Crossing Into New Hope With High Rocks By The River

Road trips are fun.  Sometimes you just have to get away from it all and get some perspective.  Which was exactly what I did one day last week.  Delaware is a beautiful state, but it’s flatness can annoy me at times.  So I ventured to where I once lived, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where a hill actually means something and isn’t a road going up to a bridge over the C & D Canal. Continue reading

The January Shuffle

Music.  It reverberates the soul.  It brings back memories of good and bad times.  When I listen to music, every song brings back something for me.  It could be sadness, anger, hope, triumph, or happiness.  It can remind me of a time period in my life or a specific person.  One of my favorite things to do is put music on shuffle and see what comes up.  I love the shuffle cause you never know what is going to come up.  Anything goes.  I thought I would write a post about what songs come up and what those songs mean to me.  Something a little different.

“Where’s The Ocean”, Toni Childs: The album came out a few years earlier but I first heard this song in 1990.  It was a very difficult time for me.  I was in college, taking six classes after switching my major from business to psychology.  I was working part-time, had a girlfriend, and was cast in a play at college.  It was too much and I fell apart for a while.  I was only 20 and it felt like I was spinning my wheels in ice.  As a result, I wound up switching my major the next semester to communications.  It was a tough time but the lessons I learned from it still help me now.

“Sounds Like A Melody”, Alphaville: Like the last song, I didn’t get into Alphaville until a couple of years after their debut album came out.  But 1987 heralded many changes in my life.  Especially once I became a senior in high school.  I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life.  I had already decided to skip a year after high school instead of going to college.  In the meantime, I partied and partied hard.  I used to go to a nightclub called Kryptons back then.  I was, of course, under age, but having a friend as a bartender helped a lot!  They would play this song there and my friends and I would attempt to dance and probably looked like idiots.  I have lots of memories at Kryptons and most of them are fun times.  I have no clue if the old club is still there.  It changed owners and names a lot in the decade after that.

“Absolutely Still”, Better Than Ezra: Better Than Ezra is one of my favorite bands of all time.  Most people know them by their biggest hits, “Good” or “Desperately Wanting”.  But for me, all their albums are a gold-mine.  This song came out in 2009.  I remember the first time I heard this song.  I was driving my son to daycare and the words just hit a chord inside me.  It made me think of family and the blessings we take for granted.

“I Won’t Let You Go”, Switchfoot:  This band is a Christian band.  Most people don’t know that.  They hit the mainstream back in the early 2000s.  This song came out this fall but I just heard it last month.  When you really listen to the words, it can be confusing.  At first I thought it was about a guy swearing not to give up his woman.  But I soon realized the singer is actually singing through God’s viewpoint.

“Selling The Drama”, Live: 1994.  Senior Year of College.  Senior Week.  I can’t remember for the life of me if I was sober at any point that week.  Live hit it big with this song.  Ed Kowalcyzk has an amazing voice.  This was in the middle of the grunge movement and Live was right up there with Nirvana and Pearl Jam that year.

“In Your Eyes”, Peter Gabriel: Most people know this song from the movie “Say Anything” from 1989.  But the song came out in 1986.  I remember going up to Cape Cod with my cousin Liz one weekend to see our grandparents.  We listened to this album on the way up along with a few others.  I remember walking on the jetty at the beach one night.  I spent many summer days growing up on that jetty.  It was before my junior year of high school.  My life changed a lot during my sophomore year.  New friends, new hang-outs.

“San Diego”, Blink 182: This is from their album that came out last year.  This band is from San Diego.  I lived north of San Diego for a few years back in 2001 to 2004.  My future wife and I moved out there.  We actually lived in a small suburb of San Diego called Rancho Bernardo for about eight months before we bought a house in Riverside County.  But I worked in Rancho Bernardo the entire time I lived there.  California is an awesome place to live.  And no place is better than San Diego.  You can go to the beach and then to Julian about an hour away if you want to see snow in the winter.  I did that one day.  It was awesome!

“My Fault”, Imagine Dragons: I always think of the first year of the Firefly Music Festival when I hear any song from Imagine Dragons first album.  I also think of my mom, who was very sick at that time.  It was 2012.  I felt massive change coming on the horizon.  I knew my Mom wouldn’t last much longer (she passed away in May, 2013).  My son’s disabilities were growing.  Things weren’t good.  But I tried to hang on to hope as best I could.

“Hey Jude”, The Beatles: There will never be another band like The Beatles.  My earliest musical memories involved The Beatles.  They broke up the year I was born but my parents had many of their albums.  I remember listening to them all the time.  But it would be years until I got “Hey Jude”.  This is one of McCartney’s best songs in my opinion.  I saw him in concert back in 1990 up in Philly and the crowd went nuts when this song began.

“Wake Me Up When September Ends”, Green Day: While this song came out in 2004, 9/11 was still very fresh in my mind.  I don’t know if this song is about that tragic day, but I always think about it when I hear this song.  No event in my lifetime left a scar like that day did.  I still remember every single second of that day and the night before.  We had just bought a large screen TV but there were issues with the first one we got.  The screen would get blurry and we couldn’t see anything.  This was when I lived in California.  I got up for work at about 5am, which would have been 8am on the east coast.  I had a horrible dream the night before.  Guerilla soldiers were cutting people with knives at some camp.  That wasn’t something I normally dreamed about at all.  I remember taking a shower and remembering the dream.  It disturbed me on many levels.  The day before I read something in the local newspaper about two nuns who had been freed by the Taliban.  They were recounting their experience with the Taliban.  One of them remembered seeing an office.  On the wall was a calendar of planes.  After I got ready for work, I was drinking a cup of coffee.  My wife and I drove together to work since we both worked in San Diego and we lived an hour north.  I heard something on the tv (with no visible screen) about a plane flying into a building.  I assumed it was in the Mid-East.  I went outside for a smoke and when I came back in the reporter said “another plane has flown into the World Trade Center.”  I sat there with my jaw wide open.  I yelled to my wife what happened.

“Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)”, The Byrds: When I was about seven or eight, my family and I were driving to church one day.  I had heard this song before.  But for some reason I can’t remember, my mother began explaining how this song came from Ecclesiastes in The Bible.  I remember thinking it was really cool that such a popular song came from The Bible.  It is one of my favorite parts of The Bible.  “There is a time for every purpose under Heaven.”  I actually try to hold on to that when things get rough.  How there is a reason for everything.  We may not know it at the time but sometimes we understand why and what it led to later on.

“Sleepwalker”, The Wallflowers:  In October of 2000, my future wife and I moved to California.  We packed up a U-Haul and drove across the country.  I drove the U-Haul and towed my car behind it.  My wife drove her car behind me.  It took about five days.  On the fourth day, we left our hotel in Amarillo, Texas.  From there we hit New Mexico and then Arizona.  We stopped by a mall in Flagstaff, Arizona.  I heard “Sleepwalker” a few times in the weeks before we moved.  As I passed a record store, I saw the album it was on just came out.  I instantly bought the CD.  From Flagstaff, we drove through mountains that take your breath away.  All the way down to Phoenix.  I replayed “Sleepwalker” a lot during that long winding journey through Arizona.  I saw the sun set to the west as I drove through terrain I had never seen before in my life.  Majestic doesn’t even describe what I felt during this ride.

“Sold Me Down The River”, The Alarm:  I moved to Pennsylvania in 1989.  Remember how I said I was taking a year off after high school?  That year was up.  My parents moved from New York and I went with them.  I decided to start college at Bucks County Community College.  A new friend of mine introduced me to The Alarm.  This song had just come out and I heard it on a Philly radio station called WMMR.  I used to take drives up and down the Delaware River back in those days.  This song was on a lot back then!

“The Space Between”, Dave Matthews Band:  This song reminds me of my fiancé.  Who is now my wife!  This song came out shortly after we became engaged.  The lyrics don’t match what was going on with us, but it reminds me of that time.  The love of my life!

“Communication”, The Cardigans: Shortly after my son Jacob was born in 2004, my wife and I made the decision to move back east.  She was off work for maternity leave for six weeks and then it was my turn.  When I wasn’t spending the day with my son, in those rare moments when he consistently slept, I was packing things up for the big move.  I bought the album “Long Gone Before Daylight” one day and it became my soundtrack for that time.  I remember playing this song as Jacob was sleeping in his aquarium swing.  He looked so peaceful, just rocking back and forth.  When our children are babies, we can remember these moments.  To this day when I see him sleeping, I have that same feeling.  Peaceful.

“Human”, The Killers: Fall 2008.  No one knew what the heck Brandon Flowers was talking about with this song.  “Are we human or are we dancer?”  It didn’t matter.  I loved this song and still do.  I was in the midst of some adult growing pains when this song came out.  Without going into details, it is something we all go through at one period in our lives.  When we mistake confidence as hubris and we become arrogant.

“Take It All Back”, Judah and the Lion: Right now, this is probably my favorite song.  Ever since Mumford & Sons came out, banjos have become a bigger part of music.  At least the music I like to listen to.  This song actually mentions the word banjo.  And then slides into one of the best banjo riffs I’ve ever heard.

“The Tide Is High”, Blondie: If you were alive in December 1980, you know this song.  I lived in Roanoke, Virginia at the time.  I knew we would be moving to New York the next Spring.  But life was good when you are ten.  I remember roller skating to this song at Olympic Skating Rink in Vinton, VA.  I had been a big Blondie fan ever since “Heart of Glass” came out.  Still love this song!

“Let Go”, Frou Frou: In January of 2005, we had been in Delaware for a few months.  I was working at the Bank of America call center in Dover.  I remember a lot of snow.  I had just watched the DVD of “Garden State” and bought the soundtrack.  I remember leaving work one night.  The snow was coming down.  There weren’t many cars on Route 13 in Dover.  This song came on.  I hate driving in snow.  It gives me this weird agita I don’t like at all.  I remember hearing this song and saying to myself “Let Go” as I drove through the snowy roads back home.

“Strangelove”, Depeche Mode: Remember that night club Kryptons I talked about earlier?  This is another one of those 1987 songs that always reminds me of Kryptons.  My friend Pete and my second cousin Krista who was visiting from Oregon decided to go out one night and we wound up there.  I remember having too much Cranberry and Vodka that night.  My bartender friend used to hook me up!

“Come Original”, 311: 1999:  Autumn.  I had just turned 29.  My twenties were crazy.  Maybe it was because I knew I would be turning thirty soon.  I felt my need to party diminish greatly that fall.  Going out three to four nights a week were starting to show.  I wanted, no, needed something more.  After a while, I felt like I was just playing the same record over and over again, every week.  I began dating my future wife that December.

“Blessed”, Elton John: This song reminds me of November of 1995.  Before I moved to Sweden in 1996, I spent about a week there visiting someone.  As she drove me to the airport that snowy, cold, and dark November morning, I already knew I would be moving there.  So did she.  This song was playing as she pulled out of her driveway.  It was 5:30 in the morning.  Flash forward to last week.  I hadn’t heard this song in years.  Whenever I heard it in the past, it reminded me of that person.  For a long time.  I put all that behind me a long time ago, well before I got married.  But when I heard it, I actually listened to the words.  It is about a man getting ready to have a child.  I couldn’t help but think of Jacob and how blessed I feel to have him in my life and proud I am of him.

“Smoky Mountain Rain”, Ronnie Milsap: Yes, you will find me listening to a little bit of country.  Not the modern-day country music, but music from when I lived in Roanoke as a small boy.  This was one of those songs.  I believe it is another 1980 song.  A lot of the songs from that time period I would hear listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 every Sunday night.  I used to tape them on my tape recorder.  I think I may still have one of those cassette tapes lying around somewhere!

“City Of Blinding Lights”, U2: This is in my top five favorite U2 songs.  Easily.  Everything just flows, the piano, the guitar, the bass, the drums.  But Bono’s words hit home with me the first time I heard it.  “Blessings not just for the ones who kneel, luckily.”  When Bono sings “I’m getting ready to leave the ground”, The Edge takes off with this swirling riff that leads to the main chorus.  Aside from being a great song, it also reminds me of one dark night in my life.  I got into a terrible fight with someone in my life and it led to a very strained relationship between the two of us that has never quite been the same since.  It was stupid and silly stuff that started it.  I lacked the patience at the time to deal with that stupid and silly stuff and it is something I regret to this day.

“Take It Easy”, The Eagles: Glenn Frey passed away last year.  It bummed me out for a while.  Probably more than David Bowie who passed a week earlier.  When I lived in Roanoke as a child, I considered this my golden years.  When life was innocent and pure.  Not tainted by politics and real-life issues.  Just being a kid.  Playing with friends.  Taking long walks for hours without worrying about someone kidnapping me like we tend to think nowadays with our own kids.  Exploring the world I lived in every chance I had.  Making all those kid mistakes and just bouncing right back.  I miss those days.  Not days I could or would live in again, but with a fondness that brightens my soul.  And The Eagles were right there the whole time!

“When You’re Falling”, Afro-Celt Sound System and Peter Gabriel: This reminds me of the move from that suburb of San Diego to Riverside County in May of 2001.  To a little town called Menifee.  To our beautiful two-story home with the small back-yard.  Watching the sun set over Mount San Jacinto those first times.  Fixing up our home.  Buying a lawn mower for the first time.  Painting rooms.  Sitting on the patio with the love of my life on those warm nights.  It all seemed so simple and easy back then.

“I Will Follow”, U2: back again!  I saw them in 1985 during their Unforgetable Fire Tour.  In New Haven, Connecticut.  It was the first concert I ever went to.  Bono would just grab someone from the audience and let them play his guitar or dance with them.  As the band has aged over the past thirty-five plus years, it can be hard to imagine them back in those younger days.  How many bands stick around for this long with the same line-up from when they first started?

“Still The One”, Orleans: This reminds me of the summer of 1978.  I was eight years old.  We belonged to this swim club called Aquanet.  My brothers and I spent many of our summer days there.  Swimming, shooting pool, buying candy from the food court, running around, the life guard telling me not to run, listening to the songs of the summer.  Those were the days!

“Since You’ve Been Gone”, The Outfield: This song has a specific story and meaning.  I was in a fight with a friend and I stopped myself from picking up the phone for a long time.  I heard this song in August of 1987.  Right after, I picked up the phone and just said “Let’s meet.”  Sometimes when we let go of our stubbornness it can be a good thing!

“Reunion”, Collective Soul: May 1995.  A transition.  Letting go and letting in.  “Change has been what change will be.  Time will tell then time will ease.  Now my curtain has been drawn and my heart can go where my heart does belong.  I’m goin’ home.”

“Rock The Casbah”, The Clash: Once upon a time, The Clash was the best band in the world.  During their latter days, they hit it big when “Combat Rock” came out in 1982.  There was no more tubular song that fall then “Rock The Casbah”.  This is one of those songs that never seems to come off my MP3 player!

“I Will Follow You Into The Dark”, Death Cab For Cutie: As we get older, we tend to lose people we love more and more.  Sometimes it happens unexpectedly and others it is a long road to travel.  This song reminds me of the fear the dying must have.  A terrifying feeling of an ending.  I believe in Heaven and eternal life.  I believe our souls embark to a life greater than one we can ever imagine.  But that one moment scares me.  I pray I don’t die alone.  I can think of nothing more miserable.  I want those I love to be around me so I can hopefully say goodbye.

“The Sound of Sunshine”, Michael Franti & Spearhead: Another Firefly song.  When this band played, the sun came out after a morning of rain.  Soon, the band played this song.  Beach balls started flying through the crowd.  Everyone was singing along.  People were smiling and dancing.  Enjoying life.  It was the sound of sunshine.

“Times Like These”, The Foo Fighters: In the fall of 2002, I remember driving down the 15 (yes, on the West Coast people put “the” before major highways) and hearing this song on 91x.  That journey from Menifee to Rancho Bernardo.  Menifee to Murietta to Temecula to Fallbrook to Escondido to Rancho Bernardo.  Through the mountains.  The endless line of stopped cars no matter what road you think will be a short cut.  Road rage all around you.  Motorcycles whizzing by as you sit there forever.  Sometimes you just crank the volume all the way to the top and sing your ass off.

“Rain In The Summertime”, The Alarm: Another Alarm song.  But this is my all-time fave of the Welsh band.  “And then I run ’til the breath tears my throat and the pain hits my side.  As if I run fast enough, I can leave all the pain and the sadness behind.”  I’ve run a lot in my life.  I’ve run towards things and away from things.  I’ve physically run.  Away from bullies.  For exercise.  For work.  I’ve run after my dog when she got out of the house a few times.  What has always fascinated me about long-distance runners is the wall.  That moment when they go past that point of exertion and get that extra shot of adrenaline and keep going.  Lately I’ve been looking for that wall.  I want to tear it down and go to that next level.

“What You Need”, INXS: It is hard for me to think of any INXS song without thinking of Michael Hutchence.  He was the lead singer and he died twenty years ago.  He killed himself.  He couldn’t hold on for just one more day.  As Bono from U2 said, he was “stuck in a moment you can’t get out of”.  A decade before that, INXS was on top.  Before “Kick” shot them through the stratosphere, they came out with “Listen Like Thieves”.  “What You Need” was the lead single and it showcased INXS at their musical peak.  Hutchence wailing, the horns blowing, building up to the crescendo.  Some music is just about the band.

“One More Time”, The Cure: In the fall of 1987, my paternal grandmother passed away from cancer.  It hurt, a lot.  She was the first major family member I lost.  My first grandparent to leave this earth.  We were close.  A few years before, I spent a week with her and my grandfather up at Cape Cod.  It wasn’t really on the Cape, but we always called it that.  It wasn’t far from the Cape though.  A beach town called Mattapoisett in Buzzards Bay.  They lived in this enclave called Antossawamock.  I remember one evening during that week, my grandmother and I just sat there talking on the couch, for hours.  She understood me in ways others didn’t.  I tell people the best way to build a relationship with my son is to make that connection.  Once you have that, you are golden.  I had that with my grandmother.  After her memorial service, I walked along the beach listening to this song.  I just wanted one more time.

“Swing Life Away”, Rise Against: Another song from 2004 that reminds me of my son’s first few months.  Wondering what his life would be like.  All the hope and promise.  Watching him during those May and June days sleeping in that aquarium swing.  Taking him for walks to Lake Menifee.  Waiting for his Mommy to get home from work.  Changing his diapers.  Just holding him for what seemed like forever.  Rocking him in the rocking chair listening to a Reggae nursery rhyme CD.  Reading tons of books to him.  Days I cherish.  Days I wouldn’t trade for any other day in the world.

“Ordinary World”, Duran Duran: I wasn’t expecting a great Duran Duran song driving back to college in January 1993.  But there it was.  Driving down the Pennsylvania Turnpike back to Cabrini College.  For months after, I would pop this song on.  I remember working on the school newspaper, The Loquitur.  I was the Associate News Editor.  On Tuesday evenings, you could count on myself and the other staff toiling away until way after midnight putting the paper together to send to the printer the next morning for a Thursday release.  We were a team.  We disagreed, we fought, we argued.  But when it came time to getting it done every week, we laughed, we joked, and we worked.  We made it happen.  And we never failed.  This was in the days before the internet changed journalism by leaps and bounds.  So we literally cut and pasted.  We cropped photos by scissors.  And then scanned them in.  It was fun!

“Don’t Ask The Reason Why”, Restless Heart: Growing up is tough enough.  Trying to cross that bridge between your teenage years and adulthood can be very tough.  It always helps when you have a friend to travel with.  I like to look back now and realize that I once had a best friend and we helped each other on that journey.  Through the laughter and the pain, we both made it to adulthood.  We all have those people where things get so bad you don’t talk to them anymore.  Far too much scar tissue.  But as the years have gone by, I recognize that place and time in my life with purpose.  How it wasn’t as bad as I once thought it was.  That time led to my carefree and reckless twenties.  Which led to settling down from that.  Which led to meeting Deb.  Which led to my incredible and awesome son.  Which led me to now.  I let go of the angst from that time period a long time ago.  Sometimes I want to say hi to my old friend.  But I understand the distance has a reason.  I hope you are well.

“Red Skies”, The Fixx: Back in 1982, the Cold War was in full swing.  We were all scared of the bomb.  Both the USA and Russia continued their nuclear buildup and we lived on the razor’s edge.  No one could have foreseen the collapse of the Soviet Union years later at that time.  It was the most important world event of the time.  After seeing “The Day After” in 1983, the horror of nuclear war came home on the TV screen.  People vaporized in an instant.  I tried to understand how two countries were hell bent on destroying each other.  It never made sense to me.

“Next Generation”, Alphaville: I found this song as a b-side on a 45.  For those who may be too young to understand what the hell I’m talking about, back then songs from albums had singles.  You could get them as a smaller vinyl record called a 45 or as a cassingle (a cassette single).  This dovetails with the last song somewhat.  Alphaville is a German band.  At that time, Berlin was still divided by a wall.  An East and West Berlin existed along with West Germany and East Germany.  It was the settlement Germany had to give to make peace after World War II.  The Russians got part of the country resulting in two different countries, a democratic and free state and a communist one.  Alphaville sang about that dynamic in a lot of their earlier songs.  When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, many folks in the world were terrified of a reunified Germany.  They thought they would go back to their old habits of the earlier 2oth century.  But the next generation made sure that didn’t happen.

“You Are Not Alone”, The Eagles: In 2007, after 27 years, the Eagles were reunited and it felt so good!  One of the songs on their new album, “You Are Not Alone”, was sung by the late Glenn Frey.  I wrote earlier about that moment of death and the horrifying feeling it must be.  I like to think of this song as that next step as our spirit soars to Heaven.  Into the loving arms of Our Father.  Death is very tough for the living.  But it is life for the dying.  That can be a hard concept to grasp for some people.  In the years since my mom passed, I’ve tried explaining this to my son who still has tough moments with it.  But I tell him she is happy now and she wouldn’t want him to cry about it anymore.  And that she wants nothing more than for him to be happy.

“Forever Young”, Alphaville: The first Alphaville song I ever heard.  The one that made me understand things on that cold and snowy Tuesday morning in December back in 1986.  The song that made me see a different world where we can be whatever we make of ourselves.

“We’ve Got Tonight”, Bob Seger: When we are young, we so desperately want to love and be loved.  We make so many mistakes trying to find that one person.  We stumble down that tricky road.  We dream and hope.  We cry and yell.  We fall and rise.  We find new loves in the wake of the old ones.  Love can take a long time to discover the central mystery to it all.  That defining moment when you realize what life is really about.  When you put away the toys of youth and see life in a new way.  I won’t tell you what it is.  If you don’t know, you aren’t there yet.  And that is a journey we all must make ourselves.

Okay, enough for one night.  I’ll have to do this again sometime!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delaware Comes In 16th Place In EdWeek Ranking, Academics Get A D+

It seems like many websites are putting out education rankings these days.  The latest comes from EdWeek with their quality counts ranking system.  For Delaware, we came in 16th place, but this truly isn’t anything to rave about.  Delaware’s overall grade on this ranking was a C+.  A student’s “chance for success was also a C+, K-12 achievement got a D+ and school finance got a B.  I assume this report didn’t factor in all the charter school fiascos with financial fraud and abuse, but like I have said about ranking systems overall, I don’t give them much weight because they can be extremely subjective and biased.

The top three states were Massachusetts, New Jersey and Vermont.  I think we can say, based on this and the Niche.com charts I listed the other day, our overall Smarter Balanced Assessment scores, the opt-out movement in Delaware, a pending ACLU lawsuit against the state and our biggest district based on charter school enrollment practices, a funding system that makes no sense, SAT scores at the bottom of the list based on every single student taking it, falling NAEP scores, and special education chaos throughout our state that Governor Markell’s education initiatives have landed our state into a position of abject failure when it comes to education.  Governor Markell’s education legacy won’t be looked on favorably in the years to come.

Our surrounding states did better than Delaware, with New Jersey coming in at #3, Maryland at #4, Pennsylvania at #7, and Virginia at #12.

Ex Brandywine/Pennsylvania Superintendent’s Awesome Speech To House Education Committee

Delaware needs Superintendents like this who will speak with such passion and honesty.  Which one can do it first?  This is my challenge to ALL of you.  It’s time to stop the cycle of abuse being perpetrated on our schools by Governor Markell, the DOE and the US DOE.  Superintendents have some of the largest voices in our communities, and you carry a lot of weight with people.  We need you to speak up now!  See what former Brandywine Superintendent James Scanlon had to say about all this nonsense in education these days!  Dr. Mark Holodick and Dr. Scanlon are miles apart on this.  We need more Scanlons!

Which States Allow Opt-Out of Standardized Testing?

I’ve heard differing answers to this, so I figured I would check for myself.  Two states have very clear and distinct laws which allow parent opt-out of standardized testing, and those are California and Utah (Utah code Ann. Paragraph 53A-15-1403 (9)).  However, many other states have enough weight in their laws which can easily allow for opt-out.

In Pennsylvania, a student can be opted out of the standardized assessments for either religious or moral reasons.  But the parent has to review the assessment and make a decision.  A child can only graduate if they either do a project-based assessment due to being opted out or if the superintendent gives a waiver.  What is very interesting about Pennsylvania though is the 95% Federal requirement.  This does not apply to Pennsylvania since they filed for a No Child Left Behind waiver on this provision and it was granted to them.

In Tennessee, a child can be opted out by a parent if they are required to take a “survey, analysis or evaluation” (Tenn. Code Ann. §49-2-211) but it isn’t clear if this applies to the state assessment.

Wisconsin has a rather odd law  (Wis. Stat. § 118.30(2)(b)3) that stipulates any student in 4th and 8th-11th grades can be opted out if a parent wants that, but for standardized test purposes, 3rd and 5th-7th must test.

Oregon (OAR 581-022-1910) allows opt-out for disability or religious reasons and it does not affect a student’s graduation requirements as long as they can show proficiency in understanding the state Essential Skills in reading, writing and math.  Schools are held to the federal benchmark of 94.5% instead of the usual 95% for participation rates.

These are the key “opt-out” states, however many states currently have legislation like Delaware’s House Bill 50.  In New Jersey, their bill cleared their House unanimously and it is waiting for a Senate vote.  I will be updating those states this evening.  All of these would be contingent on a Governor signing the laws, and some states it is very doubtful a Governor would, but you never know.  If Delaware passes it, I am very curious how Jack Markell would handle that…

Schools, Parents Sue Pennsylvania Over ‘Educational Caste System’ @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @Apl_Jax @RCEAPrez @ecpaige @DSNEleanor @TNJ_malbright @DeDeptofEd @nannyfat @roof_o @DelawareBats #netde #eduDE #edchat #Delaware

Schools, Parents Sue Pennsylvania Over ‘Educational Caste System’.

Deirdre Fulton, a staff writer at commondreams.org wrote an article today about the huge lawsuit against the state of Pennsylvania by parents, school districts, and organizations in the Keystone State.  Fulton’s article is below:

Six school districts, seven parents, and two statewide associations sued the commonwealth of Pennsylvania on Monday, claiming legislative leaders, state education officials, and the governor have failed to uphold the state’s constitutional obligation to provide a system of public education that gives all children the resources they need to meet state-imposed academic standards and “participate meaningfully in the economic, civic, and social life of their communities.”

According to the complaint (pdf), “state officials have adopted an irrational and inequitable school financing arrangement that drastically underfunds school districts across the Commonwealth and discriminates against children on the basis of the taxable property and household incomes in their districts.”

“The disparity in education resources has created an educational caste system that the Commonwealth must eliminate.”
—Wade Henderson, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

As a result, the plaintiffs claim that hundreds of thousands of students throughout the state lack basic educational supports and services—functioning school libraries, up-to-date textbooks and curriculum materials, reasonable class sizes, guidance counselors, school nurses, vocational-ed and college prep classes, academic tutoring programs, and more.

“My child is in classes with too many other students and she has no access to tutoring services or support from paraprofessionals, but our elected officials still expect and require her to pass standardized tests,” said Jamela Millar, parent of 11-year-old K.M., a student in the William Penn School District. “How are kids supposed to pass the tests required to graduate high school, find a job and contribute to our economy if their schools are starving for resources?”

The state NAACP and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools joined the suit on behalf of their members. Urban, suburban, and rural districts are represented among the plaintiffs. While the state-run Philadelphia School District did not join the legal action, two Philadelphia parents are part of the suit and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers issued a statement in support on Monday.

According to the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, which is litigating the case along with the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and a national, private law firm, the lawsuit requests that the court:

  • Declare that the current system of funding [Pennsylvania] schools does not comply with the state constitution; and
  • Order the defendants to cease using a funding system that does not provide adequate funding where students can meet state standards and which discriminates against low wealth districts.
  • Order the defendants to create and maintain a constitutional school funding system that will enable all students to meet state academic standards and does not discriminate against low-wealth school districts.

“It’s a shame that it has come to this,” lawyer Michael Churchill, of the Public Interest Law Center, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It is really only because of the starkest failures that we are taking this step to force the legislature’s hand by going through the courts.”

But could it work?

Philadelphia Magazine, which calls the suit “potentially momentous,” offers a partial answer:

Could the Supreme Court really order the state to come up with billions of dollars of new funding for public education? New Jersey’s Supreme Court did. In 1990, the court ruled that the state had provided inadequate and unequal funding for students in urban districts, a ruling that led in part to a $2.8 billion tax hike. Now, urban districts in New Jersey are as well or better funded than their suburban counterparts, an investment that has yielded mixed results.

But New Jersey’s judiciary has historically been far more progressive and activist than has Pennsylvania’s. Securing new funding and a new formula through the courts is likely to be a far more difficult proposition for educative advocates here.

The Allentown Morning Call reports:

Lawsuits in the late 1990s challenging Pennsylvania’s education funding system were defeated.

The court previously ruled that it could not address problems with school funding since it did not have any manageable standards by which to measure what students needed to learn and whether they were meeting those standards, according to the attorneys in the new lawsuit.

Two key factors have changed since that ruling, attorneys for the plaintiffs said.

First, a costing-out study in 2007 showed how much money the state believed schools needed to provide a thorough education. Though the Legislature initially attempted to fund education to that level, it abandoned those plans, according to the suit.

Second, the introduction of the Keystone Exams created a standard of what students need to learn to graduate. Currently, more than 50 percent of students are unable to pass the Keystone Exams, the suit claims.

The inadequate funding of public education in Pennsylvania is representative of a national problem affecting millions of school children across the country, triggering similar lawsuits in many states, said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“Pennsylvania is not alone in denying adequate funding for its students, especially those in high poverty school districts,” Henderson said. “But this case shows that Pennsylvania is one of the worst offenders in the nation. The disparity in education resources has created an educational caste system that the Commonwealth must eliminate. We will continue to take action to vindicate the state constitutional rights of all students to an education that prepares them for citizenship and the workforce. We also call on the U.S. Department of Education to investigate Pennsylvania for the glaring inequity in essential education resources in schools serving poor and minority school children and to take decisive corrective action on the findings.”

While outgoing Republican governor Tom Corbett—named in the suit—came under fire for his deep cuts to basic education services, Democrat Tom Wolf, who unseated Corbett last week, has said he will restore education funding and enact an equitable funding formula.