Mark Murphy Spews Sour Grapes About His Time As Delaware Secretary of Education

Do you want some cheese with that wine Mark Murphy?  That is the thrust of an online article from The Job in which Mark Murphy laments his time as the Delaware Secretary of Education.  Murphy gets it wrong on so many levels it isn’t even funny.

Frankly, kids’ interests and adults’ interests don’t always align. Kids have no power, no say, no decision-making authority, no money — so nobody has a real reason to listen to kids. Go shadow a high-school kid for a day — good luck staying awake. You have to walk from class to class, with four minutes between each bell. You have to raise your hand to go to the bathroom. It is so disempowering and so boring.

Yes, he did use the word boring.  Because we are desperately clamoring for high school students to do whatever they want in school.  I’m terribly sorry Murphy had to exercise so much while shadowing a high school kid.  He did always seem fit.  Perhaps that is why.  Let’s be very clear on something.  Teenagers are trying to figure out who they are.  They are going through puberty.  I’m not saying their voice isn’t important, but adults often need to be the ones to make decisions for students.  It isn’t because they are on a power trip, it is because they went through their teenage years and entered adulthood (well, most of them did).  They went through it and came out on the other side and know what works and what doesn’t.  But then a bunch of billionaires got together and decided they knew what was best for education.  They used students and parents in their quest to get rid of teacher unions.  That is whose side you were always on.

What would happen is, I would feel like I had reached an agreement with the union leadership, but then they came back a month or two later and that wasn’t how their membership felt. I should have spent more time meeting with local leadership. In hindsight, I would have done that differently.

Yes Mark, you should have.  It sounds to me like the union leadership wasn’t also aware of what was happening at the ground level either or perhaps they were just placating you.  The union leadership should reach out to their membership before making agreements on their behalf.  If that is how it went down.

Each time you try to turn around a school, or you open or close a charter school, or disagree with the union, you punch another hole in the bucket and you start to drain out. You lose some political capital. Eventually, you’re out of water.

Mark, you became the Delaware Secretary of Education at the worst possible time in Delaware.  Post Race to the Top and knee-deep in Markell’s very bad education policies.  We are seeing a lot of those policies reversed throughout the country.  Being a leader is allowing yourself to stand up to the criticism and not letting it get to you.  If you ran out of water that’s because you kept listening to the same people over and over again and were not willing to hear what was happening at the grass-roots level.

If every kid had access to a middle-class lifestyle, the country would be a much better place, and people wouldn’t be so angry about all the immigrants.

The two don’t really intersect Mark.  I know the goal is for every kid to be the same, but good luck with that.  The bad education policies you pushed on Delaware at the behest of your education totalitarian boss, Jack Markell, failed because they did not look at the individual, only the collective.  Not sure where your immigration comment comes in.

I am really nervous that really great people are going to stop being willing to pursue public office because you get publicly and professionally assassinated in these jobs.

Does this mean you see yourself as “really great people” Mark?  Since I became involved in Delaware public education a few years ago, I have seen three Delaware Secretaries of Education: yourself, Dr. Steven Godowsky, and Dr. Susan Bunting.  Both Godowsky and Bunting treated me with respect although we do not always agree on policy.  When you were around, you didn’t give me the time of day.  You treated opt out parents as if they were somehow beneath you and should be squashed like a bug.  You didn’t even mention the Rodel Foundation in this article, but you listened to them far more than any educator, student, or parent.  The priority schools initiative was the death knell of your time as the Delaware Secretary.  The whole thing was a Delaware Dept. of Education public relations nightmare from the onset.  It was shoddily planned and I would have to think you knew that.

If you’re a teacher in one of these schools, the new principal who comes into the school should decide whether you stay or whether you don’t stay. The teachers’ union was quite upset about that.

Of course they would be upset about it because the whole basis for this was standardized test scores.  It failed to address issues such as trauma, special education, segregation, and the individual student.  Who wants some corporate education reform Principal hand-picked by the Delaware DOE to come in and can a ton of teachers over Smarter Balanced scores?  That’s why parents and citizens also objected to this plan.  The biggest failure was your inability to predict the severity of the public backlash for this.  I have to think you felt so empowered at the height of the corporate education reform movement that you felt infallible.  No human being is infallible.

In retrospect Mark, this sounds like sour grapes on your part.  You cast far too much blame on others while failing to address your own failures in your term.  Playing around with the priority schools funding was the final straw.  You can’t make promises and then back away from them.  I’m not sure why you blame the unions for all that is wrong with public education.  I know that is the corporate education reform mantra, but perhaps you should think of your own future and get off the shame and blame bus.

Withholding Information: The Dangers Of Holding Back

This article originally appeared on the McAndrews Law website.  Attorney Caitlin McAndrews wrote this and it is very important!  It has pivotal information that parents of students with disabilities need to know about during the IEP process.  Parents, even with the best of intentions, can make mistakes during this process.  I agree with the author: give as much information as you possibly can to help your special needs child succeed!

Parents sometimes withhold information from School Districts, worried that the District will find a way to “use it against them.” This can include privately obtained evaluations, information from outside therapists or medical providers, or changes in medication. Though the instinct to protect your child’s privacy is understandable, withholding this type of information from the educators who work with your student typically does more harm than good.

In the example of an independent evaluation, providing the report to the District only gives them more information about how your child learns, which they should use to appropriately program for the student. Hopefully, the District will use the evaluation to help provide appropriate supports and services; but even if they do not, the family can at least say they provided all available information to the District. If parents have to go to a hearing, and they withheld a private evaluation, a hearing officer may hold that against the parent, and may question why the parent withheld outside information about the child that could have helped the District understand and program for the child.

Additionally, the private evaluation might contain information that would trigger the District’s Child Find obligation – that is, by putting the District on notice that the child has certain needs/diagnoses, and might require special education support.  If the District never saw the outside evaluation, it may be harder to prove that the District knew of the child’s disabilities.

Similarly, Districts often request permission to speak to outside providers, such as private speech/language or occupational therapists, treating psychologists, or pediatricians. This information could help the District program for your child, and withholding it can make a parent appear uncooperative in front of a hearing officer.

In general, the instinct to hold back can be a very natural and protective one, but ultimately, parents should ask themselves, “What am I afraid will happen if I share this information?” and “What good could potentially come from sharing?” In the vast majority of cases, the potential good will outweigh the potential harm.

By Caitlin McAndrews, Esq., McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.

3000

Sometimes a landmark passes you by and you never take notice.  As I looked at my blog earlier today, I saw I had written 2,999 posts.  That is a heck of a lot of articles for a blog that isn’t even two and a half years old.  So I thought I would do something special for the 3,000 mark.  I want to talk about fear.

There is no crippling force greater than fear.  It can turn the most well-intentioned person into a bowl of jello in a heartbeat.  We have all been there.  Some live in this state constantly.  What is my greatest fear?  Probably that my son will have a hard life.  It is one of the reasons I fight.  With every bone in my body.  I see teacher fear constantly.  Those who are afraid to speak because they can’t lose their job.  Fear can paralyze you when you least expect it.  It gnaws at you and turns conviction into uncertainty.  Truth into doubt.  But there are those who fight the fear and do something with it.

Do you want to know who doesn’t seem to have any fear?  Rita Landgraf.  The News Journal announced today she will take a job at the University of Delaware.  The soon-to-be former Delaware Secretary of Health will have big things to do at the University of Delaware.

She will join UD’s College of Health Sciences as a professor of practice and distinguished health and social services administrator in residence. She also will direct the UD Partnership for Healthy Communities, a cross-state and college initiative that looks to address healthcare challenges in the community.

Landgraf has been fighting for those who aren’t able to fight for themselves for a long time now and I’m glad to see she will continue that tradition.

Sometimes fear means rising up out of your comfort chair and doing the right thing.  Shelley Suckyj spoke out at a Christina Board of Education meeting on September 20th.  This one action drew major attention to the mold issues plaguing Christina schools right now.

Then there is Kathleen DeNight.  Last week, she received Autism Delaware’s Volunteer Of The Year.  As a parent of a child with Autism, I have seen DeNight at meetings.  She is not one to mince words and she will fight for her child.

Next is my wife.  On Saturday, she participated in a 5k walk.  In the pouring rain, she completed the whole thing and came in 11th place.  She has worked very hard in the past year to get to this point and I am very proud of her.

We can’t forget Jerry Fickes and Chris Leach, the two Wilmington firefighters who sacrificed their own lives to save others last month.

Another is one of my sources who I can’t name because then they wouldn’t be a source.  But sometimes sticking your own neck out in order to do good for others can be tough.  But this source does it consistently, and has been doing this for years.

There is this guy at work.  He says some of the most outlandish stuff I’ve ever heard in my life.  But he always does it with a smile.  He has absolutely no fear at all in this world and will say whatever is on his mind.

The Chicago Cubs may have a lot of fear going to the World Series, their first in 71 years.  But fear doesn’t get a team that far.  It is hard work and dedication.  I’ll be rooting for the Cubs.

Take Mike Matthews and Jackie Kook.  The two are running for the President and Vice-President of the Delaware State Education Association next year.  But they are starting their grass-roots campaign now and have committed to holding 15 meetings throughout the state in the coming months to meet with teachers and hear their concerns.  They have no fear whatsoever in speaking their mind for what they believe in.

Some take their fear from younger days and turn it into something good.  Such is the case with the Dover High School Peer Group Connections members.  These seniors help new freshmen transition to the high school.

I want to give a shout-out to some other bloggers out there in this country.  Especially two of them who continue to astonish me with the level of investigative prowess they exhibit.  They are heroes in my mind, and what these two blog about is very frightening stuff.

One of my favorite artists, a bloke by the name of Steve Dillon, passed away recently.  He was one of the co-creators, along with Garth Ennis, of Preacher.  Before that, they had a fantastic run on a comic called Hellblazer.  Dillon lived life by his own terms, and he wasn’t afraid to stand by what he believed.

Or what about Scott Goward.  A Dover resident running for Governor on a 3rd party ticket.  I’m sure he knows he will most likely lose, but he runs anyway, announcing his candidacy long before candidates from the “major” parties did so.

Fear conquering is all around us.  We see it every time a baby takes its first steps.  When a dying person is finally ready to let go.  When a student walks into a school for the first time.  When a couple finds out they are expecting.  People who struggle with addiction who take those tentative steps to ask for help.  When someone goes into surgery not knowing what the outcome might be.  When a parent attends a board meeting to give public comment about issues with their child.  When an African-American tells the world no more.  Or it could be a teenager who ignores a bully and walks right past them with their head held high.  Or another teenager who tells his mother, “I did it”, knowing that confession is better than the guilt.  Those who wake up in immense pain every single day but find the courage to get out of bed and face the day.  The opposite of fear is courage.  In big ways or small ways, courage is overcoming fear.

For those who have been along this journey from the very beginning, thank you for the road to 3,000.  For those who came along in-between, thank you for sticking around.  For those who just read occasional articles, that’s cool too.

Things are changing fast in education right now.  It will take great courage to speak your truth.  But it has to happen.

Kevin, 10/24/16

 

 

 

You Can’t Make Things Better Until You Fix What’s Broken

In the past week, a light bulb went off in my head.  I’ve been to a lot of education meetings lately.  State Board of Education, ESSA, Special Education Strategic Plan, district board meetings, and so forth.  I’ve seen and met a lot of legislators and candidates.  I’ve seen the old faces and the new.  For the most part, we are all talking about the same thing: problems in education.  Whether it is at a state level or on the ground floor.  At an ESSA meeting, one of the participants at my table was Red Clay Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty.

He made a very valid point.  We keep talking about education and how to make it better.  We keep throwing ideas into the mix.  We have meetings and task forces and committees and town halls and strategic plans.  We talk ourselves to death.  We don’t take action and we have gotten away from the basics.  I agree with him.

There have been opportunities to act, but they pass by.  Until the next idea comes along.  I’ve met with parents, teachers, district administrators, board members, the DOE, advocates, disability groups, legislators and regular citizens.  There are deep rifts between everyone.  Hurts.  Things happen.  Perceptions are thrown out of whack.  I have seen two of those groups talk about the exact same topic in separate meetings but the tone and feelings about it are wider than the Pacific Ocean.

As much as I rant about the DOE, I do like that they are having these town halls.  I like that people are coming out to them.  But it’s not enough.  Not nearly enough.  What is confusing me is why different states are taking advantage of different timelines for their draft plans.  For example, Delaware wants to get their plan in by the end of March.  In Florida, they are not submitting their plan until the end of July.  The Delaware DOE wants to have their plan in place by the 2017-2018 school year.  Florida’s wouldn’t fully kick in until 2018-2019.  The Delaware DOE wants to have their first draft done by the end of October.  In 37 days.  While it is a draft and would most likely be amended based on public feedback, I don’t like that short of a time frame.

Is that enough time to heal the rifts between the adults involved in education?  Is that enough time for us to decide, as a state, what is best for students?  No.  I don’t like the idea that we are rushing to get a basic plan done, with public comment to possibly tweak that plan, and then again after the end of the year.  I would much rather see something more solid in the beginning and build from there.  I want a foundation that is grounded in fixing the already existing problems with a definitive action plan and a path forward to fix them.  While some may see ESSA as a grand opportunity to get things right, are we rushing to get certain plans that are representative of the more powerful at the expense of the majority?  I believe we are.  Delaware needs more time.  With the vast amounts of money we spend on education, I would think there could and should be a way to get more voices involved.

When many education bills are submitted in the General Assembly, they are symptomatic of larger things that are broken.  If we don’t fix those bigger things, the small solutions don’t always work.  So, I guess, I’m putting this out there for the Delaware DOE, Secretary Godowsky, and the Governor to think about.  What is the harm in waiting another four months to put forth our ESSA plan?  Yes, it’s another year students may not have something.  And many of those things they need now.  But if we squander a gift of time and having true collaboration, at a state-wide level, to get things right, then all the plans in the world won’t help.  It would also give the General Assembly more of a sense of what this will cost over the five and a half months they are in session.  By submitting the plans by the end of March, it will force the General Assembly to most likely scramble to introduce legislation to make it all fit.  Why not let the General Assembly have until the end of June to do their thing while the rest of us, and I mean ALL of us, do our thing?  I have no doubt the DOE has a very good idea of what they would like to see.  But I don’t think the rest of Delaware feels they have been given enough to do this.  We need more time.

This isn’t a rant against the DOE.  It is a heartfelt plea to all involved in education to use the time we could have.  We need to come together, for the kids.

So It Appears Rodel Is STILL Getting A Lot Of Say With ESSA Conversations Before More Important Stakeholders

listen_to_your_stakeholdersThe Delaware Dept. of Education must think the sun rises and sets with the Rodel Foundation of Delaware.  Today, at the State Board of Education meeting, an update was given on the Every Student Succeeds Act Stakeholder Consultation (ESSA).  Many things in the below presentation and what were said sent major red flags up.

The biggest concerned Rodel.  A question was asked about getting the Chamber of Commerce involved with ESSA.  Susan Field-Rogers with the DOE stated that was brought up during consultation with Rodel.  A couple of minutes later, Secretary Godowsky chimed in that was brought up during a Vision Advisory Committee meeting.  Both of those meetings were closed to the public.  And why is Rodel chiming in on other stakeholders to bring into the process?  They have no authority over anything involved with ESSA.  They are a non-profit foundation.  But you would think they run the Delaware DOE.

State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray noticed that local boards were shown as groups the DOE had conversations with.  She expressed how she heard from local board members with questions about ESSA and was happy to see that.  But then the DOE clarified that local boards were included because they participated in the State Board Workshop on ESSA last month at Grotto’s Pizza in Dover.  So they did NOT have one-on-one meetings with local boards but rather list them as participants from a workshop.  But the charter leaders they DID meet with.  And Rodel.  If they are going to meet with charter leaders, who typically have 1-2 buildings to take care of, why aren’t they meeting one-on-one with every single school principal?  This is beginning to smell really bad.  As well, they said their meeting with the Delaware School Boards Association (DSBA) ties into meeting with local school boards.  Huh?  No it doesn’t.  Not every single local school board belongs to DSBA.  Many have opted out of paying the fees to be a part of them.

After it was pointed out at their board meeting last month that legislators need to be a group to consult with, they STILL weren’t listed on their “stakeholder slide”.  At what point do they clue the legislators in on any of this?  When the ink is dry on the plan?

The DOE made a big deal that no part of the plan has been written and that it will be shaped by all of these meetings.  But they did inform the State Board that the US DOE did submit a “draft plan” to all the states.  Not that they are required to follow it… Okay…

In terms of the ESSA discussion groups coming out, Field-Rogers said there will be two discussion groups with approximately 30 members in each group.  90 people were nominated.  They are in the process of picking members and DSEA and the Charter Schools Network are helping to pick who will be in the groups.  I’m seeing a lot of charter love in this process.  But for schools that only represent up to 12% of Delaware students I’m not sure those scales are even.  And nothing against both of those organizations, but they represent schools and teachers.  They are, when it comes right down to it, lobbying organizations.  I’m just not digging this process.

Want to know what else is missing on that slide?  Parents.  But I guess we have to go to the “Community Conversations” to make our voices heard.  Aside from the Delaware PTA, there are no other parent groups.  No PTOs, no advocacy groups like GACEC or Autism Delaware.  There are also NO students.  You would think the biggest federal education law to come since 1965 would have some student input.  Nope.  Not with our education overlords.

These community conversations start next week in Georgetown.  I am sending out a plea to Delaware parents to get to these meetings and make your voice heard.  Do not let the DOE hijack this process.  Let them know what you want, not what they want.  The DOE wants people to register for the meetings so they can get a headcount and how many facilitators they will need.  I say fill the joint up with parents and those who care about saving public education from the poverty pimps and corporate pirates who want to permanently hijack our schools.  Click on the date to register for the meeting(s) you want to go to.

6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, September 20 at the CHEER Center, 20520 Sandhill Road, Georgetown  Registration : Discussion Topics

10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, September 24 at Christina Cultural Arts Center, 705 North Market Street, Wilmington  Registration : Discussion Topics

6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, September 27 at Bunker Hill Elementary School – 1070 Bunker Hill Road, Middletown Registration : Discussion Topics

5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, September 29 at the Collette Education Resource Center, 35 Commerce Way, Dover Registration : Discussion Topics

 

Predicting The Future…Was I Right?

Back in March on 2015, I made several predictions for Delaware education.  I ran across this post yesterday while searching for another post.  As I looked back on these predictions, I wondered if I was right or wrong.  I would say I got about half right and half wrong.  Some were dead on the nose while others I wasn’t even close!

Top Ten Exceptional Delaware Predictions for 2015

1. Mark Murphy is either terminated or resigns

Yes, I was absolutely right about this!  By August 2015, Murphy did “resign”.

2. Mark Holodick takes his place

Nope, Dr. Steven Godowsky took his place.

3. Office of Civil Rights comes back with scathing report against Delaware

Nope, still working on it supposedly.

4. More charter schools get scrutiny over finances

Yes.  Academy of Dover, Providence Creek Academy, Kuumba Academy, Delaware College Prep, whatever is in the unreleased petty cash audit, and Delaware Met.

5. At least 3 districts won’t meet the 95% benchmark for standardized test participation rates

Nope, more than 3 districts didn’t hit the 95% benchmark for the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

6. Delaware parents become a force to be reckoned with education conversation

Maybe.  We did get House Bill 50 passed in the House and Senate but Governor Markell vetoed the bill.  Parents of students with Autism did get Senate Bill 93 passed.  There were other bills that went through, but parent advocacy wasn’t as big in the General Assembly after the veto override of HB50 didn’t go through.

7. Bullying and discrimination will become BIG issues

To me, this is always a big issue.  I think more awareness of discrimination happened due to the situation with cops and African-Americans over the past year.  For bullying, I will have to reserve judgment until I see the report for the 2015-2016 school year.

8. More bills will be introduced AND passed to limit the power of the Delaware DOE, Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education

Not really.  If anything the DOE grew more bold after Mark Murphy left.  Recent months have proved that more than any other time.  But in terms of the legislators, the only thing I can think of which may limit power is placing the State Board of Education under Sunset review.

9. US DOE will approve extension for teacher accountability and the Smarter Balanced Assessment

The US DOE did approve this extension for the 2015-2016 school year, but as I wrote yesterday, this year is another matter.

10. The four Wilmington school districts will become two and Brandywine will cause major problems during the process

Absolutely not!  I can’t recall if the WEAC recommendations came out when I wrote this, but nothing has happened at this point in terms of redistricting.  Brandywine and Colonial did bow out of sending their Wilmington students to Red Clay though, so in a sense it was kind of/sort of right.  But Brandywine didn’t really cause any problems.  But Colonial bowing out was a point of contention for a time.

 

Governor Markell’s Executive Order #62 Creates ESSA Advisory Committee

Today, Delaware Governor Markell signed an Executive Order which creates an Advisory  n Committee for the Every Student Succeeds Act.  As required by federal law, this group will convene to provide input (not make final decisions) on ESSA which was signed by President Obama last December.  I am assuming this group will replace the DESS Advisory Committee which was required under the former federal education law, ESEA.

This group will have the usual slots: President of the State Board of Education, President of the Delaware State Education Association, and other education, business, and state associations.  There are only two legislator slots, one from the Senate and one from the House.  Usually, these kind of groups have representation of both parties in the House and the Senate.  Only three teachers will be picked, and only four parents.  On something this important, bigger is better.  But lest we forget, these members will be picked by the Governor, so expect some controversy over those picks!

As well, there will be a series of “Community Conversations” coming up at the end of September.  I pray this isn’t a one-sided show where select people are telling the audience what has to happen.  It needs to be a true back and forth exchange to be a true conversation.

Below is Executive Order #62 and the press release from the Delaware DOE.

 

Markell Creates Group to Support Implementation of New Federal Education Law

 

Calling a new federal education law an opportunity for teachers, school leaders, parents, and others to build on record graduation rates and other progress happening in Delaware schools, Governor Jack Markell today signed Executive Order 62, which brings together a diverse group of stakeholders to provide input for the state plan required by the federal Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA). The plan, which the U.S. Department of Education is expected to require by sometime next year, will detail efforts to:

·         Implement academic standards aligned with what students need to know stay on track for success in college and the workplace;

·         Ensure students from all backgrounds have access to high-quality educational opportunities from pre-school through high school;

·         Support training, retention, and professional advancement of great educators; and

·         Track progress of schools across a variety of measures, not limited to test scores, and identify ways to offer additional support where students are struggling.

 

The Governor, who signed E.O. 62 at Lewis Elementary School, noted that improvements from the last major federal education law, No Child Left Behind, mean that states have more flexibility in ways to support students, including how to measure schools’ progress and new opportunities to focus on early childhood education, which has been a top priority of the Markell Administration.

 

“We should all be proud of the progress we have made over the last few years, when we have seen thousands more low-income families enroll children in high-quality early childhood programs, recorded the fastest-growing graduation rate in the country, offered thousands more students the chance to earn workplace experience and college credit while in high school, and given more students access to college,” said Markell.

 

“ESSA provides an exciting chance for us to build on that momentum – to better support and attract great teachers and ensure all of our students have access to the education they deserve, no matter their backgrounds. More flexibility in how states approach these issues means more responsibility for us to make sound decisions and as we develop our state’s plan under ESSA. The executive order I sign today will help engage our teachers, school leaders, parents, and other advocates to ensure a successful process.”

 

The Executive Order outlines the variety of education leaders and advocates who must be represented on the committee and provides the group with the opportunity to review drafts of the state plan and submit recommendations to the Secretary of Education. A chair will be announced in advance of the first meeting and the group will include representatives of:

 

·         Parents in every county

·         Educators from urban and rural communities

·         The State Board of Education

·         The Delaware State Education Association

·         The Delaware Association of School Administrators

·         The Delaware School Board’s Association

·         The Delaware Charter School Network

·         The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission

·         The Early Childhood Council

·         Delaware English Language Teachers and Advocates

·         An organization advocating for students with disabilities

·         Delaware’s business community

·         Workforce development programs

·         The General Assembly

 

“After engaging in initial discussions with a wide variety of education stakeholders on development of our ESSA plan, this advisory committee represents an important next step in supporting our communication with teachers, administrators, and parents who are working hard to support our students,” said Delaware Education Secretary Steve Godowsky. “This group will help ensure we fully consider a wide range of perspectives and set our state on a path of continued improvement.”

 

The department also will engage representatives of stakeholder groups in two discussion groups. The first group will focus discussions on technical topics related to Measures of School Success and Reporting.  The second group will focus discussions on provisions for Student and School Supports. Participants for these topical discussion groups can be nominated on the department’s ESSA web site through September 9, 2016.  The discussion groups will provide information to the Advisory group created by this Executive Order.

 

To further support engagement of the broader education community, the Department of Education has announced a series of Community Conversations later this month during which teachers, administrators, and others will offer input on specific questions that the state must address in its plan. These discussions will take place at the following times and locations:

 

Tuesday September 20 at 6:00 p.m. – Cheer Center, Georgetown

Saturday September 24 at 10:00 a.m. – Christina Cultural Arts Center, Wilmington

Tuesday September 27 at 6:00 p.m. – Bunker Hill Elementary School, Middletown

Thursday September 29 at 5:30 p.m. – Collette Education Center, Dover

 

The public also is invited to provide input through online surveys found on the Department’s ESSA web site and by submitting feedback to ESSAStatePlan@doe.k12.de.us

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

Jack Markell, Blockchain, Coding Schools, Rodel, BRINC, Pathways To Prosperity, Registered Agents… Delaware’s Role In “The Ledger”

If Washington D.C. is the capital of America, than Delaware is the capital of corporate education reform.

Over the past week, many of us who are resisting the privatization of public education have been talking about The Ledger.  Peter Greene broke the news for the world to see, which Diane Ravitch quickly picked up on.  What is “The Ledger”? Continue reading “Jack Markell, Blockchain, Coding Schools, Rodel, BRINC, Pathways To Prosperity, Registered Agents… Delaware’s Role In “The Ledger””

2016 Update: Which Articles Get The Most Hits?

2016 has been a very interesting year in blogging.  Some articles took off way beyond what I thought they would while others didn’t even hit the 1,000 mark.  Such is life in Delaware education!  The articles that get the most hits on this blog seem to take on a life of their own.  It is very odd to watch as the writer of this blog.  I think to myself, “this is Delaware, it can’t be that interesting!”

Without further ado, here are the top 2016 articles on Exceptional Delaware:

  1. Delaware Public Schools: You Have Until Thursday To Get Rid Of Your Data Walls Or I Start Filing FERPA Complaints 51,505 hits
  2. Her Name Is Amy 36,029 hits
  3. Holodick & Brandywine Named In Lawsuit As Father Seeks Justice From Year Long Nightmare 22,277 hits
  4. Tragedy Strikes Howard High School In Wilmington As Student Dies From Head Injuries In Fight 6,924 hits
  5. Niche.com Delaware School Rankings By High School, Middle School, Elementary School, Best Teachers, & More 3,098 hits
  6. Delaware Senate Passes The “No School After Labor Day” Bill With Close Vote 3,054 hits
  7. Delaware DOE Hits All-Time Low With Very Scummy Move Against Teachers… 1,993 hits
  8. ***UPDATED***Channel 6 ABC Action News Gives Updated Information About Details In Amy Joyner-Francis Case 1,823 hits
  9. Governor Markell Takes It To Facebook And Receives The Beat Down Of His Life! 1,783 hits
  10. Delaware’s Pee Problem 1,712 hits

Out of all the above articles, the one that was the hardest to write was Her Name Is Amy.  It was the day after her murder at Howard High School of Technology, and the words just came out of me.  The data walls article really took me by surprise.  I wrote the whole article in about five minutes while at work one day in response to a Facebook post.  When I checked my laptop a few hours later at my next break, it had over 3,000 hits.  The whole Senate Labor Day bill was also a post I thought no one would really care about, but it clearly resonated with readers for some reason.  A lot of these articles generated so many hits because they were either original topics that couldn’t really be found anywhere else or because they dealt with a tragedy on a scale we weren’t used to in Delaware.  The fact that three of these articles dealt directly with Amy Joyner-Francis speaks volumes at the grief we felt (and still do) over her senseless death.  There was a lot of misinformation about what happened that day.  Some of it was discounted only to be later verified.  In some instances, it was just bad information.  When I was prepping the Brandywine lawsuit article, I had a feeling it would be big, but not that big.  The Pee article was meant to be serious, and it was.  But sometimes the title just jumps out and says “read me”.

For the data walls article, I will be keeping a close eye on this topic.  I want to hear from any parent, teacher, or student who sees data walls in our schools that give out names and test scores and rankings of students.  In the classroom or out, especially if it is in an area where anyone can see it.  Many schools who practiced this last year got a reprieve from me because it was the end of the school year, but I will not be so kind this year.

Blogging is an odd thing.  None of these posts were heavily linked to with the exception of Facebook in certain situations.  Facebook, Twitter, and Google have always been my biggest “referrers”.  What none of these hits include are hits to my “homepage” which received 93,065 hits so far this year.  Each year, this blog gets bigger, and I am very grateful for that.  When I began this little thing back in June of 2014, I didn’t foresee anything like this or what it became.  I thank all my readers, near and far, for coming to visit.  It’s been controversial, it’s been real, and it’s even been fun with some stuff.  The people I’ve met since have left a very big impression on me.  I am a better man for meeting a lot of you!  And some, I won’t go there!

While I don’t always slow down in the summer, my readers do.  I have noticed a crystal clear trend with this as my 3rd year of summer blogging comes to a finish.  Things ramp up big time in late August/early September.  That continues up until Christmas.  Slows down for a few weeks, and then the General Assembly comes back.  Things slow down around Easter for a week, and then back up again until June 30th.  Slows to a crawl on 4th of July, and goes up or down all summer depending on how many people are around and not purposely checking out from “real life”.  But summer is when the DOE is usually the most crafty, so I make it an extra point to monitor them closely then.  Sometimes it takes a while to put the pieces together, but eventually a picture forms.

Funny story, the first time I wrote an article about Governor Markell in the title, I thought for sure the Delaware Secret Service would be collecting me at work.  It never happened, and as time went on, I stopped worrying about stuff like that.  It’s not that I’ve ever been about to destroy Jack Markell.  I’ve always hoped he would wake up one day and do the right thing.  But he is very predictable once you figure him out.  He constantly disappoints me, but that feeling leads me to the truth every singe time.  I’ve always made it a point to tell the truth on here.  Some of that is perception, and some were gut reactions, borne out of frustration and anger.  I’ve flip-flopped on a lot of things, but some things have stood the test of time: my stances on Smarter Balanced, Opt Out, personalized learning, Rodel, Markell, the Delaware DOE, and the Delaware State Board of Education.  I still think special education needs vast improvement in Delaware.  Following the money has taken more time and research the past few months, but I understand things so much more than I used to.  It isn’t just a charter thing, it’s a Delaware public education thing.

I’ve written some things on here that some found reprehensible but I stand by those decisions.  To my detractors, I ask this: if I am wrong about so many things, why do I get no response for those things from those who know the truth?  They have the ability to reach me.  They all know how.  It has been a very rare event when I left a comment in moderation because of the nature of the comment.  I can count those on one hand.  I have never edited a comment.  I’ve corrected articles many times.  In Delaware education, transparency is not always there so you draw conclusions based on what you have and the information presented.  I’ve even apologized if I was wrong in the past.  Sometimes I hear that others are upset with me, but I never seem to hear from those “others”.  To those “others”, you should not feel afraid to reach out to me.  I may not agree with you, but I will certainly present your side of the story.  As long as you don’t lie to me or intentionally try to mislead me.  Cause if I find out, you can be pretty damn sure I will write about that.

At the end of the day, this isn’t my blog.  It isn’t even about the people who read it.  It’s about the Delaware kids in public education.  It’s about my kid and yours.  When politics gets involved, it can get ugly.  I won’t endorse those who toe the party line or vote against something that could and should be in a student’s best interests.  In Delaware, we have the capability of ushering in true change to education.  We stand on the cusp of something better and different.  But all of this depends on how you vote in the September primaries and on Election Day in November.

I urge all of you to do research into which legislators have stood up for public education.  Who has supported the rights of teachers and parents?  Who voted against the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  Who has openly, even in the face of disdain from their peers in their own party, voted for what is right and not for what the Governor or the forces against public education want?  Who goes to a lot of education meetings and serves the will of the people and not the Governor?  This can be a very thin line at times.  There are many parents who support charter schools and school choice in this state.  I recognize that, and I accept that.  Some assume certain politicians are out to destroy charters.  They aren’t.  They just want transparency and honesty, about their finances or their enrollment practices.  They see and hear things you never hear a word about.  They see the lobbyists in full swing at Legislative Hall and know who is zooming who.

I think most of us want something better for our kids than what we have.  But if you want to live in a sheltered island where everything is safe for the few, and not the many, then that isn’t always the best thing.  Parents are used when they exist in those kind of environments.  They are more willing to believe certain things because it is all they know.  But trust me when I say the reality is very different.  There are people in this state who are all about themselves.  They may smile and appear to be the nicest people in the world.  They aren’t.  They know who they are.  They know what they do.  I believe most, if not all of them, are fully cognizant of their actions.  I’ve seen many of their faces when they aren’t in a crowd.  They aren’t the same faces.  It is truly horrifying to see sometimes.  I can also see the weight of guilt on some of them.  I see the stress on their face and the remorse in their eyes.  But they feel powerless to do the right thing.  This isn’t something I can fathom.  I guess it just isn’t in my genetic makeup.  I feel for them in the same respect I feel bad for anyone who does wrong and it eats at them.  We have all been there at one point or another.  It isn’t a fun feeling.  But at the same time, I don’t feel any loyalty to these people.  Everyone has the opportunity to tell the truth or live a better life.  It might mean sacrificing something these people aren’t willing to do.  I don’t think it’s a question of not being able to do so for any of them.

We all make choices, for good or bad.  I believe we all face moments when we wrestle with those choices.  Struggle with what to do.  We may be protecting someone else, or just ourselves.  But when it involves kids, there is no place for ego or greed or manipulation or lies or fraud or power.  Because most of these kids, they don’t know how to do those kind of things.  They are seeing the paths set for them by the adults.  So for those who I am talking about here, and you know damn well who you are, are you okay with Delaware students being who you are when they are your age?  Are you okay with them taking the same actions you have?  Because that is what will happen.  If it isn’t your own children or grandchildren, it will be someone else’s kid.    Someone who will grow up and think the game is more important than life.  Is that really what you want?

With Great Power… The Perception Problem Of The State Board of Education

StateBoardESSASpideyPic

“With great power must also come great responsibility.”-Stan Lee

If you haven’t heard those exact words before, then you have been victim to one of the greatest butcherings of the past fifty years.

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Now this you have heard.

in 1962, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko introduced the world to the Amazing Spider-Man.  We all know the story.  Peter Parker gets bit by a radioactive spider which gave him the proportionate strength of a spider.  An orphan who lived with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben.  He learned an important lesson very fast when he became a superhero.  At first, he used his powers for fortune and fame.  One night, he failed to stop a robber.  The same burglar later attempted to rob his house and shot and killed his uncle.  When Peter, dressed up as Spider-Man, finally confronted the burglar, he saw the same face he failed to stop.  As he walked off into the night, he remembered what his Uncle Ben always told him, “With great power must also come great responsibility.”

This is the problem with the Delaware State Board of Education.  The initial phrase Stan Lee provided to readers shows that just because you have power doesn’t mean you already possess an inherent sense of responsibility.  That is something you have to develop and learn.  The rewording of the classic phrase, which appeared in the 2002 Spider-Man movie, changes the concept of the phrase.  As if power and responsibility are there from the start.  As Delaware plows into the upcoming Every Student Succeeds Act regulations, this will become very important.  I don’t feel our State Board has developed the responsibility that comes with their power.  In fact, they want to hijack this term in their meetings about the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Many of the decisions they have made since 2008 have not been in the best and long-term interest of children.  They embraced the corporate education reform movement and haven’t looked back.  They continue to listen to the Rodel Foundation more than the teachers, students and parents who are their primary stakeholders.  As a result, they have allowed an environment of false labels against schools, demeaned teachers, created a false illusion of praise for rushed teacher and leader programs, subjected our students to three different high-stakes tests that have not created improvement for anyone, manipulated legislators into believing their mantras, approved charter schools without any consistent or necessary follow-up to ensure they will be successful upon opening, revoked five charter schools, and nearly destroyed a generation of students.  They will never take responsibility for these actions or events or even state they had anything to do with it.  They will sit there and say most of these events were based on federal mandate or existing state law.

They have an opportunity now to change that.  With the Every Student Succeeds Act, the law states that the United States Department of Education cannot dictate what type of state standard any state chooses to have.  It also deals with parent opt out of state assessments as a state’s decision.  However, U.S. Secretary of Education John King seems to have some comprehension issues as the regulations coming out of the U.S. DOE contradict what the law states.  Granted, the law is a confusing mess and there are parts that contradict each other.  King knows this and he is taking FULL advantage of it.  King will, in all likelihood, be gone by January next year, but he will be able to approve regulations and state plans based on forced dictates from his office.  That is NOT responsibility either.  That is power run amok.

As our State Board of Education prepares to deal with these regulations, they are having a workshop on ESSA before their regular State Board of Education meeting on July 21st.  They will go over what many of the corporate education reform companies are translating the law into along with King’s regulations and accepting it as the Gospel truth.  This is a critical time for Delaware education.  A wrong move by our State Board and Delaware DOE will leave us in the same problems we have faced since No Child Left Behind came into law fifteen years ago.  If you read the below presentation, you can clearly see their interpretation of the law based on the regulations and what the education companies want.  Keep in mind, many of these “companies” have never taught in a classroom.  But they have a vested interest in education.  Actually, make that an invested interest in education.

There are others who have power in education: parents, teachers, administrators, unions, and even students.  I urge all of you to watch our State Board of Education and the Delaware DOE like a hawk.  Yes, it’s the summer and in a couple of months kids will be back in schools with all the business surrounding that.  This is why they are choosing now to push regulations through when parents aren’t paying attention.  Those who want to profit off education are already on this.  They helped to create ESSA.  They have power but no responsibility.  They will control education if we let them.  And our own Governor, Jack Markell, has been the largest cheerleaders for this movement.  Power, with no responsibility, or even accountability.

We need parents, teachers, administrators, and students to take a role in this.  Don’t rely on me as a mouthpiece.  I’m a hot-tempered judgmental and pissed-off dad who has already been through many wars over this stuff.  I will continue to fight the war, but I could hit by a truck tomorrow.  Even if you are busy, you need to make the time to attend any meeting about ESSA in Delaware.  You need to review what our state is proposing, carefully watch the public comment timeframes, and make your voice known.  As well, contact your state legislators and Congressmen.  Let them know how you feel.  We have the opportunity and means to take back our children’s education.  But not if we don’t become a part of it.  This is our power.  This is our responsibility.  We have to use our power and become responsible.  If you are relying on our policymakers and unelected State Board of Education to get it right, then you have already allowed them to shape education into what they want.  They want to control the conversation and trick us.  They are masters at it.  They will smile and invite you to their events and give you real yummy eclairs and make you feel special and wanted.  But they don’t want you, they want your child.  Make no mistake about it.

To add insult to injury, Delaware is embarking on a “regulatory review”.  So not only do we have federal education regulations under review, but also a statewide regulatory review which could easily cause mass confusion.  I believe this is very intentional.  So if you are reading up on regulations, make absolutely sure you know which ones are state and which ones are federal.

If you want to change the future, you have to act now.  Don’t wait until it’s too late.  I will do my best to inform you and give crucial dates and timeframes, but make sure you also do this.

In this undiscovered moment
Lift your head up above the crowd
We could shake this world
If you would only show us how
Your life is now

-John Mellancamp

What Matters If We Have Hate In Our Hearts?

When I was running for the Capital School Board, one of the questions my two other candidates and I received at a debate was “Do black lives matter.”  It threw me off.  I prepared myself for a lot of questions beforehand.  That one threw me for a loop.  My two opponents, who happened to be African-American, almost seemed offended at the question.  One of them said “Of course black lives matter.  All lives matter.”

This is how I answered.  It isn’t verbatim, but this is the essence of what I said.  I agreed with my opponents that all lives matter.  But we need to understand where those words are coming from.  I explained how there has been an inequity and disproportionality in respect to how African-Americans have been treated in this country for centuries.  I said we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.  We have a school to prison pipeline in many places in America.  Too many African-Americans don’t have the same opportunities white people do.  I concluded with the statement that the Capital Board would be remiss not to understand where those words are coming from.  I meant every single word of it.

Afterwards, a gentleman in the audience clapped.  He happened to be African-American.  I thought it was a bizarre question for a school board debate, but it was important to him.  I later found out he asked that question in an attempt to trip me up.  Why?  Would the wrong answer have given him the impression I would have been a bad school board candidate?  Did the answers my opponents gave matter?  Given what happened yesterday, I can no longer support the idea of black lives matter if it brings more death.

We are at a crossroads today.  The situation got very serious in Dallas when snipers decided to shoot eleven police officers, four of which have died at this time.  The police officers were assigned to a protest where people were speaking out against the police shootings of two black men on Wednesday, one in Louisiana and one in Minnesota.  I can’t process death well.  Especially deaths that don’t have to happen.  I don’t know enough about law enforcement procedures to say if what they did was within their authority.  I can’t even figure out my own state, Delaware, and events that have happened here.  Some believe that our cops have the authority to do whatever they want based on court rulings and attorney general opinions.  Some say the cops were justified with their actions.

This is what I do know.  I am seeing a lot of crazy talk on Facebook.  I’m seeing people talking about how they have their guns ready when “they” come for them.  I’m seeing a lot of sadness too.  From all sides of diversity.  The hopeful side of me wants to believe this is a wake-up moment for all of us.  The fearful side says this is just the beginning.  I want to believe we can find peace out of all this.  I really do.  But that is going to take a monumental shift in thinking.  It takes both sides to listen.

I was in McDonalds a couple months ago.  I had just gotten off work and I was starving.  I just wanted a quick bite to eat and go home.  I work long days at my job and it is very physically demanding.  As I sat there, peacefully eating a cheeseburger, I see two African-American teenagers laughing at me.  I asked if everything was alright.  They said I had food around my mouth.  I thanked them for letting me know.  They kept standing there, laughing at me, talking about the food around my mouth.  Meanwhile, an adult, who I presumed was their mother or caregiver watched them do this.  She didn’t say a single word.  I asked them to stop.  They kept laughing.  Finally, and with a bit more assertiveness in my voice, I asked them to show some respect.  Only at this point did the adult intervene by saying “Come on boys,” and she gave me a nasty look.  The boys walked out with their mother.  This wasn’t the first time this kind of situation has happened to me, and something similar happened another time since.  I can say I have never treated a human being like that before.  It made me angry.  Not because they were black.  But the fact that they felt they could treat another human being like that and think it was okay.  That an adult, someone who should be teaching these young men the difference between kindness and cruelty, stood there and did nothing.  I could let situations like these harden my soul.  I could let it change my thoughts and apply the actions of a few to an entire group of people.  I could make false labels about black people based on this.  But I choose not to.  I understand, at the end of the day, that for some reason they don’t trust me.  They don’t know who I am and by taking the offensive they are actually being defensive to whatever happened to them to make them think that was okay.  Discrimination and racism goes both ways.  We may not be allowed to talk about that, but I am talking about it.  It’s real, and it happens.  We all know it.

This is my plea to African-Americans like the two teenagers and their mother in McDonalds that day: stop blaming white people.  Stop thinking it is okay to taunt us, to intimidate us, to bully us.  Stop thinking we aren’t worthy of the same respect you want for yourselves.  Stop telling us there is no way we could possibly understand unless we’ve lived it.  Stop saying that’s just how we are when one on one you talk to me just fine but when you are around your friends it is something completely different.  You are whatever you choose to be.  It isn’t the situation that makes you who you are.  It’s how you deal with the situation.  And to the adults who are too wrapped in years of hatred over their own circumstances, you need to turn those bad memories into something positive.  Don’t let what hardened your soul mold the life of your children.  Teach your children right from wrong.  Let them know that whatever happened to you was horrible, but they have the power to embrace the future and practice forgiveness.

This is my plea to white people with obvious race issues: Stop thinking it is okay to refer to black people as animals when something bad happens.  Stop looking down on them as if they are from another planet.  Stop with the twitchy fingers if you are a cop and don’t fully understand a situation.  Stop  using black people for your own political ambition or warped sense of greed.  Stop thinking every time a killing happens it will be the advent of martial law in our country and President Obama will finally take away all our rights.  I’m pretty sure if this was Obama’s plan, he wouldn’t wait until his eighth and final year to get that going or he is paving the way for Hillary to do it.  Stop putting up pray for Dallas pictures on Facebook unless you are prepared to put up a “Pray for…” every single time someone dies in this world.  I will pray for Dallas along with every other city and town in America until this stops.

This my plea to all Americans: stop the hating.  Stop the killing.  Stop the labeling and false accusations and the paranoia.  Take responsibility for your own life, for your own actions.  Don’t put the weight of history on your shoulders and think you have to live it.  Be someone new.  Every day is a new day.  Every day is an opportunity to be better than the one before.  I’m not saying it’s easy.  I’m not saying it isn’t hard work.  What I am saying is this: if you don’t have love, for your neighbors, your co-workers, your classmates, your enemies, or anyone you encounter in life, but most of all yourself, you won’t ever be able to see the light in each and every heart.  Some shine bright while others are turned off.  But you can make a difference.  You can help others to turn their light on.  It may just be a smile, or a hello, or a helping hand, or saying “I care.  I understand.”  Teach your children.  Let them know that our differences are what makes us unique.  None of us are the same.  We all have one thing in common though.  We are all children of God.  In times like this, and in times of happiness, I pray.  I pray to God that we can do what He wants for us.  We can go through the Bible and pick apart this verse and that verse and apply it to every situation possible.  Many do.  But I believe the message is very simple.  Love each other.

It comes down to respect when you really think about it.  Respect for others.  For their circumstances, their situations.  Words have power.  But only as much power as we choose to give them.  But words really don’t mean anything if the tone behind it is hostile.  Which is ironic given the very nature of this blog and what I write about.  Something I have been guilty of on more occasions than I can think of.  I can sit here and say it is all out of love.  But I let my anger get the best of me.  We all do.  But I can change that, and so can you.  Before a hand-held device was smaller than our hands (they were bigger than a toddler’s head).  There were race issues, and most of them probably weren’t talked about the way they are today.  We glossed over them in the face of the Russian threat and the fear of nuclear war.  We honored Martin Luther King Jr. and made a national holiday.

Back in 1986, something called Hands Across America happened.  The goal was to create a line across America of people holding hands.  I don’t remember what is was for or if they accomplished the goal.  I would like to think it would have been impossible with the presence of rivers and high mountains and whatnot.  But the spirit was there.  We had issues back then, but not like today.  This was in the days before a gangster lifestyle was glorified in our culture.  Before the internet and social media took over our lives and gave us all transparency beyond what we could have dreamed of.  We need to somehow incorporate what we now know, what is talked about everyday with very real statistics, and stop talking about it and start acting.  We need to come together, lay down our walls of mistrust, hatred, fear, and suspicion, and work it out.  Our future, our children’s future, depends on it.

I’ve heard a lot about the Black Lives Matter movement over the past two years.  They are right.  Black Lives Matter.  White Lives Matter.  Hispanic Lives Matter.  Oriental Lives Matter.  Criminal Lives Matter.  Baby’s Lives Matter.  Children’s Lives Matter.  Muslim Lives Matter.  Christian Lives Matter.  Gay Lives Matter.  Lesbian Lives Matter.  Disabled Lives Matter.  Jewish Lives Matter.  Native American Lives Matter.  All Lives Matter.  Your life matters.  But do you want to know what doesn’t matter?  Hate doesn’t matter.  In the end, only love matters.

Public Information Officer For Howard High School Of Technology Clears The Air On Board Meeting & Town Halls

I updated my last post yesterday with information from the New Castle County Vo-Tech District concerning the change of time and venue for their board meeting this month.  During my communication with the district, I asked them if they just wanted me to make the change or post their information verbatim.  I didn’t hear back from them until late last night but I already made the change earlier.  This was their communication to me:

From: Demarest Kathy <kathy.demarest@nccvt.k12.de.us>
To: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Sent: Sunday, April 24, 2016 3:49 PM
Subject: Regarding your post to Exceptional Delaware

Hi, Kevin-

I am writing this email to you instead of using your blog as a forum.

On behalf of the NCC Vo-Tech school district, it is disappointing that you presumed that we decided to change the school board meeting time and location in order to prevent access to the public.  Nothing could be further from the truth.
As you can imagine, or perhaps you cannot, the first two days were spent doing everything that could be done to support Amy’s family, to provide supports for our Howard students and staff, and to communicate with students, parents, and the greater community the details as we knew them,  while this horrible tragedy was evolving.

We scheduled a Saturday morning conference call so we could schedule and plan Howard parent meetings as soon as possible. We knew we already had a regular monthly Board of Education meeting scheduled for Monday evening, and were already considering changing it so that Monday could be a parent meeting option.

We were informed late Friday by an elected city official that a Town Hall meeting for Howard parents and community had been scheduled for Monday night at Stubbs Elementary School. As we were unaware of that plan, and in order to accommodate that meeting, our Board of Education determined to move up their meeting Monday from 7 p.m. to 4 p.m., and to hold it at District Office.

We have scheduled to hold the Howard parent meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, both meetings beginning at 7 p.m., and both in the Howard auditorium.  We had to schedule two meetings in order to accommodate as many parents who may wish to attend. Howard has a student body of over 900.
The Tuesday meeting is for parents of 10th and 11th grade students; Wednesday is for parents of students in grades 9 and 12.

It was certainly disheartening to see your post, when all are trying to make the best decisions possible during this unspeakable and evolving personal crisis for the Joyner-Francis family, and a school-wide crisis for the Howard community.  Perhaps you should have asked before you presumed the worst.

Please keep Amy’s family and friends in your thoughts and prayers.  This will be a most difficult week for all. 

Kathy K. Demarest
Public Information Officer
NCC Vo-Tech School District

I responded with the following:

From: Kevin Ohlandt
Reply-To: Kevin Ohlandt
Date: Sunday, April 24, 2016 at 6:47 PM
To: Demarest Kathy
Subject: Re: Regarding your post to Exceptional Delaware

Kathy,

I do appreciate you reaching out to me. I apologize about not reaching out. I used to reach out, many times, and I am usually ignored. So I stopped doing so a while ago. I get information from a lot of people, and while you were disheartened with my article, that was the impression many folks had prior to my writing it. As well, many people, including staff in the district, were extremely upset that Dr. Gehrt referred to Howard as a safe school when an innocent girl was killed there. There was a whole other part to that article you didn’t address. I understand this is a very tough situation, but parents and community members are counting on all of you to change the environment there. The bottom line is Howard is not safe. It hasn’t been, and I know many of our schools aren’t either. Sadly, we learned what happens when things are sugar-coated and we hyper obsess over student outcomes.

I write what I do, not to be heartless, but to draw attention to what is really going on out there. I know that underneath the shiny veneer so many of our schools coat themselves with, that there are children suffering. I also know a lot of that suffering is due to events from outside our schools, but a lot of it does take place in schools. Let me be the first to tell you: I hate writing so much about our schools and DOE in Delaware. I truly do. There is no benefit to myself, and it takes a huge amount of time.

I will happily change the article with the information you provided to me. I can do so verbatim or just paraphrase. I will leave that up to you.

I know this is a horrifying time for the district, but as a parent myself, I would want to attend this board meeting if I were a Howard parent. Town Halls in this situation are absolutely necessary, but board meetings are too. I know many people don’t take advantage of them, but that is where things happen with our districts. I do apologize the way I wrote the article, and like I said, I am more than happy to change it.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

I received the following response late last night:

From: Demarest Kathy
To: Kevin Ohlandt
Sent: Sunday, April 24, 2016 10:27 PM
Subject: Re: Regarding your post to Exceptional Delaware

Hi Kevin,

Thank you for your apology and for the offer to post. I’d prefer you post my email in its entirety.

Regards,

Kathy

Capital School District Strategic Plan White Paper Shows Strengths & Weaknesses Of District

At the Capital School District Board of Education meeting tonight, the vendor for their Strategic Plan, Demosophia, presented a white paper on the plan.  Their findings were based on forums held with the public as well as a series of one-on-one interviews and small group discussions with different stakeholders in the district: teachers, administrators, board members, students, parents, and citizens.  The next part of the Strategic Plan is co-labs.  With these, a diverse set of stakeholders will convene for all-day sessions on 4/28 and 4/29 to formulate a definitive plan for the district which will be presented to the Board of Education next month.

Below is the white paper.  One thing to keep in mind is the data the Delaware Department of Education put together from the IDEA Parent Surveys sent out last year.  Recently, Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn encouraged all parents of students with an IEP to participate in the survey rather than the random number sent out by the DOE.

Perfect Timing On This State Board Of Education Legislation!

It’s the middle of the day.  You are at work and you start to wonder about something you read a couple days before.  It was something about education, something concerning students with disabilities.  Your son has a disability.  Oh yeah, it was concerning suspensions and expulsions.  You read it on some blog.  It was alarming to you because little Johnny has been getting in trouble at school.  You aren’t sure if it the disability or his bad manners.  He got suspended a couple times.  The State Board of Education was meeting right now to discuss a regulation about it.  The blog post rattled you a bit because Johnny could easily be one of those kids.  You wish you could go to the meeting, but you are out of vacation days and you certainly don’t want to use up your sick time to go to a State Board meeting.  If only they had these meetings later in the day…

Delaware State Representative Kim Williams introduced a bill yesterday that would allow the above worker to attend that State Board of Education meeting at 5:30pm or later.

HB260

I fully support this bill.  It would allow parents and teachers to attend State Board meetings without having to interrupt their day.  The State Board isn’t exactly a paying position either, so it would benefit the State Board members as well.  As well, many Superintendents and other school admins attend these meetings which takes time away from their school or district.  The timing is perfect on this bill!  As parents become more involved in education matters, it is important they have the opportunity to attend these kinds of meetings.  About 99% of Delaware school boards meet at night because they know parents want to come.  Why should our State Board of Education be any different?

There was a time when both the Delaware Department of Education and the State Board of Education did not hold as much power as they do now.  They were more of a compliance body as opposed to the policy setting machine they have become.  Even the role of the Executive Director of the State Board of Education didn’t have such a fancy title back then.  And that position certainly didn’t run the show like our current one does.  Please support this bill as parents, teachers, educators and Delaware citizens!

 

Watch The People Talk About Opt-Out

This last one is NOT safe for work!  But it IS very funny!

 

Delaware Met Students Speak Loud & Clear About Saving Their School

Last Monday, December 7th, the Delaware Met had their final formal review public hearing.  Numerous students spoke out in support of the school, along with teachers, board members, staff, and parents.  Upon reading the transcript, I could not find one negative comment about the school.  Every single speaker, and there were many, wanted the school to stay open.  Many acknowledged the issues but said those situations are getting better.  Do you think the Delaware Met should close or stay open?

The public comment period ending at 11:59pm last evening.  To read through the entire 82 page transcript from the public hearing, please read below:

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.

Delaware DOE & The 5Essentials Survey: More Intrusive Questions For Students, Teachers & Parents

The Delaware Department of Education is preparing to launch a survey unlike any other in the coming months.  The survey is a product of UChicago Impact, a non-profit company owned by the University of Chicago.  The survey, which is part of the Delaware School Success Framework (school report card), will have questions for students, teachers and parents to answer.  To say some of the questions are intrusive would be an understatement.  The part that offends me the most is this:

*Questions from the parent survey do not affect a school’s performance on the 5Essentials

Not to let the cat out of the bag so fast, but last week the DOE had a section for this on their website, but you couldn’t access any of the links.  I contacted their public information officer, Alison May, and advised her of this.  She emailed back and said it was supposed to be on their intranet for teachers.  But today, all the links were available.  So you can read the questions ahead of time and let me know what you think.

5Essentials 2016 Survey Questions

5Essentials Communication Kit for Delaware

5Essentials Phase 1 Training/Orientation for Delaware

When I emailed Alison May at the DOE about this last week, this was her response:

“The Delaware School Success Framework (DSSF) will include information to highlight performance across multiple domains. Based upon significant stakeholder feedback, information about school climate and culture will be provided through student, teacher and parent surveys. The Department recently selected the UChicago Impact, a nonprofit organization focused on K-12 education at the University of Chicago, as the state’s vendor to administer the surveys. UChicago Impact’s “5Essentials” (5E) is an evidence-based system designed to drive improvement in schools nationwide. Currently school administrators are signing up for a related training. So likely that is the restricted access. They likely can see that page when they sign into the site. I’ll alert the web folks that the tab should be on the intranet as well if it is confusing.”

A year ago, the United States Department of Education really pushed 5Essentials for survey use.  It looks like Delaware took the bait.  Oddly enough, I can find no contract for this company anywhere on the State Contract website, nor could I find any payments going to 5Essentials, Urban Education Institute, UChicago Impact or the University of Chicago.  So who is paying for this and who holds the contract?  In doing an exhaustive search, the contract number for this was DOE_2015-15SuccessSurvey_RFP, but it shows no awarded bidder under the Awarded Vendors or Awarded Contracts.  But we do know what was in the Request for Proposal (RFP) and who put in bids for it:

Delaware DOE School Success Survey RFP

Solicited Bids for Delaware DOE School Success Survey

So once again DOE, why is there no contract with this company for the public to see?  We have seen this before with contracts with American Institutes for Research in regards to DCAS and the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  When information like this is missing, it always makes me suspicious.  Sounds like Dr. Godowsky may want to look into why the DOE cherry-picks which contracts the public should see.  Interesting that the State of Delaware links to the bid website page in a section called “transparency”…

 

 

Big Brother Isn’t Just Watching, He’s Gearing Up For A Hostile Takeover

If this is the plan, it is very troubling.  Especially since Regulation 103 seems to be something embedded in Delaware state code in order for this to happen.  I normally read this stuff with a grain of salt but with a watchful eye.  But read this with an open mind.  Read it and think of everything going on in education right now.  When we have out-of-state education reform think tank guys writing in the News Journal out of the blue, something is up… When we have education surveys given to teachers asking a lot of the same questions as what is described in the below article, something is up…

Back To School Message For Students, Parents, Teachers & Schools

In Delaware, all public school students are back in school.  This will be a very interesting year ahead for all of us.  The invasion of corporate education reform will be felt the strongest this year.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment results will be released on a statewide level in a couple days and the results will go to parents in a few weeks.  Priority and focus schools will feel the pain of submitting plans to the Delaware Department of Education.  Opt-out will become bigger and more complicated.  Schools will lose essential funding due to budget issues in our state government that will continue to go unaddressed.  Reports will come out showing how some charters in this state should practice certain application tactics.  Parents and teachers will complain about things.  The DOE will make it look like everything is awesome when they come out with press releases.  Governor Markell will most likely have about 20 weekly messages and 30 public comments about how great education is but how much we need to do to make Delaware the best state in the country for education.  A new Secretary of Education will decide if the DOE should stay on course or course-correct.  The 148th General Assembly will debate education issues for our children and the DOE and their reform buddies will lobby the legislators for their own agendas.  Parents will become increasingly vocal about hotbed education issues in our state.  Common Core will be a common pain for students and parents.  Wilmington schools will be the front page headline for most schools in the state.  Vouchers won’t go anywhere.  Most of the people in the state will still have no clue who Rodel is.  I will keep blogging about all of this.  But at the end of the day, it’s about our children.  We all need to keep them safe and keep them learning.  The rest is just detail.  Best of luck to all involved in any way with education this year!