow for additional exemptions of local operating funds, and to sign off on those itemized expenses. The Christina District increased that line from under $700 thousand to about $9.2 million since 2011, and has not asked the Secretary for approval of the increased exemptions. No other district in NCC has had anything but nominal changes in that time frame. The money in question also has nothing to do with the Autism Program or the Program for the Hearing Impaired that are managed by Christina. It is my understanding that any action from the Secretary at this time is on hold, however Christina still has a legal obligation to specify those expenses beyond the 4 that are in the code that should be exempt, and to have a formal sign off by the Secretary. I have supported for quite some time a weighted student funding policy, and would hope that we could make more progress on such a funding system. The money needs to specifically follow a student to a school, which is not done well in Delaware including in Christina. Dispute resolution should be done by some mutually agreed upon mechanism, or one established in the code. If there still is not agreement, we have constitutionally protected separation of powers, and the legal system would be the mechanism of last resort. That is generally not a win-win result for the parties who are in disagreement.
The specific funding issues you mentioned can certainly be submitted to the Secretary and the district needs to be open, transparent and detailed with the financial records to make their case. The Secretary will be willing to consider the specific lines of exemption that CSD has the legal obligation to propose. He would be negligent if he did not follow his statutory authority to review any specific exemptions proposed by CSD, and CSD would be negligent by not specifically submitting line items of proposed exemptions to the formula that is in the code. If CSD does not make specific proposals, the district is at risk of legal action that the legislature and the Secretary are constitutionally barred from intervening in. My hope and advice to the Secretary has been to give broad discretion to the specifics identified by Christina, and that we could have that open, transparent and inclusive process involving all stakeholders to clarify the financial obligations of a sending district to the various choice options made by students and families.”
As I receive additional information regarding this subject I will keep you informed…
Chair, House Education Committee
So how is that Sokola tells a constituent that Christina performed this horrible deed but the News Journal doesn’t mention it once? Sokola is saying Christina purposely withheld submitting their exclusions from the Delaware DOE. Jaques states Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows didn’t know about this situation unfolding since last April until recently. So how is it that the DOE asked the districts for this information in April as suggested by Saranac Spencer, the author of the News Journal article? Actually, it was in May based on the below timeline.
In order to try to unify the system, the department began considering adjustments to the formula in April, when it asked districts across the state for an inventory of the exclusions they claim.
The actual timeline of events is as follows:
March 11th: Newark Charter School Head of School Greg Meece meets with Acting Christina Superintendent Bob Andrzjewski to discuss the upcoming Christina referendum and payments from Christina to NCS. (source: Newark Charter School March 2016 Board Minutes)
Early April 2016: NCS representatives Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, and Stephen Dressel meet with Associate Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman to discuss exclusions in the funds Christina sends to NCS. The DOE indicates all exclusions will require approval from the Secretary of Education. (Source NCS April and May Board minutes)
April 8th: DOE holds District Business Manager’s meeting where the subject of district exclusions is brought up with District Chief Financial Officers.
May 2016: DOE sends out notices to District CFOs to send lists of their exclusion items in their local school budgets.
Mid-May: Kathleen Davies put on leave as Auditor of Accounts at Delaware State Auditor’s office.
August 8th: DOE sends out letters to District CFOs stating what exclusions are allowable and which aren’t.
Week of August 16th: Districts start receiving bills from charter schools for projected students choicing to charters from their districts.
August 19th: Secretary Godowsky finds out about situation going on with charter school payments from districts.
Week of Augusts 23rd: Word on situation slowly trickles out to school administration and some boards.
August 27th: Exceptional Delaware breaks news of a coming change in the way districts pay charters based on an approval from Secretary Godowsky, blogger was given information from various sources about changes regarding restricted funds being moved to non-restricted funds, no information given to blogger about specific exclusions.
August 28th: Legislators pound Godowsky who informs them there will be no change in the funding structure this year.
August 31st: News Journal covers story and states districts may have to adhere to the exemption list from the August 8th letter.
September 1st: NCS Board President Stephen Dressel writes letter to NCS parents alleging wrongdoing from Christina and a “few other districts”, states this isn’t a change in the formula for local cost per student but a correction, commenter on Facebook alleges parents from Las Americas ASPIRA also received a similar letter.
September 1st: Another News Journal article quotes DOE Spokeswoman Alison May as stating they may not be able to change this because bills already went out from charters to districts.
September 1st: Email from Earl Jaques to House Education Committee references a change in the formula, not a correction, email also has Sokola accusing Christina of not sending approval for exclusions to Secretary since 2011 for what was a $700,000 amount then which is now $9.2 million.
Here is the question no one seems to be addressing though. What is the amount in that discretionary budget was approved once and didn’t have to be again? When a district goes out for a referendum, it asks taxpayers to help the district pay for certain things. What if Christina had a referendum at one point in time, designated a specific amount for what would become an exclusion in their local budget, and the DOE approved it. Say that was 10 cents for every $100 of assessed property value. As Sokola alleges, Christina kept shoving money into this fund causing it to rise over $8 million dollars. But that 10 cents from a referendum, which becomes a part of the district’s local funds would certainly grow over time. In 2010, Christina narrowly won a referendum. But it stands to reason some of those designated funds could go into this “discretionary” bucket in their budget. Which would certainly build up over time. If the DOE approved this in July 2010, which would have been Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery, then that exclusion would not have to be approved every year. That portion of the tax payments sent in from residents would just keep building in that bucket. So Sokola’s allegation that Christina was willfully withholding payments from the charters by shoving money in this hidden bucket is blatantly false.
Now the big question is what started this runaway train. Yes, charters have lobbied for more money from districts for years. No one is arguing that. But they were not going after these discretionary amounts approved by the Secretary of Education. They wanted a share of the food services revenue the districts received, which is explicitly exempt from being a part of the payments made to charter schools since they have their own food programs which they get funds from at a federal, state, and local level. So how would Greg Meece know to look for this one specific thing and start a chain of events that led up to now? I’m working on that answer as we speak and I expect I will know the answer to that one in the next couple of weeks.
What leads me to believe Christina wasn’t “stuffing” money away into this secret account is also the reaction of one man to all of this. If the DOE sent out these notices about the exclusion items last May, Christina CFO Bob Silber would have been freaking out back then about it. If he knew the direction this was heading, he would have planned for it in their FY2017 budget, which he clearly did not. From many people I’ve talked to in the district, Silber didn’t start freaking out until the district received the DOE letter stating what the new exclusions were and when the charter bills started rolling in. Which leads me to think he wouldn’t have had to keep getting approval for the exclusions he put in this bucket based on a referendum allocation, approved by then Secretary Lowery, which would, over the years, increase this bucket.
In the meantime, I have to wonder why Sokola would specifically mention the year 2011 to this constituent he replied to. That is crucial to all of this under my theory. It makes Christina look really guilty. Why would Sokola make Christina appear to be guilty? I think we all know the answer to that one. Which confirms my suspicion about his involvement in all of this. His incessant talk in this email about legal action if Christina doesn’t comply and who can do what and when and where shows he is been looking into this for much longer than anyone else has. Sokola is not an attorney. He worked at DuPont for many years. Is he smart though? Yes. Devious? Hell yes. Would he be able to paint a picture showing Christina as a district that was denying money to charter schools, especially Newark Charter School, who was “denied” one million dollars this year if this “finding” doesn’t work out in their favor? He did in his email to the constituent.
I would go so far as to say there is an integrity issue with Sokola at this point. The ethics involved with this whole mess certainly lend a certain weight to Sokola and Meece being the brains behind all of this. Jaques wasn’t involved in this based on what he wrote in his email. But he made it a point to include what Sokola wrote as part of his email which lended considerable weight to perception of this issue. For that, I have to wonder what Jaques knew and when he knew it.
Is this the end of this? Probably not. Someone will come on here and say I have it backwards and I’m theorizing all of this. That’s certainly an option. But at the very least, this opens the door to careful inspection about what the Secretary of Education approves and if it is for exclusions in the local restricted budgets for districts based on referendum amounts, does that item need continuous approval from the Secretary. I don’t believe it does.
I was wondering why the Delaware Department of Education went to all the trouble of submitting an ESEA flexibility waiver for a dubious standard called the state’s “speaking and listening standards” last March. ESEA effectively ended on July 31st this year. Now we know why. Because it allowed the Delaware DOE to continue the same damaging and disturbing accountability practices for not just this school year, but through the end of the 2018-2019 school year.
This waiver was very odd to begin with. Yes, there is speaking and listening standards. It is part of Delaware’s Common Core State Standards. But to submit an ESEA Flex Waiver for this is ludicrous. But it doesn’t end there. The Delaware DOE was not forthright and honest with the process of applying for this waiver. As part of state code, Delaware is required to have an advisory committee to approve these waivers. This was the DESS Advisory Committee. For this waiver, DESS did not meet to approve it. In fact, as per an email from Susan Haberstroh at the Delaware DOE, the group is not even active at this point.
DESS is, however, required under Delaware state code to review the very same things this ESEA flexibility waiver is meant to address:
Under whose authority did Haberstroh decide DESS did not have to meet to review this flexibility waiver? This flexibility waiver is illegal in many ways. There is no state regulation that gives the Delaware School Success Framework any legal enforceability. Regulation 103, which covers these accountability standards, was not updated last year. The U.S. DOE has no authority to approve or disapprove Delaware law. By relying on the United State Dept. of Education to decide on Delaware law, the Delaware DOE is seriously overstepping the will and intent of the Delaware Constitution.
To make things more complicated, U.S. Secretary John King is abusing his authority under the Every Student Succeeds Act by approving any accountability waivers up through 2019. The Delaware DOE is cherry-picking what they can and can’t do with ESSA, just like John King is. For John King, when he does this stuff, he gets hauled into congressional hearings. When the Delaware DOE does this stuff, it gets mentioned on here. There is no accountability method for the Delaware DOE to answer for their actions. Someone needs to get the DOE into a public hearing to explain how they can do certain things and not others. Because the way they interpret the law and the way it must be interpreted are two different things. Events are progressing rapidly where the Delaware DOE is openly and flagrantly violating state law. This can not continue and I urge our General Assembly to take immediate and definitive action against our out of control Dept. of Education.
As for U.S. Secretary of Education John King, I have already taken some action on his abuse of power. I contacted Rep. John Kline (MN) and Senator Lamar Alexander (TN) addressing the abuse of power John King is exhibiting by approving this waiver. As well, I submitted the following to Senator Alexander:
Good morning Senator Alexander,
I am trying to reach you in regards to the Every Student Succeeds Act. Back in March, the Delaware Department of Education submitted a flexibility waiver under ESEA to the United States Department of Education. This was for a waiver of “speaking and listening standards” as part of our state assessment. Our Dept. of Education stated this was a “limited waiver” and bypassed parts of our state law for how these things are approved in our state. While I recognize you have no authority over Delaware state code, I do know you do have authority in regards to the U.S. Dept. of Education and have the ability to call out John King over abuse of power.
On August 5th, 2016, the Delaware DOE received an approval letter from Anne Whelan, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education, action on Secretary King’s behalf, to approve our ESEA flexibility waiver. The letter, which can be found on the Delaware Dept. of Education website under “Accountability”, and then “ESSA”, seems to give the U.S. DOE authority to grant flexibility waivers with the same accountability standards under ESEA up through June 30th, 2019. As I am interpreting the Every Student Succeeds Act, this type of authority was explicitly stripped from the U.S. Secretary of Education. But John King is openly and publicly defying this federal mandate by continuing the same damaging practices from No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top.
The letter states:
“After reviewing Delaware’s request, I am pleased to grant, pursuant to my authority under section 8401 (b) of the ESEA, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a limited waiver of section 1111 (b)(3)(C)(ii) of the ESEA, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), for school year (SY) 2016-2017 and of section 1111 (b)(2)(B)(ii) of the ESEA, as amended by the ESSA, for SYs 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 so that the state’s assessment system, including the Smarter Balanced Assessment for grades 3-8 and the SAT for high school, need not measure the State’s speaking and listening standards at this time.
This waiver is granted to Delaware on the condition that it will implement the following assurances:
It will continue to meet for each year of the waiver all other requirements in the ESEA, as amended by NCLB or the ESSA, as applicable, for State assessment systems and the implementing regulations with respect to the State’s academic content and achievement standards and assessments, including reporting student achievement and school performance, disaggregated by subgroups, to parents and the public.”
In addition, by granting this waiver to Delaware, it would allow Delaware to continue accountability rules that have no regulatory approval in Delaware as required by Delaware state code. Delaware has not passed a final Accountability Framework for our public schools because there is no regulation supporting this updated matrix. As well, the Delaware School Success Framework punishes schools for participation rates below 95% on state assessments. While ESSA allows states to decide policies and procedures with regard to a parent’s right to opt their child out of the state assessment, Delaware has not done so in any official capacity. The U.S. DOE is approving this illegal practice in our state which is against the spirit and intent of ESSA. No state regulations have been approved or are even in the pipeline for approval, and the U.S. DOE is in violation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.
I implore you, as well as your other Congressional leaders, to hold Secretary King accountable for his very open defiance against the intent of Congress.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions.
With warm regards,
Below is the letter sent from Anne Whalen to Secretary Godowsky on August 5th:
I reached out to Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky and Assistant Deputy Secretary David Blowman about the Freire Charter School Opt Out/Smarter Balanced Assessment/Final Exam scandal. Apparently, the Delaware Department of Education thinks it is perfectly acceptable for students to earn an A for tests they never took.
While I won’t release the full email chain since I would betray a source, I can say it is one of the most disrespectful and insulting emails I have ever received from the Delaware DOE. What offended me the most was how Blowman wrote his response, as if this is a common occurrence and it is A-Ok.
I must have been sniffing glue to think the Delaware DOE would take this matter seriously and actually, for once, do the right thing. But no, they turn it around with Blowman’s cocky and arrogant “historically common” and “educationally appropriate”. So every single parent in Delaware knows, the Delaware DOE does NOT give a crap about what actual grades a student gets in classes, JUST the Smarter Balanced Assessment. They don’t care if a student could be failing a course, but an unearned A on a final exam could cause them to pass a class. Because the Smarter Balanced Assessment is the true measurement, right assholes? Social promotion is okay as long as we get that participation rate, right Blowman?
I am DONE with this Department. DONE. As if their fraudulent Teacher Leader Pilot program I wrote about yesterday wasn’t bad enough, I get this unbelievable spit-in-parents face email. Because it is okay if a school changes grades. It’s okay if they offer sweetheart deals to parents to manipulate them out of opting their child out of a test that doesn’t give any true instructional feedback, parents don’t know the scores until after the school year ends, and it violates a parent’s constitutional, God-given, and fundamental right to decide what is best for their own child.
Is the DOE calling final exams unnecessary? The tests that actually show what a student may or may not have learned the entire year in a class, unlike the Not-So Smarter Balanced? Really Blowman? Are you out of your Kool-Aid drinking mind? We know this isn’t in statute or regulation because our corrupt Governor cares more about companies than students. If the situation were in reverse, like a parent wanted to opt their child out of a final exam, but the school said “How about we do this: let your child take the final exam and one of our teacher leaders will take the Smarter Balanced Assessment for your kid,” the DOE would be at that school pretty damn fast. It’s the same thing Blowman! By giving a student a false grade, you are teaching that student it is okay to manipulate the system. By allowing schools to do it you are showing all you care about is a high-stakes test. If that is the DOE’s definition of college and career ready, I weep for the future.
I truly don’t care if the DOE never gives me information again because of this article. I truly don’t. Not with the complete idiots in charge over there. From now on, everything will be a FOIA or a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education. So teachers, who I do respect immensely (except for those who do the suck-up dance to the DOE), please let me know of any “sweetheart” deals your administrators are pulling on students. Parents as well. Because this is sick. This is what our education governance has come down to: immoral and unethical practices coming all the way from the top and THEY ENDORSE IT. Just because something isn’t written in Title 14 doesn’t make it right Blowman. Don’t you dare try to pull that crap on me. Did you really think my response to this would be “Okay, dead issue.” This email could have easily said “We at the Department do not agree with the inappropriate actions taken by Freire with parents.” Instead, I’ll bet they got a high-five for their most excellent anti-opt out tactics.
I used to treat some DOE employees with kid gloves in the past. I’m done with that. You have spit on parents and their rights, manipulated teachers and their best interests, and lied to the public for the last time Delaware DOE. You have invited the opt out wrath that is coming your way in the 2016-2017 school year.
For my readers, I apologize for my harsh language in this article. But I feel it is necessary because there are no other accurate words that best sum up my thoughts on our Department of Education. We sit here in Delaware and pretend this is okay. Why aren’t parents and teachers standing up in mutiny at every single State Board meeting and picketing the Delaware DOE office? We allow this by doing nothing. If you think anything I write in this blog makes ANY difference, it is marginal at best. They won’t do a damn thing until they see parents rising up in massive numbers. And if some of our schools or the Department that is supposed to oversee our schools think lying, fraud, cheating, manipulating, brainwashing, stealing and disrespecting our children and those charged with teaching them, you need to do something about it.
I’m sure the DOE will do something that will piss me off more than this. I have no doubt. This is why we pay them the big bucks with no oversight. So they can screw over every possible person who doesn’t conform to their Rodel/Markell ass-kissing agendas. And for those who think you are at the table, you aren’t. And it isn’t a nutritious meal. You are ON THE TABLE and they are eating you alive and you are letting them do it. I don’t want to hear one more word about the cannibalistic Delaware Way (except the very excellent Delaware Way blog- shameless plug).
Former Red Clay Education Association and current Red Clay teacher Mike Matthews replied to Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s controversial email to Delaware teachers with the words only a teacher can say. If any other teachers or Delaware citizens want me to publish their reply to our “education” Governor, let me know!
Thank you for the email, but I feel I can’t accept your praise. First, the growth you’re praising is about as much as a margin of error in any political poll, so I’ll take said growth with a grain of salt. Second, you continue prop up this Smarter Balanced Assessment and the standards they are evaluating while failing to admit that this test provides virtually no diagnostic or beneficial material to educators in any timely fashion.
I’m going to keep this email short and say that while I respect you as a person and I respect many of the progressive stances you’ve taken during your nearly eight years in office, I continue to be disturbed by your tone and agenda when it comes to education matters. I would have thought you’d lighten up in your final year after the debacle that was Priority Schools. After mounting evidence has revealed that judging schools, teachers, and students on test scores is statistically unreliable and morally bankrupt. After charter after charter around Delaware continues to fail and close. After overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate vote to uphold a parents’ right to opt their children out of toxic standardized tests that do little to help their progress in school or out. After educators across the State vote unanimously no confidence in your corporate education reform Secretary of Education, Mark Murphy.
What other messages need to be sent to you, Governor, that your business-minded approach to education is not the way to go when we are working with students of varying needs and abilities. Using your business-model approach to education, Governor, who will get left behind when we close all those “poor-performing” schools because of a silly test score? Will it be the student with severe emotional needs that breaks down at the sight of a computerized test? Will it be the student who came to school on test day in soiled clothes after having eaten nothing the weekend before? Will it be the student who witnessed his brother get shot on the streets of Wilmington the night before?
While the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission has done a great job approaching many of the education issues your administration ignored during the first seven years of your administration (remember: the people you put in charge at DoE explicitly believe that poverty is NEVER a barrier to success. One Penny Schwinn actually stated that violence in Wilmington is never a challenge to a student’s success in school), it’s too little too late for your education legacy.
I wish this could have been different. I wish my outsized support for you in 2008 had been a little more probing when it came to education issues. As it stands, I regret the unequivocal support I offered you then both personally and by way of my blog, which no doubt contributed much to your narrow primary victory.
That being said, I genuinely wish you the best once you leave office and I hope someday you’ll realize the damage your education policies caused in this state and that you’ll have a change of heart in the coming years.
One suggestion: At the conclusion of your term, I’d ask you to please spend a week with Warner teacher Monique Taylor-Gibbs to see what’s it’s like working at one of those “failing” schools. Your opinions will change and I guarantee you’ll realize the damage your administration did to our schools with the neverending “test and punish” schemes hoisted upon them.
All the best,
Sent from my iPhone
On Thursday, I published a very controversial article surrounding the Appoquinimink School District. To say I got some heat for it would be putting it mildly. After I wrote the article, I did reach out to the district for comment. I emailed Superintendent Matt Burrows, CFO Dr. Charles Longfellow, and their public information officer, Lillian Miles. The only response I received from the trio was an out-of-office reply from Burrows:
What I found ironic about this was the part which states “suspected spam”. Many wondered why I didn’t contact the district first with my findings and ask them about it. Last year, after the opt out bill (House Bill 50) first came out, I emailed all the superintendents and charter chiefs in the state. I had valid concerns about schools refusing parent opt out requests or bullying parents about it. Some parents received veiled threats concerning their child’s ability to attend school during testing, while others received letters from a school district stating they had to acknowledge they were violating the law, sign it, and send it back. That came from Appoquinimink. When the Delaware PTA revealed this at the first opt out town hall last year, I immediately jumped on it and contacted the district. I spoke with Lillian Miles. I advised her the letter was potentially illegal based on the law it cited which did not apply to parents in any way whatsoever. She advised me she would look into it and I never received a response back from her. A few Superintendents responded to my email about the opt out situation. Matt Burrows was not one of them.
Flash forward a year to the 2016 Smarter Balanced Assessment season. Many parents reported getting a very similar letter this year. I once again contact Lillian Miles who informed me if any parent comes to me to direct them to speak to the school principal. I advised her I would not do this and I was advocating for their rights. She seemed to take offense to this and the matter didn’t come up again.
Towards the end of May, I received information concerning “data walls” at various Delaware schools where student test scores were displayed in classrooms or hallways, with the good students on top and the low-scoring students on the bottom. I knew Appoquinimink, based on multiple (double digit) reports I received from sources was one of the biggest abusers of this practice. Data Walls are a part of the “Leader In Me” program which Appo is a huge proponent of. I know one very large district who had some minor issues with it directed all teachers to take down their walls as a result of my article. I did advise, in an email to all the superintendents and charter chiefs, I would file FERPA complaints if I found out they didn’t take down their invasive data walls. Unfortunately, that was by the end of the school year when teachers would be taking down anything on the walls in their classrooms anyways so I wasn’t able to move forward on my promise. Once again, Burrows never responded.
I’m not sure why my email to him yesterday was “suspected spam” as I never received that reply from him in the past (or any reply for that matter). I linked articles in emails to superintendents in the past, so that would not have triggered a potential spam. Perhaps he marked the last email I sent him about the data walls as spam. I have no way of verifying that unless he tells me.
In the meantime, several people informed me of things going on in the district. Many teachers, within the district and around the state, advised me Appo is well-known for an almost “poaching” of the best teachers in the state. The district only seems to want seasoned teachers and doesn’t hire too many novice teachers. While this might be good for students, it is also a huge financial drain on the district. With tenured teachers and those with years, sometimes decades, under their belt, this costs more money in salaries. And with those high salaries, comes the very big costs of benefits and pensions. In FY2016, Appoquinimink spent $37.38 million dollars on teacher salaries alone. While I am not able to verify this because all it says are “salaries”, that number could go up to $39.23 million because under their related services buckets for “regular/basic”, “intensive”, and “complex”, there is an additional $17 million under “salaries”. But this section of their expenditures could also cover occupational therapists, psychologists, speech and hearing, specialists & coordinators, physical therapy and speech therapists. Only Appo and a couple of other districts do not code those correctly in the state accounting system. But Appo also paid $750,000 in “other professional service”, so some of those could fall under that bucket. We simply don’t know.
What I do know, and can now confirm, is where the alleged $5 million went to. In their FY2016 Preliminary Budget, the district gave a presentation to their board which showcases exactly what the tuition funds go towards:
So I was able to solve that mystery with some help digging around for information. And we also know how much they came into the year carrying over from the prior year. But this the confusing part. It shows a projected shortfall of $660,603.00 over the year. Now what we do know, based on Thursday’s article comparing the district’s tuition costs for in-state and out-of-state were over $2.9 million for FY2015 and a bit over $3 million for FY2016, with a difference of over $48,000.00. So this $660,603 shortfall they were expecting was, most likely, not coming from their out-of-district costs. Which leaves the section called “Needs-Based”. This covers their district costs for special education over what the state pays them. In Delaware, this is all based on the student enrollment as of September 30th. I’m not going to sit here and say this is a fair system at all. This is very early on in the school year, and even if a parent requests special education services through an IEP on the first day of school, chances are very good that child, if they qualify, won’t have a signed IEP by September 30th. This means the district has to cover those costs. For every special education student a school has, they earn extra teaching units for these students based on the severity of their disability. These three sections are basic, intensive, and complex. I wrote about this system two years ago:
Basic Special Education units are determined by eligibility of special education for students in grades 4-12 and they must not be considered intensive or complex. Students in this group receive one unit for every 8.4 students.
Intensive units are based on a need of a moderate level of instruction. This can be for any student with an IEP from Pre-Kindergarten to 12th grade. As well, there must be supports for health, behavior or personal issues. The student must have an adult facilitating these supports with a ratio of 1:3 to 1:8 for most of their education. The student must be in the mid-range for use of assistive technology and also need support in the areas of a school nurse, an interpreter, an occupational therapist, or other health services. These students would also qualify for extended year services (ESY), and may have to utilize services outside of the school such as homebound instruction or hospital services. On their IEP, these students may have accommodations outside the norm, which should include adaptations to curriculum to best support their needs. Students here get one unit for every 6 students.
Complex Special Education units are determined by severe situations that require a student to adult ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Most autistic children should fall into this category. They must receive a high level of instructional, behavioral, personal and health supports. Assistive technology needs to be utilized at an increased level for these students. ESY is a must, as well as a high level of homebound instruction or hospital services, interpreters, occupational therapists, or services from the school nurse. Unit funding is provided as one unit for every 2.6 students.
If you notice, there are NO additional units for basic special education students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade. This is something that would have changed had our General Assembly passed State Rep. Kim William’s House Bill 30 which she fought for during most of the 14
8th General Assembly. So who covers those costs? The district or charter school. But since IEPs continue from year to year, any district or charter knows this and should budget for it. One thing to keep in mind. These special education units are not added on to existing units. They are separate from regular education students. What this does not mean though is that every special education student receives a special education teacher in every class in a full inclusion environment. Some schools do this differently and there is little to no consistency with this.
Where this gets interesting is the article I put up about Red Clay’s tuition tax increase. Their 2 cent increase. Keep in mind, compared to Appoquinimink, Red Clay has, as of last September 30th, 2,169 special education students. They have 156 Pre-K, 302 in K-3 Basic, 1,104 in 4-12 Basic, 343 in Intensive, and 264 in Complex. Their complex number is three times that of Appo’s. They have more in every single category. And yet, their needs based funding increase for their tuition tax was part of the $815,000 they talked about at their board meeting last week. Red Clay publicly announced that portion of their tuition tax increase was $250,000.00. That is a $565,000 difference. Since we know Appo didn’t spend a huge amount more for out of school placements between FY2015 and FY2016, are we really supposed to believe they need all those extra funds to cover this gigantic increase for special education students? This is why I was angry the other day. I knew something didn’t smell right the second I saw the WDEL article.
A commenter from the Appo article stated the board discussed how the board was shocked when they got the numbers in from other districts. I listened to all their board recordings for this year, and I only found one where they specifically talked about this issue, from their February 23rd board meeting. I painstakingly transcribed that part of the board meeting. And I do mean painstakingly. Appoquinimink’s board voted last year to record their meetings and put them up on their website. Which I am grateful for, but for the love of all that is holy, please talk into the microphone. Presenters do great with this, but the actual board members are very difficult to hear many times. Governor Markell signed House Bill 61 last month, so all public school boards (including charters) will have to start doing this when school starts. That doesn’t mean you don’t talk into the device that, you know, actually records the meeting.
Here is the conversation. And I do apologize in advance. I don’t know which name belongs to the male and female board members that discussed this with the district’s CFO, Dr. Longfellow.
Female Board Member: I have another question about the tuition. So, for tuition to outside districts, how comfortable are you with the way that they are going to charge us every year? Cause we’ve had issues with Christina. Is it something that seems like when the bills finally come in they make sense, or?
Dr. Charles Longfellow: I don’t see the details, even if I ask for the details. I’m given numbers, I’m trying to say this the right way. I don’t know if they’re the right numbers or not. They seem reasonable, but by law we have to pay what… when they send a bill to the Department of Ed and the Secretary of Education, we asked for detail, we were given detail. That’s as far as we could go with it, so, uhm, that’s the process. Through legislation it could change but that’s where we are.
Female: I know I ask this question every year…
Longfellow: And that’s fine
Female: Are we allowed to request that the DOE audit those kinds of things?
Longfellow: Well they do get audited but not to the detail of what expenses go into what we are billed. They have to track their expenses separately. What they do is take everything they’ve spent on the program, locally, cause the state contributes money too. They can’t charge us what the state pays them. But for all the local dollars that are paid for the programs, they take the number of students that go there, divide it by the number of students we send there, and that’s what they bill us. That’s also been something we’ve said before, that, autism is, you know, a spectrum. So there are some students that need a lot of resources, there are some students that don’t need as many resources. Yet the bill that we get is the same for every kid. So what we have been doing is, there was a time, when we thought about, what can we do to serve students in district that don’t have a larger amount of needs. There were some parents saying, “It’s the Delaware Autism Program. I want my kid going there.” So we would talk to them and find out if that was truly the best thing for them. Is Dr. McAuley here? (No). She could probably give a little more background on that. We did that but that was a couple years back.
Female: It’s always been on my radar since that giant adjustment a couple years ago.
Longfellow: Yeah, I have the fuzzy, but not the warm and fuzzy. Let’s just put it that way.
Male Board Member: Our projected shortfall is $702,000, but how much is the difference of what we thought the shortfall was going to be and what it actually is? Is it a case that the tuition costs are $702,000 more than we thought?
Longfellow: We’re not there yet. We’re still working on projections on all this. Cause we don’t have our bills from those other districts. We don’t have our, uhm, final count from some of the other outside placements.
Male: Cause I’m looking at the numbers you sent us. The tuition tax revenue is estimated in the final budget at $8.5 million.
Male: But then I look to the final budget for expenses, and it has tuition of $9.1 million. But in the original budget, it shows $9.01 million so It looks like it’s $90,000 more. Either way, whether it’s $9.1 million or $9 million is more of a tuition tax we’re paying.
Longfellow: Yeah, yeah, we had a starting balance here, so that’s where that comes in.
Male: So one of the reasons (inaudible)
Longfellow: Let me take a look, because… We might have had to raise it. I’ll have to take a look at the history here.
Female: I think we did.
Longfellow: Yeah, we did raise it. 3.6 cents this year.
Female: That’s in July. We voted on it in July.
Longfellow: Well the bills are due to the Department of Ed in January, so they should be down there. So soon as I get them back from DOE the districts will bill me and that’s when I’ll know. So we have some preliminaries. But there is always a process where they send us a bill and I say give me a list of students behind the bill. They send the list. Our special education department takes a look and says this kid doesn’t belong to us. You never told us about this one, this one’s a ward of the state so the state has to pay 100%. It’s just some back and forth. So typically, we’ll know for most of them by April, but that’s hopeful.
Male: It’s an 80/20 split, right, or 75/25 split, the state pays their share and we pay our share…
Longfellow: Well they earn units, the programs earn state units for the students that are in their programs. So it’s not really an 80/30 split. It could be they’re earning units from the state but they’re charging us for, say, the local side of the salaries for the staff they have in place and the students have some severe needs for related services or additionals resources or something too, so it’s not really a straight rate… that goes back to what Ms. Wright saying “How do we know what we’re actually being billed for?”
Male: So then what happens. I know we talked about how 167 kids we got on September 30th started with us, those special needs kids, so are we stuck with being the state side of their special ed classes?
Longfellow: Yes. And we have to pay the local side of their special ed costs out of what resources we have. That’s part of, when it went up $90,000, that’s part of what’s here.
Notice how they don’t really discuss why they are sending complex special education kids to other districts, but more of the money aspect of it? I know, a board needs to know what is going on financially. Which is my whole point. I’ve seen way to many boards that just take the word of everything told to them. They see a paper with numbers on it, might question a little bit, and leave it at that. There was no discussion around what the nature of the shortfall was. Instead, they blamed it on Christina instead of questioning the actual shortfall. It’s a nice way to dance around the true subject. Where is their special education money going?
When it comes to education, brokering deals isn’t Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s strong suit. His fumbling could have given the Christina priority schools major headaches larger than the ones they had.
In September, 2014, Governor Markell announced six priority schools in Wilmington, DE. Three in the Red Clay Consolidated School District and three in the Christina School District. Each school board had to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for each school. Red Clay signed their MOU a few months later while Christina fought the Delaware Department of Education every step of the way. By the end of February of 2015, the Christina School Board refused to sign the MOU and didn’t approve plans for the schools. When it looked like the Delaware DOE and then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy were going to take the schools from the district, Governor Markell brokered a plan between the district and the Delaware DOE.
As a result of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC) and their recommendation to turn the Christina schools in Wilmington to Red Clay, the priority school saga was on hold. The Christina Board voted in favor of the WEAC idea and Governor Markell brought both sides to the table. A new MOU detailed the WEAC recommendation and the Christina Board signed it. The MOU went to Secretary Murphy for signature. The tension ended. Or so we thought.
For seven months, the subject of the Christina priority schools was very quiet. WEAC became the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission through legislation. The commission started meeting in September of 2015 to craft the plans to eventually fold the Wilmington Christina schools into Red Clay. At the October meeting of the Delaware Education Support System (DESS), a representative asked about the Christina priority schools and what would happen to them if the redistricting plan fell apart. Delaware DOE Chief of Accountability and Assessment Penny Schwinn said that was a very good question and one they were hoping to get answers for soon.
The DOE was in transition. Secretary Murphy announced his resignation at the end of July. Acting Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky inherited the Christina priority schools. The DESS meeting was on October 5th. A month earlier, I wondered what would happen if the WEIC plan didn’t pass the State Board of Education or the Delaware General Assembly. Everyone assumed the deal Governor Markell brokered in March covered the Christina priority schools up until that point. But in FOIA’d emails never revealed to the public until now, the Delaware DOE truly didn’t know what Markell’s deal even meant. Behind the scenes, Schwinn emailed the United States Department of Education to get clarification on what the options were for the three schools seven months after “the deal”.
I find it astonishing Governor Markell never had the Delaware DOE check with the US DOE before the March deal. This is a man who prides himself on all things education. Instead, he made an executive decision without checking to see if it was even okay.
Nearly two weeks after Schwinn first posed the question to Julie Glasier, an Education Specialist at the US DOE, she received an answer:
As per the US DOE, the deal brokered by Markell wasn’t good enough. All of this led to what is known as “The Hissy Fit” at the December meeting of the Delaware State Board of Education meeting. The board minutes for this meeting tell one story, but reality was far different.
It was pointed out that the Christina School District schools are in the second year of planning as the Department has not received a plan. Dr. Gray voiced her dismay and concern that the district has failed to respond to the Department’s requests. Dr. Godowsky stated that it is the Department’s expectation that the district will submit their plan. It was also noted that the educators in that district are to be commended for helping their students achieve without the additional funding they could be receiving.
State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray was visibly upset about the Christina School District priority schools. She acted as if the district made the deal back in March and just forgot about the schools. She was so angry she had to excuse herself from the State Board meeting to regain her composure. The very next day an astonishing revelation came out about what happened, or to be more concise, didn’t happen after the brokered meeting nine months earlier. Secretary Murphy never signed the MOU between the Christina priority schools and the Delaware DOE. Christina board members stated they were never told anything more had to be done with the schools during the pending WEIC redistricting proposal. Now the Delaware DOE wanted the district’s priority school plans.
While never officially confirmed, Murphy’s resignation was rumored to be a “resign now” due to issues with the funding for the three Red Clay priority schools. Emails released by this blog weeks before the Murphy announcement seemed to be the final straw for his Cabinet position in Delaware. Was Markell aware of Murphy’s other colossal error concerning the Christina priority schools?
This led to another explosion of sorts at the February State Board of Education meeting. The State Board voted no on the WEIC redistricting plan due to wording around funding and Christina having no priority school plans turned into the DOE. State Board member Pat Heffernan went on a tirade of his own about the three schools and how Christina failed them. At an emergency meeting of WEIC the next week, Christina Board President Harrie Ellen Minnehan told State Board President Dr. Gray she should apologize to Christina for the underhanded treatment they received from her. To date, Dr. Gray has not apologized to Christina.
Christina submitted the priority school plans to Secretary Godowsky and the State Board passed the WEIC redistricting plan last month. Godowsky notified the State Board the plans were enough for the DOE.
Several questions emerge from this year and a half story though. During the time of the priority schools announcement and the months following, many assumed the DOE wanted to take the schools. Myself included. But the stark reality is the DOE really didn’t have a clue what they were doing. Neither Governor Markell or the DOE bothered to check to see if the brokered deal was acceptable to the federal agency that mandated the priority schools in the first place. Granted, Delaware made up their own plans to decide which schools were “priority”, which wasn’t exactly without it’s own controversy.
I don’t believe ANY school should get a label based on standardized test scores. Period. Teachers should not fear for their jobs because of bogus tests. The way the Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, and Governor Markell treated Christina during the five months after the announcement was shameful. Even worse was the false treatment from the State Board of Education last fall and this winter. Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson serves as a liaison of sorts between the State Board of Education and the Delaware Department of Education. While not knowing for certain, I would have a very hard time believing Johnson was not aware of Schwinn’s emails to the US DOE and the fact that Secretary Murphy never signed the MOU. She could have cleared that up at the December State Board meeting, but she didn’t. If she did know of these events, she allowed Dr. Gray to behave the way she did. Even Godowsky seemed shocked at the appalling actions on Gray’s part.
The Delaware State Board of Education is appointed by the Delaware Governor. There are no public elections for the seven State Board of Education seats. Donna Gray sits on the DESS Advisory Committee. The WEIC redistricting plan awaits action from the Delaware 148th General Assembly. The three Christina priority schools are still in the district and they began the Smarter Balanced Assessment last month. The scores on these tests, like so many other Title I schools in Delaware, determine their fates to this day. Governor Markell believes the Smarter Balanced Assessment is the best test Delaware ever made.
A few weeks ago I sent an email to Acting US Secretary of Education John King. This was actually in response to something State Rep. Earl Jaques did. You can see the email and article about what Earl did here. This was the response I got back from the United States Department of Education. I really have to wonder if John King ever saw it. And how much of my original email did they even address?
Mr. Kevin Ohlandt
Dear Mr. Ohlandt:
This letter is to acknowledge your January 28, 2016 correspondence addressed to Acting Secretary John King, U. S. Department of Education (Department), concerning educational reform for students with disabilities. Your correspondence was forwarded to the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, within the Department, for reply.
OSEP is dedicated to improving results for infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities ages birth through 21 by providing leadership and financial support to assist states and local districts. OSEP administers the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA authorizes formula grants to states, and discretionary grants to institutions of higher education and other nonprofit organizations to support research, demonstrations, technical assistance and dissemination, technology and personnel development and parent-training and information centers. These programs are intended to ensure that the rights of infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities and their parents are protected.
Thank you for sharing your reviews about a “parent’s right to opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.” The Department is always interested in hearing about issues that impact services to all children, including children with disabilities. Your continued interest in the provision of educational services to children with disabilities is appreciated. If this Office can be of assistance in the future, please feel free to contact Christine Pilgrim, Part B State Lead for Delaware, at (202) 245-7773.
Customer Services Specialist
Office of Special Education Programs
This is a first! It is very rare that I remove an article. Today, I had to do it twice. The first concerned Delaware Met and closure information provided by the DOE. They were still in the process of updating this information and wanted to make sure parents of the students there got accurate information. The second article concerned State Board of Education member Dr. Terry Whittaker. I was questioning why he has not been present at board meetings since September. Shortly after I posted the article, I was informed his wife passed away last month. This was announced publicly at the last State Board of Education meeting. My sincerest condolences for Dr. Whittaker and his family…
Now if I have to kill a third article today, that hat trick will not be acceptable to me, so I am done writing for the night! My apologies for those who saw these posts in their email, Facebook, or Twitter and wondered what the heck happened. This is not something that usually happens.
Earlier this evening, Delaware State Rep. John Kowalko sent an email to over a hundred people about his thoughts on the latest round of NAEP scores, which are showing a downward trend. Several folks responded, including State Rep. Earl Jaques. What Jaques did is symptomatic of what is wrong in Delaware politics. Follow the email chain, and let me know if you agree or disagree with Jaques.
From: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Sent: Wednesday, October 28, 2015 6:06 PM
To: Bennett, Andria (LegHall); firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; Bohm, Adriana L (K12); email@example.com; “firstname.lastname@example.org”; Alyssa Van Stan; email@example.com; Volturo, Andrew (LegHall); Bradley, Juanita V (K12); Short, Bryon (LegHall); Baumbach, Paul (LegHall); Townsend, Bryan (LegHall); Hall-Long, Bethany (LegHall); Mike Begatto; Bentz, David (LegHall); Torbert, Betty (K12); “Graves, Bianca”; Bolden, StephanieT (LegHall); Bush, William (LegHall); Potter, Jr, Charles (LegHall); firstname.lastname@example.org; Thompson, Cathy (K12); Carson, William (LegHall); Collins, Richard G (LegHall); Yvonne; email@example.com; Rufo, Donato (K12); “firstname.lastname@example.org”; Sokola, David (LegHall); Lawson, Dave (LegHall); Wilson, David L (LegHall); “email@example.com”; Hudson, Deborah (LegHall); Nelia Dolan; firstname.lastname@example.org; Mitchell, John L (LegHall); Viola, John (LegHall); email@example.com; Keeley, Helene (LegHall); firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; Osienski, Edward (LegHall); firstname.lastname@example.org; Minnehan, Harrie E (K12); Paige, Elizabeth (K12); Henry, Margaret Rose (LegHall); email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; Polaski, Fred (K12); Newton, Faith (K12); “email@example.com”; Frank Sims; Katie Gifford; Brady, Gerald (LegHall); firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; Godowsky, Steven (K12); firstname.lastname@example.org; McDowell, Harris (LegHall); Kenton, Harvey (LegHall); Jackie Hilderbrand Kook; Hudson, Deborah (LegHall); email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; Jaques, Jr, Earl (LegHall); Spiegelman, Jeff (LegHall); Bradley, Juanita V (K12); Williams, Kimberly (LegHall); Peterson, Karen (LegHall); firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; Lynn, Sean M (LegHall); firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; Lindell, Matt (K12); Lawson, Dave (LegHall); firstname.lastname@example.org; Lindell, Matt (K12); Longhurst, Valerie (LegHall); Matthews, Sean (LegHall); Matthews, Michael J (K12); email@example.com; Nancyvwilling@yahoo.com; Tyler Nixon; Braddock, Nicole (K12); Marshall, Jayne O (K12); Piccio, Mike (K12); Sedacca, Paul A (K12); Paradee, Trey (LegHall); Puffer, Richard (LegHall); Johnson, Quinton (LegHall); firstname.lastname@example.org; Marshall, Robert (LegHall); Ramone, Michael (LegHall); Zoe Read; Rivera, Brie E.; email@example.com; BriggsKing, Ruth (LegHall); Thompson, Seth (LegHall); Frank Sims; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; “firstname.lastname@example.org”; Williams, Freeman (K12); Walsh, Lynn (NBCUniversal); email@example.com; Yearick, Lyndon D (LegHall); Young, John (K12); Yvonne
Subject: Reflections on NAEP score declines and who’s/what’s responsible
Dear all please read and seriously consider the harmful effects foisted on our children by these “education reform” salesmen. The NAEP test is one of the most widely used, highly respected and proven (over decades) accurate assessments of education results. If this latest development doesn’t strike a warning chord in any of you that consider themselves as advocates for children and public education than I’m afraid it’s time for an introspective look we all should take.
Representative John Kowalko
Here is part of my response to a media interview regarding my feelings as to why NAEP scores went down and my conclusion why that occurred.
Very simply put Markell’s, Arnie’s, RODEL’s, Gates’, and all of the other (for personal profit) “education reformists” have foisted a failed system on our children with a horribly harmful result under the guise of a “common core” system that is ruining America’s and Delaware’s public education structure and willfully hurting children. Brief statement follows:
Scores down for NAEP
They’ve changed the curriculum. When they are now teaching algebra and geometry (under common core) in 3rd grade what are they not teaching or no longer teaching. If kids don’t truly understand and know multiplication, how are they going to perform the higher level skills required?
The NAEP is a generalized test given to kids all over the world. It is a consistent and reliable measure of comparison. You can’t “study” for it. So when we look at countries that do well (i.e. Finland/New Zealand) and see that their curriculums are nothing like what we have just adopted/imposed we should ask “what are we doing”?
Common Core is not a curriculum but it is so specific in its standards that it becomes a de-facto curriculum. Covering those prescribed “standards” forces teachers to teach only those skills. This presents two significant problems. There is no time for anything else and teachers are being handed a curriculum and much like the “Balanced Assessment Test”, it is being written (and profited from) by the same people who wrote common core who are (in most cases) not qualified teachers in these fields.
Editor’s note: to save space, I’m not going to keep copying the to: part of the email.
From: Jaques, Jr, Earl (LegHall) <Earl.Jaques@state.de.us>
Sent: Wednesday, October 28, 2015 6:39 PM
Your personal views shouldn’t be part of our email system. Your email isn’t based on any facts but filled with innuendoes and bias against people you dislike. Please take your postings to the blogs – not on the state email system!!
On Oct 28, 2015, at 6:58 PM, Rufo Donato wrote:
Hey earlI like john and what he is doing…. He cares… Seems like your email is the snippy one….When your in politics you have to learn how to deal with things….
Perhaps you should start to blog…. Maybe then people will know who’s side your on….
Donato C. Rufo
Social Studies TeacherNCCVTEA President
From: Matthews Michael <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: YOUNG JOHN
Sent: Wednesday, October 28, 2015 7:45 PM
Your email epitomizes the problem. The state system is the peoples’ system. Why are you so concerned with stifling it? Why do you deign to denigrate John’s email as if it not informed by taxpaying constituents? Who are you to silence opinion and debate? Who elected you Governor? Our tax dollars pay for this, so you should probably consider it an EXPEDITED FOIA request.
I echo Mike Matthews sentiment completely.
Why don’t you show up to another CEA meeting and berate them over Opt Out again after it passed out of your committee and overwhelmingly by your colleagues after you declared the possibility of such as ZERO. This is the peoples’ bully pulpit and I am deeply offended that an elected official, fresh off of calling my son a quitter over his parents’ reasoned decision to opt him out of high stakes tests would dare stifle dissent in such a brazen, callous manner. Tests imposed by this Governor, with your overt, glowing approval that have clearly been ineffective by the way. That was John’s point, and it is not only true, it resonates.
Why don’t you go read the Race to the Top Grant Application: https://transparentchristina.wordpress.com/delawares-race-to-the-top-grant-application/and check the goals with the results. Get back to me when you realize the depth of failure you have chosen to embrace.
We need more John Kowalko’s and less Earl Jaques’. We need elected representative who actually understand representative republics and know that the House they do their work in is only on a visitor’s pass and at the exclusive behest of the people they represent.
Lastly, you are free to denigrate the blogs, but know this: we are the last line of truth in a free society, free from corporate influence. Feel free to attack bloggers all you want, but we are not going away. We live to hold ill informed, power hungry, tin-eared politicians like yourself accountable.
John, thank you for speaking truth to power. Everyone does not have to, nor should agree with you at times, but they should never ignore you or denigrate your motives.
Earl, thanks for confirming what we already knew about your iron-fisted, bullying and intimidating style. It went out of fashion in 1985, but thanks for keeping it alive. (sarcasm intended)
Editor’s note: I sent a reply but I couldn’t reply to all with Yahoo, so I asked Rep. Kowalko to forward it to the recipients.
From: Kevin Ohlandt <email@example.com>
Sent: Wednesday, October 28, 2015 6:57 PM
To: Jaques, Jr, Earl (LegHall)
Cc: Kowalko, John (LegHall); Schwartzkopf, Peter (LegHall)
Subject: Re: Reflections on NAEP score declines and who’s/what’s responsible
Earl, Earl, Earl, when are you ever going to learn? You can’t silence people like that. You need to let the people speak, whether it’s through opt-out or public comment. Legislators are not exempt from public comment.
On Friday evening I posted a picture of a not-so secret email from the Delaware DOE that was sent to all Delaware Superintendents and Charter heads concerning Smarter Balanced Assessment results and timetables. As well, it had sources parents and citizens could look at online to get more information about the Smarter Balanced Assessment and Common Core. But one thing it had that I have heard reference to is this mysterious “toolkit”. This is a link in the email that gives districts “templates you can adapt, such as presentations, robo call scripts and letters, as well as background information on Smarter.”
If anyone has taken a trip down the rabbit hole and into this magical “toolkit”, let me know. I am very curious as to what all this looks like. I’ve heard there is reference to teachers getting blamed for the test because they gave possible material for it. Like I said last week, don’t believe the future hoopla. It’s all been carefully designed by the Delaware Department of Education to get the blame shifted off them. Most of you know how to reach me…
Dear Delaware 148th General Assembly,
I am writing you this evening in opposition to Senate Joint Resolution #2, sponsored by Senator Sokola and State Rep. Jaques. While looking at the number of assessments students in Delaware receive is a worthwhile cause, I fear the motivations behind this are not that simple. This assessment inventory was mentioned by Governor Markell and Rep. Jaques back in March as the parent opt-out momentum was just beginning. But what nobody knew was the Delaware DOE was working on this starting in December of 2014. This is an obvious initiative begun by Governor Markell and the Delaware DOE to make parents think students are being over-assessed in an effort to prevent parent opt-out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. I have not heard of one parent in the entire state of Delaware requesting to opt-out their child out of any other assessment other than Smarter Balanced. Furthermore, the Delaware DOE seems to be under the illusion the group created out of this resolution would simply be a discussion group and would have no oversight or authority over THEIR assessment inventory. It is this arrogance that brought us to where we are now with assessments in Delaware, and for the first time in a long time, the DOE is being viewed as the money-wasting, school-punishing, public school teacher-hating, parent-ignoring Department they are. I firmly believe any initiative coming out of their office these days is something that benefits their extremely high salaries more than the benefit of Delaware’s students.
I am requesting Senator Sokola place House Bill 50 on the Senate Education Committee agenda officially for the June 3rd meeting. I would also like all of you to carefully consider what passage of Senate Joint Resolution #2 could mean in the grand picture. It could easily be said House Bill 50 would not matter because we are looking at all assessments to ease the burden on students. Smarter Balanced is NOT included in this assessment inventory, and it is this assessment that parents are opposed to. To pass Senate Joint Resolution #2 and leave House Bill 50 in limbo would be an insult to every single parent who has exercised their right, fought for House Bill 50, and emailed many of you already.
In closing, I appreciate all you do, and I once again urge you to vote with your constituents in mind and not the whims of Governor Markell and the Delaware Department of Education. Thank you,
Harris.McDowell@state.de.us MargaretRose.Henry@state.de.us firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Ernesto.Lopez@state.de.us Patricia.Blevins@state.de.us David.Sokola@state.de.us Karen.Peterson@state.de.us email@example.com Bryan.Townsend@state.de.us Nicole.Poore@state.de.us David.McBride@state.de.us firstname.lastname@example.org Dave.Lawson@state.de.us email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Brian.Pettyjohn@state.de.us Gerald.Hocker@state.de.us Bryant.Richardson@state.de.us Charles.Potter@state.de.us StephanieT.Bolden@state.de.us firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Bryon.Short@state.de.us Quinton.Johnson@state.de.us Kevin.Hensley@state.de.us firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Deborah.Hudson@state.de.us firstname.lastname@example.org Peter.Schwartzkopf@state.de.us Valerie.Longhurst@state.de.us email@example.com Michael.Mulrooney@state.de.us firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Steve.Smyk@state.de.us Michael.Ramone@state.de.us firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Edward.Osienski@state.de.us firstname.lastname@example.org John.Viola@state.de.us Earl.Jaques@state.de.us email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Sean.Lynn@state.de.us firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Lyndon.Yearick@state.de.us David.L.Wilson@state.de.us Harvey.Kenton@state.de.us Ruth.BriggsKing@state.de.us Ronald.Gray@state.de.us Daniel.Short@state.de.us Timothy.Dukes@state.de.us Richard.G.Collins@state.de.us
After I wrote about the State Board of Education meeting last night, I thought I would reach out to Penny Schwinn, who publicly stated there is talk about replacing the SAT with Smarter Balanced in 11th grade. I emailed her this morning, and I wasn’t really expecting a response, but I did make sure to include the Public Information Officer at the DOE, currently Tina Shockley (since Alison May is out on maternity leave). This is the exchange that happened:
Clarification on State Board of Education SBA Presentation Yesterday
- Today at 10:32 AM
A month and a half ago, I posted an email between employees of the Delaware DOE concerning a list of schools. There was no reference to what this list was for, but it was somewhat suspicious given the priority schools fiasco in Red Clay and Christina. Upon reviewing more from a huge FOIA drop, I have found another email concerning that list, and this does verify the list was for the Delaware Talent Cooperative. Just thought I would get this out there in case anyone was concerned about this. I have heard, however, there will be new “focus” schools named later this year….
Eligible schools are schools that serve high populations of traditionally underserved students. Specifically, a school is eligible if it meets at least one of these four conditions: Continue reading
If you ever needed more proof of how corrupt the Delaware Department of Education really is, this will prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt. The Delaware Talent Cooperative is a program to bring teachers to high-need schools. Obviously, based on the below email, the Teacher Leader Effectiveness Unit can manipulate who sees what and when. This is tantamount to fraud on many levels. We have Chris Ruszkowski, the leader of this unit, blatantly manipulating wording without even bothering to check if it is able to be done or even legal. And it is more than obvious the DOE was very selective about who they wanted in this program. They can’t have “sabotage”!
And here is the letter Ruszkowski edited clearly showing his financial enticement to lure teachers into this program:
As the Smarter Balanced Assessment kicked off yesterday for many Delaware schools, the drums of parent opt out are beating louder and louder. This blog is looking for eyes in the schools and ears on the ground! This non-paying, volunteer position is looking for folks who hear about parents opting out. Whether it is their child’s school board taking a stand for or against parent opt out, or a principal denying an opt out letter (which they can do but you are under no obligation to honor their denial), kids walking out of schools, a child being forced to take the test even after they have been opted out, or even just general testing anxiety. I especially want to hear from parents where their child has started the test, but the parents want to opt them out after. Because you can do that as well!
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Facebook, under Kevin Ohlandt. Please send a message on Facebook. Or there are opt out groups for every single school district in the state, and a page for all charter schools. If anyone wants to become an admin on any of the Facebook opt out pages, please let me know that as well.
The opt out movement has come a LONG way in Delaware. A year ago, if you mentioned those words, you would be told “Opting out is not an option.” Now we have school honoring the requests, school boards passing resolutions to not penalize the students, and even the Delaware Department of Education has come to understand it is not going away and has said the state can not do anything legal to parents who opt their child out. But don’t believe for one second they aren’t having closed conversations with the schools in our state about it. It’s not something they want, but they are powerless to stop it.