16 Who Defined 2016: Dr. Steven Godowsky

Dr. Steven Godowsky had quite a year as the Delaware Secretary of Education!  As he sails off to distant shores (across the canal), away from the Townsend Building in Dover, Delaware, let’s look back on 2016.  And stay tuned for the end of this article where I may or may not reveal a VERY BIG secret about Godowsky.

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Sokola Ebola Vs. Right To Work: Which Is The Bigger Danger To Education?

Sunday evening I put up a post about a political ad for Delaware Senator David Sokola.  You would have thought I sent a cannonball into a church picnic with the reaction this post got.  In a nutshell, the Delaware State Education Association did not endorse the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, David Sokola.  He has been the chair of this committee for decades.  This was a very clear statement that DSEA no longer has faith in Senator David Sokola when it comes to education.  But unbeknownst to many, DSEA is also part of a PAC with various other Delaware unions that paid for an advertisement for Sokola’s 8th District Senate campaign.  I wasn’t happy to see this and many others weren’t as well.  I linked Frederika Jenner, the President of DSEA, to this PAC because her name appears on their website.

Before I knew it, teachers who are very supportive of DSEA jumped to their defense.  One of them, Mike Matthews, who used to be President of the Red Clay Educations Association and is currently campaigning for Jenner’s spot next January, wrote a very long comment about why Right To Work is dangerous in the current Delaware political landscape.

Before I get to Matthews’ comment, I want to briefly explain what Right To Work is.  Basically, it would prevent a worker from paying union dues but they would get the union benefits.  This has been implemented in some states but the Delaware General Assembly has thwarted this from happening here.  Delaware Senate Minority Leader Greg Lavelle has been very supportive of Right To Work in Delaware.  Not every Delaware Republican is 100% behind a complete Right To Work state, much less with DSEA.  Matthews’ comment suggests that Right To Work is a bigger danger than very bad Dave Sokola education policy.

Here’s where I stand on this and, as always, I thank Kevin for providing the forum to discuss!

DSEA did not vote to endorse Sen. Sokola for his re-election campaign. As someone who has consistently received DSEA’s endorsement in years’ past, this is obviously big news. I have had many concerns — and shared them publicly — with Sen. Sokola’s positions on education. I think many others have, as well. And that’s why DSEA chose the route it did during the election season this year.

But — and this really is a big BUT — folks need to realize that we are a union whose main goal is to activate and organize its membership. We have seen union membership in many states decrease dramatically because of nasty Right to Work laws. These laws severely weaken the ability of local unions to do the work they need to do — advocate for members and students.

The threat of Right to Work is very much real here in Delaware. If the Democrats lose just two seats in the Senate, then it’s very likely that Republicans will demand legislation that could repress labor rights in exchange for getting YES votes on the budget. If the Republican Senate REFUSES to pass a budget because they are demanding more restrictions on organized labor, then my guess is the Democrats in the House will cave so they can get a budget passed. That’s the reality of the situation that we’re dealing with.

DSEA’s membership in the Delawareans First PAC is borne out of the need to fight back any effort for Right to Work to land in Delaware. DSEA’s participation in this PAC is very much about ensuring our own survival SO WE CAN continue to advocate for our members, students, and schools.

And there are some very clear differences between the two major-party candidates in the 8th Senate District when it comes to labor rights. Sen. Sokola is vehemently anti-Right to Work. Meredith Chapman has stated her support of the collective bargaining process, but can’t say unequivocally that she would be anti-Right to Work. And, as I’ve said to her, should she get elected and the GOP take the Senate, her ability to negotiate with a newly-emboldened GOP leadership will be severely diminished and she will have to walk lock-step with the caucus on these issues.

So, while many of our members — and myself included — have serious issues with Sen. Sokola’s education positions, we have to realize that we are still a union. And it’s our business to maintain our membership and attempt to stave off any threats to that membership. I am completely able to see both sides here and while Sen. Sokola hasn’t been the best friend on education issues, he’s unwaveringly a friend on the topic of Right to Work. To condemn him from all angles because of his education positions (no matter how large those issues are) would be unfair.

DSEA’s membership in this PAC is voluntary, of course, but in the interest of solidarity, it’s imperative that we union brothers and sisters come together and support candidates who will repel Right to Work — even if it means supporting a candidate we oppose on other issues. Because if Right to Work comes to Delaware — which could happen if the Senate swings GOP — then our ability to be an effective agent for change will be severely dampened. And that could have consequences that hasten all the negative things we know have been coming down the education pike for years that you have thankfully been reporting on with such fervor.

I just think it’s important to realize that I think it’s completely within bounds to have severe disagreements with candidates on certain issues, but to find common ground on others, especially issues that relate to the survival of organizations that I would hope are seen as positive players in the education arena like DSEA.

Thank you, again, for the opportunity to share my thoughts here.

So suppose the Republicans gain control of the Delaware Senate and there is a budget impasse next year (as there seems to be almost every year).  Does that automatically make Delaware a Right To Work state?  We just don’t know.  I can picture a scenario where, if it were that bad, certain concessions could take place.  Last week at the Carney-Bonini debate, the subject of Right To Work zones was brought up.  That would not make the whole state a Right To Work place, but for certain companies.  Auto manufacturing was brought up as an example.  But I personally don’t believe the General Assembly would make DSEA a Right To Work organization.  If they did gain control of the Senate, that would last as long as one General Assembly if they did that.  The General Assembly is always on a cycle of campaigning every two years.  Any legislator who voted for Right To Work would automatically lose any future endorsement from DSEA.  Many do not want to face that prospect in the coming years.  Delaware is a small state and its citizens have more access to their Senators and State Representatives than they do in other states.  A Republican controlled Senate would also have to contend with a Democrat controlled House and, by all indications, Democrat Governor John Carney.  Would the Republicans wait around all summer in an attempt to get Right To Work passed if a budget was held up?  I highly doubt it.  Most legislators are at the point of collapse after an all-night session bridging June 30th to July 1st.

While I will certainly say I do not know how many teacher jobs DSEA has actively protected over the years, I imagine it is quite a bit.  Charter school teachers, which are supported heavily by Delaware Republicans, do not presently have teacher unions.  But I firmly believe Senator Sokola is, at a much greater degree, a bigger threat to Delaware teachers than a potential Right To Work law in Delaware.  He has 25 years of experience showing exactly what he has done to Delaware education and the teaching profession.  And judging by the first draft of Delaware’s state plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act, I don’t see that situation changing any time soon.

I firmly believe Sokola serves interests much bigger than any Democrat platform.  He serves those who profit immensely off students and teachers.  He represents the corporations who want to reform education so they can make more money.  But more dangerous, is the very real threat of how these changes in education will eventually transform society as a whole.  It is my contention that whether Right To Work happened or not, the teaching profession union members across the country fight for every day will be gone one day.  At the rate where are going, everything will be online instruction and teachers will just be glorified moderators if those classrooms are even in brick and mortar schools.  The more we let outside organizations into our schools, the ability for decisions to be decided at a local level diminishes greatly.  That is what Sokola represents.  He takes the side of a particular charter school in his district and he will do whatever is necessary to make sure they look good at the expense of the district around him.  If he didn’t have the power he currently has as the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, that would be one thing.  But that taint in his decision-making policy affects every single public school in the state.

In my eyes, as a parent and a Delaware citizen, David Sokola needs to go.  By any means necessary.  I fully endorse Meredith Chapman for the 8th Senate District.  Even if I was a die-hard Democrat and never voted out of party lines, I would make this one exception.  He is that bad.  Do I trust David Sokola to be anti-Right To Work because he truly believes it would be bad for unions or because he knows if he isn’t he would have a hard time getting re-elected in his district with various unions supporting him?  I would go with the latter.  But there comes a time when you have to weed out the rot.  That time is now.  We have had enough Sokola Ebola in Delaware education.  This is a guy who lied in a debate last week.  How can anyone trust him to do the right thing when he lies when the truth would be far better for him?  That is how desperate he has become.  For the first time in 25 years, he knows he may not enter Legislative Hall as a FOIA-protected legislator.  He is scared.  In a microscopic way, down to the molecular level, I feel bad for him in that respect.  But it stops there.  In politics, you reap what you sow.  And what David Sokola has sown over a quarter of a century is dangerous for every single citizen of Delaware.

As I am writing this, the AFLCIO President, James Maravelias just wrote a comment supporting Matthews’ stance on this issue.  To this I can only reply with the following: by allowing Right To Work in Delaware, the unions believe they will lose all their collective bargaining rights.  As a parent, we didn’t seem to have a choice when Senator Sokola, the corporate education reformer led Delaware DOE, and Governor Markell brought Common Core to Delaware.  When a once a year test became the measurement for all Delaware schools.  When our General Assembly passed laws allowing for more charter schools in the state which drained resources out of many school districts.  When special education took a back-seat to standards.  When teachers spent an exorbitant amount of time on professional development during school days.  When our collective voice said “We don’t want our children to take this test”, the DSEA supported an assessment inventory that ultimately led to no real change.  Even when I begged them not to and that it would weaken the parent voice for opt out legislation.  And it worked.  DSEA sheepishly and almost after the fact supported an override of the Governor’s veto but not without my having a tirade of epic proportions that actually caused me to burn some bridges.  I didn’t see DSEA’s collective bargaining power at play when disaster happened at the hands of David Sokola with their own teacher evaluation bill.  One man was able to turn the wishes of the entire DSEA into his playground and he got what he wanted.

Parents are consistently left out of the equation when it comes to education.  Sure, we get our placards on this committee or that task force, but we don’t have the ability to collectively bargain our way out of things we know are bad for our kids.  The majority of the decisions are made those who represent some type of profession in education or a company that will somehow profit off it.  I’m not saying this to bash unions, but to illustrate a point.  Any union is, on its face, going to have a priority of protecting their membership.  I get that.  Just as a baked bean company would be all about making great baked beans.  But when one guy wants to branch off and make different kind of baked bean products that diminish the entire line, that is a big problem.  Even when the research comes back that fully states: this new product isn’t worth a hill of beans, the one guy makes it happen.  That is Senator Sokola in Delaware.

As a final thought, in June of 2015, a Delaware parent openly questioned and challenged Sokola during a Senate Education Committee meeting on opt out.  When Sokola lost his cool and showed the true David Sokola, he told the parent that if she thought she could do a better job herself to run for office.  While this citizen was not able to run for Sokola’s seat, another citizen rose up to the challenge.  Would she have run if Sokola didn’t make a mockery out of parents over opt out?  We will never know.  But perhaps it planted a seed that could begin to bloom next week.  We may not know what kind of plant will grow next year, but it has to be better than the out of control and choking poison ivy that tarnishes every facet of education Sokola touches.  This is why I can’t personally stomach the thought of Sokola sitting in Legislative Hall in 2017.  And nothing, not even a potential threat of Right To Work, could get me to change my mind on that.  Perhaps Frederika Jenner wasn’t fully supportive of paying for a Sokola political ad as a member of the board of Delawarean’s First PAC.  But attaching her name to it sent ripple effects throughout the state in the past 44 hours.  Delaware education won’t change for the better until David Sokola is gone.

As a parent, my top priority is to make sure my child gets the best education possible.  As a parent, I can clearly see how Sokola policy has affected my child and 133,000 other children in Delaware.  I don’t see how a threat of Right To Work has affected these kids.  Perhaps it could become a future danger, but the Defcon-4 danger to education that is happening right now, in real-time, is David Sokola.  He must go.  I understand Mike Matthews and his perception of a Republican Senate as a danger.  But it is not something that would automatically come to pass.  We have years and years of watching Sokola operate.  I’m not running out telling every Delaware citizen to vote Republican in the Senate.  Nor am I doing that for any election this year.  But I would be remiss as a parent, a father, a husband, a supporter of public education, a supporter of teachers, a supporter of transparency, and a supporter of hope by thinking it is okay to give Sokola any possible edge in this election.  I can’t support the triumvirate of Democrat control in Delaware if it means keeping a guy like David Sokola in power.  I will support DSEA and other unions in a lot of areas, but not on David Sokola.  There is no balance in education as long as he retains his Senate seat.

Senator David Sokola Does NOT Get Endorsed By Delaware State Education Association

The Delaware State Education Association came out with their 2016 Endorsed Candidate list for the upcoming election in November.  There is a rather large glaring omission: the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, none other than 8th District Senator David Sokola.  I can’t say I’m surprised.  He was not a friend to teachers in the 148th General Assembly.  Or parents.  Or students.  Between House Bill 50 and House Bill 399, opt out to teacher evaluations, Sokola did not make a lot of new friends the past two years.   He was widely seen as the legislative water carrier for Governor Jack Markell.  While he is now trying to distance himself from the Delaware Dept. of Education, his actions the past two years speak otherwise.  This is very big folks!  To be the Chair of an education committee at Legislative Hall and NOT get endorsed by the teachers union speaks volumes.

DSEA’s 2016 Endorsed Candidates for State and Federal Elections

DSEA’s 2016 Endorsed Candidates

Governor Markell Signs Teacher Evaluation Bill With No Press Release Or Media Mention

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Yesterday, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed House Bill 399, a teacher evaluation bill that began its journey with great intentions and wound up a victim to horrible amendments put on the bill by Senator David Sokola.  There was no announcement of the bill signing to the press.  It was not on the Governor’s public schedule  There has been no press announcement or even a mention of this bill signing anywhere on the internet.  Until now.

In attendance were Governor Markell, State Rep. Earl Jaques (the primary sponsor of the bill), Senator Bryan Townsend, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky, DSEA President Frederika Jenner, one of the co-chairs of the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee, Jackie Kook (Christina), Jill League (Red Clay teacher, on the DPAS-II Advisory Committee), Markell Education Policy Advisor Meghan Wallace, and Delaware parent Kevin Ohlandt.

Markell invitied the parties into his conference room and engaged in a conversation about the bill.  As he looked around and commented how it was an interesting group in attendance, Markell thanked Jaques for all his hard work on the bill.  Markell and Jaques talked about how they had many conversations about this bill.  He then went around the table and asked for folks thoughts on the bill.  Many were supportive of the bill.  One person, the parent, said he felt it was a great bill until Senator Sokola put his amendment on it.

Secretary Godowsky said two charter schools were picked for the pilot program coming out of the bill, which would allow for a teacher and an administrator to choose which test to use for Part A of Component V (with the administrator having final say), all components would be equally weighted, and student and parent surveys.  Sokola’s amendment added the administrator always having final say, the student and teacher surveys, and the pilot of three schools.  The two charter schools invited by the Delaware DOE were Providence Creek Academy and Odyssey Charter School.  Oddly enough, Providence Creek announced in a board meeting on June 21st, eight days before the Senate Education Committee and nine days before Sokola put his amendment on the bill on June 30th, that they were picked for a DPAS study by the Delaware DOE.  Governor Markell expressed an interest in having districts participate in the pilot program.  Secretary Godowsky said he thought Appoquinimink was on board but they opted out.  Markell stated he may want to see Christina or Red Clay participate.  Jenner said she would put out some feelers.

Markell was very cordial with the audience.  He asked the teachers how their school year was going and how the schools they worked at were.  He reflected on a program at Kirk Middle School from many years ago called “I Am Kirk” which was an anti-bullying program.

The time came for the bill signing, and everyone in attendance stood besides Markell as many pictures were taken by Markell staffers, James Dawson with Delaware Public Media, and even State Rep. Earl Jaques wanted a picture of the event.  When Markell was signing the bill, the parent noticed he wrote each letter with a different pen until he reached the second letter of his last name which he finished signing with the same pen.  Afterwards, he gave each participant one of the pens he signed the bill with, as seen in the above picture.  He shook hands with everyone as the crowd drifted off, with the exception of Senator Townsend who stayed.

Yes, my first bill signing.  I was very happy for the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee when this legislation was first announced.  It was finally an end to the very harmful effect of standardized testing on teacher evaluations.  It opened a door for more medicine on the corporate education reform wounds inflicted on Delaware education.  But one ex-DOE employee (who worked in the Teacher Leader Effectiveness Unit there) was able to influence one advocacy group from Wilmington to intervene.  Then throw in Senator Sokola into the mix, and the amendment hijacked a great bill.  I firmly believe having student and parent surveys as a part of a teacher’s evaluation is very dangerous.  I am not sure why the DOE contacted schools to participate in this pilot program before Sokola even introduced the amendment (much less having the Senate approve the amendment).  That isn’t the first time they have done something like that, way before something else had to be done first.

I do think it is good the pilot program could morph into a permanent thing.  With Component V not always needing the Smarter Balanced Assessment, and giving the actual professionals: the teacher and the administrator the ability to collaborate and talk about a teacher’s choice is a good idea.  As well as the equal weighting of each component.  The DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee worked very hard for many months and they deserve major kudos for that.  The disrespect for teachers that stand up for their rights is alarming.  It is very disturbing that the Governor would not honor this bill the same as other bills he signs by making a pre-announcement of his signing and inviting any teacher who wanted to attend.  But to make it worse, by not even acknowledging he signed this bill shows something I don’t want to say right now but the words are in my head.  The disrespect for teachers that stand up for their rights is alarming.

As I eagerly awaited a picture or some type of announcement of the signing, from the Governor, Delaware Public Media, DSEA, Senator Townsend, or Rep. Jaques, with nary a paragraph or photo in sight, I was stuck with a Bic pen signed by Jack Markell.

Reality Hits Delaware Teachers That SBAC Counts In Their Evaluations Now But Bigger Dangers Are On The Horizon…

Yesterday, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky sent a memo to all Delaware public school teachers.  This message reiterates existing Delaware law about Component V of the DPAS-II teacher evaluation system.  In other words, Smarter Balanced counts in teacher evaluations this year.

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It was supposed to “count” last year, but legislators from the 148th General Assembly persuaded the Delaware Department of Education to submit an ESEA flexibility waiver in 2015 to extend the exemption period another year.  The US Dept. of Education approved that request.  Beginning this year, for almost every single public school in the state, the highly controversial high-stakes test will be a major part of Component V.

House Bill 399 will start a pilot program in select Delaware schools where the teacher and the administrator can choose another type of assessment for Measure A of Component V, but the administrator has final say in the event of a deadlock.  Governor Markell is expected to sign the legislation in the coming weeks.

Back in the spring of 2015, at a Common Core for Common Ground event, Governor Markell unwisely told a room full of educators to be prepared because he was:

Giving you another year before consequences kick in.

That was before the US DOE approved the flex waiver.  In 2015, the Governor very condescendingly told WHYY/Newsworks:

We know that some people don’t agree with higher standards and accountability.

When those “higher standards” and “accountability” are rigged from the get-go, it is hard to take the Common Core loving Jack Markell seriously.  It is very convenient for Markell to be okay with Component V hitting teachers after he leaves office.  Just yet another example of our “education” Governor creating destruction and leaving it for others to clean up the mess.

In the meantime, the dynamic due of Senator Sokola and Atnre Alleyne all but assured House Bill 399 was morphed into something from the corporate education reform playbook when it passed the Delaware General Assembly on July 1st.  Sokola’s amendments added a student and parent survey to the pilot program which enraged teachers across the state.  Newark Charter School has these types of surveys and it is something the DOE has been planning for a lot longer than we think…

In June of 2014, Atnre Alleyne worked at the Delaware DOE in the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit under Chief Christopher Ruszkowski.  He contacted a company called Panorama Education Inc. since they administered surveys to schools in New Haven, Connecticut public schools.  They provided information to Alleyne showing what these parent and student surveys could look like in Delaware:

And here are examples of the surveys this company wrote:

Student Perception Surveys for 3rd-5th Grade Students:

Student Perception Surveys for 6th-12th Grade Students:

For those who may be wondering how I was able to uncover these documents, they came from a FOIA request a Delaware teacher received from the Delaware DOE over a year and a half ago.  While looking back at the emails in this FOIA a few weeks ago, I found this.  It didn’t mean a lot at the time I initially reviewed the FOIA material, but in context of the Sokola amendment added onto House Bill 399, it is huge.  As an exclusive bonus, here are the emails that allowed Ruszkowski, Alleyne, and Laura Schneider (still with the TLEU at the Delaware DOE) to begin looking at student surveys over two years ago:

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The problem with any survey is how it is worded.  Surveys can very easily slant towards a very specific purpose.  There are a multitude of factors that can cause surveys to be tainted.  For students, there are many reasons why they could bash a teacher in a survey.  But Sokola and the DOE seem to want these surveys, along with parent surveys.  For what purpose?  I think we can all figure that one out: to label more teachers as ineffective in their path to destroy teacher unions.

For the Delaware DOE, they have already paid a very large chunk of money to Panorama this year.  What were the services Panorama provided for the DOE?  I can only imagine it was for the implementation of surveys into DPAS-II.  Note the date on the below picture.  This was before House Bill 399 had the Sokola amendment added to it.  Almost two months before…

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I firmly believe the original intention of House Bill 399 was hijacked from the Delaware DOE and Senator Sokola even before it was introduced.  They knew exactly what the outcome of this bill would be.  I would almost prefer Governor Markell does not sign it because of the Sokola amendment and the potential damage this could do to the teaching profession in Delaware.

In terms of Atnre Alleye, he is a nice guy.  But I have serious “heartburn” as Senator Sokola frequently says, about his role as a founder of TeenSHARP and the work they do while he was an employee of the Delaware Department of Education.  I believe there was a clear conflict of interest.  While he did leave the DOE in February of this year, he was very involved with House Bill 399 and what became of it.

Going back as far as 2010, Alleyne’s motivations were very clear for what he wanted in education:

I don’t believe a company he co-founded should in any way benefit from policies he helped contribute to as an employee of the Delaware Dept. of Education.  There is a blurring of the lines so to speak.  In fact, when you look at Alleyne’s Twitter account, it is filled with love for corporate education reform companies.

For Delaware teachers, this year will be the true test for them on the absolute damage one high-stakes test will do to their careers.  But is this a smokescreen for something even worse coming to all of education in America?  I believe it is.  I think the very loud protest coming from teachers in this state will lead to an elimination of the Smarter Balanced Assessment as we know it.  The test will evolve into weekly or bi-weekly tests in a personalized learning/competency-based education environment where the role of the teacher will be reduced to that of a glorified moderator.  Now, more than ever, teachers in Delaware need to not only fight what is here but what is coming.  And prepare now!

Why Hasn’t Governor Markell Signed Some Key Education Legislation?

For Delaware Governor Jack Markell, a great deal of time is spent during his summer months signing legislation passed by the Delaware General Assembly.  But some legislation has not received a signature by the Governor.  Three education bills, in particular, all show what can only be seen as resistance to many of the policies and agendas Governor Markell, Rodel, the Delaware Charter Schools Network, and the Delaware DOE have put forth in Delaware the past eight years.  The Governor has nothing on his public schedule this week.  That doesn’t mean he won’t sign bills this week.  But when he has nothing, that usually means he isn’t in Delaware.

House Bill 399 w/House Amendment 1, Senate Amendments 1 and 2

This is the controversial teacher evaluation bill that stretched into the wee hours of July 1st this year.  Coming out of the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee recommendations, this bill generated a lot of heat after Senator David Sokola butchered the intent of the bill.  It was originally designed so other state-approved assessments could be used as a measure in Component V of the DPAS-II teacher evaluation system.  By forcing the Smarter Balanced Assessment scores to factor into teacher evaluations, the Delaware DOE and Markell got a ton of heat the past few years.  The bill was supposed to change that.  But Senator Sokola decided to intervene with a lot of help from ex-DOE employee Atnre Alleyne and the usual suspects over at the DOE and State Board.  So why hasn’t Jack signed the bill yet?  Rumors circulated at Legislative Hall that Markell did not like this bill.  We all know what happened the last time Jack “didn’t like” a bill.  Engrossed version of bill.

House Bill 408 w/House Amendment 2

The school breakfast bill, which would also give free breakfast to students in Delaware, caused a lot of controversy with a part about charter schools not being included.  An amendment in the House made sure they were.  Gee, when did a charter school meal program last cause a lot of conversation?  Perhaps when they applied for a major modification and it came out their meal program was not what it appeared to be?  Hello Newark Charter School!  Engrossed version of bill.

Senate Bill 93 w/Senate Amendment 1 and House Amendment 1

This bill is awesome.  The Autism community in Delaware spoke loud and clear in support of this bill.  But when an amendment was tacked on in the Senate giving the Delaware DOE a seat at the table through the very controversial Special Education Strategic Plan, led by ex Rodel employee Matthew Korobkin, the Autism community was outraged.  An amendment in the House stripped the entire Senate amendment out.  Over two years after Governor Markell signed this Special Education Strategic Plan into the FY2015 budget, we have yet to see it.  I’m hearing it is due any time now.  I can’t wait to see what Rodel and the charter lobbyists comes up with for this one!  Engrossed version of bill.

I see confusion on Markell’s part.  Does he sign these or not?  If he does, what does that say to some of his key allies?  If he doesn’t, he invites the wrath of many.  He is a lame duck, but he still has political aspirations.  Depending on what they are, could signing some of these bills affect those plans?  What to do, what to do…

The Irony That An Ex DOE Employee Who Is Now A Principal Isn’t Held To Damaging SBAC Part Of Component V

A former Delaware Department of Education employee is now a Principal at a Delaware school district.  As part of  their evaluation, for the  DPAS-II teacher evaluation system, they are measured on five components.  In Component V, it states the following:

If an administrator is not assigned to supervise and/or lead at the grades levels assessed for the Statewide ELA/Math Assessment, he or she shall use Part B1 & B2 to calculate the Student Improvement Component which will be weighted at 50% each, unless administrator and evaluator agree that Part B1 will include 100% of the Student Improvement Component during the Goal-Setting Conference.

A Principal has to be certified to supervise the administration of the Smarter Balanced Statement.  This ex-DOE employee who is now a Principal at a Delaware middle school, and actually worked in areas around accountability, is exempt from having Part A apply to this Princpal’s evaluation because this Principal is NOT certified in this area.  Talk about a complete hypocrisy and the ultimate irony!  So we can consider any DOE employee who enters the school system as a Principal, looking at this through a history lens, as BC, while others who actually do the work and get certified as AD.  Incredible!

And for teachers, the very damaging Component V is still a part of their evaluation.  Even though House Bill 399 passed the General Assembly in the wee hours of July 1st, Governor Markell has yet to sign the bill.  The original recommendation from the DPAS-II Advisory Committee Sub Group was to have teachers and the Principal choose which measures to use and not have Smarter Balanced be an automatic 50% of their evaluation.  But Senator David Sokola turned the bill into a pilot program for three schools and added controversial amendments.  Remember that on Election Day folks!  Markell has given no indication whatsoever if he is even going to sign HB399.  His public schedule is blank this week.  And school starts on Monday for most students.  Way to go Jack!  He is probably out there pimping for Blockchain or some other ludicrous education get rich scheme.

Beneath The Happy Face Of Providence Creek Academy…

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On a Facebook page called The Unofficial PCA, about Providence Creek Academy, the host put up a post on Monday about a large exodus of teachers from the Kent County charter school.  The post disappeared, but a more watered down version of the question showed up Wednesday night on the page.  As well, students in Kindergarten to 2nd grade took a standardized test that actually caused some parents to pull their children out of the school.  Questions are beginning to mount concerning the “interim” Head of School, Chuck Taylor, who has filled this interim position for a year and nine months.

In terms of the teacher exodus, it was confirmed at PCA’s board meeting on Tuesday that twelve teachers left this year.  The average is three to five.  But the school insisted this is “in the norm” according to the new Facebook post on The Unofficial PCA.

Are Teachers Leaving PCA?

Notes from 7/26 board meeting.

I hadn’t planned to attend last night’s board meeting.  But the day before, I ran into another parent at the store asking if I had heard about the rumors.  People had been saying that a large portion of the teachers were leaving PCA out of frustration with Head of School Chuck Taylor and Principal Audrey Erschen.  My friend didn’t have much details so I canceled my plans and went to the meeting.  I was expecting a huge turnout from parents but there was only one other parent attending (other than the parent board member) and she hadn’t heard the rumors.

I relayed as much of the rumors as I could, without revealing names.  This year, there are about 60 on staff and about a dozen teachers left PCA; some to other positions, some for family, and a couple that were dissatisfied.  In an average year, 3-5 teachers leave PCA but this year is not too far out of the norm and certainly not as severe as the year in which 21 teachers left.  All but two of the teaching positions have been filled.  Ms Erschen assured us that they are in no rush to fill the position and are being very selective.  She is confident that the two positions will be filled well before school starts.

As far as any issues teachers may have had with Mr Taylor or Ms Erschen, they never were clearly defined.  Mr Taylor has been the interim Head of School longer than intended as that the last candidate selected was not able to take the position.  Another candidate is being considered and Mr Taylor is planning to go back to retirement in January.  On the couple of occasions that I have heard someone complaining about Mr Taylor, it usually stemmed from a misunderstanding.  I do not envy Ms Erschen for the balancing act she does every day.  She deals with a whole lot of problems and somebody being dissatisfied is inevitable but she always maintains professional composure.  Every morning, no matter the weather, they are out in front of the school to greet students and talk with parents.  I’ve always found them to be very approachable and the kids (including my daughter) think well of them.

Greater transparency and addressing issues before they become rumors would help to put parents at ease.  Board meetings include an “Opportunity to Address the Board” and it is a great opportunity for parents to ask questions and raise concerns.  PCA is considering putting the ‘Head of School’ and ‘Principal’ reports in the webpage ‘news’ in addition to already being in the ‘Board Minutes’.  They are also considering providing staff bios so that parents know more about the staff.

I intend to follow up with any more details that I come across and certainly welcome any input.  Rather than passing along rumors, it’d be helpful to discuss these things in an open format (you can message me if you’d like to remain anonymous).  I requested a list of the teachers that left (elsewise, we could always figure it out through the process of elimination).  Arguing the validity of an individual complaint may not be as useful as keeping an open eye for trends.  PCA isn’t perfect (no school is) and we should all strive to make things better and that depends on parents being involved.

Other items:

-Director of Curriculum Danielle Moore wants to go back to the classroom and work with kids.  She has been replaced by John Epstein who had been working for the Delaware Board of Education.

-‘Special’ classes will no longer be on a six day rotation because the classes were too far apart. So this year, students will have two special classes each trimester with the same amount of time give to each class.

I would not say 12 teachers leaving out of a staff of 60 is “in the norm“.  That is 20% of their staff.  Charter schools do tend to have higher turnover than traditional public schools.  But that is an alarming number, in my opinion.  While it isn’t the exodus of 21 teachers that happened at one time, it should be a matter of concern for other teachers and parents.  My biggest questions would be how seasoned the departing teachers are.  Will their replacements be more experienced or less?  That could have a big impact!

In their latest posted board minutes, for their June 21st board meeting, I found several items that were somewhat odd which have my comments under each one.

Mrs. Erschen reviewed the placement of appropriate employees to be included in the Consolidated Grant FY 2016-2017.

What does “appropriate employees mean?

PCA will be the only charter school involved in a new DPAS study.

Which DPAS study is this?  The only public DPAS study I have seen is the pilot program which will come out of House Bill 399, which changes Component V for teacher evaluations.  Senator David Sokola was really promoting his “pilot program” amendment.  Sokola and Chuck Taylor worked together on the charter school audit bill.  But what makes this very interesting is House Bill 399 didn’t pass until July 1st.  Eleven days after this board meeting on June 21st.  So how could PCA have been picked for this program if this is the DPAS program they are talking about?  And Markell hasn’t even signed the bill yet.  Unless there is some other DPAS program that hasn’t been revealed.

There were some issues with the implementation of the new grading policy for grades K-2. This new policy created some confusion with parents. With help from Mrs. Erschen and Mr. Taylor the concerns were addressed and professional development will be provided to the teachers at the beginning of the school year to ensure that there is consistency among teachers.

What is this new grading policy?  How did it create confusion for parents?  If professional development is needed so teachers can understand a grading system in the next school year, there is something not right about this.  More on this later.

Approval of Employee Bonuses: Lisa Moore made the motion, Chris Craig seconded. All in favor? Motion passed.

PCA consistently gives out “academic excellence” payouts every single month.  But are all teachers getting them?  The average monthly employee bonus is $466.

And from their May 24th Board minutes:

Head of School Search Committee: One candidate was interviewed. Board of Directors are still narrowing candidate pool for more candidate interviews.

Can someone please tell me why the Interim Head of School, who has been in this “interim” status for 21 months, is on the search committee for this new head of school?  How many candidates have interviewed?  It looks to me like Chuck Taylor is using his position on this committee to secure continued employment for himself.  Because this is how I see it.  He left PCA under very vague circumstances in the Spring of 2013.  He wound up at Campus Community School where he became their interim Head of School after Trish Hermance resigned in the Summer of 2013.  In September of 2013, their board voted unanimously to keep him on as the permanent Head of School.  By December, they hired a new Head of School.  Chuck joined their board and six months later, he resigned from their board.  In October of 2014, Chuck came back to PCA during the Audrey Erschen odd relative/employee shenanigans going on at the school.  As the interim Head of School.  A few months later, the Tatnall leader who was supposed to become the new Head of School was poisoned in the Caribbean.  That was over a year and a half ago.  What qualifications does a leader need to become their Head of School?  This looks like a lot of stall tactics by Chuck Taylor.  I don’t buy him wanting to retire.

For a guy who wants to fade into obscurity, he sure does place himself in very important charter school positions.  As well as his “interim” duties at PCA, he also has a slot on the Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC) at the Delaware DOE and is the President of the board for the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  He was present at the Senate Education Committee for legislation surrounding charter school audits.  While this may not seem to be a big deal, it is important to know that PCA used the same auditor for their annual audit as Family Foundations Academy for many years.  Both PCA and FFA had major investigations from the State Auditor of Accounts that led to findings of severe financial abuse and theft.  During FFA’s charter renewal, Taylor served on CSAC.  When questions arose among the committee about FFA having a bizarre number of fraternity brothers on their board, Taylor actually defended the FFA board even though it was painfully obvious there was a major conflict of interest at play.  During this time, FFA’s leader, Sean Moore, was the Treasurer for the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  Moore embezzled over $100,000 from FFA according to the inspection report that came out last December.  The State Board of Education placed FFA on probation when it became public about the financial fraud.  Moore was terminated by the re-structured board which eventually removed the fraternity brothers.

All K-2 end of year assessments were created and given to the teachers who are working on administering them to the students. After all tests are complete teachers will submit them to so that data can be gathered on the assessments and determine if any changes need to be made for next school year.

PCA created assessments for Kindergarten, 1st Grade, and 2nd year students?  Yes, they did.  Who created these assessments?  And if a child failed these tests, the parents were told the student had to go to summer school for a fee of $350.00.  It didn’t seem to matter what their classroom grades were.  Six different parents of first graders received a letter the second week of June indicating their child had failed the reading assessment part of this assessment.  PCA highly recommended sending these kids to summer school.  This is actually a step up for the school, because the original intention was to keep the kids in the same grade if they did poorly on this self-created assessment.  At least two parents pulled their children out as a result.  Was this the intention?  Let’s see: students do bad on an assessment, school tells parents they want the kids to go to summer school for a rather steep fee (told to parents days before this summer school was supposed to start), and parents pull kids out.  I see it as a way to get rid of low-scoring assessment takers without regard to their actual capabilities.

For the Smarter Balanced Assessment results, PCA did rather well on their scores compared to the state average.  They went from 66% proficiency in English/Language Arts to 74%.  In Math, they went from 43% to 55%.  Those are huge gains which will cause the Delaware DOE to award the charter school the token “reward school” status next fall.  I have to wonder how much of these gains and “growth” are engineered by the school in advance.  For the surrounding districts where PCA draws its student base from, the Smyrna School District went from 59% to 66% proficiency in ELA and 45 to 46% in Math.  Capital went from 48% to 50% in ELA and 32% to 36% in Math.  Campus Community School went from 62% to 60% in ELA and 37% to 40% in Math.

A few years ago, one parent pulled her child out of PCA.  Her child, according to the mom, was brilliant.  This student had some minor attention deficits, but was able to get straight As at the school.  PCA insisted on placing the child into a lower-tiered classroom as a 4th grader.  At that time, there were three levels in classrooms: lower, middle, and high.  I would have to assume this was due to Response to Intervention (RtI) strategies for lower grade students when they attended those grades.  But placement in RtI groups usually isn’t based on actual classroom grades.  It is based on how they do on standardized tests.  For this child, being placed in a lower-tier was not a good thing.  The child did not feel challenged.  Many children who are very smart put in this position will tend to act out.  As a result, the school started putting the “bad behavior” label on the student.  Teachers agreed with the mom that the student should not have been at that level.  By the time the school finally put him into the higher level, it was so late in the school year (and after the 2nd wave of DCAS testing) the mother had already decided her child would not attend the school the next year.  The mother stated that the new school had none of these issues and her child has thrived ever since.

Last weekend, I posted an article about Newark Charter School and what I see as “social engineering” to drive up their test scores.  Many of the most fervent charter school supporters are parents of children who do well on these types of tests.  In my opinion, far too many Delaware charters drive their enrollment based on this flawed idea.  When you compare PCA’s demographics to surrounding districts and their closest competition with an area charter school, we see startling changes.

PROVIDENCE CREEK ACADEMY

PCA15-16demographics

SMYRNA SCHOOL DISTRICT

Smyrna1516Demographics

CAPITAL SCHOOL DISTRICT

Capital1516Demographics

CAMPUS COMMUNITY SCHOOL

CampusCommunity1516Demographics

The students who score the lowest on the state assessment are special education students.  This has always been the case.  By driving out students with special needs, the overall scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment will automatically go up.  If you have a low population of these students to begin with, which is the case with PCA, it is a guarantee.  Many Delaware charter schools that begin with Kindergarten have screenings with potential applicants.  These screenings, which are meant to show a school where a student is at, can also serve as a way for schools to look for characteristics which could ultimately lead to perceived lower state assessment scores.  I have no doubt this practice takes place at some Delaware charter schools, and I believe PCA does this.  To further muddy the waters of this social engineering practice, PCA came up with some type of assessment for students in K-2 (who do not take the state assessment) to see how they may do on Smarter Balanced, and came up with a way to tick parents off enough they would pull their child out of the school.  Whether by design or unintentional, this is a discriminatory recipe for disaster.  Any school is only as good as the populations it serves.  We know this.  We know the Smarter Balanced Assessment changes constantly and the cut scores change from year to year.  The test is not designed to have a great majority of students showing proficiency.

In a charter school that bases everything on state assessment scores, it can become a pressure cooker for students, parents, and teachers.  This drive to perform on a once-a-year test is everything that is wrong about Delaware education.  And it is becoming clear that this is the environment at PCA.  I have no doubt they have many very positive attributes.  I am sure they do a lot of good things for their students and have a very welcoming community.  But that is the surface.  Underneath is a testing regimen that overshadows everything else.  If you are a smart kid, you will do great.  If you struggle, in any way, there will be issues.  When you look at the school’s Facebook reviews on their page, you see many 5 star designations.  Many of these reviews are from teachers and even the Principal, Audrey Erschen.  Even board members review this school.  When any rating system is purposely stacked toward a certain goal, the perception is deceptive.

While the school appears to be doing better financially, nothing happened with the terminated employee who embezzled large amounts from the school.  The Delaware Attorney General’s office has yet to file charges against this perpetrator.  But that might change.  Earlier in the Spring, state agents were in the school issuing subpoenas for financial records.  Will they find anything more than what already came out from the State Auditor of Account’s inspection released earlier this year?  Time will tell. Providence Creek Academy is the 7th largest charter school in Delaware out of 27 charter schools.  But for their expenditures divided by the number of students, they come in at 26th place.  We know they don’t pay their teachers huge amounts as well compared to surrounding districts.  So where is all their money going?

These are my biggest concerns with this school, and for perspective parents looking at this Delaware charter school, they should be seen as potential red flags.  For those who want to claim I hate charter schools, I don’t.  I think some of our charters do a great job.  I recognize no school is perfect.  But far too many use tactics like this which lead to a type of discrimination, particularly against students with disabilities.  That is intolerable.  But because our state DOE and Governor base everything on test scores on high-stakes tests driven by corporate education reformers, they look the other way.

To view past articles on Providence Creek Academy on this blog, please go here.  To view their board minutes, please go here.  The picture of the Providence Creek Academy campus came from a website belonging to Nickle Electrical Properties who renovated the school six years ago.

Ask Teachers One Question And…

Alright, I admit it.  Asking Delaware teachers if they would consider taking a cut in their benefits and pensions probably wasn’t the smartest move in the book, but many of you came out in droves to respond.  Granted, no administrators, principals, or superintendents replied.  The article went over like a resounding thud.  But I challenge every single teacher in the state: if not benefits or pension, what do you view as wasted money in our schools?  And please don’t say “nothing”.  We spend a billion dollars on education in Delaware and that’s just from the state.  We also get federal money and local funds from school taxes.  While other states may laugh and say “that’s it?”, we are a small state with less than a million people and about 133,000 kids in public education.  Since this could be a hot topic with certain folks, feel free to post anonymously on this!

Since I just got home from work and grocery shopping and I’m dead to the world now, just a few updates on recent stuff.  They must have a huge cricket crisis going on in the Appoquinimink School District, because that’s all I’ve heard from them since I dropped the special education funding bomb on them last week.  I did have an interesting comment on the “Unsustainable” article that had me wracking my brain all day.  Delaware school districts and charters might be thinking I’ve slowed down on them and my target of the month is Appo.  Wrong!  I have a ton of articles that will be coming out in the next couple of weeks.  One is about an interesting superintendent situation going on in one of our school districts.  That one led to a VERY interesting board meeting last month.  Dr. Mark Holodick is winning the “who will be the next Secretary of Education in Delaware poll”, followed by Susan Bunting.  Every one seems to be playing pin the tail on the auditor in the past week and everyone wants to know when Tom Wagner is actually going to, you know, do some audits.  Kenny Rivera is now the Vice-President of the Red Clay Board of Education and Michael Piccio was voted in as the President.  The State Board is having their monthly snooze fest on Thursday.  Expect to hear some type of hip-hop hooray about the latest Smarter Balanced Assessment results but not the actual final scores cause they aren’t done yet.  Both the Christina and Red Clay Boards of Education passed resolutions to suspend the WEIC timeline which will be echoed by WEIC at a meeting on July 26th.  On Wednesday, WEIC will be honored by the Progressive Democrats of Delaware as their Education Heroes of the Year.  So Elizabeth Lockman gets a two-peat!  Jack Markell hasn’t signed the teacher evaluation bill yet, House Bill 399.  I guess he was too busy not filing to run for Congress (okay, I never said I bat home runs every time)!  Delaware Military Academy wants to build a sports dome, but not with any funding from the state.  They said it will all be from private donations.  Apparently Chief of Instruction Michael Watson at the Delaware DOE has been “chosen” to be on John Carney’s “transition team”.  How very presumptuous of you Mr. Carney.  Today is State Rep. Trey Paradee’s birthday so wish him a Happy Birthday on Facebook.  I did hear back from EFIC about their epic fail, which is the Education Funding Improvement Committee’s final report.  Apparently “their work isn’t done yet” after having a due date of March 31st which was extended until June 30th.  Publius disappeared from Kilroy’s Delaware about a month ago and hasn’t been seen since.  He said something about the sign is in the yard.  It makes me very curious why he would feel he shouldn’t comment “anonymously” on a blog anymore.  Especially in light of a recent vacancy in Dover (totally speculating on this one folks).  Unless…

Student & Parent Surveys Only Seem To Benefit Administrator At One Delaware Charter School

A commenter named 4equity2 wrote a comment yesterday in response to my thinking out loud article.  She wrote about Newark Charter School and the massive amount of abuse that has generated due to parent surveys.  Sounds like this part of Senator David Sokola’s amendment in House Bill 399 is ripe for controversy…

parent surveys at NCS: they are used to serve the agenda of Mr.Meece. A teacher may be informed of the only negative parent comment, and if that teacher has been targeted for anything, it will be the justification for a scant bonus. if parent surveys had as their purpose, improved instruction, all would be shared with the teachers. however, at this school, that is clearly not their purpose.
this is not a healthy practice as it pits colleagues against each other, and makes parents potential anonymous adversaries, rather than transparent partners.
additionally, mr. meece always has a mole or two, and is quick to dispose of them once their dirty work is done. independent thinking is not just undervalued, it is traitorous.
differing opinions are best concealed.
it’s wonderful to teach classes with little to no behavior problems, but not worth selling one’s soul for.

 

DSEA Statement On House Bill 399

The Delaware State Education Association issued a very strong statement on the passage of House Bill 399.  The teacher evaluation bill which was completely gutted by Delaware Senator David Sokola with his amendment will affect teachers throughout the state if certain aspects of the pilot program become a permanent thing.  Obviously, there is a lot more they could have said about what happened, but this is a an official statement from the organization.  I am fairly certain there will be many discussions about what happened with this bill moving forward.  If I were DSEA, I would think very carefully about who they are endorsing in the 8th Senate District…

Update on House Bill 399:

HB 399 finally passed the Senate in the wee small hours of Friday morning. However, it’s passage came with two senate amendments attached to the bill which the House had already passed by a unanimous vote.

DSEA is deeply appreciative to its members, parents, and members of the community who supported our efforts to secure passage of the original bill passed in the House. The letters, emails, and phone calls which were made to legislators were very helpful in maintaining a firewall of support for the bill as it endured an onslaught of attacks from groups who sought to kill it. While the results of the bill were not “perfect”, politics rarely produces “perfect” results. We believe this is an important step forward, one which will help repair the damage done to DPAS in years past.

It must be noted that the final result was not a “compromise bill” in our eyes. We fought throughout day and night (literally) to maintain the original integrity of the bill, opposing Senate Amendment 1, but were unsuccessful. Nevertheless, we think the changes will help improve the quality of educator evaluations in Delaware going forward. Full text of the bill is available at: http://bit.ly/hb399-final.

The main victories which were maintained in the bill:

(1) Each component of DPAS will have equal weight in the overall score. This ends the past practice where Component V, which was built on the student score on the state standardized test, played a disproportionate level of influence on an educator’s evaluation.

(2) Codified the requirement of annual evaluations for all educators holding an initial license and all other educators to be evaluated every two academic years.

(3) Codified the allowance for the educator to select/determine a measure which they feel will demonstrate student improvement, in addition to measure(s) selected by their evaluator.

Senate Amendment 1 (http://bit.ly/hb399-sa1) to HB 399 was authored by Sen. David Sokola. DSEA opposed the amendment. Sen. Sokola’s amendment made the following changes to the bill:

(1) Clarifies that administrators maintain the “final say,” or discretion, to determine whether the State standardized assessment should be used as part of an educator’s evaluation.

(2) Clarifies that the proposed changes to the DPAS II evaluation system, as recommended by the DPAS II Advisory Committee, are intended to be piloted in three local education agencies to evaluate their effectiveness before any changes are permanently incorporated.

(3) Inputs comments received from stakeholders to include parent and student surveys in the pilot as well as include the alternate evaluation systems in the evaluation study.

Senate Amendment 2 (http://bit.ly/hb399-sa2) to HB 399 was authored by Sen. Bryan Townsend. Sen. Townsend’s amendment helped to codify the requirement that the educator be able to select/determine one measure of student improvement (see item #3 in “victories” listed above).

Thinking Out Loud

The first thing I’m wondering is how many people will go past the read more part of this article if they are just going to my homepage to see what I wrote beneath that.  But seriously, the main thing I’ve been thinking about (in regards to education) is a state legislator and a charter school.  And how, when everything comes up, somehow, some way, it always circles back to the two. Continue reading

House Bill 399 Senate Transcript Part 1: Sokola Gets His Pinocchio On

Senator David Sokola did not present the entire truth to the Delaware Senate last night when he gave his introductory remarks to House Bill 399 and introduced an amendment to the bill.  I immediately saw what he was doing and it worked because the amendment which completely changed the original bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate.  I find this legislative process, with no one able to rebut or correct Sokola’s statements a serious flaw in our law-making process.

His remarks concerned the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee, forged out of legislation last year.  The group met last fall and this winter to come up with new recommendations in the DPAS-II evaluation system for Delaware teachers.  The group had many recommendations, but the sticking point with the Delaware Department of Education was an administrator not having the final say for which assessment to use in the Component V of DPAS-II.  They didn’t feel as though teachers and an administrator should have an adult conversation and be able to mutually agree on this.  I wrote extensively about what happened during the last few sub-committee meetings and it completely contradicts the version Sokola gave his peers in the Delaware Senate.  As well, in reaction to comments given by ex-Delaware DOE employee Atnre Alleyne at the Senate Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, one of the chairs of the sub-committee gave her version of other events transpiring out of those meetings.  In return, Atnre had many things to say about House Bill 399 in the past week.  He was absolutely right on one point:

But if anyone is paying attention, this is the week when powerful interest groups take the unsuspecting masses to school. It is the last week of Delaware’s legislative session and while most are ruminating on 4th of July plans, pressure groups are seeing their bills breeze by on their way to becoming law.

What he fails to distinguish is how he himself represents several public interest groups which I have referred to numerous times as corporate education reform.  Stacked to the brim with flawed research and reports, they manipulate the masses into thinking teachers are bad and the unions will make sure they stay in schools no matter how bad they are.  I may have had issues with the Delaware State Education Association over opt out last winter (to which I admittedly overreacted), but I think most can agree that if a teacher is really bad, they most likely aren’t going to be around for too long.  Is there such a thing as a perfect teacher?  Probably not.  We are, after all, only human.  No one is perfect.  But I will stress, once again, that anything using a monstrosity like the Smarter Balanced Assessment as an indicator of a student or a teacher’s performance is the high point of insanity.  But Senator David Sokola doesn’t seem to care about that aspect, as indicated by the below remarks he gave the Delaware Senate last night:

Sokola: Thank you Madam President. I’m going to talk very briefly about House Bill 399 before going to the amendment.  It was, the process of the DPAS II Advisory Committee was to, uhm, set up, uh, in the past from House Joint Resolution #6.  And we had various stakeholders who, uhm, met quite a few times, as well as a sub-committee, uh, to this group to look at the evaluation of, uhm, teachers.  Uhm, that, uhm, process got a little discombobulated towards the end of the process, and uhm, there were a number of versions of a bill drafter over a period of a few weeks.  And I was not satisfied at, at that.  Various groups were continuing to meet, and discuss, to try to come to a consensus on the issues. So, uh, with that in mind I would like to ask that Senate Amendment #1 to House Bill #399 be read and brought to the Senate.

Senator Patti Blevins: Senate Amendment #1 is before the Senate. Senator Sokola…

Sokola: Thank you Madam President. This amendment actually does a few things.  The one that it does is it does give the administrator final say on components, the components of the teacher evaluation process.  Dr. Susan Bunting (Superintendent of Indian River School District and Chair of the DPAS-II Advisory Committee) had, uh, sent a letter to the education committee for the last meeting.  That was very important.  It turned out a number of the proponents in the bill as it was indicated that they thought, uhm, uh, that was the intent of the bill anyhow.  I made a suggestion that we make that very clear in the amendment.  This amendment does clarify that the administrator does maintain the final say or discretion to determine whether the state standardized assessment should be used as part of the educator’s evaluation.  It also clarifies proposed changes to DPAS-II evaluation system as recommended, uhm, intended to be piloted in three education institutions over a work period of two years.  It has an input, information and deletes section 7 of the bill in its entirety.  Are there, uhm, any questions?  I’ll attempt to answer them.  Otherwise I’d like to ask for a roll call on Senate Amendment 1.

Roll call on Senate Amendment #1: 18 yes, 2 no, 1 absent

Sokola makes it sound like the consensus issues were within the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee.  They were not.  It was between the group’s recommendation and outside groups, like PACE, which was meeting with Alleyne and former Teacher Leader and Effectiveness Unit Chief Chris Ruszkowski in the weeks prior to their engagement with the committee.  To say Alleyne had a bias would be an understatement.  He and Ruszkowski were the two main guys at the DOE for the DPAS-II having Component V in it to begin with.

What Sokola never mentioned in his remarks and with little time for every Senator on the floor to read the full and lengthy amendment while discussion was also going on about the amendment, was a brand-new insertion into the legislation.  This insertion was to include student and parent surveys in the pilot program.  This drew the ire of teachers all across the state today if social media is any indication.  This idea came from Atnre Alleyne in his many comments and blog posts about this bill.  But Sokola took all the credit for it on Mike Matthews Facebook page today:

MikeFBa

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MikeFBe

 

To be continued in Part 2 dealing with a 2nd amendment, heartburn, and more!

 

Teacher Evaluation, Charter School Audits, & WEIC Extension Pass The General Assembly

It was a wild and crazy night-morning at Legislative Hall in Dover.  I can honestly say I have never bounced back between the Senate and the House as much as I did in the past six hours.  But some of my “must list” legislation passed.  Some with changes and some intact.

House Bill 399 passed but not without some amendments and an odd conversation about teachers and a comment Jack Markell made years ago in the Senate.  Senator Colin Bonini talked about how Governor Markell gave a speech on the Senate floor many years ago and told everyone only 19% of students in Delaware were college and career ready.  But yet our teachers were rated 99% effective.  He couldn’t grasp these facts.  He said he would support the bill.  But then Senator Dave Lawson spoke against the bill and said the system isn’t working.  The bill passed with 19 yes and 2 no votes.  The no votes were from Senators Lawson and Henry.  The amendments added on can be seen here and here.  Apparently, this was the only way it was going to pass.  In looking at the first amendment, they changed a lot and many teachers won’t be happy about those changes.  But this was the compromise reached.  Will Governor Markell sign the bill?  We shall see.  I did speak briefly with Secretary of Education Godowsky and asked him if he thought they were good amendments and he said yes.

After four previous bills, the Kumbaya compromise charter school audit bill, House Bill 435, passed the Senate in the wee hours of the morning.  It hadn’t been on the agenda for the Senate.  I emailed Senator Sokola, and it appeared on there a few minutes later.  It passed soon after.

And the WEIC redistricting plan.  I thought rigor mortis was setting in on this plan, but it rose from the ashes.  A crucial amendment by State Rep. Kim Williams which deleted some of the unnecessary language in Senate Bill #300 seemed to be what is going to keep that train chugging.  This is what happened: WEIC is still alive, and they will plan for another year.  The $7.5 million initially requested in the final recommendations has been appropriated for FY2018.  But I will get to more of that after a message from Tony Allen, the Chair of WEIC:

Delaware General Assembly Affirms the Commission’s Plan
Governor commits the “necessary and sufficient funds” for next year
Commission suspends timeline

Tonight, an older African American woman stopped me on the Senate Floor and said “if you believe in this, you keep fighting on.” We did!

As the 148th Delaware General Assembly legislative session ended, the House and Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 17, an interim affirmation of the Delaware State Board of Education’s approval of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan and Senate Bill 300, which clarifies the funding implications and supports further analysis by the Commission.

In a related action, Governor Markell committed to put no less than $7.5 million in his FY 2018 plan to support the Commission’s plan, specifically to begin to change the 70-year old student funding formula. In a letter to the Wilmington delegation, Markell said, “I am proud to have worked alongside you in these efforts and pleased to commit that I will recommend an appropriation of the funds necessary and sufficient to fund the first year of implementation of the proposals of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, specifically an amendment to the unit count that would carry additional support for low-income students, English Language Learners and students with special needs statewide.”

Earlier this morning, I noted that because the “necessary and sufficient” funding has not yet been provided that we will immediately call on the Commission to suspend the timetable for implementing its plan.

While I am disappointed with several aspects of this legislative season, SJR17 allows the Commission to fight another day. After 62 years of waiting, fight on we will. The Commission is wholly committed to reducing the fragmentation and dysfunction caused by 23 different school systems currently serving Wilmington children, less than 10% of Delaware’s student population. In addition, the Commission will continue to focus attention on the needs of low-income students, English language learners, and other students with special needs in Wilmington and throughout Delaware. That includes meeting the non-instructional needs of these students, engaging empowered parents in school reform, and changing the antiquated funding system for students and schools that has for many years created sustained inequities dating back to well before Brown v Board of Education (1954). I am grateful to the 22 other commissioners, the previous members of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, and the more than 10,000 community members who have been participating in this process.

I urge your continued resolve.

There are some key words in this, especially Markell saying “to commit that I will recommend an appropriation of funds…  That isn’t a guarantee that the next Governor will do the same or that the 149th General Assembly will either.  We don’t know what the state’s financial picture will be a year from now.  But for now, WEIC lives after most thought it was dead and buried.  I find it odd that Allen talks about how 23 different school systems serve Wilmington students but the WEIC plan would only reduce that to 22.  Granted, Christina has a lot of Wilmington students, but that is still a lot students going to other districts or charters.  I will see what this additional year of planning will produce.  But it looks like I am not done writing about WEIC despite what I wrote earlier today.   I talked to Rep. Charles Potter after the vote and he said this isn’t what he wanted, but it keeps WEIC alive and it is about the students.

Senate Bill 93 passed, one of two Autism bills introduced last year.  Senate Bill 92, however, was another victim of funding issues in the state.  An amendment was added to Senate Bill 93 in the House which got rid of the Senate Amendment that had the DOE getting involved.  The Autism community in Delaware felt that was an unwelcome presence.  Good for them!

It was a long second half of the 148th General Assembly.  House Bill 50 had two shots to override the Governor’s veto in the House of Representatives and it failed both times.  But I want to thank Rep. John Kowalko for trying and standing up for parents.  I respect and admire him for doing that.  Had the House ever been able to actually vote on the override, I believe it would have passed.  The fact that they were never able to get to that point shows the will of the Governor influencing certain members of the House in very inappropriate ways.  My other “dream legislation”, House Bill 30, which would have finally given students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade considered to be “basic special education” students, never received a full House vote despite coming out of the House Appropriations Committee weeks ago.  I know Rep. Kim Williams fought hard for that bill.  I still remember when she first told me about it a year and a half ago and I truly felt it was a no-brainer.  For both of those bills, the 149th General Assembly will tell the tale on opt out and special education funding.

I will write more over the next few days about all the bills that passed and those that are now dead.  In the meantime, Happy Fiscal New Year 2017!

Legislation Heading Into July 1st

I went to the Wilmington Blue Rocks game earlier tonight and now I am at Legislative Hall.  The Delaware Senate defeated the WEIC redistricting legislation, HJR #12 with 6 yes and 15 no votes.  But they passed the new SJR #17 and SB #300 which kicks the can down the road and makes WEIC plan more.  There is a chance WEIC could continue based on a lot of stuff I heard involving amendments and very certain conditions which I didn’t completely understand.  Don’t get your hopes up too much though.

Kim Williams charter school audit bill is on the Senate ready list.  I wish I could tell you what the heck is on the agenda, but right now it says nothing and we all know that isn’t the case!  But the Senate and the House are in Caucus right now, so I haven’t seen Sneaky Pete or Val yet.  Went outside and talked to the one and only Danny Rufo next to the “tiki bar” outside.

House is back in session.  Sneaky Pete waved at someone up in the balcony.  I didn’t know who, so I waved back.  Val came in and was talking w/Sneaky Pete and then looked up at me with a kind of sort of smile.  I smiled back.  I heard Jack summoned Tony Allen and Kenny Rivera to come to the office to talk WEIC.  Hearing it is still on life support but might be coming off it soon.  It is now July 1st.  No word on HB #435 (charter audit bill).  Earl told me the Senate will be putting an amendment on HB #399 (teacher evaluation bill) and he hopes it comes back to the House.  Now they are going to work on Senate Joint Resolution #17, the latest WEIC bill.

There is a motion to suspend rules on SJR #17.  Passed, 22 yes, 17 no, 2 absent.  Rep. Collins talked about the letter from Red Clay and Christina asking them not to move forward.  Rep. J. Johnson said things have worked out and the districts are okay with the compromise reached (this was the meeting in Jack Markell’s office).  I have to wonder who on the Red Clay and Christina school districts are okay with this.  But it passed, with 22 yes and 17 no, 2 absent.  Okay, I’m going to stop writing two absent for every damn bill because they are going to be absent the rest of the night!  Now we are onto SB #300, the second WEIC bill covered in July, 2016.  Kim Williams put an amendment on it.  Amendment to SB #300  State Rep. Miro is asking about the possibility of Red Clay suspending the plan at their next board meeting.  Tony Allen was called up.  Tony said if this doesn’t move forward he will be suspending the plan right after the vote.  Something is up here.  Something isn’t right.  There is bait in the water, but I’m not sure who is biting.

State Rep. Mike Ramone asked what the $200,000 is for in the amendment and SB #300.  Tony said it would be to fund the commission moving forward.  Tony said the prior funding for the WEAC and WEIC books came from companies, donations, and even the Chair of WEIC (Tony Allen himself).  Kowalko asked Tony if this is similar to an architect, needing planning.  Tony said yes.  Senate Bill #300 w/Amendment #1 passes, 21 yes, 18 no.  The plan moves forward.  I don’t know what the hell any of this means.  Someone needs to explain it to me.

Heading over to the Senate now.  HB #399 is on the agenda.  And SB #300 has to come back to the Senate because the House put an amendment on it.  They are doing other bills so I’ll update on other bills during the wait.  Absolutely nothing on HB #30 (basic spec. ed. funding for K-3 students).  The School Breakfast bill is up in the Senate (HB #408 w/House Amendment #2).

And my battery died.  To be continued in a new post!

 

 

Guest Post By Jackie Kook Concerning House Bill 399 & The Senate Education Committee Meeting Today

House Bill 399 was heard in the Senate Education Committee today, June 29, 2016, the penultimate day of the 2015-2016 legislative session. This bill, which passed the House unanimously (with two absent Representatives and one amendment), was one of only two bills heard by the committee, yet the public filled the small meeting room beyond capacity. Among the onlookers were the usual subjects; individuals from the Department of Education, the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, a handful of educators, lobbyists, and the general public affiliated with different groups of their own. It was the general tenor of the public comment that compelled me to pen this post, as although I have studiously refrained from engaging in the raging online debate up to this point, I do feel that misconceptions need to be cleared and the process, as transparent as it has been, should be outlined.

 

Please note that all of the information I am sharing comes directly from the information that can be found through the online state calendar if you care to scroll back through each and every Department of Education meeting from September 15, 2015, through March 8, 2016. The only two meeting dates that do NOT have associated minutes were November 9 and 30 of 2015, although draft minutes are floating around.

 

Let’s take this back to the beginning, shall we? That’s always a good place to start.

 

In April of 2015, I was contacted by the Delaware State Education Association to participate in a workgroup of teachers, specialists, and administrators, co-facilitated by the Delaware Association of School Administrators. The pitch was novel: Let’s get teachers, specialists, and administrators in a room and give them a task discussing the evaluation system and see what happens. As I have undergone the training for new administrators at the Department of Education and was, at one time, a credentialed observer, and because of my continued interest in and work with the evaluation system, I understood why I was invited. As for the other members of the workgroup, I cannot say, but as I got to know them I realized that they were all amazing individuals with really spot on observations and unique perspectives on the evaluation system. Only one of the nine other educators did I know prior to our first meeting.

 

On April 21 we met, broke into groups, and began the task of looking at the current rating system to make a proposal for alignment of formative component ratings with summative component ratings as well as to look at the summative component ratings and how they could roll up to an overall rating for teachers and specialists. The groups were random, although an effort was made to have teachers/specialists mixed in with administrators, so no group had just one category of educator. By the end of our allotted time together, we realized that more work needed to be done, and we were eager to continue, so we met again a week later, on April 28.

 

After the two work sessions, the team had come up with terminology that would be consistent across formative and summative categories, designed a numerical system that would go along with the ratings and reduce the potential for inconsistencies and “discretion” in the system, and made a few recommendations that addressed some issues we discussed, including the concept of an annual summative process (instead of the current biennial process) and a pilot for the numerical system (which is being referred to publicly as an algorithm).

 

The workgroup recommendations and proposals were presented to the DPAS II Advisory Committee, a group of educational stakeholders who meet regularly to discuss the evaluation system and offer suggestions for changes as necessary. Based on feedback from the committee members, the workgroup reconvened and refined the process accordingly on May 12, 2015. What has come forward into HB399 that bears mentioning here is the mathematical algorithm, and specifically how it was established and the criteria for “cut scores”.

 

It was not really a question that an Unsatisfactory rating should be unacceptable, and as such a numerical value of 0 was assigned to that. To further differentiate Unsatisfactory from Basic, which can be acceptable as a starting point in some circumstances (hence the need for discretion), Basic was assigned a value of 2, with Proficient and Distinguished assigned values of 3 and 4, respectively. It was agreed that, if multiple data points were available for specific criteria and/or components over the course of a two-year summative cycle, those data points would be averaged to come up with an overall score for the summative rating. It may be important to note here that, under current regulation, all teachers and specialists must be evaluated by a credentialed observer at least once a year, with recommendations and accommodations made to facilitate more regular observations. For instance, certain categories would warrant additional evaluations (novice status, under improvement, etc.), and shorter observation times could be used for supplemental evaluations as necessary.

 

Let me say that again. Under current regulation, every teacher and specialist must be observed and have a formative feedback document at a minimum of once a year. The summative rating can be done every year in current regulation, though it must be done at minimum every two years.

 

Let’s say I am evaluated, and in Component I, Planning and Preparation, I receive Proficient scores on all 5 criteria. That means I have earned an average score of 3, Proficient, for Component I. In Component II, Classroom Environment, I receive Proficient scores on 2 criteria and Basic on the other 2. I have earned an average score of 2.5, which falls under Basic. In Component III, Instruction, I received an Unsatisfactory in 2 criteria and a Basic in the other 3. That averages to 1.2, which is an overall Unsatisfactory rating. In Component IV, Professional Responsibilities, I score Proficient for all 4 criteria, earning an average score of Proficient for that category. Finally, in Component V, Student Improvement, I earn an Unsatisfactory, giving me an overall 0 score for that area.

 

Component I = 3. Component II = 2.5. Component III = 1.2. Component IV = 3. Component V = 0.

 

Total rating is 1.94, which puts me into the Basic category. Which we could have guessed, because so many of my scores are low. These ratings would also trigger an Improvement Plan, and my teaching career would be in jeopardy unless I followed the plan and earned higher ratings in the next observation and evaluation.

 

I would be a Basic teacher even with two of five Components rated as Proficient.

 

I’ve earned 11 Proficient ratings at the criteria level, 5 Basic ratings, and 3 Unsatisfactory ratings, yet am still rated as Basic and warranting an Improvement Plan.

 

That’s how the algorithm would work. The cut scores are based on the full workup of the entire set of possible ratings combinations, which I calculated using an Excel document with the gentle prodding and patient guidance of my husband, who neither saw nor cared about what I was actually doing, just told me how to get it done. This document was made available to the workgroup, and due to the areas where there was significant potential for the rating to be really inaccurate based on a quick glance at the numbers, a pilot program was suggested. The pilot was generally regarded as a simple thing to do, as the possibility of having one system (Bloomboard, for instance) write in the algorithm so it automatically calculates seemed easy.

 

Let me repeat that this time that these workgroup meetings, though not “public”, resulted in group consensus on recommendations that were presented to, refined as a result of feedback from, and then endorsed by the DPAS II Advisory Committee. Furthermore, all documents created were made available to the Department of Education, DSEA, DASA, and the Advisory Committee as well as the Sub-Committee later on.

 

Who was on the workgroup? Who were these educators who sat in a room together and dared to create a set of recommendations and proposal to change the entire evaluation system so dramatically (end sarcasm font) without the possibility of public input?

 

The members were published in the document made available to all entities listed above, and are as follows: Sherry Antonetti, Clay Beauchamp, Cheryl Bowman, Kent Chase, Charlynne Hopkins, Chris Jones, Jackie Kook, Suzette Marine, Dave Santore, and Nancy Talmo. Four teachers, two specialists, and four administrators.

 

Two of those individuals were also sitting members of the DPAS II Advisory Committee.

 

Six of those individuals became members of the DPAS II Advisory Sub-Committee.

 

When it is alleged, as it has been, that the information from the workgroup was never shared with the DPAS II Advisory Sub-Committee, and that no questions were asked about it, the data shows differently. A presentation on the workgroup recommendations was made on September 28, 2015, at the second meeting of the Sub-Committee. Discussion was held around the recommendations over the September and October meetings, and it is noted several times in the minutes that “discussion was held”, though not every word uttered was captured. Many committee members have their own notes, but the minutes could not possibly be a transcription of the level and detail of conversation that occurred.

 

The pilot was requested at least in part because there was no way to see all the possible kinks in the system, and rather than going full-on statewide with an untested program we felt it was more responsible to try it out and make sure it was accurate. After all, these are folks’ jobs we are talking about, as well as the education of students. We must get it done right, even if that means it cannot be hasty.

 

I do not pretend to speak for this diverse, talented, dedicated group of individuals. The legislation was inspired by the recommendations of the Sub-Committee, and although the words may not reflect verbatim the discussions that were held (after all, even the minutes don’t) and this may still be an imperfect system, the group did work hard and have impassioned discussions about what would be best not only for the educators in the system but also for our students. Keep in mind that The Conjuring was inspired by a true story…

 

One final point of note, since the data is readily available in the published minutes.

 

On September 15, the Department of Education was represented by Shannon Holston, who is documented as arriving at 4:45, and Christopher Ruszkowski, documented as arriving at 5:50. The meeting began at 4:30.

 

On September 28, the Department of Education was represented by Angeline Rivello and Laura Schneider.

 

On October 12, the Department of Education was represented by Angeline Rivello.

 

On November 9, the Department of Education was represented by Eric Niebrzydowski, Shanna Ricketts, and Laura Schneider. *Note that these are draft minutes, as final approved minutes are not available on the State Calendar.

 

On November 30, minutes were not available in draft or final form.

 

On December 14, the Department of Education was represented by Eric Niebrzydowski, who is documented as leaving at 4:30, Laura Schneider, who is documented as leaving the meeting at 3:30, and Christopher Ruszkowski. The meeting began at 2 pm.

 

On January 13, the Department of Education was represented by Atnre Alleyne, who is documented as arriving at 4:49. The meeting began at 4:30.

 

On February 1, the Department of Education was represented by Atnre Alleyne, Laura Schneider, Shanna Ricketts, and Christopher Ruszkowski, who is documented as arriving at 5:01. The meeting began at 4:30.

 

On February 16, the Department of Education was represented by Atnre Alleyne, Shanna Ricketts, Laura Schneider, and Dr. Steven Godowsky, Secretary of Education.

 

On February 29, the Department of Education was represented by Atnre Alleyne, Shanna Ricketts, and Christopher Ruszkowski, who is documented as leaving before Public Comment.

 

On March 8, the Department of Education was represented by Christopher Ruszkowski, who is documented as leaving before Public Comment.

 

For those of you keeping track, that brings Department of Education representation to a total of 8 different individuals, including the Secretary of Education, and no single representative was present for every single meeting. Again, this is based on the minutes from each available meeting (including one set of draft minutes I personally had for a meeting which minutes are not posted online) that had the individuals listed as “Department Staff/Other Members” and does not differentiate between those who sat at the table and those who did not. The final submitted report lists only Christopher Ruszkowski, Atnre Alleyne, Eric Niebrzydowski, and Angeline Rivello as Department of Education representatives (non-voting members) of the Sub-Committee. Any notation of late arrival and/or early departure is from the minutes themselves and included solely to be comprehensive in providing information. Of the 10 meetings for which documentation is in my possession, no single DOE representative attended more than 5.

Secretary Godowsky Walks Out Of Back Door To Governor’s Offices At Leg. Hall As Native Americans Wait To Meet The Governor

The Senate Education Committee just ended their 2:30 meeting about half an hour ago.  House Bill 399 was discussed with many proponents and a few opponents.  The opponents were Secretary Godowsky, Donna Johnson, and Atnre Alleyne (former DOE employee who has become very active in trying to stop meaningful teacher evaluation reform).  Senator David Sokola expressed more than once his feelings of “heartburn” with the bill.  I recorded the whole thing.  Excellent comments were provided by Mike Matthews, Kristen Dwyer with DSEA, Jackie Kook, a teacher from Caesar Rodney (I will have to get his name later), and others.  Hopefully the other members of the Senate Education Committee will see through the obvious smoke and mirrors.  But a few thoughts here.  Godowsky and Johnson were not this vocal during the House Education Committee.  Judging by the fact Godowsky just left from meeting with Governor Markell’s office in conjunction with Godowsky’s adamant opposition of the bill, I think we can all safely assume who is calling the shots here.

As the lead Senate Sponsor, I felt Senator Bryan Townsend could have supported the bill more than he did.  I have found he tends to play to both sides on education issues.  During his second “round” so to speak on the bill, he did defend Delaware teachers and appeared to be more on their side.  As usual, Sokola played it up for the audience.  At one point he made a comment about how there is good news in education and something to the effect of not being able to see that on the blogs.  So I made a point in my public comment, as well as supporting the bill, to point out the DOE can get the “good” news out and I’ll do my thing.  Perhaps he didn’t like that but I truly don’t care.  He can stare daggers into me until the general election if he wants.

I don’t know if it will be released from the committee.  I hope it will.  New York is already getting out of the kind of teacher evaluations Delaware’s DPAS-II is similar to.  In regards to my comment about the Native Americans waiting to meet the Governor, Governor Markell literally just walked past me and we greeted each other.  I am assuming the Governor was out of the building.  I don’t see the Native Americans now, but the Delaware House did pass House Concurrent Resolution #97 recognizing November, 2016 as “Native American Heritage Month” in Delaware.  Yes, it is going to be one of those days!  Or possibly one of those lifetimes!

The Next 55 Hours Will Determine WEIC, HB399, HB30, The Budget, The Bond Bill, & Possibly The Election Season

We are down to the homestretch on the 148th General Assembly.  It is the bottom of the ninth with two outs.  The next batter is up.  This will be Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s last sphere of influence with Delaware legislation as Governor of the First State.  For that, we should all have reason to celebrate.  As of July 1st, all eyes will turn towards elections in Delaware and the USA.  But there is a bit of unfinished business in Legislative Hall.  We will know by about 4am on Friday, July 1st what happened.

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting resolution is ready for a Senate vote.  The Executive Committee will clear it for a full vote.  But then, it gets very interesting.  I reported a few days ago that one Senate Democrat was a no and another was on the fence.  Now we can make that three Senate Dems as a no.  And the Senate Republicans which gives Senate Joint Resolution #12 a vote of 9 yes and 12 no.  But, I’m also hearing from the cracked walls of the basement of Legislative Hall that there might be new legislation kicking the can on this down the road into the 149th General Assembly.  Will Red Clay and Christina say “Enough” and get out of the whole thing?  Or will we have another year of “will they or won’t they” speculation?  In the chance SJR #12 does pass, the question then becomes “what happened to $6 million dollars”?  The Senate passed the budget today and WEIC was not in it.  I did find out the answer to this.  The funds are in reserve but they don’t want to put it in the budget without an affirmative vote on SJR #12.  What happens to the $6 million if SJR #12 doesn’t pass?  It goes to the Bond Bill.  For those who don’t know what the heck a bond bill is, in a nutshell it is a capital improvements bill.  Here is an example from FY2013.  We should see the FY2017 bond bill in the next 24 hours.

The Basic Special Education Funding for K-3 students, House Bill 30, has not received the full House vote yet.  I hope we will see it, and then a rush to the Senate, but I am not optimistic.  I did hear today that the Education Funding Improvement Committee may ask for an extension, but then that they may not.  We will know if a final report is issued to the General Assembly in the next 27 hours.

House Bill 399, the teacher evaluation bill, has become a very odd bill with a great deal of power.  As the story goes, State Rep. Earl Jaques and Senator David Sokola’s tiff is still going on.  Today in the House Education Committee, Jaques pulled Sokola’s teacher certification legislation, Senate Bill 199, from the agenda.  House Bill 399 is on the Senate Education Committee agenda for tomorrow.  Apparently a deal was reached whereby House Bill 399 will get to be heard in the Senate Education Committee and will most likely be released for a full Senate vote.  In exchange, Jaques will “walk” Senate Bill 199 for signatures from the House Education Committee members.  But then House Bill 399 has to go before the full Senate.  Which is a toss-up for how it could go there.  I’m hearing different things from different people.  Honestly, if anyone is still concerned about defying the will of Governor Markell, I would think twice before using that empty-handed justification.  Did you hear that quacking sound?  It is the sound of a lame-duck desperately grasping for power in a vacuum.

There is more at stake here than current bills.  Election season is coming fast and broken alliances and grudge matches could make things real ugly for the Delaware Democrats.  I’m pretty sure if WEIC fails in the Senate, Senator Margaret Rose-Henry and State Reps. Charles Potter, Stephanie Bolden, and Helene Keeley will have a lot to say about that!  They say Wilmington wins elections for state-wide positions in Delaware, but the reality is that Jack Markell would not have become Governor if he didn’t win crucial votes in Kent and Sussex County when he beat John Carney in the primary in 2008.

Speaking of Carney, it looks like he is finally getting around to reaching out to different groups and state agencies in Delaware to firm up support for the Gubernatorial election in November.  He still hasn’t officially filed for the 2016 election yet, but he has until July 12 to do so.  We also have filings from Republican Lacey Lafferty and Libertarian Sean Goward.  Nothing from Republican and current State Senator Colin Bonini.  Goward and Lafferty have been the most visible on Facebook.  In my mind, you have to work for my vote and get your name out there.  I want to know your original ideas, not more of the same-old I hear now.  Many Delawareans are in this mindset.  If I had to vote today, Carney would not get my vote.  The only candidate who has reached out to me and presented many ideas I agree with is Sean Goward.  And not just about education either.  I would reach out to him and hear what he has to say!

The Congressional race in Delaware is going to amp up big time as well.  The News Journal declared Townsend as the “front-runner” a couple of weeks ago, but it is still a long ways off.  Townsend has massive support over at Delaware Liberal with some calling him one of Delaware’s best legislators.  He does certainly get a plethora of bills passed.  But Lisa Blunt-Rochester also has a great deal of support from the African-American community which could change this tale.  In terms of signage, I can’t speak for what is popping up in New Castle or Sussex County, but I can say Hans Reigle signs are all over the place in Kent County.  And not just roadside ones, but also property signs as well.  I have seen Mike Miller and Sean Barney popping up a bit more on the Democrat side.  While Townsend may have amassed the biggest war chest thus far, how much of that will be spent on the primary between five candidates?  I’m sure some will drop out between now and then.  This will be a contest between Townsend and Blunt-Rochester when it comes down to it.  Assuming no one else files on the Republican side, Hans Reigle will have an all-clear until the General Election.  After the primary, we will see massive competition between Reigle and the Democrat candidate.  With a growing feeling of disillusionment with the Democrat party in Delaware, especially in an environment with more in-fighting among themselves, I wouldn’t count Reigle out.  Delaware might be a “blue state”, but this year could change things.  Look at how much traction Trump has gotten in the past year.  I would like to hear more from Scott Gesty as I think he has some very interesting ideas as a Libertarian candidate.

In terms of the State Rep and State Senate races, we may see a mad rush of filings in the next couple weeks.  While some are already saying the Republicans don’t have a chance of changing the power structure in Dover, I wouldn’t be too sure.  At least in one House of the Delaware General Assembly.  People don’t like what is going on.  They see a lot of the egregious glad-handling and deals being made in Dover and they don’t like it one bit.  This is becoming a more vocal community, especially on social media.  I’m going to go ahead and predict many new faces in Dover come January.  I think the citizens of Delaware deserve a more balanced legislature.  Too much on one side has not been a good thing for the middle-class and lower-income families of the state.  I don’t like the assumption that certain people should win office because they are Democrat, or that certain bills will pass because they have Democrat support.  I like to hear both sides of the issues, but all too often some voices are drowned out by the high-fives and fist-bumping going on.  By the same token, there are some Republicans who need to realize they could be on the cutting line as well come November, or even September.  They should stop thinking of this as a frat club.  If you want respect, you have to show respect.  Especially as an elected official.  For those who are about to call me a hypocrite, bloggers don’t count!

Things are going to get very interesting over the next 55 hours and in the next four months.  This is Delaware.  Anything can happen!  The crazy action will take place on Thursday night in the General Assembly.  I’m not sure about the Senate yet, but the House begins their legislative session at 7pm.

Oh yeah, what about House Bill 50?  And the Autism bills, Senate Bills 92 and 93 with their assorted amendments?  To be continued…

Teacher Evaluation Bill Will Be Heard In Senate Education Committee On Wednesday

I was told by many people there would be no Senate Education Committee meeting next week.  That appears to have changed since an agenda is up, and House Bill 399 is on it!  The meeting will be on Wednesday at 2:3opm in the Senate Majority Caucus Room (first floor, behind the Senate Chamber).  If you are an educator in Delaware who has some free time, I would strongly suggest attending and lending your support.  The bell will start ringing at 3:00pm for the full Senate to convene in session.  So if you want to give public comment, I would suggest using your time wisely but also giving full support of the teacher evaluation bill.

Thank you Senator Sokola for making this happen.  Sokola tends to add legislation at the last minute.  It is my sincere hope that his and Kim William’s charter audit bill (House Bill 435) appears on the Senate Education Committee agenda.  Both bills got unanimous votes in the House last week.

WEIC Bills Bypass Senate Education Committee And Go Straight To Senate Executive Committee, Bad News For House Bill 399

Could this have been what that meeting in Governor Markell’s office at Legislative Hall was about after the WEIC redistricting House vote?  It turns out the two WEIC bills, House Joint Resolution #12 and House Bill #424, will not have to go through the Senate Education Committee.  Instead, they are going to the Senate Executive Committee.

The Senate Education Committee is the designated committee these bills should have gone to.  I looked in the Senate Rules from Senate Resolution #3 and there is nothing in there that states a bill can be petitioned out of committee unless it is not heard in committee for 12 consecutive legislative days.  And it has to be agreed upon by the majority of the full Senate.  While there could be a stipulation in Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedures (which is the go-to guide in case something isn’t covered in the rules), I find it very unusual they would skip that step.  The only scenario I can think of is there won’t be another Senate Education Committee from now until June 30th.  Which I just confirmed is the case.  The President Pro Tempore of the Senate is the one that assigns bills to a committee when they come from the House.  So Senator Patti Blevins is the one that assigned this to the Senate Executive Committee.

The members of the Senate Executive Committee are as follows: Senator Blevins (D) (Chair), Senator Henry (D), Senator Lavelle (R), Senator McBride (D), Senator McDowell (D), and Senator Simpson (R).  That is four Democrats and two Republicans folks.  Which means if all those Dems vote yes for release from committee it will go to a full Senate vote.

If the Senate Education Committee is NOT meeting again this year, that could have a huge impact on bills still in the House or recently passed in the House.  Like House Bill 399, the teacher evaluation bill, or House Bill 435, the charter school audit bill which faces a full House vote today.  House Bill 399 was assigned to the Senate Education Committee so there would have to be a suspension of rules to get it to a full Senate vote.  Which can only happen if the Chair of the Senate Education Committee requests it.  That would be Senator David Sokola…

It must be the last week of June in Delaware folks!  Shenanigans rule the day!