CSAC Recommends DAPSS Stay Open For One Year With Conditions While Queen Margie Exerts Control

At the Delaware Department of Education building in Dover, the Charter School Accountability Committee recommended Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security stay open for another school year with very stringent conditions.  At that point, Colonial’s Board of Education could very well decide to take over their charter.  Queen Margie once again made it all about her.  But the discussion that reached this point was very intense.  Much more information here than you will find in the Delaware DOE press release. Continue reading

Sussex Montessori Appears To Be Clueless On Special Education & Basic Charter Formation

Sussex Montessori School went through their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting in their application process.  I thought for sure, given this was their second attempt to apply for a charter, they would get it right and everything would be smooth sailing.  Instead, their application is missing a lot of information.  The committee smacked them up and down the court.

These are my favorite quotes from the report: Continue reading

Christina Board Votes No On Many District Recommended Budget Cuts

Tonight at the Christina Board of Education meeting, the board voted in favor of NOT eliminating the following in their schools and the district based on recommendations from their Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber and Superintendent Richard Gregg. This was under the direction of “Minimize the number of students impacted by cuts.”

Elementary & Secondary Strings

Elementary Instrumental Music

A motion to reduce elementary specialists (such as music, library, etc.)

A motion to decrease technology investment

Academic Deans

Montessori Program

Reduce Department Budgets

Reduce School Budgets (based on need)

Change Credit Recovery Delivery Model-Integrate SPA with High Schools

The following DID pass the board:

Reduce EPER (Extra Pay for Extra Responsibilities)

Do not fill Vacant Non-Academic positions

Decrease in Professional Development

While these are good for the positions and programs not eliminated, those holes in the budget will have to be filled somewhere with other cuts, which could mean up to 100 teachers being cut from the district as well as higher classroom sizes.  This isn’t a good situation no matter how you slice it.  I don’t envy any school board faced with these decisions largely set in motion by Governor Carney’s proposed budget for FY2018.  He is recommending districts be able to raise match taxes without a referendum.  Many districts are balking at this scenario presented by Carney.  However, they have to give notice to teachers about returning this month, well before the Delaware General Assembly gives their final vote on the budget which will occur on either June 30th, or more likely, the wee hours of the morning on July 1st.

The Charter School Office At The Delaware DOE Has A New Director

Denise Stouffer joined the Charter School Office at the Delaware Dept. of Education last April. but as of the past couple of weeks she became the Director of the Charter School Office.  She rose through the ranks to replace Jennifer Nagourney, who left the Delaware DOE on July 1st to join the New York City Dept. of Education.  But she had been working with the Delaware DOE for two years before that as a contractor with a title of “Data Governance Contractor”.  In 2010, she created a company called BHS Educational Services based out of Pennsylvania.  BHS specializes in helping individuals to create charter schools and professional development training.  Stouffer also helped out the DOE during their contract with Wireless Generation as a consultant that trained people on professional development and data driven instructional practices.  All this information is based on Stouffer’s LinkedIn account.  While her new title does not appear on that account, it was referenced in the Charter School Office presentation to the Delaware State Board of Education at their retreat earlier this week.

I have seen Denise Stouffer at meetings the past few weeks, whether at the State Board of Education or Every Student Succeeds Act meetings.  I was wondering who she was… now I know!  I had a decent relationship with Jennifer Nagourney and I hope the same can be said for Denise Stouffer.  I’m a pain in the ass at times.  But as I’ve always told folks at the DOE and written on here more times than I can count, if I’m barking up the wrong tree, let me know!  In any event, congratulations Denise!  You have big shoes to fill!

Judge Sends A Dangerous Message In Carr Ruling For Amy’s Murder & The District’s Role In The Events

While a judge’s ruling in how Amy Joyner-Francis’ murderer will be tried sparks controversy, the role the New Castle County Vo-Tech School District may have played has been silent and ignored.

According to The News Journal last Friday, Delaware Family Court Judge Robert Coonin made a ruling in how Trinity Carr will be tried in the murder of Amy Joyner-Francis, the high school student who died after an assault at Howard High School of Technology.  Carr will be tried as a juvenile, not an adult.  In most likelihood, the maximum sentence Carr would receive, if found guilty, would be “community supervision and treatment until age 19” as per the News Journal article written by Jessica Massulli Reyes.

Judge Coonin also ruled Amy’s fingernails were more likely ripped out trying to fend the attack as the video showed her grabbing Carr as her murderer was being pulled away from her.  Coonin said there was insufficient evidence to suggest Carr lacked remorse because she did not know she had killed Amy after the fight.

None of this will likely give Amy’s family any feeling of justice.  I am very uncomfortable with Carr essentially walking the streets.  Her actions, and I don’t care what anyone says about a pre-existing condition that is suspect at best, led to the death of a sweet teenager.  Carr’s Sunday School activity doesn’t erase her actions that day.  No, I don’t think Carr should get the death penalty, but this sends a bad message to the youth of Delaware.  A very dangerous and bad message.

The heart of the ruling deals with Carr’s age.  She is sixteen years old.  Technically, she is a minor.  The Delaware Attorney General’s Office had extreme issues with the planning that went on before the assault on Amy.  The length of the assault, the viciousness of it, and the physical results of the attack were foremost in their mind in issuing charges.  Revealed at Carr’s first hearing on the matter was the unrevealed pulling out of Amy’s fingernails.  Coonin ruled they were a result of Amy trying to protect herself based on video footage.  While this could be true, it also points out a desperation on Amy’s part to save herself.  Which swings back around to the viciousness of the attack.

We have heard the tales of “bloodlust” in people.  Where they go beyond the point of reason and brutal savagery takes over.  I have to believe that most people make a conscious choice to cross that line in their mind.  What Carr did is not a normal choice unless she made certain decisions during the timeline of events.  This was planned in advance, the day before.  But there are situations where she may not have been able to make that final choice where rage took over.  Coonin’s ruling gives teenagers a very false idea that they could get away with something like this.  While it is my fervent hope it would not, the minds of teenagers are very different than those of an adult.  I highly doubt this would come out even if it were the case, but what if Carr has a disability?  What if she was on medication that had an adverse affect on the neurology of her brain?  I have no idea if this is the case or not, I am merely questioning a possibility.  While this would not justify her final actions in my mind because of the premeditation behind it, this could potentially lead to important questions that need to be addressed.

How aware was the school of the feud between Carr and Amy?  Should they have been aware?  As part of our bullying laws in Delaware, social media is addressed in those laws.  But how much monitoring of that social media takes place?  No one can see everything at once.  That would be impossible.  But one thing I haven’t ever heard is the possibility of having a school narc to monitor things like this, especially in schools where there are higher incidents of fights and inappropriate touching.  Someone who could keep abreast of things like this.  Hearing the buzz so to speak and acting on it.  There have been narc’s for drugs in schools.  Why not bullying or threats that result in vicious fights or, as an extreme, a student’s death.

What is the school’s role in this tragedy?  I’ve reported before that many teachers at Howard High School of Technology were involved in professional development that morning.  While not completely verified, the role of hall monitors has been very spotty at this school according to several sources wishing to remain anonymous.  Yes, testimony has come out that a teacher did get to the bathroom and heard Amy’s final words.  But how much time elapsed between the point when a bunch of students were running into a bathroom, Carr confronted Amy, pulled her by the hair into a bathroom stall, Amy resisted, and Carr was able to punch and kick Amy over twenty times?  This is something the school would know.  But they aren’t talking.  Some of that could be because this is a criminal investigation and they simply can’t talk about it.  But I have to believe that if teachers were present, and not in professional development at 8 or 8:30 in the morning, this tragedy could have been averted.  I don’t blame the teachers for this, I blame the administration.  While the true fault lies with Carr, the school’s actions, while intentional or not, did lead to Amy’s death.  And this is the thing no one else is talking about publicly.  If this were outside of school, this wouldn’t even be an issue.  But this happened inside a school building, filled with adults.

While I tend to doubt the New Castle County Vo-Tech School District would ever publicly address this aspect to Amy’s death, I sincerely hope this evolves into discussions with their board and district staff.  It may have already happened.  There is a public task force on school safety happening in Delaware.  I hope changes occur that would allow for something like this to never happen again, not only in their schools, but all Delaware schools.  We owe it to Amy, and all those who have been victim to any kind of vicious assault or murder, to try.  If anything like this could be in any way prevented by the local school authority, we need to look at all scheduling aspects, how much security we may or may not need in our schools, and some type of apparatus to watch student’s actions to see if a crisis could happen.  This is something our schools should have always been doing.  It should not take the death of Amy to finally make our students the safest they can possibly be.

The School Safety Committee is meeting tonight at the Friends of Woodlawn Library, 2020 W. 9th St., in Wilmington, Delaware, at 6pm.  While I am unable to make it, and I know this is late notice, but I would try to attend if you can.  Don’t be afraid to give public comment.  Someone’s life could very well depend on it.

UPDATED WITH VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION!!! Parents Concerned About Murder At Howard High School Should Go To District Board Meeting Monday Night

Updated, 8:32am: I have just heard from a few sources that the district has changed their meeting to their district office at 4pm.  And the meeting will be held in a conference room that holds a maximum of 15 people.  Apparently there is a Town Hall at Stubbs Elementary School tomorrow night which is being led by Wilmington Councilman Darius Brown, which precipitated the time change for the board meeting.  The district did reach out to advise me this is the reason for the board meeting change.  Several folks were upset about this, and I did suggest to the district they might want to change the board meeting to another night when parents and members of the community are more easily able to attend.  There is another Town Hall this week for parents to talk about the situation.  I will update that information when I know when and where.  One thing I would remind everyone to do is think of Amy and her family and friends.  And please continue praying for all of them.

Howard High School of Technology belongs to the New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District.  The district has a board meeting Monday night, 4/25, at St. George’s Technical High School in their Media Center at 7pm.  Howard was the high school where Amy died last Thursday.  I believe the district has a lot to answer for.  While I don’t believe the district is directly responsible for what happened to Amy, there were circumstances that allowed the situation to happen in the first place.

NCCVTAgenda42516

Why are students allowed to enter the school at 7:15am in the morning to gather and do what they please.  I’m hearing hall monitors are sparse, when they do come, and when they arrive on time.  I’ve heard many who want to blame the teachers for what happened.  Nope.  They are in district mandated professional development during some of these mornings.  To accommodate this, the district changed the start time for the first classes a couple days a week.  Let’s make one thing clear right off the get-go: teachers hate professional development.  I don’t care how many surveys the Delaware Dept. of Education dredges out.  The abuse of Delaware teachers doesn’t begin and end with their evaluations.

Our school districts have become so enamored with the Delaware Way, that horrible situation where all tables must come to the table and compromise while the more powerful of the parties ends up getting their way (in most cases the state DOE/Rodel Foundation for education).

Could Amy’s death have been prevented?  I would like to think it could have.  One thing is crystal clear.  The discipline and fighting figures we see are not honest.  There may be a few out there, but I think a lot is going unreported.  There are things our schools are trying to hide which is making problems worse, not better.  In many of our schools, students hit teachers all the time.  They curse and roam the halls in some schools.  Some students are expelled or sent to alternative schools in the hopes they will become better students.  But the class sizes in these schools now make it impossible for a teacher there to get anything done.  There is also this absurd culture where students have no authoritative role models anymore.  Some of them don’t get it at home or school.  A school should not be the Band-Aid to cure what ails so many of our students.  But this seems to be what our state and the corporate education reform companies want.

Don’t get me wrong: students should not encourage fighting, nor should they build a blockade so teachers or other adults can’t stop what is going on.  The students involved should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.  In my opinion, those who stood and watched while filming the tragedy should be held accountable as well.  They are just as guilty.  But the schools, districts and administrators who stand back and let these things happen time and time again need to realize how serious these things can get.  A student died in one of our schools in Delaware.  She was murdered.  We can’t forget that and it would dishonor Amy’s life to think otherwise.

The parents of students at Howard High School of Technology have every right to voice their concerns.  I strongly encourage all of them to attend the board meeting Monday night in Middletown.  If they are unable to get there, other parents should offer a ride or perhaps the district should arrange busing for them so they can make their voices heard.  This meeting could get very real and the district may be forced to hear things they would rather not hear.  But I’m sure Amy’s parents heard something they never wanted to hear the day she died.

Governor Markell Gives $400,000 To 21 Delaware Schools On Common Core Tour

As Delaware Governor Markell went on his “common core” tour today at W. Reilly Brown Elementary School in the Caesar Rodney School District, he announced $400,000 in competitive grants going to 21 Delaware schools.  The goal of these grants are professional development for teachers to further implement Common Core to increase student outcomes.  And God wept…

Why is Jack Markell, with nine months left in his reign as Governor, doing this Common Core tour?  Which company is paying him for this?  What disgusts me is the way the Governor and the DOE lure teachers in by making it look like it is for them.  How much professional development do teachers need?  Let’s not forget the two purposes of this tour: to thank teachers for implementing Common Core and to “debunk” the myths surrounding it.  You may fool some of our teachers and administrators Jack, but this is corporate tomfoolerty at its best.  Far too many Delaware parents know better and you may have fooled us once, but not twice.  As the state looks for funding, our districts will take any money they can get regardless of the cost to students.  I will ask again Governor Markell: where are the funds for basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade?  Answer the question Jack!

This is, in my opinion, a strong push towards the blended/personalized learning the Rodel Foundation has pushed on Delaware the past couple years.  The press release doesn’t even mention this, but events from last night suggest otherwise.  Last night at the Capital Board meeting, their board unanimously voted to apply to BRINC, the blended learning consortium that already includes the Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech, Colonial, Red Clay, Appoquinimink and Caesar Rodney School Districts.  Despite my public comment about the very obvious data privacy loopholes in existing law.

While student identifiable information doesn’t go out, it all filters through the Delaware DOE who simply gives education “research” companies the student’s identification number.  When that information comes back, the DOE has all that data attached to a student’s identification number.  As well, Schoology uses a cloud system called IMS  that would allow any aggregate information through the Schoology application to be shared with their members.  The Capital board seemed a little too eager to get this passed.  At one point, Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton didn’t know how much it would cost the district and it took him over fifteen minutes to find the information.  The board discussed how it would be good professional development for teachers without talking about what it means for students or their personal data.  Their CFO, Sean Sokolowski, said it would be paid for through Federal Consolidated Grants.  Are these the same grants Markell announced today or are they separate?  I would assume they are separate, but I’ve found many grants tend to have strings attached to them, just like the federal waiver scheme the US DOE abused under Race To The Top.  As we rush headfirst into this personalized learning/competency-based education/career pathway future for our students, those in the power to question things are going along to get along.  I can’t understand, for the life of me, why teachers are jumping on this bandwagon.  This will eventually cause their job functions, as instructors,  to diminish in the future.  To the point where they will become “facilitators” instead of “instructors”.  Does anyone think it is a coincidence paraprofessional salaries will eventually start at the same point as a first-year teacher in Delaware?  Don’t believe me?  Check out Governor Markell’s proposed FY2017 budget.  Go to page 202 on the pdf, section 286.  While many feel, and rightfully so, that paras in our schools are underpaid, should they be paid the same as a first-year teacher?  If they performed the same job function…

I have not been too impressed with Caesar Rodney Superintendent Kevin Fitzgerald in the past year.  He seems to have been sucked into the DOE/Markell/Rodel whirlpool of corporate education reform.  You can read more on his role in today’s announcement below.

Just today, the National Education Policy Center issued a damning report on the success of blended and personalized learning schools and pointed out they are less successful than schools who don’t use these services.  So if it is all about proficiency and increasing standardized test scores and growth, why are we pushing, as a state, a system that just isn’t working?  Could it have anything to do with the billions of dollars companies are making off this smoke and mirrors?  And how many of these companies are incorporated out of Wilmington, DE?  As per the IMS article I linked to above, they are incorporated out of Delaware.

It is my opinion the Governor’s time could have been better spent heading to Wilmington to do more than issue a statement on the tragic and pointless death of a student at Howard High School today.  His visit to W. Reilly Brown was at 11am, well after this hit the media today.  As a state tries to understand the absolute horror that went on in that school today, our Governor is off playing corporate lap-dog for his education buddies.  I will never understand that man.

Here is the DOE press release on these “grants”:

21 schools win professional learning grants

Delaware awarded 21 schools in seven school districts nearly $400,000 in competitive professional learning grants Thursday as the state moves toward professional learning tailored to individual school needs.

Governor Jack Markell announced the awards today during a visit with Secretary of Education Steve Godowsky to Caesar Rodney School District’s W. Reily Brown Elementary School in Dover. Five schools in the district won a combined $50,000.

“All educators deserve the opportunity to continuously improve their practice through their own initiative and through investments made in them by their schools, districts, and the state,” Markell said. “We must improve the quality and efficacy of professional learning for all educators in Delaware. To do this, we as a state need to support districts and schools in their promise to provide Delaware educators with ongoing, job-embedded professional learning that leads to real improvement for students.”

For the past three years, the Delaware Department of Education has provided state-led professional learning for school-based teams through the Common Ground for the Common Core program. Common Ground identified principals and teacher leaders, engaged them in deep practices around the standards and concepts and analyzed student work to determine how to target instruction in the classroom.

In year one, the focus of Common Ground was on the shifts under the then-new standards. In year two, the focus was on ensuring a balanced assessment system, and in year three, the initiative focused on targeted approaches to closing achievement gaps and deepening literacy in other content areas. Next year, the Reimagining Professional Learning grants will provide professional learning that continues to target the school level.

“A stable foundation has been built, and after three years of Common Ground, we now are incentivizing schools that are committed to continuing this important work while also strengthening the professional learning for their educators,” Godowsky said. “The grant applications of these 21 schools is a clear indication that they are ready to embrace this challenge.”

Godowsky said he is continuously impressed by the commitment of Delaware’s teachers and administrators and what they do every day and by what they plan to do with the Reimagining Professional Learning Grant: “Educators at all of these schools are looking at their data, lesson plans and structures so that they can reimagine the positive impact of  professional learning for the benefits of their students.”

Each school designed professional learning to meet its staff’s needs. For example, at Brown, the grant will allow teachers to gather each month to plan and research a lesson. They will agree which team member will teach the lesson, and the lesson study team members will observe the lesson, collect data on teacher actions and student responses. Through using lesson studies, educators will collaborate and focus on the impact of this training on teacher practice and student learning.

The funding will make a difference in other ways across the state from Bunker Hill Elementary’ s focus on inquiry learning in the Appoquinimink School District to Milford School District’s emphasis on teacher leadership through cross-district work with all elementary schools and the early childhood center. In New Castle County Vo-Tech’s St. Georges High School, there will be a school-wide focus on speaking and listening with strong professional learning communities to sustain a cycle of improvement for both teachers and students. In Colonial, school and district leaders evaluated curriculum, structures and teacher and student needs to develop a comprehensive plan with regular coaching and feedback from administrators, teachers and students.

“Educators at these schools not only looked at their data but studied their structures and developed plans to reimagine professional learning that they will tie to student outcomes,”  said Michael Watson, the department’s chief academic officer.

Kevin Fitzgerald, superintendent of the Caesar Rodney School District, said he appreciates the state’s commitment to support school-led professional learning.

“This is a perfect partnership between the state, the district and the teachers and school leaders who work closest with our children and know best how to deliver these college- and career-ready standards.”

The winners are:

·         Appoquinimink School District (Bunker Hill Elementary): $30,000

·         Capital School District (Central Middle, Henry Middle, Dover High): $90,000

·         Caesar Rodney School District (Brown Elementary, Frear Elementary, McIllvaine Early Childhood, Simpson Elementary, Stokes Elementary): $50,000

·         Colonial School District (Eisenberg Elementary, Gunning Bedford Middle, George Read Middle, McClullough Middle, William Penn High, Wilmington Manor Elementary): $90,000

·         Milford School District (Banneker Elementary, Mispillion Elementary, Morris Early Childhood, Ross Elementary): $90,000

·         New Castle County Vo-Tech School District (St. Georges High): $30,000

·         Smyrna School District (Smyrna High): $20,000

Alison May
Updated, 5:41pm: Apparently schools did apply for these grants as found on the Delaware DOE website.

 

Delaware DOE Has No Desire To Dump Common Core Or The Smarter Balanced Assessment

money_burning

Last week, the United States House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Every Student Succeeds Act.  The US Senate will most likely vote on the bill this week and it is expected President Obama will sign the bill.  This will get rid of the No Child Left Behind mandates imposed on all the states.  It gives states more control.  It explicitly says states can come up with own state standards and they do not have to be tied to Common Core.  In Delaware, I see absolutely no indication of Governor Markell or the Delaware Department of Education dumping Common Core or it’s bastard offspring, the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

On October 27th, the DOE submitted a proposal for contract bids on an Early Literacy Initiative.  The bidding on this closed last Friday, 12/4.  The contract calls for a vendor to go into four Delaware schools, three traditional district schools and one charter school.  From the Request for Proposal:

 

DEEarly2

Delaware and literacy rates for the most at-risk students have never been something to brag about.  I fully support all children learning to read, but if the motivation is so they do better on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, I have serious issues with that.  I don’t think increased “rigor” is going to help the students whose needs are not being met.  For those who want to bash me for this, it is all designed for increased proficiency on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Why?  Good question.  Governor Markell was the one who wants students with disabilities to go from 19% proficiency on SBAC to 59% in six years.  Like that rigor rubber band isn’t going to snap!  This is what standards-based IEPs are all about, and anyone saying they aren’t is either lying or is unaware of the true motivation.

 

DEEarly3

Which schools will be a part of this experiment?  Are these current priority or focus schools?  The DOE should really give more information on these schools so the vendor can know exactly what they are getting into.  There is a huge difference between MOT Charter School and East Side, or Warner Elementary and Hartly Elementary.  Are these schools the DOE is going to pick for this even aware of what is coming with this contract?  And who were the bidders?

 

DEEarlyLiteracyInitiative

I am very familiar with four of these bidders: American Institutes for Research (AIR), Public Consulting Group (PCG), Amplify, and University of Delaware.  But 95 Percent Group and Institute on Community Integration (ICI)?  Never heard of them.  I checked out 95 Percent Group’s website and I always get nervous when I see only three people listed as employees for a company like this.  I’m sure they have more, or maybe they don’t.  The Institute on Community Integration is through the University of Minnesota.  Whereas 95 Percent Group has a small staff listed, ICI has tons of staff listed on their website!  This happens with university programs like this.  I hate to see AIR and PCG get even more involved in any aspect of Delaware education.  It is very sad that the DOE has more faith in these companies than they do in our own schools and teachers.  But since someone has to be the mediator between these companies and all our schools, it helps to make their existence even more important than it really is.

I have to ask though, what the hell are we even doing anymore?  All of these companies have one goal when they take on these state vendor roles: increasing the scores on the state assessments.  Whether they reach their goal or not, it is a faulty measure of success because state assessments do not provide an accurate assumption of student success.  By driving students to do well on these tests, all they are getting paid for is essentially helping teachers teach to the test.  That isn’t education.  It is a false narrative written by folks like Governor Jack Markell.  We need to stop reading this story.  We need to demand our legislators strip the DOE of spending our taxpayers funds for “cash in the trash” programs like this.  Every time the DOE signs a contract like this, with some contracts never seeing the light of day, we allow the DOE to continue this practice.  Most of us aren’t even aware of this.  Enough is enough…

Flip This Bob A! Joining BRINC & Spending Tons Of Money While Laying Off Teachers Sends The Wrong Message

For a school district that laid off 99 teachers over the summer to enter into the BRINC Consortium and sign contracts with companies like Modern Teacher prior to going to a referendum is not the smartest of ideas.  With that being said, this is exactly what Acting Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski is looking to do.  The Christina School District Board of Education released the agenda for their meeting a week from today.  On the Consent Agenda is this:

Contract Services: BRINC Consortium/Modern Teacher

When a district signs a contract, it isn’t free.  It costs money.  Christina lost their last two referendum attempts earlier this year.  They will assuredly attempt a third one at some point in 2016.  This is not the time for Christina to start signing personalized learning or professional development contracts based on that personalized learning with outside companies.  The last time I went to a Christina board meeting in August, there was talk concerning how the district might look in a year.  It wasn’t a pretty picture.  So why on earth would the district even attempt to sign onto this?

Two words: Bob Andrzejewski.  The former Red Clay Superintendent was voted in by the board as the Acting Superintendent after the soon to be resigning Superintendent Freeman Williams went on leave.  The vote was 4-3.  Since he was appointed, “Bob A” (his blog nickname, established long before I joined the scene) has told Christina parents and teachers in town halls he wants the district to join the BRINC consortium.  The original BRINC districts were Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech and Colonial.  Last year, Appoquinimink, Caesar Rodney and Red Clay joined the “blended learning” initiative.  The only difference between personalized learning and blended learning is in the details.  They are both based on personalized learning.  Students still get that “personalized” touch, but with blended learning it is like a flipped classroom.

Last month, the United States Department of Education spotlighted the BRINC Consortium in an article.

Blended learning is an approach in which teachers deliver some instruction in traditional ways but also expect students to learn via digital and online media in and outside of class. Students are encouraged to follow a path of their choosing at a pace that is comfortable to them, as long as they meet expectations.

While BRINC is mostly a high school program, it will filter into the lower grades as well.  While I am all for innovation and technology, I don’t think students being guided to do their own thing as long as it fits “expectations” is appropriate.  There is a crystal clear reason why teachers and even college professors teach specific subjects.  They have been trained to do so (in most cases) and feel they can deliver that knowledge to the classroom.  I don’t think a “flipped classroom” is going to be effective in the long-term.  I definitely don’t think a “flipped classroom” with Common Core standardized assessment material embedded into a personalized learning environment to create a competency-based education experience is going to advance the proficiency on the Smarter Balanced Assessment either.

As a result of this partnership, the Delaware Department of Education recently selected Schoology’s learning management system to replace its existing system to power online and blended learning for the entire state to shift education from being teacher-driven to student-centered, making active, engaged learners with access to the best, most effective technology.

That is a lot of power in an outside company’s hands.  Where does all that data go?  Schoology offers a cloud system where teachers submit ideas and lesson plans and other teachers pull it out of the cloud and use it.  But what this does is it takes away from that teacher-class relationship.  It turns it into a peer relationship opposed to a teacher-student mentality.  I just don’t agree with that.  Teachers are the adults.  They are not facilitators.  This is just the next education craze, but here is the issue with that.  Nobody is talking about Common Core anymore.  They have grown to accept it.  They are still complaining about the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which is based on the Common Core.  Add personalized learning and competency-based education to the mix, and it is the future version of “Iceberg dead ahead”.  Many see Common Core and competency-based education as mirror opposites.  But Common Core has become embedded into all of it.  And the standardized tests will be as well.  Instead of once a year, they will be cut up into smaller pieces, all brought to Delaware by Schoology.  And since teachers have to keep up with all these changes, in comes Modern Teacher to save the day.  More professional development brought to us by Education Inc.

Back to “Bob A”.  I believe he is part of the Rodel/Vision/University of Delaware crowd.  The ones who are pushing all of this personalized learning and have been for a couple years now.  Even some of the BRINC Superintendents are a part of this crowd as well: Mark Holodick (Brandywine) and Susan Bunting (Indian River) are both part of the Rodel crowd now, and they are on the inner circle of the Vision Coalition.  But guess what, no matter what trends or crazes come in education, Common Core is here.  It is a part of all the personalized learning.  The standardized assessments are still here.  It is difficult to move on to the next thing if its foundation is based on a corporate education reform movement that turned Common Core into dirty words. but allow it to not only exist but thrive like never before.  But “Bob A” seems to want Christina to join this next big thing when the district clearly cannot afford it.  I would be hard pressed to meet any of the 99 laid off teachers from Christina who would be happy their jobs were replaced with vendor contracts and education technology to teach the other teachers who weren’t laid off how to sit back and watch students do most of the work.

Modern Teacher is just another in a long, long list of companies that will “transform” education and bring it to the next level.  Yawn…  From their website:

 “We are building a bold, ambitious solution to transform our current model of education by changing the end-user experience for teachers and students. A re-imagined instructional core binds today’s teachers, 21st century students, and digital content options into a personalized learning solution that truly transforms the K-12 classroom experience.”

Some think Andrzejewski will be the force that parts the Red Sea and allows Christina to win their next referendum.  I don’t see that.  I see someone who inserted himself into the district.  Whether that was him individually or if there were unseen hands pushing him there I can’t say.  But if I were the Christina board, I would be very wary of signing contracts with companies while the district could potentially go into receivership in nine months if their referendum doesn’t pass.  I just say more Rodelian and Markellian antics at play here.  Board members for all the districts need to become more involved in the negotiation phases of these contracts.  For far too long, the Superintendents have been the ones calling the shots in many districts.  They get the business and present it to the board.  The board is relying on the word of the Superintendent and their support staff.  The assumption is that the information conveyed to boards is open and honest.  But unless they are getting involved and doing the research into these contracts, I don’t think any board member can safely say they are voting on something that is the best for the students they are elected to oversee.  A Superintendent is appointed by a school board and they become the face of the district.  But a board is the law of the district.

As I read more and more of the Every Student Succeeds Act, I don’t like where all of this is going.  But there are clearly forces out there pushing this on all the schools and districts.  They contact the state non-profits (in Delaware’s case that would be Rodel) who then push it on the state Department of Education, and next thing you know, things like BRINC happen and spread.  There is a ton of money in education technology.  BRINC is not free, because students and teachers will pay the price.  You can attempt to have the board vote for a contract they most likely can’t afford with another education reform company, or you can flip this Bob A!

The DOE Makes It So Easy…Why Do They Do This?

Last week, I wrote about the Race To The Top report the US DOE came out with.  I saw Delaware’s ridiculously high graduation rates compared to all the other original Race To The Top states and I just laughed.  Turns out the Delaware Department of Education was all set to boast of this and did it in record time!  I have to redline this joke of a press release.  It is begging me to do it.  They do this all the time, and I have to wonder if anyone really cares or listens anymore about what they say.  It’s so full of their flawed methodology it’s sickening…

Delaware leads RTTT states in college enrollment gains

Delaware’s work to increase its college enrollment rates was highlighted in a U.S. Department of Education report released today looking at the progress made by states under the federal Race to the Top grant.

Say, didn’t Avi over at Newsworks dispute your drop-out claims which you openly admitted?  It stands to reason your graduation rates would be affected by that as well!  And didn’t you use to not let kids graduate if they did bad on the DSTP?  The pre-Smarter Balanced test that everyone hated?

Delaware was cited as having made the greatest gains (10.7 percent) in college enrollment. Tennessee was second at 3.3 percent.

Well la de da!  And what does that mean exactly?  Does it mean more students are taking all those remedial classes in college you like to talk about so much?  But hey, let’s have our colleges and universities make major decisions based on Smarter Balanced!  Cause that’s going to work out so well!

Race to the Top also provided Delaware students with more opportunities for Advanced Placement and pre-AP courses. The report highlights how Delaware has supported educators through more direct AP training and given districts/charters increased access to virtual courses. This has resulted in student enrollment in AP courses increasing by 9.2 percent in Delaware since 2011. In the same period, the number of AP exam scores of 3 or higher (on a 5-point scale) has increased 22.2 percent.

Too bad a score of 3 isn’t accepted by Delaware’s colleges.  Too bad the bulk of students score a three.  That is $90 per course out the window.  Be proud DOE, be proud…

In other areas of the report, First State educators were called out for their collaboration during professional learning communities as well as their school team approach to professional learning as part of the state’s Common Ground for the Common Core.

Is there still a teacher’s lounge in every school where teachers sit during lunch, relax, and talk to each other?  That is true collaboration!  Teachers complain about all the time they don’t have in school.  And you actually said the words Common Core instead of the “standards”.  You haven’t been watching other states.  Those words have become toxic…

“Delaware teachers in every school met weekly for 90 minutes in professional learning communities to analyze student work and reflect on ways to modify instruction to bridge gaps identified in student learning,” the report said.

I’ll bet that was so much fun for all these teachers.  You make it sound like it was a party.  You forced teachers to do this and most of them can’t stand you for it.

The report also praised the state for listening to educators and adjusting supports to meet their needs: “Delaware and Tennessee had initially planned to conduct large-scale training sessions to help teachers transition to new standards. However, after soliciting feedback from teachers, they changed their plans and brought school teams together for action planning and used the talents of their own excellent teachers, rather than outside consultants, to provide training.”

So why did the Vision Coalition get paid so much Race To The Top money?  What essential need did they provide teachers that teachers could have done themselves?  Rodel IS an outside consultant DOE, get it through your thick head!

Delaware also was commended for relying on groups of teachers and leaders to provide ongoing input on new approaches or strategies to improve evaluation practices. For example, the state engaged 600 teachers to develop more than 200 assessment “tool kits” that provided rigorous and comparable measures of growth in student learning for non-tested grades and subjects.

More of the teacher cabal over at Rodel/Vision.  And don’t our Delaware teachers just love DPAS-II?  Please…you disgrace every teacher in this state with this nonsense…

And the U.S. Department of Education lauded Delaware for using RTTT to provide educators with an improved and more comprehensive data system as well as for using this customized data system to help support and manage program implementation at the district level. The digital systems that Delaware developed also made it easier to report and summarize student outcomes.

I’ll bet it did!  And where is all that data going DOE?  I know, I know, “we can’t send out personal data”.  Unless it is for the furthering of education and the fix-its we all know companies love to tell us we need but they never actually fix anything.  As State Rep. Sean Matthews brilliantly said, it is “cash in the trash”.

“Teachers Have Such A Cushy Job”…Oh Really? One Delaware Teacher Tells All!

I wrote an article last night wishing more teachers in Delaware would write anonymous blogs.  The comments are coming in fast and furious on social media and on the article.  One teacher’s response deserved an article of its own.  Thank you Delaware Teacher!  I like this idea, and I would be more than happy to do the same for any teacher in the state!

Hey so here’s a thought: Give educators the opportunity to guest blog here. Like how Kilroy got you started. Then you might be able to hear from more folks. I’d also reach out directly to individuals you know and see if they’d like to submit something.
As far as a list of responsibilities, there is an excellent blog that I saw floating around on Facebook that really went into a great deal of detail about how teaching has changed over the 30+ years that person has been teaching. It is extremely comprehensive in terms of additional responsibilities.

Prior to making a list of my own, I want to make sure folks understand that I’m not complaining about working in my chosen profession. I’m not interested in being attacked by someone who thinks I’m “just bitching”, and yes, that has happened, online, on MY blog. So…

Educators are salaried employees, and that means we can be expected to work the job until our job responsibilities are complete. I’d like it noted for the record that, in my district at least, the union contract actually states this exact sentiment, that it is expected for educators to work outside the contractual hours.

I teach 3 classes and an enrichment course daily. I have 3 different grade levels, plus the mixed-grade enrichment, so that’s 4 separate courses I’m planning for on a daily basis. Currently I have a student load of over 210 spread across those courses, and in my discipline (elective course) there is no support person available to come in and work with the students who have special educational needs. Approximately 20% of my students have individualized education plans, with up to 1/3-1/2 of some classes with those particular individuals. Additionally, there are students with behavior plans, emotional support needs, and 504 plans that include such medical diagnoses as ADHD (I don’t have quick data on that percentage).

My courses are all hands-on, and I manage an 8,000 sq ft courtyard and have between 70 and 80 animals in the animal science program as well as wildlife habitat, vegetable gardens, fruit plants, and a small greenhouse. In my classroom I provide centers for students to work in when they finish early; these centers are in reading, art, science, and technology, and I created activities for each center that students complete as they work in the center.

On a normal day, I come into work 30-45 minutes early to get my room set up, copy materials, etc. I’m on hall duty for approximately 15 minutes, then the first class block starts. I’ve got 40 minutes of individual plan, then hall duty for 30 minutes twice a week, 70 minutes of individual plan twice a week, and 45-60 minutes of professional development with an additional 10-25 minutes of individual plan on the fifth day. After school I have hall duty again for about 10 minutes daily, then meetings three days a week. One of those meetings is about an hour in length while the other two are around 20-25 minutes each. That leaves me with four additional hours on a normal week between the end of the school day and the time I have to leave to pick my pre-k student up at his school. In a perfect week, I have about 11.50 hours between 6:15 am and 3:30 pm where I am at school with “free” time to plan, grade, etc.

I’m fine with my job duties, but it would be irresponsible to say that I have adequate time during the work day to get things done. Between the hall duties (good for the school), the peer learning time (good for the teachers), meetings (good for the staff), parent contacts (good for the students and families), and other things we get regularly called upon to do, it can be difficult to take the entire time allocated for work and give it to work. I’ve got IEP meetings, behavior plan meetings, TONS of emails to answer, guest speakers to arrange, trips for my student clubs to plan, evaluation system goals to write, lesson reflections to complete, student work samples to hang in the classroom and hallway, essential questions and standards and agendas to write on the board every day for every separate class, a positive behavior support system to maintain, attendance to enter into the computer (within the first 10-15 minutes of class, while also teaching), grades to update and enter electronically as well as back up manually, supplies such as books and paper and scissors to inventory and maintain, conversations with other educators about the students we share to help support them in our classrooms, missing and makeup work to track down, and data data data to enter into multiple systems. Heaven forbid I need to write a behavior referral for a student, because that entails multiple actions across multiple platforms in addition to calling home and conferencing with the student and all the things I did prior to needing to complete the referral.

Many of these are things educators have been doing for a long time. And that’s fine. The difference really is all the initiatives that we now have to follow. I can’t just write down my lesson topic on a piece of paper and go. I have to show my bellringer activity, my activating strategy, 3-4 transitions throughout the class, how I’m differentiating for all my students, what in-depth questions I’m asking to evaluate learning, what my formative assessment will be, where the lesson ties in to the overall unit and course, what standards the lesson is based on (my content standards plus math and ELA common core plus any science and social studies), and the level of rigor. We have a lot of professional development on our own in addition to the ones we get in groups.

So yes, over time the responsibilities have grown and the complexity of meeting the requirements have grown.
A side note about Amplify: Yes, it is a company. However, that term is being used across the educational environment to describe a series of tests. There’s the Smarter Balanced test, the STAR test, SRI, etc. Amplify has a product that gets used, but instead of using its full name every time we refer to it, we simply say “Amplify”. Not trying to be touchy, but this isn’t the first time I’ve seen someone respond to an educator with that “Amplify is a company, not a test” comment.

And now that my lunch “half hour” is over…

Answers On Delaware Met Reveal More Questions

Today, on Town Square Delaware, members of The Delaware Met Board of Directors broke the public veil of silence and spoke out on the issues surrounding the school.  Based on this information and other information that has been sent my way, I have put a picture together of the events that happened last week at the embattled charter school

On Monday, a squirrel got into a transformer causing the power to go out at the school.  As a result, there was no school on 9/21.  On Tuesday, the students returned to school.  Where it gets a bit hazy is what happened next.  But what is certain there was no school from 9/23 to 9/25 due to emergency professional development for the teachers:

With the blessing of the Department of Education, we chose to give our teachers professional development time last week to assess these needs and make adjustment.

I believe the school, based on discussion from their Monday night board meeting, did attempt to reach out to parents to let them know about these unforeseen days off which were not on their website calendar.  On Wednesday 9/23, based on their agenda for their 9/28 meeting, the Board met in a Special Board meeting.  There was no agenda on their website, so it is difficult to surmise what was discussed at this board meeting.  On Friday, shortly before noon, I received two emails indicating the school was closing the next week due to violence, gang activity, fighting and Innovative Schools, the school’s management organization, severing ties.  I emailed the DOE and the school immediately for any type of confirmation.  To date, no one responded to any of my emails.  The school has this information, and chose to ignore me completely.

At the same time, we began to be made aware of whispers in our community and beyond that the school had already chosen to close. To answer these rumors, it was important for the Board to hold a special meeting.

This would have been the second special board meeting, so what was the reason for the first?  I knew of Delaware Met, but up until Friday I had never heard a peep about this school aside from an occasional article here and there.  The only time I wrote about them on here was for their performance award application and their award of $175,000.00.  The school had and still has every opportunity to contact me, and they know how to.  Back to Friday, a few other sources confirmed the earlier email I received.  To be honest, I thought the email was a joke, or someone trying to give me false information, which happens more than you think as a blogger.  I’m sure mainstream reporters can attest to this as well.  Other sources confirmed this information, except for one part: the part about Innovative Schools cutting ties with the school.  For someone to send that to me, it would have to be someone with inside information.  Since other sources were already vetting all the other information, I knew this story had legs so I published it.  While the DOE and I are battling on several issues, I sincerely reached out to them and the school.

Over the weekend, I did an extensive amount of research on the school, their student population, their application with the DOE, their finances, how they acquired the property at 920 N. French St, and other material on the property kept popping up as I was looking.  As I collected the information, it provided a wealth of articles.  In the meantime, the school put up their notice of the second special board meeting at some point over the weekend which I saw Sunday night.  As well, they put an announcement up on their Facebook page about an important announcement the next day and they hoped everyone would be there.  I’m not sure what their announcement was, but I responded to their post and addressed what I heard point blank.  To date, no one responded to my public plea for information.

On Monday, I focused on the history of the property.  Meanwhile, the school was giving information to the News Journal and alleging that the “rumors” were causing more harm than help.  Rumors which they knew came from this blog, they had my email address, they could have responded on Facebook, or even commented on the many articles that went up over four days.  Meanwhile, thousands of Delawareans were reading what I wrote with complete silence from the school aside from cryptic Facebook messages and even more cryptic board agenda announcements where they announced they were going to vote if they should keep their charter.  Without a charter, there is no school. No school would ever put up a notice like that over “rumors”.

On Monday evening, the board voted to keep the school open.  There was a great deal of discussion concerning enrollment, best practices for the teachers, financial viability, and school culture.  Many members of the community attended this board meeting that would not have normally if the “rumors” had not surfaced.  Serious questions arose out of this board meeting and deep concerns about the school’s ability to service and educate a very high population of special needs students.  Many of the teachers are not seasoned, and the school had (at that point) two special education teachers with a population of 60 IEPs, and more projected.  Legislators, reporters, and citizens attended this board meeting, and the bulk of them left feeling very perplexed at the administration of this school.

I’m not sure if Delaware charter schools have received a “don’t respond to the blogger” email.  But more often than not, no one from the charters respond after an inquiry before I publish or after I publish based on information that is already in the public domain.  I am open to communication.  If you disagree with something or find my information is not factual, please reach out to me.  I have fixed information based on a different perception or not being able to find information many times.  Most reporters have.  I don’t consider myself a “journalist” per se, but I do devote quite a bit of free time looking for answers and I write based on what I found.  I also offer my opinion which sets me apart from the typical newspaper or television reporter.

Yes, I had a bad response with a charter once upon a time.  Yes, I don’t like the idea of unelected boards.  No, I don’t hate charters.  I hate what many of the adults do at charters.  I get charter parents going ballistic on me cause I dare to write about “their” school.  If they want to give me facts, I am up for that.  But one commenter seemed offended that I dared to question what she wrote.  It’s a free world.  And while I respect anonymity, understand that I have no idea who you are.  I don’t know if you are the school, the DOE, or a parent.  I was taught by a college professor that they key to life is not in the answers, but in the questions.  I will always ask the questions based on the facts that are presented to me or that I find.

With that being said, these are my biggest questions concerning The Delaware Met AND the property:

  1. When did the school know they had a large population of special needs students coming and what did they do to prepare for it?
  2. Who is their special education coordinator?
  3. Why do they have no financial information on their website?
  4. What does Innovative Schools do for $380,000 in two plus years?
  5. Why did Innovative Schools pay $1 million to the Charter School Development Corporation who in turn bought 920 N. French St from the State of Delaware for an undisclosed and not in the public domain amount?
  6. Why does The Delaware Met need Innovative Schools?
  7. Why does one of their board members allow the school to pay the company he is a chair of?
  8. Why does another board member work for the same company that handles the school’s finances?
  9. Did the school reach out to other charters or districts for help with their student population?
  10. Did a student bring a gun to the school on the very first day?
  11. What was the purpose of the board’s special board meeting on 9/23?
  12. What was the big announcement revealed to students on Monday 9/28?
  13. How is a student with an IEP accommodated while at an internship?
  14. Does any member of the board benefit in any way from an internship by a student?
  15. Has the school considered hiring a School Resource Officer?
  16. Where is their student handbook?
  17. What is their enrollment as of 11:59pm this evening, including basic, moderate, complex and intensive subgroups for their large special education population?
  18. Are their teachers adequately trained to determine what is behavior and what may be a manifestation of a student’s disability?
  19. Do they have the staff to complete IEP meetings since so many of the IEPs may need to be relooked at based on their curriculum?
  20. How much did the State of Delaware sell 920 N. French St. to Charter School Development Corporation and why is this not on any public website?
  21. Where did the State of Delaware put this revenue?
  22. Is there any immediate danger to staff or students at the school due to its Brownfield Site designation?
  23. What was the nature of the work Duffield Associates did for the school last year?
  24. What is the DOE’s duty to ensure new charter schools are ready from day one to run a school?
  25. What are the DOE’s next steps in terms of this school?

While I understand the school can’t answer all these questions, I welcome Innovative Schools or the State of Delaware to answer them as well if it applies to them.  You may not feel like you have to answer them, but I’m like a dog without a bone sometimes…

Delaware still has $11 Million from Race To The Top. Will special education get any of it? #netde #eduDE

Not according to Education Weekly.  In an article they posted on 7/24/14, they will spend their extra coin on ” linking student achievement to teacher-preparation programs, continuing professional development on the common core, and expanding alternative-teaching certification.”  Not one word about special education for the extra funding they get to spend.  It’s all about Common Core, Smarter Balanced, and finding new innovative ways to screw teachers over.

In fact, that was pretty much the common theme with all the states covered in the article: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Washington D.C.  Not one single iota of special education.  I guess disabled children aren’t able to get extra funding in the Race To The Top.  But I do want to give a big thank you for not hearing the words “charter school” in the article at all.

I have a question for Governor Markell and Secretary of Education Murphy: Do you even think about special education?  Cause they aren’t words I’ve heard coming from your lips at all lately.  You would think that with the feds breathing down your neck and all the money coming out of tax dollars for special education lawsuits that you could at least make a comment.  I challenge both of you to say something about special education in the next 48 hours.  I wonder what the odds in Vegas would be for them to rise up to my challenge?

And so it goes…