Governor Markell Gives $400,000 To 21 Delaware Schools On Common Core Tour

As Delaware Governor Markell went on his “common core” tour today at W. Reilly Brown Elementary School in the Caesar Rodney School District, he announced $400,000 in competitive grants going to 21 Delaware schools.  The goal of these grants are professional development for teachers to further implement Common Core to increase student outcomes.  And God wept…

Why is Jack Markell, with nine months left in his reign as Governor, doing this Common Core tour?  Which company is paying him for this?  What disgusts me is the way the Governor and the DOE lure teachers in by making it look like it is for them.  How much professional development do teachers need?  Let’s not forget the two purposes of this tour: to thank teachers for implementing Common Core and to “debunk” the myths surrounding it.  You may fool some of our teachers and administrators Jack, but this is corporate tomfoolerty at its best.  Far too many Delaware parents know better and you may have fooled us once, but not twice.  As the state looks for funding, our districts will take any money they can get regardless of the cost to students.  I will ask again Governor Markell: where are the funds for basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade?  Answer the question Jack!

This is, in my opinion, a strong push towards the blended/personalized learning the Rodel Foundation has pushed on Delaware the past couple years.  The press release doesn’t even mention this, but events from last night suggest otherwise.  Last night at the Capital Board meeting, their board unanimously voted to apply to BRINC, the blended learning consortium that already includes the Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech, Colonial, Red Clay, Appoquinimink and Caesar Rodney School Districts.  Despite my public comment about the very obvious data privacy loopholes in existing law.

While student identifiable information doesn’t go out, it all filters through the Delaware DOE who simply gives education “research” companies the student’s identification number.  When that information comes back, the DOE has all that data attached to a student’s identification number.  As well, Schoology uses a cloud system called IMS  that would allow any aggregate information through the Schoology application to be shared with their members.  The Capital board seemed a little too eager to get this passed.  At one point, Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton didn’t know how much it would cost the district and it took him over fifteen minutes to find the information.  The board discussed how it would be good professional development for teachers without talking about what it means for students or their personal data.  Their CFO, Sean Sokolowski, said it would be paid for through Federal Consolidated Grants.  Are these the same grants Markell announced today or are they separate?  I would assume they are separate, but I’ve found many grants tend to have strings attached to them, just like the federal waiver scheme the US DOE abused under Race To The Top.  As we rush headfirst into this personalized learning/competency-based education/career pathway future for our students, those in the power to question things are going along to get along.  I can’t understand, for the life of me, why teachers are jumping on this bandwagon.  This will eventually cause their job functions, as instructors,  to diminish in the future.  To the point where they will become “facilitators” instead of “instructors”.  Does anyone think it is a coincidence paraprofessional salaries will eventually start at the same point as a first-year teacher in Delaware?  Don’t believe me?  Check out Governor Markell’s proposed FY2017 budget.  Go to page 202 on the pdf, section 286.  While many feel, and rightfully so, that paras in our schools are underpaid, should they be paid the same as a first-year teacher?  If they performed the same job function…

I have not been too impressed with Caesar Rodney Superintendent Kevin Fitzgerald in the past year.  He seems to have been sucked into the DOE/Markell/Rodel whirlpool of corporate education reform.  You can read more on his role in today’s announcement below.

Just today, the National Education Policy Center issued a damning report on the success of blended and personalized learning schools and pointed out they are less successful than schools who don’t use these services.  So if it is all about proficiency and increasing standardized test scores and growth, why are we pushing, as a state, a system that just isn’t working?  Could it have anything to do with the billions of dollars companies are making off this smoke and mirrors?  And how many of these companies are incorporated out of Wilmington, DE?  As per the IMS article I linked to above, they are incorporated out of Delaware.

It is my opinion the Governor’s time could have been better spent heading to Wilmington to do more than issue a statement on the tragic and pointless death of a student at Howard High School today.  His visit to W. Reilly Brown was at 11am, well after this hit the media today.  As a state tries to understand the absolute horror that went on in that school today, our Governor is off playing corporate lap-dog for his education buddies.  I will never understand that man.

Here is the DOE press release on these “grants”:

21 schools win professional learning grants

Delaware awarded 21 schools in seven school districts nearly $400,000 in competitive professional learning grants Thursday as the state moves toward professional learning tailored to individual school needs.

Governor Jack Markell announced the awards today during a visit with Secretary of Education Steve Godowsky to Caesar Rodney School District’s W. Reily Brown Elementary School in Dover. Five schools in the district won a combined $50,000.

“All educators deserve the opportunity to continuously improve their practice through their own initiative and through investments made in them by their schools, districts, and the state,” Markell said. “We must improve the quality and efficacy of professional learning for all educators in Delaware. To do this, we as a state need to support districts and schools in their promise to provide Delaware educators with ongoing, job-embedded professional learning that leads to real improvement for students.”

For the past three years, the Delaware Department of Education has provided state-led professional learning for school-based teams through the Common Ground for the Common Core program. Common Ground identified principals and teacher leaders, engaged them in deep practices around the standards and concepts and analyzed student work to determine how to target instruction in the classroom.

In year one, the focus of Common Ground was on the shifts under the then-new standards. In year two, the focus was on ensuring a balanced assessment system, and in year three, the initiative focused on targeted approaches to closing achievement gaps and deepening literacy in other content areas. Next year, the Reimagining Professional Learning grants will provide professional learning that continues to target the school level.

“A stable foundation has been built, and after three years of Common Ground, we now are incentivizing schools that are committed to continuing this important work while also strengthening the professional learning for their educators,” Godowsky said. “The grant applications of these 21 schools is a clear indication that they are ready to embrace this challenge.”

Godowsky said he is continuously impressed by the commitment of Delaware’s teachers and administrators and what they do every day and by what they plan to do with the Reimagining Professional Learning Grant: “Educators at all of these schools are looking at their data, lesson plans and structures so that they can reimagine the positive impact of  professional learning for the benefits of their students.”

Each school designed professional learning to meet its staff’s needs. For example, at Brown, the grant will allow teachers to gather each month to plan and research a lesson. They will agree which team member will teach the lesson, and the lesson study team members will observe the lesson, collect data on teacher actions and student responses. Through using lesson studies, educators will collaborate and focus on the impact of this training on teacher practice and student learning.

The funding will make a difference in other ways across the state from Bunker Hill Elementary’ s focus on inquiry learning in the Appoquinimink School District to Milford School District’s emphasis on teacher leadership through cross-district work with all elementary schools and the early childhood center. In New Castle County Vo-Tech’s St. Georges High School, there will be a school-wide focus on speaking and listening with strong professional learning communities to sustain a cycle of improvement for both teachers and students. In Colonial, school and district leaders evaluated curriculum, structures and teacher and student needs to develop a comprehensive plan with regular coaching and feedback from administrators, teachers and students.

“Educators at these schools not only looked at their data but studied their structures and developed plans to reimagine professional learning that they will tie to student outcomes,”  said Michael Watson, the department’s chief academic officer.

Kevin Fitzgerald, superintendent of the Caesar Rodney School District, said he appreciates the state’s commitment to support school-led professional learning.

“This is a perfect partnership between the state, the district and the teachers and school leaders who work closest with our children and know best how to deliver these college- and career-ready standards.”

The winners are:

·         Appoquinimink School District (Bunker Hill Elementary): $30,000

·         Capital School District (Central Middle, Henry Middle, Dover High): $90,000

·         Caesar Rodney School District (Brown Elementary, Frear Elementary, McIllvaine Early Childhood, Simpson Elementary, Stokes Elementary): $50,000

·         Colonial School District (Eisenberg Elementary, Gunning Bedford Middle, George Read Middle, McClullough Middle, William Penn High, Wilmington Manor Elementary): $90,000

·         Milford School District (Banneker Elementary, Mispillion Elementary, Morris Early Childhood, Ross Elementary): $90,000

·         New Castle County Vo-Tech School District (St. Georges High): $30,000

·         Smyrna School District (Smyrna High): $20,000

Alison May
Updated, 5:41pm: Apparently schools did apply for these grants as found on the Delaware DOE website.

 

MUST READ! Fascinating Look At Special Education At A Delaware Charter School

As part of a Delaware charter school’s charter renewal, schools provide a vast amount of information in regards to efforts they have made to improve their school.  Campus Community School, located in Dover, is up for their charter renewal this year.  A year and a half ago, the school realized they were having special education issues and sought the services of a consultant to see what was and wasn’t working.  The below document is a very interesting read.  It really goes into issues between general education teachers, special education teachers, administration, and special education coordinators.  These are not issues that are foreign to traditional district schools either.  Delaware public schools, as a whole, have a lot of work to do with special education.  My fear, and I have always said this, is that as long as success is based on once a year high-stakes assessments, students with disabilities will always be marginalized and not given the attention they truly deserve.  With the release of Smarter Balanced the stakes have risen even higher and these children will be forever lost unless there is a change now.

I would strongly recommend the Delaware Department of Education thoroughly read this document if they haven’t already.  What is detailed in this document is going on in a lot of Delaware schools.  These students do not have the true supports they need.  Far too many incidents with “behavior” are manifestations of children’s disabilities and if they don’t have the proper support and services, this cycle will continue.  Perhaps with his massive amount of special education background, Interim Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky will be able to change this.

Your “Yes” Vote At The Christina Referendum Tomorrow Is A “Yes” Vote For Students

The Christina School District is having their 2nd referendum vote of the year tomorrow.  It is absolutely important you vote, and you vote yes.  I will make one thing abundantly clear, I don’t live anywhere close to the Christina School District.  So why would I support a referendum that won’t impact my family?

Two words: Priority Schools.  I watched this district get labeled and shamed last year with the designation of three of their schools as “Priority Schools”.  The Delaware DOE and Governor Markell decided forcing these districts to conform to their standards would help these students do better on standardized tests.  I don’t subscribe to that ideology.  Never have, never will.  But I went to a few of their board meetings about this.  I watched their board and district, along with many parents, teachers, and citizens, agonize over what each and every part of this decision would mean to the students in Christina.

The board voted in their September meeting they would not accept the Memorandum of Understanding (basically a contract) the DOE wanted them to sign.  Doing so, the way it was written, would not guarantee protection for their teachers or school leaders.  But when I went to these meetings, it wasn’t just about the teachers and leaders.  It was about the students.  I remember attending a teacher press conference before one of their meetings where I heard a teacher talk about James.  James was a student Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy talked about at the first Wilmington City Council meeting.  He described all the problems James had and why the priority schools would help him so much.  Than a  few months later, I heard a teacher’s more realistic version of James.  How living in a city with a high rate of crime and violence can impact a student like James.  How sometimes teachers would do his laundry because no one else would.  And how malnourished James could be at times.

This was when I knew how much Christina truly cares about their students.  In a way I don’t see with such compassion and caring.  In the end, it came down to a resolution from an independent committee on education that saved Christina from signing over these schools to the DOE.  But if this district didn’t have the heart and soul of putting students first, they would have signed that MOU right away.  Instead, they formed groups to meet with true stakeholders: parents, members of the community, teachers, and administration, to find effective ways at helping these struggling students.

To the naysayers out there, I’m not sure why you don’t support students getting the supports they need.  I’m not sure why you want children to be given an education in classrooms with over 30 students, one teacher, and no paraprofessional.  As if many of these children didn’t suffer enough already with the stigma of being poor, you want to add to that suffering by cutting them off from what they need to get a good education?  It’s $4.50 a week.  Think about it.  Everything goes up in price.  But an extra $4.50 a week after five years to make sure your neighbor’s kid gets a good education is too much?  Really?

I used to do mortgage loan originations, and when determining someone’s financial eligibility I would ask about property taxes.  In some states, this is in the tens of thousands.  Delaware has, with little exception, the lowest property taxes in the country.  This is a benefit unparalleled in most of America.  But our children need these funds to survive.  Yes, survive.  Most of them come from low-income, minority households.  The special education population is higher than most districts.  For many of these children, school IS their sanctuary.  And you want to give them less?  Please make the right decision tomorrow and vote yes for a district that cares deeply about their students lives and educational outcomes.

Academy of Dover Won’t Reimburse Paraprofessionals When They Are Substitute Teachers

I remember when I worked at Campus Community School a few years ago, they were very good at paying me when I worked as a substitute teacher.  When I transitioned to a paraprofessional role for about five months, I was paid a little bit less.  If I was ever shifted to a substitute role, they would adjust my pay based on that.  Apparently another charter school in Dover doesn’t seem to want to follow that type of decency.  In their December board minutes, Academy of Dover wrote:

“Para’s are subbing for teachers – wanted to know if they will be reimbursed for subbing for teachers. Para’s will not be reimbursed for their time subbing.”

Not a good way to take care of your personnel!  I would have loved to hear a digital recording of that conversation!  Oh wait, charters don’t have to record their board meetings cause they are afraid of what we might find out!  Maybe if they actually hired a Head of School, instead of having an interim one for the past five months it would soothe things over.  Don’t believe me on this pay issue?  Read it here: