State Reps Have Opt-Out Showdown in the News Journal, Matthews Demolishes Jaques!

The News Journal published a side-by-side commentary on the opt out movement and standardized tests.  On the “stop the madness and opt out” side was State Representatives Sean Matthews.  Opposing him was State Representative Earl Jaques on the “standardized tests are necessary and opt out is not an option” side.  I read both with a very open mind, but Matthews slaughtered Jaques’ position with actual facts.

Sean Matthews: Standardized Testing Divides Us, Let’s Unite

There are many ways to talk about the role standardized testing plays in our public schools, but there’s one question that we have to answer before we can debate the issue: Do these tests make our students smarter, more capable and more prepared to lead successful lives?

After decades of testing at all levels, with different standards, methods, benchmarks and outcomes, the answer to that question Overwhelming numbers of scholars, parents, statisticians and legislators are starting to realize, with evidence, that standardized testing and the policies that flow from testing are doing more harm than good.

Over the next three months, students in Delaware’s charter and traditional community schools will be asked to take a standardized test called the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The stated goal of this test is to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in our educational system.

But that’s not the whole story. Most standardized tests are designed by for-profit companies that market their materials to states, which are required by federal law to test public school students in return for federal funding. Under this business relationship, the best interests of the testing firm are not aligned with the best interests of students, teachers and schools. Instead, there is great incentive to make students and their educators look like they’re “failing” so that these same firms can offer their own branded “reforms” and “solutions” to states and districts, for a worthy fee.

It’s a marvel of modern marketing. The testing firms control both the supply and demand for their products. These companies win when more students “fail” the test. Our students, schools, districts and state education agencies have become profit centers for these corporations. 

In turn, those companies put some of their profits to work in Washington, D.C., hiring lobbyists to make sure the federal government doubles down on standardized testing requirements.

How did we get here? In the aftermath of the economic collapse of 2008, the federal Department of Education approached cash-strapped states with a proposition: We’ll offer you federal money to keep your education budgets solvent, but only if you agree to the conditions set forth in our newest federal program, Race to the Top (RTTT).

After Delaware “won” a substantial RTTT grant, local districts immediately raised concerns about the strings attached to the money when it came to achievement standards, evaluation of teachers, and local control over schools. In the years since Delaware implemented its RTTT policies statewide, we have seen these concerns deepen and multiply, with standardized testing at the heart of them all.

Look at the Red Clay and Christina school districts, which both cover larger geographic areas. Their suburban elementary schools “excel” at the tests, while their city schools “struggle.” The teachers in these districts go to the same specialized trainings, use the same high-quality instructional and technology resources, and are overseen by the same district administrators, yet the vastly different outcomes persist.

Unless we choose to believe that the hundreds of teachers who work in city schools care less about their students than their colleagues in the suburbs, we must acknowledge that poverty, not personnel, is creating the divide in these school systems.

Standardized tests widen this divide, labeling poor students and their schools as “failing” without offering a real solution to the underlying problem that causes the division.

It’s easy to label a school “failing” based solely on test scores. It’s easy to create new schools that use enrollment preferences and “counseling out” techniques to weed out at-risk students. But it’s difficult to fix endemic poverty and lagging parental involvement. We need to do the hard work.

Lastly, I ask that you talk to a teacher or principal you know, someone who works in schools each day. Ask them if the manner in which standardized tests are used today is best for students. Many of these teachers will tell you that the path we are on is wrong for kids. We want our teachers to teach and our students to learn, free from the threat of being branded as failures, losing their jobs or losing their schools.

It’s time for a change and that change starts with two things: 1) Parents need to force a conversation by exercising their right to opt their students out of the Smarter Balanced test; and 2) We need to form a team of experienced Delaware teachers and administrators who can help us correct our course and put us on a path towards a workable, Delaware-centric plan for success for all of our students.

Earl Jaques: Opting Out Is Not A Viable Option

I will come right out and say it: I do not agree with the movement for parents to opt their children out from standardized testing. I have several reasons for that, but I want to acknowledge that while I don’t agree, I understand why some parents, teachers and advocates are pushing for this. They are frustrated by a system that does not function as well as it should, with different versions of tests seemingly being rolled out every couple years and students and schools being labeled as failing when that might not reflect the entire picture.

These are all valid concerns, and whether you believe that opt-out is viable or not, we all share the same common goals: We want our children to be successful, and for that to happen, we need to ensure that our schools are functioning well and our teachers have the resources they need to educate their students. I believe that standardized testing plays an important role in this.

Is there too much testing? Absolutely. But while much of the focus on standardized testing is on the federally required tests, a sizable amount is state- or district-administered. That is why I joined with Governor Markell Thursday calling for a comprehensive review of all state/district testing and assessment. I have asked Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, a former teacher, and Rep. Sean Matthews, a current teacher, to be part of that study group. I believe this could result in the biggest change and eliminate much of the pressure our teachers, students and parents are feeling today regarding testing.

I recently had the pleasure to attend a forum of the past Teacher of the Year winners. During that forum, I was able to ask several of them what they thought of the Smarter Balanced test. Each one stated that they like the test and believe we should keep it. That is not to say there aren’t teachers who are frustrated with the assessment, but it is not a universally held opinion.

We must remember that the Smarter Balanced assessment is supposed to be a measuring stick – not a whip to induce pain on our children and teachers. When I graduated from high school I had to compete with children from within our state. But today, our children compete against children across our nation – and even globally – for jobs and schooling opportunities.

We need a means to see how we compare with others. If we use this measuring stick correctly, then we can make the necessary changes to our educational system, ensure that we provide the necessary resources, and above all provide the best opportunities for each and every child to succeed. One way to improve upon the existing system is to create a method to evaluate these results to make them more informative.

That is how we should be addressing the concerns we are facing with standardized testing – by tackling the problems we perceive head-on.

The idea of “opting out” sounds appealing to some parents. Removing their child from testing is a form of protest and a way for them to take ownership of the situation. But consider the side effects. Imagine a class of 25 students where five opt out of the tests. What message does that send to the other 20 children who have to take the test?

How does that teacher convince students that the tests are important if a segment of the class has said they’re not worth taking? It becomes that much more difficult to keep students focused on taking the assessment, which also will be part of that teacher’s evaluation process. Fewer children taking the test means other children will need to do better to reflect positively on the teacher. That’s not fair to our hard-working teachers.

To be clear, I do not support test scores being part of the teacher evaluation system. I have joined my colleagues in requesting an additional year be added before we allow test scores to be part of the teacher evaluation system as part of our state’s ESEA waiver process.

With the 148th General Assembly returning from recess this Tuesday, expect some fireworks when the House Education Committee meets.  House Bill 50, which would give parents the legal right to opt out of the state assessment is in their hands.  While State Rep. Earl Jaques chairs the committee, there are enough legislators supporting the bill to give him a run for his money.  Then we will see who measures up and who doesn’t!

For those who are just reading this, Jaques caught hell for his comments in a WHYY/Newsworks article where he stated:

“To me, opt out is admitting failure,” said Jaques. “[It’s] saying, oh, I can’t measure up. I’m not good enough to be able to take this test. I can’t pass that test. That’s not the American way.”

It has become more obvious Jaques is Governor Markell’s latest education puppet.  His comment about the Smarter Balanced Assessment as just a “little test” the week before shows he doesn’t have a firm grip on how to deliver the Markell corporate education reform branded messages.  Numerous parents and educators emailed and left messages for Jaques after his “failure” comments, and he has not responded to anyone that I have heard of.  Unless this News Journal opinion piece is his response, albeit a much cleaner version.

As his thorough and clear investigation on Smarter Balanced consists of asking the Delaware teachers of the year, half of which are in Governor Markell and the Rodel Foundation’s pocket, Jaques has clearly lost any sense of credibility with the citizens of Delaware.

The iPetition to attempt to get Jaques ousted from the House Education Committee is still running, and can be found here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/we-want-delaware-state-rep-earl-jaques-to-step

The original contributions by the State Representatives can be seen here: http://www.delawareonline.com/opinion/

Aside from Kilroy, has Earl Jaques responded to anyone else about his offensive comments?

I know several people who emailed or called Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques about his extremely offensive comments about parents who opt their kids out of standardized assessments.  Has he responded to any of you?  I know he hasn’t responded to anything I have said.  I guess I am too far below him…

Kilroy posted a very long article today about parent opt out and how it is an agenda for some who are utilizing it to help themselves.  He was not talking about parents, so let’s not rush to hang Kilroy!  But as part of the article, Kilroy wrote that he spoke with Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques about parent opt out:

Rep Jaques, I enjoyed our sidebar chat after the combined board meeting. I know you mean well but now it the time to be a leader not a follower. Markell is playing legislators to save his own political ass. Work with the parents, teachers, schools and other legislators to plan for a future that will seen an implosion of the current wrongheaded Washington / Markell agenda. You represent the people not the governor ! 

While Kilroy and I agree with many of the reasons he is speaking out like this, I do not think Earl Jaques meant well at all with his comments in a public newspaper.  I think he meant to condescend and offend parents who know their children better than anyone in pursuit of God knows what with Governor Markell.  I had a very long response to Kilroy’s article, which you can see here: https://kilroysdelaware.wordpress.com/2015/03/14/delaware-testing-opt-out-the-lies-and-hidden-agenda/#comment-64186

While some may think it is best for the opt out movement for Jaques to keep talking, which I partly agree with, I don’t think he should be the Chair of the House Education Committee which will be in session very soon to discuss House Bill 50 which would legally give parents the right to opt their child out of the state assessment.  So I will continue my iPetition:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/we-want-delaware-state-rep-earl-jaques-to-step

Petition Up For Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques To Step Down From House Education Committee

That was fast!  Not even 24 hours after Rep. Earl Jaques very offensive remarks, a citizen of Delaware has started an iPetition to have Jaques step down as Chair of the House Education Committee in Delaware and publicly apologize for his derogatory remarks.

In case anyone has not seen these public comments, it was this:

“To me, opt out is admitting failure,” said Jaques. “[It’s] saying, oh, I can’t measure up. I’m not good enough to be able to take this test. I can’t pass that test. That’s not the American way.”

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/we-want-delaware-state-rep-earl-jaques-to-step

Please take the time to sign this petition which will be submitted to the Delaware 148th General Assembly once we have reached our goal.  Thank you!

 

 

New Petition: Keep John Kowalko on the Education Committee

Citizens of Delaware, what House Speaker Peter Schwartzkopf did to John Kowalko is a violation of everything Democracy is supposed to be about.  Let’s get Mr. Kowalko back on the House Education Committee where he rightfully belongs!  You can be both an activist and a legislator Mr. Schwartzkopf.  If the heroes of the Revolutionary War weren’t activists, Mr. Schwartkopf wouldn’t even have the ability to be a speaker about anything!  It’s what this country was founded on and Delaware was the first state to sign the Constitution guaranteeing those rights.

Please sign the iPetition here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/keep-delaware-state-representative-john-kowalko-on

Priority Schools: FOIAs, Injunctions, Meetings, Petitions, Legislators **UPDATED**

The priority school crisis in Delaware has reached a fever pitch this week.  Today, the Christina School District “Negotiation” team is making a last ditch effort to try to negotiate with the despotic Delaware Department of Education.  Most believe it is for naught, as the DOE and Governor Markell have already made up their mind and are gearing up to present this to the public.

There are still a few things that could stop or stall this authoritarian initiative.  Unreleased FOIAs could give insight to any irregularities or outright illegal actions on the part of the DOE.  The DOE could accept CSD’s new MOU (about the same time as North Korea becomes a free and open country).  Someone or a group could file an injunction which would buy some time for other alternatives.  A petition will be hand delivered to Mark Murphy’s office today with well over 600 signatures by Delaware Parents & Teachers For Public Education, maybe this will have some weight.  The 148th General Assembly will step in and put a stop to it.

This is what I think will happen: Meeting goes south today, Markell makes an announcement either on his weekly public address tomorrow or Monday, an injunction is filed, much awaited FOIAs get released Monday that will be so heavily redacted nothing will make sense, and this starts getting sold to the public the week after next if the injunction doesn’t prevent that.  And for those who think Red Clay is in the clear, think again.

Here’s the thing though: This violates Federal law.  There are many students with IEPs.  ANY change in placement is an IEP Team decision.  So unless every single student’s IEP Team had the opportunity to be given every single choice and decided on it, any priority school MOU is illegal.  We are dealing with least restrictive environment, FAPE, and educational placement here.  Any change, whether it is extending the school day, or Extended School Year summer classes, or a change from public school district to charter is something the IEP Team decides, not the Delaware DOE or Governor Markell.

So if Markell and the DOE want to go ahead with their plans, go right ahead.  But you will be facing the above.  And I will personally spearhead this special education initiative.  You always forget about the special needs students, don’t you?

UPDATED, 1/9/15: As of 1:00pm, the negotiations are still going on.  I will keep you updated if I hear anything!

Delaware PTA Hits A Home Run For The Priority Schools!

The Delaware PTA has released a message indicating it is in agreement with the iPetition several hundred people have already signed in regards to the six Delaware priority schools.  This is a great endorsement by this organization, and many people will be very impressed with them, including this writer!

Happy New Year PTA families,

We wanted to take a moment and reach out to you regarding the petition that is currently circulating online regarding the 6 identified Priority Schools. The petition rejects certain elements of the Delaware Department of Education’s Priority Schools Plan. Delaware PTA DOES SUPPORT the petition, and we are asking for your support as well. If you have not already done so, you can sign the petition using the following link http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lets-make-priority-schools-a-real-priority-2

Delaware PTA has identified the following three primary areas of concern with the current memorandum of understanding between the Delaware Department of Education, Christina School District and Red Clay Consolidated School District:

  1.       The proposed MOU from the DDOE does not provide the necessary funding to adequately and effectively support the districts in their efforts to address the needs of the identified Priority Schools.
  2.       The proposed MOU does not address the sustainability of any progress the schools make. We believe the MOU should clearly outline how the changes will be sustained beyond the turnaround time frame.
  3.       Although the Delaware Department of Education has extended the timeline for the Christina School Board to submit its Priority Schools plans, we believe the time frame for submission should be such that each district has adequate time to develop robust, comprehensive plans. In addition, the time frame should allow sufficient time for parents and other stakeholders to become informed and offer thoughtful input with the level of depth and breadth necessary under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Regardless of whether or not you reside in the impacted districts or have students attending one of the identified schools, your support is critical, as the outcomes of this Priority Schools process has larger implications for all public schools in Delaware and their ability to make decisions that best meet the needs of their community.  We have had conversations with both school districts and the Delaware Department of Education, and offered possible solutions. We look forward to working with and supporting the districts, schools and parents on developing and implementing an effective plan.

 Thank you for all that you do

Delaware PTA

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Delaware Parents, Please Sign the iPetition To Show The DOE You Do Not Want Their Priority Schools Initiative!!!!

Just go to the link here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lets-make-priority-schools-a-real-priority-2

Do the right thing for the children of Wilmington who are being played by the Governor and the Delaware DOE in a power play designed to:

1) Bust the Teachers Union

2) Turn the Priority Schools into charters

3) Make education reformers richer than they already are

4) Set a precedent for future action in Delaware public schools

5) Use standardized test scores for political and financial purposes, not educational

Please Sign the iPetition for Delaware’s Priority Schools @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @RCEAPrez @Apl_Jax @ecpaige @nannyfat @Roof_O @Avi_WA @TNJ_malbright @CapeGazette @TheStateNews @DoverPost @DelawareOnline @DelawareBats @BadassTeachersA #netde #eduDE #Delaware #edchat

A group of like-minded individuals who are against the priority schools initiative has created an iPetition to give to Governor Markell, Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and the Delaware Department of Education.  Please take a minute or two during the busy holiday season and make a difference!  The timing is crucial on this petition.

We need all bloggers and reporters on deck to re-blog this and re-tweet this whenever possible.  For parents, educators, and concerned citizens, if you do the petition, please be sure to share it on your Facebook to spread the word.  Email it to those who don’t have Facebook.  If you are using Twitter, please use the hashtag #prioritizethat when you post.  Thank you!

This is the wording from the website: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lets-make-priority-schools-a-real-priority-2

Let’s Make Priority Schools A Real PRIORITY

 We ask the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE), Secretary of Education Mark Murphy, and Governor Jack Markell to reconsider their stated plans and time frame for the six “priority schools” located in Wilmington. The time frame provided is insufficient for districts and the schools’ communities to develop thoughtful, serious plans for improvement. Instead, the short time frame sets these schools on a path towards closure, conversion to charter and/or privatization (as threatened)—which would result in city children losing their public schools.

The following items must be considered:

1. A comprehensive review of Christina’s Stubbs and Bancroft elementary schools, conducted by the University of Delaware and commissioned by DDOE, released a report in early December indicating that these schools are making significant progress in a range of categories under their current leadership. In fifteen areas, including School Leadership Decisions, Curriculum and Instruction, and Strategies for Students Who Are at Risk, both schools received the highest possible evaluation.

2. Given such positive evaluation by a highly respected and objective organization, the removal of principals from these schools, merely to comply with federal regulations governing turn-around plans, seems arbitrary, capricious and harmful. Firing respected principals and/or teachers without careful evaluation, in order to replace them with leaders unfamiliar with the students and their communities, is a serious disservice to the professionals and children concerned. Doing this would further destabilize high-needs schools that have already experienced significant turnover. A strong school depends on trust among teachers, administrators, parents and students; this must be rebuilt whenever new staff are brought in.

3. The amount of money allocated to the “priority schools” is not enough to reach the ambitious improvement goals set by DDOE. The insufficient additional funding all but guarantees that these schools will close, convert to charter and/or privatize after failing to achieve dramatic improvement with modest resources within a short timeframe. The likely result is that city children will lose public schools obligated to serve every child in their area—in contrast to charters, which demonstrably choose which students and families to accept and retain.

We request that the following changes be implemented in these schools:

1. Provide needs-based funding—additional dollars to adequately meet the needs of low-income, special education and non-English speaking students

2. Institute smaller class sizes for disadvantaged student populations

3. Offer wrap around social services in the priority schools, to address the many factors that adversely impact educational outcomes for their students.

All of us want what is best for the children attending priority schools. The current DDOE plan is not likely to help them and may, in fact, diminish educational opportunity for many.