It struck me last night that if the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan does pass the State Board of Education, the 148th General Assembly and the Governor that Red Clay will benefit immensely while every other district and charter school in the state will suffer. The plan calls for Red Clay to get all these perks starting out. I’ve heard Tony Allen say the redistricting is the “price for admission” to all the great things WEIC will offer. But why in the world should Delaware taxpayers pay for one district to receive $6 million while the others have to wait? We hear a lot of talk about how Wilmington needs less governance. Allen and Dan Rich talk constantly about how there are 17 governing education bodies in Wilmington between the districts and charters. So going down to 16 is the answer?
I was unable to attend the WEIC meeting last night, but I did communicate with some of the members through Facebook during the meeting. My whole beef with this initiative is the lack of basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade. For these students, this is their foundation, the building blocks of their future education in Delaware. These students cannot afford to wait through the Response To Intervention process to “determine” if they should get special education services or not. You can’t fix disabilities. While Tony Allen did say he is working on getting this implemented into the state budget, I commented on this Facebook post that it should have ALWAYS been there. The WEIC plan calls for this to start in Red Clay. Sorry Mr. Allen, but what about all the other students with disabilities in the state? Why should all those students be slighted so one district can get millions of dollars for taking $2500 more students, on top of the large increase in regular school funding they will get anyways just by having those 2500 students come into their district?
The biggest disappointment in WEIC for me thus far is their complete and utter failure to look at the elephant in the room: standardized testing. This has done far more damage to Wilmington schools than anything else since The Neighborhood Schools Act. And as we have advocates like Dr. Michael Lomax from the United Negro College Fund playing the civil rights and race cards to make sure Wilmington citizens continue to believe the lies about education in our state through the News Journal, the rest of the state has to wonder how much we can afford to “fix” the problems in education while ignoring the biggest problem of them all. We have a gushing wound here folks, bleeding out faster than we can stop it. Putting a Band-Aid on part of the wound while the rest bleeds out is not going to do anything. Nobody wants to make the head-on charge against Governor Markell. They believe he is infallible. This ignorance is killing us in Delaware. This blind loyalty to a man who continues to lead our children into menial jobs with their Common Core foundation is a disaster in the making. There would be no need for opt-out at all if we can make the changes our state needs in education.
The fact WEIC is even considering making changes to their “final” draft based on the State Board’s cowardly no action is an injustice. The State Board is going way beyond the scope of the legislation surrounding this, and there are a considerable amount of legal questions surrounding their vote of nothingness. Forgive me for saying this, but Dan Rich’s voice in Delaware education for well over fifteen years is enough. What has he done to improve education? Who is he loyal to? University of Delaware or Rodel or WEIC or Tony Allen or Wilmington or Governor Markell or the DOE? See what I’m saying here? So WEIC changes their “final” draft again, do they allow the local school boards a chance to vote on it or do they just say “Here you go State Board, this is what we came up with.” Having one member of the Wilmington school boards on the commission does not give those people the power to speak on the board’s behalf with constantly changing plans. Or maybe this has been the plan all along and we will see the true motivation behind WEIC in these new “final” plans.
If we want to fix Wilmington schools, this is how we do it. About 8% of Delaware’s education funding comes from Federal dollars. But 100% of the current problems are coming from their mandates. Let’s dump the federal funding. Completely. Say bye-bye to it and all the poison and vitriol that comes with it. We are talking about $80 million dollars we just don’t give to our schools. In return, we also say goodbye to state mandated high-stakes assessments. That will save us well over $20 million a year. Since the DOE makes everything about the results of this testing, we would also no longer have a need for all these outside companies coming into Delaware to do their expensive research that tells us nothing new or twists data to make it look like our schools are worse than they already are. This includes many programs through the University of Delaware. This saves us another $30 million or more. The DOE needs some massive trimming. Since there are so many positions there tied to assessments, teacher evaluations, and professional development, we can easily save about $10 million right there alone. Since we don’t have this fed money anymore, we get rid of the labels: priority, focus, focus plan, reward, recognition, etc. All the money that the state ends up paying for that: $2.5 million a year. The next part is a bit trickier and more complicated. We need to recognize which legislators are riding Markell’s gravy train to destroy public education in Delaware. We label them and do everything in our power to make sure they are NOT elected again next November. Many of these legislators allow all the loopholes in the state budget that benefit charter schools and education reform companies. We don’t need Longhurst’s ridiculous SAIL program for our kids after school. We don’t need $11 million going to Delaware STARS for the early childhood education scams. No more charter school transportation slush funds. No more charter school “performance” awards. No more minor capital funding for charter schools. We rewrite the laws and get all this pork out of our state budget. Now we have a surplus from this loss of federal funds. We have more money. This is where we reallocate this money to all our schools. We write our own state standards, as far away from Common Core as we can get, and have true stakeholder input to determine what our children need to know. We find ways to strengthen our teachers by giving them the resources they need: smaller classroom sizes, more support for special education students, and less administrative oversight. We eliminate the biases for charters and get rid of enrollment preferences. We take a strong look at our district formation in Delaware and consolidate many of them. We redraw lines all over the state, not just in Wilmington. We trash the current concept of school choice and disallow students from travelling out of district to go to different schools. We find the flaws in our special education and we plug those holes. We get rid of the cash going to all these administrators whose very jobs were created so students in their districts do better on the state test. Teachers get to actually engage more with their students. Students will care more about their education when true equity is realized. Students who care more will know more and will do better. That is the goal, not forcing them to care.
If companies like Rodel don’t want to play ball with the way things are done, we just don’t listen to them anymore. We bite the bullet and call their bluff and say no to the privatization of our schools. Because that is the end result. All privatization does is give us more charters who perform the same as the deceased traditional school districts, or ones that are essentially free private schools who cherry-pick their way to the top of the school rankings. Kind of like the class system in our country: the lower class, the middle class, and the wealthy class. A lot in the bottom, some in the middle, and very few at the top. This is the end goal with everything going on in education. And as that middle class of education shrinks away, we are left with many at the bottom and a small percentage at the top. This is playing out all over our country, in every single state. The likelihood of your child getting a good education from the way things are now is getting slimmer by the day. It isn’t just African-Americans. It is whites, Hispanics, students with disabilities, low-income/poverty students, all of them.
All of this takes ignoring what those in power are telling us. Those with money and influence. If we want education to survive in Delaware and make it more of an equitable chance for our children, now is the time to institute radical change. Not at the November elections. Not when Jack Markell leaves office in January of 2017. Now. Now is the time. These are my solutions for Delaware schools. Not solutions for Red Clay schools with an expectation that the rest will get those solutions down the road. That is cherry-picking, district style. We are above that as a state. Our children deserve better than that. All students deserve the best education, despite what color or disability or economic background they are from. So let’s stop using the students who are most at risk and start looking at ALL children as unique and finding out what their individual needs are. We can’t lump children into a group and say this is what they need. They are not they. One student. One set of needs. One student at a time.