Ron Russo’s BOLD Plan Regurgitates Old Plans And The Worst Ideas Ever In Delaware Education

Ron Russo, the former Head of School at the Charter School of Wilmington, launched The BOLD Plan today on Facebook.  Using the tag “Education is a business”, Russo managed to take the most horrible ideas ever from the past three decades and put them into a single pile of absolute garbage.  While I don’t think this plan will go anywhere, it is symptomatic of the very same corporate education reform think tank crap that has proliferated American public education and turned Delaware’s school system into a very bad joke. The whole plan can be read below. Continue reading

Ron Russo Lost Me With Jeb Bush, I Think I’m Going To “Go Home”!

Ron Russo, a senior fellow at the right-leaning Caesar Rodney Institute, wrote a blog post yesterday with a BOLD PLAN for Delaware schools.  By even mentioning former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and the Foundation for Excellence in Education in the very first sentence, it was hard to lend any credibility to this piece.  But I read the whole thing out of morbid curiosity.

…Governor Jeb Bush, the keynote speaker, told the attendees that they had to, “Be big, be bold, or go home.”

I would have left at that point and proudly went home.  Jeb Bush has made a ton of money capitalizing off the backs of schools and students.  He is the very essence of corporate education reform.  I give anything he says zero weight.

Russo seems to view former Red Clay Consolidated Board President William Manning as the Messiah of Delaware education:

He recommended a confederation of independent schools each locally managed and free of regulations about who to hire and how to teach.  The schools would be evaluated only by performance data that would be shared with the public.

Manning’s vision created charter schools that do not serve the populations within their district boundaries.  Quite a few Delaware charters have selective enrollment preferences that seem to further segregation and push out kids with high needs.  Manning was the lead attorney in the lawsuit against the Christina School District when charters that serve Christina students sued the district to get more money per student.  Eventually the lawsuit wound up becoming a settlement that further stripped funds away from the district.  Russo’s BOLD PLAN is modeled after the original charter school bill, Senate Bill 200:

The Caesar Rodney Institute is supporting a systemic change to our education bureaucracy called the “BOLD PLAN”.  It significantly alters the way the current education system operates by empowering the individual schools to make operational decisions to best serve their students.

In theory, this would be a great idea.  However, Russo lost me yet again when he brought up the VERY controversial priority schools as a potential model for this plan:

CRI’s BOLD PLAN incorporates the best features of the 1995 Charter School Law and the Memorandum of Understanding designed by Delaware’s DOE for Priority Schools.  If the changes proposed in the MOU were expected to raise the performance of the state’s lowest performing schools, why wouldn’t those changes be offered to all public schools?

Sorry Ron, but the priority school Memorandums of Understanding were absolutely horrible and did more to create parent backlash in Wilmington than anything seen before.  So what would this plan consist of?  Therein lies the rub:

BOLD legislation would specify areas of local decision-making.  Such areas would include: 1) Authority to hire and dismiss all staff; 2) All programing inputs (school calendar, schedule, curriculum aligned to Delaware standards, instructional practices and methodology, textbooks, technology, etc.); 3) Marketing and planning; 4) Support services including transportation, food, and maintenance; 5) Budget preparation and expenditure control with surplus operating funds retained by the school.  Schools will have autonomy from any district or Delaware DOE requirements not mandated by state or federal law.

This legislation has more holes than a donut shop.

  1. What happens if the board membership or the Superintendent of the district is not operating under normal parameters of their function?  What if personal grudges get in the way of a sound decision to hire or dismiss all staff?  Delaware is a small state and conflicts of interest are well-known in this state.
  2. You lost me at “Delaware standards”.  If you truly want to give local education authorities the coveted local control, they would be free to set their own curriculum without being tied to any type of standard pushed down from the state or federal government.  I have yet to see any indication Delaware will get rid of Common Core which was created under false pretenses.
  3. Don’t they already do this anyway?
  4. See #3
  5. That would not be a good thing.  Delaware charter schools already keep their surplus transportation funds in a sweetheart deal with the General Assembly and there is no apparatus to make sure those funds are being used with fidelity.  What is the point of even having a district or charter board if the school can do whatever it wants with extra money?  This proposal sounds like anarchy.

Russo’s logic becomes even more confusing when he casually drops the Rodel Visionfests and Race To The Top into his conversation:

The BOLD PLAN complements Delaware’s other education improvement efforts (Visions, Races, etc.).  In fact, it may even complete them.

I don’t think completion of those plans is something anyone in Delaware really wants.  Race To The Top was an unmitigated disaster with funds going to the state Department of Education more than local school districts.  The Vision Coalition goals further perpetuate many bad corporate education reform policies.  It is hard to take anything they do seriously when the CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, Dr. Herdman, makes over $345,000 a year.

Ironically, Russo channels Dan Rich who has been very involved with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s proposed Wilmington redistricting.  But Russo doesn’t bring him up in any way related to that endeavor but rather his involvement with the Vision Coalition:

At the very first Vision 2015 meeting hosted by Dan Rich, then Provost of the University of Delaware, he ended the meeting by telling the attendees that if they wanted to improve Delaware’s public schools they had to be bold and, if they didn’t want to be bold, they should get out.  Hmmmm, it seems that Dan was way ahead of Jeb.

Comparing Rich to Jeb Bush almost seems insulting.  Of course, any education push should be bold.  But by telling people if you don’t like it to “get out” or “go home” it is essentially saying if you don’t agree with us we won’t give you the time of day.  That is NOT the way education issues should be ironed out and only creates more of a divide.  The Delaware charter school experiment, now well into it’s third decade, has met with very mixed results.  It has not been the rousing success the forefathers of the original legislation thought it would be.  Why would Delaware even entertain this idea based on that?  And lest we forget, all this imaginary “success” is based on standardized test scores, of which Delaware has gone through three different state assessments since then.  Sorry Ron, but this is not a BOLD PLAN.  It is an old plan, that just plain doesn’t work.

I have to wonder about the timing of this article.  The Caesar Rodney Institute has long been a fierce supporter of school vouchers.  Delaware has been very resistant to that system under Democrat control but under the Trump administration and the appointment of Betsy DeVos as the U.S. Secretary of Education, it is not surprising to see Russo coming out with this type of article.  President Trump and DeVos want a federal school voucher system that has already met with disappointing results in several states.

Mike Matthews & Frederika Jenner Get The Spotlight In Vision Coalition Video

Mike Matthews, the President of the Red Clay Education Association, and Frederika Jenner, the President of the Delaware State Education Association, were both featured prominently in a video of the Vision Coalition’s recent coffee meeting. Watch the video below!

Delaware Charter War Part 1: The Birth of Charter School of Wilmington, Counseling Out & Cherry-Picking of Delaware Students

CSWApplication1996

Charter schools.  Two words that bring up a great deal of conversation in Delaware.  For some they have become the savior of public education.  For others they find that they continue segregation in Delaware, are not accountable in the way traditional schools are, and they are the root cause of the corporate education reform movement that has swept across America over the past decade.  In the 1990s, charter schools were created in Minnesota and California.  By 1995, Delaware wanted to take a stab at it.

In 1995, six companies wanted to sponsor a new type of school in Delaware, a charter school: AstraZenaca (then called Zenaca Inc.), Christiana Care Health (then called Medical Center of Delaware), Delmarva Power, DuPont, Hercules Incorporated and Verizon (then called Bell Atlantic). They infused a $600,000 commitment into the school launch. Red Clay Consolidated School District President of the Board William Manning, and St. Marks Principal Ron Russo, were sold on the idea. Originally, they wanted to house the Charter School of Wilmington at The Pines in Pike Creek, a northern suburb of Wilmington, but local residents rejected this idea.  Why not turn Wilmington High School into a charter school? They wanted to offer parents different choices for education that did not involve parents shelling out tons of hard-earned money for private schools.  The school already housed two magnet schools at the time: Cab Calloway School of the Arts and the Academy of Math & Science. The plan was to have Charter School of Wilmington replace the Academy. But first the concept of charter schools in Delaware had to become part of state code.

Enter Senator David Sokola, who sponsored Senate Bill 200. At the time there was no Rodel Foundation, Delaware Charter Schools Network, Innovative Schools, or any charter organization in the state. There were no high-stakes standardized tests at this point. Governor Carper was getting a lot of pressure to change education in Delaware. Reform efforts already began which put Delaware in the spotlight for the first time in a long time.

To get to the story of how CSW began, we have to look even further back at the landmark decision made in 1978.  If folks think four school districts is too much for Wilmington, back then there were eleven! After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which demanded the dismantling of “black” school districts, Wilmington schools were desegregated based on a court ruling called Evans v. Buchanan in 1956. The schools integrated and by 1967 there were no more black school districts in Delaware.

The demographics of Wilmington changed drastically since Brown v. Board of Education. In seventeen years, Wilmington went from 73% white in 1954 to 79% black by 1971.  Dubbed the “white flight”, Wilmington changed dramatically in less than two decades.

The concept of desegregating schools in Delaware was not native to Wilmington.  According to Gene Capers, a retired principal from Towne Point Elementary School in Dover, William Henry Middle School housed the “black” students of Dover, while Central Middle School had all the “white” students.  In the late 1960s, the district changed the dynamics of the two schools and integrated all students in 5th-6th in William Henry and 7th-8th in Central Middle School, which continues to this very day.

In 1969, the General Assembly approved the Educational Advancement Act of 1968, trimming down the number of school districts in the state from 49 to 26. Wilmington wasn’t a part of this legislation, and in effect, Wilmington became re-segregated. In the 1970s, many schools began re-segregating students. The State Board of Education came up with the very controversial “busing plan”. Schools were forced to accept every type of student and the result was a dramatic shift in the makeup of many schools in the area. Schools were closed, students were resassigned, and parents became very angry. The entire public school district system changed, and parents wanted to do away with the busing requirements. The anger from this gave birth to the creation of charter schools in Delaware.

Senate Bill 200 passed in the General Assembly in 1995 creating charter schools in Delaware.  The bill was introduced on June 1st, 1995, and signed by Governor Carper on July 10th of the same year.  To read the whole Senate discussion on Senate Bill 200, please read the below in its entirety.  Senator Sharp predicted much of what came to pass.

By 1996, Charter School of Wilmington was approved by the Red Clay Consolidated School District. In their application, it stated Delaware required 19 credits for students to graduate, Red Clay required 20 credits, but CSW required 24, and said “We regard these requirements as only a minimum education program.” What was even more frightening though was the part about special education, to which the Red Clay Accountability Committee wrote:

“As the Charter School of Wilmington accepts students, it should be cognizant of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), a federal law which mandates a free and appropriate education (FAPE) for students with disabilities. The charter school plans to seek a waiver from the State of Delaware related to the special education provision…The value of diversity which appears in the school’s mission statement must be made concrete through the provisions of this aspect of the Charter School’s operations. Specification of admission requirements was requested of the Charter Committee and a copy of the application was provided and is attached as Appendix B. It is clear from this application that the proposed charter has met the requirements of the law which stipulate that the charter may not restrict student admissions.”

In fact, CSW may have given birth to the phrase “counseling out” with charter schools, as written in their response to the Red Clay Accountability Committee:

“Students who cannot or will not meet success criteria will be counseled to transfer to other schools. It would be appropriate for students to enroll in the CHARTER SCHOOL at times other than the beginning of the school year. This presumes a minimum of disruption to the student’s schooling. Ideally, any transfers out would be balanced by the arrival of new students. Consideration should be given to having the balance of the student’s funding follow the student to the receiving school.”

The issue of charter school funding is an issue that still haunts traditional school districts to this very day.  State Rep. Kim Williams introduced House Bill 28 this legislative session to address this issue, but the bill wasn’t even heard in the House Education Committee.

While the “specific interest” of CSW wasn’t talked about in the response, it became very clear that the assessment given to students prior to admission was a requirement for the school, but this wasn’t listed in the response to Red Clay.

“In the case of oversubscription, the CHARTER SCHOOL will use the preferences permitted by the CHARTER LEGISLATION; i.e., siblings, Red Clay Consolidated School District students residing in a five-mile radius of the school. Diversity will be achieved by attracting a diverse pool of student applicants.”

The reality is, once the school got to a position of needing a lottery for students to enter, the opposite occurred.  Instead of achieving diversity, the school in the City of Wilmington became the mirror opposite of the population of Wilmington.  When the seventh type posted the original Senate document, some very interesting conversations took place on Delaware Liberal with both sides of the issue planting their flags in the ground over the topics of race and the predictions of Delaware Senators and eventual segregation in Wilmington schools.

For the first few years, CSW accepted applications from anyone who applied. But the first charter of the state was already on the way to becoming the school it is now in terms of demographics. Imagine the old Wilmington High School all of a sudden housing three different schools. On the first floor was Cab Calloway, Wilmington High School on the second, and CSW on the third. Ron Russo, the head of school at CSW, was adamant about keeping the CSW students separate from the Wilmington High students. In 1997, an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer by reporter Connie Langland talked about this new choice option open to Delaware students. Manning was quoted as saying “The nice thing about choice is that it tells you right away what people think of your schools…and what schools require change.”

Langland wrote in the article:

“Another concern is whether the plan will have an adverse impact on long-standing efforts to desegregate Wilmington-area schools. School districts in the Wilmington area have relied on busing to achieve racial balance, but with choice families can avoid an unwanted assignment.”

By 1999, Wilmington High School was no more, and the former home of the Red Devils was now the birthplace of the Delaware charter school and a magnet school.

In the book: Congressional Record Vol. 146-Part 2: Proceedings and Debates of the 106th Congress Second Session from March of 2000, Bill Manning was described in a section on school construction funding that he testified at:

“An attorney by trade, Mr. Manning has been among Delaware’s leaders in proposing and implementing a variety of educational reforms: public school choice, charter school legislation, and rigorous academic standards statewide. Red Clay is currently the only district in Delaware to have reached an agreement with its teachers association pursuant to which Red Clay teachers will be evaluated based on student performance.”

During the testimony, Manning said:

“I believe, as do many of you, that charter schools are already improving the educational landscape by offering variety, quality and single-school focus to those who previously had to pay to get those things. That’s the good news. The bad news is that charter schools are still regarded by the educational establishment in some quarters as the enemy. Thus, the organization that owns our school buildings is sometimes stingy with them when it comes to housing charter schools. Nor do the funding formulae in many state charter school bills provide adequate capital- as opposed to operating- assistance to charter schools. Please don’t overlook them.”

To date, Charter School of Wilmington is the only charter school in Delaware that started (and continues to do so) in a building that also housed a regular traditional school district school. While charters share space in the Community Education Building in Wilmington, no other charter has been able to replicate the success of what CSW did in terms of literally taking the best and brightest out of their own building and sending the others to feeder schools.

As the sun set on the previous century, more charter schools were approved by the Delaware Department of Education and opened up across Delaware: Campus Community School and Positive Outcomes in Kent County, EastSide Charter School and Thomas Edison in Wilmington, and Sussex Academy. One charter, called the Richard Milburn Academy, closed down in 2000 due to poor academic performance and the inability of board members to function as a cohesive unit.  Other charters applied for authorization, and were approved, but never opened.

The idea of charter schools was blossoming from an idea to a new landscape for education in Delaware. The forced busing issue combined with school choice was setting up the battle for the ages, but something happened in 2000 that changed everything for all Wilmington schools.

To be continued…

*Special thanks to the amazing narrative of Antonio Prado and Andrea Miller in http://www.clintdantinne.com/mphs/losthighschools.pdf which provided a great deal of the historical backdrop in this article.  As well, to Mike O from the seventh type who provided a wealth of knowledge in his publishing of the Senate discussion of Senate Bill 200.  I would also be remiss in forgetting the Delaware Department of Education who provided the link to the Charter School of Wilmington’s original application to the Red Clay Consolidated School District.