Exclusive: A Delaware Legislator Is Not The Hero For Public Education They Appear To Be

I’ve been wrestling with something for a long time now.  I found out something.  Something big.  Usually my first instinct is to get it out there.  But this was BIG, and if I was wrong about it, it could have shot me in the foot.  It concerns a legislator and an election.  But more than that, it concerned friends.  Friends who are very supportive of this particular legislator.  I’ve had wrestling matches in my head before about these kind of things, but usually the need for truth prevails.  This time though, it was different.  Continue reading

The Delaware DOE Accountability Monster Is At It Again

The Delaware Department of Education held a District Test Coordinators meeting on March 16th, 2016.  The full report is below.  The presentation covered all things testing: Smarter Balanced, DCAS Science, DCAS Social Studies, and the new SAT.  One of the most shocking finds in this presentation was the revelation the redesigned for the Common Core State Standards SAT will be used for accountability purposes this year.  For those who may not be aware, prior to this year, the Smarter Balanced Assessment was used as the 11th grade state assessment for high school juniors.  In late December last year, Delaware Governor Jack Markell and Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky made an announcement that the College Board redesigned SAT would replace the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  While the legislation that allowed for the transition from DCAS to the Smarter Balanced Assessment did not specifically name Smarter Balanced in the wording of the bill, House Bill 334 does clearly state:

(b) The Department shall administer both accountability and growth assessments of student achievement for students in grades 3-8, provided that additional grades may be added by the Department. (c) The assessments referred to in subsection (b) of this section shall measure achievement in English language arts and mathematics for students in a minimum of grades 3 through 8 and high school, provided additional grades may be added by the Department

But here’s the kicker, this is a brand new test.  It has been reformulated (like New Coke and those who lived in the 1980s know how that went over) to align with the Common Core.  It took a long time for many states to get the scores from the PSAT this year.  Many are already saying the new SAT is horrible (just like they did with Smarter Balanced which is why I call it Smarter Balanced Junior).  At least with the regular Smarter Balanced the DOE gave a one year pause for accountability purposes.  But they must have a lot of faith in the new SAT.  Who made this decision?  Godowsky?  Markell?

My big question would be how you measure growth for the new SAT.  Furthermore, how do you even measure growth when students skip grades 9 and 10?  Or are they measuring growth between last year’s juniors who took the brand new Smarter Balanced or the old SAT?  I thought the DOE would get smarter (no pun intended) with Godowsky, but it looks like they are fumbling at the fifty yard line yet again.  The only reason they came up with this not-so brilliant plan to begin with was because too many juniors opted out of Smarter Balanced last year.  But they must test, label and punish, even with a new, unproven, and already controversial test.

All the latest testing news is in here, including the draft of next year’s testing windows.

Secretary Godowsky And Governor Markell Recklessly Whitewash The SAT/SBAC Debacle While Violating State & Federal Law

“I, Jack Markell, do proudly swear to carry out the responsibilities of the office of Governor to the best of my ability, freely acknowledging that the powers of this office flow from the people I am privileged to represent. I further swear always to place the public interests above any special or personal interests, and to respect the right of future generations to share the rich historic and natural heritage of Delaware. In doing so I will always uphold and defend the Constitutions of my Country and my State, so help me God.”from the Delaware Oath of Office for all publicly elected officials

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Yesterday, Governor Markell and the Delaware Department of Education made a grandstand announcement about the SAT replacing the Smarter Balanced Assessment for high school juniors.  They forgot many things in their hasty announcement.  There are important and crucial reasons why this is not what it appears to be and actually violates many state and federal laws.

  1. The SAT went through a “redesign” to make it tied to the Common Core standards.  This is not the same SAT high school juniors took last year.  Delaware already has horrible scores on the SAT.  With the scores based on Smarter Balanced already showing less than half of Delaware students were proficient, expect those scores to plunge even lower on the SAT.
  2. House Bill 334, which brought the Smarter Balanced Assessment to Delaware explicitly states that “(j) Rules and regulations pursuant to this subchapter shall be proposed by the Secretary subject to approval by the State Board of Education.”  Since the State Board of Education did not vote on this, nor have they even had this as a discussion item on their agenda, Governor Markell broke Delaware law.  The State Board would not be able to vote on this until their February State Board meeting at the earliest.  By giving the Secretary full authority on this issue, Markell is in violation of his oath of office.
  3. There is no fiscal note for this unlawful change as well.  The funding for giving the SAT to all high school juniors in Delaware was part of the Race To The Top grant.  Those funds are now expired.  With the SAT at $90.00 or more, who is going to pay for this assessment?  Assuming there are roughly 10,000 high school juniors in Delaware, that price tag is now $900,000.00.
  4. As Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams brilliantly pointed out yesterday, “Last year, the Governor announced that Delaware colleges agreed to use the Smarter Balance Assessment as a way to measure college readiness as Delaware students entered college. Students would be able to opt out of remedial courses if they were to score at a certain level on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, what happened to that great idea?”
  5. Over the summer, Governor Markell spoke to an audience at an education “think tank” called New America.  He stated “Smarter Balanced is the best test Delaware ever made.”  Why is he replacing “the best test Delaware ever made” with the SAT?  Is Smarter Balanced no longer the “best test Delaware ever made?”
  6. By far, the biggest mistake Markell and the DOE made in their haste to push this through was their complete ignorance of students with disabilities who have to take the SAT.  As per Title 14, § 151, (f) ”The Department shall establish alternate assessments for children with disabilities who cannot participate in the statewide assessment of student achievement even with appropriate accommodations and modifications. Alternate assessments must be developed and used in the statewide assessment beginning not later than the 2010-2011 school year. Each local school district, through the individual student’s Individualized Education Program Team or 504 Team, shall determine what assessment the student will take, as well as the student’s matriculation or promotion status and necessary remedial activities if the student’s performance on the assessment is below standard, and if the statewide assessment is administered, what accommodations and/or modifications will be utilized. However, no student shall be denied the opportunity to take the state assessments administered pursuant to subsections (b) and (c) of this section.”  Since the decision was made to begin this in the spring of this year, has the Governor and the DOE assured students with disabilities that the accommodations offered on the SAT will be the exact same ones offered by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium?  According to the College Board website, the process for accommodations on the SAT for students with disabilities is completely different.  At a minimum, the Governor and the Delaware Department of Education have now broken IDEA law (more on this below).
  7. With a letter from 10 Democrats, and not an actual resolution or bill passed by the General Assembly, Governor Markell has circumvented the legislative process.  House Bill 334 specifically states the purpose of the legislation was to transition Delaware from DCAS to Smarter Balanced.  Without an executive order, Governor Markell usurped the authority of the General Assembly and their ability to make laws in Delaware.  Since he signed the law, he has broken it.  “This bill provides for the transition of the statewide student assessment system, the Delaware Comprehensive Student Assessment (DCAS), to the Smarter Balanced Assessment System (Smarter). Specifically, the bill removes references to multiple assessments.”

In terms of accommodations for students with disabilities on the SAT, it is a minimum of a seven-week process.  The deadline to submit this application, along with consent from the student’s parent, for the March 5th test is January 15th, for the May 7th test it is March 16th, and for the June 4th test it is April 15th.  This will mean that all IEP teams will need to meet to determine what accommodations students with disabilities will need for the SAT test.  What happens if the College Board won’t accept all the accommodations students received for the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  According to the College Board website, sending an IEP or a doctor’s note is not sufficient by itself.  If Delaware State Code specifically states the IEP team decides on the accommodations but they are now subject to College Board approval, how does this even work?  In looking at the College Board website, they also ask for a great deal of personal student information including doctor evaluations and any medicine students take.  I don’t believe this is written in Delaware State Code.  The Governor and the DOE are seriously putting Delaware at great risk of potential litigation with this action.  In addition to IDEA federal law, there are also serious questions concerning private student data, FERPA, and basic civil rights for students with disabilities.

While Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky brought up working through the accommodations issue, he is not looking at the big picture at all.  In a letter sent to Delaware educators this morning, Godowsky failed to bring up many of the points I have made concerning actual laws his Department and the Governor have broken with this decision.

Message from the Secretary of Education

 
Fellow educators,
 
I hope you enjoyed the recent holiday break and have returned rejuvenated for the rest of the school year. Thank you for your continued commitment to ensure every child is prepared for success in our schools.
 
I am pleased to welcome you back with exciting news for 2016: The SAT will replace the Smarter Balanced Assessment as the state accountability test for high school juniors beginning this spring.
 
We made this decision after hearing from educators, students, families, lawmakers and others concerned about the testing burden on students, especially 11th graders who already were taking both tests.
 
We formally announced this news today, and you can learn more here. This change comes with many challenges we must overcome in a short time period, such as determining the proper accommodations for students with disabilities, and we are working through these issues. We will continue to update this site with more information in the weeks ahead.
 
This year, the SAT is also redesigned. Changes include:
 
  • Two sections (plus an essay): Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, Math
  • A focus on the math that matters most for college and career
  • A move away from obscure vocabulary to the use of relevant words in context
  • The elimination of the guessing penalty
 
Several SAT supports are available to you as well. College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to provide free SAT test practice to all Delaware students. Khan also provides personalized SAT practice based on students’ PSAT results. Through a score reporting portal, you can monitor student progress and guide them in preparing for greater SAT success. More information on the re-designed SAT, personalized practice recommendations, and important SAT dates and news is available here.  
 
Teacher guides and professional development modules are also available to support educators integrating SAT practice into their classrooms. Resources are available online, and College Board can come to districts to assist with training. Find more information here.
 
We continue to look for ways to support Delaware educators, help students, and reduce testing, and we look forward to the results of the work of an on-going assessment inventory task force to inform our state’s policy in the future.
 
In partnership,
 
Steven Godowsky
Secretary of Education
It is more than obvious Governor Markell is desperate and scared of the veto override on House Bill 50.  He is pulling out all the stops, but now he is getting very sloppy, careless and reckless.  Delaware parents have him on his toes and he really doesn’t know how to handle it.  Legislators in Delaware are now confused about what to do based on these decisions by Markell and the DOE.  The amount of discussion surrounding House Bill 50 while completely ignoring the entire purpose of the bill is sucking the oxygen out of the room.  Legislators are forgetting what this entire bill is about: parent rights, nothing else.  It is not about over-testing, or the SAT, or anything else.  It is parent rights.  Parents want it, they asked for it, and the majority of the 148th General Assembly approved it.  Everything else is subterfuge and propaganda coming from the DOE, Markell, and Rodel.
Governor Markell, in granting the authority to the Secretary of Education of Delaware, to make this decision is in violation of his Oath of Office.

16 To Watch In 2016: State Senator Colin Bonini

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For the past six months, I have heard the entire state of Delaware talk about how John Carney is the heir apparent to the Governor’s mansion.  Because he is a Democrat.  Because he should have become the Governor in 2008.  On the Republican side, the leading contender is State Senator Colin Bonini.  For the past 21 years, Bonini has been a Delaware State Senator, winning every election.  He did run for State Treasurer in 2010, but lost to Democrat Chip Flowers.

Bonini will definitely be one to watch in the coming year.  Many Delawareans are not happy with the “one-party rule” that has existed in the First State for many years.  With education a complete mess, a looming budget deficit, and a general feeling of unhappiness with our state government, it may just be a time that is ripe for change.  There have been no Republican governors in Delaware since 1993.  Many feel that John Carney will just be “Jack Markell light”.

Bonini has been preparing for the election drumming up support from many different areas of the state.  As recently as December 1st, Bonini sent a letter to the leadership of the Delaware House of Representatives and Senate to request the creation of a standing Civil Rights committee in the Delaware General Assembly.  I think this is an excellent idea!

boninicivilrights

In terms of voting history on crucial education matters, Bonini voted yes on the very controversial charter school bill, House Bill 165 and yes on the equally controversial Senate Bill 51, concerning teacher educator licensure.  On the flip side though, Bonini voted no on the Smarter Balanced Assessment bill, House Bill 334, and voted yes for House Bill 50, the parent opt-out legislation Governor Markell vetoed last summer.  His primary opponent, John Carney, voted yes for the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Last summer, Carney voted no for an opt-out bill introduced earlier in the year.  I think it would be foolhardy for everyone to assume Carney has this in the bag.  While Carney has been strolling around the corridors of Washington D.C., Bonini has been in the first state tackling a lot of the issues.  His loss to Flowers in 2010 was very narrow, with Flowers carrying 51% of the vote for State Treasurer.

Both candidates need to speak openly and candidly about education in Delaware.  This conversation needs to start now.

 

An Inside Look At The Dark Minds Of The High-Stakes Testing Regimen of DOE and AIR

The below document is disturbing on many levels.  It is the minutes from a joint meeting from the Delaware Department of Education and American Institutes for Research.  Many assumptions are made on both parts, and they just run with it.  Of particular assessment is the second paragraph of page four and the last paragraph on page seven.  I am beginning to understand why the DOE really doesn’t get special education.  The very fact that they would not defend their own students to these data freaks at AIR is astonishing.

If anything, this document shows what our students are to these data freaks at AIR- nothing but even more data for them to dissect and disseminate.  The cold and callous way students are discussed in terms of high-stakes testing chilled me to the bone.  These are children, not data.

As well, Brian Touchette with the DOE gives mention to something called the Duckworth/Grit analysis.  Angela Duckworth is a  psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who has made over a million dollars with her “grit” method, which revolves around “growth mindset”.  Grit and rigor…flip sides of the same coin…

Some things to keep in mind with this presentation.  This is December 2013, six months before the Delaware General Assembly voted on House Bill 334, which made Smarter Balanced the state assessment in Delaware.  The DOE advises AIR they have already committed to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, without any change in the law.  Why is this important?  There has been differing opinions of when Delaware bought the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Governor Markell said one thing and former Secretary of Education Mark Murphy said another.  This proves Delaware was very much committed to SBAC at least half a year before it was written into state law…

Kavips, I Have The Answer To Why We Don’t Have Smarter Balanced Results Yet

“The assessment program shall be designed and operated to provide the General Assembly, the Governor, the Secretary, the State Board of Education, educational administrators, teachers, parents and the public with timely and accurate information on student achievement and educational attainments.” -From Delaware Title 14, § 151 State assessment system; rules and regulations (a).

The Delaware blogger Kavips has been following other states that belong to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium as they release the scores from their own Smarter Balanced tests.  To date, Delaware has not release their own.  Nobody in the public knew why…until now.

Apparently, states could pay extra money to have their scores released early.  Delaware Governor Jack Markell did not do this.  While some could say he is a financial hero, this is hardly the case.  This will end up costing Delaware much more, and this is why.  School districts and charters in other states who have this data can plan for the next year.  Delaware can not.  Because next year will already be here when the scores are released.

For a Governor who spends money on education like it just falls from trees, he sure is picky about test score information.  What was that part about House Bill 334 when it was approved by the 147th General Assembly and signed by Governor Markell last year?  Oh yeah…see above.  Timely scores are not being provided to students, parents, teachers and schools.  And this is a Governor people want to trust?  Who won’t pay to have our schools run the same as others in the country?  Wasn’t that the whole point of implementing the Common Core State Standards, so we could all be on the same level playing field as other states?  Silly me, it’s about the money.  It’s always been about the money.

Opt-Out Haters Of Delaware: Who is Senator David Sokola And How Has He Damaged Public Education For A Quarter Of A Century?

Delaware Senator David Sokola certainly had his moments with parents this legislative session, myself included.  After a tumultuous four and a half months in the General Assembly, House Bill 50 eventually passed.  Yesterday, Governor Jack Markell vetoed the bill to the amazement and anger of, well, Delaware.  But the fallout from that one bill may echo into the second part of the 148th General Assembly as a potential veto override could take place as early as January, or barring some miracle where the General Assembly agrees to come back in special session between now and then.  While State Rep. Earl Jaques was certainly the biggest obstacle in the House of Representatives, Senator Sokola was clearly the largest obstacle of the bill as a whole.

I wondered why a State Senator who is the chair of the Senate Education Committee would oppose legislation that would codify the rights of parents to opt their child out of harmful testing.  I did some research on Sokola, and found his legislator history is filled with controversial education bills.  Over the last twenty-five years, he has served as a State Senator in the First State.

In 1995, Sokola was instrumental in getting the original charter school bill, Senate Bill 200, passed.  When Newark Charter School opened, Sokola was a board member and helped create the school.  According to Kilroy’s Delaware, Senator Sokola sponsored legislation in 2002 that repealed the law surrounding the impact of new charters on other schools in the area.  This led to Kilroy blasting the Senator in 2013 when he wrote a letter of recommendation for the never-opened Pike Creek Charter School, which was within his own district.  Last year though, legislation sponsored by Sokola brought this law back into place with Senate Bill 209.

In another article, Kilroy slammed Sokola for creating the DSTP in Delaware.  The DSTP was the state standardized assessment prior to DCAS, and was widely considered to be just as damaging as the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

“Many forget or might not know Senator Sokola is the godfather of DSTP the former standardized student test that was flawed from day(one)! Remember those 3-tiered diplomas grading student(s) based on one test like sides of beef in the supermarket.”

In fact, Sokola was opposed to DCAS and wanted another kind of standardized assessment in Delaware, but he was not granted his wish, and Delaware received the kinder and friendlier DCAS.  But last year, Sokola was the Senate sponsor for the very controversial House Bill 334, which brought the Smarter Balanced Assessment into Delaware State Code.  It would stand to reason he would oppose a measure whereby the state recognized and honored a parent’s right to opt out of a state assessment he sponsored legislation for.

In 2013, Sokola co-sponsored a bill to update the original Senate Bill 200 charter school law.  This one brought out a lot of fighting in Delaware and helped set up some of the current animosity against the Delaware Charter School Network.  House Bill 165 went through more amendments that were defeated or stricken than any bill in recent memory.  It set up the whole transportation slush fund and the annual charter school performance award.  The bill went through in a little less than a month with local school districts even more afraid of the impact a slew of charter schools would have on their enrollment and funding.  Side deals occurred like crazy, and the blogger Kavips gave a list of the reasons why House Bill 165 was a very bad bill.

Another Sokola sponsored legislation caused the current wave of teacher resentment against the DOE with Senate Bill 51.  This very controversial bill created the harsher evaluations currently used against Delaware educators.  While the educators have received a two-year pass from the Smarter Balanced Assessment impacting their evaluations, there is plenty in this bill that ticked teachers off.  And John Young with Transparent Christina warned citizens of Delaware:

“So, we have a group of legislators who have signed on, including my own Senator. But why? Well, I can only guess because it sounds so good and intuitive and simple and pure. All of which, when you are talking education should make your spine crawl.”

His latest offering to Delaware, signed by Markell yesterday, is Senate Joint Resolution #2.  Like most Sokola offerings, this bill looks really great on the surface, but it is injected with a poison.  SJR #2 is a convening of a group to look at district and state assessments and pick out which ones are good and which ones are bad.  Kids are over-tested, sure.  But this bill all but guarantees the further implementation of Common Core as assessments will be picked that are aligned with the state standards.  This will give districts less autonomy in figuring out what struggles students are having and how they can help them.  SJR #2 is filled with controversy.  Shana Young with the DOE sent out an email in early May fully stating this bill was designed to be a counter to the parent opt-out bill, House Bill 50.  When I submitted a FOIA for this email, the DOE claimed it never existed even though I have seen it with my own two eyes.

During the Senate Education Committee meeting on House Bill 50, Sokola graciously allowed the opponents of House Bill 50 all the time they wanted for public comment, but stopped the supporters short and towards the end would interrupt them.  He then introduced an amendment to House Bill 50 when it came up for a Senate vote all but guaranteeing it would kick the bill back to the House of Representatives for another vote.  It did just that, and another amendment put on the bill by Senator Bryan Towsend almost killed the bill, but common sense prevailed and Townsend’s amendment was shot down after a 2nd vote.

I am sure Sokola is presently making the rounds about an override of House Bill 50.  It would need a 3/5ths vote in both houses to pass, and I have no doubt Sokola and his counterpart but not so smart buddy in the House Earl Jaques are making the calls as I write this.

A pattern begins to form with Senator Sokola’s greatest hits.  Rigorous testing, more charter schools and autonomy for them that they clearly don’t deserve, and what many view as unfair accountability for teachers.  Sokola has gone on record as recently as last month in saying we need to compete with other countries with standardized assessments, but he seems to forget that was the argument two years ago for Common Core.  It is very hard for me to trust any legislation introduced by Senator David Sokola when it comes to education, cause something always seems to come back to bite public schools and educators in the ass, with the exception of his beloved charter schools.   He has used his position and created multiple conflicts of interest but the Delaware Senate looks the other way.  Just like the Delaware Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education seem to want.  In a sense, Sokola could be directly blamed for the current status of segregation in Wilmington with his original charter school legislation and his demands for rigorous standardized testing that has done more damage to schools than anything Governor Markell could ever hope to do.  He will pretend to stand up for black students, but his actions speak otherwise.

Senator Sokola is up for re-election in 2016.  Will he run again, or does he possibly have something else lined up now that he has retired from DuPont?  Rumors circulate, but at this time they are just that.  Will he fade into oblivion or end up running some huge charter management company in Wilmington?  Or will someone finally hold this man accountable for his actions?

Happy Birthday Exceptional Delaware!!!!

My little blog is now one!  This year flew by fast.  I still remember that Friday night, creating this monster.  The name Exceptional Delaware just popped up in my head.  And the main picture on this has raised questions from a few folks.  What is it?  Why do you have it?  It’s from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  I chose it to show how so many different folks can come together for a common goal.  And that’s what we all should be doing.  Parents, teachers, and schools should all be joining forces to eviscerate and destroy the corporate education reform scams going on in our schools.

In the past year, I’ve made many new friends and I feel very blessed for that.  I couldn’t have done most of this if it weren’t for them.  As my readership continues to grow, I often forget I have new readers, so I want to start doing recaps about what’s happened, where we are at now, and where we could be doing and where we should be going.

The enemies of public education think they are winning and they can just get stuff past us.  Sure, we might pitch a fit, but we can’t stop them.  Right? WRONG!  As more of us join forces and fight this money-making debacle that is killing schools and morale, we are finding out more and more everyday.

For all of Governor Markell and Arne Duncan’s false threats, we are still here.  We are still fighting the fight.  Some of us have won battles only to get our gut punched shortly after.  And so it goes.  But we have something the bad guys don’t: transparency, honesty, and a great deal of resolve.

In my eyes, special education will be what gives the final kick in the ass to the corporate raiders.  I’ve always sensed this.  It has certainly given me the motivation to do what I do.  Because nothing pisses a parent off more than watching their kid not get something they are entitled to.  Parents of special needs parents have their bad days, but do something to our kid, and we are on it like white on rice.  We are all wising up to the games being played in that arena, and we will do what we have to do.

A year ago, Legislative Hall had the Smarter Balanced bill as the huge education bill on the homestretch.  Sadly, it passed.  This year there are two kinds of education bills that will have immense implications: the opt-out bill, House Bill 50, and Senate Bill 122, which would give the UNELECTED State Board of Education the power to change district lines.  SB 122, as written now, may give the General Assembly authority over this.  The key word is may.  A lot of games are playing out with both these bills.  One has drawn out for over four months while the other has already passed the Senate in a matter of days.

All will eventually be revealed with all of this, and I will do my best to find the missing pieces of the puzzle.  But I can say this… a picture is forming and the missing pieces are becoming easier to find.  In any event, Happy Birthday Exceptional Delaware.  Here’s to another crazy year!

Markell & News Journal Education Article: My Spin On This & The Two Words Not Mentioned By Anyone

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.

Delaware PTA’s Excellent Statement Of Support For House Bill 50 & Opt-Out

From the Delaware PTA website:

The Truth about Parent Opt Out and HB 50

The parent opt out movement is in full swing in Delaware. HB 50, legislation sponsored by Rep John Kowalko provides a consistent process to allow Delaware parents to opt their child(ren) out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment without fear of punishment or reprisal from district and school administration. The Bill also requires meaningful academic instruction for those students not participating in the test. In its simplest form, HB 50 secures a parent’s right to opt their child(ren) out of the assessment if they believe it is in the best interest of their child. The Bill acknowledges the parent’s right to protect their child from unnecessary and harmful tests. At its core, HB 50 places students first.

The increased momentum of the parent opt out movement in Delaware has resulted in an increase of misinformation regarding the purpose, intent and implications of HB 50. Delaware PTA supports HB 50 and a parent’s right to choose. This was a decision that was voted on and supported by our Board of Managers after months of research and community outreach among various stakeholders throughout the state. Delaware PTA is not encouraging any family to opt out of the state assessment. We do not believe it is our place to make such an important decision on behalf of thousands of Delaware families. We believe that this fundamental right is reserved for the family. Our goal in advocating for HB 50 and the parent opt out is to ensure that every family has the ability to make that decision, free of coercion, intimidation and fear of reprisal from their district and the state of Delaware. Current state code does not contain any language that prohibits the parent/guardians from opting their student out of the state assessment. Many school and district officials have already confirmed that they cannot and will not force a student to participate in the assessment. HB 50 simply codifies this.

Rather than debate the merits of a parent’s rights, those who oppose HB 50 continue to play on the fears of parents, exploit the vulnerable and coerce other stakeholders by misleading them on the intent and value of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Opponents of HB 50 have waged a war against parents, students and teachers. They claim a parent has no right to decide what is best for their child. Implying that these decisions are better left in large part, to large for-profit corporations and other parties that stand to benefit financially from the Smarter Balanced Assessment. State leaders say they want family engagement. They say they want parents to be involved in the education of their children, but only when it suits them.

Delaware PTA is not, and never has been anti-assessment. We support standardized tests, if they are limited, developmentally appropriate and provide useful instructional feedback. The Smarter Balanced Assessment does none of this. Assessments, regardless of which one is used, have to be judged against their intended uses. The SBAC was not designed to meet the needs of students and teachers; it was designed to meet the needs of the state, to allow state level and inter-consortia comparisons of student performance. For years parents and teachers were led to believe that No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top initiatives would help identify at risk students and schools, allowing state officials to direct resources and supports to our most neediest schools in an attempt to reduce the achievement gap. In fact, all that has happened under these initiatives were attempts to label, punish and close our schools. Yet, we are to believe that the new Smarter Balanced Assessments will do more than prior assessments and initiatives, and that the Smarter Balanced Assessments are necessary to reduce the achievement gap.

In 2013, Delaware PTA expressed concerns with the then proposed Smarter Balanced Assessments. We met regularly with decision makers in an attempt to have these concerns corrected prior to piloting and implementing the assessment. In 2014, exactly one year ago this month, Delaware PTA went on record in opposition of HB 334, the legislation that allowed Smarter Balanced to replace DCAS as the state assessment for English Language Arts and Math. We urged legislators not to support this Bill and we outlined very specific concerns with the Smarter Balanced Assessments, the same concerns we had been addressing since 2013. Despite the numerous concerns and flaws with the assessment, leadership pushed forward with Smarter Balanced and HB 334 was passed. Here we are in 2015 and the very concerns we voiced in 2013 and again in 2014, are now being voiced by our legislators and other stakeholders. Nothing has changed. That is why it is imperative that parents, teachers, legislators and community members support HB 50. We realize that the parent opt out is symptomatic of a larger problem. We understand that many educators, parents and community members want to change the Smarter Balanced Assessment to an assessment that actually provides meaningful individual student data in a timely manner. However, we must not ignore the right of a parent to make these critical decisions while we continue to work together to address the testing problems in our state.

We all want to see reductions in the achievement gap. For years, Delaware PTA and other stakeholders have worked tirelessly to advocate for an increase in supports and services for at risk students. We know that the solution to this problem is not more testing. Our public schools are being destroyed by the negative effects from annual high-stakes testing, which include less creative and engaging schooling; the de-professionalization of teachers and teaching; the reduction of teaching of the arts, music, social studies, and science; and the continued intimidation of our parents and teachers.

Parents are not opting out because the test is “too hard”. Parents are opting out because this overly subjective assessment provides no value to the student or teacher. The test results are not available until after the academic year has ended and students are losing valuable instruction time. Parents want meaningful assessments that produce accurate and valid data on how their student is performing. They want feedback that allows them to work with the teachers to support student learning and growth. Parents support HB 50 because they want teachers to teach and students to learn.

Dr. Terri Hodges is President of the Delaware PTA. Yvonne Johnson is the Delaware PTA VP of Advocacy.

Today We Find Out If Delaware Legislators Support Parents or Governor Markell #supportHB50

Delaware_Legislative_Hall_House_chamber_DSC_3452_ad

At 3:30pm today, the Delaware House Education Committee meets to decide whether to send a parent opt-out bill to the next level.  For some of these legislators, it’s a no-brainer that they support a parents right to opt out.  For State Reps. John Kowalko, Kim Williams and Sean Matthews, I salute you.  For the others, I’m really not sure.  I want to believe with my heart and soul that you all support this inalienable right.  But history shows otherwise.

Last May and June, the members of the 147th General Assembly had to decide on another bill, intrinsically tied to the parent opt-out legislation.  House Bill 334 would allow the Smarter Balanced Assessment to replace DCAS as the Delaware state assessment.  Prior to the House Education Committee meeting, the Delaware DOE and State Board of Education had a meeting with the Delaware legislators to give a presentation on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  This meeting was not open to the public, nor are there any minutes on it.  So by the time the bill was on the floor in the House Education Committee, the legislators knew everything they had to know about the test to make a decision.  As a result, there was virtually no discussion during this meeting.

As you can see from these minutes, the legislators released the bill from the committee by a vote of 10-3.  From there, it went to the floor of the House where it passed on a 30-9 vote.  The names listed are those who voted yes for the Smarter Balanced Assessment and now serve on the House Education Committee:

Barbieri: Yes

Dukes: Yes

Heffernan: Yes

Jaques: Yes

Kenton: Yes

Miro: Yes

Osienski: Yes

Ramone: Yes

As well State Rep. Hensley, who was not in the 147th General Assembly, has gone on record in opposition to this legislation.

These are the folks who need to be swayed today, in my opinion.  The wild card is State Rep. Sean Lynn, who is new to the General Assembly.  I have to admit, I gave Lynn a hard time when he was running based on comments he made at a primary debate and his key endorsement by former State Rep. Daryl Scott, but what I have seen so far from Lynn has impressed me.

All eyes in Delaware will be on this meeting today.  I believe the greatest achievement in the world would be State Rep. Deb Heffernan voting YES.  Her husband serves as a board member for the Delaware State Board of Education, and a yes vote from her today would shut me up about any bias she may have as a result of her husband’s position.

I urge all the legislators on this committee to look beyond their preconceived notions of what education ought to be and look at the reality of what it is.  It is an environment that truly has become a dark place for students.

In summary, we find out if the majority of our state legislators on this committee serve the will of the people and their rights, or if they serve the Governor and the Department of Education.  It comes down to a matter of the very foundations this country was built upon, the inalienable rights of the people.

Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques Issues An Apology

From his public figure Facebook page:

Recently I made a comment regarding standardized testing in Delaware that was hurtful to some families of children with special needs. For that I am truly sorry.

As a longtime volunteer with Special Olympics Delaware, and the grandfather of a child on the Autism spectrum, I understand the challenges that parents face every day with children who have intellectual disabilities. I have witnessed the extraordinary accomplishments these children achieve and I would never underestimate their abilities. I completely understand that their parents will take the appropriate actions they see fit regarding their education. That is why I co-sponsored SB 229 last year, which allows parents of students with cognitive disabilities to make their own choices when it comes to standardized testing.

I offer my sincere apology to these families and their children.

While I appreciate the apology, I am very torn on what it means.  This wasn’t just a shot against special needs kids, this was against ALL kids who are opted out, and their parents.  His apology doesn’t even offer the words opt out, just standardized testing.

Furthermore, his reference to Senate Bill 229 troubles me.  This bill allows children with severe cognitive disabilities to be opted out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment to take something called DCAS-Alt.  It is a great bill, don’t get me wrong.  But he also voted yes for House Bill 334, which allowed the Smarter Balanced Assessment into the state code.  As well, he voted yes for Senate Bill 51 which allows for teachers to be evaluated based on standardized test results.  In addition, most special needs children would not even qualify for the alternate assessment.

I still don’t have faith in him as the Chair of the House Education Committee, so my petition will stand, unless he apologizes to ALL students and parents who have gone through the opt out process.  Being American is important to me, and I take it as a slight when I am told I am not being American.  Being American also gives people the ability to make certain choices, so I am exercising that right.  I also think he needs to reach out to more than the Delaware Teachers of the Year to get a gage on this test.  I have to wonder, has Earl Jaques taken the Smarter Balanced Assessment?

As a father of a special needs child, I accept that part of the apology.  But on behalf of ALL the children who are forced to take this test and the lucky ones who have been opted out, none of which are failures, I just can’t.

A Warning For All Delaware Legislators of the 148th General Assembly

In 11 days, students in Delaware will begin the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  This was voted into law through House Bill 334 last June by both the Delaware House of Representatives and Senate, and then signed by Governor Markell.  I believe some of you thought you were doing the right thing.  Others didn’t want to tick off the Governor who has made education his top priority.  Some of you are actually a part of the corporate education reform movement in Delaware.  A few of you felt manipulated and trapped because Secretary of Education Mark Murphy already bought the assessment for Delaware.  And some of you wisely voted no, in both rounds of voting.

We now face another bill in the 148th General Assembly, closely tied to this assessment.  A Parent Opt Out bill would legally allow parents to opt their child out of the state assessment.  Many parents, including myself, feel this law would not change our Constitutional rights at all.  But we are in agreement this would allow parents who are either too afraid to opt their child out or aren’t even aware of the possibility the ability to do so.

One of you publicly stated two nights ago to a room full of teachers this bill will not pass and you will not allow Delaware to give up Federal money.  What this legislator fails to realize is Federal funds did not put him in his current position.  Governor Markell didn’t put him there either.  It was the people of Delaware, within his own district, who believed this man would rightfully serve their will and their needs.

In the coming months, children will take this test.  Most of them will fail.  This is not to say they won’t try their best, but the actual test is designed for this.  It is intentionally supposed to be hard.  This will continue for the next three years.  Some parents in our state don’t even know what this test is.  These are the parents who will be shouting at the top of their lungs in about four to five months when the scores come in.  When their child’s scores come in and they are no longer proficient when they have been for the past few years.  This is when all of you will be faced with a very large challenge.

Some will say “I never voted for this in the first place.”  Others will say “I voted for it, and I’m sorry, but I realized the danger signs and voted for the parent opt out bill.”  Then there are the rest of you.  You are the ones who will be held accountable.  It will be well-known at this point in time who allowed this to happen.  Even the beloved charter school parents whom you have catered to with your legislative votes will no longer be patient with you.

2016 is not that far away.  Some of you will be content, not facing re-election.  For those of you who are hoping to stay in the General Assembly, or have aspirations for higher office, you need to make some choices now.  The vast majority of your votes will comes from parents.  They will remember the annual suffering their children had inflicted upon them.  They will want to make a change.  Nothing will cause parents to rise up more than watching their children suffer.  They will not sit back and do nothing.

You should really watch what is happening in other states.  Parents are outright refusing this test.  Opt out are two words no longer said, it is REFUSE.  They are angry, and going on TV, and putting up billboards.  They are saying “No more!”  While Delaware’s opt out movement may be seen as small and a temporary annoyance, I can assure you it is not.  It is gaining traction every single day, every hour.  It is spreading from Wilmington to the beaches.  This is not civil disobedience.  This is not parents flaunting the law and becoming activists.  We are parents who care about our children and refuse to let them be guinea pigs.

You all need to remember this when you make blanket statements about parent opt out.  You need to choose your words very carefully.  You need to also realize saying nothing is the same as speaking out against it.  This is not a subject you can sit on the fence about.  If you truly believe this test is good for students, this is fair warning: those who put you in power can assuredly take you out.  If you enjoy serving your constituents and helping to make laws for the citizens of the First State, remember this simple fact.

Very Interesting Chat With Delaware State Representative Last Night re: Mark Murphy and Smarter Balanced Assessment @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @dwablog @nannyfat #netde #eduDE

Last night, the Kent County League Of Women Voters held a public debate for the Kent County candidates running for office in the election on November 4th.  The event was held at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover, DE.  Several candidates declined the debate, and some were unable to attend.  Under debate law, if one party in a particular race does not show up, the other party is unable to debate.

For the Delaware House Representative candidates, the parties that debated were District 30 candidates Libertarian Gordon Gene Smith and Republican Jonathan E. Gallo (current Democrat House Rep. William Outten declined the debate) and District 11 candidates Democrat Lynne Newlin and current Republican House Rep. Jeffrey Spiegelman.  For the Senate, the only attending candidates were from the 17th Senate District, current Democrat State Senator Brian Bushweller and Republican candidate Dr. Kim Warfield.

A two-part question asked of the candidates on their position on standardized testing and allowing parents to opt out of standardized testing.  Senator Bushweller said he does not believe parents should have the option to opt their children out of standardized testing because he felt students need to be measured for their proficiency.  He also added his belief there have been too many changes in the tests in Delaware, and when the Smarter Balanced Assessment comes out “in a couple years” this will be the third test.   House Rep. Jeffrey Spiegelman felt there should be a consistent set of standards for the country, but parents should have the right to opt their children out of standardized testing.  Both of these elected officials voted for House Bill 334 which allowed the Smarter Balanced Assessment to replace DCAS as the state standardized test.

After the debate, I had the opportunity to speak with House Rep. Jeffrey Spiegelman, and I asked him why he voted for the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  He said his wife is a teacher, and most teachers hated DCAS because it was administered to students three times a year.  I explained to him that I believe the Smarter Balanced Assessment is worse than DCAS.  He replied that for House Bill 334, it was a choice of the lesser of two evils, and what made it very difficult for the vote was the fact that Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy had already bought the test for the state.  He felt it put the legislators in a no-win situation.  He gave me permission to publish this opinion.

As for Senator Bushweller’s statement about the Smarter Balanced Assessment during the public debate, where he said it was coming out in “a couple years” it showed an ignorance of the current education climate in Delaware based on the fact that the test will first be administered in the Spring of 2015, not two years from now.  It really makes me wonder based on the two current legislator’s comments how much information they were given about the test before the vote.  Neither of them served on the Education Committee for their respective branch.

I posed a question in an article last month in regards to the testing schedule, but I was given some confusing information about the possibility of interim tests and the DOE document I first saw did not indicate it was optional for the school districts.  As well, two Delaware House Reps, who wished to remain anonymous, informed me they were not aware of an interim test at all and didn’t recall even an option being presented to them.  Neither of them served on the Education Committee for the House either.  In comments on that article, someone who seemed to have insider knowledge of the legislative process behind this bill, and was present, wrote this:

This was passed out at the House and Senate joint education committee meeting in May- that was (t)he first place I saw it, thus legislators had this graphic before voting on the bill as well.

But this commenter assumed the legislators had all information available to them prior to voting on the bill.  Was this the case?  Does anyone in Legislative Hall who was NOT on the education committee want to give an official comment about what exact information was given to them before their vote?

 

UPDATED: Delaware Legislators Not Given Testing Schedule For Smarter Balanced Test!

Updated, 9/11/14, 2:06 pm: Based on recent information obtained by Kavips, and a commenter on this very article, the Fall Smarter Balanced Interim is optional and at the discretion of the school districts.  When I saw this information, I was actually looking at accommodations for students with disabilities.  The schedule I saw just happened to be on there.  I reached out to a few legislators on this, and none of them were aware of there even being a possibility of a Fall interim test, so obviously they weren’t given the schedule either.  The calendar can be found here: http://www.doe.k12.de.us/assessment/files/2014-2015_DeSSA-Calender.pdf

I apologize for any concern this may have created, but I would also let the DOE know that if they are going to put links up with this type of information, they need to be consistent across the board.  I’m sure I’m not the only parent who has seen this and had questions about it.  Based on this, I have changed the title to “Delaware Legislators Not Given Testing Schedule For Smarter Balanced Test” instead of “Breaking News: Delaware Legislators Lied To About Smarter Balanced Test”. 

I still think House Bill 334 should be repealed, simply on the basis that the Federal Government bought the tests from Pearson and the SBA Consortium, and then “gave” it to the states.   The US Government is not supposed to interfere with public education, and they have been doing that non-stop for a long time now.  I will never change my mind on that!

 

Delaware Legislators were not given the testing schedule when they voted on the bill, according to a few legislators, therefore they were not aware of a fall interim Smarter Balance test.  And if they didn’t know about it, they would not have known it was optional according to recently found schedules on the DOE website.  given false information about the Common Core dictated Smarter Balanced Assessment which affected their vote.  In a shocking look at the Accessibility Guidelines Inclusion document released by the Delaware Department of Education it clearly indicates there will be two testing windows for the Smarter Balanced Assessment, but the legislators were promised it was a once a year test.  Many legislators indicated they voted for it because parents were tired of tests given to students more than once during a school year.

In this link, http://de.portal.airast.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/DeSSA-Accessibility-Guidelines_Inclusion_5-14.pdf it shows there will be two SBA tests, an interim test in the fall, and the main one in the Spring.  Page 8 of the document, which shows when the tests will be administered, clearly shows a Fall interim test.

Table 1. Delaware’s System of Student Assessments in English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies (2014-15 School year) Name of Assessment Content Area Time of Year Grade levels
Smarter Interim ELA-Reading Fall 3-8 & 11
ELA-Listening Fall 3-8 & 11
ELA-Writing Fall 3-8 & 11
Mathematics Fall 3-8 & 11
To Be Determined ELA Fall 9 & 10
To Be Determined Mathematics Fall 9 & 10
Smarter ELA-Reading Spring 3-8 & 11
ELA-Listening Spring 3-8 & 11
ELA-Writing Spring 3-8 & 11
Mathematics Spring 3-8 & 11

As recently as last week, one Delaware legislator, who wished to remain anonymous, said he voted for HB 334 because he thought the kids would only be tested once.  He said many other legislators listened to their constituents and voted for what they wanted.  House Bill 334 passed the DE House of Representatives fairly easily, but the Senate was another story.  The bill failed when it was first voted on, by a 9-12 vote.  But Governor Markell sent his team in and told the Senate it didn’t matter how they voted because the governor would use executive power to make sure the test was going to happen.  Four Republican Senators flip-flopped on their original vote, and Smarter Balanced officially replaced DCAS as the state standardized test.

If the legislators were given false information which swayed the vote, then the vote should be repealed.  While the 147th Assembly ended on July 1st, they can still meet in emergency session.  Even any reps who may have lost in yesterday’s primaries are still elected officials until January 2015.  Parents need to call their representatives and senators and demand House Bill 334 is repealed based on false information being given to them about their children’s testing schedules.  because the Smarter Balanced Assessment just plain sucks and a legislator couldn’t make heads or tails of it when he took it.

Teacher accountability and effectiveness is also being measured by the test, so that bill should also be as well, which was passed around the same time.

Updated with link to House Bill 334 and what was passed by both the Delaware House of Representatives and Senate: http://legis.delaware.gov/LIS/lis147.nsf/vwLegislation/HB+334/$file/legis.html?open

The part of the bill which indicates the amount of testing tells the tale:

This bill provides for the transition of the statewide student assessment system, the Delaware Comprehensive Student Assessment (DCAS), to the Smarter Balanced Assessment System (Smarter). Specifically, the bill removes references to multiple assessments

Breaking News: Delaware Governor Markell needs a reality check! #netde #eduDE @GovernorMarkell @Diane Ravitch @edtraveler @BadassTeachersA

Yesterday, Delaware Governor Jack Markell did a puff piece about Common Core on NPR. Why are people still buying into this? Markell stated “what is not at all being driven from any kind of top-down basis is what are the curricular materials”. Really Jack? Do you honestly expect us naïve citizens to believe that? Cause I went to a Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens a few months ago where Brian Touchette, the testing guru at the Delaware DOE, stated the curriculum wasn’t changing, but they are introducing “guides” to help teachers better align their curriculum with the Smarter Balanced Assessment tests. Who are we kidding here? You aren’t leaving it up to the districts, because they had no say in the whole reform process to begin with.

When student DCAS scores were released last month, the DOE said they know scores will drop even lower with the new tests. Will suggested “guides” become a mandatory thing? To bring up the test scores? Have you taken the test yet Governor? If so, I would like to know what your score was.

This whole education reform has absolutely been driven from the very top, the US DOE. They dangled money to all the states as they were getting out of a recession, and Delaware gladly took the money without any voice from the people who put you into office. When there was a chance Smarter Balanced could go away after the state Senate voted against it on June 27th, you sent your team in to tell them the vote didn’t matter, because the test would come whether they turned it down or not. Then the House did a revote after that little arm twisting, and House Bill 334 became law. That’s some shoddy politics Jack. You care more about what Rodel thinks than your own citizens. We all know you are in bed with them and Arne Duncan. What are your plans after your last term as Governor ends?

Delaware, don’t let our Governor tell you how education should be. Let the school districts decide, not a government that has so many financial vested interests. When your children are suffering in the 2014-2015 school year because teachers are pressured to “teach to the test” and worrying about their job security with the BS Teacher Evaluation system they just passed in Delaware, remember this. Parents need to opt-out of these jacked-up tests. As Kavips said, who cares if it’s legal. It’s the right thing to do!