Delaware State Rep. John Kowalko appeared on “The Delaware Way” with host Larry Mendte last week to discuss parent opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment and the veto override of House Bill 50 and the bill’s chances. Citing the bill sits on the House Ready List, Kowalko blamed State Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, the Delaware Speaker of the House, for letting the bill just sit there. Even Mendte said polling in the state suggests the people overwhelmingly want this bill. Kowalko felt it wasn’t right for the Governor to usurp the will of the people and the General Assembly with his veto.
Larry Mendte’s weekly program, The Delaware Way, aired its most recent segment yesterday. One of the interview subjects was none other than State Rep. John Kowalko. Mendte and Kowalko primarily talked about The Public Integrity Commission’s recent grade for Delaware in transparency. You know, that glaring “F”. Kowalko said he was surprised Delaware wasn’t 5oth out of 50, as opposed to 48th. I recommend watching this, and not just cause of the name drop near the end! I guess Larry didn’t want to hear about that! But thanks anyways John!
Aside from Governor Markell, the most talked about name in education in 2015 was Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy. When he took over the position from Lillian Lowery in 2012, there was skepticism. For three years, we watched Murphy and his minions at the Delaware Department of Education disengage with their stakeholders: teachers, administrators, parents, and students.
After the priority school controversy came to a head in the Christina School District, the opt-out movement in Delaware began to rise. It was around this time that both the Red Clay and Christina Education Associations had a press conference announcing a vote of no-confidence in Mark Murphy. Not long after, both the Delaware State Education Association and the Delaware Association of School Administrators announced the same verdict.
When House Bill 50, the opt-out legislation, became a huge topic of conversation, Murphy publicly stated on the Larry Mendte hosted The Delaware Way that parents were not allowed to opt their children out of standardized testing. I remember after the debate at the Senate Education Committee, a participant who had never seen Murphy before and was not involved in Delaware education, asked me if Murphy was alright, if there was something wrong with him.
In the early part of the summer, it was revealed the Red Clay Consolidated School District was not getting their promised funding for their three priority schools. As rumors go, this was the final nail in his secretarial coffin. By the middle of the summer, Murphy announced he was “retiring”. No reason was given, just that Murphy was going to pursue other opportunities. Meanwhile, his LinkedIn account still shows him as the Delaware Secretary of Education. The Race To The Top was over, and so was Mark Murphy.
About a month ago, Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy appeared on The Delaware Way with Larry Mendte. On this controversial episode, Murphy told Mendte flat-out parents are not allowed to opt their children out of tests. Yvonne Johnson with the Delaware PTA appeared last weekend on the show to tackle Murphy’s comments. Watch the full segment!
There were many seminal moments on the road to this important victory for parents in Delaware. I’ll start at the beginning:
1) Delaware bloggers Kavips and Transparent Christina begin talking about opt-out in the Spring of 2014. It’s who got me to start thinking about it for Delaware.
2) Matt Lindell and the Capital School Board: a year ago, the Capital school board started the discussion on this, but it was tabled. Then it came roaring back last fall for a unanimous vote by the Capital Board.
3) The Delaware DOE letters: In early December of 2014, the Delaware DOE began sending school districts a “suggested” letter to give to parents about opt-out should they ask or opt-out. The confusing Delaware state code regarding this was exposed immediately by yours truly. It took a while for this to be clarified by the DOE, but once the genie was out of the bottle, it made the DOE look ineffective
4) Delaware State Rep. Kowalko and Senator Lawson introduce House Bill 50 in early February. WDEL radio show host Rick Jensen starts having opt-out advocates on his show.
5) The Delaware PTA holds the first Delaware Parent Opt-Out Town Hall in mid-February. Wide discussion about bullying tactics by school districts really ticks parents off. What was meant to be a scare tactic fast turns into a rallying point for Delaware parents. President Terri Hodges announces publicly she is opting her own child out.
6) Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques tells a group of Christina Educator Association teachers House Bill 50 will never pass as Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick attempts to dictate terms about opt-out to parents in that district which does not work out as planned.
7) Delaware PTA holds Kent County Parent Opt-Out Town Hall in early March. DOE is forced to admit parent opt-out can’t be stopped and the state law only applies to teachers and school staff, not parents.
8) Christina board of Education passes parent opt-out resolution in large measure due to the hard work in preparing the resolution by board member Elizabeth Paige and a fiery speech supporting parent opt-out by board member John Young.
9) Governor Markell announces initiative to reduce assessments for Delaware students while conveniently ignoring the elephant in the room, the Smarter Balanced Assessment. This leads to Jaques referring to Smarter Balanced as a “little test”.
10) Governor Jack Markell is forced to talk about opt-out at Howard High School, which leads to remarks by Jaques which fans the opt-out flames even more, especially for special needs parents. Jaques quickly apologizes.
11) The Delaware News Journal publishes a front-page cover story on opt-out from both sides of the fence. A cover photo of parent Jackie Kook with her daughter brings it home for many parents. Parent who never heard the words opt-out start looking into it.
12) In front of an audience of over 1,000 people at the Imagine Delaware forum, teacher and President of the Red Clay Educator Association Mike Matthews announces he supports the opt-out movement.
13) As the Smarter Balanced Assessment begins, parents start opting out by the hundreds in Delaware. Many schools give parents a rough time, which causes parents to talk to each other and spread the news about opt-out.
14) Delaware State Rep. Sean Matthews and Jaques go head to head in a News Journal dual opinion piece on opt-out. Matthews clearly wins the contest and shows why opt-out is important in regards to Delaware education.
15) Both Red Clay and Christina Educators Association hold joint press conference announcing no confidence vote in Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy.
16) Delaware PTA passes resolution officially supporting opt-out and House Bill 50.
17) DSEA (Delaware Educators Association) passes resolution supporting opt-out and House Bill 50, as well as a vote of no confidence in Mark Murphy.
18) Parent Press Conference/Rally at Legislative Hall in early April, though small, draws most Delaware media to it and more media coverage of opt-out.
19) Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams publicly announces she is opting out her own son, a high school junior who, like many Delaware juniors, are forced to take weeks and weeks of testing.
20) Mark Murphy appears on The Delaware Way with Larry Mendte and states “parents aren’t allowed to opt-out students”.
21) Red Clay Consolidated School Board passes parent opt-out resolution with excellent writing by board member Adrianna Bohm.
22) The day before the House Education Committee vote, Governor Markell announces initiative to have Smarter Balanced Scores tie into elimination of remedial classes for four Delaware universities and colleges. The announcement is critically slammed by legislators, parents and teachers.
23) At the House Education Committee meeting on April 22nd, Kowalko and Jaques battle each other as Kowalko is forced to answer a barrage of questions by Jaques. Kowalko successfully fends him off. After discussion from other legislators, public comment from parents shows near overwhelming support for the release of the bill. Opposition includes organizations well-known to support Governor Markell’s corporate education agendas. After a vote to have the bill tabled falls apart, the bill is released from the committee in an 8-4 vote ending the over two hour debate.
24) Mark Murphy’s claim of federal funding cuts of $40-$90 million over potential opt-outs and the passage of House Bill 50 is debunked the next day with the release of the US DOE letter which clearly states schools cannot opt students out, and the letter never mentions the words parent opt-out.
25) Last week, organizations such as GACEC and Council for Persons with Disabilities release near identical letter in opposition to House Bill 50 with claims that are quickly debunked.
26) In a hasty and damaging example of executive overreach, Governor Markell announces to radio host Rick Jensen on WDEL he will veto House Bill 50 if it reaches his desk.
27) Parents begin emailing all the legislators of the Delaware House and public support for the bill is clearly seen by the legislators.
28) State Rep. Sean Matthews introduces an amendment to House Bill 50 the day of the House vote which changes the language of the legislation from “the state assessment” to the “Smarter Balanced Assessment”.
All leading to today’s enormous victory in the Delaware House of Representatives, with a 36-3 victory with two reps absent. At the end of the day, this is about parents using their voice to initiate change. This could not have been done by one individual at all. It took a great deal of advocacy, hard work, sweat, social media, and legislators, parents, organizations and ordinary citizens spreading the word and supporting the cause.
What also helped were some obvious tactical blunders by the Delaware DOE, Secretary Murphy, and Governor Markell. And God bless him, we cannot forget Earl Jaques. He revealed today House Bill 50 got in the way of his planned legislation to reduce the Smarter Balanced Assessment to only three grades of testing. Which is a noble gesture, but legislation getting rid of the “little” test would be a much grander statement.
While getting the bill through the House was an undertaking, it remains to be seen how the Delaware Senate will receive the legislation. Folks are already guessing which Senate members will support the bill. Delaware Senator Brian Pettyjohn already announced on Facebook tonight he will vote yes. Senator Lawson, a co-sponsor of the bill, is a lock. But the others are a mystery for now. I can guess and predict, but until they publicly announce their intentions or a vote, we must email them and call them as much as we can.
The Delaware PTA has been a HUGE advocate for parent opt-out in 2015. They hosted Parent Opt-Out Town Halls in Newcastle County and Kent County. They have gone to many meetings at Legislative Hall. They passed a resolution supporting parent opt-out. Now Delaware PTA’s own Yvonne Johnson is on the media circuit.
Tomorrow, May 5th, she will be on WDEL with Rick Jensen at 2:30pm. This should be a very interesting interview based on Governor Markell’s potential veto of House Bill 50. When I say potential, that’s if it passes the Delaware House and Senate.
Then, in a pre-recorded segment, she will appear on Larry Mendte’s Delaware Way on Me-TV on Saturday May 9th (time to be announced). If you don’t live in Wilmington, Mendte puts all his Delaware Way videos up on Youtube a few days later.
Is Yvonne running for Governor? Just kidding on that one. I’m glad to see the PTA being so active in this movement. It’s all about parent choice and their rights!
Last week, Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy appeared on The Delaware Way with host Larry Mendte. I posted the video the other day. Now you can read the full transcript of the whole conversation.
Larry Mendte: Welcome back to The Delaware Way. I’m Larry Mendte. We’re pleased to be joined by the Delaware Department of Education, Secretary Mark Murphy. Thank you so much for being here today. I think it’s fair to say that there is controversy across the country on standardized testing, new standardized testing connected to Core and that you have been, your Department, has been trying to head off that type of controversy in Delaware by trying to get out in front of it. Are you doing that because you’ve seen what’s happened in other states?
Mark Murphy: No, we’re doing that because it’s important to make sure our students and our educators and our parents understand the value of this assessment.
Mendte: So it’s the Smarter Balanced Assessment. That’s the official title for the test. Explain what that test is.
Murphy: It is an academic checkup. I think that’s incredibly important for our parents to remember is that at the end of the day we want to make sure as parents that our children are making adequate progress. That progress that they need to make so that they are ready after high school to be successful. And the Smarter Balanced Assessment that we will administer once a year provides an academic checkup for parents, for kids, for educators. Is that child on track? It’s nothing more than that.
Mendte: Are parents allowed to opt out of it?
Murphy: No, parents are not allowed to opt out of it. Testing is a part of school. Assessments are a part of school. It’s a part of life, it’s what we do here in public school. And it’s incredibly important. It provides information, #1, #2, it highlights the challenges that our students may have as individuals, and as a State it provides us with great information about how to shape our funding decisions, how to shape our policy decisions.
Mendte: Why wouldn’t parents be allowed to opt out of it. I know there is a movement, there’s some legislation asking for parents to be able to opt out of it. And there are also some parental organizations asking for that. Why wouldn’t you allow that? Does it have to do with funding?
Murphy: No, it does not have to do with funding. It has to do with the importance of information.
Mendte: Let me back up for a second. Federal government says you have to have 95% involved, and that is linked to funding, right?
Murphy: That is absolutely the case, yes. But that aside, the information is powerful. It provides all of us with an understanding about how our children are doing. First and foremost, the kids themselves, but right on through us policy makers. And if we do not have the ability to measure the progress our kids are making, then we do not have the ability to make great educational decisions, from the classrooms right through to the Legislature.
Mendte: Let me go through some pushback on it and you can answer the questions. Some parents are concerned that the tests are too hard, that it’s much too difficult than any of the tests they’ve had in the past, and they don’t want their kids to be the lab rats for this new test. What about the fear that the children will be taught just for the test, they ‘ll be taught just to take a test and not necessarily what they need to know in life?
Murphy: In schools that have done a poor job in the past decade, they have done all this test prep work. I agree that is a common fear that we hear and is often perpetuated. But it is not the case in our high quality schools and in the hearts of our educators. What our educators are doing is teaching to a set of standards. What do our students need to know and be able to do to be successful later and the test is a measuring stick, it’s an academic checkup on those standards.
Mendte: You can assure me that a teacher who realizes that they may be measured by a test wouldn’t teach for the test?
Murphy: So if they, there is a couple ways to think about this. The first is that you’re not teaching for the test, you’re teaching for a set of standards. But the test measures those standards and the teachers measuring those standards every day and every week and trying to see “Are the students making progress?” And in some ways they are teaching for the test because the test is a measurement tool against the standards. But let’s not overdo it here, cause some of this nonsensical test prep work that has gone on over recent decades does not help kids. What we need to do is make sure that kids have great, real, authentic problems to solve in school and that they are demonstrating their knowledge in real life kind of ways.
Mendte: Well, as we move along, you pointed out “Why didn’t I have you in yet, because education is such a big issue,” and I agree with you and I’d really love for you to come back.
Murphy: My pleasure.
Mendte: Thank you so much. The Department of Education Secretary Mark Murphy. That wraps it up for The Delaware Way.
Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy appeared on The Delaware Way with host Larry Mendte over the weekend. The subject was standardized testing. When Mendte asked Murphy point blank if parents were allowed to opt their children out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, Murphy said “Absolutely not.”
I’m not sure what world Murphy is living in, but his own DOE has publicly stated there is nothing they can do about it. There is no law prohibiting or allowing it, so parents can, have and will opt their children out. I would strongly suggest Mark Murphy gets a reality check. The Smarter Balanced Assessment is a joke, and parents are realizing this more and more every day. I really hope House Bill 50 passes the House and Senate, and it puts Governor Markell in a position of either approving it and following the will of his constituents, or denying it and looking like a complete fool.
In the meantime, watch Murphy in all his grinning glory.