Delaware Parents Of Students With Disabilities: Your Immediate Input Is Essential!!!!!

The Delaware Department of Education released (finally) the Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan.  It will be available for public comment until June 5th.  I strongly encourage all parents of special needs children in Delaware to very carefully go through every single line of this plan.  I will be doing the same on this blog from now until then and I will be putting my breakdown into public comment form for the plan as well.  I do want to thank the very hard work of the Special Education Strategic Planning Group who spent many hours and days, volunteer I may add, to work on this plan.  The group consisted of 24 Delawareans, a moderator, and various employees of the Delaware Dept. of Education.  As well, former Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky as well as current Secretary, Dr. Susan Bunting, provided support for the plan.  I would especially like to thank State Rep. Kim Williams and Dr. Michele Marinucci, the Special Education Coordinator for the Woodbridge School District, for getting this large group of people together during a time when it could have been completely different (and not to the benefit of students with disabilities).

At first glance, I see both positive and negative things in the plan.  It isn’t going to please everyone.  But it is a start and more than we had before.  This isn’t a time to throw stones, but it is a time to let your thoughts be known.  Public comment for this plan is as follows, as per the Delaware DOE:

Public comment for this document can be sent to matthew.korobkin@doe.k12.de.us. Public comments can also be mailed to: 
Matthew Korobkin 
Special Education Officer for Strategic Planning and Evaluation 
Delaware Department of Education 
401 Federal Street Suite 2 
Dover, Delaware 19901 

 

Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan Nears Completion

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After some starts and stops, the Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan is almost finished.  The plan has been underway since 2014 when Governor Jack Markell inserted the creation of the strategic plan in the FY2015 epilogue language of the state budget.  Matthew Korobkin, the Special Education Officer through the Secretary of Education’s office at the Delaware Dept. of Education, will give a status update on the plan to the State Board of Education at their meeting on January 19th.  This is not to be confused with the State of Delaware Strategic Plan for Specialized Education Opportunities.

Last fall, the Special Education Strategic Plan was retooled after disability advocates viewed an initial draft.  As a result of that, along with a very big push from State Rep. Kim Williams, a Facilitated Workgroup came into formation to fine tune the plan and make sure all voices were heard.  In mid-December, the newly created group had a public two-day retreat to decide what should be in the plan.  From there, sub-groups worked on different parts of the plan.  It is expected to be released for public comment at some point in February, shortly after the State Board of Education meeting next week.  From there, at some point in March, a presentation will be given to the State of Delaware Oversight Group for the Special Education Strategic Plan which includes members of the Delaware Interagency Resource Committee, a representative from Governor Carney’s office, and the Chairs of the Senate and House Joint Finance Committee.

The stakeholder workgroup has seven goals for development of the strategic plan which include the following: Students, Parents & Families, Community, Staff/Partners, Resources, Policies & Regulations, and Delivery/Structure/Systems.  Like most Strategic Plans, this one will be not be set in stone and will be considered a fluid document whereby changes and tweaks can be added as needed.  But every plan needs a foundation and what we will soon see are the building blocks for this plan.  Things can happen which could substantially change the plan including the Delaware state budget and the upcoming ruling on the United States Supreme Court special education case of Endrew v. Douglas County School District.

Various groups and committees revolving around special education have occurred in Delaware over the past decade, but this is the first time I have seen such a huge mix of school districts, parents, and advocacy groups.  The last group to form policy around special education was the IEP Task Force from 2014 which led to a large number of changes to state law and regulations.  No education plan will ever please everyone and there will be parts people love and some others disapprove of.  If there is one thing I have learned in education, it is constantly evolving and nothing will ever be perfect.  But I would encourage any and all persons who care about special education to give this plan a very careful read when it comes out and let your thoughts be known with a goal of improving education for special needs kids.

The members of the Facilitated Workgroup consist of the following:

Michele Marinucci, Woodbridge School District

Daphne Cartright, Autism Delaware

Edward Emmett, Positive Outcomes Charter School

Katheryn Herel, PIC of Delaware

Jon Cooper, Colonial School District

Kendall Massett, Delaware Charter Schools Network

State Representative Kim Williams, Legislator

Kristin Dwyer, DSEA

Kristin Pidgeon, Down Syndrome Association

Lisa Lawson, Brandywine School District

Mary Ann Mieczkowski, Delaware Dept. of Education

Elisha Jenkins, Division for the Visually Impaired

Bill Doolittle, Parent Advocate

Sarah Celestin, Red Clay Consolidated School District

Vincent Winterling, Delaware Autism Program

Wendy Strauss, Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens

Annalisa Ekbladh, University of Delaware Center for Disability Studies

John Marinucci, Delaware School Boards Association

Sonya Lawrence, Parent Advocate

Teresa Avery, Autism Delaware

Laurie Kettle-Rivera, Delaware School for the Deaf

Mark Campano, Delaware Statewide Programs

Josette McCullough, Appoquinimink School District

Mondaria Batchelor, Woodbridge School District

*above photo courtesy of State Rep. Kim Williams, photographed by yours truly at the 12/9 retreat

 

State Board Of Education Postpones Special Education Strategic Plan Presentation

The Delaware State Board of Education has their monthly meeting today at 1pm.  On the agenda was a presentation by the Special Education Strategic Plan Officer Matthew Korobkin.  That presentation has been postponed.  Yesterday, the Delaware Department of Education, disability groups, and district and charter special education directors, along with other stakeholders, met to discuss progress on the strategic plan.  Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams also attended the meeting, along with many other meetings in this process.  The entire group realized there were still many things to iron out in the process.

Last month, citizens were invited to participate in public comment sessions for special education in Delaware.  Meetings were held in each county.  The Special Education Strategic Plan was inserted into the epilogue language for the Delaware State Budget for FY2015 and work began on the plan in November of 2014.  The plan was originally slated to be finalized at the end of this year.  After hearing the concerns of stakeholders, Secretary Godowsky opted to postpone the presentation and hear more from stakeholder groups to establish a defined plan represented by all voices.

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Delaware Competency-Based Education, Part 1: Rodel, DOE & Achieve Inc. Team-Up

Personalized Learning, as a concept, has been around since the 1960’s.  In its original form, it was an effort to personalize learning between a teacher and a student.  Students don’t always learn at the same pace.  The term has been bastardized by corporate education reformers over the past five years.  Their idea is to launch a technology boom in the classroom where investors and ed-tech companies will get tons of money.  To do this, they had to use education “think-tanks” and foundations to sway the conversation towards this lucrative gold-mine.  No one has been a bigger supporter of personalized learning in Delaware than the Rodel Foundation.  They began talking about this new and exciting education reform movement as early as November, 2011.  A company called Digital Learning Now! released their 2011 report card on different states ability to transform into a digital learning environment and Delaware scored poorly on their report.  According to this Rodel article on the report written by Brett Turner (the link to the report card doesn’t exist anymore), Turner wrote:

…the initial results are not promising, demonstrating that we have significant work ahead of us before the necessary policies are in place to ensure our students benefit from high-quality next generation learning opportunities.

Digital Learning Now! was an initiative of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.  Other digital “experts” the company thanks in their 2012 report include the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Data Quality Campaign, iNACOL, SETDA, Chiefs for Change, Getting Smart, and the Innosight Institute.  The Foundation for Excellence in Education was founded by Jeb Bush in 2008, just as Common Core was in its formation stages.  In the Rodel article, Turner talks about how Delaware needs to adapt to this environment so our students can succeed.

Over the next two and a half years, as Race to the Top became more of a nightmare than a promise of better education, Rodel began to take steps to have Delaware become a part of this next big thing.  They formed the Rodel Teacher Council to recruit well-intentioned teachers to join their personalized learning dream team.  I don’t see these teachers as evil but rather teachers who are easily manipulated and coerced into being connected with the “next big thing”.  I see them as unwitting pawns of Rodel.

Rodel didn’t write much about personalized learning too much during this time, but they did release a Personalized Learning 101 flyer in 2013.  At the same time, four Delaware districts formed BRINC: Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech, and Colonial.  Using funds from Race To the Top and a Delaware DOE “innovation grant”, the districts used Schoology and Modern Teacher to usher Delaware into the digital learning age.  Rodel’s blog posts about personalized learning didn’t touch on the concept again until February, 2014 when a Rodel employee by the name of Matthew Korobkin began writing posts about digital learning.  More followed by other Rodel employees in the coming months.  At this time, Dr. Paul Herdman of Rodel was palling around with an ed-tech company called 2Revolutions and went around Delaware talking to groups about the glory of personalized learning.

In the beginning of June in 2014, Rachel Chan with the Rodel Foundation attended a seminar in Washington D.C. on personalized learning sponsored by iNACOL.  She wrote about this extensively on the Rodel website.

Later that month, the United States Department of Education released their state reports on special education in America.  Delaware received a rating of “needs intervention”, prompting Governor Jack Markell to set aside funding in the state budget for a special education “Strategic Plan”.  What no one knew until recently was this plan consisted of hiring Korobkin away from Rodel and into Secretary of Education Mark Murphy’s office to put this plan together.

Later in the summer of 2014, the Delaware Department of Education, with the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, banded together to form a clandestine group of “stakeholders” to look at competency-based education in a personalized learning environment in Delaware.  The biggest hurdle in getting this going in Delaware was the barriers in the state code.  Their were many players in this non-public group, including members of the Rodel Teacher Council who were also working on a “Personalized Learning Blueprint” at the same time.  This group shaped the future of education in Delaware.  But they used people to do so, including some of the members of this group.

The timing for this group couldn’t have come at a better time.  There were many distractions happening that allowed them to fly under the radar with no one the wiser.  Invitations were sent out to select participants from Theresa Bennett at the Delaware DOE.  She was an Education Specialist for English/Language Arts in the Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development area of the DOE.  She was the person who scheduled all the meetings.  An introductory webinar, sponsored by Achieve Inc., was held on August 14th, 2014.

After an explanation of competency-based education and personalized learning from some folks at Achieve Inc., they opened the webinar up for questions.  At the 30:07 mark on the video, Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows explained his district already began the process for personalized learning.  He mentioned several hurdles, especially the teachers’ union.  Next came Judi Coffield, the former Head of School at Early College High School, a charter school run through Delaware State University.  Coffield asked how Carniege units and high school grades would come into play with this.  Bennett explained what role the DOE played in this and how she and Rachel Chan from the Rodel Foundation were going to run the group.  Bennett went on to explain that select allies were invited to participate in this group.  She also talked about a meeting with Achieve Inc. in Washington D.C. in May of 2014 to pave a path forward.

Bennett did a roll call of who was participating in the webinar.  Jose Aviles, the director of admissions at the University of Delaware, was not on the call.  Bennett explains how Aviles accompanied her to the Achieve Inc. meeting.  “Is there a representative from Delaware PTA on the call?”  No response.  “Is Donna Johnson on the call?”  Silence.  “Kim Joyce from Del-Tech?”  Nothing.  “Pat Michle from Developmental Disabilities Council?”  Empty air.  She added Laurie Rowe and Stanley Spoor with Howard High School of Technology would be joining them.  Susan Haberstroh with the Delaware DOE joined later in the Webinar.

Rodel and Markell knew they needed to stage a distraction to further this personalized learning agenda away from prying eyes while at the same time steering the conversation towards their end goals by using the distraction.  They knew one of these distractions would automatically happen based on federal mandates from the US DOE, but the other would need careful planning and coördination.  The first drove the need for the second.

A few weeks later, Governor Markell and then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy announced the six priority schools in Wilmington.  The DOE picked the six “lowest-performing” schools in Wilmington, DE and announced the two school districts involved, Red Clay and Christina, would have to sign a “memorandum of understanding” and submit to the demands of the Delaware DOE.  This put the entire city into an educational tailspin.  Teachers in the affected schools felt outrage at the Governor and the DOE.  Parents didn’t know what this meant.  Politicians scrambled to make sense of it all as primaries and general elections faced them while constituents furiously called them.  Teachers in Delaware were still reeling from the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment and the scores tied into their evaluations.  Meanwhile, the secret meetings of the Delaware Department of Education Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition began without any public notice as an email went out from Bennett…

Thank you for your interest in the Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition.  If you were unable to attend the informational webinar, please use this link to access the recording:   http://www.achieve.org/DelawareCBLwebinar  

The Guiding Coalition will be charged with laying the foundation for competency-based learning in Delaware. This will include creating a working definition of competency-based learning and what it could look like in Delaware, understanding current barriers to implementing CBL in Delaware, and establishing support for CBL initiatives to take root in the state. Once we have a common understanding of CBL, we will surface key ideas and develop recommended strategies for helping CBL take shape in the state.

The time commitment for the Advisory Group of the Guiding Coalition will be attending approximately two or three 2-hour meetings during the coming school year, with 30-60 minutes of pre-work for each meeting. There will also be opportunities to engage further through optional readings, school visits, webinars, and other convenings if your schedule/level of interest allows.

We are excited to share that an expert facilitator will be guiding each of our meetings; we would like to collect information to inform our meeting agendas.  Please complete the following survey by September 10th:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DECompetency-BasedLearning.  

Please complete a Doodle to help us best schedule the meetings for this group.  We hope to begin late September/early October, with meetings held in Dover. Responses to the Doodle poll will help us find the best day/time for the first meeting. Please use this link: http://doodle.com/mts6ncf74v77mnf

Best,

Theresa

Theresa Bennett

Education Associate, ELA

Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development

Delaware Department of Education

401 Federal Street, Suite #2

Dover, DE 19901-3639

Coming up in Part 2: Delaware gets Marzanoed

How Is It A “Strategic Plan” When It Takes An Ex Rodel Employee Over Two Years To Build It?

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If the strategy to improve special education in Delaware is to delay improving it for two years, the Delaware Department of Education is doing a bang-up job!

The Delaware Dept. of Education put out an announcement today for their “Special Education Strategic Plan”.  This plan was snuck into the epilogue language of the FY2015 budget on June 30th, 2014.  Here we are, over 27 months later, with NO Special Education Strategic Plan.  The director of this strategic plan is a former employee of the Rodel Foundation with no actual teaching experience in the classroom.  Matthew Korobkin worked for a collaborative that helped ten school districts with assistive technology.  That is NOT the same thing as living and breathing special education.  But somehow that qualified him for a job with the Massachusetts DOE (which Rodel CEO Paul Herdman worked for way back when) where he worked for 14 months.  Then he worked for Rodel for 2 1/2 years.  In October of 2014, he joined the Secretary of Education office as a “Special Education Officer”.

Given his background with technology and Rodel, I can easily see where this “strategic plan” is heading.  I can picture words like “personalized learning” and “competency-based education” being in this report.  And let’s not be fooled by this new desire for public input on special education.  This guy has never once sought out my opinion on anything.  This is more of the DOE charade where they give the illusion of public input so they can include it in the report with words like “we brought stakeholders from across the state together to discuss this”.  Right out of the Rodel playbook…

After butting heads with the Autism community over the failed amendment to Senate Bill 93, this is the guy who we want creating this strategic plan?  Let’s get real here.  Somehow, someway, Rodel wanted to get in on special education.  Their biggest enemy, in my opinion, is parents of children with disabilities.  We see through their crap and know that anything they want to invade our kids lives is somehow going to benefit companies and not our kids.  So they wormed one of their guys into the Secretary of Education office.  This guy has been collecting a paycheck for well over two years with NO results.  And now, we are led to believe we are going to see this “strategic plan” sometime before Jack Markell leaves office?  Why haven’t they been soliciting parent input on this for the past two years?  If this guy was remotely serious, he would have gone to parents in the first place.  Not wait two years.  When the DOE has this strategic plan overshadow everything else in special education, I have a major beef with that.  I guess we have to wait even longer for our kids to get the special education they needed two years ago so the ex Rodel guy can figure it all out.  How ironic they will be getting this out along with the Every Student Succeeds Act implementation and “stakeholder” input.  Almost as if that was the plan all along…

Meanwhile, the Delaware DOE is seeing a large increase in special education due process hearings and administrative complaints.  The placements in residential treatment centers is increasing every year, whether in-state or out of state.  Students with disabilities continue to do poorly on the Smarter Balanced Assessment as they are forced to take the test for longer periods of time than their peers.  Is it really a coincidence this is all happening at larger rates since Delaware implemented Common Core?  And what will happen to these students when we go full-blown personalized learning?  Competency-based education and special education are oil and water.

Here is the press release with my thoughts in red.

Public input sought to inform special education strategic plan

The Delaware Department of Education invites members of the public to three input sessions, one in each county, to inform the state’s strategic plan for special education.  Attendees will be asked to frame their comments around the following two questions:

1.    What are the most critical challenges in the delivery of special education services within the State of Delaware?

 I guess Mr. Korobkin didn’t bother to listen to ANY of the audio recordings from the IEP Task Force.  I can answer this one.  The most critical challenge is the Delaware DOE hiring ex Rodel employees to launch some Strategic Plan that takes over two years to create.

2.    When thinking about these challenges, what solutions do you think may solve these challenges?

Get back to reality and stop living in this nightmare world where even students with disabilities can do as well as their peers if we just give ’em enough rigor and grit to catch up.  Stop fooling everyone and stop playing games at the expense of students, teachers, schools, and parents.  The jig is up.

 Input will be recorded, reviewed, and used to inform the creation of the strategic plan.

I guess parents talking about their own experiences with special education, which is being recorded, isn’t going to come back to haunt them in some way.  I love the wording here: “used to inform”.  Not used to create, but inform.  Which means nothing when you actually think about it.  Sorry, but how much is Korobkin making at the DOE?  What the hell has he been doing for two years that he is just now getting to the parent input part of this plan?  I can picture it already: “Guys, the Strategic Plan is done!” “Did you get any parent input?”  “No, do I need that?”  “It looks good in the report.”  “Okay, I’ll get right on that!”

 

The meetings are planned for:

·         4 to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 20 at the Collette Education Resource Center Conference Room A, 35 Commerce Way, Dover

·         6:30 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 20 at the Wilmington Public Library Commons Room, 10 E. 10th St., Wilmington

·         4:30 to 6 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 27 at the Greenwood Public Library meeting room, 100 Mill St., Greenwood

 

Should you need accommodations at any of these meetings, please contact Matthew Korobkin at Matthew.Korobkin@doe.k12.de.us or (302) 735-4192.

How about students with disabilities get the accommodations they need?  And I’m not talking about standards-based accommodations or accommodations for your precious Smarter Balanced test, but ones that don’t put them in a grinder!

Alison May
alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4006

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 Sound Of Silence

Over the past year or so, I’ve written a lot of emails that never got a response.  I save all of them, and since I am so often accused of not reaching out, I thought I would publish those sent emails.  There are many more going back to the Mark Murphy days, but I will get around to those another time.  In the meantime, see what questions or requests I had that no one ever answered.  On some of these, they did respond, but when I responded back the sound of crickets was all I heard.  There are those who always respond to me, and I do truly appreciate those people.  And some I disagree with on policy all the time.  But for those who choose to ignore me, please see how I will be dealing with this practice at the end of the article going forward.

This email was sent during the infamous “school report card opt out & participation rate” saga from last fall.

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For the Parent Strike on 9/17/15, I sent a letter to the editor to all the major media in Delaware.  The News Journal actually edited parts of it which changed the whole context of what I wrote in parts.

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The PTO at Las Americas Aspiras was telling parents the school would lose ALL funding if too many parents opted out.  I reached out to their Head of School.

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To be completely fair, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky did reply to the original email, but after that… complete silence when I called him out on a few things.

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Last fall I reached out to Matthew Korobkin who was assigned to the Secretary’s area at the Delaware DOE to work on a special education strategic plan.  I had heard of him, but I did reach out to him in good faith to talk about special education.

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This was a second request to Governor Markell’s education policy advisor, Lindsay O’Mara, to clarify some questions about expenses when the Governor speaks for private education companies.  No response…

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About a year after I posted an in-depth article on Rodel and their CEO Paul Herdman emailed me about not reaching out to them first, I thought it was time to attempt to reach out to him after he completely ignore my response to him the year before.  Once again… nothing…

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I did get a few responses to this one, done in the spirit of the holidays, but nothing from Jack Frost…

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This was a second request to Governor Markell asking him to contribute to a New Years Day article.  I asked folks to list three things they wanted to see in Delaware education in 2016.  I guess Jack didn’t have any…

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While there is no guarantee that a letter to the editor will be published or even considered, a little bit of acknowledgment, which the News Journal did in the past, would have been nice…

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Last January, Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques asked for my opinion on getting opt out for students with disabilities.  I was vehemently against the idea as I believed it is any parent’s right to make that choice and shouldn’t be “allowed” for one group over another.  It angered me that he would think I would support that kind of idea, so I wrote this.  US Secretary of Education John King did respond to this, but not with anything truly addressing the issues I wrote about…

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For anyone following the former Delaware Treasurer Chip Flowers FOIA situation with Governor Markell’s office, I had a little bit to add to that situation.  Funny how precedent is set on issues when it is in the Governor’s favor…

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I did finally get a response to this FOIA request concerning National PTA President Laura Bay (no records found), but this wasn’t the first time I addressed FOIA issues with the Delaware DOE which they are acutely aware of.  To be fair, Alison May did respond to these emails, but from Godowsky… nothing!

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I submitted a request through the Delaware DOE’s request for data forms for actual data.  Especially information concerning their data.  Sometimes I think they like to mess with me…  The first pictures are screen shots I took of the actual request as I was doing it since the DOE doesn’t send an automatic reply showing what you requested.

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After I read a special education due process decision for Cape Henlopen School District, I saw an inherent flaw in Delaware code in regards to this decision.  I reached out to legislators who I know tend to advocate for special needs students.  Granted, it was the second to last day of the legislative session, but I have yet to receive a response from any of the legislators with one exception.  I did discuss it with Kim Williams in person, but for the others, nothing.

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I sent this one last week to Christina School District CFO Bob Silber.  No response.  But I have since found out these VERY high non-state employee travel costs were paid with federal funds which makes me even more curious…

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For the past few weeks, Jack Wells has been hammering Delaware State Auditor Thomas Wagner to more effectively (and in some cases actually) audit school funding.  Wells tends to include a lot of folks on these emails, including myself.  I jumped on the bandwagon.  Either Wagner doesn’t read his emails or feels everyday citizens of the state that elected him into office aren’t worthy of a response.  I asked him to look into the Appoquinimink tuition funds situation.  To date, nothing from Wagner….

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Here I am basically telling people in response to a Jack Wells email that all too often, folks in Delaware who have the power to change things ignore the pleas for help and transparency coming from Delaware citizens.  I did get responses from Rick Jensen and Colin Bonini (who wasn’t even on the original email).  And some of the usual citizens on this email chain.  But for the power brokers…zip…nada…zilch…

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As well, I also emailed Capital School District to find out why they lump special education funding into one big bucket on their expenditure codes instead of giving breakdowns…

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While this was just sent two days ago, I think history proves that Delaware Governor Jack Markell doesn’t respond to anything I have to say.  He did once, and that was when I sent something to his personal email address which was made public through a FOIA another citizen obtained.  And that was basically saying “we both want what’s best for students and we won’t always agree”…  For a Governor who believes transparency and accountability are SO important, he can’t even get through the gate with those two things…ob

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I have many more examples of this non-response environment in Delaware which I will put up in the future.  From here on out, if I send a request to someone who is a Delaware state employee and they fail to respond in a week, or within a week after an out-of-office reply shows a return date, I’m just going to publish the original email I sent… no matter what it says.  This is my idea of transparency.  If you think this is arrogant or presumptuous on my part, then keep ignoring me.  I think it is arrogant to ignore people as if we are just little tiny bugs you can swat away…

The Delaware Illuminati, Part 1: Jeb Bush Inspires Rodel

Personalized Learning, as a concept, has been around since the 1960’s.  It is an effort to personalize learning so a student doesn’t always learn at the same pace as other students.  The term has been bastardized by corporate education reformers over the past five years.  Their idea is to launch a technology boom in the classroom where investors and ed-tech companies will get tons of money.  To do this, they had to use education “think-tanks” and foundations to sway the conversation towards this lucrative gold-mine.  No one has been a bigger supporter of personalized learning in Delaware than the Rodel Foundation.  They began talking about this new and exciting education reform movement as early as November, 2011.  A company called Digital Learning Now! released their 2011 report card on different states ability to transform into a digital learning environment and Delaware scored poorly on their report.  According to this Rodel article on the report written by Brett Turner (the link to the report card doesn’t exist anymore), Turner wrote:

…the initial results are not promising, demonstrating that we have significant work ahead of us before the necessary policies are in place to ensure our students benefit from high-quality next generation learning opportunities.

Digital Learning Now! was an initiative of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.  Other digital “experts” the company thanks in their 2012 report include the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Data Quality Campaign, iNACOL, SETDA, Chiefs for Change, Getting Smart, and the Innosight Institute.  The Foundation for Excellence in Education was founded by Jeb Bush in 2008, just as Common Core was in its formation stages.  In the Rodel article, Turner talks about how Delaware needs to adapt to this environment so our students can succeed.

Over the next two and a half years, as Race to the Top became more of a nightmare than a promise of better education, Rodel began to take steps to have Delaware become a part of this next big thing.  They formed the Rodel Teacher Council to recruit well-intentioned teachers to join their personalized learning team.  I don’t see these teachers as evil.  I see them as unwitting pawns of Rodel.  Rodel didn’t write much about personalized learning too much during this time, but they did release a Personalized Learning 101 flyer in 2013.  At the same time, four Delaware districts formed BRINC: Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech, and Colonial.  Using funds from Race To the Top and a Delaware DOE “innovation grant”, the districts used Schoology and Modern Teacher to usher Delaware into the digital learning age.  Rodel’s blog posts about personalized learning didn’t touch on the concept again until February, 2014 when a Rodel employee by the name of Matthew Korobkin began writing posts about digital learning.  More followed by other Rodel employees in the coming months.  At this time, Dr. Paul Herdman of Rodel was palling around with an ed-tech company called 2Revolutions and went around Delaware talking to groups about the glory of personalized learning.

In the beginning of June in 2014, Rachel Chan with the Rodel Foundation attended a seminar in Washington D.C. on personalized learning sponsored by iNACOL.  She wrote about this extensively on the Rodel website.

Later that month, the United States Department of Education released their state reports on special education in America.  Delaware received a rating of “needs intervention”, prompting Governor Jack Markell to set aside funding in the state budget for a special education “Strategic Plan”.  What no one knew until recently was this plan consisted of hiring Korobkin away from Rodel and into Secretary of Education Mark Murphy’s office to put this plan together.

Later in the summer of 2014, the Delaware Department of Education, with the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, banded together to form a clandestine group of “stakeholders” to look at competency-based education in a personalized learning environment in Delaware.  The biggest hurdle in getting this going in Delaware was the barriers in the state code.  Their were many players in this non-public group, including members of the Rodel Teacher Council who were also working on a “Personalized Learning Blueprint” at the same time.  This group shaped the future of education in Delaware.  But they used people to do so, including some of the members of this group.

The timing for this group couldn’t have come at a better time.  There were many distractions happening that allowed them to fly under the radar with no one the wiser.  Invitations were sent out to select participants from Theresa Bennett at the Delaware DOE.  She was an Education Specialist for English/Language Arts in the Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development area of the DOE.  She was the person who scheduled all the meetings.  An introductory webinar, sponsored by Achieve Inc., was held on August 14th, 2014.

 

After an explanation of competency-based education and personalized learning from some folks at Achieve Inc., they opened the webinar up for questions.  At the 30:07 mark on the video, Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows explained his district already began the process for personalized learning.  He mentioned several hurdles, especially the teachers’ union.  Next came Judi Coffield, the former Head of School at Early College High School, a charter school run through Delaware State University.  Coffield asked how Carniege units and high school grades would come into play with this.  Bennett explained what role the DOE played in this and how she and Rachel Chan from the Rodel Foundation were going to run the group.  Bennett went on to explain that select allies were invited to participate in this group.  She also talked about a meeting with Achieve Inc. in Washington D.C. in May of 2014 to pave a path forward.

Bennett did a roll call of who was participating in the webinar.  Jose Aviles, the director of admissions at the University of Delaware, was not on the call.  Bennett explains how Aviles accompanied her to the Achieve Inc. meeting.  “Is there a representative from Delaware PTA on the call?”  No response.  “Is Donna Johnson on the call?”  Silence.  “Kim Joyce from Del-Tech?”  Nothing.  “Pat Michle from Developmental Disabilities Council?”  Empty air.  She added Laurie Rowe and Stanley Spoor with Howard High School of Technology would be joining them.  Susan Haberstroh with the Delaware DOE joined later in the Webinar.

Rodel and Markell knew they needed to stage a distraction to further this personalized learning agenda away from prying eyes while at the same time steering the conversation towards their end goals by using the distraction.  They knew one of these distractions would automatically happen based on federal mandates from the US DOE, but the other would need careful planning and coordination.  The first drove the need for the second.

A few weeks later, Governor Markell and then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy announced the six priority schools in Wilmington.  The DOE picked the six “lowest-performing” schools in Wilmington, DE and announced the two school districts involved, Red Clay and Christina, would have to sign a “memorandum of understanding” and submit to the demands of the Delaware DOE.  This put the entire city into an educational tailspin.  Teachers in the affected schools felt outrage at the Governor and the DOE.  Parents didn’t know what this meant.  Politicians scrambled to make sense of it all as primaries and general elections faced them while constituents furiously called them.  Teachers in Delaware were still reeling from the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment and the scores tied into their evaluations.  Meanwhile, the secret meetings of the Delaware Department of Education Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition began without any public notice as an email went out from Bennett…

Thank you for your interest in the Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition.  If you were unable to attend the informational webinar, please use this link to access the recording:   http://www.achieve.org/DelawareCBLwebinar  

The Guiding Coalition will be charged with laying the foundation for competency-based learning in Delaware. This will include creating a working definition of competency-based learning and what it could look like in Delaware, understanding current barriers to implementing CBL in Delaware, and establishing support for CBL initiatives to take root in the state. Once we have a common understanding of CBL, we will surface key ideas and develop recommended strategies for helping CBL take shape in the state.

The time commitment for the Advisory Group of the Guiding Coalition will be attending approximately two or three 2-hour meetings during the coming school year, with 30-60 minutes of pre-work for each meeting. There will also be opportunities to engage further through optional readings, school visits, webinars, and other convenings if your schedule/level of interest allows.

We are excited to share that an expert facilitator will be guiding each of our meetings; we would like to collect information to inform our meeting agendas.  Please complete the following survey by September 10th:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DECompetency-BasedLearning.  

Please complete a Doodle to help us best schedule the meetings for this group.  We hope to begin late September/early October, with meetings held in Dover. Responses to the Doodle poll will help us find the best day/time for the first meeting. Please use this link: http://doodle.com/mts6ncf74v77mnf

Best,

Theresa

Theresa Bennett

Education Associate, ELA

Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development

Delaware Department of Education

401 Federal Street, Suite #2

Dover, DE 19901-3639

To be continued…in part 2…coming soon…

To read the prologue to this series, link to The Delaware Illuminati, Prologue

Comment Rescue Regarding Rodel, Autism, & Special Education

Well, this is mighty interesting.  Marie-Anne Aghazadian, the former Executive Director for the Parent Information Center of Delaware from 1989-2014, a former member of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, and the founding President of the Delaware Autism Program, wrote a comment on an article I published over a year ago about the introduction of Senate Bill 92.

I, too, find it highly suspicious that Paul Herdman is now interested in improving special education. A group of students he had disdained for years. But then things have been rather quiet for Rodel since the demise of the RTT grant and the unsuccessful Mark Murphy reign.

And what better way to get into the fray again than to suggest interest in special education. Really?

I have found that Matt Korobkin (with whom I have worked on the Autism Advancement Package aka SB92/93), although well-intentioned, has indeed little spec. ed. background and seems to be pushing Delaware to replicate the education collaborative model prevalent in Massachusetts and other states.

Until society values students with disabilities as much as their AP students and is willing to pay forward to ensure their success as productive and self-sufficient adults, we will continue to waste time, money and children’s lives on costly, trivial pursuits such as studies and lawsuits brought on by legitimately frustrated parents.

Aghazadian raised several talking points.  Why is Rodel, in the past couple of years, dabbling in special education.  Dr. Paul Herdman, the Executive Director of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, did teach special education once upon a time.  But the policies Rodel pushed over the past ten years seem to be special education killers and not helpers.  I agree 100% with what she wrote.  I would love to chat more with her about all of this as she seems to know the history and education of Delaware education better than most based on her vast history in the system.

This is what we need more of: those in a position to speak out and actually doing it!  Nothing will change if more people don’t speak up.  Use your voice.  You have it for a reason!

Breaking News: Special Education Nuclear Blast Will Take Place In Delaware In The Next Month

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a hurricane in Delaware Special Education.  This year I predict a full-blown nuclear blast.  The Exceptional Children Resource’s Group at the Delaware Department of Education will release their FY2014 Special Education Compliance & Results report they must submit to the United States Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs in the next month.  The results are going to be catastrophic for Delaware.  We will be labeled as “needs intervention” once again.

This year’s results will be more controversial than any other year because out of the 43 “indicators” identified by the US DOE this year, 28 of them are based on the state assessment.  In Delaware, that would be the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  In other words, 65.11% of Delaware AND each local school district or charter school’s rating scale will be based on Smarter Balanced.  Participation rate will tie into this.  Delaware did not make the participation rate of 95% for students with disabilities in ANY grade.  So that is 32.65% of the rating.  The other 32.65% is based on proficiency goals for both ELA and Math.  What is odd though is the Math goals are based on the 2014-2015 Smarter Balanced scores but the ELA goals are based on the 2013-2014 DCAS scores.  The other new indicators are results tied to early childhood learning to elementary learning in three different areas covering “growth” and “expectation” for a total of six categories.  These new weights total nearly 14% of the rating.  Other new “results” indicators are graduation rates and drop-out rates, which Delaware did not hit the goals for either one.

In terms of compliance, which used to account for 100% of the Annual State Improvement Plans from the US DOE, this year it only counts for less than 14% of the entire report.  Delaware came in at the halfway mark for this section.  Indicators in this section included disproportionality in all disabilities or specific disabilities (much more of one disability over another, like ADHD for example), a disproportionate amount of suspension rates for minority students who are also students with disabilities, initial evaluation timelines, pre-school transitions, and secondary transition (making sure students with disabilities who transition from middle school to high school are part of their IEP team).  Delaware did perfect in the disproportionality sections, but the other areas fell well below the goals.

The report on this hasn’t come out, but the Delaware DOE did send letters to each school district and charter school in the state.  Based on the numbers in each of these letters, I was able to determine Delaware will be labeled as “needs intervention” this year by the US DOE.

The following districts and charters were labeled as “needs intervention”: Brandywine, Christina, Colonial, Lake Forest, Red Clay, Woodbridge, Campus Community School, Delaware College Prep, EastSide, Prestige Academy, Thomas Edison and students handled through the Department of Students, Children, Youth and their Families.

The following districts and charters were labeled as “needs assistance”: Appoquinimink, Cape Henlopen, Capital, Delmar, Indian River, Laurel, Milford, Smyrna, Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy, Gateway Lab School, Kuumba Academy, Las Americas ASPIRAS, Positive Outcomes, and Providence Creek Academy.

What is interesting is the charters who have very few students with disabilities or very low populations of intensive or complex categories did extremely well this year.  Out of the 43 indicators, the Charter School of Wilmington only qualified for 1 which they passed.  Delaware Military Academy only had 6.  None of the charters and a few districts did not qualify for the pre-school indicators.  When I determined Delaware’s rating, I factored out any district or charter that was not applicable for any of the 43 indicators.

The participation rates were based on the 2014-2015 Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I find it hysterical that they are using Smarter Balanced for this report.  The goals for Smarter Balanced Math on this report was a proficiency rating of 15% for students with disabilities.  All grades with the exception of 11th grade passed that goal.  But the participation rates, compliance indicators, and early childhood learning all brought Delaware way down this year.  When the final numbers come out, I predict we will be at 37.21% for our overall percentage with US DOE.  For the ratings systems, 80% and above is “meets requirements”, 60% to 79% is “needs assistance”, and 59% and below is “needs intervention”.

To see how your district or charter school did, check out this page on the Delaware DOE website.  Letters were sent out to each Superintendent or Head of School (charters) on May 31st.

Let me be the first to say I think it is utterly preposterous they are using the Smarter Balanced scores and participation rates for this report.  It is ludicrous to think it accounts for nearly two-thirds of it.  For those who ever thought testing is good, not only are teachers evaluated based on the scores, but our schools are now going through double jeopardy based on the scores and participation rates, especially schools with high populations of low-income and minority students who ALSO have high populations of students with disabilities.  I don’t accept this report and see it as utter garbage.  While some of the compliance indicators, the graduation rates, and the drop-out rates are worthy measures, the rest of it is utter crap.  I’ve said this last year and the year before, but there are so many other worthwhile things they could be measuring with these annual reports.  Such as IEPs being implemented with fidelity, IEP denials, and parent feedback.  In fact, the only thing remotely surrounding parents in this is participation rates, and that is an extreme dig at parental choices that are not against the law.  Delaware and the US DOE will NEVER learn…

I hate to be the deliverer of bad news, but once I saw these letters and what they were measuring, I knew I would be spending the rest of my day figuring all this out.  The last time we got a “needs intervention” in Delaware, back in 2014, Governor Markell announced the creation of a Special Education Strategic Plan.  He set aside funds in the FY2015 budget for this.  Almost two years later and this Strategic Plan still hasn’t seen the light of day.  But a former Rodel employee with very little special education background is getting paid a very nice salary as part of the Secretary of Education’s office.  Matthew Korobkin is in charge of this “strategic plan”.  So far the only thing I’ve heard is how much the Autism community in Delaware was pissed off at him for essentially trying to copy their Autism Blueprint into his strategic plan.  Money well spent Jack!  An IEP Task Force, formed in the General Assembly in 2014, did create legislation that is just now going into effect, but the task force never reconvened even though this was a huge discussion point towards the end of the first round.

As Legislation For Autism Pass In Delaware Senate, Very Strange Rodel Connections Sneak Into Special Education

Last week, the Delaware Senate passed both Senate Bill 92 and 93.  The legislation, dealing with Autism, passed unanimously in the Delaware Senate.  I wholeheartedly support this legislation as originally written, and I hope the House of Representatives passes it very soon.  The children and adults with Autism of Delaware have waited long enough for more support.  But what concerns me are the amendments added to both bills during the Senate vote last week.  Below are the original bills and the amendments.

With the amendment on Senate Bill 92, this takes away the authority of the Delaware Department of Education and the State Board of Education to provide training and technical assistance for students with autism.  This will shift to the University of Delaware’s Center for Disability Studies.  The funding for the training specialists comes from the appropriations act AND possible tuition fees from the local school district.

The amendment for Senate Bill 93 references things that aren’t even in existence at present.  Upon doing a Google search, there is no established entity called “Delaware Collaborative for Educational Services”.  I did find reference to similar groups in New Hampshire and Massachusetts but none for Delaware.  How can legislation provide for an organization that doesn’t exist anywhere in the public domain?  But while we are waiting for the creation of this mythical initiative, the representative on the Delaware Network for Excellence in Autism will be the Special Education Officer for Strategic Planning and Evaluation at the Delaware DOE.  Who is this person?  That would be Matthew Korobkin.

Korobkin came to the Secretary of Education’s office in March of 2015.  I first found out about him last summer when I was discussing special education with Melissa Hopkins from the Rodel Foundation.  She mentioned Korobkin and how he was going all over Delaware to find out best practices with Delaware special education.  She suggested I reach out to him to discuss my concerns with special education.  I emailed him but never received a response.  I found out soon after where Korobkin came from: the Rodel Foundation.

This is where things get very strange with this bill.  Korobkin’s history shows more of a slant towards special education technology.  How does someone who has a very brief tenure as a special education data teachers and an administrator position that is more a Technology Curriculum role than a true administrator become the key person in Delaware’s special education strategic plan?  Simple: he came from Rodel.  If you do a Google search on Korobkin in Delaware, you see many links to his functions at Rodel.  But for the DOE, you see his role as a member of the Statewide Educational Data Task Force come up the most.  He appears somewhere in the below picture.

EducDataTaskForce

I find it somewhat frightening that a data person would be put in charge of a statewide special education plan, much less someone who came from Rodel.  During his time at Rodel, he ran the Rodel Teacher Council.  He even gave his own biography in 2012 after he joined Rodel.  I can think of hundreds of other people in Delaware who are immensely more qualified than Korobkin for this key role that was snuck into the Fiscal Year 2015 budget epilogue:

SB255Sec.307

 

I did find a link to the minutes of the February 2016 meeting of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens.  Korobkin gave a presentation on the progress of this special education strategic plan.  Even more interesting was the attendees part of the minutes.  Both Hopkins and CEO Dr. Paul Herdman with Rodel attended this meeting.  I would imagine it was to see their former employee/current DOE plant give his big presentation.

I also linked to this Korobkin’s proposed Strategic Plan when he gave a presentation to the State Board of Education at their Spring Retreat last Friday.

Like I said in the first paragraph of this article, this legislation is a must.  But why do we have Rodel poking around in special education?  This non-profit organization doesn’t support a parent’s right to opt their child out of high-stakes testing, helped Governor Markell and the DOE win our first-round win in the Race To The Top competition, supports Common Core and personalized learning, and heavily supports charter schools at the expense of traditional school districts.  And now they want to get involved in special education?  Sorry, I’m not buying it.  Their activity in Delaware education is not good for any student, much less students with disabilities.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of the House Education Committee meeting on these bills.  And I plan on viewing this Strategic Plan due in May of 2016 the second it comes out!  Parents of children with Autism should have concern about some of the language in these amendments, specifically Senate Bill 93.