The Key Moments For House Bill 50 Opt-Out Victory In The Delaware House

There were many seminal moments on the road to this important victory for parents in Delaware.  I’ll start at the beginning:

1) Delaware bloggers Kavips and Transparent Christina begin talking about opt-out in the Spring of 2014.  It’s who got me to start thinking about it for Delaware.

2) Matt Lindell and the Capital School Board: a year ago, the Capital school board started the discussion on this, but it was tabled.  Then it came roaring back last fall for a unanimous vote by the Capital Board.

3) The Delaware DOE letters: In early December of 2014, the Delaware DOE began sending school districts a “suggested” letter to give to parents about opt-out should they ask or opt-out.  The confusing Delaware state code regarding this was exposed immediately by yours truly.  It took a while for this to be clarified by the DOE, but once the genie was out of the bottle, it made the DOE look ineffective

4) Delaware State Rep. Kowalko and Senator Lawson introduce House Bill 50 in early February. WDEL radio show host Rick Jensen starts having opt-out advocates on his show.

5) The Delaware PTA holds the first Delaware Parent Opt-Out Town Hall in mid-February.  Wide discussion about bullying tactics by school districts really ticks parents off.  What was meant to be a scare tactic fast turns into a rallying point for Delaware parents. President Terri Hodges announces publicly she is opting her own child out.

6) Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques tells a group of Christina Educator Association teachers House Bill 50 will never pass as Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick attempts to dictate terms about opt-out to parents in that district which does not work out as planned.

7) Delaware PTA holds Kent County Parent Opt-Out Town Hall in early March.  DOE is forced to admit parent opt-out can’t be stopped and the state law only applies to teachers and school staff, not parents.

8) Christina board of Education passes parent opt-out resolution in large measure due to the hard work in preparing the resolution by board member Elizabeth Paige and a fiery speech supporting parent opt-out by board member John Young.

9) Governor Markell announces initiative to reduce assessments for Delaware students while conveniently ignoring the elephant in the room, the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  This leads to Jaques referring to Smarter Balanced as a “little test”.

10) Governor Jack Markell is forced to talk about opt-out at Howard High School, which leads to remarks by Jaques which fans the opt-out flames even more, especially for special needs parents.  Jaques quickly apologizes.

11) The Delaware News Journal publishes a front-page cover story on opt-out from both sides of the fence.  A cover photo of parent Jackie Kook with her daughter brings it home for many parents.  Parent who never heard the words opt-out start looking into it.

12) In front of an audience of over 1,000 people at the Imagine Delaware forum, teacher and President of the Red Clay Educator Association Mike Matthews announces he supports the opt-out movement.

13) As the Smarter Balanced Assessment begins, parents start opting out by the hundreds in Delaware.  Many schools give parents a rough time, which causes parents to talk to each other and spread the news about opt-out.

14) Delaware State Rep. Sean Matthews and Jaques go head to head in a News Journal dual opinion piece on opt-out.  Matthews clearly wins the contest and shows why opt-out is important in regards to Delaware education.

15) Both Red Clay and Christina Educators Association hold joint press conference announcing no confidence vote in Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy.

16) Delaware PTA passes resolution officially supporting opt-out and House Bill 50.

17) DSEA (Delaware Educators Association) passes resolution supporting opt-out and House Bill 50, as well as a vote of no confidence in Mark Murphy.

18) Parent Press Conference/Rally at Legislative Hall in early April, though small, draws most Delaware media to it and more media coverage of opt-out.

19) Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams publicly announces she is opting out her own son, a high school junior who, like many Delaware juniors, are forced to take weeks and weeks of testing.

20) Mark Murphy appears on The Delaware Way with Larry Mendte and states “parents aren’t allowed to opt-out students”.

21) Red Clay Consolidated School Board passes parent opt-out resolution with excellent writing by board member Adrianna Bohm.

22) The day before the House Education Committee vote, Governor Markell announces initiative to have Smarter Balanced Scores tie into elimination of remedial classes for four Delaware universities and colleges.  The announcement is critically slammed by legislators, parents and teachers.

23) At the House Education Committee meeting on April 22nd, Kowalko and Jaques battle each other as Kowalko is forced to answer a barrage of questions by Jaques.  Kowalko successfully fends him off.  After discussion from other legislators, public comment from parents shows near overwhelming support for the release of the bill.  Opposition includes organizations well-known to support Governor Markell’s corporate education agendas.  After a vote to have the bill tabled falls apart, the bill is released from the committee in an 8-4 vote ending the over two hour debate.

24) Mark Murphy’s claim of federal funding cuts of $40-$90 million over potential opt-outs and the passage of House Bill 50 is debunked the next day with the release of the US DOE letter which clearly states schools cannot opt students out, and the letter never mentions the words parent opt-out.

25) Last week, organizations such as GACEC and Council for Persons with Disabilities release near identical letter in opposition to House Bill 50 with claims that are quickly debunked.

26) In a hasty and damaging example of executive overreach, Governor Markell announces to radio host Rick Jensen on WDEL he will veto House Bill 50 if it reaches his desk.

27) Parents begin emailing all the legislators of the Delaware House and public support for the bill is clearly seen by the legislators.

28) State Rep. Sean Matthews introduces an amendment to House Bill 50 the day of the House vote which changes the language of the legislation from “the state assessment” to the “Smarter Balanced Assessment”.

All leading to today’s enormous victory in the Delaware House of Representatives, with a 36-3 victory with two reps absent.  At the end of the day, this is about parents using their voice to initiate change.  This could not have been done by one individual at all.  It took a great deal of advocacy, hard work, sweat, social media, and legislators, parents, organizations and ordinary citizens spreading the word and supporting the cause.

What also helped were some obvious tactical blunders by the Delaware DOE, Secretary Murphy, and Governor Markell.  And God bless him, we cannot forget Earl Jaques.  He revealed today House Bill 50 got in the way of his planned legislation to reduce the Smarter Balanced Assessment to only three grades of testing.  Which is a noble gesture, but legislation getting rid of the “little” test would be a much grander statement.

While getting the bill through the House was an undertaking, it remains to be seen how the Delaware Senate will receive the legislation.  Folks are already guessing which Senate members will support the bill.  Delaware Senator Brian Pettyjohn already announced on Facebook tonight he will vote yes.  Senator Lawson, a co-sponsor of the bill, is a lock.  But the others are a mystery for now.  I can guess and predict, but until they publicly announce their intentions or a vote, we must email them and call them as much as we can.

Watch The Parent Press Conference At Legislative Hall In Dover

 

Parent Press Conference Went Very Well, Big House Bill 50 News!!!!

PPC#1

The Parent Press Conference on Delaware Education today went amazingly well!  About 25-30 parents came out, and many of the major Delaware media outlets were on hand as well.  Some parents from up north were unable to make it do a very nasty stomach bug making it’s appearance up there, but there were many familiar and unfamiliar faces there.  I gave an opening speech:

Thank you all for coming out today. My name is Kevin Ohlandt, and I am a proud father of a wonderful 5th grader in the Capital School District. I would like to recognize Delaware State Rep. John Kowalko and Delaware Senator Dave Lawson from the 148th General Assembly for joining us. As well we have State Rep. Kim Williams in the audience today. Both John and Dave are the co-sponsors on House Bill 50, which is the parent opt out bill. This legislation would codfify the parental right to opt out of the state standardized assessment, which is currently the Smarter Balanced Assessment. In the details of the bill, no student would be penalized for being opted out, and the student’s opt out data would not become a part of the school’s accountability ratings.

Since this bill was first announced, other legislators have made comments such as “This bill will never pass” or the Smarter Balanced Assessment is just a “little test”. When the opt out movement in Delaware began in earnest earlier last month, many parents were frightened or intimidated by certain school districts in our state. They received letters and emails from districts which included the following types of language:

-“Only students who have an extreme medical condition or a mental health can concern may be precluded from taking the assessment.”

-Making parents sign a waiver indicating “Despite this legal requirement for state testing, I elect NOT to have my child tested for the 2014-2015 school year and that my child will be counted as “absent” for purposes of testing.”

-“You will have to go to the DOE to get a form.”

-A superintendent saying “I’m the only one who can say who does not have to take the test.”

The reason much of this confusion began in the first place started with the Delaware Department of Education. In early December, they issued suggested guidance to school districts to handle the issue of parent opt out. This included having schools issue letters to parents indicating details regarding the Delaware state code and the state assessment. For three months, they watched school districts cite this code and knew it did not include parents in this part of the law. Parents felt intimidated and bullied by schools and the DOE let it happen. It wasn’t until the Delaware PTA had town halls concerning opt out that the Delaware DOE was forced to admit they can’t do anything to stop parent opt out. They said as a state they can’t legally do anything and it is up to the districts. There is no consistency among the districts in Delaware. Some have complied with parents in their requests, and some have flat-out said no, and that their child will test. I have seen an email where one director of curriculum stated he was afraid too many of the “smart” kids would opt out which would affect the school’s rating. As well, threats of Federal funding cuts to our schools are unsubstantiated based on other states not meeting the mandatory 95% threshold for testing participation in each sub-group. Over 40 schools in New Jersey did not meet these guidelines last year and not one single school received any cuts in funding. Continue reading

What To Expect At The Parent Press Conference

If you are coming to the Parent Press Conference on Wednesday, April 1st, outside Legislative Hall in Dover at 5pm, this is what you can expect:

-Parents talking about the damaging effects of Common Core and standardized testing

-A legislator talking about House Bill 50

-Delaware PTA talking about Parent Opt Out

-a potential other organization talking about their stance on parent opt out

Some have called this a rally.  We are rallying for a good cause: change in education.  If you believe that your child is more than a test score, please come.  If you are against teachers being rated based on a standardized test score, please come.  If you are tired of Common Core and other subjects either diminishing or disappearing in your school, please come.  If you are against your taxpayer dollars going to needless programs and services in our schools, please come.  If you are tired of paying school taxes so the Department of Education can sign contract after contract with companies that are interfering in education, please come.  If you want to save public education, please come.

You can find out more information on this event here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/962893793730222/

Red Clay Board Member Adriana Bohm’s Incredible Opt Out Speech At March Board Meeting

As the parent opt out movement continues in Delaware, some of the larger school districts have not taken an official stance on the matter.  At the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education meeting on March 18th, board members Adrianna Bohm gave an excellent speech on the parent opt out movement.  This is a must-read!

I want to personally thank Adriana Bohm for delivering this speech.  I was unable to attend, but I did hear it through Red Clay’s digital recording, and it was stirring and powerful.  I heard Bohm speak at a Wilmington City Council meeting last fall in regards to the priority schools initiative, and she has a very powerful voice.  I expect we will hear much more from Adriana in Delaware’s future.

Both the Capital and Christina Boards of Education have passed resolutions supporting the right for parents to opt their child out of standardized testing with no penalty to the student.  Other districts have verbally stated they would support opt out, such as Colonial, but no official board decision was made.

In the meantime, if you live in Red Clay Consolidated School District, please attend their April 15th board meeting and give public comment supporting parent opt out.  And don’t forget about the Parent Press Conference, covering parent opt out and education in Delaware from the parent’s perspective.  This event will be outside of Legislative Hall in Dover on April 1st at 5pm.  For more details, please go here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/962893793730222/

Save The Date: Parent Press Conference Is Now April 1st

No April Fools!  The date for the Parent Press Conference will be changed to April 1st, at 5pm outside Legislative Hall in Dover.  This way more people who want to come can attend!  Sorry for the last minute decision on this Wednesday.  This is not a rally.  This is a press conference so parents can talk about their frustration with what has been happening in Delaware education.  The main points will be House Bill 50, opt out and standardized testing, but also the frustration parents are feeling with education and being left out of key decisions.  Any organization or group is more than welcome to attend and participate, but the main focus is everyday parents.

Please save the date and do your best to attend.  The more people that are there, the bigger the difference it could make.  Please contact me at kevino3670@yahoo.com if you would like to speak at the press conference.  I will be sending a press release to the media outlets in the tri-state area in a few days.