Diploma Bill Released From House Education Committee

The first battle for HS1 for House Bill #287 was won today as the Delaware House Education Committee released it from committee.  This puts the special education legislation on the Ready list for a full House vote.

All were in favor of the release except for State Rep. Deb Heffernan who voted no and State Rep. Stephanie Bolden who abstained.  There was a great deal of discussion about the bill and who exactly it represents among Delaware special education students.  Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the Director of the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the Delaware Department of Education, attempted to answer these questions to committee members.  The diploma with modified standards would apply to a very small population of Delaware students, approximately 1% of them.  These are students with severe disabilities that affect their ability to perform relative to their peers.

Currently, these students receive a “certificate of performance”.  Which means they are not allowed to check up the Diploma box on job applications.  They are unable to have the opportunity to apply for many jobs.  For parents of these children, as so aptly put by parent John Young, it is a resignation for their children that is very difficult to accept.

Much of the conversation was about the gap group of special education students between those this would apply to and those who receive a high school diploma.  To qualify for this bill, you have to be approved by your IEP team to take the alternative state assessment.  But that is only a little over 1% of Delaware students.  Our special education numbers hover around 15-16%.  Some of those students who do qualify for the Smarter Balanced Assessment have a difficult time passing rigorous high school courses and are unable to graduate.  Many legislators wanted to see numbers from the Delaware DOE on this.

One public comment, given by Robert Overmiller, said this bill would be lying to these students.  The Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, of which Overmiller is a member, had public comment from member Kathie Cherry.  She felt it was important to note that Overmiller’s views on the bill did not reflect the overwhelming majority of the council who are in support of the bill.  While I do agree with Overmiller on many education issues, I felt his opposition to this bill was unfair but he is certainly entitled to his opinion.

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting gave the DOE’s approval of the bill, as did Delaware Autism, the Delaware Association of School Administrators, the Delaware School Boards Association, and parents.

This is an important victory for this bill.  It still has a long way to go but I like the track it is going in.

Diploma Bill Takes Center Stage In House Education Committee Meeting Today

The diploma bill for students with severe disabilities is on the agenda for the Delaware House Education Committee today.  The bill caused a ruckus of sorts with State Rep. Earl Jaques, State Board of Education member Pat Heffernan, Robert Overmiller, and the Delaware Chamber of Commerce.

House Bill #287 is now HS1 for House Bill #287.  The new changes are as follows:

This Substitute Bill makes the following changes to House Bill No. 287: 1. It changes the name of the new diploma to a “Diploma of Alternate Achievement Standards” instead of a “Diploma of Modified Performance Standards.” 2. It adds a requirement that a student must be eligible to take a statewide alternate assessment to receive the new diploma. 3. The Act takes effect in the academic year after enactment.

But the spirit of the original bill is the same.

…provides the opportunity for schools to award students who meet the requirements of their Individualized Education Plans (“IEP”) a high school diploma which recognizes the accomplishment of having attained a level of performance that is modified from the State graduation requirements but aligned with their established goals and performance outcomes.

As much as those who oppose the bill talk about why they hate the bill, I still fail to understand their rationale.  This isn’t a business bill, this is a student bill.  I think it is very arrogant for big business to dare to intrude on legislation like this.  In my opinion, they have done enough “intruding” in public education to the detriment of students, teachers, and schools.  Most of our schools, teachers, and parents want this bill to pass.  To me, they are your key stakeholders, not the business community.

For Jaques, Heffernan, and Overmiller: two of you have family members with disabilities and one of you serves on the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC).  I am unable to fathom your opposition to this bill.  You are certainly entitled to your opinion.  But, to me, it is not a coincidence that you all opposed opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Which is a grueling task and a flawed test for any student, but especially for students with disabilities.  The majority of the GACEC supports the bill.

I anticipate a large crowd for this House Education Committee meeting.  It is being held in the Joint Finance Committee room, not the House Chamber.  It begins at 3:00pm.  If you support this bill, please come out and give public comment.

Other bills on the docket are House Bill #292, relating to services for students with Autism, and House Bill #282, which would allow extra funding for field trips in schools with high concentrations of students with poverty

Cursive Bill Released From Delaware House Education Committee

It seemed to be an even split between advocates and those who oppose the bill, but State Rep. Andria Bennett’s House Bill was released from committee today with 12 votes.  Next stop, the House Ready list.  Many of the folks who opposed the bill were in favor of students learning cursive but felt that was a decision best left to the local school board and not a mandate from the state.  The Delaware Department of Education opposed the bill for the same reasons, along with the Delaware Association of School Administrators and the Delaware School Boards Association.

Both sides cited research or studies weighing the pros and cons of the bill.  I supported it and gave public comment on how my son seemed to like cursive more than regular writing.  Another advocate for students with disabilities, Robert Overmiller with the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, also supported the bill because of the beneficial nature for special needs students.  A retired teacher supported the bill.

State Rep. Bennett said her idea for this bill came last Christmas when her own daughter was unable to read her grandmother’s cursive writing in a Christmas card.  Some advocates said it is important children know how to read original historic documents, such as The Declaration of Independence.  One gentleman said he would not hire someone at his company who didn’t know cursive since so many old property deeds and paperwork were written in cursive and they would not be able to understand those documents.  One parent stated they were vehemently against the bill and that it shouldn’t matter if kids can read historic documents in cursive because it is all available online.  She also said grandmothers are texting and using Instagram more and more these days.  State Rep. Joe Miro said with our state budget deficit we should not be mandating curriculum at the state level.

If you are in favor of this bill, please contact your state legislator and let them know!  I know I will call my own State Rep, Trey Paradee and ask him to support this bill!

Delaware Competency-Based Education, Part 2: Reinventing Schools & Dark Omens

At the first official meeting for the Delaware Dept. of Education/Rodel created Guiding Coalition for Competency-Based Learning, an email went out to members to research an organization called Reinventing Schools.  Theresa Bennett with the DOE sent the following email:

guiding-coalition-1st-meeting

Bennett announces that a Kim Hanisch from the Reinventing Schools Coalition will be facilitating their meetings.  The organization changed their name because of the initials, RISC, to Reinventing Schools.  This group received their start-up funds from the Gates Foundation.  A blog called Save Maine Schools gave a very detailed description of the man that runs Reinventing Schools, Dr. Joseph Marzano.  I imagine Rodel and Reinventing Schools have a lot in common since they are both lovers of competency-based education and personalized learning in a digital classroom.  Oddly enough, Reinventing Schools does not list Delaware in their map of schools and districts they work with.  I guess non-profits don’t count as true education centers of learning!  Save Maine Schools referred to Marzano as just another corporate education reform snake-oil salesman.  His ideas, according to the article and commenters, were nothing new but repackaged to further this modern-day Competency-Based Education mixed with Personalized Learning in a digital environment.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, a lot was going on in Delaware education at this time.  The priority schools debacle was heating up.  On the same day as this first meeting of the “Guiding Coalition”, the Christina and Red Clay Consolidated Boards of Education were holding meetings to decide their next steps with the Delaware DOE and Governor Markell.  Red Clay indicated they would capitulate with the DOE, but Christina was defiant and insisted on writing their own Memorandum of Understanding with the DOE.  The priority schools MOU called for the firing of half the teachers and each school had to get a new principal.  As teachers and Delaware citizens seethed, a growing voice was calling for the resignation of Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and a new employee at the DOE named Penny Schwinn, who led the Accountability & Assessment department, soon became the most hated person in the Delaware education landscape.  Many, including legislators, began wondering what the heck Delaware did with all the Race To The Top money and FOIAs started going out to the Delaware DOE.

As a result of this, the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee was born.  Governor Markell issued an Executive Order to come up with recommendations on how to deal with the rising Wilmington education crisis.  Bank of America Communications Chief  and Former Chair of the Wilmington Metropolitan Urban League, Tony Allen, was chosen to lead the committee.  Meanwhile, a certain blogger started talking about Delaware Opt Out more and more.  All of these were easy distractions for those who were very worried about what was going on with Delaware education.  Markell was taking a very hard stance on the priority schools.  Nobody saw what was going in with the back-door and secret meetings of the Guiding Coalition.

The Rodel Foundation of Delaware was busy preparing for their next Vision Coalition annual conference.  One of their guests at the conference was a company called 2Revolutions.  I did not attend the conference, but I followed along on Twitter.  I decided to look into this digital learning company and was shocked by what I found.  Pretty much everything I am current writing about with Corporate Education Reform 2.0 is covered in that link.  That was from almost two years ago.  The next day I received an email from the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC):

gacechalloweenemail

This email contained a copy and paste from the Rodel Teacher Council for their “Performance Learning” blueprint which I included in an article I wrote on this.  I was skeptical of Rodel based on everything I saw and read before that email from the GACEC.  But this horrified me.  It was obvious Rodel was facilitating the reinvention of Delaware education and nobody was paying attention.  Changes were taking place.  The Delaware DOE was not running the show.  It was Rodel.  I began to commit myself to finding out all I could about Rodel.  It was Halloween and nothing horrified me more than what I wrote about that dark evening.  I didn’t truly understand it all at that time.  There was a lot going on.  But this was the beginning of putting the puzzle pieces together.  However, the upcoming General Election in Delaware would cause things to change in the Delaware General Assembly that would provide very big distractions for many.

As everyone prepared for a potential takeover of the Priority Schools, the Delaware DOE and Rodel continued their secret meetings.  To be continued in Part 3: Rodel gets a surprise and a matter of civil rights…

 

Good Luck Brian “Smarter Balanced Guy” Touchette!

DOEPersonnel81816SBOEMeeting

The Delaware State Board of Education released the agenda for their August 18th meeting, a week from today.  Included in the agenda was the Delaware Department of Education personnel changes.  One of the employees leaving the Delaware DOE is Brian Touchette.

I always felt kind of bad for Brian.  He was the front guy at the DOE for the Smarter Balanced Assessment when they were doing the field test for it and when they were determining accommodations for students with disabilities.  When the opt out movement started kicking up dust, Brian went from Assessment Director to an Education Associate in a very short time after two Delaware PTA Opt Out Town Halls.  I gave him a rough time at a Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens meeting about accommodations a couple of years ago.

I haven’t heard much in the way of Touchette news since those opt out town halls and I wondered what became of him.  But it appears Touchette is no longer with the DOE now.  Good luck Brian!

 

Nina Lou Bunting Is The New Vice-President Of The Delaware State Board of Education

At last week’s Delaware State Board of Education meeting, the board unanimously voted their newest member, Nina Lou Bunting, as the Vice-President.

Bunting was a teacher for four decades and served on the Indian River Board of Education for thirteen years.  She resigned prior to her Governor Markell appointed position on the State Board of Education last year.  Out of all the State Board of Education appointees, I find Bunting to be the most experienced when it comes to what really goes on in the classroom.  As an advocate for special needs children, she also served on the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens.

In an article from the Sussex Post last year when Bunting resigned from the Indian River Board, she listed these are her priorities:

As a state board of education member Ms. Bunting’s prioritized list includes: preparing students to be career-ready; increased focus/emphasis on children with special needs; more training so all teachers can work with all students including those with special needs; and more citizenship education, particularly civics.

The current President of the State Board of Education, Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, was appointed as President of the State Board by Governor Markell.  Only the Governor can pick the President under current Delaware state code.

Regulation 616 Rears Its Ugly Head Again And Gets Blasted By Delaware ACLU

The approach the Department is taking shortchanges our most vulnerable children and puts Delaware’s future at risk.

PrincipalsOffice

At the end of last year, the Delaware Department of Education proposed amendments to Regulation 616 concerning due process procedures for alternative placement meetings and expulsion hearings.  In a nutshell, this regulation would make it easier to strip away the rights of students and parents in regards to school discipline.  This prompted a wave of negative comments from many concerned organizations and citizens in Delaware.  It started with the Smyrna School District Assistant Superintendent and went from there.  The State Board of Education tabled the changes at their December, 2016 board meeting.  Now Reg. 616 is back.  It was published in the June Registrar of Regulations.

As I wrote last year when this god awful and horrible regulation was introduced, this bill appears to be tailor made for charter schools.  To kick out the unwanted.  Why does the Delaware DOE and State Board of Education even consider this kind of nonsense?  Especially since there were laws passed dealing with this exact sort of thing.  Furthermore, Senate Bill 239, if passed, would have been the opposite of this bill.  I’m hearing this bill will come back roaring in the 149th General Assembly.  It was a question of timing for why it didn’t pass this spring.

Disproportionality is a big word these days and it needs to be.  We are seeing the results of what can happen when the pendulum swings too far in one direction.  The Delaware DOE and the State Board are taking a huge step backwards in a time when they should be getting out of this mindset.  If our charter schools want to completely change the direction of Delaware schools while everyone else is saying no, perhaps the time has come for them to change.  This isn’t Little House on the Prairie anymore.  They need to stop relying on funding from the state and the citizens who actually produce the funding for them to run as quasi-corporations and become what they should have been in the first place: private schools charging tuition.  Let’s see how successful they are then when they aren’t using their “autonomy” when it suits them best and then ditching that concept when things aren’t equal.

REGULATION 616

ACLU COMMENTS ON REGULATION 616

ATTORNEY GENERAL’S COMMENTS ON REGULATION 616

DSCYF COMMENTS ON REGULATION 616

GACEC COMMENTS ON REGULATION 616

SCPD COMMENTS ON REGULATION 616

Delaware To Get Federal “Needs Intervention” In Special Education Again As Incompetent DOE Lies At Public Meeting

Delaware WILL get a “Needs Intervention” label for their Annual IDEA Determination from the Office of Special Educations Programs at the United States Department of Education.  The Delaware DOE knows this, but they aren’t announcing it.  My guess is they are waiting for the “formal” letter to come from the feds before they publicly release this information to the public.  Even though they were told this information at least four weeks ago.  If I were a betting man, we won’t find this out until after June 30th.  I predicted this three weeks ago when I found the letters that went out to the districts and charters.

At the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens meeting on Tuesday night, the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the DOE gave a presentation to the council on the Local Education Authority (LEA) portion of the annual determination.  The presentation was given by Barbara Mazza and Maria Locuniak from the DOE.  In this presentation, there were several absolute lies that are in this article, for which I caught them red-handed.  It is very alarming they would try to dupe a state council devoted to the improvement of outcomes for persons with disabilities. Continue reading

Comment Rescue Regarding Rodel, Autism, & Special Education

Well, this is mighty interesting.  Marie-Anne Aghazadian, the former Executive Director for the Parent Information Center of Delaware from 1989-2014, a former member of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, and the founding President of the Delaware Autism Program, wrote a comment on an article I published over a year ago about the introduction of Senate Bill 92.

I, too, find it highly suspicious that Paul Herdman is now interested in improving special education. A group of students he had disdained for years. But then things have been rather quiet for Rodel since the demise of the RTT grant and the unsuccessful Mark Murphy reign.

And what better way to get into the fray again than to suggest interest in special education. Really?

I have found that Matt Korobkin (with whom I have worked on the Autism Advancement Package aka SB92/93), although well-intentioned, has indeed little spec. ed. background and seems to be pushing Delaware to replicate the education collaborative model prevalent in Massachusetts and other states.

Until society values students with disabilities as much as their AP students and is willing to pay forward to ensure their success as productive and self-sufficient adults, we will continue to waste time, money and children’s lives on costly, trivial pursuits such as studies and lawsuits brought on by legitimately frustrated parents.

Aghazadian raised several talking points.  Why is Rodel, in the past couple of years, dabbling in special education.  Dr. Paul Herdman, the Executive Director of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, did teach special education once upon a time.  But the policies Rodel pushed over the past ten years seem to be special education killers and not helpers.  I agree 100% with what she wrote.  I would love to chat more with her about all of this as she seems to know the history and education of Delaware education better than most based on her vast history in the system.

This is what we need more of: those in a position to speak out and actually doing it!  Nothing will change if more people don’t speak up.  Use your voice.  You have it for a reason!

As Legislation For Autism Pass In Delaware Senate, Very Strange Rodel Connections Sneak Into Special Education

Last week, the Delaware Senate passed both Senate Bill 92 and 93.  The legislation, dealing with Autism, passed unanimously in the Delaware Senate.  I wholeheartedly support this legislation as originally written, and I hope the House of Representatives passes it very soon.  The children and adults with Autism of Delaware have waited long enough for more support.  But what concerns me are the amendments added to both bills during the Senate vote last week.  Below are the original bills and the amendments.

With the amendment on Senate Bill 92, this takes away the authority of the Delaware Department of Education and the State Board of Education to provide training and technical assistance for students with autism.  This will shift to the University of Delaware’s Center for Disability Studies.  The funding for the training specialists comes from the appropriations act AND possible tuition fees from the local school district.

The amendment for Senate Bill 93 references things that aren’t even in existence at present.  Upon doing a Google search, there is no established entity called “Delaware Collaborative for Educational Services”.  I did find reference to similar groups in New Hampshire and Massachusetts but none for Delaware.  How can legislation provide for an organization that doesn’t exist anywhere in the public domain?  But while we are waiting for the creation of this mythical initiative, the representative on the Delaware Network for Excellence in Autism will be the Special Education Officer for Strategic Planning and Evaluation at the Delaware DOE.  Who is this person?  That would be Matthew Korobkin.

Korobkin came to the Secretary of Education’s office in March of 2015.  I first found out about him last summer when I was discussing special education with Melissa Hopkins from the Rodel Foundation.  She mentioned Korobkin and how he was going all over Delaware to find out best practices with Delaware special education.  She suggested I reach out to him to discuss my concerns with special education.  I emailed him but never received a response.  I found out soon after where Korobkin came from: the Rodel Foundation.

This is where things get very strange with this bill.  Korobkin’s history shows more of a slant towards special education technology.  How does someone who has a very brief tenure as a special education data teachers and an administrator position that is more a Technology Curriculum role than a true administrator become the key person in Delaware’s special education strategic plan?  Simple: he came from Rodel.  If you do a Google search on Korobkin in Delaware, you see many links to his functions at Rodel.  But for the DOE, you see his role as a member of the Statewide Educational Data Task Force come up the most.  He appears somewhere in the below picture.

EducDataTaskForce

I find it somewhat frightening that a data person would be put in charge of a statewide special education plan, much less someone who came from Rodel.  During his time at Rodel, he ran the Rodel Teacher Council.  He even gave his own biography in 2012 after he joined Rodel.  I can think of hundreds of other people in Delaware who are immensely more qualified than Korobkin for this key role that was snuck into the Fiscal Year 2015 budget epilogue:

SB255Sec.307

 

I did find a link to the minutes of the February 2016 meeting of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens.  Korobkin gave a presentation on the progress of this special education strategic plan.  Even more interesting was the attendees part of the minutes.  Both Hopkins and CEO Dr. Paul Herdman with Rodel attended this meeting.  I would imagine it was to see their former employee/current DOE plant give his big presentation.

I also linked to this Korobkin’s proposed Strategic Plan when he gave a presentation to the State Board of Education at their Spring Retreat last Friday.

Like I said in the first paragraph of this article, this legislation is a must.  But why do we have Rodel poking around in special education?  This non-profit organization doesn’t support a parent’s right to opt their child out of high-stakes testing, helped Governor Markell and the DOE win our first-round win in the Race To The Top competition, supports Common Core and personalized learning, and heavily supports charter schools at the expense of traditional school districts.  And now they want to get involved in special education?  Sorry, I’m not buying it.  Their activity in Delaware education is not good for any student, much less students with disabilities.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of the House Education Committee meeting on these bills.  And I plan on viewing this Strategic Plan due in May of 2016 the second it comes out!  Parents of children with Autism should have concern about some of the language in these amendments, specifically Senate Bill 93.

 

 

Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens Website Is A Hot Mess! Transparency Non-Existent!

The Delaware Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC) website appears to be in severe disarray.  The last agenda for one of their meetings is for their March 17th, 2015 meeting.  The last minutes are from their June 2015 meeting.  When does this group meet?  On the Delaware Public Meetings Calendar it shows their last meeting was November 17th, 2015.  No agenda was on the calendar either.  Are they even meeting anymore?

I used to get emails from this group when I was on their distribution list.  But once I blasted them for their opposition of the parent opt-out legislation, House Bill 50, I was banned from this email list.  My guess, this is now an “inclusive club” in Delaware that doesn’t have to follow state law for public meetings or transparency.  As a group that is supposed to represent the disabled of Delaware, this is very disheartening to see.  I expect more out of any state agency or council, but I expect much more out of this group.  Is Wendy Strauss still the Executive Director?  Is Robert Overmiller still the Chair of GACEC?  When are their meetings?  They do have a calendar of their meetings for the year, but that isn’t saying much without the other necessary state law compliance in effect.

GACEC

Why does this group think they don’t have to be visible with their activities?

One Of Markell’s Hand-Picked Education Top Dogs To Resign

Someone very big in the Jack Markell education world is resigning.  This is as close to the top as you can get.  This is someone Markell hand-picked for the position.  Who is it?  And more important, who will replace this person?  From what I’m hearing, the title won’t be replaced but the duties will be delegated to different people.  This is big folks!  This person has been around long enough to have an impact on how things go that this void will have an effect on things.  Of course, it was, is, and always has been Jack Markell’s show.  I can’t say I’m surprised by the exit, but I am surprised at the assignment of duties to other people.  Who is it?  Did you think it was going to be that easy?  If you are drawing a blank on this one, don’t fret.  Continue reading

Is Regulation 616 A Gift For Delaware Charter Schools To Kick Out The Unwanted?

PrincipalsOffice

Tomorrow the Delaware State Board of Education will vote on Regulation 616.  This regulation concerning school suspensions, expulsions, and out of school placements (alternative schools) is very controversial.  I wrote in December about the Assistant Superintendent from Smyrna’s very funny letter about this regulation, but many more have come in and they are all very alarming.  The biggest of which is one from the American Civil Liberties Union, as seen below:

Continue reading

US DOE’s Threat Letter To Delaware DOE About Opt-Out Is Ridiculous

The United States Department of Education sent letters to 12 states about issues with lower participation rates for either all students or sub-groups of students on the state assessment.  Delaware’s letter, from the US DOE Director of State Support Dr. Monique Chism, has all the intimidating and bullying language we have grown to expect from these federal intrusionists.  So much for the Every Student Succeeds Act and the clause about states determining how to handle participation rates.  The US DOE has learned nothing about standing up on the bully pulpit and telling states what to do.

So what bully lingo do we see in this letter about Delaware not meeting the 95% participation rate for English Language Learners and high school students?  The biggest “threat” is turning a school that has multiple years of low participation rates into a priority or focus school.  There are the usual funding cut threats.  But Delaware already addressed this in their last ESEA Flexibility Waiver edit sent to the US DOE on November 30th.  You know, the one where they have the participation rate multiplied against a school’s participation rate.  The one that nobody but the DOE, Godowsky, State Board of Education, Rodel, and the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens wanted.  DSEA, Delaware PTA, district and charter superintendents and heads of school opposed it.  Parents opposed it.

The timing on this couldn’t be better.  As the Smarter Balanced season begins next year, opt-out will become a huge conversation.  Our legislators have an awesome responsibility to override Governor Markell’s parent disrespecting veto of House Bill 50.  This final vote from the legislators over this issue will decide once and for all who they stand with: a departing Governor’s absolutely horrible education legacy or the constituents who elect them.  The Delaware DOE is probably emailing this letter to every single legislator as we speak.  But guess what?  I am calling the US DOE’s bluff.  Let them try to cut funding.  Let them try to interfere with a parent’s God-given, fundamental and constitutional rights to dictate the best interests of their children.  We will fight them all the way to the United States Supreme Court if need be.

Every single parent of a public school student in Delaware needs to make a choice for their child if they haven’t already: do they continue to let corporate education reform allow our children to be in huge classes with little funding going to support and resources in favor of a once-a-year test that dictates everything about their child, teachers, and school?  Do they allow our Governor, DOE, State Board, Secretary and the US DOE continue to take away local control from our schools and spend our taxpayer dollars on tests that do not give immediate feedback, do not impact the level of instruction an individual student receives and actually tramples the civil rights of every single sub-group of students in our state?  These are the questions parents need to ask.  Parents can and have made a difference, and their voices are growing stronger every single day.  Say no to the US DOE.  Say no to Governor Markell.  Say yes to your child.

#StopESEA @DelawarePTA @DSEA1 @gacecoffice Don’t Drink The Kool-Aid!!!!

Delaware PTA, DSEA & Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens:

You  hold a great deal of power in your groups.  We the people need you to band together and unite for the students of Delaware.  The ESEA reauthorization is all about more testing, more federal mandates and waivers, and even “social impact bonds”.  I know your bosses in the National PTA, NEA and Governor Markell are all behind this federal legislation.  But that does not mean you need to endorse legislation that has not even been seen by the public yet.

Delaware PTA: You know I love you for your support on the opt-out movement and House Bill 50!  We need you to take a serious look at the personalized learning models and competency-based education supports embedded in this legislation.  These are not good for students over the long-term, especially those students who are most in need.  This bill is big on accountability systems created at the state level, and we all know what that kind of power can have in a few corrupt minds in our state.  Please, do not endorse this bill and let your National PTA know they shouldn’t either.

DSEA: I have to admit, you folks are an enigma to me!  From my perspective, the best words I can think of are this- you always want a seat at the table but don’t realize you are actually on the table as the main course.  I’ve seen this with the Delaware School Success Framework, teacher evaluations, and Race To The Top.  I know you wish there didn’t even have to be opt-out, but the plain simple fact is that it is here and it is necessary for parents to do this.  I get that teachers endorsing opt-out could put them in rough waters, but they are already in that position because of the state and federal mandates coming down.  Please do not endorse this bill that will make sure teachers lose even more voice.

GACEC: You are a Governor’s council run by the state, which puts you under the shadow of Governor Markell.  But your mandate is to look out for exceptional citizens, those with disabilities.  Please tell me how supporting the Governor against opt-out helps those citizens.  Please tell me you truly want the best outcome for children with special needs.  Please tell me you do not support this latest edition of the ESEA reauthorization.  We’ve seen the outcome of Smarter Balanced for our children with disabilities.  They are now further behind.  That isn’t progress, and I’m sure you have seen how Delaware wants these children to go from 19% proficiency to 59% in six years.  That is insanity, brought on by Governor Markell.  Please stop siding with the DOE on matters that only negatively impact our kids.

 

Opt Your Child Out Tomorrow, Send The State Board A Clear Message

This is why you need to opt your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment tomorrow on Wednesday, November 18th, 2015.  And you need to send this message to every single parent you know who has a child in public school in the entire state.  Use Facebook, Twitter, email, text and calling folks to let them know tomorrow is Opt-Out Day.  Schools can not punish you or your child for your right to exercise your rights for what is best for your child.

The Delaware State Board of Education does not care about our schools and our students.  These are unelected officials, along with the Secretary of Education, who serve at the pleasure of Governor Markell.  Let’s get this out in the open for those who are not aware.  They do not care about the path of destruction they leave in their wake with the excessive amount of standardized testing, interim testing for the standardized testing, labeling schools, and evaluating teachers based on those assessments.  They do not care about the impact this has on children of poverty, race, and disabilities.  They will do what they want, when they want, and how they want.  They do not care if they are usurping the authority of the General Assembly.  They do not care about the rights of parents and insist on having negative consequences for schools over opt-out, even if at the most the US DOE simply states in non-regulatory and non-Congressionally approved guidance that schools must have a “consequence” for opt-out.  They do not care about the recommendations of the very committee they formed to give suggestions for this so-called “Delaware School Success Framework”.  The only reason they even created this group is because it was required by the US DOE as stakeholder engagement.  It is a charade and a sham, perpetrated on every single citizen of Delaware.

Delaware Parents: It is now your essential duty, as well as your fundamental right, to opt your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  The powers that be will not listen.  They have made this crystal clear.  The only way to stop this is to opt your child out now.  Do not believe the lies and propaganda coming from the Governor, the DOE, the State Board of Education, and the Secretary of Education in Delaware.  They will come up with any reason, any task force, group or committee to try to stop you from opting your child out.  They will use other state agencies, such as the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens to get you to believe the lies.  They will throw civil rights in your face while violating the most basic tenets of civil rights in their test and punish environment.  They are causing even more segregation over the shaming of schools over standardized Their latest attempt at mind control is getting rid of the Smarter Balanced Assessment for high school juniors.  They are retooling the SAT to match the very same Common Core State Standards the Smarter Balanced Assessment already has.  Last Spring, it was announced more than 850 colleges and universities dropping the SAT in the application process.  Warped methodology is their best friend, and they utilize it without regard to the damage it does.

So please, tomorrow, give a letter to your child’s principal telling them (not asking) that your child will not take the Smarter Balanced Assessment.   If they have opinions, questions, or attempt to talk you out of it, let them kindly know you respect their opinion but your decision is final.  They will definitely tell you now how it will affect their school’s ratings and so forth.  Let them know you understand that but you are the only one who can advocate for your child.  Advise them you expect your child to receive an education while the other students are testing, and stand firm with your decision.  The Delaware General Assembly could override Governor Markell’s veto of the opt-out legislation, House Bill 50.  The ESEA reauthorization will most likely leave it up to states to handle opt-out, which the DOE and Markell are attempting to do with Regulation 103, which would become law 60 days after the State Board votes on this.  This is why, if you are going to opt your child out, you need to do it tomorrow.  The State Board meets on Thursday to decide on this.  Let’s show them how ignoring parents will not end well for them.  They disrespect us and underestimate us.  Let’s show them who is really calling the shots!

This is for all traditional school district and charter school parents.  We need to stand united with this and take back the conversation.  We need to show the DOE and the State Board we will not stand for them punishing schools.  In a sense, just making your child take the Smarter Balanced Assessment is a punishment in and of itself.  Because it does not help your child and the DOE uses it as a punishment.  That is the message they told every single parent in the state today.  There are no positive consequences in the picture the DOE wants to paint.  It is all about money, greed, and a severe lack of knowledge about what is truly best for students.

Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens STILL Bashing Parent Opt-Out

This may provide schools with an incentive to encourage student participation in the assessment system.

I would think, after seeing the abysmal Smarter Balanced Assessment results for Delaware, especially for students with disabilities, the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens would change it’s tune on parent opt-out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  But in their public comment for Regulation 103, which the State Board shot down for action yesterday, they felt the participation rate penalty could be a good way for schools to convince parents the kids need to take the test.

What is it with this council?  I appreciate a lot of the work they do.  Don’t get me wrong on that.  But this is HUGE.  Yes, it is a group with the word Governor in it, but that doesn’t mean they have to stick with his opinions.  I would love it if they could give any factual basis for their claims aside from the News Journal.  This isn’t the first time they have based their opinions on articles in the News Journal.  Don’t read a newspaper, or even my own blog.  Just look at the statistics for students with disabilities on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  10% in Math, 15% in ELA.  That’s ALL you need to know.  These are kids.  And I’m sure a lot of them wanted to do good on this test.  Imagine the pain and confusion they will feel when they get their results.  Imagine the struggles they had taking this test.  It’s not right, and it isn’t fair that a group of adults speaking for these children should go against the public consensus on this.  This test is horrible, and everyone knows it.

I’ve met Robert Overmiller and Wendy Strauss, and they are good people.  I know quite a few members on this council.  I just don’t get why they would do this.  Luckily, this Regulation is going to be reviewed and hopefully reworked.  But I would love a compelling reason why they are so adamantly against parent opt-out.

Delaware School Districts, Charter Schools and Vo-Techs Special Education Ratings By The Delaware DOE. State Ratings By The US DOE.

The Delaware Department of Education recently sent letters to every single school district, vocational district, and each charter schools with their special education rating based on compliance indicators with the United States Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs.  There are four designations: meets requirements, needs assistance, needs intervention, and substantially needs intervention.  I will be delving into more of this in GREAT detail, as I don’t agree with much of this.  This is based on compliance from fiscal year 2013, so any schools that opened in FY2014 or FY2015 are not part of these ratings.  But for now, please see what the district ratings are:

Traditional School Districts

Appoquinimink: Needs Assistance

Brandywine: Needs Intervention

Caesar Rodney: Needs Intervention

Cape Henlopen: Meets Requirements

Christina: Needs Intervention

Colonial: Needs Assistance

Delmar: Needs Intervention

Indian River: Meets Requirements

Lake Forest: Needs Assistance

Laurel: Needs Intervention

Milford: Meets Requirements

Red Clay Consolidated: Needs Intervention

Seaford: Needs Intervention

Smyrna: Needs Assistance

Woodbridge: Needs Intervention

Vocational Districts

New Castle County Vo-Tech: Meets Requirements

Polytech: Needs Assistance

Sussex Tech: Meets Requirements

Charter Schools

Academy of Dover: Needs Assistance

Campus Community: Needs Assistance

Charter School of Wilmington: Meets Requirements

DE Academy of Public Safety & Security: Meets Requirements

DE College Prep: Meets Requirements

DE Military Academy: Meets Requirements

East Side Charter: Needs Intervention

Family Foundations Academy: Meets Requirements

Gateway Lab School: Needs Intervention

Kuumba Academy: Needs Assistance

Las Americas ASPIRA Academy: Needs Assistance

MOT Charter School: Needs Assistance

*Moyer: Needs Intervention

Newark Charter School: Meets Requirements

Odyssey Charter School: Meets Requirements

Positive Outcomes: Needs Intervention

Prestige Academy: Needs Intervention

Providence Creek Academy: Needs Assistance

*Reach Academy for Girls: Needs Assistance

Sussex Academy: Meets Requirements

Thomas Edison Charter: Needs Assistance

*means school is now closed as of 6/30/15

There you have it, all the districts, charters, and vo-techs in Delaware.  Anyone with a basic knowledge of Delaware can see the obvious flaws with this rating system.  Most of the districts and charters who “need intervention” have the greatest populations of special education students, as well as the highest number of minorities and low-income populations.  This system is completely unfair to any parent looking for potential school choices for their special needs child.  Or even to those parents with a “regular” student, who may think the school is not a right fit for their child because of perceived special education issues.

These ratings also do not take into account IEP denials at all.  Many charters have flat-out refused entrance to children with IEPs, despite numerous warnings by the state and the federal government, as well as civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union.  Charters have also been widely known to practice “counseling out”, where students with IEPs are either kicked out or pushed out through repeated suspensions or strong suggestions to parents how they “can’t service your child” or “we don’t have the resources”.

For a school like Charter School of Wilmington to “meet requirements” when they have a literal handful of IEPs there, while a school like Eastside who has numerous IEPs to need intervention is not a fair and accurate comparison.

One other important factor is none of these ratings take into account the continuous and growing number of special education lawsuits in our state.  The feds ratings are based on complaints, mediations (with the state) and due process hearings.  There are several problems with this.  First off, there hasn’t been a due process hearing in Delaware in over two years.  The last hearing was in April of 2013, and out of the 25 due process hearings since 2006, only two were against charter schools.  Anyone with a basic knowledge of Delaware Online Checkbook can see the MILLIONS of dollars going out in special education lawsuits.  When I asked MaryAnn Mieczkowski, the Director at the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the DOE about this conundrum last summer, she stood by the due process system as being “more than fair.”  Many of the schools that “meet requirements” have been sued and more than once.  But the DOE will never report that data…

Second, the complaints are heard by “hearing officers” who are paid by the Delaware Department of Education.  One such hearing officer is the President of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, Robert Overmiller.  He was paid $10,000 this year alone to rule on these special education complaints.  The Director of the Exceptional Citizens Resource Group at the DOE sits on the very same group.  Overmiller is also paid by the GACEC.  The GACEC issues opinions on matters such as the recent and growing opt-out movement.  Many were shocked to see the GACEC dead set against opt-out and House Bill 50.  But now we know about conflicts of interest where the state Department pays the other state group’s Presidents, and the two side on issues of legislative importance.  As well, the GACEC gives opinions on State Board of Education regulations.  This is the problem in Delaware with conflicts of interest.  They aren’t transparent until someone happens to stumble upon them.

There is so much more to all of this, and I will be writing a lot about it in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can read each letter sent to these districts, vo-techs and charters here: District And Charter Reports

You can also see each state’s ratings below, in the below document released by the US DOE, which is also very misleading, because it rates Delaware as “needing assistance” in the Part B determinations for one year, and “meets requirements in Part C, but doesn’t even touch on the fact they were “needing intervention” the past two years, which makes Delaware look better on a long-term basis when that is not the case.

The Key Moments For House Bill 50 Opt-Out Victory In The Delaware House

There were many seminal moments on the road to this important victory for parents in Delaware.  I’ll start at the beginning:

1) Delaware bloggers Kavips and Transparent Christina begin talking about opt-out in the Spring of 2014.  It’s who got me to start thinking about it for Delaware.

2) Matt Lindell and the Capital School Board: a year ago, the Capital school board started the discussion on this, but it was tabled.  Then it came roaring back last fall for a unanimous vote by the Capital Board.

3) The Delaware DOE letters: In early December of 2014, the Delaware DOE began sending school districts a “suggested” letter to give to parents about opt-out should they ask or opt-out.  The confusing Delaware state code regarding this was exposed immediately by yours truly.  It took a while for this to be clarified by the DOE, but once the genie was out of the bottle, it made the DOE look ineffective

4) Delaware State Rep. Kowalko and Senator Lawson introduce House Bill 50 in early February. WDEL radio show host Rick Jensen starts having opt-out advocates on his show.

5) The Delaware PTA holds the first Delaware Parent Opt-Out Town Hall in mid-February.  Wide discussion about bullying tactics by school districts really ticks parents off.  What was meant to be a scare tactic fast turns into a rallying point for Delaware parents. President Terri Hodges announces publicly she is opting her own child out.

6) Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques tells a group of Christina Educator Association teachers House Bill 50 will never pass as Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick attempts to dictate terms about opt-out to parents in that district which does not work out as planned.

7) Delaware PTA holds Kent County Parent Opt-Out Town Hall in early March.  DOE is forced to admit parent opt-out can’t be stopped and the state law only applies to teachers and school staff, not parents.

8) Christina board of Education passes parent opt-out resolution in large measure due to the hard work in preparing the resolution by board member Elizabeth Paige and a fiery speech supporting parent opt-out by board member John Young.

9) Governor Markell announces initiative to reduce assessments for Delaware students while conveniently ignoring the elephant in the room, the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  This leads to Jaques referring to Smarter Balanced as a “little test”.

10) Governor Jack Markell is forced to talk about opt-out at Howard High School, which leads to remarks by Jaques which fans the opt-out flames even more, especially for special needs parents.  Jaques quickly apologizes.

11) The Delaware News Journal publishes a front-page cover story on opt-out from both sides of the fence.  A cover photo of parent Jackie Kook with her daughter brings it home for many parents.  Parent who never heard the words opt-out start looking into it.

12) In front of an audience of over 1,000 people at the Imagine Delaware forum, teacher and President of the Red Clay Educator Association Mike Matthews announces he supports the opt-out movement.

13) As the Smarter Balanced Assessment begins, parents start opting out by the hundreds in Delaware.  Many schools give parents a rough time, which causes parents to talk to each other and spread the news about opt-out.

14) Delaware State Rep. Sean Matthews and Jaques go head to head in a News Journal dual opinion piece on opt-out.  Matthews clearly wins the contest and shows why opt-out is important in regards to Delaware education.

15) Both Red Clay and Christina Educators Association hold joint press conference announcing no confidence vote in Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy.

16) Delaware PTA passes resolution officially supporting opt-out and House Bill 50.

17) DSEA (Delaware Educators Association) passes resolution supporting opt-out and House Bill 50, as well as a vote of no confidence in Mark Murphy.

18) Parent Press Conference/Rally at Legislative Hall in early April, though small, draws most Delaware media to it and more media coverage of opt-out.

19) Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams publicly announces she is opting out her own son, a high school junior who, like many Delaware juniors, are forced to take weeks and weeks of testing.

20) Mark Murphy appears on The Delaware Way with Larry Mendte and states “parents aren’t allowed to opt-out students”.

21) Red Clay Consolidated School Board passes parent opt-out resolution with excellent writing by board member Adrianna Bohm.

22) The day before the House Education Committee vote, Governor Markell announces initiative to have Smarter Balanced Scores tie into elimination of remedial classes for four Delaware universities and colleges.  The announcement is critically slammed by legislators, parents and teachers.

23) At the House Education Committee meeting on April 22nd, Kowalko and Jaques battle each other as Kowalko is forced to answer a barrage of questions by Jaques.  Kowalko successfully fends him off.  After discussion from other legislators, public comment from parents shows near overwhelming support for the release of the bill.  Opposition includes organizations well-known to support Governor Markell’s corporate education agendas.  After a vote to have the bill tabled falls apart, the bill is released from the committee in an 8-4 vote ending the over two hour debate.

24) Mark Murphy’s claim of federal funding cuts of $40-$90 million over potential opt-outs and the passage of House Bill 50 is debunked the next day with the release of the US DOE letter which clearly states schools cannot opt students out, and the letter never mentions the words parent opt-out.

25) Last week, organizations such as GACEC and Council for Persons with Disabilities release near identical letter in opposition to House Bill 50 with claims that are quickly debunked.

26) In a hasty and damaging example of executive overreach, Governor Markell announces to radio host Rick Jensen on WDEL he will veto House Bill 50 if it reaches his desk.

27) Parents begin emailing all the legislators of the Delaware House and public support for the bill is clearly seen by the legislators.

28) State Rep. Sean Matthews introduces an amendment to House Bill 50 the day of the House vote which changes the language of the legislation from “the state assessment” to the “Smarter Balanced Assessment”.

All leading to today’s enormous victory in the Delaware House of Representatives, with a 36-3 victory with two reps absent.  At the end of the day, this is about parents using their voice to initiate change.  This could not have been done by one individual at all.  It took a great deal of advocacy, hard work, sweat, social media, and legislators, parents, organizations and ordinary citizens spreading the word and supporting the cause.

What also helped were some obvious tactical blunders by the Delaware DOE, Secretary Murphy, and Governor Markell.  And God bless him, we cannot forget Earl Jaques.  He revealed today House Bill 50 got in the way of his planned legislation to reduce the Smarter Balanced Assessment to only three grades of testing.  Which is a noble gesture, but legislation getting rid of the “little” test would be a much grander statement.

While getting the bill through the House was an undertaking, it remains to be seen how the Delaware Senate will receive the legislation.  Folks are already guessing which Senate members will support the bill.  Delaware Senator Brian Pettyjohn already announced on Facebook tonight he will vote yes.  Senator Lawson, a co-sponsor of the bill, is a lock.  But the others are a mystery for now.  I can guess and predict, but until they publicly announce their intentions or a vote, we must email them and call them as much as we can.

GACEC Letter of Support for Gateway Lab School Contradicts Opposition Letter re: House Bill 50

In reviewing GACEC and their modus operandi, I was curious if they gave public comment concerning Gateway Lab School.  This is a charter school designed for students with disabilities that was threatened with non-renewal of their charter in late 2014.  Thankfully, the State Board of Education and Mark Murphy did renew their charter.  Public support was massive for this school.  The GACEC wrote a letter of support for their charter renewal which can be found on pages 6 & 7 of the below document.  My take on this below that.

It comes down to one statement in their letter: “In conjunction with our role as the state advisory panel, we would like to share our concerns on the recent decision by the Charter School Accountability Committee to recommend the State Board of Education revoke the charter of the Gateway Lab School based on assessment data.”

Assessment data should not be the sole factor in making a policy decision as per the GACEC.  But in their letter of opposition to House Bill 50,  President Robert Overmiller with the GACEC writes “the validity of overall test results will be undermined if large numbers of students do not participate in the assessment.”  So GACEC can determine when data should and should not be used.  The main issue with Gateway Lab School was academic performance.  I completely agree with the GACEC, standardized test scores should never make or break a school.  But they can’t play both sides on this balance beam.  Because “Avoiding the unpleasant reality of assessments and their place in public education is not a viable response to relatively poor overall performance by Delaware students” as Overmiller wrote in the opposition letter, completely goes against their reasoning for supporting Gateway’s charter renewal.

In the case of Gateway, Overmiller actually went to the school to observe and see how their students were doing with the school and if they were showing academic interest and their special education was offering a rewarding environment.  He found it was.  But in the case of parent opt-out, Overmiller did not reach out to parents who are opting out, or try to understand the motivations behind their decisions.  Has he talked to teachers or the DOE about  the technical accommodation issues affecting students with disabilities?  Did he observe how these children are doing on the test?  This council is meant to look at issues with citizens with disabilities, but in their opposition letter, they never once say the words “special education” or “disabilities”.  Once again GACEC, you can’t have it both ways.  I truly believe the GACEC should rescind their letter of opposition to House Bill 50 until they have truly educated themselves on this issue.