Which Delaware Education Leader Agrees With Betsy DeVos On The Proper Route To “Success”?

When Betsy DeVos made Delaware resubmit their state plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Delaware Department of Education groaned.  It is no secret the Delaware DOE was not a big fan of Bad News Betsy.  According to the U.S. DOE, Delaware’s plans were not “ambitious” enough.  But one education “leader” agreed with them.  Who was the sell-out? Continue reading

Very Odd Writing Credit Given To Critique Against Mike Matthews On Delawareonline But One Of Them Didn’t Write It

That was weird.  Today, Delawareonline published an opinion piece by Salome Thomas-El, the leader of Thomas Edison Charter School and three other people.  The big problem is Thomas-El didn’t write any such letter.  Did the other three?

The letter was a critique against newly christened Delaware State Education Association President Mike Matthews.  With Mike’s Facebook comments taken completely out of context in relation to Governor Carney’s veto of HS1 for House Bill #85, the five-mile radius bill, the piece made it seem like Matthews is anti-charter and wants them all to close.  But the true mystery is the addition of Thomas-El as a writer.  I posted a comment on their Facebook page to which Thomas-El just responded with this:

Bam! They didn’t wait a full two weeks for Matthews to break in to his new role.  But who exactly wrote this letter?  If I were Thomas-El, I would be pretty ticked off that he was given top billing in a letter he never even wrote.  Not sure how a mistake like that can just happen.  That’s pretty major.  This is an odd group to begin with, but when one them is fake, that is serious cause for concern.  Did Erica Dorsett, Daniel Walker and Cyntiche Deba also contribute to this letter?  I’m at the State Board of Education meeting and Walker is sitting a few seats in front of me.  I’ll ask him during the next break.

Can Restorative Justice Change Our Schools?

Drew Serres, a member of the Coalition for Fairness & Equity in School, wrote an excellent letter to the editor in the News Journal today about Restorative Justice and suspensions in Delaware Schools.

Since its passage, House Bill 85 has been adversely affecting all students; but it has had a disproportionate effect on students of color and those with disabilities. For instance, African-American and Latino students are suspended three-to-four times more than their white peers, even when they represent a substantially low enrollment rate overall.

This legislation goes back to 1993.  Which is about the time when all of the zero tolerance practices came into play.  Personally, I think some schools cherry-pick students when it comes to discipline and suspensions.  Discrimination rears its ugly head in strange ways in Delaware.

I am lucky. The school policies when I was growing up allowed me to learn from my mistakes. I think all children deserve that opportunity as well.

There are certain offenses that should cause suspensions, in my opinion, especially fighting.  But what do we do when someone is just defending their self when someone attacks them.  If no adult can stop it in time, should another student allow himself to be pummeled?  In today’s world, that student would be suspended as well.  I have been told by a school administrator that if a student puts his hands over his face, that is sufficient.  Really?  That makes the difference?  I don’t condone fighting, but if students have to protect themselves than they should be allowed to do it.  My issue is adults not intervening in time.  I know, fights can happen in an instant, and I don’t blame teachers or school staff for actual fighting.  But I do think they can keep a more watchful eye on students to begin with, especially during transition times, recess, or lunch.

Restorative justice is a model of discipline based on appropriate consequences for a student’s poor behavior and reconciliation of the student and the school system. It is a process where offenders, instead of just being punished, have the opportunity to restore the harm done to the community. It is actually a lot more work for the offender, but instead of feeling ostracized and criminalized they are given the opportunity to restore their inner sense of worth and to get on a path where they learn how to contribute.

My biggest question out of this is how this is dealt with when a student with disabilities has “poor behavior” and doesn’t understand their bad behavior because it is a result of a neurological disability.  All too often, students with disabilities are ostracized in schools because they don’t understand.  Can inclusion truly work in this type of environment or are we putting these kids through the wringer?  I’m all for change because the way it is now just isn’t working.

In the Christina School District, they were mandated by the Office of Civil Rights to reduce the amount of suspensions because African-Americans were being disproportionately suspended.  As a result, they went from zero tolerance to what they have now.  They still have the issues going on they had before the OCR complaint.  However, I have been told by many teachers in Christina they are told not to report infractions because of the OCR mandates.  That just makes the situation worse, but the district is beholden to Federal law in this situation.  As a result, parents who see this do not want to have their child attend Christina schools and they choice them out to charter schools.  As a result, Christina loses a lot of local funding.  This double-edged sword doesn’t work, so we need to do something.

With all the pressure put on teachers on a district, state, and federal level and the demands on their time, do they actually have the time to establish restorative justice techniques between test prep, evaluations, instruction, professional development and test prep?  I heard many teachers had a hard enough time submitting grades into the state E-School system last weekend, on their days off, because the DOE decided that would be a good time to do an upgrade on the system.  Furthermore, if administrators aren’t willing to practice what they preach, will these children be able to separate authority from adults with bad behavior?  If administrators come down on students with an iron fist but at the same time try these techniques on them, it sends a very mixed message that can be very confusing to a student, especially the younger ones.  This obviously depends on the type of behavior exhibited by the student, but this is a very fine line.

What this doesn’t take into account is home life.  If a child’s parents just don’t care enough to practice restorative justice in the home, will a student be able to carry this into school?  Take Christina for example.  As a result of school choice, the “better” students have left.  This leaves the schools with all the perceived “troublemakers”.  If a “troublemaker” choices out, chances are they will be back if the charter counsels them out or expels them.  This leaves a disproportionate number of “troublemakers” in schools.  I can’t stand when these students are referred to as animals.  I truly can’t.  Yes, they have bad behavior and they make bad choices, but to refer to them as barbaric or animalistic demeans them as a human being.

These are tough questions, and I won’t pretend to have all the answers.  But we need to find those answers fast as more lives are lost to the justice system.

News Journal Disgustingly Butchers My Letter To The Editor

I submitted an editorial letter to several Delaware media a week ago.  Entitled “Opt Out Ends The Madness Of High-Stakes Testing”, it appeared in the Delaware State News, Delaware Liberal, and The News Journal.  Delaware Liberal wrote everything I wrote, and Delaware State News wrote just about everything, except a part about the News Journal continuing to get House Bill 50 wrong.  I can understand that, don’t bash the competition.  No issue there.

When I sent the email to Delaware media, I asked if there was any way they could get it in prior to Thursday.  I sent it on a Sunday though, so I didn’t know if that would be possible.  I get that.  It was in Delaware State News and Delaware Liberal on Thursday.  I was a bit bummed the News Journal didn’t put it in at all, but I also knew Matt Albright would be at the Parent Strike press conference on Thursday.  To my surprise, it did show up Friday on Delawareonline.  I didn’t really read it, thinking it would show what I sent to them and what others had posted.  It showed up in their actual newspaper yesterday.

So how did I find out they messed up?  Of all places, the Rodel Foundation.  Or more specific, their blog.  I’ve actually found their “daily news” section of their blog to cover a lot of articles in one place.  I never see my stuff in there, nor would I expect to.  Lo and behold, I see my editorial covered in their “daily news” on Friday with the headline, and “opinion by Kevin Ohlandt, blogger” (come on Paul, you can’t put the words Exceptional Delaware, or parent, or even human being? Blogger?).  My radar went way up.  This is an editorial slamming the DOE and Smarter Balanced and really getting aggressive in wanting every parent in the state to opt their child out.  Why would Rodel of all places be providing a link to it?  Curiosity got the best of me, and I read what showed up in the News Journal.

I’m going to do a compare and contrast here…blue is the original parts in Delaware Liberal posted Thursday which had everything I mailed to Delaware media a week ago (with one exception and that was the part about also filing federal violations since I sent it to them Wednesday night, a few hours after I filed those), and red is the News Journal.

This “school report card” is nothing more than Federal mandate PLUS the many layers of complexity the DOE added to it. 

This “school report card” is nothing more than Federal mandate.

See how they took out the whole part about the DOE adding to it and making it look like the whole school report card is “Federal mandate”?  Very crafty…

This week, we will hear about the creation of 10 new so-called “Focus Schools” and 4 “Focus Plus Schools”.  The DOE will attempt to sell this as yet another way of “fixing” these high-need schools.  The truth is, these labels are punitive in nature and are just another step before they become “Priority Schools”.  We all know how that went a year ago.

The DOE will attempt to sell this as yet another way of “fixing” these high-need schools. The truth is, these labels are punitive in nature and are just another step before they become “Priority Schools.”

By taking out the part about the DOE adding stuff, it makes it look like the Federal mandate will be sold by the DOE wanting to “fix” the high-needs schools.  It’s an editorial, so of course it’s going to have opinion.  And we do all know how it went a year ago, not very well!

The transparency around Regulation 103 and the “school report card” is suspect at best. I filed a large complaint with the Delaware Department of Justice over several issues, and a complaint over FOIA violations with the DOE. As well, for the second time this year, I filed a complaint over FOIA violations with the DOE.  The first complaint showed the DOE overcharging me nearly $7,000. It seems the DOE wants accountability for everyone but themselves.  

The transparency around Regulation 103 and the “school report card” is suspect at best. I filed a large complaint with the Delaware Department of Justice over several issues, and a complaint over FOIA violations with the DOE. The first complaint showed the DOE overcharging me nearly $7,000.

Keep in mind that Albright was at the Parent Strike press conference AND the State Board of Education meeting.   He heard me list my complaints against the DOE and the State Board of Education twice.  How much was written about a State agency getting five state complaints and two federal complaints?  One of those being on OCR complaint?  Not one word.  In fact, Albright didn’t write at all about anything with Regulation 103, even though that was obviously the highlight of the whole board meeting.  But in the above, we get what looks to be confusion with my complaints, like I’m not too sure what I’m doing.  We obviously can’t be slamming the DOE too hard in News Journal letters.  Especially when it comes to controversial issues on accountability for schools but the DOE never owns up to what they do, never!

This was the one that REALLY did it for me though…watch what they do…

The DOE would have us blame the teachers in these schools.  How about we blame the DOE and Governor Markell?  Instead of focusing on the true needs of students, such as smaller classrooms and more special education training, our schools continue the failed experiment of Smarter Balanced.

The DOE would have us blame the teachers in these schools. How about we blame the DOE and Gov. Markell instead of focusing on the true needs of students.

Trying to make me look like a bad guy, like I would rather focus on DOE and Markell than focus on what students really need.  That’s pretty low.  And I’m sure Dr. Paul Herdman was probably like “Holy crap, did you see what Ohlandt wrote in the News Journal.  We have to get this out there!”  But it is worlds away from what I actually wrote.  Actually, it’s a universe away.  Yes, I am critical of their articles and editorials.  I won’t deny that.  But I don’t CHANGE what they write.  I don’t combine parts of sentences to make them look bad.  I’m pretty certain at this point I won’t be writing any more letters to the News Journal.  They have published some and given me some mentions over opt-out, and I appreciate that.  But I can’t condone this.  Either this was a really bad copy editor, or this was intentional.  Knowing the articles the News Journal writes, their allegiance to Rodel and the Delaware Business Roundtable, and their continual ass-kissing with the DOE and Governor Markell, I can’t help but assume it’s the latter.  I’m sure they were arrogant enough to think I would only send it to the almighty News Journal and no one else would know.  But guess what chumps, you screwed up.

To read what I actually wrote, please go to Delaware State News and Delaware Liberal at the below links.

http://delawarestatenews.net/opinion/letter-to-the-editor-opt-out-ends-the-madness-of-high-stakes-testing/

http://www.delawareliberal.net/2015/09/17/opt-out-ends-the-madness-of-high-stakes-testing/

If you want to get unbiased, good education news, please check out your local newspaper, or check out Avi’s great stuff on Newsworks.  I’m really sick of the dog and pony show the News Journal keeps putting on.  This is a newspaper that will sell their soul to Rodel and Markell and all their corporate education reform buddies, but when everyday people try to get their point across they edit it and change intent.  Maybe I should opt out of reading the News Journal altogether…

“Our children are more than test scores”, my letter to the editor printed in Delaware State News today

Our Children are more than test scores - 10-7-14

On October 2nd, I sent a letter to the editor to Delaware State News, Dover Post and The News Journal.  Today, Delaware State News printed the letter in it’s almost near entirety, and the Dover Post will post a shortened version tomorrow.  I am waiting on word back from The News Journal.  This is the letter that appeared in Delaware State News today:

To The Parents of Students in Delaware,

Recently, I had the extreme pleasure of attending the Christina Board of Education meeting. There were over 200 people in the crowd, including parents, teachers, and legislators. Sept. 30th was the deadline for the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the Delaware Department of Education and Gov. Jack Markell forced upon the Christina School District and the Red Clay Consolidated School District. At issue was six schools in the city of Wilmington that were deemed “failing” by the DOE based on proficiency scores with the DCAS standardized testing.

To judge any school, much less Title 1 low-income schools with high populations of minorities and special education students, based on standardized testing is a major fault with the DOE. But what made it even worse was the caveat of hiring new school leaders for each school at a salary of $160,000 a year.

The worst part is every single teacher in these schools would have to reapply for their positions. If the school districts did not sign the MOUs then they would have 120 days to comply or risk a state takeover of the schools. Most feel they would become charter schools. Wilmington already has a great deal of designated space in the Bank of America building at Rodney Square within a mile of each of these schools. If they can try to pull this in Wilmington, they can do this anywhere in the state.

The Christina School District voted to ignore the MOU, and to come up with their own with all involved stakeholders: parents, teachers, and the community- Which is something Markell and the DOE should have done to begin with. Instead, they made a big press announcement at one of the schools and announced they would give the six schools $5.8 million dollars over four years. After the costs of the new school “planner” for each school ($50,000 a year), and the new “school leader” ($160,000 a year), this would amount to the schools receiving $31,666 a year. This would not solve the problems these schools are facing. They have bloated classroom sizes, with many having up to 30 students in each classroom. There are also issues of crime, drugs, parental neglect and abuse that many of these children face.

Secretary of Education Mark Murphy said he is willing to negotiate with both districts, and I pray he lives up to his word. But this whole education reform with Common Core and high-stakes standardized testing has been controversial at best. There was no input from the school districts when it was implemented in 2009. The United States Department of Education, under the rule of US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and with President Obama’s blessing, offered hundreds of millions of dollars in extra funding called Race To The Top. The only catch was the governors of each state had to accept the new Common Core standards as the new curriculum for the states. The Common Core State Standards were written by non-educators, and the only educators involved in the process quit because they thought the standards were horrible.

Next Spring, the Smarter Balanced Assessment is coming out. This replaces DCAS as Delaware’s standardized test for all public schools. Murphy has already stated he believes 70% of students in Delaware will fail the test for the first couple of years because of the “new” curriculum. These students will not fail the test because it’s a hard test. They will fail because it’s a bad test.

Many parents don’t realize the impact this once a year test will have on our public school teachers in Delaware. Their annual reviews will be based on the student scores of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. This is completely unfair to educators, and as seen with the priority schools agenda, can have major ramifications for teachers and schools.

Questions have arisen in Delaware and many other states about the legality of parents having their child (ren) opt out of taking the tests. The DOE and the districts will say there is no policy, but here is the bottom line: If more than 5 percent of the students in any district do not take the test, then, they risk losing funding. But what happens if every school district in the state makes this benchmark? Would Markell allow every single school district in the state to lose funding? There were cuts in 2008 and 2009 during the recession that were never fully, or even remotely, restored. To have more cuts would be a disaster for the entire education system in the state- Which is the one part Markell and the DOE won’t tell you. It’s a game they cannot win.

Delaware parents, opt your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. All you have to do is write a letter to the school, and let them know you do not want your child taking any high-stakes standardized testing, and when other children are taking the test, you expect your child to be educated as is his or her right under Free Appropriate Public Education. Don’t let the state take away the local control that is any school district’s right. It will only take 6% of us in each district to make this happen, but let’s show the DOE and Jack Markell a much bigger percentage.

Have I opted my child out? I am doing it right now. My son, who attends William Henry Middle School in the Capital School District, will not take the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Our children are more than test scores. Don’t let the state define what our children are. Let children define what they are based on their individualized and unique talents.

Kevin Ohlandt, Dover

Updated 5:51pm, October 7th: Based on a conversation with Senator Bryan Townsend on Twitter, he did not say the Smarter Balanced Assessment was “horrible and bad for students” so I am taking that part out of my article and have requested the Delaware State News to correct this as well.  I based this off of things I have heard from multiple sources but since Senator Townsend never went on record with these thoughts, I apologize.  Senator Townsend DID say “I think it’s appalling to change tests/curriculum so quickly & to bases teachers’ evals on tests.”  He also clarified he did not take the full Smarter Balanced Assessment.