My Email To Delaware Senators About The Highly Flawed Pay For Success Legislation

Last night I wrote an article about the Delaware Pay For Success legislation, Senate Bill #242.  I stand firm in my convictions and I am calling on ALL Delawareans to contact their Delaware Senator and urge them to either table SB 242 or vote no today.  The more I thought about this legislation, the more disturbed I am with it.  Say the Pay For Success program an investor initiates does not reach its objectives.  The state won’t pay the investor for this “project”.  But what happens with all the data collected during the program?  Does the investor get to keep that?  As we all know, in the 21st Century, data is currency.  It is bought and sold all the time.  When that data concerns children, we have cause to worry.  The whole point of the “investment” could very well be the data collection that comes with it.  We see massive data collection on pre-schoolers in these kind of programs going on across the country.  Investors love social-emotional learning and are investing millions of dollars for that treasure trove of data collection on students.  Children.  Think about that.

Let this sink in for a minute- the person pushing this the most is a DuPont.  A member of a family that is worth billions of dollars.  Someone with deep connections and the ability to snap their fingers so things go his way.  His brother already runs Zip Code Wilmington, a coding school.  There runs the Longwood Foundation.  He is heavily involved in the Delaware Community Foundation which funds the Rodel Foundation.  We need to wake up and question motivations here.  They are already “invested” in Delaware education.

Good evening distinguished members of the Delaware Senate,

I am urging you to table Senate Bill #242.  This bill, dealing with Pay For Success programs in Delaware, is being fast-tracked through the General Assembly. 

My concerns with the bill are the eventual forays Pay For Success programs will make into public education.  While this bill is being touted as an economic development bill (which I support), it will also be used for “social programs”.  There are not enough safeguards in this bill to prevent potential fraud and abuse.  I also believe any programs like this, that would use our children as guinea pigs for an investor, is fundamentally and morally wrong.

I have put out the call for Delaware citizens to attempt to stop this bill.  But given that it was introduced Tuesday, released from committee today, and will be on the Senate Ready list tomorrow does not fill me with hope.  I attended the committee session today and voiced my concern.  I was pretty much told to trust the system and if problems arise those could be fixed later on. 

This is a huge program that the general public knows NOTHING about.  It was put in a committee that does not usually generate much citizen traffic aside from lobbyists.  There was no big splashy article from the News Journal on this bill as we see so often with other bills.  It is my contention the intention was to get this through as soon as possible which is not a sign of transparency whatsoever.

I put up an article on Exceptional Delaware tonight which goes more in-depth with my concerns.  I urge you to table this bill or even vote no on it.  I am not opposed to some parts of the bill, but I believe it should be held over until the 150th General Assembly.  Let the public weigh on it.  Let’s do some research into who this benefits.  Please, let’s look at some of the very controversial ways programs like this are being used.  The Salt Lake City program, run by Goldman Sachs, is praised by the investment community.  But the data in that program was flawed to begin with.  And it dealt with finding ways to reduce future special education services for students with disabilities.

I respect both the prime sponsors on this legislation, but it needs to be looked at very carefully before we rush into this sort of thing.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

Dover, DE

I contacted Mike Matthews from the Delaware State Education Association and urged him to have DSEA weigh in on this bill.  After I emailed all the Delaware Senators, I forwarded the email to all of the State Representatives.  I begged them to do what is right and to do their due diligence with this legislation should it pass the Senate.

Good evening members of the Delaware House of Representatives,

I sent the below email to every single member of the Senate.  Several other Delaware citizens are sending similar emails to them as well.  If this bill should happen to pass the Senate tomorrow with no changes, it would fall on the House to do what is necessary.  I am not 100% opposed to this bill.  But there are very real dangers that will come out of it.  We talk about unintended consequences with education all the time.  While this is not an education bill, it will dip into that sector.  Please do what is right.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

Dover, DE

I spread the message far and wide last night.  The clock is ticking.  If you want to take action and contact your Delaware Senator but aren’t sure who they are, please go to this map: Who is my Delaware State Senator?

I have no doubt defenders of the bill are emailing the Senate at this very moment saying things like “This is a great bill that will help the Delaware economy”, or “This is from a blogger who thinks everything in education has some nefarious motive”, or “Just ignore him”.  So I will ask the Delaware Senate this question: do you value children or profits?  Because you have the chance to do something good here.  To do what is right.  Do it!

The Senate adjourns at 2pm today.  It is #7 on their agenda but bills can be switched around.  Time is running out…

Uh-Oh! Financial Trouble At Delaware Charter Schools Network?

In a recent email to parents, the Delaware Charter Schools Network asked parents to donate money to keep them going. They have been around for well over a decade now and they have never tried to raise funds like this to my knowledge. They normally receive funds from the Delaware charter schools that send annual dues and grants from other non-profits like the Rodel Foundation or the Longwood Foundation.

As we end the week, we begin something new! As the only Charter Support Organization in Delaware, the Delaware Charter Schools Network advocates for and supports all of our schools – but as I have told you all before, we cannot do it alone. We need support too. To that end, today we are launching our first-ever crowdfunding campaign! Our goal is to raise a total of $20,000 to help us with programming that we provide.

Because it is our first campaign, we thought it might be easier to break this into milestones – and our first is to raise $5,000 in the first week. Would you consider becoming one of our first supporters to help make it happen?

While $20,000 doesn’t seem like a ton of money for a non-profit, I have to wonder what the sudden need is for extra money? Did the rent go up at 100 W. 10th St. in Wilmington? Did they lose funding from one of their grants? Are some charter schools deciding not to pay their dues?  Did their lobbying costs go up?

On the website for this campaign, it talks about how DCSN holds the Public School Choice Expo each year up in New Castle County. It appears they will have two in New Castle County, one in Kent County, and one in Sussex County this year as well.  The campaign, hosted by a company called Funderbolt, isn’t listed on the DCSN website which I found rather odd.  I would think they would put a link to it on there as well if they need this money so bad.  Even more odd, for a crowd-funding organization devoted to raising funds for schools, they can’t even spell the word “philanthropy” right.

To date, the campaign received three donations totaling $75.00.

While it is certainly legal for DCSN to hold this kind of campaign, and other organizations like the Delaware PTA rely on parent dues for their existence, this kind of outreach is unprecedented. Is this a sign that the charter world in Delaware is struggling?  Or did Kendall Massett see the cash-cow that is Basis Charter Schools in Arizona where they ask parents for $1,500 a year to “support teachers”?

Attorney General Opinion On Delaware Pathways Steering Committee Issued Today Is Sloppy, Inconsistent, & Incorrect

On October 7th, the Delaware Pathways Steering Committee held their first meeting with no public notice or an agenda put up 7 days prior to the meeting as required by Delaware state code.  In August, Delaware Governor Jack Markell issued an Executive Order creating this public body.  The only reason I found out about it was due to tweets from the Rodel Foundation and Mark Brainard of Delaware Tech.  I promptly filed a FOIA complaint on October 11th.  Seventeen days later, the Delaware Attorney General’s office has already responded to the FOIA complaint.  To put this in perspective, I filed a FOIA complaint last March which just had the Attorney General opinion issued last week.  BI submitted another FOIA complaint around that same time period and there has been no official opinion released from the Attorney General’s office.  But Alison May from the Delaware DOE did respond in record time with their side of the complaint, but she has before.  So why was this FOIA complaint rushed?

Below is my original request, the acknowledgment from the Attorney General’s office, the Delaware DOE’s response to the complaint, and the opinion on the FOIA complaint issued today.  As well, I am including an email that was still in draft form disputing the facts provided by Alison May in the Delaware DOE’s response.  I truly believed I had more time given the turnaround time on FOIA complaints coming out of the AG’s office but this one had a lightning fast response.  Given the below findings and other inconsistencies with their opinion, I believe this was a very rushed job they wanted to put to bed fast.  But that opens up a whole other can of worms…

Original FOIA Complaint, issued 10/11/16

From: Kevin Ohlandt [mailto:kevino3670@yahoo.com]
Sent: Tuesday, October 11, 2016 9:23 AM
To: OpenGovernment (DOJ) <OpenGovernment@state.de.us>
Subject: FOIA Complaint

 

 Good morning,

I am submitting a FOIA complaint in regards to the newly created Pathways Steering Committee.  This body came out of Executive Order #61, issued by Governor Markell on Thursday, August 11th, 2016.  While there was nothing anywhere indicating they were holding a meeting, tweets appeared on October 7th suggesting the body met as a group.  This is a state group, created by an elected official.  Yet there was no posting of the meeting or an agenda.  Attached are screen shots of the tweets posted by Mark Brainard and the Rodel Foundation of Delaware.  

I take this violation very seriously.  For a group that is supposed to be all about students, I find it ironic they would operate in secrecy with no ability for the public to attend.  This does not translate into anything close to an open government.  

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

9 Crosley Court

Dover, DE 19904

On October 12th, the Delaware Attorney General acknowledged receipt of my FOIA Complaint

October 11, 2016 Correspondence Regarding the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee

VIA EMAIL

 

Mr. Kevin Ohlandt

9 Crosley Ct.
Dover, DE 19904
kevino@yahoo.com

RE:     October 11, 2016 Correspondence Regarding the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee

Dear Mr. Ohlandt:

            This will acknowledge receipt of your correspondence regarding the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee (the “Committee”), received on October 11, 2016, alleging certain violations of the open meetings provisions of Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act, 29 Del. C. §§ 10001-10007 (“FOIA”). We treat your correspondence as a petition for determination pursuant to 29 Del. C. § 10005.  We are forwarding your correspondence to the Committee’s counsel, asking that they respond to your allegations by October 19, 2016.  When we have received the Committee’s response, we will determine whether additional information from either party is required and decide what further action, if any, is appropriate.

Very truly yours, 

                                                                        /s/ Kim Siegel

                                                                        Kim Siegel

                                                                        FOIA Coordinator

KS/ks

cc:        Danielle Gibbs, Chief Deputy Attorney General (via email)

            Michelle E. Whalen, Deputy Attorney General (via email)

            Meredith S. Tweedie, Esq. (via email)

The Delaware Department of Education’s Response to the FOIA Complaint, 10/19/16

Issued today was the official opinion from the Delaware Attorney General’s office:

16-IB23 10/28/2016 FOIA Opinion Letter to Mr. Kevin Ohlandt re: FOIA Complaint Concerning the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee

This is the draft I was working on to send to the Attorney General’s office that I believed I had more time to formulate:

October 26th, 2016

Good afternoon Ms. Siegel,

In reviewing Alison May from the Dept. of Education’s response to my FOIA complaint from October 11th, in the letter provided from her on October 19th, she states the following:

…and the draft minutes of the October 7th meeting (attached hereto, along with the other documents discussed at the meeting) will be posted online by the end of this week.
In doing an extensive search this afternoon, I have not been able to see anywhere in the State of Delaware, on the Delawarepathways.org website, or any such place on the World Wide Web where Alison May’s assurance of transparency actually took place.
This attempt at a good-faith effort on the Dept. of Education’s response to the complaint seems a bit odd considering this does not exist.  And while I know the Governor is not obligated to publicly report on where he speaks publicly, the fact that no documentation exists anywhere in regards to this meeting on the internet aside from I wrote about it on Exceptional Delaware and a few tweets from those associated with this group, I find that to be very suspect.  While Ms. May states “this was an oversight on the part of the involved State agencies and organizations and not an intentional effort to circumvent FOIA requirements” in her response, the very minutes she attached to the DOE’s response indicate Luke Rhine from the Department of Education would be in charge of coordinating staffing.  And since Alison May from the Dept. of Education was the responding party for the response to the complaint, that leads me to the belief that the Delaware Dept. of Education would have been the State Agency to fulfill FOIA requirements for a public body.  Since they did not, I take issue with Ms. May’s response about not coordinating with other state agencies and do not believe that to be a true statement. In regards to the reasoning for not making this meeting public to the citizens of Delaware, a statement of “oversight” bears little meaning in the contextual framework of following state code.
In a prior FOIA complaint of mine against the Delaware Dept. of Education, #15-IB12, Danielle Gibbs, the Chief Deputy Attorney General wrote:
The DOE provided no explanation as to why the notices and agendas were posted less than seven days in advance of the meetings, and it concedes that the postings did not comply with FOIA.  The DOE also explained that no action was taken by the AFWG at either meeting.  The DOE apologized and said it would “endeavor to determine the agenda of any future AFWG meetings as of the time of any required public notice of them, and include the agenda in any such required notice.
The notices and agendas for the AFWG meetings held in September violated FOIA because they were not posted at least seven days in advance of the meeting as required by 29 Del. C. §10004(e)(2).  We find that these errors were technical violations that did not negatively affect substantial public rights.[17]  Therefore, we find that no remediation is required.”
Given that the words “substantial public rights” means no action was taken at those meetings, it was during a regulatory process for Regulation 103 where key issues concerning that regulation would have been discussed at the AFWG meetings.  So in a finding that “substantial public rights” did not apply in that situation with pending legislative action, I take issue with that.  As well, in the attached minutes from the minutes for the Pathways Steering Committee, there is talk of legislative action and a discussion with the Delaware General Assembly.
In FOIA Complaint #13-IB05, issued October 1st, 2013, citizens filed a complaint against the Charter School Reform Working Group in regards to having closed-door meetings not open to the public.  In that Attorney General opinion, it states the following:
By letters dated July 31 and August 1, 2012, the Governor extended invitations to a number of individuals to participate in the Working Group as representatives of several public bodies, including the General Assembly, the Department of Education and the State Board of Education, and various private stakeholder groups (the “Invitations”).
While that opinion was an appeal to an earlier complaint, it states the following:
On June 10, 2013, you filed this appeal seeking access to the Working Group’s meeting minutes.  We received a response on July 11, 2013.  The response indicates that the Working Group did not consider itself to be a “public body” within the meaning of section 10002(h), due primarily to the informal nature of the Working Group.

FOIA, with certain exceptions not relevant here, establishes a public right to inspect all “public records” and requires that all meetings of public bodies be open to the public.4   FOIA’s “open meeting” provisions call for advance notice to the public of all public meetings and require public bodies to prepare and make available to the public agendas for and minutes of their public meetings.5

Section 10002(h) provides substantial guidance as to the types of entities and bodies encompassed within the phrase “body of the State.”  That concept, as used in FOIA, includes, among other things, any “group . . . appointed by any . . . public official of the State” that was “impliedly or specifically charged” with making recommendations.9   The Working Group was a “body of the State” within the meaning of section 10002(h).

But the key part from this opinion rests on the following and is key to my own FOIA complaint:

First, this Office consistently has rejected arguments that FOIA’s applicability hinges on adherence to formalities in the creation of a public body, lest FOIA’s goals of openness and government accountability be subverted.14

This was where my draft ended which I fully intended on doing further research on in the next week.

Now here are my issues with the Attorney General’s response to the FOIA complaint.  First off, in Alison May’s response from the Delaware DOE, she said it was under the Delaware Dept. of Education’s control to issue the agenda.  However, in the link on the FOIA complaint, we see an Agenda created on 10/17/16, ten days after the meeting, and it was issued from Governor Markell’s office, not the Delaware DOE.  Furthermore, if this was indeed a public body, why was there no agenda item for public comment?  As well, the minutes submitted by Alison May in the DOE’s response to the FOIA complaint are actually different than those that appear on the Googledrive website.

In the original minutes, submitted with Alison May in the Delaware DOE response to my FOIA complaint, it states the following:

Dr. Brainard charged Mr. Rhine to conduct outreach to Steering Committee members to review the draft strategic plan and collect additional input;

Dr. Brainard charged Mr. Rhine to develop a transition report for partnering state agencies to be used as a transitional tool in planning for the next executive administration;

But in the minutes on the Googledrive for the steering committee, it said this:
Mr. Rhine will conduct outreach to Steering Committee members to review the draft strategic plan and collect additional input;
Mr. Rhine will develop a transition report for partnering state agencies to be used as a transitional tool in planning for the next executive administration;
While the two items look very similar on the surface, the action of taking out Dr. Brainard from the updated minutes which were created on October 24th by Luke Rhine, which the Googledrive suggests that no action was directed to Luke Rhine, the main Delaware Dept. of Education representative, when in reality it was.  This change is substantial.  The opinion issued today states that no action was taken at this meeting so the perception that no “substantial public rights” violations occurred by not making a public body meeting public is visibly changed between the two meeting minutes.  As well, if the Delaware DOE is the state entity that answered the FOIA complaint and is in charge of posting information about it, why is there absolutely nothing on the Career and Technical Education portion of their website?
We are also expected to believe the minutes and agenda they presented are accurate when they were created at the earliest, six days after the meeting, and at the latest, seventeen days after the meeting:
dtccgoogledrivepathways
As well, the response from the Attorney General’s response today shows a link to a website that was not included in the original DOE response to the complaint which means there was further communication between the Attorney General’s office and the parties to which I issued the FOIA complaint against.  In all other FOIA complaints I have submitted, I have been a party to those communications every single step of the way but not with this one.
The Deputy Attorney General who wrote this opinion, Danielle Gibbs, handled a FOIA opinion from a complaint I submitted in 2015.  She made sure I received all communication from the Delaware DOE on that every single step of the way.  But this time I guess I wasn’t so blessed.  She actually wrote in the FOIA opinion issued today:

Moreover, as you note in your Petition, certain members of the Committee published photographs of its meeting on social media either, contemporaneously or immediately following the meeting. We find this to be inconsistent with an intentional failure to adhere to FOIA’s open meetings provisions. We see no evidence of an intent – by the Governor or any other Committee member – to circumvent FOIA. Nor do we see an ongoing pattern of FOIA non-compliance which might warrant extreme remedy.

Here is a newsflash for the Attorney General’s office: having a non-profit foundation and a member of the committee post tweets about a non-transparent meeting of a public body issued by a Governor’s Executive Order, does not point either way towards an intentional failure to adhere to FOIA’s open meetings provisions.  What it shows is someone tweeting.  So to give this extra bearing in a legal opinion about something that was already established to be under the Delaware Dept. of Education’s responsibility is misleading at best.

When you go to this website, there are also extensive plans and reports, involving millions upon millions of dollars of funding.  I would think that would be crucial for the public to see.
pathwaysstrategicplan
To see these large amounts of funds being talked about over the next three fiscal years, please go here: DE Pathways Priority 4 Funding Plan 10/6/16.  Feast your eyes on this document, created on October 6th, one day prior to the Steering Committee meeting.  Furthermore, the two entities planning this funding are not even state agencies, they are 3rd party non-profit companies: United Way of Delaware and the Rodel Foundation.
We have three entities involved with this FOIA complaint: the Delaware Dept. of Education, Governor Markell’s office, and Delaware Technical Community College.  How did the college get involved?  If you look at the Googledrive, the website is listed as:
This is a Del Tech website.  Why is Del Tech storing the minutes for this when it is supposed to be under the authority of the DOE?  And why is Markell’s office issuing the agenda (ten days after the fact)?  When I do a Google search for the past month using “pathways” “steering committee” “dtcc” and “minutes”, nothing comes up on the search.  So how would anyone be able to find these minutes without seeing them in a response to a FOIA complaint?  Even if I take out “dtcc” and replace it with “Delaware” nothing comes up.  Furthermore, there is nothing in the meeting minutes even discussing minutes or where these minutes were to be stored for public consumption.  I believe this to be a very sloppy response from all parties involved and further contend this Pathways Steering Committee is not making a good faith effort with transparency.  By allowing this public body to be open to the public, all three parties involved seemed to have communicated extensively with each other after I filed a FOIA complaint.  I will also add that additional communication provided by the other parties to the Delaware Attorney General’s office needs to be provided to me by the Delaware Attorney General’s office post haste.  The Attorney General opinion states it reviewed the website of the Steering Committee but the only way they would have been able to review that was by getting a link for it.  Since there is no viable way to search for this Steering Committee through internet search engines, I contend they were given this website by someone involved with it.
This Pathways Steering Committee, that is making gigantic decisions about students, in secondary and post-secondary setting, with plans for huge amounts of money at state and local levels, is all about substantial public rights.  When the General Assembly decided not to move forward with the Pathways Steering Committee as sponsored by Senator David Sokola with Senate Bill 277, Governor Markell took it upon himself to issue an Executive Order to create this committee.  When our Governor doesn’t get his way with the General Assembly, it seems he has the authority to bypass that with Executive Orders.
What is the point of a FOIA complaint if the Delaware Department of Justice, under the control of the Delaware Attorney General, has no ability to do anything substantial or with any consequences in regards to a FOIA complaint?  Why did they rush through the opinion on this FOIA Complaint without really checking into everything?  Why was there (in my view) an intentional attempt to lock me out of communication concerning this FOIA complaint when that has not happened in the past?  These are the things I want answers for, as well as Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn himself to issue a statement that this public body has to reconvene their October 7th meeting so the public is well aware of this Steering Committee that is deciding the future of thousands of Delaware students with significant amounts of taxpayer funds.
Updated, 4:53pm, 10/28/16: Since I finished this article, I can now see on the Delaware DOE website where they did a link to this on their website.  But it is filled with completely wrong information, as seen below.  First off, this is not a “task force”, it is a “steering committee”.  Second, it was not passed into law on June 14th, 2016 through Senate Bill 277.  It became law through Governor Markell’s Executive Order #61, issued on August 11th, 2016.  Senate Bill 277 was released from the Senate Education Committee on June 15th, 2016, but it never came up for a vote with the full Senate and the bill died as of the end of the 148th General Assembly on July 1st, 2016.
dedoetaskforces

What’s So Bad About Educational Technology? Beware The Poverty Pimps!

Ed Tech.  It is everywhere.  Like the Vikings of yesteryear, it is invading every classroom in America.  It is pillaging the public education village.  For the Vikings, this was their way.  It was all they knew.  But for the Poverty Pimps, the companies who profit from students with the justification of fixing education for poor kids, it is disturbing on many levels.  If this technology is used in moderation and for the sole benefit of increasing the ability for students to learn, that would be one thing.  But companies are making billions of dollars off of our kids.  Even worse, the privacy of our children’s information is suspect at best.  One mom from Pennsylvania, Alison McDowell, has looked into all of this and she has found out a lot about what is going on with this aspect of the Ed Tech Boom.

A Skeptical Parent’s Thoughts on Evaluating Digital Learning Programs

With the school year beginning, questions about digital learning programs and computerized behavior management programs have started to pop up in my feed. Is X program ok? How about Y? Concerned parents are scanning privacy policies and trying to figure it all out. What does this mean for MY child?

As someone who took a symbolic stand and opted her child out of Google Apps for Education last year (and she didn’t seem to come out any the worse for wear for it BTW), I’d like to share my current thinking on this topic. I am not a Luddite, but I am concerned that rather than being taught to use and control technology, many children (especially children in turn-around or transformation schools) are increasingly being put into the position of being used BY technology to further the interests of for-profit cyber instruction and workforce development. I’m sharing my thoughts in the hope of opening up a discussion and to see where other folks are in this brave new world.

For me the bottom line is this: Does the technology under consideration empower students to be the creators of the content? Is the power with THEM?

If the answer is “yes,” then it shouldn’t depend on tracking personalized data to function properly. Sure kids should be able to work on a project, save it, and go back to it, but online monitors shouldn’t be tracking all their data. Students own the work they do. It is their intellectual property. It should remain accessible and editable by them for the purposes of what the child and the teacher are doing in the CLASSROOM-that’s it. Storing student learning with PII (personally identifiable information) in the cloud for some unspecified future purpose concerns me.

Fortunately for our family, the above scenario is the norm at my daughter’s school. Mostly they use GAFE for open-ended word processing and there is a geometry program that allows students to render shapes. But THEY are doing the creating. The work is being done in THEIR brains. They are not consuming pre-determined content and having their micro-data tracked and aggregated.

If the sole purpose of the technology under consideration is to distribute content from an online learning management system based on prior data that a program has gleaned from a student interacting with the program, that is NOT an empowering educational experience.

Others may feel differently, but right now that is my framework for looking at this issue. That, and the fact that technology should not supplant funds for human teachers and there should be age-appropriate screen time limits during the school day.

What we need is more educational sovereignty and less educational surveillance.

In Delaware, personalized learning is pushed heavily by the Rodel Foundation with support from the Delaware business community.  Rodel, a non-profit company, has been pimping personalized learning and competency-based education for years.  I have extreme issues with the CEO of a non-profit being the highest paid education person in the state, with a reported earning of $343,000 as of 2014.  That is a lot more money than the highest paid state employee in education, Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick, who earned $217,000 as of last year.  Every state has similar “foundations” doing the same thing.

Delaware teachers are at a crossroads.  Do they embrace this technology knowing it could eventually lead to the end of their career as they know it, or do they resist it and fade into obscurity as districts and charter schools feel they aren’t supporting education?  The problem is the power  structure.  The teachers who are embracing this technology are regarded as education heroes in the press.  They are considered the “trailblazers” who will lead our children to “college and career readiness”.  They get the rewards and the accolades while teachers in high-poverty schools, who work just as hard without proper funding and resources in bloated classrooms, get labeled and shamed over the state assessment scores.

For parents, their rights to protect their child’s personal information have slowly been dismantled through federal regulations involving FERPA.  Outside contractors with state and local education agencies have certain allowances which allow them to see personal information.  The laws surrounding this are very vague and unclear.  On the surface, they look great.  But the loopholes embedded in these laws are the true tale.  For parents, opt out is no longer about the state assessment.  It is also about education technology.  But how does a parent opt their child out of entire curriculums that use computers and hand-held devices?  It’s not like schools can say “that’s fine, we will give your child a textbook.”

As the world slowly begins to embrace Blockchain technology, modeled after Bitcoin, serious questions are being asked about how this could transform the education landscape.  And what it means for our children.  Make no mistake, the initiatives and “ideas” are already in play and have been for years.  Blockchain is the end of the agendas.  It is the Rubicon of the plans that began in the early 1990s.  While these “futurists” didn’t foresee the exact mechanism of what is now Blockchain, they knew education would become a master and apprentice society, with earn to learn programs replacing the traditional classroom.  Common Core and the high-stakes testing were a means to this end.  We are hearing more and more talk about career pathways and early education.  The role of corporations in these areas is too large to ignore.  We are knee-deep in Education Incorporated, but we are about to be swallowed whole.

Last March, I created a Parent Bill of Rights for Education.  It began as a response to the Center for American Progress’ Testing Bill of Rights.  I found their platform to be insulting to the students, parents, and teachers of America.  Since then, things have changed.  I landed in Facebook jail when I posted this to the same groups I show my articles to.  With no explanation whatsoever from Facebook.  The idea took on a life of its own.  But I need your help.  Please look at it.  Come up with ideas on how to improve it.  Let’s make this a real thing and present it to Congress next year.  We must be able to exert parental control over what is best for our children before that control is stripped from us forever.  To this end, I have created a Parent Bill of Rights for Public Education group.  It will be a private group.  It will be by invitation only, which some may see as hypocritical on my end given my  rants about transparency.  But we don’t want the corporations getting their hooks into this.  This will be created by parents, for their children.  Not for profit or power and gain.  This is for our kids.  Because we love them better than any company ever will.

 

The Teacher Leader Pilot Program Comes To Us Courtesy Of Rodelaware

The Delaware Department of Education continues their self-righteous Rodel led agendas.  In their latest corporate education reform press release, Godowsky and the gang announced the nineteen members of the Delaware Teacher Leader Pilot program kicking off this year.  I find it more than a coincidence that most of the districts who got these positions are very tight with the “Leader In Me” program.  The only districts selected were Capital and Appoquinimink.  Three charters are joining the bandwagon which are MOT, Kuumba Academy and Odyssey.

At their April board meeting, the Capital Board of Education tentatively approved going forward with this program.  But they had deep concerns about setting up competitions in schools.  They cited the very controversial Delaware Talent Co-op Program from a few years ago and how it caused many problems among teachers.  As well, the board was concerned with the amount of time the selected Teacher Leaders would spend out of the classroom and how additional substitute teachers would need to take their place.  The principals of these schools were very enthusiastic about the program.  Both are “focus” schools, one of the latest “turnaround” labels thrown at schools over low state assessment scores.  In a sense, I don’t blame these principals for doing what they can to get their schools out of these false labels put on them by the Delaware DOE.  If you go to the Capital board audio recording from their April 20th board meeting, click on the second audio recording link, and the discussion begins around the 1:22:03 mark.  When asked how much the program would cost, Superintendent Dan Shelton mentioned the stipend teachers would get but also that the training would take up the bulk of the costs.  A figure of $50,000 was thrown around.

The only schools in Capital who are instituting this pilot program are Towne Point and East Dover Elementary.  Towne Point is a huge advocate of the “Leader In Me” program.  Fairview Elementary in Capital also has this program.  Appoquinimink School District brought Leader In Me to Delaware.  Payments for this program are made to a company called Franklin Covey.  Many of the teachers at Towne Point who advocate for this program are also members of this Teacher Leader pilot program.  One of them is also very involved with the Rodel Teacher Council.  I have no doubt this teacher is an excellent teacher, but when you see one name associated with so many things I can not support, it is hard to draw the line between saying nothing and pointing it out.  I fully welcome any discussion with this teacher about anything written in this article, especially the part I write about later on.

The Delaware General Assembly passed their budget bill in late June with an appropriation of $800,000 in state funds going to the recipient districts and charters towards the Teacher Leader program.

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What I don’t understand is how the DOE can move forward with a program that is contingent on approval in the State Budget.  The funds for this state grant weren’t approved until late June.  But here we have the DOE sending out invitations to apply after Spring Break.  For Capital school district, students came back after Spring Break on April 4th.  They gave schools a very short time to apply for this program, a matter of 25 days.  What was the insane rush behind this?  I will touch on this later, but for now check out the press release from Alison May at the DOE:

First teacher leaders announced

Nineteen teachers have been selected to serve as teacher leaders in a pilot program launching this school year. The program is among the first of its kind in the nation to take place at the state level.

Providing this kind of teacher leadership opportunity was among the recommendations of the Committee to Advance Educator Compensation and Careers. During his administration, Governor Jack Markell has championed the creation of a compensation system that makes Delaware educator salaries more competitive with neighboring states and rewards teachers for helping their peers to best support our students.

“Through this pilot, teacher leaders are provided a career pathway that both rewards educators for excellence and provides opportunities in formal leadership positions,” said Markell, who recommended funding for the pilot in his Fiscal Year 2017 budget that was approved by the General Assembly on June 30. “Through these roles, teacher leaders will use their skills to support schools where they need it most: helping other educators develop their practices and better prepare Delaware’s students for college and careers —all while allowing teacher leaders to maintain a foot in the classroom and earn additional compensation without needing to take on administrative roles.”

The Governor joined Secretary of Education Steve Godowsky today at Appoquinimink High School in Middletown to participate with members of the pilot in a discussion about the coming year.

The five teacher leader roles to launch this year will support educators in the following areas:

·         Instructional practice leads will improve the instructional practice of fellow educators using a variety of high-impact support strategies focused on frequent, targeted feedback in educators’ development areas.

·         Digital content leads will help educators build their instructional technology knowledge so more students have access to technology that helps improve their academic outcomes.

·         Instructional strategy leads will introduce new instructional strategies into schools to help educators meet their learning needs and help schools meet their academic goals.

·         Community partnership leads will help students gain access to services designed to improve their physical and mental health, giving them a greater chance at academic success.

·         Instructional culture leads will help schools build a philosophy around culture, discipline and culturally responsive teaching.

Schools across Delaware were invited to participate in the teacher leader pilot. A nine-member committee representing educators, administrators and external partners selected eight schools and those schools created selection committees that designed a rigorous, multi-stage process to meet their schools’ needs and choose the 19 teacher leaders.

Each school is identifying a set of goals that teacher leaders will work toward. This summer, teacher leaders and school leaders came together to meet other pilot participants, plan pilot implementation for their schools, and learn more about teacher leadership to ensure a successful launch this fall.

“Being a novice teacher can be overwhelming at first, especially when it comes to lesson planning and classroom management. That’s why we want to use this new position to target support for our novice teachers in these areas,” said Kirsten Belair, who will work as an instructional practice lead at Odyssey Charter School.

The 2016-17 teacher leaders are:

 

·         Amanda Alexander, instructional culture, Towne Point Elementary (Capital School District)

·         Colleen Barrett, digital content, Middletown High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Chelsea Baxter, instructional culture, Kuumba Academy (Charter)

·         Kirsten Belair, instructional practice, Odyssey Charter School (Charter)

·         Lindsay Bouvy, instructional practice, Appoquinimink High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Michelle Duke, instructional practice, Towne Point Elementary (Capital School District)

·         Carrie Howe, community partnerships, MOT Charter School (Charter)

·         Melanie Fauvelle, digital content, Appoquinimink High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Michele Johnson, instructional practice, Towne Point Elementary (Capital School District)

·         Kris King, instructional practice, Cedar Lane Elementary (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Heather Patricco, instructional practice, Cedar Lane Elementary (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Heather Mann, instructional practice, East Dover Elementary (Capital School District)

·         Shana Noll, instructional practice, MOT Charter School (Charter)

·         Crystal Samuels, digital content, Middletown High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Katharine Sawyer, instructional practice, Middletown High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Krista Seifert, instructional culture, East Dover Elementary (Capital School District)

·         John Tanner, instructional practice, Appoquinimink High School (Appoquinimink School District)

·         Kady Taylor, instructional strategy (K-8 reading), Kuumba Academy (Charter)

·         Tamara Walker, instructional strategy (K-8 math), Kuumba Academy (Charter)

Alison May

alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4006

Last May, educators were “encouraged” to apply for this program.  The Teacher Leader Effectiveness Unit at the Delaware DOE issued an overview of the program along with applications and descriptions of the different categories teachers could apply for:

Based on all of these descriptions, the teachers selected into this program would receive a stipend ranging from $5000-$6000 depending on whether or not the school is a “high-needs” school.  Assuming all of the schools are “high-needs”, that would give each teacher a stipend of $6000.  With nineteen teachers selected, that is a total of $114,000.  So my question would be where the other $684,000 allocated for this program is going to.  I emailed the DOE about this earlier this afternoon.

This program spun out of the Committee to Advance Educator Compension & Careers Committee which spun out of the 147th General Assembly and Senate Bill 254.  In the beginning of this committee, Delaware teachers were outraged because the vendor for the committee, The New Teacher Project (TNTP), suggested Smarter Balanced scores should determine if a teacher could become a teacher leader.  Eventually, the committee ran out of time and the committee was extended through House Joint Resolution #7 in the 148th General Assembly.  The group was led by an employee in Governor Markell’s office named Ryan Fennerty.  This name may sound familiar to some readers.  Another member of the committee, Lindsay O’Mara, former wife of Colin O’Mara, is engaged to Fennerty.  She also worked in Governor Markell’s office as his education policy advisor before leaving last winter to get a job at the United States Dept. of Education.  Delaware or Peyton Place?  You decide!  But I digress…

If you look at the minutes for this committee, the last three meetings have no minutes.  This is where the final votes would be shown on what became today’s announcement by the Delaware DOE.  These last three meetings were held on 5/11/15, 1/29/16 and 4/22/16.  The Delaware DOE obviously jumped the gun on this a bit because Capital’s board discussed their two schools applying for this on April 20th, two days before the final vote took place.  I did email the chair of the CAECC, Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, as well as Donna Johnson, the legislators on the committee, and Dr. Godowsky for a status on these minutes earlier today.  There was also an Educator Work Group as a subset of this committee, and this section of the CAECC website has NO minutes at all for the four meetings that were held between November 2015 to January 2016.  So much for transparency in Delaware.

This committee had a lot of familiar faces.  The heads of the Senate and House Education Committees for the 147th General Assembly were on it, Senator David Sokola and former State Rep. Darryl Scott.  Senator Brian Pettyjohn and State Rep. Joe Miro rounded out the legislative portion of the committee from the other side of the aisle.  State Rep. Kim Williams replaced Scott when he opted not to run again in the 148th General Assembly.  The Delaware State Education Association, Dr. Mark Holodick (Superintendent of Brandywine School District), and eventually, the Delaware Association of School Administrators had a seat at the table.  On the state financial side of things, Meghan Brennan represented the Office of Management and Budget and Controller General Michael Morton from his office.  It is important to note there were no actual teachers on the main committee. 

I’ve heard tales from these meetings and how DSEA fought against SBAC scores tying into these Teacher Leader creations.  I actually wrote about how teachers went to a Town Hall based on this at the Bear Public Library and many weren’t allowed entrance because the library had too many people.  But I can’t find the article.  But needless to say, teachers were VERY pissed off about this.

I have to wonder how many applications were received by the Delaware DOE for this and how many different districts or charters applied.  And yet, we only have two districts and three charters represented in this pilot program.  Appoquinimink is pretty much a grant whore and applies for every grant under the sun (and usually gets it) and is a proud member of BRINC and The Leader In Me program, Capital is an unknown quantity: heavily involved in The Leader In Me, just joined BRINC (the digital blended learning consortium representing 8-9 districts in Delaware), and now this program, Kuumba is one of the darling charters loved by the DOE, the Delaware Charter Schools Network and several legislators, MOT Charter School is one of the Smarter Balanced superstars with high scores (take a look at their demographics), and Odyssey Charter School is… I don’t know what they are.  They have been under my radar for a long time, but I have a sneaky feeling that will change in the coming months.

Now, to be fair, I don’t think every teacher involved with these type of things are evil or the Judas Iscariot of the Delaware teaching profession.  I think they are regular teachers who want to do more but don’t want to necessarily go into administrative roles.  They jump on things like this, or the Leader In Me program, or the Rodel Teacher Council, in an honest intention of diversifying their resume and their professional career path.  But, with that being said, I don’t trust Rodel, or a DOE sponsored program, or the Leader In Me.  I think a lot of them are not in it for kids and teachers and have bigger plans.  And behind all of this, we have Smiling Jack, leading the pep rally behind this latest pilot program.  But what I do take extreme offense to is the arrogance of people who knew 1) the CAECC had not approved the program when applications went out, and 2) the General Assembly had not approved the funding for the program before applications went out.

In the grand scheme of things, $800,000 for a Teacher Leader Pilot Program is not that much money considering the state spends a third of it’s budget on education.  But the danger is when it is labeled a success and the funds no longer flow freely from the state in the form of grants.  In a year or three, when the local school districts are asked to pick up a share and they jump on it because they don’t want to disrupt the program, that is when we will find out the true cost of a program like this.  And as we have more teachers jumping to become a Teacher Leader, spending less time in the classroom with less instruction they are giving students, what happens to the kids?  I believe the Capital board members should have pushed harder against having their two schools apply.  There were no firm answers about what to do with the vast amount of substitute teachers needed to make up for these teachers being out of the classroom.  Not only do you have the teacher’s salary, but you also have an ever-growing number of substitute teacher wages that the districts will  have to eat.  I truly don’t think it is a wise idea to have seasoned teachers out of the classroom up to half the day.  If they want to do this stuff outside of school hours, that is one thing.  But our students deserve better than to have half a teacher.

Oh yeah, there is just one more tiny, itty-bitty, little thing with all this.  On April 21st, Angeline Rivello, the Chief of the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit and also an Assistant Secretary at the Delaware DOE, sent out an email to the Selection Committee of the Teacher Leader Pilot program.  I was able to get this email.  And it is a doozy of an email.

How does a member of the Selection Committee manage to get selected for this program?  Can you answer that for me Michele Johnson?  Why do I constantly see the names of the aforementioned Michele Johnson, Robyn Howton and Jennifer Nauman attached to so much Rodel/Vision stuff and now this selection committee?  Under whose authority did you allow schools to apply for this before any decision was made granting the authority by legislative decree to a public committee or before the funds were even appropriated for this program?  Can you answer that for me Angeline Rivello?  Or do you answer to Donna Johnson?  Because there is a crystal clear reason she was cc’ed on this email.  Who chose the selection committee for a program that, once again, wasn’t even approved?  Your email said there was a chance to get a “wide diversity” of schools but we have only one Kent Country district, one New Castle County district, and three New Castle charters.  How did that work out?  What was the rubric for scoring applications?  How many applications were received?  Did the selection committee read every single application or what it divvied up among the selection committee?

I think it is past time the DOE fessed up on their sneakiness and manipulation. Secretary Godowsky PROMISED a greater degree of transparency and open communication coming from this Department, and all I see are more lies, secret agendas, emails to select individuals with no public awareness, funds committed to things before they are even approved, focus groups or special meetings with no public notice, no minutes provided for certain things, or even links to certain groups (hello Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition).  Meanwhile, you allow charters and districts to allocate money wherever they want with no true oversight, browbeat the auditor’s office until a good woman is put on leave while charters get away with financial murder, manipulate the ESSA regulatory process by claiming to have true stakeholder input when it is really just school administrators and lobbyists, force a school report card scheme on our schools without any regulatory authority to impose it, and have our students take a test that judges everything and the students don’t even take the test.  Secretary Godowsky, I don’t care what anyone says, you are a HORRIBLE Secretary of Education.  This kind of crap makes even Mark Murphy look okay in comparison.  The rot in YOUR Department still exists, more than ever.  This happened under YOUR watch.  I hope the pieces of silver from Rodel and Markell were worth it… 

Angeline Rivello, when I announced Chris Ruszkowski was leaving the DOE, a lot of teachers in this state reached out to me and they expressed how they wanted to give you a chance and hoped the stink from the TLEU would disappear.  It is stronger then ever. 

Donna Johnson, this just once again proves what I have always known: you don’t believe in transparency and you are well aware of everything that goes on in the Townsend Building.  Does your beloved State Board know what you know?  How the hell are you even still employed there?  All of you are liars, plain and simple.  There is no other justification for your actions. 

Governor Markell, you tricked us again. You are a mastermind at turning something that looks good on the surface into a tangled web of lies and deception. If I had my way, I would impeach you even though you have less than five months in office.

If those in Delaware thought maybe I would temper things down eventually, my commitment to exposure in this state has NEVER been stronger.  Every single day I see the corruption and fraud going on in our state.  This isn’t a democracy.  We have the most corrupt and vile state government in the country.  None of this is about our kids.  It is about power, position, and money.  You all need to start coming clean before I find out about it.  Because if you think only a few Delaware teachers and parents read this blog, you are VERY wrong.  You have no idea, no one does, who is watching all of you.  Recording every single thing I come out with, just building a very large and thick file.

And I do have a final item to throw out there.  How can three contracts, which I can only assume may play into the total of $800,000 for Section 362is program which answers some of my questions for the funds involved in this sham, be signed on the following dates: 4/19/16, 4/21/16, 4/26/16, 5/2/16, 5/4/16, 5/10/16, 5/11/16, and 5/23/16?  If these are for this program, and the General Assembly had not approved the funds for this program, how can you have contracts starting before the Joint Finance Committee even released their budget?  Or should I assume the Rodel Foundation will be the one training these teacher leaders?  With funds from the Vision Coalition?  Or should I say Schools That Lead?  Because when I look up Schools That Lead’s IRS 990 tax forms, it comes up with 990s for 2012, 2013, and 2014.  Since Schools That Lead wasn’t really around then, care to take a guess what company comes up?  The Vision Network.  And if this description of their purpose doesn’t fit the bill for this Teacher Leader Pilot, I don’t know what does:

VisionIRS9902014

Care to take a close look at who Schools That Lead’s “partners” are?  Just look at this.  And if you aren’t aware of the backbone behind the Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025, you need to take a look at this.  The Vision Coalition wants us to be “rethinking roles and responsibilities” and that includes teacher leaders and their compensation levels.  Take a look at the contracts above with Teach For America, University of Delaware and Supporting School Success.  Sound familiar based on all this?  Even more fascinating, even though Delaware has paid millions of dollars to the Rodel/Vision education incorporated enterprise, we never see any contracts with them listed on the awarded vendors portion of the state contracts website.  I would have to imagine this contract could land them anywhere from $500,000-$600,000.  Would that be a good guess Dr. Paul Herdman?  With an address at 100 W. 10th St. in Wilmington, DE, it stands to reason Rodel is somehow going to profit off this.

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When I first started digging into education stuff in Delaware, I remember reading an article on Kilroy’s where he wrote about talking with Jack Markell in 2008.  Kilroy wanted to support him, and he asked Markell flat-out if he was going to stop the spread of Rodel into Delaware education to which Markell said he would.  Jack lied Kilroy.  He lied to all of us.  Rodel runs the education show in Delaware.  They have for 12 years.  Every single decision made in Delaware education has been at the behest of the Rodel Foundation since Jack Markell took office.  Together with their order-takers at the Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, the Delaware Charter Schools Network, the Delaware Business Roundtable, the Christina Cultural Arts Center, Governor Markell’s office, and the Wilmington Metropolitan Urban League, they have single-handedly turned Delaware education into a billion dollar corporation.  And our kids lose more and more every single day.  Because their minions have infiltrated every charter, every district, every state agency, and even our General Assembly.  We gave them this power.  Now, it is time to take it all back.

Breaking News: Lamont Browne Leaving EastSide Charter & Family Foundations Academy

The Delaware exodus continues.  Next up: Dr. Lamont Browne, the Executive Director of EastSide Charter School and Family Foundations Academy.  Browne will leave his mini charter empire on June 30th.  This hasn’t been officially announced, but it will be tomorrow night at their board meeting.  The word on the street has him going to Relay Graduate School’s Colorado program in Denver.

Browne joined EastSide Charter School in 2011 after a couple of years as a Principal in Philadelphia.  His goal was to turnaround the struggling charter school.  After a few years under Browne’s leadership, EastSide showed major gains on the former Delaware state assessment, DCAS.  As honors and kudos came to him from Governor Markell and the State Board of Education, the board of EastSide took over Family Foundations Academy after major financial fraud by the two school leaders.  Browne became the Executive Director of Delaware Charter Schools: EastSide & Family Foundations Academy.  For all the growth the students at EastSide had on DCAS, the school did horrible on the Smarter Balanced Assessment last year.  While this was consistent throughout the state, it was surprising to see EastSide near the bottom of the list for Delaware charter schools.

Many viewed Browne as a miracle worker with the growth students experienced at EastSide.  As a former member of the Teach For America Corps, Browne used many TFAers at EastSide.  But the school also experienced a lot of turnover with students so it was hard to pinpoint the exact growth at a consistent level.  For the Common Core standardized testing cheerleaders in Delaware, Browne became the poster leader for school growth in Delaware.  In March 2015, Browne was one of the five participants in the Imagine Delaware Forum.  He also served on the leadership council of the Vision Coalition, the offshoot of the Rodel Foundation.

The timing of Browne’s departure for the Colorado relay program matches with the timetable for Relay going into full operation mode in Denver this summer.  Relay Graduate School, similar to Teach For America, has what many view as very controversial teacher and leader preparation programs.  The corporate education reform movement loves them both.  Browne is a huge believer in teacher leaders elevating to principal roles in Delaware schools.

Obviously, there is no word on who will take over Browne’s title.  Many of the principals at the two charter schools he oversees are new principals with very little experience.  The next few months will be interesting to watch.  Especially when something happens on Moore and Brewington, the former Family Foundations leaders…

The 21st Century Racism That Pits Parents Against Teachers While Companies Profit

Yesterday, a presentation was given to the Delaware Senate Education Committee by the Parent Advocacy Council for Education (PACE) on the highly controversial Component V portion of the teacher evaluation system in Delaware. Component V is the part of Delaware’s teacher evaluation system tied to standardized tests.  The group also felt that the recently concluded DPAS-II Sub-Committee on teacher evaluations was found lacking with a diversity among its members.

PACE is an initiative of the Christina Cultural Arts Center, which advocates and promotes the arts in education. Centered out of Wilmington, PACE is comprised of concerned citizens who feel that parent education organizations are underrepresented by minorities.  The Christina Cultural Arts Center is run by Raye Jones Avery, who also sits on the board of the Rodel Foundation.

PACE began a few years ago but gained more momentum last fall when Elizabeth Lockman began running the organization. As a result of Lockman’s connections and influence in the Wilmington community, the group was able to define themselves and began conducting workshops to gain perspective on education in Delaware.

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The workshops offered different topics in education. Some examples of their workshops included presentations  from or topics on the following: Parent Information Center of Delaware (PIC), members of the Delaware Department of Education Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit, Early Education advocates, the Metropolitan Urban League, School Board governance, Community Schools, Title I Schools, Education Funding, College Readiness, “Opportunity Gaps”, the School To Prison  Pipeline, the State Legislature, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC), the Wilmington Education Strategy Think Tank (WESTT), TeenSHARP (run by former DOE employee Atnre Alleyne), Discipline and School Climate, ACLU/Coalition for Fair and Equitable Schools, and a presentation by Alleyne shortly before he resigned from the Delaware Department of Education.  This last presentation is very important in the context of this article, but I will touch on that later.

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Upcoming presentations include State Rep. Stephanie Bolden explaining how Education Policies become law, the education landscape in Wilmington, School Choice & Climate, Quality: Teacher Inequity & Ed Quality, Readiness: Getting from Early Ed to College & Career, Accountability: Inside Title I & Assessment, and Support: Empowered Parents = Ready Children. In addition, PACE partnered with the Delaware Charter Schools Network on the Public School Choice Expo and hosted the Michael Lomax presentation in January.

The DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee is an offshoot of the DPAS-II Advisory Group. Created through House Joint Resolution #6 last year, sponsored by Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques and Senator David Sokola, the legislation stated the following about the goals of the committee:

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The group met for the first time on September 15, 2015. Based on the first meeting minutes, the membership of the group consisted of the following:

DPAS-II Sub-Committee Members

  • Jackie Kook, (Delaware State Education Association, Christina School District) – Chair
  • Dr. David Santore, (Delaware Association of School Administrators, Caesar Rodney) – Co-Chair
  • Sherry Antonetti, (DSEA, Caesar Rodney)
  • Clay Beauchamp, (DSEA, Lake Forest)
  • Rhiannon O’Neal, (DSEA, Woodbridge)
  • Kent Chase, (DASA, Woodbridge)
  • Dr. Clifton Hayes, (DASA, New Castle County Vo-Tech)
  • Dr. Charlynne Hopkins, (DASA, Indian River)
  • Bill Doolittle, (Parent Representative, Delaware PTA)
  • David Tull, DE (Delaware School Boards Association, Seaford Board of Education)
  • Dr. Lisa Ueltzhoffer, (Charter School Representative, Newark Charter School)
  • Dr. Susan Bunting, School Chief’s Association/(DPAS-II Advisory Committee Chairperson, also Superintendent of Indian River)
  • Donna R Johnson, (Executive Director of Delaware State Board of Education, non-voting member)
  • Delaware State Senator David Sokola
  • Tyler Wells, Higher Education representative
  • The following Delaware DOE members served as staff for the committee:
  • Christopher Ruszkowski, (Delaware DOE, Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit, non-voting member)
  • Atnre Alleyne, (Delaware DOE, TLEU, non-voting member)
  • Shannon Holston (Delaware DOE, School Leadership Strategy, non-voting member)
  • Renee Holt (Delaware DOE, TLEU, secretary for committee)

As well, Senator Sokola’s Aide, Tanner Polce, sometimes sat in for Senator Sokola.

Various members of the DOE attended meetings, usually from the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit.

The biggest recommendation to come out of the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee was reducing the weight of Component V. This part of the DPAS-II Teacher Evaluation system is tied to the state assessment. In lieu of using the state assessment as a measure of growth, the assessment could be one of several other measures. As well, the weight with component V, both parts, would be equal to the other four components. Each one would carry a weight of 20%.

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When this recommendation came out in its full context at the Sub-Committee meeting in January, Delaware Secretary Dr. Steven Godowsky was most likely planning for another big event coming the next day, on January 14th. Neither Donna Johnson nor Chris Ruszkowski from the DOE attended the meeting on January 13th. The very next day, the Delaware House of Representatives knew State Rep. John Kowalko would attempt to get an override of Delaware Governor Markell’s veto of the opt out legislation, House Bill 50. To do this, he would need to have a majority of the House vote to suspend the rules to have it get a full House vote. While that didn’t happen, I am sure Secretary Godowsky was in constant contact with Governor Markell and his Education Policy Advisor, Lindsay O’Mara. Since Alleyne attended the Sub-Committee meeting on January 13th, it would stand to reason Godowsky was notified the group was leaning towards the Component V recommendation. On the evening of January 14th, the PACE sponsored Michael Lomax presentation occurred.

At some point in February, Atnre Alleyne announced his resignation at the Delaware DOE. His last day was on February 29th. On February 13th, an announcement went up on PACE’s Facebook page announcing their next set of workshops.

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At the 2/16 meeting of the Sub-Committee, Secretary Godowsky showed up and listened to the group’s recommendations.

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Alleyne attended this meeting as well. He was very concerned about the wording on part of the draft for the final report of the committee

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Two days later, on February 18th, Alleyne was the speaker at the PACE Workshop on Teacher Quality and Assessment. Without knowing what was said at this workshop, I am speculating that a discussion ensued about the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee and their findings. Keep in mind he was still an employee of the Delaware Department of Education at this point.

By the time the next meeting came on February 29th, it was Alleyne’s last day at the DOE. Several people gave public comment, including two members of PACE: Althea Smith-Tucker and Mary Pickering.

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Alleyne served his last day at the Delaware DOE after this meeting. On March 7th, the day before the next meeting of the Sub-Committee, Alleyne put a post up on his blog, “The Urgency of Now”, entitled “Do #blackvoicesmatter in Delaware schools?” The blog article touched on many points which do show an underrepresentation of African-American students in the teaching profession in Delaware. Citing some other examples that I somewhat agree with, Alleyne brought up the DPAS-II Sub-Committee. In writing about both the DPAS-II Advisory Committee AND the DPAS-II Sub-Committee, he touched on the fact the Advisory Committee had no members of color aside from himself and he was a non-voting member (as an employee of the DOE). But what he did in the next paragraph failed to distinguish between the Advisory Committee and the Sub-Committee:

At the committee’s most recent meeting, a few black parents from Wilmington sat through the meeting and provided comments during the public comment section.

But what happened next made it look even worse for the committee:

After the meeting, they followed up on their critique of the committee’s lack of parent representation (it has one parent representative from the PTA) with the PTA representative. He noted that he agreed we need more parents on these committees. One of the parents pressed further and said, “Well I’ve seen you as the one representative of parents on a number of state committees. You should share the wealth.” His response: (paraphrasing) I’d love to not be the only one on these committees if other parents could learn enough about these issues and systems to be able to participate.

Apparently the two parents from PACE did not like this response. As well, Alleyne, who was STILL a DOE employee at this point (granted, it was his last day), jumped to their defense:

I joined the parents in letting him know that we found that notion offensive. He chided me for not understanding the research and advocating for ineffective and uninformed parent engagement. I retorted that perhaps the problem is we have policy wonks and interest groups advocating for adults at the table. Meanwhile, nobody is asking the simple questions and speaking from the heart about what is best for students.

I reminded him that ours is a democracy that lets everyone participate even if they are seemingly less informed. I also reminded him that the hoops and prerequisites he was promulgating as a barrier to participation seemed painfully similar to hoops black people had to jump through to prove they were smart enough to vote. One of the parents informed him (sarcastically) that she had a doctorate in education and that she was pretty sure she could figure out Delaware’s educator evaluation system–but it shouldn’t take having a doctorate degree to be worthy of sitting at the table.  

I found this assault on the parent representative from the Delaware PTA, Bill Doolittle, to be absolutely unfounded. In my years of blogging, I have met many people involved in education. As a parent advocate with the Delaware PTA and the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, as well as his own personal advocacy, there are not too many “non-educators” who have the resolve, knowledge, and depth of compassion for students that Bill Doolittle has. To turn his comments into an issue of race is very offensive to me. As well, by referring to “we” in his response to Doolittle, he removed himself from the reason he was there, as a non-voting member of the DPAS Sub-Committee, and became Atnre Alleyne.

But since Alleyne never made the distinction between the Advisory Committee and the Sub-Committee in the rest of the article, one would assume there was no person of color on either committee. What Alleyne left out was the fact two of the administrators on the Sub-Committee were African-American.

Now keep in mind, Alleyne had not written an article on his blog in eleven months. But by the time he wrote this, he was no longer an employee of the DOE and most likely felt he could express his thoughts as a private individual. This is certainly his right. But to leave an impression about a lack of diversity on an important education group when he very well knew there was diversity on this committee is disingenuous. I wouldn’t bring this up, but it does play a huge role in what happened after.

At the final meeting of the DPAS Sub-Committee on March 8th, the final recommendations of the committee came out, and Ruszkowski and Alleyne were not happy about them at all.

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As well, members of PACE, Alleyne (now speaking on behalf of TeenSHARP), and a Delaware student gave public comment:

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Now the name “Halim Hamorum” sounded very familiar to me, but I couldn’t place it. I Googled the name and couldn’t find anything. I tried the last name, nothing. Then I tried the first name and Delaware, and several hits came up. Halim Hamroun, a student at Newark High School, was one of the speakers at the launch of the Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025 last September. But I also remembered he wrote a column the same day in the News Journal about the student voice.

I am also a veteran of at least three state test programs meant to improve our educational system, and a guinea pig for various scheduling and teaching methods. Each year there’s a new flavor.

As I sit here writing this, I find myself wondering how a Newark High School student would find out about the DPAS-II Sub-Committee meeting, know exactly what it was about, and be able to attend and give public comment. This is conjecture on my part, but someone reached out to him. He was coached. They knew about his connection with the Rodel Foundation/Vision Coalition sponsored “Student Success 2025” and asked him to speak against the committee’s recommendations. In Delaware education, there is no such thing as a coincidence.

But what shocked me the most about the final meeting was the abhorrent behavior of the soon to be former DOE employee Chris Ruszkowski. His comments, especially suggesting that the committee was conducting secret meetings and “hoodwinked” the process and goals of the legislation is absolutely preposterous, especially coming from one of the most controversial employees of the Delaware Department of Education during Governor Markell’s tenure as Governor of Delaware. We all know transparency is an issue in Delaware, but I have seen many meeting minutes for all sorts of groups in Delaware. The minutes and transparency surrounding the DPAS-II Sub-Committee are some of the best I have seen in Delaware. I frequently look at the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar, and I always saw their meeting notices, agendas, and minutes faithfully listed.

What Ruszkowski may not be aware of is the large amount of DOE emails that were part of a FOIA request by another Delaware citizen that have his name on many of them. I’ve published some, and others I haven’t due to the nature of the emails. I have seen his disdain for many traditional school districts. I’ve heard the tales of his tirades against school districts who opposed his initiatives, such as the Delaware Talent Cooperative. I personally haven’t had any face to face discussion with Ruszkowski, but the one time I did, it was a childish response to a comment I made during the last assessment inventory meeting. I would not be surprised in the least, and this is merely conjecture on my part, if Ruszkowski’s resignation from the DOE was somehow connected with his behavior at the final DPAS-II Sub-Committee meeting.

To read the entire minutes from this final meeting (and I strongly suggest you do), please read the below document. But there is much more that happened after this meeting!

Two days after the final Sub-Committee meeting, Alleyne posted another article on his blog about the meeting. This article, aptly named “Reflections after last nights educator evaluation commitee meeting”, went over his perception of the events.

The committee is also recommending that the use of students’ growth on the state Math/English assessment will no longer be required as one of two measures in a Math and English teacher’s Student Improvement component. This is currently the only statewide, uniform, and objective measure of educator effectiveness in the evaluation system.

Keep in mind this is coming from the perspective of someone who lives and breathes the same kind of education talk we have heard from Governor Markell, the Delaware DOE, the Delaware State Board of Education, the Rodel Foundation, and so many of the companies, non-profits, foundations, and think tanks that make up the corporate education reform behemoth.

What this led to next took many by surprise. PACE, somehow, was able to get a presentation before the Senate Education Committee yesterday. The man who sets the agenda for the Senate Education Committee is Senator David Sokola, the Chair. The same Senator who served on the DPAS-II Sub-Committee. The same Senator who wrote the legislation creating the DPAS-II Sub-Committee. The same Senator whose legislation stated the committee would present their findings to both the Senate and House Education Committees in the Delaware General Assembly. So how is it that a parent advocacy group from Wilmington presents their complaints about a committee that they didn’t really take action with until their last two meetings, well after the recommendations were put forth, is able to give a presentation to members of the Senate Education Committee, before the DPAS-II Sub-Committee even presented their final report to either Education Committee? And from what I’m hearing, the committee hasn’t even had a presentation date scheduled!

I attended the Senate Education Committee meeting yesterday, and I heard what Mary Pickering, who spoke on behalf of PACE, had to say. As well, a handout was given to members of the education committee and I was graciously given a copy. This document was written on March 31st, but nothing shows up anywhere online about it. PACE does not have a website, just a Facebook and Twitter page. I copied the entire document, but to prove its authenticity, I did take a picture of part of the first page:

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March 31, 2016

 

To The Members of the Delaware Legislature:

The Parent Advocacy Council for Education (PACE) is an organization whose mission is to raise awareness among parents and people who care about the need to improve public education across the state of Delaware, and in particular, for students living in the city of Wilmington.

Earlier this year PACE became aware of the DPAS-II subcommittee (created through HJR 6) and their efforts to recommend changes to Delaware’s teacher evaluation system. We began attending these meetings, sharing our perspectives as parents during the public comment porting of the meetings, and asking questions.  How teachers should be evaluated in Delaware was the focus of this committee, a very important topic that will impact all Delaware teachers, parents, and students.  Yet this 14-member committee has only one parent representative, very little diversity, and each of the meetings we attended had little participation from the general public.  The perspectives many parents shared during the public comment portion of the meeting, as well as those we’ve heard from other parents in our community, are not reflected in the Sub-Committee’s final recommendations.  As such, we are sharing this letter in the hopes that you will consider a diverse set of perspectives on this issue. 

As you discuss the future of teacher evaluation in Delaware’s public school system, we would like you to consider the following:

The importance of parent and student voice in teachers’ evaluations: Parents and students had very little voice in the DPAS-II Sub-committee process and have no voice in teachers’ overall evaluation process. Although this was mentioned in the Sub-Committee numerous times, our request was excluded from their recommendations.  Parents and students can offer unique perspectives on their experience with various teachers that will complete the picture of a teacher’s overall performance.  Parents are routinely subjected to surveys, none of which ask about our children’s experiences in the classroom.  Although all teachers receive ratings through the DPAS-II system, this information is not made available to parents to make informed decision and protect against inequities in schools.  We ask that you emphasize the importance of parent and student voice by adding a requirement that parent and/or student surveys be included in our Delaware teacher evaluation system.  We also ask that legislature make information about teachers’ evaluations more transparent to parents.

The importance of diverse perspectives in decisions about teacher evaluation: The DPAS-II Sub-committee had four representatives from the teacher’s union, four from the administrator’s association, and only one parent to represent the entire state of Delaware parent population. There were no teachers of color on the committee.  Although this committee is a poor representation of the diverse population you serve across the state, their recommendations will be presented as if there is a consensus.  We ask that you show your commitment to diversity by engaging a wider and more diverse set of stakeholders before taking any action on the sub-committee’s recommendations.  We also ask that legislation be amended to allow a more diverse set of stakeholders to serve on the DPAS-II Advisory Committee.

The importance of student learning and accountability for student learning: During the meetings we attended, we were appalled at how student learning took a back seat to the convenience of adults in the system. The committee is recommending reducing the weight of the Student Improvement component and making all 5 components equally weighted.  This would allow a teacher rated unsatisfactory on the Student Improvement Component to still be rated as an effective teacher.  The Sub-committee is basically saying that Planning and Preparation (Component 1) and Professional Responsibilities (Component 4) are as important as Instruction (Component 3) and Student Improvement (Component 5).  It is not clear to us how an education system designed to produce academically and socially successful students, implement an evaluation system that de-emphasizes accountability for student learning.  It is our concern that the recommendations of the subcommittee, if adopted, will widen the achievement gap for the children in places like Wilmington, DE.  We believe there should be an evaluation system that supports teachers, but also meaningful and consistent accountability.  We ask that you show your commitment to student learning and leave the weight of the Student Improvement Component as is. 

The importance of including the state assessment as a part of teachers’ evaluations: The committee is recommending that Math and English teachers no longer be required to use student growth from the state assessment as one part of their evaluation.  State test scores are the only objective measure of student improvements that are consistent across the state for educator effectiveness.  As flawed as the test may be (something we believe also needs to be addressed), it is still the only consistent measure of student growth.  The measures that the committee is recommending to replace state assessments are substantially less rigorous and comparable across the state.  Removing this measure will only serve to remove accountability, widen the disparity among schools, and eliminate the ability to monitor the impact of inequitable funding in disproportionately children of color.  We ask that you show your commitment to creating an objective and consistent evaluation system by leaving the state assessment as a required measure of Student Improvement for Delaware Math and English teachers.

We believe that an evaluation system where 99% of teachers are told they are effective or highly-effective does a disservice to educator professional growth.   It is also inconsistent with the experiences we have (and our children have) in schools each day.  We believe our recommendations will help Delaware create an evaluation system that values student learning, gives teachers accurate information they can use to improve, holds teachers accountable fairly, and values student perspectives.  We would appreciate the opportunity to further discuss our recommendations as the legislature discusses this important matter.  Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

 

Mary Pickering

Advocacy Coordinator

Parent Advocacy Council for Education (PACE)

What I would like you, the reader, to do at this point is compare the handout from PACE with Alleyne’s blog article from March 10th.

This is what bothers me about this whole situation.  I like the idea of PACE. I think the idea of community members getting together, no matter who may provide the funding, in an effort to improve education is honorable.  I love the fact that they are very organized and set up workshops on a multitude of education subjects.  I agree with many of PACE’s goals.

I firmly believe minority students are not always given the same level playing field as their non-minority peers. The African-Americans in America are still marginalized in many areas of society.  But they have also come a long way depending on the path they took.  We have a black President.  We have very successful African-American business executives, both male and female.  In pop culture, the African-American culture thrives in music.  While there are still some hurdles to overcome, Hollywood is very welcoming to African-Americans.

But what hasn’t changed is the plight of inner-city youth. We still have far too many minorities who deal with poverty, violence, crime, drugs, and a gang culture that draws far too many of them away from the potential for success and into prison.  Many of these children have single parents, or no parents at all.  Many of these children are traumatized through the events in their lives.  Some of them, and by growing numbers, also have disabilities.

Somewhere along the way, corporate businessmen decided they could make a profit off this. As a result, we saw the growth of charter schools and school choice.  We saw testing companies spring up overnight.  With funds sponsored by the Gates Foundation, the Koch Brothers, the Walton Foundation, and so many more, education “reform” companies came out of the woodwork.  All of a sudden schools and states were contracting with these companies.  Report after report came out with the following statements: Our schools are failing.  Our teachers were not effective.  The unions were calling the shots.  Teach For America and similar teacher prep programs had better results than regular teachers.  Charter schools are better than traditional schools.  And every single report, every finding, came from one single thing: the standardized test score.

There are many names for these standardized tests: High-Stakes testing, state assessments, Smarter Balanced, PARCC, and the list goes on. But they all wind up with the same results, plus or minus a few abnormalities: they are socio-economic indicators that do not determine a student’s abilities but their zip code.  And many in the African-American community believe it is a valid measure.  In some ways, I can’t blame them.  They have a valid history of marginalization.  There have been equity gaps that still exist to this very day.  In Delaware, we have some schools that do not accept a large population of African-Americans or other minorities, even though the demographics surrounding these schools strongly suggest something is amiss.  These schools argue back and forth that they don’t get the applications from these communities, or the placement test scares them off.  But these are public schools, barred from any type of discrimination whatsoever.  If they have things in place that are preventing any group of students from attending, that is against the law.  But this is Delaware, and we seem to think it is okay as a state to let those things slide.

Which brings me back to PACE. A group, which started with honorable intentions, has been sucked into the madness of standardized testing.  In their handout to the Senate, they openly admit the current assessment in Delaware, the Smarter Balanced Assessment, is flawed.  Knowing that, they still want our teachers evaluated by it.  They feel that the potential price teachers could pay based on those evaluations is less important than the mirage standardized test scores give.  If anything, standardized test scores have widened the equity and proficiency gaps more than anything else since black and white schools.  And this is happening right now, in the 21st Century.

But here is the kicker to all of this. There is one group in education that performs far worse than any minority group.  They are always at the bottom of these lists.  And that is students with disabilities.  I am a parent of a child with a disability.  So no one can say I don’t have a voice or a stake in what is going on with standardized tests.  But we don’t see parents of students with disabilities advocating for these kinds of measurements for our children.  Many of us see them as an impediment to progress as opposed to a road to progress.

I was the first member of any type of media in Delaware to announce the DOE’s Annual Measurable Objective goals for all of the sub-groups in Delaware Education for 2015-2021. I was at the State Board of Education meeting in November.  I saw the document just placed on the State Board of Education website that documented what the Delaware DOE’s growth goals were for all of the sub-groups, all based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I saw immediately what the DOE’s growth goals meant for any high-need student: students with disabilities, English Language learners, African-Americans, Hispanics, and low-income students.

Take a very good look at the below two pictures. Note the growth that is expected out of these different sub-groups on one single measure: the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Look at the gains they will have to make compared to the groups with the least amount of growth expected: Asians and Whites.  Think about the vast amount of work expected out of educators to get to those levels.  Think about the struggles and “rigor” those students will need to get to those levels, if they make it at all (which I highly doubt).  Think about the state assessment, how it is designed, the anxiety in schools based on them.  Think about the vast amount of instruction time that is taken away for these tests.  Time your child will NEVER get back.  Think about the fact that most of us are in agreement that the Smarter Balanced Assessment is a very flawed test.  Think about the fact that the Delaware DOE openly admitted these are the highest goals of any other state in the country.

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Think about this: During this meeting, when I saw these goals, I assumed a DOE Employee was behind this. Her name is Penny Schwinn, and she no longer works for the DOE.  She left in January.  Her title was the Chief of Accountability and Assessment.  When I saw these pictures, I put her name in the title of this article.  After I posted it, I saw her in the hallway.  She had been crying and was very upset.  After the meeting, I approached her.  She explained to me that she didn’t set these goals.  She also explained that they are impossible goals to reach for these students.  I said to her “I know who set these goals.”  She looked at me and said “Chris?” to which I responded, “No, Governor Markell.”  I changed the name on the article since she openly admitted to myself and another person she did not make these goals.  I knew Penny Schwinn ultimately answered to the Governor, so I assumed he made the goals.  Or at the very least, approved them.

Upon retrospection of this conversation and all I have learned since, Governor Markell is a corporate guy. He is a persuasive public speaker and he knows how to sell a product.  But he doesn’t know how to build a product.  This growth model, in all likelihood, came from Chris Ruszkowski at the Delaware DOE.  The very same individual who, along with his second-in-command, Atnre Alleyne, used flawed data in every possible way to perpetuate the myth that school district teachers in districts with high poverty are failing our students.  In particular, students of color.  This is the pinnacle of the corporate education reform movement’s essence for being.  This is the heart of everything that comes out.  They use groups like PACE to further their own agendas.  Both Ruszkowski and Alleyne came to the Delaware DOE with well-established resumes in the corporate education reform movement.  I have no doubt they speak very well to a group like PACE.  They live and breathe the data they read, study, and create every single day.  They were paid by the Delaware DOE, with more money than most of us will ever see in an annual salary, to prove that public school education teachers are failing students of color.  Their data is, in large part, based on standardized tests.

So when I hear groups like PACE advocating for Component V in the DPAS-II teacher evaluation system, I know for a fact these aren’t conclusions they came up with by themselves. The timing of events suggests otherwise.  If you ask people in Delaware what they know about Component V, they would give you a puzzled look and think you were strange.  Unless you are an educator, a legislator, or deeply involved in education matters, it isn’t something that comes across the radar of everyday citizens.  But a group that has had multiple visits by Alleyne and Ruszkowski, who knew the exact right words to say to pull their chain, they would.  PACE came to two of the DPAS-II Sub-Committee meetings with very advanced knowledge of the DPAS-II process within a week of a presentation to their committee by the Delaware DOE employee who opposed the recommendations of the committee.  They were fed the same line of malarkey all of us have been fed.  But groups like PACE are organized and they want to see different lives for the children in their community.  I do not fault them at all for that.  But because they so desperately want these changes in education, they can easily fall prey to the very bad data and myths surrounding standardized tests and educators.

I have no doubt there are issues of racism in our schools. We do need more African-American teachers in our schools.  But to judge the teachers we do have in our schools with the highest needs, based on a test we know is horrible, what message does that send?  Let me put this another way: many parents who tend to advocate for their children the most believe there is an actual barrier to their educational success, whether it is the color of their skin or a disability.  It is very easy to blame a teacher when our children don’t succeed.  And I am sure, in some cases (but not as many as some think), there could be a valid argument there.  But to judge any teacher based on a flawed test that defines a child based on their zip code, color of their skin, disability, or income status is just plain wrong.  These tests are discriminatory in nature.  They are judgmental of our children, their teachers, and their schools.  They are, to put them in one word, racist.

Let that word hang there for a few minutes. Racist.  Standardized tests are racist.  Racism doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing it did twenty years ago.  Racism has evolved.  If standardized tests are racist, and we have people of all diverse cultures promoting them, what does that even mean?

It is the 21st Century version of racism: the sub-groups.  The African-American students.  The Hispanic students.  English Language learners.  Students with disabilities.  Low-Income Students.  Students from inner-cities who are homeless or come from severe poverty.  The children of the drug addicts who are born into trauma.  The children whose father is in prison.  This is the modern form of racism.  We hear it all the time.  We only have to look at some of the very racist comments when any article about race comes up on the Facebook account of Delawareonline.

None of these education groups out of the DOE or the foundations, think tanks and non-profits have the first clue about how to truly change these children’s lives. What they know is how to make a lot of money pretending to.  And it goes all the way to the top.  Do you want to know who has the best shot, aside from the parents of these children?  Their teachers.  The ones who devote their lives to helping them.  Even when they know they have no control over what happens outside of their classroom.  Even when they know they will most likely lose that student at the end of the year when they go into the next grade.  Sure, they get tough over the years.  The teachers in high-needs schools see it all.  They see the poverty.  They see the hunger.  They see the disabilities.  They see the cries for help that come out in anger from these kids.  They care so much more than you think they do.  They know a once a year test can’t measure the sum performance of these children.  They also know these tests are flawed, but the only way they can fight this ideology is by making sure these tests don’t stop their ability to try to help your child.

When I hear advocacy groups like PACE talk about “our community”, it makes me sad. I fight some of the exact same battles for students with disabilities but it seems like we are on opposite sides in the fight.  When I hear civil rights groups blasting opt out and continuing these very sick lines that are force fed to them by those who profit off the lies, I have to wonder why.  When they say “our community”, it is not.  All of us, we are all our community.  There should be nothing that divides us.  Not wealth, not religion, not the color of our skin or our hair or our language or the way our eyes are shaped.  Not our disabilities, of which we are all disabled in some way to some degree.  Not who we love or choose to spend our life with.  We all struggle, in our own ways.

Those with money and power are blinded to the realities of the real world. They justify their decisions because they don’t come from that perspective.  They look at us from their microscopes and think they know how to fix it.  And if they can get their buddies to help them out, to fix all those people below them, then it’s a party.  But they either don’t know or don’t care what kind of damage they leave in their wake.  They measure success by their paycheck.  If they make more money, or gain more power, they feel the decisions they make are the right ones.

This is the new racism. The haves and the have-nots.  The same story but with a much different twist.  This time, they are using children in the biggest high-stakes test of all time.  They get richer, while the rest of us either stay the same or slide down the scale.  We allowed this into our schools, slowly, over time.  We believed the lies they were telling us.  So many of us still do.  But this time, they are playing for keeps.  What they are setting up now will forever divide the rich from the poor and the rapidly declining middle class.  They are the ones telling us what to do.  Telling us our children can’t possibly succeed unless we make our schools do what they say.

Every single time your child takes a standardized test, you are giving them the power and the ability to sever themselves from the rest of us. This will continue, until we rise against them.  Rome fell.  The Soviet Union fell.  And Corporate America will fall.  It is the nature of power.  But until we revolt and take back the stability our children need, we will fight this war.  They will pin us against each other while we suffer.  While our children suffer.  The only way to stop it is to stop listening to them.  Demand our teachers be able to adequately instruct our children without the shadow of high-stakes standardized testing looming over their heads.  Demand our children be given better assessments that give true and immediate feedback.  Demand that if they don’t, we won’t let them take their tests.  We will opt them out.

Whatever you do, don’t ever be fooled into believing that your child or their teacher or their school is failing because of a standardized test. Do believe that the measurement, or the growth to that measurement, is designed to keep your child exactly where they are.  Don’t believe that any standardized test will ever show the vast majority of students as proficient.  They will always give the illusion that the majority of students are failing.  This is how those in power stay in power.  They rely on your belief that they are right.  It is their constant energy source.  This is the way they will keep most of the population in low-paying jobs.  They want to control us.  This is 21st Century racism.  End it.  Now.

When Is The Next Delaware Assessment Inventory Meeting? Why Are They Stalling?

A week ago, I received notice the Delaware Assessment Inventory Committee will meet on April 26th.  Now, I am hearing May 2nd.  This came straight from Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky!  The May 2nd date is tentative.  So what is the hold-up?  It seems to me no one at the DOE really knows what they are doing with all of this.  Why are they the ones calling the shots?  They screwed it all up to begin with.

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The above picture came from Secretary Godowsky’s “Legislator Update”, an email sent to all the legislators in the Delaware General Assembly yesterday.  While this may seem arrogant of me, I could swear they change these meetings to Monday afternoon because they know I will be at work! 😉

For all the hoopla Delaware has made of their beloved “assessment inventory”, they don’t seem to be in a rush to get anything done with it.  This has been in discussion since April of last year, when it was first announced at the State Board of Education meeting.  We all know what it really is: a “solution” to eliminate opt out by giving the people what they think they want (but we aren’t that stupid DOE) and to get rid of local assessments that give immediate feedback and help to guide instruction.

Parents say there is too much testing and I agree with that.  But take what Appoquinimink is doing: They are administering the Smarter Balanced Assessment and then the MAP testing immediately after.  What kind of message does this send to parents?  They will all say “there is too much testing”.  The Governor and the DOE will pounce on that and suggest getting rid of the lesser of the two evils.  Buh-bye MAP tests, hello to the great Smarter Balanced!  This is all rigged and far too many parents believe the lie.

Other “highlights” from the “Legislator Update” include:

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I love the use of the word “investment”.  While I appreciate Dr. Godowsky getting this out there, and it is light years better than anything former Secretary Mark Murphy did, sending out a newsletter instead of actually changing things legislators want are two very different things.  For example, how about House Resolution #22 Dr. Godowsky?  Why do they only put the “good things” the DOE is up to in this newsletter?  I would love to see articles on how the DOE is causing more stress and headaches in our schools.  Putting a pretty picture on a state agency really doesn’t fool anyone Dr. Godowsky.

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It was at last year’s Common Core for Common Ground that Governor Markell gave a very condescending speech to Delaware teachers.  He told them it was the last year before things start to count, meaning the Smarter Balanced Assessment scores being used for their teacher evaluations.  Of course this year, they won’t either.  And everything changes with the Every Student Succeeds Act replacing ESEA.  What teacher in their right mind (those not recruited into the Rodel-DOE-Markell “dream teams” that unabashedly promote Common Core and personalized learning) would show off the very standards and “results-driven” strategies (which is one thing only in Delaware: the almighty high-stakes testing score) to their peers?  It looks like there is free food though.  That is always a way to lure educators into these events.  It wouldn’t shock me if they use all the culinary students in the state to produce the food!  But will they have the chocolate eclairs Rodel uses as bait for Delaware citizens to their Vision 20whatever conferences?

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I can’t wait to see the scores on the “new” SAT.  They are going to plummet because of the Common Core alignment.  But instead of recognizing that, we will see constant reports about how our high school juniors aren’t getting the instruction they need to be college and career ready.  More pawns in the corporate education reform psychodrama.

Delaware DOE Will Severely Punish More Brandywine, Christina & Red Clay Schools Based On Smarter Balanced Scores

Wilmington

As part of a Freedom of Information Act request, the Delaware Department of Education named several new schools that would have become Priority or Focus Schools in an email to the United States Department of Education if the Delaware School Success Framework (DSSF) went into full effect this year.  It won’t, but it gives a very good sign of the entire purpose of this “school report card” scheme: more inner-city schools getting false labels and “turnaround status” based on high-stakes standardized test scores.  One school, far away from Wilmington, which was highly praised by Governor Markell and the DOE a couple of years ago for their reduction of proficiency gaps would have been a Focus School this year because of the increase in their proficiency gap.  Another school that would have become a priority school is already slated to close at the end of this year.  Again, I will stress these schools (aside from the ones with an asterisk) have not been named but would have been if the DSSF went into effect this year.

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Wow!  That is a lot of information from the former Director of Accountability at the Delaware DOE!  This was part of the Delaware DOE’s ESEA waiver request they sent to the US DOE at the end of November last year.  The State Board had just approved the participation rate penalty in the DSSF at their November meeting.  What wasn’t revealed was this list of schools that would have been named Focus or Priority…

ReynaPotlFocusPriority2

Four of the schools labeled as Priority are already Priority Schools.  I find it interesting the other two Red Clay Priority Schools are not on this list.  The Christina School District would have two more Priority Schools based on their DSSF score.  Delaware College Prep did not have their charter renewed and will close their doors forever at the end of this school year.

ReynaPotlFocusPriority3

Booker T. Washington Elementary School?  What?  Isn’t this the same school Governor Markell touted and praised for closing the gaps in 2014 and 2015?  Didn’t Delaware Today just do a big article about the school’s big turnaround?  I have to wonder if Capital School District is aware this school would have been punished again and put back in turnaround status.

Brandywine School District (district code 31) already had three designated Focus Schools this year, but four more would have joined that elite group.  Half of Delaware’s Focus Schools would have existed in the Brandywine School District!  Red Clay would have seen a middle school join while Christina would have another two schools in turnaround status.  Colonial and Delmar both would join the “Focus School Group” based on their proficiency gaps.

When you compare these schools with charter schools based on the actual Smarter Balanced scores last year, the fatal flaw in the Delaware School Success Framework becomes very clear.  Many charters such as EastSide, Family Foundations, Prestige Academy and Thomas Edison had lower Smarter Balanced scores than some of the priority and focus schools above.  But because the DSSF is based not just on the overall scores but also the “growth to proficiency”, the system is rigged to punish schools in traditional school districts.  Why?  Because the Delaware DOE never did what they said they were going to do in their ESEA waiver application:

CharterPriorityRegulation

So even though they named Delaware College Prep as a priority school in their “DSSF” scenario, it wouldn’t happen because to this date the DOE has not submitted any regulations indicating what is in the picture above.  As well, this would account for Focus Schools as well, as seen here:

FocusCharterRegulation

And what is that Focus School Criteria?

FocusCriteria1617beyond

But here is where things get confusing:

TimelineTransitionDSSF

The above states no new Focus or Priority schools will be named in the next two years.  But they will name Reward and Recognition schools.  So that’s good, right?  Wrong.  The whole ballgame changes on August 1st, 2016.  That is when the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) goes into effect.  States will be given a “planning and implementation year” so to speak.  But the key will be in the regulations issued in the coming months.  That is where ALL OF THIS will come into play.  The Delaware DOE was probably about 95% certain the ESSA would pass at the time of this ESEA Waiver application on November 19th, 2015.  So what does this mean?

These are my predictions: The regulations coming out of ESSA will give the states the authority to determine “turnaround” schools based on US DOE “guidance”.  The Delaware DOE will take full advantage of this to keep the plans now in place but also to make things go into effect in the 2016-2017 school year.  Or possibly, they will stall this until the 2017-2018 school year.  They will support this with a re-designed Regulation 103 in Delaware based on the US DOE regulations.  If the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) redistricting plan passes the General Assembly (which I now think will happen), Red Clay will have a lot of priority and focus schools.  And more to be named based on the Delaware School Success Framework and how they calculate things.  Most of them are schools in the city limits of Wilmington.  Around 2019 or 2020, the DOE will pounce on these schools with hardcore priority school MOUs.  If you thought the MOUs in 2014 were stringent, these will be even tougher for the Red Clay Board of Education to work around.  By this time, based on the Smarter Balanced scores (or whatever replaces it), all the Wilmington Red Clay schools will be in Priority School status.  Red Clay won’t close all the schools, so they will be forced to turn them over to the DOE, become charter schools, or be put into a management organization.  And that, my friends, is when we see Wilmington become an all-charter school district.  Over time this will engulf the Brandywine, Christina, Colonial, and Red Clay Consolidated School Districts.  Upper New Castle County will become ALL charter.

Think about the real estate deals that will come out of that.  Think about the collective bargaining rights that are marginalized when a school goes into priority school status.  Think about competency-based education and personalized learning and career pathways initiatives already in place in Delaware and other states.  Think about the huge amount of schools in the country that have already converted to charters, and the vast amounts of money hedge fund managers make off charters.  Think about all the foundations and non-profits that support charters.  Think about the fact that WEIC had to happen for all of this to come to fruition.  Think about how organizations like Teach For America and the Relay Graduate School for Education stand to benefit immensely from a scenario where teachers are no longer teachers but glorified moderators in a personalized learning environment.  Think about the long con and how this would eventually trickle down the state, past the canal, all the way down to Sussex County over the long run.  Think about all the tax break legislation that has gone through in Delaware that Markell has signed so fast.  There could be a lot of new business coming to Delaware.  But none of it will be good for students.

This is the game plan.  The one that Delaware Governor Jack Markell, the Rodel Foundation, and the Delaware Business Roundtable fervently support.  You won’t find any memos or emails about this.  You won’t find any hard or definitive proof either.  It will just happen.  And if you think John Carney will save the day as the new Governor of Delaware, think again…

Guess what the one mechanism is that stops all of this?

OPT OUT

If the state doesn’t have the data needed to carry out all of this, they can’t very well use the results to force all these changes.  This is why Governor Markell and the DOE and Rodel and all the organizations, foundations, and non-profits are against opt out.  Opt Out is the game-changer that disrupts ALL their plans.

How Much Influence On Education Policy Does Rodel, Delaware Charter Schools Network and the DE Business Roundtable Really Have?

“The Markell Administration and the Delaware Department of Education led a number of initiatives aligned with and supported by the Rodel Foundation and Vision Coalition.”

Melissa Hopkins with the Rodel Foundation wrote a very long article recently about the non-profit company’s outlook on the first half of the 148th General Assembly.  You can read Rodel’s Legislative Update article and see which bills they openly supported.  Aside from House Bill 50, which Executive Director Dr. Paul Herdman openly opposed, what other legislation did they fight?  By announcing in this article what legislation they supported, it is very easy to find out what legislation they opposed.  By going to the Public Integrity Commission website for Delaware, you can actually download all the lobbyist activity for all legislation.  I did just that and found all the bills Rodel has registered as a lobbyist for.

Rodel sees itself as some sort of policy-maker and thinks they have the ability to “align” the field with their own interests.  This is very dangerous in the education arena.  They are a non-profit designed to disrupt public education as we know it, and their ultimate goal, along with the other “reformers” is to create more and more charter schools.

What always concerns me about Rodel, as well as the Delaware Charter Schools Network and the Delaware Business Roundtable Education Committee, is how much lobbying influence they have.  Yes, that is the whole point of being a lobbyist.  But it just seems whenever these three get going on certain legislation, there are always problems.  The biggest bills all three of these groups opposed this year were House Bill 50 (the parent opt-out bill) and House Bill 186 (the charter school post-audit accountability legislation).  The good part is these lobbyists have failed to sway enough legislators to prevent these bills from moving forward.  These groups are experience waning influence as the voices of  parents and educators are rising.  But they have certainly made their mark in providing disruption and getting parts they want added to bills.

Take the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  With Senate Bill 33, the IEP Task Force legislation, this bill was destined to make a clean sweep through the Senate and the House.  But once DCSN got their hooks in, the bill found itself tabled, with two amendments, later stricken, and a 3rd one added in.  You can also see what legislation they lobbied for here:

The very fact that the Executive Director of DCSN was able to get 600 emails sent to legislators to oppose House Bill 186 is very worrisome.  Did these 600 “opposers” get all the facts?  No, they received the very tainted and biased views from the same organization that made every attempt to gut this bill like a fish.  As charter school fraud and financial abuse spreads throughout the state, this bill is a no-brainer.  It passed the House of Representatives in Delaware, and will next go to the Senate Education Committee in January.  To openly oppose legislation like this does not seem like the best public relations move, especially knowing that even more reports like the recent Academy of Dover one are forthcoming.

It seems like every time I am at Legislative Hall, I see the same faces: the lobbyists from Rodel, Delaware Charter Schools Network and the Delaware Business Roundtable Education Committee.  The last of these is the most concerning to me.  The Delaware Business Roundtable is a group of businessmen in Delaware who meet to determine how education should be in Delaware.  They aren’t educators, they are big businessmen, with more accumulated wealth than the gap in Delaware’s anticipated FY 2017 budget.  They have no official website, and they are not a public entity.  So you can’t see minutes of their meetings or what they talk about behind closed doors.  In fact, on the Delaware lobbyist website, it shows this:

Delaware Business Roundtable Education Committee, Inc.

c/o Rodel Foundation of DE
100 West 10th St., Suite 704
Wilmington, Delaware 19801

I reported last November, based on the Delaware Business Roundtable Education Committee’s non-profit tax forms, that Rodel runs the show for this organization.  They file the taxes for them, get the mail and act as a management company for this organization.  When I tried to find a listing of their current membership, a simple Google search yielded no results.  This is a level of non-transparency and secrecy beyond the realm of normalcy.  The Roundtable may be great at running their prospective businesses, but I don’t think they should be influencing State Departments and legislators for how education ought to be, especially when we don’t even know who they are.  But if I were a betting man, I would assume most of these companies have someone sitting on this “roundtable”.  But education is not King Arthur’s Camelot.  Big business getting involved in education led us to the creation of high-stakes assessments with funds flowing out of the classroom and into the waiting arms of “consultants” who will “fix” the problem.  But nothing ever gets fixed.

Their lobbyist firm is The Byrd Group.  With the Roundtable, it seems like they send the same three people in for a certain amount of legislation whenever they go to Legislative Hall.  Are they meeting with legislators all at once, or taking turns, picking and poking along the way?  Find out which bills they lobbied for!

Of particular concern to me is the amount of lobbying done on bills sponsored by State Rep. Earl Jaques and State Senator David Sokola.  As the Chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees, these two legislators have a tremendous amount of influence with education bills.  But how much of the direction of the bills under their jurisdiction are influenced by these three organizations?  And who is the fourth factor involved in all of this who is always at Legislative Hall but is not considered a lobbyist because she actually works for the State of Delaware?

Donna Johnson is the Executive Director of the State Board of Education.  Never mistake her for a Delaware Department of Education employee.  She doesn’t like that.  She is at Legislative Hall all the time.  When she isn’t in education committee meetings, she is hanging out with folks, talking away.  She speaks on almost every single education bill that comes before the House and Senate.  But what is very alarming is her very close connection with the three above lobbyist entities.  Is she influencing them or are they influencing her?  Or are they all in cahoots with each other?  I can’t recall too many bills this session that the four were in disagreement with each other over.  Which is very frightening that legislation is made or opposed based on the influence of three non-profits and the woman who runs the day -to-day operations of the State Board of Education.

The legislation that makes a lot of sense, bills that come from folks like State Reps. Kim Williams, John Kowalko, and others tend to be some of the bills that are opposed by the four.  Both Williams and Kowalko are tired of the lack of accountability and transparency by the DOE, and are very wary of the influence the three non-profits have on the state of education in Delaware.

To be fair, there are other lobbyists that hang out at Legislative Hall and do exert influence, most notably Kristin Dwyer with the Delaware State Educators Association.  The organization she works for is charged with looking out for the thousands upon thousands of teachers in our state.  Since so much legislation does revolve around education, and more specifically, the role teachers play in education, I would be shocked if she wasn’t there.  But even DSEA’s lobbying activity on education bills is much less than any of these three.  Other organizations such as the Delaware PTA and some of our universities make appearances.  But these three non-profits are always there.

Parents have no idea how much goes into legislation surround their children in schools, and it astonishes me how much public policy is based around three non-profits sticking their nose in areas where they have a clear conflict of interest.  Even more astounding is the role the State Board of Education and the Delaware DOE play in this quagmire.  Our Governor plays right along, helping to dictate policy and curriculum for our children, oblivious to what is going on in his own state.

An anonymous source, speaking out because they felt it was the right thing to do but was also afraid for their job, said “The News Journal plays right into their hands because if they don’t they lose valuable advertising dollars they desperately need.”

The education four will surely be around in January, fighting the bills that make the most sense, and cheerleading bills that serve their own agendas.  It’s the landscape of education in Delaware now, because we have allowed it to happen.  These are the forces that want Common Core State Standards, Smarter Balanced Assessment, Annual Yearly Progress, Personalized Learning, and Teacher Accountability based on High-Stakes Testing.  We have allowed this “breakfast of champions” to control our children’s lives.

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Pictured are Kendall Massett (back left), Donna Johnson (back right), Rebecca Byrd (front right), and Melissa Hopkins (center front).  This picture was taken at 7:30 in the morning on July 1st, right after Governor Markell signed the FY2016 budget bills following the all-night legislative session.