A Rookie State Senator Might Get A Spot On The Joint Finance Committee

Sources around Legislative Hall are speaking loudly about a very unusual committee assignment in the Delaware Senate.  It appears to be a sure thing that a rookie Delaware State Senator will get a spot on the Joint Finance Committee.

While some think this is a most excellent idea others are fuming.  While I won’t name the Senator just yet, I can say they are a Democrat.  With a spot on JFC, this also gives a Senator or State Representative more money.  Almost $10,000 extra a year.  While the average salary for a State Rep. or Senator is around $45,000 a year, that is a big percentage more to be on JFC.  But I will say the bump is necessary because they do spend most of February and other weeks in hearings to help determine the final state budget for the next fiscal year.

A spot on JFC is something many legislators covet.  While the salary bump is nice, many legislators do not rely on their General Assembly salary as their primary income.  It is, however, a very powerful position.  This is where all the financial decisions for the entire state budget are made.  A voice on this committee is huge!  Most members of JFC earn it over the years so for a seat to be given to a rookie is extremely rare.

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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

Which Songs Best Describe Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s Education Policies?

Delaware Governor Jack Markell loves education. He loves it so much he vetoes bills that go against parental rights, makes sure teachers are evaluated on faulty data, and loves high-stakes tests. He also loves money! And the money pouring out of his state into Education Inc.’s grabby little hands is very transparent! Out of the songs in this poll, which songs do you think best exemplifies Jack Markell’s education policies and agendas? For this special poll, I am allowing up to four answers, so you can pick four songs!

Some Are Pushing For The WEIC Redistricting For The WRONG Reasons

I’ve gone back and forth with the WEIC redistricting plan for a while now.  Some days I like it, others I don’t.  I tend to think of it from more of a statewide level because I live down in Dover.  But there are those who are in full support of the plan.  But some aren’t in it for the right reasons.  I recently heard a reference to “those kids”…those being the Wilmington Christina students.  While many of the main advocates want a better outcome for these students and think a population of city kids split up between four districts is bad, there are those who don’t want those kids in Christina anymore.  For the simple reason that they are a perceived burden and a problem that needs to go away.  I like to call this racism.  There are also some in Red Clay who don’t want more of “those kids”.  That is also racism when said in the same context.

I get the folks who are afraid of their taxes going up.  I understand that.  Especially older citizens on a fixed income.  But those who don’t want them because of their environment, or the color of their skin, or the issues they bring into schools… you need to get over it.  We live in the 21st Century.  The Jim Crow laws are gone.  Gay people can marry.  It’s a new way of looking at things.  I tend to believe, and this is only my opinion, most issues of racism are inherited.  Racism exists on both sides.  There are white people who hate black people and black people who hate white people.  I think it comes down to a matter of trust and dealing with fear.

Way back in the halcyon days of the mid 1990s, I worked in a comic book store in Trenton, NJ for a little while.  I was driving home from work one night, and I took a wrong turn.  I wound up in a bad neighborhood.  I was approaching a stop sign when a group of African-American men started walking towards my car with baseball bats.  It terrified me.  I ignored the stop sign and gunned it until I was in a safer area.  I didn’t report it.  I just made sure I was never in that area again.  Did I let that one bad situation define my views of African-Americans?  No.  I recognized there are good and bad people everywhere.  Is there really much difference between those men who were defending their turf and a fight at a school?  Probably not.  Was their intention to harm me or just scare me?  I may never know.  Perhaps they viewed me as a threat.

Back to WEIC, I just feel like the Christina Wilmington children could possibly be a political football.  I’ve discussed this with many people over the past year and a half or so.  I just don’t see how transferring them from Christina to Red Clay is really going to make such a huge difference for them.  They will still be in a school district.  Maybe they won’t be bused as far, but I remember it taking my bus an hour on some days to get to school.  If it was snowing, forget about it!  As an adult, I would kill for an hour in a vehicle I don’t have to drive!  To be alone with my thoughts, possibly someone to talk to.  Read, listen to music, stare at the scenery, I wouldn’t mind it at all.

I get that things need to change.  Personally, I think making Wilmington its own district isn’t such a bad idea.  I think a lot of the other districts should combine.  We really don’t need nineteen school districts in Delaware.  If those in power pushed this, it would happen.  But they are stuck in their ways and the way it is.  Change is very hard for Delaware.  I’ve realized that a lot lately.  But this whole “it has to happen now” thing is beginning to irritate me.  A lot.  If it has to happen now, why are there so many demanding conditions on the whole thing and timetables set up that almost seem to be a detriment rather than a help?

When I hear about Red Clay’s nightmare of an inclusion plan, I worry about the Christina Wilmington special needs kids who may be headed into a district that, on the surface, claims they are a success.  When I hear from parents that the flaws and issues facing that inclusion plan haven’t been solved and that the administration keeps canceling the Red Clay Inclusion Committee meetings for no reason at all, I worry we are sending them to a district that just doesn’t get it.  But once you start digging a bit, you find out Red Clay really isn’t that different from Christina in a lot of respects.  But what they do have is power.  They have very affluent suburbs.  Red Clay and Colonial own the Data Service Center.  They have the ability to authorize their own charter schools.  While it hasn’t been done in a long time, the option is there.  Christina has this option as well, but no one has utilized it.  Christina doesn’t have a Charter School of Wilmington or a Conrad to brighten their reputation (and test scores).  One of them is the most discriminatory institutes of learning I have ever seen in my life while calling themselves a public school.  But no one acts on this.  I have to wonder why that is?  We talk all the time about how we need to make life better for kids.  But we allow discrimination factories in our state that the citizens of the state pay taxes to fund.  What does that say about who we are as Delaware?  We can say we hate it, but when the time comes to push on these issues, and I mean really push, it gets very quiet.

If WEIC truly wants to make things equitable for the children of Wilmington, they need to stop doing it under this illusion of instant change or it is gone forever.  I would love instant change as well, but that doesn’t mean it is always good.  The redistricting plan, if it becomes law, is going to pump tons of money into Red Clay.  But it won’t last forever.  What happens when that money is gone four, five years down the road?  All these programs will happen based on that money.  When it disappears, what happens then?  Is Red Clay going to ask their citizens to pay for it?  Do we truly think the state will keep paying?  And why aren’t Brandywine and Colonial participating in this?  That was the original plan.  Do they not want “those kids” as well?  I know Colonial want to keep the ones they already have, but why did they never offer to take more?

If you are robbing Peter to pay Paul, you better be damn sure you are doing it for the best of all possible reasons.  If you are sending kids into a transition just for the sake of getting rid of them, you might want to take a good look in the mirror and think how it would feel if you were being tossed around like that.  If you’re doing this to gain power, or an illusion power, remember this is not a game.  These are children.  If you truly believe their lives will be better, than go with that feeling.  If you want a legacy, make sure it is a legacy for kids and not your name.  Names are only as important as how things are perceived in the long run.  If this ends bad, your name will be attached to it.

I know there are legislators who have or will vote yes for this because it is the political thing to do.  I know some of them really haven’t researched it enough to know what they are actually voting on.  I have to say, I respect the hell out of State Rep. Kim Williams.  Out of all the House Democrats, she was the only one to vote no.  Not because she doesn’t want a better life for these kids.  Not because she thinks Red Clay isn’t as good as Christina.  She voted no because she is deeply concerned about the funding for all this and what it will eventually mean for the constituents in her district.  To vote against party lines like that, especially when you are the last Democrat on the roll call and you know every single other Democrat in that room already voted yes, that takes courage and strength.

I know some Senators will fight this.  Even a Democrat or two.  I recently heard something about a tooth and a nail.  I heard about another one who is opposed to it but the power players feel they can handle this Senator.  Excuse me?  Handle?  Is this the FBI?  I didn’t know Delaware Senators had handlers.  I spent a lot of time in Legislative Hall this week.  I saw and heard a lot.  More this week alone than I think I have the entire time I’ve gone there during the 148th General Assembly.  While I’m not naming names here, I think some of the Delaware “elite” may want to put themselves in check.  You only have as much power as you think you have.  It can be taken away in an instant.  For those who think they are above the will of the people and all that, think twice.  I’m not the only one who talks, and I don’t talk as much as I could.  The “elite” would most likely have something to really fear if others did.  I would worry more about the things people say about you that you can’t hear.  That puts a chink in your armor and you don’t even know it’s happening.

I fear this will all end badly for these kids.  I agree with what some of the legislators said the other day.  This is a hope bill.  A hope bill with a hell of a lot of money, but even more important, children’s lives on the line.  We still have the Smarter Balanced Assessment which will be the measurement of how successful this thing is.  Success based on a failure of a test.  I have to ask… what the hell are we really thinking this will accomplish if it based on the very flawed measurement that will define this?  The same test that is making a complete mockery out of special education in our state?  If this thing is so important, so “has to happen now”, I would encourage all those who have children or grandchildren that could attend Red Clay district schools send their children there.  Choice them into Warner, or Bancroft, or Stubbs.  Only then will the words I hear so many of you saying actually mean you truly believe this.

Let’s Get Together

So education is a mess in Delaware.  It has basically come down to two sides: the moneymakers who want to make more money off education and those who just want education to be about teachers teaching and students learning with no high-stakes attached other than the student’s actual grades they receive based on the quality of work they put out.  This is it in a nutshell.  Sure, there are a million other variables in-between but this is the crux of the issues.

One side says what we have isn’t good enough while the other disagrees.  I’ve heard legislators say that both sides need to get together and compromise.  But how do you compromise when your very ethics and morals are questioned?  How do you put what you believe and you know in your heart of hearts to be true?  When does a financial reason ever replace what is actually good for a student?

In the 1960’s, people were very good about rising up when civil rights issues came up.  They stood up and rallied and rioted and marched and talked.  They said no to the big man and changed the face of the country.  Now many of the same people who advocated for change are the ones telling us how to run schools and what we need to do.  What changed?  Money.  They got a sniff of it, ran with it, kept it, invested it, and based their lives on it.  But they also achieved a level of power.  They got used to getting their way, and woe to anyone who gets in their way.  The only difference is now they are controlling events through money and power, as opposed to their hearts and convictions.  I think they believe the lies they tell us about our children and schools because the overwhelming need to control the scene is the mindset they have always had.

Is it even possible to change that kind of mindset?  Is there a way to convince these people they are wrong?  I don’t think so.  They will plot and scheme, and come up with other accountability measures designed to get what they want.  The difference is people are hip to their credo.  We are rising up, just as they did fifty years ago, to protest what they once believed to be wrong.  Will it be enough?  My best advice is to get together again.  Not those who will destroy public education, but all those who are opposed to what they are doing.

We need our own march that will go down in the annals of history as a catalyst for change.  We need to rally and protest.  We need to say no…together, as one voice.

A Time To Be Bold, Teachers. Do Not Let Fear Rule The Day.

I had a recent conversation with a teacher, and she thought certain things about me based on this blog and what we were talking about.  She assumed I was a teacher.  I am not a teacher.  At least not in the classroom sense.  I am not beholden to any administration, educators association, or state department.  I am beholden to my son, and his educational well-being.

This gives me latitude and the ability to operate without fear of certain kinds of retribution.  It’s very easy for me to sit here and type these words.  It’s easy for me to tell people to rise and speak with one voice.  But I understand it is not that easy for you.  Besides being a teacher, you are also wives and husbands, fathers and mothers, you have parents, grandparents and nieces and nephews.  Some of these people depend on you to feed them, or clothe them.

There is a movement going on in Delaware.  It’s been a slow thing, waiting for this to happen.  But it is happening, right here, right now.  For far too long, the darkness has blocked us from seeing the truth.  Fear has left the operations and machinations of the nefarious to be shrouded in darkness.  But one by one, the light is beginning to shine through the cracks they have unwittingly exposed.  Perhaps it is their own guilty conscience that has allowed this to happen.

I see a time when all is exposed.  When all the cards are put on the table.  When we can sift through the rubble and rebuild, and make something new.  But we can’t get there until more people speak.  Until they use the very gifts bestowed upon them to educate our children.  We need you to teach us out of the darkness.  The greatest accomplishments in history were when great men and women went beyond the call of duty.  When they would not remain stifled in the dark and shone their light on the world.

As parents, we want you to say no.  We want you to do what is best for our children.  We want you to teach.  We are tired of the iron fist that is hanging above you, every second of the day.  We are exhausted from you being forced to do things you do not want to do.  We need you to rise.  But more than that, we need you to speak.  We need you to tell your stories, from the past and the present.  Fear is a powerful thing.  It allows us to become paralyzed and unable to move.  But the truth will set you free.  Untangle yourself from the web created by those who believe fear is more important than truth.  Become your destiny.

Delaware Special Needs Parents Need To Unite Statewide Now! We can’t let the Rodels, Markells & DOE Screw Us Over

Gateway.  Priority Schools.  Smarter Balanced.  Standards Based IEPs.  Common Core.  Personalized Learning.  Rodel.  Vision.  Relay Graduate School.  Teach For America.  Governor Markell.

These are the ways Governor Markell, under the long-term strategic plans of Rodel, using the DOE as his shadow puppets, has systematically and methodically destroyed education as we know it in our state.  Some of us know this, and others are still living in the haze.

Sometimes, to move forward, you have to look back.  Last night, I journeyed back to last April.  My family’s situation with my son’s former charter school was starting to end and we were laboriously working on an IEP for my son at his new public elementary school.  But it felt like it wasn’t enough.  I started to research what led to all this.  I contacted a blogger named Kilroy, and we had many sidebar chats.  One day, I emailed him and advised him I figured it all out: Rodel ran education in this state.  They didn’t care what you or I thought, they had their vision, and to hell with anyone that got in their way.

We have allowed this to happen.  Because we haven’t spoken as one voice.  It’s hard being a special needs parent.  We all know this.  If it isn’t impacting my child, then we just don’t make the time to help.  Well guess what, everything is impacting your child now.  I’m sure a few weeks ago all the parents at Gateway thought they were secure.  I’m sure last summer some of the parents at the Priority schools thought their children were in good hands.  We have a standardized test coming up next Spring that a lot of our kids are rigorously  prepped for every day.  This test is so bad the company that made it doesn’t even know how to set proficiency levels.  Our teachers are being held at bay, getting screwed over left and right, held with a gun to their head every day with the threat of lower pay and the future of their already low-paying job on the line.   None of our schools are safe anymore.  Our educators aren’t safe.  And our children aren’t safe.

When I was chatting with Kilroy, he told me this state needs a unified special needs parent group.  Like a PTA for special needs parents.  As pieces, we can make some noise, ruffle some feathers, but at the end of the day nothing changes.  As a whole, a large unified group, representing 13.5% of children in this state, we can make a difference.  When one of our schools is threatened, we stand up.  When one of our kids is being mistreated, we stand up.  When legislation is introduced that can impact our kids, we stand up.  This is the only way we can make true and lasting change in Delaware.

We can NOT be a part of a government group.  Not PIC.  Not GACEC.  Not the DOE.  Not the Delaware PTA.  Or a PTO.  Once you are in the matrix, you don’t leave.  Don’t get me wrong, some individuals have made great changes to the system by being in these groups.  Some have gone on to become legislators.  That’s a good thing.  However, for the services and supports we need now, we need each other.  We can no longer rely on a Governor who really doesn’t care about what our kids need.  Gateway has proven that numbers on a piece of paper are more important than our children’s needs.

I would like to see this group start in January 2015.  Or sooner.  We can all go to the public comment meeting for Gateway on December 10th at the Delaware DOE.  They need our support.  We can protest the priority schools.  Because the state DOE has said nothing about the needs of those special needs children.  It hasn’t even been a part of the conversation.

Please leave comment and let’s start planning together.  This isn’t impossible.  It only takes a few people to unite and start spreading the word.  Reading this and agreeing is not enough.  Many of us have had our differences.  So we talk about them, we hash them out.  Maybe you think your kid is doing fine and everything is alright.  Great, let’s talk and see if that’s really the case.  We cannot live in a bubble anymore.  Because if you think for one minute all of this Common Core and standardized testing is going to lead to a greater future for your child, you are very wrong.

Why I Care About Special Education in Delaware

I wish I could answer that question with an easy simple sentence, but I can’t.  Before my son was diagnosed with Tourette’s and all it’s friends, I can honestly say I didn’t give too much thought to special needs children.  It just wasn’t in my limited radar.  They were there, and I would see them sometimes, but it wasn’t a major part of my world.  And then a funny thing happened.  It became my world.  My family became very different then.  Every moment, every action, I saw the label.  I saw my son as different, as “not normal”.  I was in denial for a long time.  Not because of him, but because my mind, my heart, it couldn’t accept what was right before my eyes.

Over time, this changed.  My son’s disabilities were with me every waking moment.  I tried to hide from it, to run away from it, but they were there, saying “Help me Daddy”.  And I’ve tried.  For the longest time I thought if I just treated him like every other normal child, maybe things would change.  But they didn’t.  I had to take a strong look at myself before I could accept him for who he was.  I had to, and still have to, realize that it doesn’t matter what others think.  It doesn’t matter, at all.  Let them judge, let them stare.  It’s reality.

First and foremost, I am a husband and a father.  My family isn’t the perfect Norman Rockwell family that so many dream of.  I know I did for a long time, but it’s just not in the cards.  But what I have is something better.  I have something real.  Something so crazy and imperfect that it makes the most sense in the world.  I get to see something some can never see.  I see human emotion in it’s pure, truest form.  Love, anger, sadness, happiness, jealousy, hope.  It’s all there.   My son has the ability to display all of these.  But it’s more than emotions.  It’s like they are colors.  Beautiful, radiant colors, that shine the brightest in his soul.

Conversations I had with people in the past used to consist of my latest TV show craze, whether it was X-Files, Lost, or Game of Thrones. I would talk about music, some politics, but for the most part I was a very self-centered person. My world was MY world and I felt people were crazy for not liking what I liked. Then a little thing became a big thing, and before I knew it, I was fully immersed in a cause. It didn’t happen overnight. It built up for a long time, and I didn’t even realize it.

When my son started having numerous problems at his old school, I figured he was just a misfit of sorts and he liked causing trouble. But it continued, and I knew something was off, but I didn’t know what. Eventually, I found out. He had Tourette’s Syndrome. And ADHD. And Sensory Processing Disorder. And OCD. And Anxiety. And Depression. He wasn’t even in double digits yet, and he had all of this to look forward to. I didn’t have the slightest clue how to help him, and I’ll be honest, sometimes I still don’t.

I don’t expect perfection. Let’s get that on the table right now. I accept mistakes, if they are made with the right intentions. But when the “old school” denied my son services that should have been his by federal law, I was pissed off. When I fully realized the scope of it all, I was well beyond pissed off. So I researched everything. Schools. The DOE. The Government. Common Core. Rodel. Smarter Balanced Assessments. The Charter School Network. What I found was a clear path, visible to those who follow the steps.

It’s the oldest game in the world. Survival of the fittest. Cavemen did it, and those in power do it now. They don’t want to relinquish their power and they will hold onto it as long as they can. Those who get in their way are pushed aside. But something new and bizarre is happening in the power landscape. The Power People are getting together and banding together. They are forcing their will on the people through coercion and specific techniques. And it all begins with education.

We think we know what’s going on, but there are depths and levels of which most people don’t have a clue. It’s a game of chess, and their pieces have been placed in a potential checkmate position for a long time.