Will Stakeholders Be Able To Stop The Delaware DOE With ESSA? And What Delaware Entity Is Already Cashing In?

The Delaware Every Student Succeeds Act Discussion Groups held their third meeting on October 17th.  Below are the minutes from those meetings.  The next meeting will be on November 7th at the Collette Center in Dover from 6pm to 8pm.  Big topics like Special Education, Opt Out, the infamous “n” number, and the “whole child”.  As well, a major Delaware entity is holding a non-transparent event with some mighty big players and charging for it to boot!

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The Student and School Supports group found the following items to be priorities in Delaware education:

  1. Schools are the hub of the community so they need more services brought to them.
  2. Schools need more psychologists as well as psychiatrists and neurologists on call to assist with special education.
  3. Schools need more realistic ratios of guidance counselors.
  4. More trauma-informed schools.
  5. Funding for the “whole child” approach.
  6. Greater funding for high-needs schools.
  7. Invest in Birth to 8 with weight put on social and emotional learning (this also included discussion around providing basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade).

This group is top-heavier than the other discussion group with folks from the services side of education, and it definitely showed.  I don’t mind more services in schools.  But the key is in the eagerness.  It was my perception that some were very pushy with what they would like to see.  These very same people would also benefit financially from more of the recommended services in schools.  Are they a stakeholder at that point or a benefactor?

 

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The most popular items brought for by this discussion group were as follows:

  1. Not having the 95% participation rate penalty in the Delaware School Success Framework.  Since participation rate in state assessments is beyond a school’s ability to control, it should not be used as a punishment.
  2. English Language Learners accountability needs to look at factors in access for these students, how much formal education they had prior to coming to Delaware schools, age, how proficient they are in their native language, if they live in a city or rural environment, and how well they are able to read in their own language.
  3. The “n” size, which is the lowest number a school can have for reporting populations of sub-groups so they are not easily identifiable, was 30

The “n” number is always a tricky beast to tackle.  I support a high n# for student data privacy.  But on the other side, schools with small populations in their subgroups (charter schools) aren’t obligated to provide information on those students and it can make them look better than they really are.  This helps to perpetuate the myth that certain charters provide a better education.  I think the notion of being able to easily recognize a student who has disabilities or is in a sub-group is somewhat ridiculous.  I have never believed special education should be a stigma.  I think schools should celebrate every single child’s uniqueness.  By not reporting the results of those students (even if they are based on very flawed state assessments) does those students a disservice.  It makes it look like they don’t matter when they most certainly do.  It doesn’t look like too many people in this group were in favor of keeping the opt out penalty in the state accountability system.  Obviously, I echo that sentiment!

Last week, the Delaware ESSA Advisory Committee held their first meeting.  You can read the highlights here.  As well, Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams, who is also on the Advisory Committee, had some thoughts on the meeting, the US DOE’s pending regulations around Title I, and how they could affect Delaware schools.

The first draft of Delaware’s ESSA plan comes out at the end of this month.  From there, the discussion groups and Advisory Committee will reconvene.  As well, the Delaware DOE will be hosting more Community Conversations in each county.  Those groups will meet on the following dates from 6pm to 8pm:

11/16: Community Education Building, 1200 N. French St., Wilmington

11/21: Cape Henlopen High School, 1200 Kings Highway, Lewes

11/29: Seaford High School, 399 N. Market St., Seaford

12/1: John Collette Education Resource Center, 35 Commerce Way, Suite 1, Dover

12/8: Newark Charter School, 2001 Patriot Way, Newark

I find it VERY interesting they are holding the Wilmington meetings at charter schools.  The Community Education Building is the home of Kuumba Academy and Great Oaks.  Sussex County also gets two meetings while Kent County only gets one.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the general public, the University of Delaware Institute of Public Administration is holding a 5 1/2 hour event tomorrow at the Outlook at the Duncan Center in Dover.  This event is called the School Leader Professional Development Series: The Opportunities and Challenges of Implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act.  This event is NOT on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar nor was it mentioned at the discussion groups or the Advisory Committee.  I was able to get my hands on what is happening at this not-so-transparent event.  The event is described as the following:

This workshop is an additional forum for multi-stakeholder district teams to interact and discuss the opportunities and challenges introduced by this new legislation.

Major players are coming to Dover at 9am tomorrow morning.  Folks like the American Association of School Administrators, the National Association of Secondary-School Principals, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Education Association, and the National School Boards Association.

Presenting on Delaware’s ESSA plan will be Deb Stevens from DSEA, Dr. Terri Hodges from Delaware PTA, Executive Director from Delaware State Administrators Association Tammy Croce, Executive Director John Marinucci from Delaware School Boards Association, and a rep from the Delaware DOE.

Working groups will also be formed to discuss ESSA.  Another one of the workshops will focus on state accountability systems will be led by Robin Taylor with R²  Educational Consulting (never heard of them, time to start digging), one on school interventions led by Director of State Assessment and Accountability Joseph Jones from New Castle County Vo-Tech and Director of Elementary Schools Amy Grundy from Red Clay.  Finally, Laura Glass with the Delaware Center for Teacher Education and Jackie Wilson of the Delaware Academy for School Leadership/Professional Development Center for Education will lead a workshop on Teacher and Leader Training and Evaluation.

Will the Delaware DOE use what is said in this non-transparent event to help in the creation of their first draft?  Why is this event not public?  Shouldn’t those outside of education be able to hear what is being said about what could happen in their local schools based on this act?  One of the biggest challenges of ESSA is the perception that the Delaware DOE already knows what will be in their state plan and all of this is just details.  I suppose someone could crash this event if they registered, but they would have to fork over $85.00 to go.  But if you got in with a local school district or charter school with four or more members that price would jump way down from $85.00 to $75.00.  Cashing in on ESSA!  Gotta love the University of Delaware.

If you are not informed about the Every Student Succeeds Act and Delaware’s proposed plans, you won’t know the future of education in this state.  Period.  I have been imploring parents and citizens to get involved with this for a long time now.  I understand people are busy and they have their own lives.  But this one is really big.  It has not escaped my notice that they are doing all this during a major election cycle and around the holidays.  That is how the Delaware DOE rolls.  Either they plan stuff in the summer when no one can show up (or even knows about it) or they cram it in during very busy times for families, teachers, and citizens.

When the first draft comes out, I will be dissecting every single word and punctuation mark in the document.  I will break it down for you.  I will filter through what they think the public will see and what it really means.  That’s how I roll.  But it can’t stop there.  YOU must lend your voice.  Whether it is in person or email.  Keep a copy of what you say at all times.  Make sure your voice is not only heard but recorded as well.  We will get exactly what they submit.  If you don’t make your voice heard now (or when the drafts are released), it will be far too late.  It comes down to trust.  Do you really trust the Delaware DOE to do the right thing for students without selling them out to Education Inc.?  I don’t.  We need to upset the apple cart.  Are you in?  Or will you lament not speaking up later?

Delaware DOE Making Changes To Accountability System Without Any Public Notice Or Input

The Delaware Department of Education has tweaked the Delaware School Success Framework for the past four months without any public notice whatsoever unless you happen to look at the document buried on their website.  While some of the changes were based on approved changes by the State Board of Education or the Secretary of Education (such as the change for 11th graders from Smarter Balanced to the SAT), others have not.  Including a whole new metric calculation included in the latest version, released on Monday.  To rephrase this, they added a whole new section!  Now, if memory serves, the State Board of Education had to approve the Delaware School Success Framework.  And under that statement, I would assume the State Board of Education would have to approve any changes to the accountability system.  But here we have the Delaware DOE bypassing that process, with NO public notice, input, or comment.

Tell me, Secretary Godowsky, when does this better working relationship with the DOE start to happen?  When does that transparency get better?  Because I’m not seeing it.  Maybe some district or charter leaders might be seeing this stuff, but they aren’t the only stakeholders in education.  Please get that through your head.  Because, from my vantage point, things are no better under your leadership than they were with Mark Murphy.  Sure, some of the more visible lightning rods of controversy may have left, but that is no excuse to continue the absolutely horrible decisions your predecessor made.  In fact, I would say it is making it worse.  Who is guiding the DOE towards these decisions?  Who is signing off on these changes?  Why is there no discussion from Secretary Godowsky about these changes at State Board of Education meetings?  Where is the documentation that led to the creation of whole new business rule and a new section of the Delaware School Success Framework?  Was there another meeting of the Accountability Framework Working Group without any public notice whatsoever?  Because they are the ones who convened for well over a year and were the “stakeholders” behind this thing originally.  But I forget, you didn’t even follow their final recommendations with regards to the participation rate, so I assume their opinion doesn’t matter anyways.

The changes regarding the proficiency status if 30 students or less pass a “non-standard” state assessment are pretty major!

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Proficiency in science or social studies should have no bearing on proficiency in English or Mathematics.  Who does this benefit?  When parents are looking for schools, they could be looking for how students do in English or Math.  By changing the weight on non-related subjects it can skew the results for an entire school!  Even if it winds up benefitting the school, it is a false picture provided on this “school report card”.  I have to ask, who comes up with this nonsense?  I can only come up with one scenario where this would directly benefit public impressions: charter schools.  More under the radar puffing up of charters at traditional school district expense.  When are you going to stop this?  This n# thing that benefits charters in many situations has gotten out of control.  I get that it is meant to dissuade identification of students, but 30?  Come on!  Who is going to identify one student out of a group of 30?  In some Delaware charter schools, a grade could have less than 100 students.  We know this.  It allows charters to be exempt from some of the same accountability schemes traditional school districts are held under the knife for.  It also happens in special education all the time when it comes time for compliance audits or federal state rating systems.

Delaware DOE: You are the Department of Education, not the Department of Delaware Charter Schools.  Grow the hell up!  It’s getting really old!

And here are the complete list of changes as provided at the end of the updated Delaware School Success Framework:

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This needs to stop in Delaware.  No school that receives public funds should receive ANY special treatment over others.  But that is exactly what our DOE and State Board of Education do time and time again with our charter schools.  They actually allow them to look good in any potential and possible situation.  They do it with smoke and mirrors, behind closed doors, where no one can stop them.  They don’t solicit public feedback or allow anyone to see these “business rules” until they incorporate them.  And we are expected to believe they want public input on the Every Student Succeeds Act?  I have no doubt they already know exactly what they are going to do there.  Any pizza party at Grotto’s in Dover, on August 9th put on by the State Board of Education is just a big dog and pony show.  And don’t believe the lie about “light refreshments” beginning at 5pm.  When I went to one of these, they had whole pizzas.  So come on down or up to Dover and make your opinions known!  And eat lots of pizza!

 

 

DOE Report On Physical Restraint Of Students Is Very Disturbing

I read a lot of reports the Delaware Department of Education puts out.  Probably more than is healthy for a normal human being.  This one though…it got to me.  The last two times I felt like this was when I read the reports from the last couple of years on the Inter-agency Collaborative Team.  That group decides which students go to treatment centers, either in Delaware or out-of-state.  This report on Physical Restraint of Students has been out since October 6th, and it represents the total number of physical restraints in Delaware schools for the 2014-2015 school year.  The timing on this article could not be better given recent events that have occurred in Delaware and other states with adults acting very inappropriate to students.

In my eyes, physical restraint should be an absolute last resort with any student.  Other categories, which by regulation are not allowed, can be used through a “waiver request” with the Delaware DOE.

While the regulations prohibit the use of chemical restraint, mechanical restraint, and seclusion, the latter two are subject to use if authorized through the Delaware Department of Education’s (DDOE) waiver granting process. In addition to permitting and prohibiting uses of restraint and seclusion, these regulations require training for public school, private program or alternative program personnel, documentation and reporting of incidents of restraint and seclusion, requirements of notification to parents, and waiver procedures for the use of mechanical restraint or seclusion. These regulations provide for the safety of all students in our public school system.

I would love to know who approves these at the DOE.  Is it the head of their climate and discipline area?  The head of the Exceptional Children Resources Group?  The Secretary of Education?

The report goes on to talk about how no mechanical or seclusion waivers were accepted by the DOE.

Please note, no seclusion or mechanical restraint waivers were approved during the 2014-2015 school year. Although there were no approved waivers for mechanical restraint or seclusion, one LEA reported the use of mechanical restraint. The DDOE addressed the unauthorized use of the mechanical restraint with the LEA.

And why was this not made public?  A school violates the law in a severe way, and we have no mention of how the DOE addressed the issue?  Really?

And what does the DOE and Delaware law describe as chemical, mechanical, and physical restraints?  And seclusion?

“Chemical restraint” means a drug or medication used on a student to control behavior or restrict freedom of movement that is either not medically prescribed for the standard treatment of a student’s medical or psychiatric condition or not administered as prescribed. (Authority: 14 Del.C. §4112F(a)(1)).

“Mechanical restraint” means the application of any device or object that restricts a student’s freedom of movement or normal access to a portion of the body that the student cannot easily remove.

“Physical restraint” means a restriction imposed by a person that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to freely move arms, legs, body, or head.

“Seclusion” means the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room, enclosure, or space that is either locked or, while unlocked, physically disallows egress.

So how many times were students in Delaware physically restrained?

In total, 2,307 incidents of physical restraints were reported during the 2014-2015 school year to the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE).

And how many of these were students with disabilities?

For the 2014-2015 school year, districts and charter schools in Delaware restrained a disproportionate number of students with disabilities (77%) who qualify for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

And how many were African-American?

The number of Black or African-American students restrained was also disproportionately high at 54%.

As I surmised, the amount of physical restraints was much higher for male students than female students.

More males than females – 77% vs. 23%, respectively – were restrained.

Out of these 2,307 incidents, we learn later on in the report that it was actually only 507 students who were physically restrained.  Which means it happened multiple times to some students.

What kills me is the next part.  The age group with the most amount of physical restraints was students aged 6-8 with 153 students.  Then 9-11 with 128 students, and 12-14 with 121 students.  15 students aged 3-5 were physically restrained.  Out of the 392 students with disabilities, 135 were students with Autism.  101 had an Emotional Disturbance classification, and 57 were considered “other-health impaired”.  115 regular students without special education status were physically restrained.

In Table 6 of the below document, the DOE makes a MAJOR error in their synopsis of their data.  They indicate 1,022 students were physically restrained at five minutes or less for a total of 44%.  877 students at 6-9 minutes for 38%, and 408 students at 10 minutes or more for 18%.  The DOE’s major blunder occurs in the part they write after this:

Table 6 displays the duration of all physical restraints. The majority of physical restraints were less than or equal to 5 minutes.

No they weren’t DOE.  If you add 877 and 408, you get 1,285.  Last time I checked, Common Core or not, 1,285 is more than 1,022.  Therefore, the majority of students were physically restrained for more than five minutes.  Imagine, if you will, you are wrestling with someone.  They pin you down.  To win the round, they have to hold you down for ten seconds.  Imagine that for a minute.  Then imagine five minutes.  And if that is too much for you to stomach, imagine that happening for ten minutes.  Or imagine you are really mad.  Someone tells you to calm down.  Someone bigger and stronger than you.  How much time is excessive?  How hard are they holding the student down?  At what point does your body give up as well as your mind?  If you have reached that point but they are still holding you down, what does that do to a person?  To a child?

For the 2014-2015 school year, the month with the most physical restraints was October with 345.  I found this to be particularly telling.  Many students with IEPs have issues in a new school year.  At what point does it get to be too much for some students?  Looks like October.  Things seem to calm down in November and the number decreased to 189.  In December, there were 250.  Keep in mind, schools are off for about 1/4 of the month, so on average, December isn’t much better than October.

The next part I want to talk about shows the special education limits on charter schools.  Many charters won’t take Autism kids.  With few exceptions, it is very hard to find ones that do aside from Gateway Lab School.  Out of the 2,307 incidents, only 9 happened in Delaware charter schools.  Some would take this is “Oh, charters in Delaware seem to handle things better, I should send my disabled child there.”  No, you shouldn’t.  Like I said, they don’t take many kids with severe disabilities.

The report next goes through each school district and the charters to show how many happened at each school.  But this is one of the most insulting parts of the whole report, because the almighty “n” # of 15 rears its ugly head, and most schools don’t show the actual number because it is 15 or less.  None of the school reports show the time the child was physically restrained either.  Are there any particular schools or districts that are doing this for longer periods of time?  That is something that should be reported and investigated to find out why.  But we don’t know that because the DOE didn’t bother to put it in the report.  What we do know is out of the 2,307 students, 1,589 were in New Castle County, 334 in Kent County, 392 in Sussex County, and 9 in charter schools.

When I first read this report, I assumed a lot of these incidents could occur at the residential treatment centers.  Nope.  Only 29 students who attended these facilities in Delaware or out-of-state were physically restrained a total of 187 times.  Which means the other 2,120 happened in public schools.

The DOE states these situations happen when a student is a danger to themselves or others.  But I also have to wonder how many times situations escalated because adults involved either were not properly trained or were just having a bad day and made a situation worse.  To me, the most disturbing aspect of this whole report is the appendix B at the end which shows what kind of data the DOE collects for a mechanical restraint waiver.  I’m glad they didn’t grant any of these, but it doesn’t show how many applications they received with a lot of personal data about a student.  All of the data for this is stored on E-School Plus, which is run by a company called Sungard.  They also run IEP Plus, with all of the special education data for every single student that has an IEP in the state.  But the training for this is administered by another company called Schoology.  Sorry, I just don’t trust the DOE and all this data running through their hands.  I know, there are laws meant to protect this information but there are many loopholes in those very laws which can allow for other companies or vendors to obtain data for “educational instruction” and whatnot.

In terms of physical restraint, I had a long sidebar conversation with Kilroy tonight over these kinds of issues.  We talked at length about the SRO in another state who threw a female student across the room.  The girl wouldn’t leave the room, and apparently it was over a cell-phone.  We can all argue about what happened with the desk, but the way he threw her after, that was abusive in my opinion.  And I’m not sure how many of you have sat in those kinds of desks.  It is very easy, if someone pushes you, to go down with the whole desk because your legs are somewhat pinned in them unless you go to get up.  Kilroy posted a great article yesterday about the role of State Resource Officers in Delaware schools and a News Journal article on it.  This needs to be part of the conversation as well.  The physical restraint laws do not apply to police.  If they see someone in danger to their self or others, they are obligated to act.  Should schools have more SROs in them?  Probably.  The last thing we need is rent-a-cops.  But what happens if an SRO goes over the line?  What are parent’s choices then?

All I can say is this: if a school employee is laying their hand on a student, I would expect them to have done everything possible with the student’s IEP and behavior intervention plan and accommodated that student 100%.  If they haven’t, that is a huge part of the problem.  I do not have a child with Autism, and I understand there are instances where this could be needed with these students.  But once again, if an educator or school staff is part of the problem, and not the solution, this could play a huge part in a student’s behavior.

Everyone wants to always blame a school or district for discipline issues.  While it is certainly true they share some of the blame, there are outside factors that play huge parts in many districts.  The Wilmington schools show this the most in Delaware.  But we can also blame the DOE for many of their crippling policies and unreasonable mandates that do not allow for proper funding, their just-about crippling of teacher’s ability to provide a proper education to students (many do, but I think we can all agree many of them would like to do it different than what we currently have), and the DOE’s inability to understand special education.

My biggest concern out of all of this: are parents always notified when this happens?

You can read the full report below.

What 4 Districts in DE needed Special Ed intervention or Compliance? How did Charters get out of this? #netde #eduDE #edchat

During the June 2014 Delaware Board of Education meeting, Mary Ann Mieczkowski told the board four school districts in Delaware were being worked with in regards to special education compliance agreements or needed intervention. It was not mentioned during the meetings which districts those were, but I reached out to Mieczkowski about this and she gave me the districts. They were Red Clay, Colonial, Christina and Capital. All of these school districts have a very high population special education students. What shocked me was NONE of the charters were listed. I wondered why this was?

Charter schools are their own school districts. Is it possible that charter schools won’t fall into an intervention or compliance agreement due to their small size? The state measures compliance with changes in groups of students with 10 or more being affected. This is called an n#, and those below it are exempt from being included in calculations. With charters, they can easily fall below that number due to their populations, so they may not be included in calculations that would trigger these types of audits.

Maybe it’s time for all the charters to be counted as their own Delaware school district to prevent this type of thing from happening. The charters are well-known to have special education problems in this state. Just look at Delaware online-checkbook to see the funds charters are sending out due to special education issues. Look at Pencader and Moyer as public examples of special education problems. Another matter for the IEP task force to look at…