The Delaware News Journal had an article about Governor Markell and education as a front-pager today. Some of the comments certain folks made were very shocking while others had the usual drivel coming from their education reform views. What nobody talked about was special education in Delaware. While the DOE reports about 13% of students having IEPs in Delaware, I’m going to say as many as 20% should have an IEP. So with 1/5th of Delaware students not even being mentioned in an article on Delaware education is insulting. Even though my estimate of an IEP population of 20% is high, I would definitely say it affects over 50% of education in Delaware. Read on as I go through this article part by part with some cold hard reality.
After years of pushing education reforms in Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell is facing a revolt in the General Assembly.
You are also facing a revolt from parents and teachers. We are sick of all of this. Especially parents of special needs children. While you think you are helping, you are making it worse for our children.
Lawmakers, including many from his own party, have little faith Markell’s Department of Education knows what everyday educators think is the best way to improve schools. They are skeptical the $119 million federal Race to the Top grant, one of Markell’s signature education achievements, has done any lasting good.
Markell’s signature education achievement was using $59 million to beef up the DOE with high-paid employees and contract after contract with little or no results. And it keeps going on. In the month of May, the DOE has put up seven proposals for “professional services” because they don’t know how to do the work themselves.
Legislators are sending a clear message that they need to more actively make policy on behalf of classroom teachers and district leaders, rather than approving a top-down state agenda led by Markell and his education secretary, Mark Murphy.
But there are still some very tricky legislators who still bow to the Emperor. Unfortunately, they run the education committees for the House and the Senate. How long until their house of cards crumbles?
“It’s not just the representatives and the senators who are having problems with the way things are going, it’s parents, it’s teachers, it’s people on the local level,” said Rep. Kim Williams, D-Newark. “There are loud voices out there saying, ‘We’re done. We’re tired of being told how to teach and how to run our schools.’ “
Amen Kim! No one should be afraid to stare Markell dead in the eye and say “You are wrong!” It is also parents who have less to fear about speaking up. Those of us who are screaming at the DOE and Markell are not easily intimidated or fooled.
Markell acknowledges he and Murphy are taking heat for some of their proposals.
Now this is the understatement of the year… You and Murph are taking heat, but it isn’t for some of your proposals. It’s for about 90% of them. And the only reason we aren’t tackling the other 10% is because we haven’t found the catch in those yet.
He contends the education system is improving, pointing to a steadily declining dropout rate, a growing number of students taking and passing Advanced Placement and college-level classes, more low-income students in highly-rated preschool programs and more students applying to college.
I’ll give you a sort-of pass on this. I question the validity of some of these numbers. What I can say is homeschooling in Delaware has never been higher. These are mostly special needs children. What does that say about special education in Delaware when parents reach such a high level of anxiety and don’t feel the public school system in Delaware can provide a Free Appropriate Public Education for their children? This will go down as your greatest failure. While you are trying to “improve” the lives of these children, they have been drop-kicked out of the rights they are legally entitled to. We have so many denied IEPs, schools openly violating IDEA law, and “counseling out” going on in charters, and no one on your staff is addressing these issues.
“It’s no surprise to me that there’s some controversy and angst over some of the things we’ve done,” Markell said. “But the results speak for themselves. And I’m more concerned about results than I am about what people think about me.”
No matter who pays the price, right? And I don’t buy for one iota of a second that you don’t care what people think of you. You and I both know this to be true. Don’t try to play the “I’m going to take the high road on my actions now” card cause you aren’t fooling anyone. Everything you have done with education in Delaware has been to serve YOUR future and those of your corporate education reform buddies.
A bill strongly opposed by Markell that would let parents pull their kids out of standardized tests sailed almost unanimously through the State House of Representatives, and several other bills aimed squarely at reducing the authority of the Department of Education are in the works. Budget-writing lawmakers slashed in half a request to continue Race to the Top initiatives and balked at a request to pick up the tab for 10 department positions paid for in the grant.
I am appreciative of what these legislators did, but the DOE doesn’t need a budget increase, they need an audit and an accountability of every single penny they have spent. Those who have squandered taxpayers funds need to be sent packing.
“I think there’s frustration among parents and educators and students that education policies don’t seem to be based on feedback coming from the classroom,” said Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark. “I think also though that now is a natural time for us to take a step back and re-assess what we’re doing. Race to the Top has naturally come to an end, and I think we’re at a point where the question is, what’s next?”
Massive improvement Senator Townsend! We need to take an excruciatingly hard look at special education in Delaware. We need to find out why a student was kicked at a charter school by a special education teacher. We need to find out why, as of a year ago, there were 60-70 pending special education lawsuits and only a handful of due process hearings. We need to know why the DOE wants to write Common Core into IEPs without having the ability to fix the IEPs that are already out there. We need to find a way for parents, teachers, and school districts to effectively collaborate with special education and stop the battleground mentality. Why are these children and their parents being put through the wringer while the DOE and school districts think they know best? This philosophy is a dying breed, but no one is listening.
The challenge, Townsend argues, is moving in a new direction without abandoning some of the good things that have happened in schools. “It’s about our educators who are very justifiably tired of yet another iteration of education reform, but it’s also the business community that sees a lot of progress and wants to see some accountability,” Townsend said. “It’s parents who are trying to be involved in the process. I’m worried that, whatever the next steps are, that people are going to view them as just another round.”
Then my suggestion would be to invite more of them to the table. The biggest problem with Markell’s policies is they are approved with little or no oversight, and then parents and teachers are invited to rate them with pre-determined results. As well, the amount of lobbying by companies like Rodel and the Delaware Charter School Network needs to stop. And yes, I will throw this in there as well, DSEA as well. Here is a novel idea: parent lobbyists. They are the most important. We also do that little thing called VOTING!!!!
There is no better symbol of lawmakers’ willingness to buck Markell’s will than House Bill 50, which would explicitly allow parents to “opt out” of the statewide standardized test. Markell says that’s a bad idea because the state needs good test-score data to make smart policy, especially when it comes to closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students.
If the state needs “good test-score data” then what the hell are we doing with the Smarter Balanced Assessment? And enough about the achievement gap. The only gap I want to see closed is the one between your upper and lower lip when it comes to education. The only “smart” policy going on right now is parents exercising their rights when it comes to the educational outcomes of their children.
But when the House took up the opt-out bill, sponsored by firebrand Markell critic Rep. John Kowalko, only three representatives out of 41 voted against it. That’s a massive margin in a Democrat-controlled chamber for a bill that a Democratic governor has so strenuously protested. “I was frankly stunned by the margin,” Kowalko said. “That hasn’t happened before.” Kowalko, who has fiercely criticized Markell in previous years, believes there is a “new awakening” where lawmakers are starting to look more critically at what the executive branch proposes. Lawmakers say they voted for the bill because they routinely hear from teachers and parents that Delaware tests students too much and stakes too much on the results.
It was also about hundreds of parents actually opting out and emailing the legislators. It was a wake-up call for the legislators that said “we vote for you and the power we give you we can easily take away.” This is something folks like Earl Jaques, Michael Barbieri, Timothy Dukes and David Sokola don’t understand. I don’t buy the whole idea that lawmakers voted yes on HB50 cause they heard from parents their children were being tested too much. That was the same rationale they used to pass House Bill 334, which allowed Smarter Balanced to officially infest our lives. I think it was them actually listening to parents and realizing Smarter Balanced is a horrible test.
The Delaware Parent-Teacher Association and the Delaware State Education Association union both urged lawmakers to vote yes.
I would definitely say the Delaware PTA urged lawmakers to vote yes. They came through hitting grand slams left and right. DSEA…maybe a bunt here and there. I see the DSEA’s contribution as being a bit sheepish. They kind of sort of supported it, but they could have done a lot more. Look at the New Jersey unions. They put up billboards and videos all over the place. That is the kind of support I would have liked to see from the DSEA. Instead we got the “time to teach, time to learn” videos without once even mentioning parent opt-out. If that’s the full pressure DSEA can use to support a bill as important as House Bill 50, it’s obvious new leadership is needed.
Markell has acknowledged the concerns over testing, and the Department of Education is reviewing tests to see if any extraneous ones can be eliminated. But Markell says he isn’t backing away from the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the state test that teachers complain is overused in judging students, teachers and schools.
Albright and Starkey, you keep talking about the teachers. What about the parents? That’s what House Bill 50 is about. You are both making the SAME mistake Markell and the DOE keep making: underestimating the will and resolve of parents to protect their kids.
Markell has not said whether he will sign the opt-out legislation if it clears the Senate and reaches his desk. If not, it would not be the first time Markell has wielded his veto pen. But the governor, working throughout his term with a Democrat-controlled General Assembly, has not found himself in that position much. Markell has vetoed just 13 pieces of legislation since 2009. And he has never vetoed a bill related to education.
I heard the WDEL interview with Rick Jensen, and when Markell was asked if he would veto House Bill 50 if it came to his desk, there was a distinct “yeah”. It might have been edited out, but it was there. I heard it, and so did others. I hope he realizes if he does veto it, parents will haunt him as long as he holds any semblance of power in Delaware.
The other major education legislation this year would redistrict Wilmington schools and create a weighted funding formula to students. The Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, led by Bank of America Executive Tony Allen, has led the charge for those changes. Though Markell created the Committee, it has operated independently of the governor and the Department of Education.
Nothing operates independently of Markell and the DOE. And throw in Rodel there for good measure. I’ve met Tony Allen, and he’s a great guy. But I have to wonder what the grand picture is here. The timing on this was a little too perfect…
Markell supports those bills. But he said his primary focus right now is making sure some of the programs he thinks are most important and have already passed the legislature — higher academic standards and more access to good preschool, for example — grow and are implemented well. “I don’t have any big new bills that I’ve spent a lot of time on, for sure,” he said. “We’ve started a lot of big things. So a lot of it is not necessarily legislative in nature at this point.”
Except holding the DOE accountable for their actions during your reign. I can see why you wouldn’t be a big supporter of those bills. You will sign anything that gets your agenda going, but if it doesn’t you make a few phone calls and get bills stalled or killed.
Legislators are taking steps to shrink the size and power of the Department of Education, which many school district educators believe has grown too powerful under Race to the Top and Markell’s tenure. There were signs this would be a tough legislative session for the Department well before HB 50. Near the start, lawmakers grilled Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and senior Department of Education staffers for hours, both in the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee and the House Education Committee. “You may have a view of the wonderful things Race to the Top has done, but the public does not appear to share that view,” said Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley. During legislative budget meetings last week, lawmakers expressed concerns with Markell’s education policy, and voted to cut by half the governor’s $7.5 million plan to fund high-paid positions in the Department and programs previously covered by the Race to the Top. “I can’t support this spending, this continually throwing money at something that’s not working,” said Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel. “It’s just a poor investment. I don’t think anyone in this room, at this table, would put money into it out of their own pocket. I’m very disappointed in what I’m seeing from the top.” Members of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee took extra steps to show they had little confidence in Markell’s education bureaucracy to use the money as intended. They moved most of the remaining appropriations, more than $3 million, into budget lines that directly fund school district operations, not the Department of Education. And they approved epilogue language that prevents the Department of Education from using any of the money to add or retain positions in the department. “We want to make sure the money that we did fund goes to the purposes that we’ve specified,” said Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Bellefonte, a budget committee member. “I just think that the epilogue language clarifies and makes it perfectly clear where that money is going to go.”
Why does it take the amount of money being spent before some legislators wake up after falling asleep at the wheel after years of rampant spending by this Department? It’s good they are doing it, but next time we get some program like Race To The Top, please do this before millions upon millions of dollars are spent with little or no results for the students.
In addition to shrinking the size of the department, some lawmakers think the state exerts too much influence over schools that should be locally run. Williams, for example, has filed a bill that would give local administrators and school boards sole authority over hiring and firing. That’s a direct response, she says, to the state’s controversial Priority Schools plan to improve six inner-city Wilmington schools. State leaders said the plan would funnel much-needed money and talent into schools with sagging test scores, but they soon drew outrage from those schools’ parents and teachers.
What the Delaware DOE should be doing is holding school districts and charter schools more accountable for special education results. Solely going by the 17 indicators for US DOE compliance and sending letters to schools saying “fix this” is not effective. I am not against a DOE in and of itself, but they should only be monitoring activities that are outright illegal or not truly for the benefit of students. Just think what this Department could actually accomplish with special education if they actually did what is necessary?
The Department of Education, which said elite educators could turn around those schools’ sagging test scores, clashed with the Red Clay and Christina School districts, which bristled at the notion that state leaders should have any say in who runs their schools. Williams and other lawmakers say the fight over Priority Schools, more than any other debate over education, energized opposition among teachers and parents.
What the priority schools initiative did was open the eyes of the general public to what the DOE is willing to do in accomplishing their goals at any cost. It was very stupid of them to attempt this at the time they did. That’s what cockiness and arrogance will do every time: bite you in the ass.
Some lawmakers have taken aim at Secretary Murphy in particular. “We don’t see him day-in, day-out in Legislative Hall, having conversations with us,” Williams said. “I think, unfortunately, people have lost faith in the Department and Secretary Murphy. They’re not willing to just go along with them anymore.” Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, has filed a bill that would require the Secretary of Education to have at least 10 years’ experience in schools, at least of six of them as a classroom teacher. That bill aims to address criticism of Murphy, who was a classroom teacher for only three years before climbing the ranks of administration and education nonprofits. The Delaware State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, voted no confidence in Murphy earlier this year, the first time the organization has taken such a step.
I think Townsend’s bill obviously sends a message, but it could also cause someone with Murphy’s ideology but more experience to insert themselves into the DOE. It would be a very frightening thing what a more knowledgeable and assertive Secretary of Education would be like in this education reform world. A vote of no confidence is only as good as the ability to follow-up on it, which I have not heard from DSEA.
Murphy, in a statement issued through a spokesperson, cited the same educational achievements as Markell. “There’s no question that this work has not been easy and we have asked a lot of everyone involved in our education system,” the statement said. “We understand that not everyone agrees with everything we have done and that many pieces of legislation proposed have been in direct response to certain initiatives that have been controversial. That said, the progress our students are making shows that an enormous amount of positive work is happening. We are committed to continuing to make that progress.”
Please Murphy, just be quiet. We are ALL sick of hearing the same boring things coming out of your mouth. You have more corporate education reform Kool-Aid around it, and I don’t think you even realize what an idiot you sound like anymore.
Markell said people are rushing to judge the Department because of a few controversial proposals. The Department doesn’t get enough credit, he argues, for coordinating things like the state’s College Application Month, where kids signed up for college during the school day, or Pathways to Prosperity, where students get real-world experience that sets them up for careers. “Most of what the Department does is not controversial,” Markell said. “And even our biggest detractors have recognized that [Priority Schools] has brought some much needed attention to these schools, even if it got a lot of people really riled up.”
And who has benefited the most from these initiatives Jack? That’s something on my to-do list.
Markell has his defenders, including Rep. Melanie George Smith, the budget committee’s co-chair who came to the governor’s defense amid criticism last week. “What we have in front of us is our governor….who has spent an awful lot of his administration really focused on what we can do better to help teachers, what we can do better to help students,” Smith said during public budget negotiations.
Wow! I would say he has spent far too much time during his administration interfering and causing disruptions in education. The fact you want to defend this man while our education is damaged is very telling….
Some political observers say backlash is almost a given. “When you try to make drastic change, you’re going to hit nerves, on both sides,” said Rhett Ruggerio, a longtime Democratic operative and Dover lobbyist who represents charter schools. Everybody is well intentioned. The problem is they have strong philosophical differences.” Ruggerio said much of the disagreement appears to have stemmed from Race to the Top, and questions over whether the program’s experiments have helped Delaware’s public schools. Ruggerio defended Murphy, saying he “has been pretty aggressive, I think for the right reasons. He wants to make change,” Ruggerio said. “It’s very difficult to do that unless you’re willing to take a risk.”
Who let the Delaware Charter School Network in on this article? Out of all the folks not hired by the state, you use DCSN as your “impartial” third party observer? When any legislation is opposed by Markell and the Kool-Aid gang, these non-profits like Rodel and DCSN send in their overpaid lobbyists to whisper sweet nothings in the legislators ears. Ruggerio and his boss Kendall have obviously benefited from the reform agendas Markell thrust upon Delaware. This is where you lose a tremendous amount of credibility News Journal. How many everyday parents did you contact for this article? By my estimation, that would be a grand total of zero. I guess parents aren’t part of the process…
The growing backlash against “education reform” in Delaware mirrors a national trend that has seen the rise of groups like the “Badass Teachers’ Association,” a loose coalition of fed-up educators. In places like New York, the outcry has gotten so loud that some school districts have seen more than half of parents opt their kids out of standardized tests.
A loose coalition with well over 50,000 members. Wake up Albright and Starkey. Just like that “small but vocal minority” of parents who want to opt-out. I love the way you try to reduce these groups that have tremendous impact while pumping up groups like DCSN. No bias here…
Delaware lawmakers “are focused on making sure all Delaware public school students have a real chance to achieve success,” said Frederika Jenner, president of the Delaware State Education Association, the teachers union. With the expiration of Race to the Top funding, “now is the time for the General Assembly to weigh in on what they believe has worked and what hasn’t worked,” Jenner said. If the momentum really is shifting in Delaware education policy, many people, like Sen. Townsend, hope that doesn’t mean everything built in the past few years crumbles. “I think a key point is that there have been successes and there have been some not-so-successes,” Townsend said. “We understand there’s a need for course-correction. But let’s not pretend that everything hasn’t gone well.” Townsend said, for example, that the state’s move to the Common Core State Standards will be a good thing, even though some schools have faced hiccups in implementing it. Common Core is a set of new, higher academic expectations for students.
So Senator Bryan Townsend is a supporter of Common Core but is against many of the evils that crawled through the back door in Delaware education when the DSEA, Delaware PTA and all the school districts and charters signed up for Race To The Top? After coercion and political wrangling by the DOE and Markell? This is part of the whole education reform movement. People want to remove bits and pieces, but as long as the foundation is there, it remains. I define this movement as Common Core, high-stakes standardized assessments, labeling and punishing schools over test scores while increasing the number of charter schools, the illusion of increasing supports for special needs students while teachers and administrators fight parents over the most basic of supports, hundreds of reform “non-profits” and “for-profits” invading every aspect of education and making billions of dollars that should be going to our schools, and the eventual destruction of public education and the teacher unions. Senator Townsend, you can’t cherry-pick what stays and goes. And let your legislator and DSEA friends know this too. It’s all for one, and one for all. I would be very wary about trying to fill the power vacuum when all of this crumbles without getting everything cleaned out of the wound. I would be even more wary about your support for Common Core if you hope to get elected again.
Markell frequently says adopting and defending those standards in Delaware in the face of growing national criticism is one of his highest school priorities. In other states, lawmakers have eliminated or drastically modified Common Core, but, though some teachers have criticized the standards’ implementation here, no serious repeal effort has gained steam in the General Assembly.
See my previous paragraph. What Jack is saying here is even though he is being challenged on many fronts, he is working behind-the-scenes to make sure the foundation is still there long after he is gone. Don’t worry Jack, Common Core and it’s elimination is coming sooner than you think. This isn’t a forgotten issue.
Some of the inroads Markell’s administration has made with getting the business community involved in education, connecting students with jobs, internships and real-life learning experiences, should be made more common, Townsend said.
Markell has made it a priority to get the business community to take over education in our state, whether it was homegrown in Delaware or out-of-state. And all of these lower-paying jobs and internships save these companies millions of dollars in salaries they would otherwise be paying. Some of it is good, but the motivation behind it is not for the benefit of students. It was, is, and always will be about money with Markell.
Though Townsend agrees with many teachers that the state’s way of judging teachers needs a great deal of work, he says Delaware is ahead of other states in some ways. “I think this concept of trying to have accountability is important,” he said. “We need to improve it, definitely, but let’s not just get rid of this idea entirely.”
This is the big elephant in the room. If we don’t judge teachers by standardized tests, what do we judge them on? Should teachers be blamed for events outside of the classroom in students regular lives? Absolutely not. But if their actions contribute to those actions, than I would say yes. As an example, say a student with disabilities doesn’t have her IEP followed. As a result, she doesn’t perform to the best of her ability because those supports aren’t being enforced. As she becomes more frustrated, she starts acting out at school. This becomes a part of her very fabric and it spills over into the “outside” world. So while she was having problems in school, it is now everywhere. Should teachers and schools be held accountable for things like this? I think every single parent of a special needs child who has faced these kinds of issues would say yes. It is essential that teachers and schools know special education and IDEA law like the back of their hand.
With Markell approaching the end of his second term, many lawmakers say the next governor will play a big role in steering the state’s educational future. “I think one of the things our next governor is going to be elected on is education,” Williams said. “I know that’s going to be the biggest factor for me.”
Some would say Jack Markell was elected because of his talk about education before he was elected. I would personally like to see a gutting of the Delaware DOE, build it up from the bottom all the way to the top with employees who care more about education than what we have seen in this “corporate education reform” world. I would also like to see less talk from a state Governor about education and more about creating more jobs in our state and reallocating funds so the citizens of the state don’t suffer needlessly. Whoever the new Secretary of Education may be, it would be my hope he/she is the spokesperson for education in our state, and has the skills, knowledge and compassion to truly fix education in our state, not make it worse.