Oops! Christina’s NCS Wannabe Middle School Academy Forgot Something BIG In Their Application

chshonorsacademy

Christiana High School wasted no time getting the application for their controversial “Middle School Academy” out to the public.  The board approved this kind-of-magnet school last week with a 5-1 vote.  The program, slated to start next year with 6th graders, seems to love the word rigor.  Many concerned parents in the district have raised serious questions about potential discrimination and what effect this will have on the already existing middle schools in the district.  One commenter on an earlier article I posted about this said “Honors programs should be down the hall.”  I fully agree with this commenter.  I hate the name of this program.  It reeks of elitism and sounds like something it is pretending to be and wants to be, but really shouldn’t.  It sounds really pretentious and sort of obnoxious.  “My child goes to Middle School Academy”… I can hear it already…

The Christiana Middle School Honors Academy requires a high degree of commitment to academic and extra-curricular activities. Our vision offers selected middle school students the opportunity to become academically accomplished, confident, and well-rounded. Selected students will be educated using a rigorous curriculum focused on developing core knowledge, critical thinking and reasoning skills. This will be accomplished by providing each student with a smaller learning community that builds confidence and knowledge which will enhance their individual high school experience.

Aside from the extra-curricular activities, isn’t that what Common Core was supposed to bring to Delaware education to begin with?  Why is this district using the same boring Governor Markell talking points to sell this program?

But in the application, one of the requirements is for the student’s Smarter Balanced scores.  A quarter of the rubric for the application is weighted toward Smarter Balanced scores.  But here is the elephant in the room… what if the student was opted out of Smarter Balanced by their parents?  Christina has a board policy which states no student shall be penalized if they are opted out of the wretched test.  But this application says nothing about that or gives any indication they would change the formula in that situation.  This could cause students or parents who opted their child out to not apply because of the absence of this information.  As well, who is determining what the placement test will look like?  Has this been approved by the Christina Board of Education?  Is this test used by other schools?  Has this test been vetted and verified for its effectiveness?  If the parent statement is not a part of the rubric, why are they requiring it with the application?  Does the parent statement have any weight on the decision of placement?  Is there a panel who approves the application or just a principal?  What are the qualifications of whoever approves the applications?

Yeah, let’s throw some more controversy gas on an already raging fire!

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Christina School District’s Very Dangerous Game With Equity Could Backfire On Them

One of the reasons I have always admired the Christina School District is because they don’t have magnet schools or choice schools within their district.  That could change tomorrow night when the Christina Board of Education will vote on a proposal to expand the Honors program at Christiana High School from a 9th-12th grade program to a 6th-12th grade program.  I understand the why behind it as the district has empty seats in some of their buildings and they will be forced to consolidate at some point.  But this… I can’t get behind it.

Before I get into why I can’t support this, let me explain why they are doing it.  Christina, over the past fifteen years, has lost a ton of students to charter schools.  I truly believe the district wants to let go of the past and start offering richer programs to keep students in the district and to hopefully lure students back from the charters.  As well, they are losing honors students to Dickinson High School in Red Clay who offers an International Baccalaureate program.  Eventually, the Christina students in Wilmington issue will be resolved one way or another and Christina will lose those students.  The district has to make some major changes if they want to survive in the next decade.

But this idea is not good.  First off, I don’t think it is a wise idea to place middle school students in a high school setting.  Developmentally, they are not on the same level playing field.  By osmosis, these students will be exposed to things they are not ready for.  There is a reason students in public education are at elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.  To make matters worse, the plan would call for this to start with 6th graders only for the next school year and by 2019 all 6th-8th grade students participating in this program would be integrated as students at a high school.  This cohort of 6th graders are going to have a very difficult time at a building with peers who are far older than them.

Furthermore, what happens when all the honors students leave the existing middle schools in the district?  That will leave a higher concentration of students who have larger needs.  Our current state accountability system for schools will place those schools with a bulls-eye on them when test scores come out.  If anyone thinks the Every Student Succeeds Act is going to take care of that they are deluding themselves.  It will set up an irreversible system of discrimination and segregation all over again, within their own district.  That is something all schools in Delaware should be steering away from, not towards.

This program would have smaller “cohorts” which would mean smaller class sizes.  I am all for that but it has to be done across the board.  There are existing classrooms in elementary and middle schools that do not have enough support in this district but teachers are forced to handle large classrooms with no support whatsoever.  But giving this preference to students who would most likely be considered talented and gifted while not giving those same choices to other students with just as much need if not more is just reinventing the discrimination wheel.  I’m not saying talented and gifted students shouldn’t be given those benefits, but I am saying if that benefit exists it needs to happen for all students.  No one wins in the large classroom scenario with one teacher.

The State of Delaware, and more specifically, the General Assembly, needs to look at the state school choice law.  While the intent may have been honorable in the beginning, it has morphed into pockets of segregation across the state.  Some are big and some are small, but they exist.  While charter schools take the brunt of the shots fired at these practices, many districts are setting up programs within their own districts that are dividing students.  Take the World Language Immersion program as an example.  In my day, you took a language.  They didn’t put a fancy name on it and start teaching Kindergartners Chinese or Spanish.  While I do think it is good for students to learn a second language, and possibly a third depending on their abilities, we are already seeing school districts around the state dealing with issues of segregation between the smarter kids and those with higher needs based on this program.  This isn’t even inequity, it is also inequality.  When you have both, it is a recipe for disaster for the overall educational health of a state.  This example is not just affecting New Castle County schools.  Districts in Kent and Sussex County are having these issues as well.  But their boards and administration don’t seem to be addressing what is happening within their own schools.

I don’t know what the solution is, but this isn’t it.  I don’t understand why they wouldn’t attempt to instill those honors programs in the schools they have now.  If they need to combine some schools and possibly sell old property that isn’t being used, that is one thing.  But dividing students like this is a lesson Delaware doesn’t want to learn.  This is a recommendation from the Superintendent (even though it is an Acting Superintendent).  When Christina passed their referendum earlier this year one of their promises was to create programs like this.  I am all for better programs in schools.  But school choice has led to such severe competition among Delaware schools that future generations of adults are going to be more divided than ever between the haves and the have-nots.  We have traditional school districts, charter schools, vo-techs, magnet schools, honors programs, World Immersion programs, and so forth.  And I’m not even getting into the Pathways to Prosperity program and how that is setting up particular societal roles in the future.

How can we talk about equity in schools with a weighted funding system when we are forcing schools into that position?  We are killing education in this state, one choice program at a time.  I believe Christina is trying to rush a program like this into place.  Let it marinate a bit.  Look at other options.  Slow your roll!  I’m not convinced this isn’t a case where the Acting Superintendent who will be gone in a few months at most just wants a notch like this on his résumé.  I think something this big would need to still be in the discussion stage with a new Superintendent who would be tasked to carry it out.

And in the name of all that is holy can we please get the words rigor or rigorous legally banned from discussion about education?  As well, the word “Academy” in traditional school districts signifies something elite that only select students can get into.  Not a smart idea to put an “Academy” into a school district.

To read the action item, which will be read for a second time, please go below.

 

Milford Tuition Tax Increase Sparks Outrage From Area Residents

Imagine getting your tax bill in the mail and it goes up by $500.00 for the year.  For citizens in the Milford School District in Delaware, this was the new reality they faced last week.  Much of the controversy surrounds their referendum which passed last year.  A referendum and tuition tax are two very different things.  With a referendum, that is asking citizens to support increased taxes for operating expenses or capital costs.  A Delaware school board can’t just raise those taxes on their own.  The people need to vote on it.  But for tuition tax, as well as what is called a match tax, the school board can vote on an increase for that.

For newer readers, tuition tax is based on special education costs that exceed the funding provided by the state, the feds, and what the local school district appropriated for these costs.  This could mean increased funds for teachers and staff to accommodate students with disabilities or it pays for out of district placements for more complex needs of students.  Delaware has seen a dramatic increase in students sent to either day treatment centers or residential treatment centers.  Some of these treatment centers are out of state which causes the costs to increase even more.  It seems to have risen dramatically in the last year, and I’m beginning to really wonder why this is going on.

What happened in Milford was their board passed on raising the tuition tax for a number of years.  Meanwhile, they passed their referendum which would give the average citizen in the district an increase of $120 in their tax bill.  But in June, the board passed a tuition tax increase.  This double whammy dramatically changed how much of an increase citizens saw in their new tax bill.

Milford Live covered this increase on August 23rd.  A big issue surrounding the tax increase at the June board meeting dealt with transparency:

A review of the addendum for the June 20 meeting that is posted online did not indicate that there would be discussion about a tax increase at the school board meeting. However, when visitors arrived at the meeting, there was an addendum to the agenda with the presentation included, something that is common at Milford School Board meetings.

Milford has its fair share of senior citizens, and the sticker shock caused them to speak out in large numbers.  One commenter on the Milford Live article stated that when their annual income is $6,000-$7,500, an annual increase like this really puts a dent in their wallet.  What makes Milford unique, along with three other school districts in Delaware, is that they are located in two counties.  This means residents of both Sussex and Kent County have two different amounts based on property assessments in each county.  For Sussex residents, their new tax bill went up to $5.39 for every $100 of their assessed property value.  Previously, it had been $3.56.  For Kent County residents, the burden wasn’t as large as it went from $1.26 to $1.90.

Back in July, I questioned Appoquinimink on their huge tuition tax increase.  While the information they gave to the press indicated one thing, the reality was very different.  Appo said the rise in special education costs was dramatic last year and put a large emphasis on out of district placements.  But the increase in out of district placements was not a large percentage of their increase.  It was mainly for in-district special education services.

In Milford, their budgeted amount for their tuition tax was $2,100,000 as of July 2015.  That would include both their out of district placements and in-district special education services that are in excess of state and federal funding.  What they spent in FY2016 was $2,676,902 for these placements.  While I can’t see the difference between what they budgeted for out of district placements and in-district special education services because their FY2016 budget is not posted on their website, the amount they paid in out of district placements is more than they budgeted for the entire category.  As a side-note, their website does not have their monthly financial statements for either June or July of 2016 which puts them out of compliance with state law.

It really worries me that all these students with disabilities are being sent to places outside of school districts, in rapidly growing numbers.  I hear a lot of people blame parents for student behavior.  While that could certainly play a factor, how come no one is talking about education itself.  Since Common Core came out, I am seeing a rapid rise in these placements.  And it seems to have really gone up in the last school year.  I would be very curious how these students scored on the Smarter Balanced Assessment in the 2014-2015 school year.  I hate to go there, but does it become easier to send a student out of district if they were not proficient on this test?  Is the “rigor” and “grit” having a bigger psychological impact than we think?

The price for these students may wind up being higher than the rise in tuition taxes across the state.  And I’m not talking financially…

$2,676,902 $452,780

The Jack Markell Email That Has Delaware Teachers Seething

JackMeme

Governor Markell sent an email to teachers and administrators thanking them for the latest Smarter Balanced Assessment results.  Meanwhile, people don’t care.  In the grand tradition of the former and very much lamented Transparent Christina, I hereby present the red-line edition of Jack’s chest-thumping email!

From: Markell, Governor (Governor)

Gee really, you need to write it down twice?

Sent: Thursday, July 21, 2016 2:01:51 PM (UTC-05:00) Eastern Time (US & Canada)
To:
K12 Employees
Subject:
Thank you to educators and school administrators

Thank you Governor Markell for forcing students to take this test and for teachers to administer them.  God bless the opt out parents!

Dear Educators and School Administrators,

What, no love for the parents? 

I hope you are all having a wonderful summer.

You too Jack.  Speaking on behalf of teachers, thank you for interrupting our bliss and harmony with this email.

As many of you may have seen, today the state released our annual data showing student performance on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The improved scores across subjects and grade levels throughout our state serves as yet more evidence that your hard work is producing great results for our children and I wanted to take this opportunity to send a note of thanks.

In other words, over half our kids still aren’t proficient in math based on Smarter Balanced Standards and only 55% of them are proficient in ELA based on those same standards.  I see what you’re doing here.  Thanking teachers for their “hard work” for bad results.  The joke is on you.  Anyone who doesn’t know this is a crap test has been living in a cave somewhere.

Our transition to higher standards for what students should know at each grade level has contributed to making the last few years a tremendously challenging time for all of our educators, no matter what subject you teach, and all administrators. At a time when it’s clear that students will rely on their education more than ever to reach their potential, we know they deserve these higher expectations aligned to what colleges and employers will expect of them after graduation.

Newsflash Jack, education has always been needed for students to reach their full potential.  This isn’t anything new.  Stop making it a crisis.  We get it.  They don’t “deserve these higher expectations”.  That’s like saying “I’m going to hit you in the face.  It will hurt.  But it will make you stronger.”  Colleges hate Common Core, hate your stupid high-stakes tests, and I have yet to hear any employer say “what were your Smarter Balanced scores?” in an interview. 

Accepting the higher standards at the state level was the easy part. Our progress is the result of what happens in our classrooms every day.

Yeah, rigor and grit.  Lots of academic sweat that still hasn’t produced the results you think we want but you don’t really because as long as kids our doing bad they still need to be fixed.  This story is getting as old as your time in office.  Like the citizens of the state had much say in accepting these “higher standards”.  When you dangle carrots like “Look, we’re getting all this money from the feds during a time when I had to cut teacher raises.  Hip Hop Hooray!  Come and board my train.  It will be fun.  Please fasten your seat belts cause you are going to get ridiculed and tested like never before.  Don’t worry about the scores or the growth.  Progress is progress.  As long as my friends make money, that is the true progress!”

The improving proficiency levels released today represent another data point to show that what you are doing is working. Our graduation rates are at record levels, and recently led the country for the biggest growth. More students than ever are being prepared to be fluent in another language, and to pass college-level dual enrollment and Advanced Placement courses before they graduate. And you are making possible the incredible growth in our Pathways to Prosperity program, which just 2 years after it launched with about 30 students, will give more than 5,000 students this fall the chance to take courses that prepare them with college credit and workplace experience in growing industries from IT to health care to culinary arts.

But most of those students will need to go to Del-Tech.  Way to spend millions of dollars on programs that benefit your buddies over there.  Your asskissery has no limits.  More flavor in the favors, that’s all this is.  While I don’t mind students learning other languages, the fact that your “World Immersion” programs limit the number of kids who can enroll, especially students with disabilities, will just ultimately create more discrimination and segregation.  Why is it whenever I see pictures of these programs I see mostly white kids Jack?  But let’s take the time to thank Governor Markell for yet another data point that states the obvious: your ideas DON’T WORK!!!  Maybe to the sycophant Delaware DOE, State Board of Education and the suck-ups who don’t realize they are on the table and still think they are at the table.

More than anything, I want to thank you for the daily efforts you put into making your classroom the best possible learning environment, taking time after the school day ends to provide the best extra support, and developing lessons that meet individual needs of each child.

Individual needs measured by a standardized test that does not differentiate between those individual needs and set up to make those with the highest needs look like failures.  Teachers are burned out with your absolute hypocrisy and BS Jack.  How many more months?  I’m sure all the teachers are eternally grateful they have to spend so much of their day outside of their regular hours that get sucked up with professional development.  I’m sure they are real happy about that.  I’m sure they love the extreme waste of hours it takes students to take this cash in the trash test.  Thank you for not providing the true funding our students need to be truly successful and giving all those corporations their big tax breaks.  Thank you for giving the middle finger to parents and basically saying to them “Shut the hell up about what you want.  This is MY Delaware,” followed by “If you thought those after-school hours are bad now dear educators, wait until your schools become all-day community centers from fetus to the grave!”

I look forward to following your lead and making the most of all of my remaining days in office to provide the support our teachers and students need to make the most of their talents.

I have no doubt you will spend your remaining days finding new ways to further your corporate education reform agendas for your Wall Street, Rodel, and big campaign donor buddies.  Don’t forget Jack, you have to put those final nails in the public education coffin by getting those competency-based personalized learning plans into shape.  How long before the announcement that Smarter Balanced will replace final exams and tlater will serve as end of unit tests?  Can we take a peak at your stock portfolio?  God help us all if you do anything education related at a higher level after you (finally) leave office…

Thank you,

“Not really but I have to play this up…suckers!”

Jack A. Markell

Alan Jackson

Governor

Lame-Duck! Quack Quack!

Ashley Sabo’s Must Read Public Comment To Red Clay’s Board About Kindergarten

Ashley Sabo addressed the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education tonight about a topic that is rising with grave concern to parents and educators all over the country.  Rigor and kindergarten are like oil and water.  They don’t belong together at all.  She should run for public office!

In the essay, “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten” the author writes about how all the things we need to know for living life are learned in kindergarten, not in graduate level classes or adulthood, but in that primary year of our schooling. The things he says we learn are: share everything, play fair, don’t hit, put things back where you found them, clean up your mess, say sorry when you hurt someone, live a balanced life – learn some, think some, draw and paint, sing and dance, and play and work every day.  And wonder, never lose your sense of wonder.

As a parent of a kindergartner I have watched the joy of learning fade from her – a child who once happily grabbed her backpack and headed to the car for school now is reluctant to go and would prefer a nap on the couch despite it being 8:15 in the morning. The joy of learning is fading for the sake of rit and rigor and supposed success, when we’re really losing the success of learned social skills and dynamic imaginative play. 

Our students are no longer taught to live a balanced life with both play and work. Rather they are pushed to the limit each day with more testing and more worksheets and more rigorous academia.  Despite studies that show children who are allowed to play have higher language skills, both receptive and expressive, and better problem solving skills, school leadership continues to add on to the curriculum requirements. 

In addition to language and problem solving skills, learning through play helps children increase cognitive development, increase self-confidence, reduce anxiety, learn basic social development skills such as cooperation, sharing, and conflict resolution – all skills and traits that are necessary and critical to navigating adulthood.

I would wager a guess that a number of you, if not the majority of you, had the old-fashion type of kindergarten that allowed for naps, extra recess, more imaginative play and less seat work – and look at you all, I think you turned out pretty well, after all you are overseeing the education of thousands of children.

I implore you, the school board and district leaders, to reconsider the kindergarten curriculum and the proposed increase of scope and sequence being piloted this year. Our kids deserve to be kids and learn the best way kids do – through play!

Thank you

No, thank you Ashley Sabo for having the heart and the guts to stand before a school board and telling them basic truths.  I joked years ago that Governor Markell would set up a Smarter Balanced In Utero Assessment.  With all the Kindergarten and pre-school push lately, I may not be too far off!  But seriously, Ashley Sabo should run for office.  We need more common sense in Legislative Hall.  And any public comment that quotes Robert Fulghum is great!

Here It Comes! Wait For It! “Common Core Is Working!”

The News Journal wrote about Delaware’s latest graduation rates.  It seems after years of increasing rates, the numbers are now flat!  Tomorrow, at the State Board of WEIC Education meeting, we will hear the State Board members justifying why this isn’t a bad thing.  Someone, probably Pat Heffernan, will say something to the effect of “it looks like Common Core is working”.  But they will remain oblivious to the facts before them.

In 2014’s graduating class, 8,202 out of 9,713 students graduated for a rate of 84.4%.  For 2015, 8,293 graduated out of 9,832 students at 84.3%.  Yes, 91 more students graduated, but 28 more dropped out.  In 2014, 1,511 students dropped out and in 2015, 1,539 dropped out.  That isn’t really something to be proud of.  On the downward trend are students with disabilities, English Language Learners, Hispanic students, multi-racial students, and low-income students.

In comparing the 2014 rates to 2015, the biggest drop in graduation rates was for English Language Learners, dropping over six percentage points from 75% to 68.7%.  Low-income students also took a pretty big drop.  But this is hard to figure out, when you look at the numbers, since the Delaware Department of Education changed the definition of “low-income” from those eligible for free and reduced lunch to those on public assistance.  But still, in 2014 only 77.8% of low-income students graduated compared to 73.7% in 2015.  Even though more graduated in 2015, the percentage of students with disabilities dropped .4% between 2014 and 2015.

These are the statements I predict we will hear tomorrow at the State Board meeting:

“This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  At least we didn’t take a sharp drop.”

“We have to stay on course.  We cannot relent.”

“I think personalized learning will be a driver for future growth.”

“After four years of Common Core implementation, we are seeing the fruits of a rigorous educational environment.”

“We will continue to have robust conversations on how to make all students college and career ready.”

“I don’t understand all these numbers.  What does all this mean?”

 

 

 

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…

The Christmas Legend of Jack and Paul: The Birth of Common Core and Race To The Top

Many years ago, ten years ago to be exact, a legend began.  It was whispered to citizens of Delaware through the years but nobody ever knew if it was true.  When people would try to find out the truth, they were met with half-truths or outright denials.  This is the story, unverified with any credible source, and how I heard it from a stoned DOE employee at Firefly one summer.

One Christmas Eve, Delaware Treasurer Jack Markell and Rodel CEO Paul Herdman met at a tavern.  Markell wanted more from his political career, and Herdman had just been given a lofty position at Rodel.  They were both at a crossroads in their careers, and they decided to vent to each other.  This is the conversation that has passed down from teachers to students, from hedge fund managers to investors, from Comcast ticket vendors to charter school superintendents.

Jack: I don’t know what to do Paul.  I’ve been treasurer for years, and it’s all about the money.

Paul: Uh, yeah Jack, it kind of is.

Now Jack had arrived early at the tavern, and started drinking hours earlier.  By the time Paul got there, Jack was already three sheets to the wind.

Jack: I want to make my mark on Delaware.  I want to go down in history, like Santa.

Paul: I’m glad you mentioned that Jack, because I have a vision.

Jack: You’re from the future?  You know what’s going to happen?

Paul thought about it, and realized he could take advantage of this.

Paul: Yes I am from the future, and yes, I know what will happen with you Jack.  What if I told you me and some friends of mine have a 20 year plan to take over education, not only in Delaware, but across the whole country? We are meeting in a few weeks to get things going.

Jack: Just don’t make it on Minner’s inauguration.  I have to go.  Your friends, are they from the future too?

Paul: Yes, they are Jack.  Say, do you want another drink?

Jack: Oh yes Paul, I would.  Thank you Paul.

Paul shrugged and ordered another Zima for Jack.

Paul: You know this No Child Behind crap they’ve been peddling from D.C.?

Jack: Whose child got left behind?  Was this at Safeway?

Paul: No Jack, all the kids.  They deserve better in our schools.  What if I told you we can all become rich?  You, me, my buddies?  What if I told you we can bust the teachers unions, get cheap teachers fresh out of college, make kids take tests that make absolutely no sense, and you could be Governor one day?  All we have to do is make LOTS of charter schools.

Jack: But what happened to the kids at Safeway?

At this point, Paul realized Jack was incapable of fully understanding what the hell he was talking about.  He decided to get Jack some dinner rolls to soak up some of the Zima that was poisoning his mind.  Paul couldn’t figure out how much bread Jack would need to do the job.

Paul: Jack, you’re a numbers man.  How much bread would it take to get you sober?

Jack: If you take a whole loaf, divide it by 20, but only in groups of 4 and then add 5, that should tell you what year it was made.

Paul snickered in his mind.  This was exactly the kind of math his cabal wanted to get out there.  It made no sense at all, but they could brainwash parents into thinking this was what kids need to know for college and to compete against kids from China.  Paul ordered the bread, and after hours of talk about Safeway, and comparing it to Acme and Redners, Jack began to sober up a bit.

Jack: Did you say something about Governor Markell earlier?

Paul: Yes I did Jack.  The 2008 election is a ways off, but we can plant the seeds now.  Like I said earlier, I have a vision…

Jack: Cause you’re from the future, right?

Obviously Jack was still on the tipsy side, but not fully immersed in complete drunken foolery.  His mind was like play dough now, and Paul knew he had him.

Paul: Yes Jack, I’m from 2025.  All you have to do is do everything I tell you to do, and you will become a very important man. 

Jack: Woah, you’re the vision man!  Like the Avenger.  But from the future.  No matter what year we get to, you’ll know what’s going to happen.  Vision 2012 Man, Vision 2015 Man!  The education man! Future boy!  Ed25 man!

Paul: Those are great names Jack, but you are the public face.  You will lead the charge for education reform in this state.  We’ve been playing around with names for this new “reform”.  We’ve come up with Common Standards, Core Basics, and Education Vision.  What do you think of those?

Jack: You said core.  And when I think of education, I think of an apple.  And since I will be leading this, why don’t we call it Apple Jacks?

Paul: That’s a great idea Jack, but Apple Jacks is already trademarked. 

Jack: Dammit!  Let’s get back to the core idea.  We need something common, like a common core all kids can get to.

Paul: That’s it Jack!  You did it. We’ll call it Common Core!  Let’s get a drink!

As Jack got another Zima, Paul sucked down his mimosas.  The two were laughing and joking through the night.  As the two bonded and hatched their plans, the dynamic duo began slurring words.  Meanwhile, Santa Claus was delivering all the presents to the little boys and girls around the world.

Paul: You know what Jack, if you do my bidding, I will make sure you are WELL compensated.  I’m going to give you a piece of Rodel.  The prize will be yours!

Jack: A piece of what Paul?  What did you say?

Paul: A piece of Rodel.  A prize.

Jack: Did you say pizza?  Chicago has the best pizzas.

Paul: No Jack.  I said Rodel.  Piece.  Prize.

Jack: The Nobel Peace Prize?

Now Paul knew Jack loved to have his ego inflated.  So he knew giving Jack something he would never actually get would help his cause.  There had to be an end point to Jack’s wild imagination, and what would feed the ego more than the Nobel Peace Prize?

Paul: Yes Jack, you will get the Nobel Peace Prize!  It will take a while, and you will need to be very patient.  Many will oppose this, but if we get all the right people in the exact positions, we can make sure no one can stop us.  We have to present our ideas to the people, make them think it’s the only way to improve schools.  When we give these horrible tests to kids, we will use the scores to close down the poorest schools and we’re going to make them charter schools.

Jack: Did you say I have to make charts?

Paul: Yes Jack, lots of charts.  Lots of data.  You’re good with money, you can handle this. 

The two wandered off into the snowy night, and they saw a huge mound of snow the plow had just made. 

Paul: I’ve been trying to figure out how to get all the states in on my plan.  We have to coerce them into it, and then they have to trick all the school districts.  Make them think this plan is their only option. 

Jack: Why don’t we just tell them I won’t give them any money if they don’t listen?  I can do that you know.  I control all the money.  My friend Barack from Chicago told me the way Wall Street is going, there might a be a big recession in a few years.  His buddy Arne is a master at making people do things.  What if we do it then?

Paul: Yes, you’re absolutely right Jack.  You are a Zima drinking genius! 

Paul got distracted.  He thought he saw someone he knew down the street but he couldn’t see too well.  He needed a better vantage point. 

Paul: Do you see that lady down the street Jack?  I know her.  We should tell her about my plans.  Kendall, is that you down there?

Kendall: Paul, is that you, I can’t see you?  Where are you? 

Paul and Jack realized the mound was blocking her view. 

Jack: How are we going to get over that big pile of snow?  We would have to use a lot of rigor to figure out how to get up there.  Come on Paul, let’s race to the top!

As Paul ran, he smiled, and thought to himself, “Common Core” “Rigor” “Race To The Top”…

And this was the genesis of the Common Core.  Two drunken fools in Delaware, talking out of their arses about something that was so mind-boggling and confusing, with so many layers and levels, it had to work.  And the legend was born.  In the years since, Jack Markell is still waiting to be picked for the Nobel Peace Prize.  He calls his friend Paul every Christmas Eve, and asks him when.  Their friendship almost fell apart when Barack Obama received the prize, but Paul assured him it would happen.  One day…

Arne Duncan Leaves Nuclear Bomb Parting Gift For Students With Disabilities

One year ago tomorrow, I wrote my biggest article ever.  Entitled US DOE & Arne Duncan Drop The Mother Of All Bombs On States’ Special Education Rights, it generated numerous hits from across the country.  I imagine just about every engaged parents of children with disabilities read that article.  It was a warning shot.  It impeded on the ability of IEP teams to accurately and correctly formulate an IEP.   The latest “Dear Colleague” letter from the United States Department of Education is actually striking the hammer into the coffin of IDEA.  The letter, written by Melody Musgrove, the Direct of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), demands all IEPs be written with the state standards as part of the goals for an IEP.  I find this to be incredibly offense and this spits on the whole concept of IDEA.

In Delaware, where I live, our Department of Education released their Annual Measurable Objectives last week based on growth and proficiency of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  While overall they want the proficiency rate to go from 50% to 75% in six years, for the sub-group of students with disabilities, they want them to go from 19% to 59% in six years.  So students with disabilities will have to work harder than every single one of their peers.

The combination of these two announcements shows that those in power in education truly don’t understand neurobiological disorders and disabilities.  It almost seems as if they want to get rid of the whole concept of special education in favor of personalized learning.  As well, it appears they want parents to pull their kids out of public education.  Is this some twisted voucher program that no one has told us about, or do they just not care about the well-being of these students?  I’m all for progress and improvement, but there comes a point in time where every long-distance runner hits a wall.  When they hit that, their body literally breaks down.  Students with disabilities are going to hit that wall and it won’t be pretty.

I Thought I Should Actually Honor Jack Markell

The DOE Has Lost Their Minds! Really Governor Markell? You Disrespect Students With Disabilities

I posted the whole document these pictures were in two posts ago, but upon reviewing the DOE’s five-year goals for growth in the Smarter Balanced Assesssment, I noticed the one group that is going to be driven hard to improve proficiency on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Students With Disabilities.  Dammit Jack, what the hell is wrong with you?  You have NO idea what these kids are going through every single day.  My guess is this is something you do not deal with or experience on a daily basis.  I really think you may be insane.  This isn’t right, and every single parent of a child with disabilities needs to email their legislator and ask them to impeach Delaware Governor Jack Markell based on an inability to perform his job functions.

Below are the growth targets for the next five years for the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  They expect students with disabilities to jump up astronomically in the next five years which means the DOE will push teachers to push these students.  Enough is enough.

DOEGrowthTargetsELA

DOEGrowthTargetsMath

Welcome to the Jack Markell world of Rigor and Grit for students with disabilities.  This is not education.  This is insanity.  This is not aggressive, this is you just not getting it…

UPDATED: An earlier version of this article had an employee at the DOE named in it.  I talked with this employee when I left the State Board of Education, and I understand she was just doing her job.  She answers to her boss, and I totally get that.  This is why I have changed this to her boss.

Competency-Based Education & Personalized Learning Invaded Delaware…We Didn’t Even Realize It…

Delaware Governor Jack Markell, who has held the role of state leader in Delaware since 2009, also serves on the National Governor’s Association.  This collective of all the United States Governors has several different committees they serve on.  Governor Markell serves on the Education & Workforce Committee.  To any citizen of Delaware, this is not a shock.  Markell serves on this committee with the Chair, Governor Jay Inslee (WA), the Vice-Chair, Governor Robert Bentley (AL), Governor Pete Ricketts (NE), Governor Kate Brown (OR), Governor Tom Wolf (PA), Governor Dennis Daugaard (SD), Governor Bill Haslam (TN) and Governor Scott Walker (WI).  Four of these states, Delaware, Washington, Oregon and South Dakota all administer the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  None of these Governors represent the nine states where the PARCC assessment is administered.

From their website, the Education & Workforce Committee’s main goal is this:

The Education and Workforce Committee has jurisdiction over issues in the area of education (including early childhood, K-12 and postsecondary) as well as in the areas of workforce development. Members of the committee ensure that the governors’ views are represented in the shaping of federal policy.

The committee released a paper two and half weeks ago about “Competency-Based Education” from Kindergarten to college.  In a nutshell, the document (which can be read below), wants to completely gut what is currently done in education.  Instead of students going through grades K-12, this new model would have students advance when they are proficient in a subject.

CBE shows promise for helping more elementary and secondary students meet higher standards of learning and become better prepared for college or a career training program.  Once in higher education or job training, CBE allows older students (traditional-age college students or adult learners) to learn on their own time at their own pace.

While some envision personalized learning as the wave of the future, I think it is ripe for abuse.  If the goal of personalized learning is for each student to advance at their own pace, it presents a clear danger to students who are already behind to become even more so.  Even more frightening is the role of the teacher in this personalized learning environment:

In a CBE system, the role of the educator changes from an individual lecturing in a classroom to that of a coach or facilitator who guides learning.  In a CBE system, the training, certification, evaluation, pay, promotion, and leadership role of educators should all be reexamined.

The role of assessment plays a major part in this.  For those reading this and may be thinking none of this has happened yet, this is exactly what is going on right now in Delaware.  This is the Delaware School Success Framework.

Assessment is frequently tied to accountability in K-12; therefore, policymakers should rethink what their accountability systems measure and value.

The third big area with this revolves around student funding, which has become a hotbed issue in Delaware in the past year.

Altering structures to award funding based on learning could provide incentives for the wider adoption of CBE efforts and allow states to pay for the learning outcomes according to their value.

So we have this competency-based education that turns teachers into facilitators of a computer program, students who either advance fast or fall even further behind (and we all know who that will be: minorities, low-income students, and students with disabilities), and funding that translates to which companies will get very rich very fast off this initiative.  And let’s face it, anytime we hear the word “incentives”, it is more “waivers” where nothing really gets waived except an antiquated No Child Left Behind standard that nobody can meet and forces states to comply with Federal standards.  And when they say “wider adoption” that means comply or you get nothing, just like they did with the Common Core State Standards (developed by this group and the Council of Chief State School Officers) and Race To The Top.  Lest we forget, none of this means Common Core and the current crop of state assessments are going away, because the whole reasoning for this is based on 1/3rd of children in America were proficient on the state assessments.  Which allows them to complete the vicious cycle all over again for their next initiative, Competency-Based Learning.

Imagine, if you will, you are an education-tech company and your personalized program gets picked in this CBE world.  You are instantly rich!  And you will align with all the other companies to make sure you stay that way.  You will join consortiums and committees, and as your company grows, you will own employees in the US DOE and all the State DOEs as well.  But guess what?  This has already happened!  Things in Delaware like BRINC, Schoology, Student Success 2025, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, and the DOE/State Board led Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities are all about this.  Even the Assessment Inventory Task Force will make sure assessments are designed towards this model.  We blinked, and personalized learning already infiltrated over half the state.  I warned folks a year ago how this would be a special education killer and competency-based education will do exactly that!

If you don’t think Delaware has been planning ahead for this for a long time, take this piece of information in the paper which talks about New Hampshire and their role in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium:

New Hampshire is working with other states on a task force as part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium to describe how the assessments can comprehensively support a CBE-aligned system.  The task force will recommend enhancements and changes to the assessment components to provide more precise information to teachers that they can use to improve students’ learning within a CBE system.

In other words, the teacher facilitator will simply switch the module in the personalized learning computer system that some Fortune 500 company created so the student can do better on the assessment which is designed to show how much we need this new system based on the amount of students not scoring as proficient.  It is a vicious cycle which rewards students who come from a better economic background and drags the students who struggle through a proficiency nightmare.  If the goal is to challenge “smarter” kids and to make proficiency the goal for “not as smart” kids, what happens when the “not as smart” kids get tired of waiting to become proficient?  If there is no challenge for them and they go over the same material over and over again, they will quickly become very bored and will start to act out in this CBE classroom.  And what is a CBE classroom?  Will it have inclusion for students with disabilities?  How does discipline work with this new working class of facilitators?

There are more questions than answers with all of this, but it is painfully transparent how the stage was set for all of this.  The Common Core was developed to set the “standard”, the state assessments were developed to set the “proficiency”, the accountability systems for teachers and schools (not the students) were set up to “destroy” the public education system as we know it, all leading to this: students getting even more screen time all day in school and getting brief amounts of time off the computer to hear a facilitator summarize or say “time for lunch”.  This is also why we see such a huge push for charter schools.  They have no teacher unions for the most part, and their “models” are based on this type of environment.  As more and more charters choke the traditional school districts, the path to this get-rich future becomes even more clear.  And our Governors seem to be okay with all of this!  Why?

The promise of such a system is that it can adjust the methods of instruction and assistance to provide deeper, more personalized learning and help ensure that all students meet or exceed the high expectations of rigorous and relevant standards.

Or, you can believe this will further separate the haves from the have-nots.  Can anyone stop this train which left the station years ago?  Or is the future already here?  Parents across the country are actually making a difference in stopping this runaway train by opting their children out of the state assessment.  While the motivation is to look out for their child’s well-being, they are also throwing a wrench into this massive machine and stopping it dead in its tracks.  We just need much higher opt-out numbers to blow the whole thing up!

The full document is below:

Governor Markell Bashes On Vouchers While Also Slamming Public Schools And Opt-Out But Fails To Realize His Policies Are Promoting The Idea

Delaware Governor Jack Markell has painted himself into a corner, and his escape latch is disappearing by the day.  In an article in EdWeek and also the Governor’s blog on his own website, Markell went to town on school vouchers while opposing opt-out, cherry-picking what schools kids should go to, and glorifying standardized testing.  I am against whole-sale school voucher programs, but sometimes there is NO choice.

With the next presidential campaign getting under way, pundits have quickly focused more on the horse race than on where the candidates stand on important issues like improving public education.

Are you promoting anyone in particular here Jack?  Someone who is very outspoken on education reform matters that you happen to agree with?

One area that deserves far more attention is the array of proposals to divert public spending on education into private school vouchers or “education savings accounts” that can be used for private and parochial schools, home schooling, and other programs that aren’t part of the public education system.

These other parts of the public education system, would they happen to include charters, magnets and vo-cational schools?

These policies, already enacted in several states and proposed in several more, are a reminder that privatization is not a ready-made solution for every government problem.

Because it would counteract the policies you have set in place in Delaware…

Here’s why these programs don’t produce results for our students.

Neither do yours…

Everyone agrees that solid academics are the foundation for career and college readiness. Yet, according to a review by the Center on Education Policy, numerous studies have concluded that vouchers, the prime example of privatization, “don’t have a strong effect on students’ academic achievement.” If voucher programs are motivated by a desire to improve educational outcomes for our young people, and not simply to divert public spending to private education, then their unsettled and uneven history does not support continuing them.

Is Markell actually backing away from calling this Common Core, or state standards?  Wow.  Now he’s calling it “solid academics”.  Let’s pull out a report from the Center on Education Policy, a very ed reformy group.  Say, isn’t Senator Sokola on their steering committee?  If vouchers steer public funding to private education, what do you call your seven year policies which have steered public school funding to private companies?  You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Compounding this problem is that the private and parochial schools that receive tax dollars are, in many cases, not accountable for providing a quality education to young people, particularly those most at risk of falling behind.

They also aren’t required to provide YOUR education to students, which is why parents are desiring them more and more.  And let’s bring out the “those most at risk” card again… you will play this for anything, any topic you don’t agree with.

In the public school system, states are required to establish baseline expectations of accountability through standards and testing. Although hardly beloved, standardized-test scores are the most effective method we have to identify which students need our help, which is why civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the United Negro College Fund have been among the most vocal advocates for statewide assessments. They know it is most often poor, minority students—those who most need our help—who most often don’t receive the education they need. When we don’t provide a valid way to measure students’ achievement and hold educators and schools accountable for their academic growth, those students are too easily forgotten.

We are still waiting on the valid way for Delaware to measure students’ true achievement Governor.  But you use your corporate funded measures to label and punish schools that house those students so you can move them over to charters.  Let’s see, I’m thinking of a pot and a kettle…

Children in home, parochial, and private schools aren’t required to take state assessments. State officials can’t track these students’ growth to make sure they don’t fall behind. Private school teachers and home-schooling parents aren’t required to teach to the state’s educational standards; and they don’t have to be rigorously licensed or certified like public school educators.

Which is exactly why private schools are appealing to so many parents these days.  The fact is, many parents can’t afford them, so the very idea of a voucher system is very appealing.  You stepped into your own bear trap here Markell…

Voucher systems also divert millions of taxpayer dollars out of our public schools. While we should respect and encourage parental engagement and choice of schools—including private, parochial, and home schools—for their children, it is not acceptable to divert limited public education funding at the cost of the public schools that serve our communities.

At the risk of repeating myself, but it’s okay to divert limited public education funding to companies, non-profits and state vendors and fatten up our own Department of Education?  You reap what you sow Jack…

Public funding for these voucher programs also presents significant policy issues because so many schools affected include a religious component in their curriculum. In general, the government should not be in the business of funding programs or institutions that promote one religion over all others.

They also shouldn’t be in the business of promoting one type of public school over another, or just one curriculum, but we know that’s happening all over the country.  Education has become big business for the government.  This is pure hypocrisy.  You’re just bitching cause the money isn’t flowing to the “right” places…

But being against vouchers for these reasons isn’t enough. Political leaders have a responsibility to articulate a clear vision for what an improved public school system looks like.

Delaware parents are about to keel over and die cause they have been holding their breath for seven years waiting to see a “clear vision” of an improved public school system.

That means using parent choice among traditional, charter, and magnet schools to foster innovative instruction, and hold public schools accountable for giving students the best opportunities possible.

And here we have it, the Governor Markell legacy: Get kids out of traditional public schools by punishing those schools and send the students to “specialty” schools for free.  But doesn’t that go against the whole “common standards” ruse?  The standards must be the same, but the way they teach them  can be different?

It means demanding more rigorous college and career standards like the common core.

The mantra of the corporate education reform movement.  If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this the past year, I could afford to send every kid in the state to a private school to get away from this ideology.

It means providing better support for our teachers, including training them to use data about student achievement effectively, and evaluating them appropriately.

Which they won’t get until the kids go on to the next grade and they will use data from a previous teacher’s teaching style to mold their own.  But we can evaluate teachers based on another teacher.  This is a program with the sole design of pushing union teachers out of education, lowering the pension funds, and getting teachers cheaper.  Call it what it is Jack..

It means more dual-enrollment and Advanced Placement courses to challenge students and reduce the cost of college.

And more high school classes exclusively set up to teach to the SAT which will become aligned to the “solid foundation” you spoke of earlier, which will then determine which colleges and courses students choose.  Big brother isn’t just watching us, he’s controlling students every move…

It means investing in high-quality early-childhood programs so all kids enter kindergarten ready to learn.

More taxpayer money flowing into the hands of all-too-eager companies to get kids college and career ready while also learning to tie their own shoes….

And it means recognizing that too many of our students arrive at school hungry and from traumatic family situations. Serving these children effectively requires different types of training and community resources.

But you fail to recognize that children from these environments do NOT perform the same as their peers, but you expect them to so you can (rinse, wash, repeat): standardize these students through God-awful tests, punish teachers, convert to charter, pay companies…

I agree with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that policymakers should be “more daring” when it comes to education policy. But that must mean pushing the public school system to improve, not following the suggestions of a number of candidates for president and state lawmakers who would use taxpayer money on unaccountable programs that ultimately cut funding from public schools.

So is the Democrat Governor Jack Markell endorsing a Republican Presidential candidate?  Why oh why would he do that?  What could he ever hope to gain? (See Arne Duncan).  But if Hilary wins, could he gain from that? (See Arne Duncan).

Governor Markell must feel the walls closing in around him.  While doing the same to the public school system, he has put himself into such a small box that he is growing desperate.  He will attack anything that goes against his beliefs and agendas that make a ton of money for his corporate buddies.  But what he doesn’t realize is a very special kind of voucher system he has actually created.

By pushing the Common Core state standards down students throats and forcing teachers to teach to an invalid test, special education students are suffering immensely.  To the point where schools and teachers are so afraid of being punished they don’t even know how to implement IEPs for those standards.  Behavior issues are rising, and schools don’t have the time to filter through tem to see if they are a manifestation of the disability or true behavior issues.  As a result, schools are getting sued left and right by special education attorneys.  Those funds go into an educational trust for the students.  Which often go into, you guessed it, private schools or homeschooling.  Governor Markell created his own monster here by allowing the special education compensatory damage voucher program to thrive and flourish.  This is a program no parent wants but so many are forced into it.  Chew on that revelation for a little while Jack…

Exclusive: Why the Delaware DOE Really Can’t Stand Teachers… It’s Not What You Think!

DPAS-II.  Component V.  Teacher Evaluations.  Standardized Testing scores.  Priority Schools.  Smarter Balanced Assessments.  Teachers have it rough now.  It’s not like the halcyon days of old.  The Delaware Department of Education doesn’t make it easy on teachers.  Where did this apathy come from?

In a very extensive investigation, I have stumbled upon the unfettered truth.  I interviewed many members of the DOE.  None of them wanted to go on the record with their actual names for fear of reprisal, not only from their superiors, but also the actual teachers.

One employee, who would only go by the name of Nickle Huffy said “It’s our priority to put teachers in their place.”  When I asked why she would only say “You know why.  Don’t try to make me look stupid.”

Another employee, very high up, named Davina Gustwoman, said “It’s obvious Mr. Ohlandt.  They get something none of us do.  It’s called summer.  They are off.  Sure, some of them do some ESY classes or work other jobs, but they have a flexibility we don’t have at the DOE.  We have to work year-round.  And we don’t get “professional development days”.  We get meeting after meeting, all year long.”

I checked with another employee, who would only say his name was “Surfer Boy”, said “I take every chance I can humanly get to put these teachers in their place.  They are nothing but human capital, fit only for the dregs of society.  I’m working on something I can only call “Component VI”.  This will solve the problem once and for all.”  I asked Surfer Boy if this hatred had anything to do with the DOE not getting off in the summer.  He just looked at me for a while.  “Yes, it has everything to do with that.  Look at me, I was born to be at the beach.  But no, I have to do report after report.  Screw those teachers.  Why can’t they just do the normal thing and go to Teach For America?”

One of the state board members, who would only go by the name of “Professor Beige”, said “Do we give teachers a rough time?  I wasn’t aware of this.  I know they come to our meetings sometimes, but I don’t pay them any mind.  Is this related to Common Core?”  I just kind of shrugged my head and walked away.

I was talking to a receptionist about some current legislation when the oddest thing happened.  The Secretary came out of his office as I was talking about a bill concerning “death with dignity”.  I mentioned the word euthanasia and the Secretary said “Yes, youth in Asia know all about rigor.  They don’t opt out of tests.  They would be shot!”  I asked the Secretary what he thought of teachers in Delaware.  He said “Kids can’t opt out of the test, they aren’t allowed.  Kids have to take tests.  It’s a part of life.”  The receptionist said he has been saying that ever since he appeared on the Delaware Way a couple months ago with Larry Mendte.  Apparently it takes weeks to train him on these things, but the effect doesn’t go away for a long time.

I saw Nickle Huffy again.  She said things haven’t been the same for the Secretary since all the teachers were rated effective last year.  “Something popped in his brain, and it never popped back into its proper slot.”  She said this happened to many of the employees there last August.  She said at meetings the Secretary just kind of stares into space.  “We don’t know where he is most of the time, even when he is sitting right in front of us.”

While interviewing employees, I accidentally walked into a leadership meeting.  “Suzie Wannamichelob”, as she preferred to be called, said “What are you doing here sir?”  I looked at her and said “Calm down.  It could be worse.  I could be Mike Matthews.”  Everyone looked at me as if I dropped a bomb in the room.  It got quieter than the DOE at a Race To The Top Q&A House Education Committee meeting.  “We don’t say that name around here,” Suzie said.  “Mr. Ohlandt, I think we’ve given you enough information.  Why don’t you just go back to your blogger batcave and write more horrible and nasty things about us,” Surfer Boy shouted.

On the way out, I saw a State Board employee named “DJ”.  She was very secretive about not revealing her identity.  She told me some more about what happened the day all the teachers were rated effective.  The Governor came in and had a sit down with the entire Department.  The Secretary just kept banging his head on the desk.  The Governor said to the group “What is wrong with you people?  It’s not supposed to go down like this.  How can we ever get rid of a group of perfect people?”  He told them from here on out they had to increase the gap between a horrible teacher and effective teachers.  “Only I get to say who is a good teacher.  Or my buddy Paul and his illustrious dream team.  But you sorry sacks of… You just aren’t proficient enough!”  At this point, no one was able to keep it in anymore.  Everyone started crying hysterically.  “It was the darkest day I’ve ever seen at the Department,” DJ explained.  “We all thought we were doing such a rigorous job, but somehow the teachers made us look like a bunch of standard government employees.”

It was obvious the DOE was infected by some sort of illness I’ve never seen before.  It was like rigor mania.  But I at last knew why they couldn’t stand teachers… the whole summer vacation thing.  At the end of the day, they were jealous.  I walked out of the DOE and I had to wonder… how soon would this Department collapse under its own weight?

The Delaware DOE Wanted Parent Engagement, Be Careful What You Wish For….

The Delaware DOE has been saying they want community input and parent engagement to determine accountability.  Recently they have received exactly what they were looking for.  And the majority of parents who are engaged are telling them the same thing: the path you are on is bad for our children.  As the Smarter Balanced Assessment started rolling out last month, parent opt-out started rolling its engines and left its mark on the First State.  Now the DOE and Governor Markell are scrambling to stop legislation which would codify this God-given, fundamental right.

I’m hearing crazy stories from Legislative Hall.  I’ve seen some crazy things at Legislative Hall.  Watching a Governor’s Education Policy Advisor trying to get to a legislator who everyone knew was a swing vote right before a vote would have been comical if it wasn’t so offensive.  How desperate has the Governor of Delaware become?  And yet he won’t show his face during these debates.  If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Every single thing Markell has done as a result of parent opt-out has met with firm resistance from the opt-out crowd, teachers, and even legislators.  And the sad, sad DOE…  Where do I even begin?  What happens when a State Representative with a third grader opts out?  Will they give remedial recess time?  Either they just don’t get it or they think their little “treats” will sway us.

The usual lobbyists have been in full swing down at Legislative Hall.  Rounding up Earl Jaques and giving him pointers and advice.  More like tying him up and giving him the Kool-Aid IV drip.

In the meantime, I am meeting some great and awesome people.  Folks who have never spoken out against anything before in their life are taking to the podium and talking from the heart.  It is truly an awesome thing to see.  Delaware parents are finding their voice, and they are speaking loud and saying this isn’t the best thing for my child.  They are exercising the very rights this country was built on.  Freedom from tyranny and oppression.

A year ago, the DOE were so sure of themselves and very cocky and arrogant about it.  I have to wonder what the atmosphere is like in those two buildings these days.  Is all that zeal and zest replaced by fear and more clicks to their resumes?  If I were working there, I would be updating my resume fast!  I can picture them going to meetings and saying “let’s try this, maybe this will stop it.”  They just don’t understand, and at this point I’m beginning to doubt they will.  Even as the bricks and mortar of their corporate education reform movement fall around them, they will still be talking about rigor, assess and data.

And the legislators, God bless them.  They are starting to realize “these parents are making a lot of noise, we better listen.”  Some of them were already, and they have been fighting the good fight for all of us.  And we have the Delaware PTA and the DSEA on our side as well.  When all is said and done, the Race will be over, and hopefully our children will emerge out of this era wanting to learn.  I can’t wait for that day, and it can’t come soon enough.  Because they are holding the DOE accountable.

Delaware Father’s Passionate Email To The House Education Committee

This is why I blog.  Not for myself, but to get the word out to others.  I asked parents to email every single member of the Delaware House Education Committee to show their support for House Bill 50, the Parent Opt Out legislation.  One father took the baton and ran with it.  What David Brenton said in this email is nothing short of amazing, and I highly encourage every parent to come up with their own words from the heart and email every single member.

State Of Delaware Legislators,

I have 3 children in the Delaware Public School system. I am a former Delaware Public School student. Like many of your constituents, I spend a lot of time trying to make ends meet. My head down and nose to the grind stone. I and many like me have trusted you to see our children’s education is the best it can be. You have before you an opportunity to earn that trust. HB 50. Please pass it.

I have been paying attention lately. I have been to many meetings to listen to other parents, teachers, principals, and my representatives about Smarter Balanced Testing. I listened to a DDOE official tell me about the value of assessments and the data that this testing will provide. About the money we will get from the Federal Government. About how rigorous these national standards are and how they will help our children compete in the global economy. I’m sorry, I don’t agree, here is why:

Assessments, I expect a certified teacher to have the skill set to assess my child. I expect the school principal to have the skill set to assess their teachers. I expect the superintendent to have the skill set to assess their principals. If this is not the case, Someone is not doing their job!

Data Collection, At my Delaware school, I was told the difference between The USA and the USSR was freedom. “That in the USSR the young children had to take a test in school, and the results would plot their course to employment. Here In the USA you have the freedom to aspire to any type of employment if you worked hard”. I didn’t think it was a good idea then. I don’t think its a good idea now. Please forgive me if I don’t trust others with data to manipulate my children.

Money From the Federal Government, I pay taxes, I pay school taxes, I don’t care if Delaware has excepted a bribe from the DOE to set up yet another bureaucracy, It all comes from the same pocket, mine.

Rigorous National Standards, These standards were not created by educators, there was no task force that scoured the globe in search of the best educational methods and standards. In fact educational scholars refused to endorse these standards. They are not proven at all! This is experimental education and I don’t like my children used as guinea pigs.

Compete in the global economy, My generation’s education went to the moon, invented computers, internet, cell phones and much more. This is a definition of not competing I’m not familiar with. I have opted my 3rd grader out. I will opt out my older children soon. I need your support. HB50.

Proud Father David Brenton

Regulation 101: DOE Tweaking State Code For Smarter Balanced & Special Needs

On Thursday, at the Delaware State Board of Education meeting, there will be talk about the Smarter Balanced Assessment (among MANY other things).  How will the DOE score this wonderful awesome test?  They really have no idea.  In fact, they have to hire an outside contractor to do all that!  But for now, let’s see how they do with what the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium sent them!

Yes, you read that right, Big Brain Brian Touchette actually said that:

Because the new standards set higher expectations for students–and the new tests are designed to assess student performance against these higher expectations–our definition of grade level performance is higher than it used to be.

As a result, it means that fewer students will meet grade level standards, especially for the first few years.

It starts with Mark Murphy saying he doesn’t expect more than 30% of the students to meet proficiency in the first year.  Then I start to hear two years.  Now it’s a few.  But the kids aren’t failing!  No, the schools will be and you will judge them and close them.  Even though you have said what you just said.  And maybe the test will never work, but we will use the data from it to close all of you nasty, filthy public school districts!  Sorry, I turned into Murphy there.

And then there are the special needs kids.  How about we change some laws to make it tougher for them AND their IEP Teams!  Let’s put some really vague wording in some areas, then ignore what is sent to us about it by the agencies that probably know more about these things than we do.  Even if they are filled with a bunch of filthy, nasty parents and union reps.  Sorry, morphed into the Murph man again!

Yada yada yada, opt out now, blah blah blah!  Just do it already parents! NOW!  Cause guess what, they didn’t even bring up the topic of parent opt out in this regulation, and we already know they either don’t how to read their own state’s code, or they purposely misinterpret it to scare parents.

Achievement Levels Set For Smarter Balanced Assessment…Who Cares, Opt Out Anyways

I don’t want to tick off the Smarter Balanced gods, so I can’t copy and paste directly from their website.  But today the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium announced the proficiency levels for the upcoming Common Core test.  I could care less because I already opted my son out, but for those still on the fence, read on.

I will share an email that was sent out today to selected education professionals:

Sent on behalf of Joe Willhoft

To NEA and AFT Teacher Ambassadors,

Attached is a press release that just went out earlier today.  It talks about the setting of four achievement levels on the Smarter Balanced assessments that our member states will start using in 2015.

The process and activities we went through to arrive at consensus on the achievement levels was extremely thorough.  We hosted nearly 500 individual panelists to assist us with these decisions, two-thirds of which were teachers from Smarter Balanced states, with another 20% or so being non-teaching educators (principals, curriculum directors, etc.), about 10% college faculty, and about 5% parents/business leaders.  These panelists spent several days going through test items, the Common Core, and our descriptions of knowledge and skills that teachers told us students needed at different levels of performance.  These panelists submitted recommendations to our chief school officers in member states.  The chiefs gave primary consideration to the content-based recommendations from our in-person panelists, but also took into account other external data on what we currently know about high school student readiness to enter into credit-bearing college courses.  In the end, we had unanimous agreement (18-0, with 2 abstentions) on new and rigorous performance standards on the Smarter Balanced assessments.

Feel free to visit our website​ for more information.  Thanks,

Joe

No, thank you Joe!  Now I know who the big guy is at the top of the group.  Sounds like they had all these stakeholders meeting to decide the assessment achievement levels, but at the end of the day it was up to the state school chiefs.  I dread thinking about Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy having any input on these recommendations.

The Consortium (love that word, makes them sound so sinister) sent out the following press release today:

Smarter Balanced States Approve Achievement Level Recommendations

<!– 11/17/14 – Smarter Balanced –>

OLYMPIA, WASH. (November 17, 2014) —Members of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium have voted to approve initial achievement levels for the mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA) assessments that will be administered in 17 states and one territory this school year. The vote marks an important milestone in the development of the assessment system.

“These initial achievement levels were developed with input from thousands of educators and community members, reflecting a diverse cross-section of views on education. Moving forward, the achievement levels, along with scale scores that also will be reported, will help teachers and parents understand student performance and needs for support,” said Smarter Balanced Executive Director Joe Willhoft.

The achievement levels serve as a starting point for discussion about the performance of individual students and of groups of students in mathematics and English Language arts. There are other measures that students, teachers and parents can also use to help evaluate the academic progress of students and schools, such as scale scores, growth models, and portfolios of student work. The states also unanimously approved a position paper to provide broad guidelines for how the scores and achievement levels can be used and interpreted by state officials, parents, teachers and other stakeholders.

Since Smarter Balanced is offering assessments for both ELA and math for grades 3-8 and high school, the recommendations include achievement level scores for both subject areas and at each of those grade levels. The attached charts display the threshold scores that distinguish four achievement levels and display the estimated percentage of students across all Smarter Balanced states who would have scored at each level based on data from the Consortium’s spring 2014 field test. Smarter Balanced estimates that the percentage of students who would have scored “Level 3 or higher” in math ranged from 32 percent in Grade 8 to 39 percent in Grade 3. In English language arts, the percentage of students who would have scored “Level 3 or higher” ranged from 38 percent in Grade 3 to 44 percent in Grade 5. See the charts for further details.

“Because the new content standards set higher expectations for students and the new tests are designed to assess student performance against those higher standards, the bar has been raised. It’s not surprising that fewer students could score at Level 3 or higher. However, over time the performance of students will improve,” said Willhoft.

Willhoft added, “It’s important to note that the figures released today are a Consortium-wide estimate based on the spring 2014 Field Test. Once the operational assessment is administered in 2015, states will have a much clearer picture.”

To create the achievement levels, Smarter Balanced organized an unprecedented level of educator and public input, involving thousands of interested constituents, using a rigorous process known as the “bookmark procedure.”

During an in-person panel, held in Dallas, Texas, close to 500 teachers, school leaders, higher education faculty, parents, business and community leaders reviewed test questions and determined the threshold scores for four achievement levels for each grade and subject area. Member states had representatives at each grade level for grades 3 through 8 and high school. Educators with experience teaching English language learners, students with disabilities and other traditionally under-represented students participated to help ensure that the achievement levels are fair and appropriate for all students.

In addition, an online panel was open to educators, parents and other interested members of the community to provide unprecedented input on the achievement levels. More than 2,500 people participated in the online panel. A cross-grade review committee composed of 72 members of the in-person panels then took the results of the online and in-person panels into account to develop recommendations that coherently aligned across grades and that reflected student progress from year to year.

As an additional step, Smarter Balanced engaged an external auditor, an Achievement Level Setting Advisory Panel and its standing Technical Advisory Committee to review the recommendations before they were presented to the states for approval. The auditor and both advisory panels certified that Smarter Balanced conducted a valid process that is consistent with best practice in the field.

In approving the Achievement Levels, Smarter Balanced member states relied primarily on the recommendations from the Achievement Level Setting process. Members also gave consideration to other sources of information about the general content readiness of high school students to engage in credit-bearing college-level work. This included a comprehensive body of research on college academic preparedness of high school students conducted by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), the oversight body for the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Over the coming months, member states will present these achievement level recommendations to the policy-making entities that have the authority to formally adopt achievement levels in each state. This authority most typically rests with the state board of education.

And we all know how the Delaware DOE loves to abuse their authority on behalf of a pro-Common Core Rigor Standardized Test Charter Loving Governor and his other puppet masters at Rodel.  Parents, just opt your kids out now!  Until I did, I was stressed just thinking about my son taking this (choose your own expletive) of a test.  Now, I feel a calm knowing he won’t have to deal with this, and a 50% to 70% chance of him being labeled a failure because of this (choose your own expletive again) of a test.

Write the letter, hand deliver it to the school, join one of the many Facebook groups I created for opt-out in each district, charter and vo-tech in the state, and call it a day.

My Special Needs Son’s First Day Of Common Core Division & This Is His Homework

This was my son’s math homework tonight.  My son with special needs.  This was his first day of division.  Can someone, in the name of all that is holy, tell me exactly what the hell this is?  I know what it’s supposed to be.  But it is not.  It is a confusing, prime example of the agony that is Common Core.  Students should not be subjected to this.  My son is in tears right now, missing his 4th grade teacher and he hates 5th grade.  This isn’t what school should be about.  It shouldn’t be this hard.  It should be about learning at an appropriate grade level.

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This isn’t even 5th grade level work with this kind of math.  This is 7th grade or 8th grade.  Really?  Delaware and any state that is using this curriculum needs to be ashamed of themselves.  And you want to test my special needs student on this material?  OVER MY DEAD BODY!!!!  I will not subject him to this hell.  Parents, we need to wake up and open our eyes to this reality.  This isn’t making our children ready for college.  It’s a curriculum that our own Secretary of Education Mark Murphy already expects 70% of our students to fail on the state test next Spring.  What will that do to students confidence?  They will be made to feel like failures.  With that comes rejection and isolation in their perceived view of the world.  This is a sin beyond proportion.

Parents, I have only one more thing to say: Opt-out of this and demand your legislators immediately ban this torture being inflicted on our children.  The ONLY reason schools aren’t against this is because they feel they have no choice.  But parents do, and it is our time to rise up and take back our children’s education.

NAISON: What the BATs Told Duncan and His Staff

Arne Duncan needs to go. Immediately. If he had one more brain cell, it would be lonely. This quote, “what I want is for all students to be able to take advanced placement courses or be exposed to an IB (International Baccalaureat) curriculum” is enough to make me want to vomit in my mouth. How dare he indicate that special needs kids be subjected to his “rigorous” ideals. This has gone beyond the point of absurdity, and I sincerely hope every single teacher that stands for justice sees that he is gone. For those that support him, you are living in a world of delusion. You’ve drank the Kool-Aid, and become ensnared in this despicable web of lies and corruption.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Wow! This post will knock your socks off, unless you work for the U.S. Department of Education. The post was written by Mark NAISON, one of the co-founders of the BATs. (I don’t know why, but my iPad always converts Mark’s last name into all-caps.)

The Badass Teachers Association held a rally outside the U.S. Department of Education on July 28, and several were invited to meet with staff at the Office of Civil Rights to air their grievances and see if they could find common ground. After some talk, some of which was contentious, Arne Duncan dropped in unexpectedly and joined the conversation, but said he would talk about only two subjects:

“Secretary Duncan after introducing himself, and saying that he could only stay for a few minutes, asked for two things; first if we could articulate our concerns about the Department’s policies on dealing with Special needs students…

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