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

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!

Delaware Parents: You Don’t Need House Bill 50 To Opt-Out

After watching the absolute degrading way some Delaware legislators handled House Bill 50, I find myself no longer caring if this bill passes or not.  With no disrespect to State Rep. Kowalko, Senator Lawson, and the many legislators who supported this bill, but it has become so watered down it is now a joke.  To the parents of Delaware: you have never needed this legislation to opt your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  The bill, as originally written, was always meant to stop the bullying and intimidation going on in our schools.  Yes, it codified a parents right to opt-out, but even more important, it offered protection.  This is what Senator Sokola, State Rep. Jaques, the DOE, Rodel, Governor Markell and all the opposition feared the most.

They don’t want schools to NOT be held accountable.  They don’t want teachers to NOT have their evaluations become skewed due to opt-out.  But most of all, they don’t want their data to become tarnished.  Opt-out does that, in spades.  Seeing the opposition in action has absolutely sickened me to my stomach.  These are people who do not give one iota of a crap about parents.  They are in it for themselves: for power, for an imagined standing with God knows what, for money, and for opportunity.  We all know who they are, and if I haven’t made that abundantly clear in the past year, then I will again and again, one by one.

What I can no longer do is keep going to meeting after meeting, watching vote after vote, and keep seeing a mockery made of parents and students.  Politics in Delaware is frightening.  The side deals, the messages scurried back and forth, like little rats trying to get to the prize.  The very fact that legislators and their aides are not subject to FOIA allows for all kinds of shenanigans.  I saw it yesterday as Governor Markell’s Education Policy Advisor, Lindsey O’Mara, was sending notes to legislators and texting Sokola’s legislative assistant Tanner Polce, who would then go to Sokola to say what she said.  What the hell is that?  I’m sure this goes on in politics all the time, and it’s probably not even illegal in this whacked out state, but does that make it right?  No.

We deserve better from our state.  But we continue to vote some of the same people into power again and again and then we scratch our heads and wonder why.  Sokola has been jacking up education in our state for 25 years.  That’s a quarter of a century with a lot of damage.  I’m sure, like most politicians, he had honorable intentions in the beginning.  But now he is a mockery of the office he holds, and I seriously hope a contender comes along and knocks him off his high horse.

I will be writing more about all of this, but I will no longer beg and plead to have my rights honored and those of other parents in our state.  Our rights are there.  You can’t touch them, you can’t see them, but they are as real as the stars in the sky.  Opt your kids out if you don’t like this test.  I will cheer you on the whole time you are doing it, but trying to get laws in place for this I can no longer do in the environment we live in.  What the “evil” legislators are doing is so toxic to children, and they don’t care.  They don’t live in the same world as you or I.  To so many of them, it is about what happens in their chamber at Legislative Hall in Dover.

To the teachers of Delaware: you all need to rise up and finally make a stand.  If you don’t like what is happening with your jobs, then you need to once and for all unite and do it loudly.  But do it right, and do it with pride and dignity and don’t back down.  As the saying goes, “you can’t negotiate with terrorists”, and that’s what is happening in your profession.  The fear mongering and threats held over your head cause many of you to sink into a corner.  Stop doing that.  If you believe in what you do, then stand up for it.  Fight.  Do not like a traitor like Jesse Parsley be the voice for teachers.  Call them out and name them.

Parents will fight for their children.  And this battle will continue.  The war is not over.

I am not abandoning opt-out.  At its essence it has always been a grassroots movement based on our deep and abiding love for our children and getting the policy-makers to listen.  None of us wanted this to be a perversion of our beliefs, but that’s what happened thanks to Sokola, Jaques, and all the rest.

Senator Bryan Townsend and House Bill 50: Why He Voted To Release It From Education Committee

The only other Senator at the Senate Education Committee meeting who spoke on House Bill 50, aside from Senator David Sokola, was Bryan Townsend.  He left shortly after the beginning of the meeting, but did give a very passionate speech about the whole issue.  I am not putting the timestamps on this one he is a member of the committee.

I really wanted to be here today, but I can’t stay, unfortunately.  Personally, I’m not sure what the fate of the bill will be, but I want to note that it’s extremely disheartening to see the people who are so passionate for our school kids warring this kind of way.  I do think that- although I understand why many of my colleagues are sort of skeptical about the impact of this bill and why it’s become such a flashpoint-  I think I understand why parents are as passionate as they are about the issue.  Last year, I asked the Markell administration, very politely, to embrace the opportunity afforded to us by the Gates Foundation which had been instrumental in the development of recent education reforms.  The Gates Foundation announced support for the position that we should have multiple years of results before we try to introduce these tests live.  We try to make responsible decisions, we try to say we’ve got it all figured out, but what’s unfortunate is the approach that has been taken.  Part of the problem is that people hear threats in the name of a test which really is not familiar, but part of the problem also is the reaction from others that misses what the parents and educators are saying.  And I think the idea now comes down to opponents of HB 50 saying “you don’t care about accountability, you don’t care about improving education for our kids.”  But that’s not the case for most parents.  I think most of us want to see a test that works, a test that’s proven.  Educators I think are the same way.  It’s not that they don’t care about accountability.  I wish we could all work together, and kind of get to the heart of issues and not throw grenades across a battlefield by a line drawn inaccurately regarding people’s positions on those issues.  I wish I could stay much longer and hear the passionate testimony on both sides.  I’ll be signing the bill out when its circulated later on.  And I just hope that this please can finally be the end to the war that happens in Delaware public education. 

Vast Majority Of Delaware School Administrators Have No Confidence In Delaware DOE

 “We believe this lack of confidence is due to a failure to engage the education community in a shared decision-making process and the failure of the leadership of the Department to implement reform without creating trust.” -Kevin Carson, Executive Director of the Delaware Association of School Administrators (DASA)

In a Delaware News Journal article published last night, nine out of ten Delaware school administrators that voted on a survey showed no confidence in the Delaware Department of Education.  They join the Delaware State Educators Association and their local chapters in the Christina and Red Clay school districts, the Delaware PTA in regards to the Smarter Balanced Assessment, several legislators, and several parents in the state.

The DOE responded to the survey in a statement by their spokeswoman, Alison May:

“If we had to choose between making extraordinary progress together and avoiding controversy, we would choose progress for our students every time.”

It is the very nature of this progress that is the rudimentary question these days.  Many folks in Delaware do not see standardized assessments as a true measure of progress for students.  With the roll-out of Smarter Balanced this year, this feeling has only intensified as the test has not been validated nor does it offer an actual growth model.

As well, the DOE seems to thrive on controversy these days and are not engaging in true stakeholder input.  Perhaps they are just putting on a tin shell to defend themselves from all the potshots that are lobbed their way with statements like these, but it certainly doesn’t help their cause.

Another strong indictment against the DOE by DASA is the fact that the DOE has “flawed systems for evaluating teachers and schools and has stumbled to find a better way to pay educators,” according to the article written by Matthew Albright.

Relations between the DOE and the most essential stakeholders in the state have deteriorated to an all-time low.   When the most important groups in education have NO confidence in the rigorous work you are doing, at what point do the light bulbs finally turn on?  Will the entire state have to endure Secretary Mark Murphy until Governor Markell leaves office?

Say House Bill 50 Becomes Law….What Happens Next?

Steve Newton is a Professor of History and Science at Delaware State University.  He also ran for State Representative last fall as an independent.  I fully endorsed him at the time, and it would have been very interesting to add him to the dynamic down at Legislative Hall.  Steve wrote an excellent post today on Facebook about what happens after House Bill 50 is decided on.  With Steve’s permission, I share his awesome ideas with you.  Please let me know what you think and we can start to build a foundation for something.

The important truth to understand is that Opt-out is really a political and not really an educational strategy. That’s not a bad thing, but critical to understand. First, opting-out as an individual family educational strategy only avoids visiting the consequences of high-stakes testing on your child; it DOES NOT change the aim of the several months of classroom experience before that, which is–in many schools–directed preparation toward a test that the student will not take. By itself, opt-out will only be a bump in the road, unless …

… unless we recognize that opt-out is the most effective political strategy that anti-corporate-reformers have come up with to date. Resistance to Common Core has been too easily pigeon-holed as right wing or conservative, and the potential coalition of left and right wings behind education is going to get severely undermined in a presidential election year. Simply put, Democrats as a group are not going to vote for Rand Paul or Marco Rubio simply based on Common Core.

But opt-out is different. Opt-out focuses on the potential harm (or lack of value) to MY child, and offers ME a chance to do something. Moreover, it is about local politics. The Governor may rant and rave (he usually does), but this is an issue where (again, in an election year) voters WILL punish their legislators. Moreover, opt-out has DSEA and DPTA back on the same page, resisting a government mandate.

Even if opt-out passes, however, the momentum will be lost UNLESS an equally wide-ranging follow-up goal is established. This will have to be selected carefully. Resistance to charters or teacher evaluation programs is all well and good for education activists, teachers, and other insiders, but those are unfortunately NOT propositions that are going to reach as wide an audience as opt-out has. There are way too many pro-charter parents and voters, and way too few people who will do more than shake their head about teacher evaluations. They certainly won’t vote out the state rep who got their sewer fixed because of it.

Here’s my initial suggestion, (and being a libertarian there’s an agorist twist): let’s put DSEA, DPTA, and as many parents and academic partners as we can find at work on a new Delaware Content Standards Project. We did this as part of Pat Forgione’s New Directions agenda two decades ago, and there is a lot to learn from that process. First lesson: we don’t need to have government sanction or even government participation–in spite of how they act, for example, Rodel is not part of the government. We can create our own organization to do this work, and invite the districts to participate. If DOE would like to observe the process, well, it’s still supposedly a free country.

Second, let’s invert the usual approach. Common Core started with ELA and Math. Instead of going head-to-head with that initiative, let’s start with one or more of the following:

Standards for integrating the Arts and Music into the core academic curriculum.

Standards for developing interdisciplinary units that combine Social Studies and Science to examine how technology and new research is affecting the way we live.

Standards for the services necessary for special needs children with disabilities not normally covered under the easier rubrics of IDEA.

Standards that integrate healthy living (Physical Education/Health) with Civics (building healthy communities) and Technology (building platforms–apps if you will–to allow people to have more control over what they eat, how they exercise, and how they live).

The beautiful part about starting here is that by starting with integrative standards, not content-level standards, we get back toward actual teaching and learning that matters. Meeting the Math and ELA proficiency requirements is easily addressed within that more meaningful context.

More to the point, these standards would be voluntary, but schools that met specific benchmarks toward implementing them could receive certification from DSEA, DPTA, National Council for Social Studies, and other organizations. Eventually, if we did this right over a 2-3 year period, I’m pretty sure we could even build up some financial support from a variety of carefully considered sources.

This is an endeavor that, realistically speaking, I doubt will happen. I doubt it because I’m not the person to put it together, and any group of people that gets together with the time, energy, and motivation is going to come up with its own plan. But I offer this as an alternative–a non-governmental political alternative–run by parents and teachers themselves to having to always sit back and respond to the horrible things being done to education today, rather than initiative our own mechanisms for positive change.

In other words, it is time to go on offense in a strategic sense.

Steve is absolutely right on all of this.  What I love about the opt-out movement in Delaware is the bi-partisanship of it all.  Democrats and Republicans are coming together and uniting in a common cause…our children.   Steve is not asking to lead a group, and I can’t say I would want that either, but coming together would be good.  I tried to get something going with parents of special needs children last summer, but this blog was brand new and the readership certainly wasn’t anywhere close to where it is now.  We have already changed the conversation with the opt-out movement.  Let’s keep talking….

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

The Conversation

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, about this little thing called education in Delaware.  Want to know what I hear?  A lot of screaming.  A lot of people stamping their feet on the ground saying you can’t do this.  I’m guilty of it.  We all are.  Whether it’s the DOE, Governor Markell, the teachers, the superintendents, the boards, the charters, the legislators, whoever.  Tempers are flaring, and everyone is up in arms.  We can sit here all day and talk about what hasn’t been done, or what we think will happen.  We can say our way is the best way.  But guess what’s not going to change… the everyday reality of the students in this state.  We can form committees or a task force or whatever you want to call it.  It will drag things out, kick the can down the road, and someone else will have to pick it up.  And there we are, right back at the same place we started from.  Do I have an easy solution?  Probably not.  Nobody does.  We can keep throwing stones at each other.  Whether it’s done with a state board resolution, a vote of no confidence, or a blog post.  But guess what?  None of it is working.  We have eight sides in this battle: the teachers, the parents, the DOE, the districts, the administrators, the charters, the politicians and the communities.  Actually nine if you want to count the students.  But they aren’t a side, they are the victims.

I’ve taken many sides in this war, but at the end of the day, I have to ask: is anything better?  Have I improved education in Delaware?  Nope.  Not one iota.  If anything, I’ve made it worse.  I’ve brought fire down in regards to a standardized test, preached from the heavens, and parents are opting out.  I think that’s a good thing, but the reality is it is not going away any time soon.  It can’t.  Too many of the sides are for it.  The big and powerful ones.  But here is the deal, we need to get together.  Not in one hour meetings every couple of weeks.  Not in a board meeting where things can or can’t be said.  All sides need to get together.  There needs to be a whole week or weekend thing.  Where appropriate stakeholders get together and hash all this out.  We will scream, we will fight, and it will get ugly.  But no one can leave.  And when the fire of anger dies down to a few smoldering embers, that’s when the conversation starts.  We talk, we strategize, we form ideas, we find out what’s working and what isn’t.  And we do it together.  Cause if any of these sides do this without all of the others, nothing else matters.  Then it’s just noise.

Certain things aren’t going away any time soon: standardized tests, charters, school districts, opt out, choice, bullying, special education, crime, poverty, lack of funding, behavior issues, teacher evaluations, and anger.  All need to come to the table and deal with these issues on EQUAL standing.  This can’t be about one side saying they are more important, cause that doesn’t work.  People will need to eat some crow and give up some things.  If it means a consensus and taking on the Feds, then so be it.  If it means teachers have to give up what they feel are some inalienable rights, then so be it.  If it means parents have to be more tolerant about things, then so be it.  If politicians have to give up their own political ambitions with education, then so be it.  All sides must be willing to listen and collaborate.  We need to get real, and we need to do it NOW.  If you don’t think this is a crisis with immediate attention, then you need to open your eyes.  If you think the Delaware Way is appropriate for the students in this state, open your eyes.  Let’s get all the cards on the table so everyone can see them, and let’s start to fix things.  Adult egos and students don’t mix.

Governor Markell, Deliverology, & A British Knight: The Heart of Delaware Corporate Education Reform

Diane Ravitch wrote an article yesterday about an individual in the corporate education reform movement who is probably one of the biggest faces behind the agendas unleashed on an unwitting public.  What are his strange ties to Delaware’s Governor Jack Markell?  For one thing, they both have the same company on their résumé: McKinsey & Company.  Long before Jack Markell made his mark in Delaware government, he served as a consultant for McKinsey & Associates, based out of Chicago.  Another familiar face worked there as well starting in 2001: Sir Michael Barber.

Barber served as an education policy analyst for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.  He then went on to McKinsey in the same capacity.  Now he is the Chief Education Advisor for Pearson, the corporate giant in the education reform movement.  In 2011, Barber wrote the go-to book for the education reformers, along with McKinsey employees Andy Moffit (husband of Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo) and Paul Kihn (Deputy Superintended School District of Philadelphia).  “Deliverology 101: A Field Guide For Educational Leaders” talks about the ways these reformers can manipulate the public consciousness.

Many of the quotes from Barber in this book are very similar to public comments made by  Governor Markell with regards to education:

Barber: parents and activists who challenge the corporate education reform movement are “defenders of the status quo”

Markell: from a press release on the creation of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, 9/25/14: “We must not accept a status quo in which students in our most disadvantaged communities fall further and further behind each year.”

Markell: from his keynote speech at the Imagine Delaware Education forum, “I, and I know that many of you, refuse to throw up our hands and say that we can’t truly improve education in our schools as long as poverty exists. That’s a recipe for the status quo.”

Barber: “The risks of inaction are greater.”

Markell: also from the Imagine Delaware Education forum, “Inaction is not an option.”

While the parallels in speech bear an uncanny similarity, the thought processes in “Deliverology 101” are downright scary.

Nicholas Tampio, a political science professor at Fordham University, wrote an article here about Barber and the corporate education reform strategies discussed in “Deliverology 101.”

“The authors define “deliverology” as “the emerging science of getting things done” and “a systematic process for driving progress and delivering results in government and the public sector.” The book targets systems leaders, politicians who support education reform and delivery leaders, employees responsible for the day-to-day implementation of structural change.”

This is Delaware education in a nutshell.  With Common Core and standardized testing, these are designed to move Markell’s agendas forward.  He uses certain legislators, business leaders, and an entire Department of Education in Delaware to issue his reforms.  Those who stand against him are put down or humiliated, such as traditional school district teachers, parents, and some legislators.

“This spring, a prominent anti–Common Core activist tweeted, “I don’t think the Ed reformers understand the sheer fury of marginalized parents.” Barber understands this fury but thinks the “laggards” will come around once enough people see the positive results.”

Markell is constantly pumping up schools with great standardized test scores and beats down ones that don’t.  Whenever a “threat” arises to Markell’s goals, we can count on a rousing speech to deliver more of his education reform talk, to get around around the true issues.

“Deliverology alternates between painting a big picture of what needs to be done and offering maxims such as “To aspire means to lead from the front” and “Endless public debate will create problems that could potentially derail your delivery effort.”

And Diane Ravitch writes here:

“In a democracy, we do engage in “endless public debate,” but such debates slow down the reform train. That is why corporate reformers like mayoral control and state takeovers. They like one decider who can tell everyone what to do. Local school boards are not easy to capture, there are too many of them. Like ALEC, the corporate reformers want to bypass local school boards and give the governor–or a commission he appoints–total control.”

Governor Markell has absolute and total control of education in Delaware.  Take the University of Delaware Town Hall Common Core panel in January.  The Delaware DOE was set to attend the debate on Common Core, but Markell told them not to go at the last-minute.  His obsession with controlling the conversation, and if he doesn’t like the talk he is hearing, he will do everything in his power to change it.  This is what is currently happening with the parent opt-out movement in Delaware.  His response to parents speaking up is to take a hard look at other assessments instead of the one test parents hate.

The vast connections between Markell and Barber don’t stop at a book or McKinsey either.  In 2008, the Rodel Foundation of Delaware knew they needed a Governor to back their agenda.  With Markell lagging in the pools, Rodel purposely turned education into a topic.  To that end, they invited Barber to speak at a huge event called Delaware for a Global Economy: Making Vision 2015 Work.  Shortly after Markell’s inauguration, President Obama announced Race To The Top.  Markell quickly used McKinsey & Company’s Education Group led by Barber to develop Delaware’s Race To The Top application.

Barber’s ideas for education reform have spread throughout the world.  This quote from Barber’s Wikipedia page:

“In the summer of 2010, Barber teamed with leaders from the Education Trust and Achieve to found the U.S. Education Delivery Institute. This Institute works with leaders of K-12 and higher education systems around the United States to adapt the delivery concept pioneered by Barber in the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit to drive American education reform efforts.

Based on this essay found in this article from The Guardian in 2012:

They see that mastery of the basics, while essential, is not enough. When I talk about the future of the curriculum, including not just knowledge but also ability to lead by influencing those around you, I find a ready audience among leaders of Pacific Asian systems. People understand too that while exams are important, the obsession with them among parents can be dangerous.

I find this to be very ironic on Barber’s mindset since he is the one behind the drive for corporate education reform at Pearson.  His viewpoint of parents is one he helped to create through his practices at McKinsey and Pearson.  And Governor Markell in Delaware is an all-too-willing partner in these endeavors.

Markell is deeply rooted in the corporate education reform movement, and has been for a long time.  This is his legacy and he will not tolerate any action or voice that attempts to block it.  But I think he underestimates the will and resolve of parents, teachers and organizations united in their attempts to stop him.  As the voices become louder, Markell is backing into a corner and his defensive postures becoming more diluted in the noise.