Diploma Bill Released From House Education Committee

The first battle for HS1 for House Bill #287 was won today as the Delaware House Education Committee released it from committee.  This puts the special education legislation on the Ready list for a full House vote.

All were in favor of the release except for State Rep. Deb Heffernan who voted no and State Rep. Stephanie Bolden who abstained.  There was a great deal of discussion about the bill and who exactly it represents among Delaware special education students.  Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the Director of the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the Delaware Department of Education, attempted to answer these questions to committee members.  The diploma with modified standards would apply to a very small population of Delaware students, approximately 1% of them.  These are students with severe disabilities that affect their ability to perform relative to their peers.

Currently, these students receive a “certificate of performance”.  Which means they are not allowed to check up the Diploma box on job applications.  They are unable to have the opportunity to apply for many jobs.  For parents of these children, as so aptly put by parent John Young, it is a resignation for their children that is very difficult to accept.

Much of the conversation was about the gap group of special education students between those this would apply to and those who receive a high school diploma.  To qualify for this bill, you have to be approved by your IEP team to take the alternative state assessment.  But that is only a little over 1% of Delaware students.  Our special education numbers hover around 15-16%.  Some of those students who do qualify for the Smarter Balanced Assessment have a difficult time passing rigorous high school courses and are unable to graduate.  Many legislators wanted to see numbers from the Delaware DOE on this.

One public comment, given by Robert Overmiller, said this bill would be lying to these students.  The Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, of which Overmiller is a member, had public comment from member Kathie Cherry.  She felt it was important to note that Overmiller’s views on the bill did not reflect the overwhelming majority of the council who are in support of the bill.  While I do agree with Overmiller on many education issues, I felt his opposition to this bill was unfair but he is certainly entitled to his opinion.

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting gave the DOE’s approval of the bill, as did Delaware Autism, the Delaware Association of School Administrators, the Delaware School Boards Association, and parents.

This is an important victory for this bill.  It still has a long way to go but I like the track it is going in.

Diploma Bill Takes Center Stage In House Education Committee Meeting Today

The diploma bill for students with severe disabilities is on the agenda for the Delaware House Education Committee today.  The bill caused a ruckus of sorts with State Rep. Earl Jaques, State Board of Education member Pat Heffernan, Robert Overmiller, and the Delaware Chamber of Commerce.

House Bill #287 is now HS1 for House Bill #287.  The new changes are as follows:

This Substitute Bill makes the following changes to House Bill No. 287: 1. It changes the name of the new diploma to a “Diploma of Alternate Achievement Standards” instead of a “Diploma of Modified Performance Standards.” 2. It adds a requirement that a student must be eligible to take a statewide alternate assessment to receive the new diploma. 3. The Act takes effect in the academic year after enactment.

But the spirit of the original bill is the same.

…provides the opportunity for schools to award students who meet the requirements of their Individualized Education Plans (“IEP”) a high school diploma which recognizes the accomplishment of having attained a level of performance that is modified from the State graduation requirements but aligned with their established goals and performance outcomes.

As much as those who oppose the bill talk about why they hate the bill, I still fail to understand their rationale.  This isn’t a business bill, this is a student bill.  I think it is very arrogant for big business to dare to intrude on legislation like this.  In my opinion, they have done enough “intruding” in public education to the detriment of students, teachers, and schools.  Most of our schools, teachers, and parents want this bill to pass.  To me, they are your key stakeholders, not the business community.

For Jaques, Heffernan, and Overmiller: two of you have family members with disabilities and one of you serves on the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC).  I am unable to fathom your opposition to this bill.  You are certainly entitled to your opinion.  But, to me, it is not a coincidence that you all opposed opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Which is a grueling task and a flawed test for any student, but especially for students with disabilities.  The majority of the GACEC supports the bill.

I anticipate a large crowd for this House Education Committee meeting.  It is being held in the Joint Finance Committee room, not the House Chamber.  It begins at 3:00pm.  If you support this bill, please come out and give public comment.

Other bills on the docket are House Bill #292, relating to services for students with Autism, and House Bill #282, which would allow extra funding for field trips in schools with high concentrations of students with poverty

Cut The Admins In Districts & Schools? How Many Are There? TONS!

If there is one consistent thing I hear all over social media, it is people wanting the number of administrators and their staff in Delaware school districts and charter schools.  I am asked constantly how many there are for various schools or districts.  Robert Overmiller of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens compiled a list showing exactly how many there are.

Updated: I’ve included the below picture which shows the student ratios required to get state funding for administrator roles:

Some of these numbers are outrageous.  While it is a local school district’s decision, there are certain laws pertaining to how many administrators schools are allowed to have per student in order to get state funding for those roles.  If they go over those numbers, the funds come from local or federal funding.  For example, a Title I or special education coordinator may get funding based on federal disbursements.

If we truly want to look at education funding, this is the FIRST place to look.  Many of these positions get high salaries.  I’ve heard of some administrators who just get jobs in a district office and do nothing all day long.  Does every single administrator need a secretary?  Because that happens more than you think!  It’s the buddy system kicked into high gear.  And our teachers and students pay the price.

Don’t Believe Any Recommendations Coming Out Of The Education Funding Committee Report

I touched on this last week, but it is essential that the citizens of Delaware not believe the final recommendations of the Senate Joint Resolution #4 Education Funding Improvement Committee.  Their report is due to the General Assembly by Thursday, June 30th.  In a public meeting, one of the members of EFIC (as it is commonly known as in the halls of power in Delaware) stated the committee could not agree on any of the recommendations brought forth at their final committee.  No formal vote was taken on any specific actions.

I learned this by attending the meeting of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC) last week.  GACEC Chair Robert Overmiller was a member of EFIC.  Along with all the other DOE special education shenanigans at that meeting, there was also this tidbit culled from my recording of the meeting:

The Senate Joint Resolution 4.  We had our meeting yesterday and the reality is they have approved zero motions and zero recommendations for the unit count.  Because they spent the whole year trying to convince the committee to throw out unit counts and put in what the DOE and Governor Markell want.  And they were totally unsuccessful in convincing the committee to do so.  So I don’t know what the report is going to look like when it comes out.  At the end of the month it will be turned in to the legislators but they definitely approved zero recommendations and zero anything.  Nothing was ever voted on for approval or exception.  So that committee produced nothing this year.

That sounds like a very clear statement to me!  I expect the Delaware DOE to post the final report any day now.  Like the Assessment Inventory Committee final report issued yesterday, I do not expect this report to be a complete record of what really went down at these meetings.  I still don’t understand why former State Rep. Darryl Scott is allowed to run committees like this and have a seat on the Southern Regional Education Board when he is not now an elected official, but this is Delaware.  If we see a weighted funding formula recommendation for education coming out of this report, it is a lie.  This is what happens when a committee is stacked with Markell sympathizers coming out of Rodel and the charter sector.

 

 

Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens Website Is A Hot Mess! Transparency Non-Existent!

The Delaware Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC) website appears to be in severe disarray.  The last agenda for one of their meetings is for their March 17th, 2015 meeting.  The last minutes are from their June 2015 meeting.  When does this group meet?  On the Delaware Public Meetings Calendar it shows their last meeting was November 17th, 2015.  No agenda was on the calendar either.  Are they even meeting anymore?

I used to get emails from this group when I was on their distribution list.  But once I blasted them for their opposition of the parent opt-out legislation, House Bill 50, I was banned from this email list.  My guess, this is now an “inclusive club” in Delaware that doesn’t have to follow state law for public meetings or transparency.  As a group that is supposed to represent the disabled of Delaware, this is very disheartening to see.  I expect more out of any state agency or council, but I expect much more out of this group.  Is Wendy Strauss still the Executive Director?  Is Robert Overmiller still the Chair of GACEC?  When are their meetings?  They do have a calendar of their meetings for the year, but that isn’t saying much without the other necessary state law compliance in effect.

GACEC

Why does this group think they don’t have to be visible with their activities?

Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens STILL Bashing Parent Opt-Out

This may provide schools with an incentive to encourage student participation in the assessment system.

I would think, after seeing the abysmal Smarter Balanced Assessment results for Delaware, especially for students with disabilities, the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens would change it’s tune on parent opt-out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  But in their public comment for Regulation 103, which the State Board shot down for action yesterday, they felt the participation rate penalty could be a good way for schools to convince parents the kids need to take the test.

What is it with this council?  I appreciate a lot of the work they do.  Don’t get me wrong on that.  But this is HUGE.  Yes, it is a group with the word Governor in it, but that doesn’t mean they have to stick with his opinions.  I would love it if they could give any factual basis for their claims aside from the News Journal.  This isn’t the first time they have based their opinions on articles in the News Journal.  Don’t read a newspaper, or even my own blog.  Just look at the statistics for students with disabilities on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  10% in Math, 15% in ELA.  That’s ALL you need to know.  These are kids.  And I’m sure a lot of them wanted to do good on this test.  Imagine the pain and confusion they will feel when they get their results.  Imagine the struggles they had taking this test.  It’s not right, and it isn’t fair that a group of adults speaking for these children should go against the public consensus on this.  This test is horrible, and everyone knows it.

I’ve met Robert Overmiller and Wendy Strauss, and they are good people.  I know quite a few members on this council.  I just don’t get why they would do this.  Luckily, this Regulation is going to be reviewed and hopefully reworked.  But I would love a compelling reason why they are so adamantly against parent opt-out.

Delaware School Districts, Charter Schools and Vo-Techs Special Education Ratings By The Delaware DOE. State Ratings By The US DOE.

The Delaware Department of Education recently sent letters to every single school district, vocational district, and each charter schools with their special education rating based on compliance indicators with the United States Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs.  There are four designations: meets requirements, needs assistance, needs intervention, and substantially needs intervention.  I will be delving into more of this in GREAT detail, as I don’t agree with much of this.  This is based on compliance from fiscal year 2013, so any schools that opened in FY2014 or FY2015 are not part of these ratings.  But for now, please see what the district ratings are:

Traditional School Districts

Appoquinimink: Needs Assistance

Brandywine: Needs Intervention

Caesar Rodney: Needs Intervention

Cape Henlopen: Meets Requirements

Christina: Needs Intervention

Colonial: Needs Assistance

Delmar: Needs Intervention

Indian River: Meets Requirements

Lake Forest: Needs Assistance

Laurel: Needs Intervention

Milford: Meets Requirements

Red Clay Consolidated: Needs Intervention

Seaford: Needs Intervention

Smyrna: Needs Assistance

Woodbridge: Needs Intervention

Vocational Districts

New Castle County Vo-Tech: Meets Requirements

Polytech: Needs Assistance

Sussex Tech: Meets Requirements

Charter Schools

Academy of Dover: Needs Assistance

Campus Community: Needs Assistance

Charter School of Wilmington: Meets Requirements

DE Academy of Public Safety & Security: Meets Requirements

DE College Prep: Meets Requirements

DE Military Academy: Meets Requirements

East Side Charter: Needs Intervention

Family Foundations Academy: Meets Requirements

Gateway Lab School: Needs Intervention

Kuumba Academy: Needs Assistance

Las Americas ASPIRA Academy: Needs Assistance

MOT Charter School: Needs Assistance

*Moyer: Needs Intervention

Newark Charter School: Meets Requirements

Odyssey Charter School: Meets Requirements

Positive Outcomes: Needs Intervention

Prestige Academy: Needs Intervention

Providence Creek Academy: Needs Assistance

*Reach Academy for Girls: Needs Assistance

Sussex Academy: Meets Requirements

Thomas Edison Charter: Needs Assistance

*means school is now closed as of 6/30/15

There you have it, all the districts, charters, and vo-techs in Delaware.  Anyone with a basic knowledge of Delaware can see the obvious flaws with this rating system.  Most of the districts and charters who “need intervention” have the greatest populations of special education students, as well as the highest number of minorities and low-income populations.  This system is completely unfair to any parent looking for potential school choices for their special needs child.  Or even to those parents with a “regular” student, who may think the school is not a right fit for their child because of perceived special education issues.

These ratings also do not take into account IEP denials at all.  Many charters have flat-out refused entrance to children with IEPs, despite numerous warnings by the state and the federal government, as well as civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union.  Charters have also been widely known to practice “counseling out”, where students with IEPs are either kicked out or pushed out through repeated suspensions or strong suggestions to parents how they “can’t service your child” or “we don’t have the resources”.

For a school like Charter School of Wilmington to “meet requirements” when they have a literal handful of IEPs there, while a school like Eastside who has numerous IEPs to need intervention is not a fair and accurate comparison.

One other important factor is none of these ratings take into account the continuous and growing number of special education lawsuits in our state.  The feds ratings are based on complaints, mediations (with the state) and due process hearings.  There are several problems with this.  First off, there hasn’t been a due process hearing in Delaware in over two years.  The last hearing was in April of 2013, and out of the 25 due process hearings since 2006, only two were against charter schools.  Anyone with a basic knowledge of Delaware Online Checkbook can see the MILLIONS of dollars going out in special education lawsuits.  When I asked MaryAnn Mieczkowski, the Director at the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the DOE about this conundrum last summer, she stood by the due process system as being “more than fair.”  Many of the schools that “meet requirements” have been sued and more than once.  But the DOE will never report that data…

Second, the complaints are heard by “hearing officers” who are paid by the Delaware Department of Education.  One such hearing officer is the President of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, Robert Overmiller.  He was paid $10,000 this year alone to rule on these special education complaints.  The Director of the Exceptional Citizens Resource Group at the DOE sits on the very same group.  Overmiller is also paid by the GACEC.  The GACEC issues opinions on matters such as the recent and growing opt-out movement.  Many were shocked to see the GACEC dead set against opt-out and House Bill 50.  But now we know about conflicts of interest where the state Department pays the other state group’s Presidents, and the two side on issues of legislative importance.  As well, the GACEC gives opinions on State Board of Education regulations.  This is the problem in Delaware with conflicts of interest.  They aren’t transparent until someone happens to stumble upon them.

There is so much more to all of this, and I will be writing a lot about it in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can read each letter sent to these districts, vo-techs and charters here: District And Charter Reports

You can also see each state’s ratings below, in the below document released by the US DOE, which is also very misleading, because it rates Delaware as “needing assistance” in the Part B determinations for one year, and “meets requirements in Part C, but doesn’t even touch on the fact they were “needing intervention” the past two years, which makes Delaware look better on a long-term basis when that is not the case.

GACEC Letter of Support for Gateway Lab School Contradicts Opposition Letter re: House Bill 50

In reviewing GACEC and their modus operandi, I was curious if they gave public comment concerning Gateway Lab School.  This is a charter school designed for students with disabilities that was threatened with non-renewal of their charter in late 2014.  Thankfully, the State Board of Education and Mark Murphy did renew their charter.  Public support was massive for this school.  The GACEC wrote a letter of support for their charter renewal which can be found on pages 6 & 7 of the below document.  My take on this below that.

It comes down to one statement in their letter: “In conjunction with our role as the state advisory panel, we would like to share our concerns on the recent decision by the Charter School Accountability Committee to recommend the State Board of Education revoke the charter of the Gateway Lab School based on assessment data.”

Assessment data should not be the sole factor in making a policy decision as per the GACEC.  But in their letter of opposition to House Bill 50,  President Robert Overmiller with the GACEC writes “the validity of overall test results will be undermined if large numbers of students do not participate in the assessment.”  So GACEC can determine when data should and should not be used.  The main issue with Gateway Lab School was academic performance.  I completely agree with the GACEC, standardized test scores should never make or break a school.  But they can’t play both sides on this balance beam.  Because “Avoiding the unpleasant reality of assessments and their place in public education is not a viable response to relatively poor overall performance by Delaware students” as Overmiller wrote in the opposition letter, completely goes against their reasoning for supporting Gateway’s charter renewal.

In the case of Gateway, Overmiller actually went to the school to observe and see how their students were doing with the school and if they were showing academic interest and their special education was offering a rewarding environment.  He found it was.  But in the case of parent opt-out, Overmiller did not reach out to parents who are opting out, or try to understand the motivations behind their decisions.  Has he talked to teachers or the DOE about  the technical accommodation issues affecting students with disabilities?  Did he observe how these children are doing on the test?  This council is meant to look at issues with citizens with disabilities, but in their opposition letter, they never once say the words “special education” or “disabilities”.  Once again GACEC, you can’t have it both ways.  I truly believe the GACEC should rescind their letter of opposition to House Bill 50 until they have truly educated themselves on this issue.