A year ago, if you asked anyone on the Christina School District Board of Education to name one person at the Delaware Department of Education, the first name that would have popped up was Penny Schwinn. Penny was the DOE face behind the priority schools in Red Clay and Christina. Penny is currently the Chief of Accountability and Performance at the DOE. When the Christina board had to pick two members to meet with the DOE, it was to meet Schwinn. After the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee announced their recommendations for redistricting in Wilmington, the DOE and Governor Markell backed off on Christina’s opposition to the priority schools. The Christina board passed a resolution supporting the recommendations of WEAC.
Schwinn fell off my radar until a couple months later when she announced to the State Board of Education the SAT was being aligned to the Common Core. I immediately jumped to the conclusion the SAT was being replaced by the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Many disagreed with me and told me I was wrong. But essentially, that is what they are doing. It won’t be the same test, but it will be more like SBAC than the previous SAT. As well, the talk concerning the Assessment Inventory project showed the DOE was already planning this long before Governor Markell first mentioned it in March.
In May, I was given several emails from a FOIA concerning the priority schools which showed Schwinn’s role in the whole planning stage. This gave a lot of insight into the whole debacle and how the DOE really didn’t know what the heck they were doing.
The subject of funding for the priority schools in Red Clay came up in a big way over the summer, as the DOE wasn’t giving the district their promised funding. While never confirmed, this led directly to Secretary of Education Mark Murphy’s ouster at the Delaware DOE.
In September, after months of waiting, Schwinn’s group released the Smarter Balanced Assessment results to Delaware. They had the results for quite a while before they were released which led to a lot of concern and speculation on my part as to why. The results really didn’t show any earth-shattering increases for Delaware students, but overall, most students did worse on SBAC than they had on DCAS>
While all of this was going on, Schwinn was meeting with several superintendents, district admins, a rep from DSEA and a rep from the Delaware PTA on the Delaware School Success Framework. The Accountability Framework Working Group was under the radar for most Delawareans until I accidentally found all their meeting notes and found the participation rate opt-out penalty. This led to feverish and frantic emails to Schwinn and several complaints I filed with the US DOE and the Delaware DOJ. As part of the US DOE mandated “school report card”, the US DOE gave “guidance” on the state’s new accountability systems.
Schwinn watched as the group unanimously voted to get rid of the participation rate penalty as a multiplier that would punish schools with high opt-out rates. Eventually, newly christened Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky blew off the group’s recommendations and the DOE submitted the harsh opt-out penalty to the US DOE as part of their ESEA Flexibility Waiver. Schwinn recommended, at the behest of Governor Markell, one of the toughest accountability systems for any state in the country.
As this was all coming to a head, Schwinn resigned from the Delaware DOE and is expected to leave by the end of this year. Schwinn’s year and a half tenure at the Department was certainly full of controversy and angst for many school districts. I am very curious where she will end up next…