The Malarkey From Freire Is Very Arrogant!

It is school choice season, when schools across Delaware say “Pick me, we are the best!”  The only problem is when a school pretends they are the best and boasts of things that really aren’t that great to begin with.  Such is the case with Freire, a charter school in Wilmington.

A parent sent me a letter Freire sent to their child.  Way to lap it up Freire! Continue reading

DE Academy Of Public Safety & Security Get 200 Students To Save Themselves From Shutdown

Talk about the last minute!  If the Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security did not have a student enrollment of 200 students by tomorrow, their charter would have been revoked.  They hit that number so they have met their first condition of their probation.  Under 200 students would have meant the school would not have been financially viable as a non-profit public school.  This is “unofficial” but I am hearing this from excellent sources so I don’t doubt the viability of this claim at all.

I don’t ever wish to see any school closed unless there is some unbelievable egregious stuff going on there (case in point: Delaware Met).  I sincerely hope the school can meet the rest of their probation conditions over the coming year or so.  The whole point of any school is the success of the students.  I do wonder what schools won’t have these students next year.  Are they coming from districts or other charters or a combination of the two?  That is school choice for you and at the end of the day it is a parent’s decision!

Guest Post: Shelley Suchyj On School Choice In Delaware

Shelley Suchyj is an educator from the Christina School District.  She was also the Exceptional Delaware Hero Of The Year for 2016 for speaking out about the mold issues in her district.  As the School Choice window in Delaware will end tomorrow, Suchyj put up a Facebook post with some information that was left out of a recent Delaware Today article by Larry Nagengast.

This is a must read for every politician and parent in Delaware so please share. As the Talented and Gifted Educator for the Christina School District city schools; I have spent over 30 hours already this week, going to student’s houses and helping their parents fill out Choice forms on my personal computer. This is on top of the hours spent with a “carload of parents and students” that I attended open house with at the new Christina Honors Academy two weeks ago. There is a lot that this article doesn’t include, that most don’t even understand. Like the fact that the choice website is only in English and most city parents don’t realize that you only have from November- January of the previous year to apply for Choice in the following year. The biggest hurtle is a perception of what a “good school” is.

I have been an educator for over 23 years, 16 years as an 8th grade teacher helping parents navigate the high school choice decision. Having taught most of my years as an inner city teacher. I have had siblings in the first graduating classes of both Wilmington Charter and Newark Charter when they both opened. I have sons that have attended public, catholic, charter, magnet and choice schools in the state of Delaware since choice began in 1997 and currently. I have to say the biggest issue for everyone in the state of Delaware to understand that there are GREAT programs and things happening in every school.

My own mother thought I was crazy when I took my son out of the, believed to be best catholic school, and put him in a public school. But to this day Marbrook, and the friends, teachers and experiences he had there can not be matched. But that was for him. He learned to speak Spanish fluently not because he learned it in school, because he didn’t, it was because his best friends spoke Spanish when they arrived at school and he needed to be able to communicate when they played soccer at recess and hung out after school. He got to learn a new sport at Dickinson playing varsity lacrosse that he never would have been able to play at Sallies or Wilmington Charter because of the number of kids on the team.

My belief is that every school should have an engineering class, computer class, arts class, music classes, languages and personal finance class option for every child in grades 4-12. Lets figure out what kids are talented in and grow those talents. We have changed the location of where our children can go to school in Delaware through Choice and Charter. Shouldn’t we change what they are taught in school to be successful too? It isn’t 1950 any more.

With sincerest apologies to Suchyj, I promised her I would get this up when I saw it over the weekend, but due to weather and work constraints I was unable to do so.  Every parent interested in choicing their child to a different school should look at every possible option and not go solely by reputation.  Each child is different and has unique learning methods.

Odyssey Charter School Is Trying To Poach Students From Districts Before September 30th Count

The Greek-themed Delaware charter school, Odyssey, sent out a letter to parents in their area advising them they are still accepting students.  As most involved in Delaware education know, schools get their funding based on the September 30th student count.  Odyssey is trying to beef up those numbers to get more money.

This is a bad idea in very bad taste.  The window for school choice in Delaware closes in mid-January.  As in eight months ago.  While charters are certainly free to accept students after those dates if they have room, actively

soliciting students after the school year has already started is lousy judgment.  It is poaching, pure and simple.  It is money driven, not student driven.  But what many forget is that some charters tend to kick out high-risk students after September 30th.  And guess what?  Some keep the funding they received.

On DSEA President Mike Matthews Facebook page, he brought this up yesterday.  While he didn’t name the school, State Rep. Kim Williams said she is aware of it and did notify the Delaware Dept. of Education.  Will the charter-friendly DOE actually address the situation or just play along to go along?

As I’ve said before, I don’t have a problem with actual charter schools and the reason for their existence.  But I do take issue with situations like this, when profit and money result in grown-ups making poor decisions.  There are good charters out there but unfortunately when certain charters keep coming up in events like this it is hard to not view the charter problem as a whole.  Whether it is discrimination, poor special education, cherry-picking students, or using lobbying power to get more money at the expense of districts, the Delaware tends to side with the charters.  Even worse, they tend to turn a blind eye to recurring issues such as the ongoing financial cesspool that is Providence Creek Academy, the enrollment preferences at Charter School of Wilmington, or the discrimination factory we call Newark Charter School.  Odyssey should not be attempting to get students from districts this far into the school year.

Will Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting put the hammer down on Odyssey or will she allow this poaching journey to continue?  And what is your take on this bad education practice?

House Bill 269 Would Significantly Change School Choice In Delaware

House Bill 269, sponsored by Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams, was introduced today and assigned to the House Education Committee.  The legislation deals with school choice and offers some substantial changes to how Delaware deals with school choice.  This bill is not expected to get a vote tonight and will most likely be looked at in January of 2018.  While I have not fully read the bill, I did take a cursory glance and I like a lot of aspects to it.

A Review Of “The Deed: Fixing Education In The First State”: More Of The Same With No Solutions

A University of Delaware class called Documentary Production produced a video called “The Deed: Fixing Education In The First State”.  The cinematography of the video was good, but I feel it should have been renamed “Fixing Education In Wilmington” because that was pretty much what the video was about.

It gave a good history of segregation before 1954, but after that it focused solely on Wilmington.  But I found the stereotypes to be a bit too much.  The video primarily focuses on two Caucasian mothers.  One is in what appears to be a classroom, and the other is out in the suburbs in a very nice home.  When they do show African-Americans (aside from  Tony Allen), it is primarily urban Wilmington.  As if there are no African-Americans in the suburbs.

The TedX Wilmington videos shown in this are from Tony Allen, the Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, and Dr. Paul Herdman, the CEO of the Rodel Foundation.  Other folks shown in the video are Dan Rich from the University of Delaware and one of the main WEIC players, Atnre Alleyne from DelawareCAN and TeenSHARP, and Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick.   There are cameos from Delaware Teacher of the Year Wendy Turner and the not-even sworn in yet Christina Board Member Meredith Griffin Jr.

Here is a newsflash.  There are 19 school districts in Delaware.  Up and down the state.  I love Wilmington, but if you are going to make a video called Fixing Education In The First State, you have to focus on the whole state.  This was one of the biggest mistakes WEIC made, focusing on Wilmington and expecting the rest of state to pick up the tab to fix Wilmington issues.  Yes, Wilmington is the biggest city, but many issues with poverty and low-income exist all over Delaware.

Like most discussions about “fixing” education in Delaware, we go through the history and the present situation.  Add some current events like the upcoming Colonial Referendum to make it current.  Show some shots from a WEIC meeting a few months ago when Governor John Carney and Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting attended for some extra oomph and importance.

I recognize segregation in Wilmington schools and what school choice has done to Northern New Castle County as major problems in Delaware.  But there are other equally important issues, only one of which was briefly touched on in the video- education funding.  We also have special education with a rapidly growing population of students with disabilities, standardized testing, a growing population of English Language Learners, a General Assembly that generally makes some very bad choices for our schools, bullying in our schools,the continued fall-out from the Race To The Top accountability era, a State Auditor who doesn’t audit school districts every year even though that office has to by state law, referenda, a new Governor that is putting a ton of cuts towards school districts (but not charters), the Rodel Foundation’s stranglehold on decisions made in education, data mining of personal student information, and the upcoming and very real threats of competency-based education, personalized learning, an eventual replacement of real teachers with glorified moderators instead in a digital technology wonderland, and the upcoming Blockchain technology which will institute a full-blown “digital badge” scenario, tracking children from cradle to grave and predetermined careers and what their societal worth will be.  And yes, even Social-Emotional Learning is in the process of getting hijacked by the corporate education reformers (more on that soon).

Many of these things aren’t on the radar as much as they should be.  We are still bickering over how to “fix” education but we are stumbling with talking about what is right in education.  We are in a constant state of flux, in a state of constant improvement.  This obsessive need for improvement is actually what is fracturing education the most in Delaware.  The problem comes when we try to measure all these changes by one standardized test.

For an eleven minute video, it would be impossible to catch all the issues in Delaware education.  But showing very old videos of Tony Allen and Paul Herdman don’t do much for me.  Most Delawareans really don’t know who the two of them are.  Just because they have a TedX stage doesn’t give them more importance than a teacher giving a lecture to a class or a parent giving public comment at a school board meeting.  Those are actually the voices we need to hear more of in Delaware education, the everyday citizen.  Not a CEO of a “non-profit” making over $344,000 a year or a well-meaning Bank of America executive.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Tony Allen is a great guy, but it has become more than obvious that WEIC isn’t heading towards the destination it dreamed of and it is time to move on.  As for Dr. Paul “Rodel” Herdman, I have never been shy about my dislike of his “visions” for Delaware schools that have its roots in corporate profit.

We need to focus on what is going right in Delaware education and build from that.  It begins at the grass-roots level, in the classroom.  For that, the student and teacher voice are the most important.  And then the parent.  We go from one reform or initiative to the next, and the cycle goes on and on.

Red Clay Schools Continue To Openly Defy Their Own Board of Education With Opt Out Threats

I sent the following email to the entire Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education and Dr. Merv Daugherty, the Superintendent of the district.  I am posting the email because I have heard similar complaints from parents several times since the Smarter Balanced Assessment came out in 2015.  What is the point of having a policy if the schools ignore it?

Don’t let your special needs child fall victim to “new”​ Federal and State voucher/choice policies

This article originally appeared on long-time Delaware special education advocate Steve Newton’s LinkedIn account yesterday.  I read it today and Steve not only hit a grand-slam with this article, but he hit it out of the park!  This is the must-read of the month and the timeliness of this could not be more important!  Normally, I would italicize this but for reasons which will soon become clear, I did not.  Great job Steve!

The road is about to get a lot rougher for special needs kids in America’s schools

It’s never been easy.

IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act] was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 to stiffen the supports for disability-challenged American students that already existed in Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. IDEA established the rules for determining the need for special services, how supports within the education system would be determined, and provided for their monitoring via IEPs [Individualized Education Plans]. The trifold intent of IDEA was to (a) guarantee parents and students a role, a voice, and an appeals option in the process; (b) fund services that would allow special needs students to receive FAPE [Free Appropriate Public Education]; and create mechanisms for monitoring/enforcing the entire process.

Despite the fact that none of those goals has ever really been attained (Congress has never fully funded IDEA in any budget in the past 27 years), IDEA represented a massive improvement for special needs students across America. Millions of kids with specific Learning Disabilities (as in Math or English), with Emotional Disabilities, with ADHD, with Autism, and with other, lesser-known disabilities managed to finish school and go on to college, or employment, and independent, productive lives. Flawed as it is in the execution, IDEA has been a hugely successful law.

But the last decade has seen major problems setting in Continue reading

Delaware School Choice Application Data For FY2017 By School District

The New Castle County Data Service Center compiled a report on school choice applications by the residing district for the Fiscal Year 2017 school year.  These are applications parents sent out to choice schools for the school year that began this year.  So these applications went out during the school choice calendar from November, 2015-January, 2016.  At least the bulk of them.  These are applications only, not actual acceptances in choice schools.  A student could have applied to five different choice schools so that would count as five different applications.  There are many districts that do not send this information through the system the Data Service Center provides.  Most of them are in Sussex County, including their largest district, Indian River.

While this is missing a lot of information, especially in Southern Delaware, it does give a good indication of which districts have a lot of choice activity going on and where students are applying.  This is very apparent in Christina.

Last week at the Strategic Plan for Specialized Educational Opportunities meeting at the Delaware DOE, Jeff Klein gave a presentation on this report.  Senator David Sokola asked why the applications don’t address low-income or disabilities.  I responded (as a member of the public) that wasn’t a good idea, especially since the Enrollment Preference Task Force (of which Sokola was on) recommended NOT having those items on choice applications.

Trump Picks Betsy DeVos For U.S. Secretary of Education: Let The Privatizing And Union Busting Begin

Out of all the people President Donald Trump could have picked for the United States Secretary of Education, why did it have to be Betsy DeVos?  She supports Common Core, hates teacher unions, loves school choice, vouchers, and more of the same corporate education reform crap we’ve had to deal with in education for the past 15 years.  She supports Right To Work laws, which she helped get through in Michigan.  Her family is the heir to the Amway Corporation.  The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation started their own charter school in 2014, the West Michigan Aviation Academy.  That’s all we need, is one of… them.  Someone with big money thinking school choice and vouchers are the answers to everything.  So much for Trump’s promise to get rid of Common Core.  He is a liar.  But I am not shocked.

As for the unions, this is going to be a looooong four years for them.  According to Detroit News :

Speaking in July during a school choice forum at the Republican National Convention in Ohio, DeVos accused teachers unions of holding back innovation in education and called them “a formidable foe” at both state and national levels.

Both NEA and AFT should have picked Bernie Sanders in their endorsement for President.  They jumped on the Hillary train and look where they are now?  If they thought they had a tough time under President Obama, they haven’t seen anything yet!  I have no doubt there will be some serious meetings for both organizations in the coming weeks.  Meanwhile, every charter school cheerleader is probably doing cartwheels alongside the private school voucher advocates.  Public education will not know what hit them.  Meanwhile, we have Diane Ravitch backtracking on an earlier article she put up this week where she actually endorsed DeVos.  She thought people would see it as a joke, but apparently they didn’t.  A little too late Diane!  Thanks for that…

 

Christina Moves Ahead With 6-12 “Rigor Academy” At Christiana High School

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On Wednesday evening, the Christina Board of Directors voted 5-1 to move forward on a controversial choice program at Christiana High School.  The new honors program, which will begin with 6th graders at Christiana High School, will pull the smarter students from existing Christina middle schools.  Eventually, this honors program with rigorous standards will have students from 6th-12th grade in it.  This will only continue the choice game in Delaware school districts.  Christina was one of the last remaining hold-outs on a program like this, but as a recent commenter wrote, they had no choice but to play the choice game.

Board President Elizabeth Campbell Paige was the only no voter for the program.  Board member John Young was not present for the meeting, but I have no doubt he would have voted no.

Earlier that day, I gave public comment at a meeting for the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities committee addressing the increasing divide between the “have” and the “have-not” students in Delaware.  I warned the committee that very soon the divide will be inseparable.  I feel the state is heading in the wrong direction in offering all these different “opportunities” for students.  We all know the most disadvantaged students: the poor, those with disabilities, those who are English Language Learners… they don’t get the same opportunities their regular peers do.

In an inter-district choice program, a student can take a bus to school, but they have to be picked up at the closest bus stop in their feeder pattern to where the choice school is.  This is true across the state.  That makes it very difficult for students whose parents may not have transportation or the means to get their child to that bus-stop.

Choice has become a major joke in this state.  We still have charter schools that are either mostly all white or in Wilmington, many charters that are mostly African-American.  I find it ironic that the advocates in Wilmington for the WEIC redistricting plan think that will solve all the problems.  The plan doesn’t even address the segregation in Delaware, much less Wilmington.  All it will do is dump students from one district with a ton of challenges to another district with the same challenges in many of their schools.  Both districts are steadily losing students to charter schools.

What Delaware needs is a weighted choice system.  With a weighted admission system.  Where every single student can get a chance.  If there is a lottery at a school like Newark Charter School or Charter School of Wilmington, there needs to be a weighted lottery.  This also goes for First State Montessori Academy.  They need to get rid of their specific interest preference.  They need to put their five mile radius preference first.  For a school that is located in the heart of downtown Wilmington, their demographics don’t show it.  Charter schools should represent the areas where they are.  If the General Assembly won’t put something like this through, I have no doubt the courts will one day.  Unless it is for good cause, I don’t think any student should go to a charter school outside of their school district.  There should be an immediate ban on this practice.

No more of these “rigor academies” that purposely leave out students who don’t have a chance.  It is stacking the deck a certain way.  This includes these “honors” programs and even the World Language Immersion programs.  The districts are killing themselves and they don’t even know it yet.  The districts think these programs are these great things, but they aren’t.  It might be for the few who would most likely have the same advantages either way, but not for the students who need more supports and just aren’t getting it.  These are 21st Century discrimination games.  No matter how many ways you cut this deck, students who need the most will continue to be shoved under the table and can’t make the final cut.  What a success story Delaware…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ESSA: Parents & Educators MUST Attend The Upcoming Meetings & Educate Themselves On The Law!

The Delaware Dept. of Education will have three more Every Student Succeeds Act Community Engagement meetings in the next week.  They held a meeting in Georgetown on Tuesday.  The next three meetings will take place in Wilmington, Middletown, and Dover.  The DOE is “requiring” participants to register through a company called Event Brite.  Links to register can be found here.

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I will stress with all the urgency I can muster that ALL public education parents attend these meetings.  Before you go, I would familiarize yourself with the federal law.  You can read the full text of the law here.  It is a very long law with a lot of repeated jargon and “legalese” in it.  The Delaware State Board of Education and Delaware DOE has put up many links to it on their websites, but a lot of that is open to interpretation.  As well, U.S. Secretary of Education John King has issued “proposed rulemaking” which are potential regulations.  These regulations are VERY controversial.  You can read those regulations here and here.

These are my major concerns with ESSA:

By allowing states to have more flexibility, many states have already created long-term plans based on the prior federal mandates.  Far too many in our state DOEs follow what the corporate education reformers want and give a false illusion of “stakeholder input”.

The Delaware DOE has given NO indication whatsoever that they will even consider changing the state standards away from Common Core even though they can certainly do this according to ESSA.  The US Secretary of Education isn’t required to approve these standards.  The states merely have to give an assurance that their standards will follow the law.

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Student data still isn’t protected to parents satisfaction.  To stop this data from going out, they need to restore the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA) to pre-2011 levels

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Bouncing off the previous statement, by allowing more social service and health-based practitioners into our schools, there is a serious question regarding what applies to FERPA and what applies to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

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John King’s regulations would keep the 95% participation rates for state assessments with consequences for schools and districts.

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John King’s Title I regulations would enact a “supplement not supplant” these funds.  This is in sharp contrast with federal law and he was called out on this the other day by the US House Education and Workforce Committee.

There is far too much talk of competency-based education through computer adaptive assessments.  That is just lingo for personalized learning.  This law would allow for classrooms to become online all the time.  There are severe dangers with this in regards to the downgrading of the teacher profession, far too much screen time for students, and the quality of the educational material.  As well as severe data privacy concerns.  In fact, there are incentives for schools to adopt personalized learning.

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While the law forbids the US DOE from forcing or coercing states to implement any state standards, like Common Core, many states already have these in place and spent years embedding them into every facet of public education.

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The law calls for state accountability “report cards”, based on performance of the state assessment, but the tests are not required to be exactly the same for all students.  So the state assessments are not a true measurement since they will be different for each test-taker.  Delaware set up their report card last year under the name of the “Delaware School Success Framework” but they inserted a very punitive participation rate penalty if a school dips below the 95% participation rate which can’t use parent opt-out in those calculations according to the law.

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State assessments will not be required to have questions at the appropriate grade level for students.

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ESSA requires any plan to be submitted to the State DOE, State Board of Education, the Governor and the state legislature.  To date, the Delaware DOE has not had “meaningful” consultation with the Delaware General Assembly about ESSA.

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The law specifically states that all choice schools should have priority given to the lowest-achieving students, but Delaware allows for charter schools to have enrollment preferences that allow for higher-achieving students to have distinct advantages, especially in our magnet schools and charter schools like Charter School of Wilmington.

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I have many other concerns with ESSA, but these ones stand out for me.  I am coming at this from the perspective of a parent.  I know educators have concerns over some of this as well.

Jack Markell, Blockchain, Coding Schools, Rodel, BRINC, Pathways To Prosperity, Registered Agents… Delaware’s Role In “The Ledger”

If Washington D.C. is the capital of America, than Delaware is the capital of corporate education reform.

Over the past week, many of us who are resisting the privatization of public education have been talking about The Ledger.  Peter Greene broke the news for the world to see, which Diane Ravitch quickly picked up on.  What is “The Ledger”? Continue reading

Appoquinimink Gouges Taxpayers For Special Education Tuition Payments But $5 Million Is Unaccounted For

The Appoquinimink School District Board of Education approved an action item on Tuesday night to cover “rising special education costs” in the district, according to an article by Amy Cherry and Yossi Goldstein with WDEL.  To say the reasoning for this tax hike, which will cost the average Middletown resident on average of $65 a year, is misleading at best, would be an understatement.  According to the Appoquinimink Director of Finance, Dr. Charles Longfellow:

“Tuition, which is for special education students, is an (estimated) $815,000 increase (for 2017),” explained Longfellow.

That is the basis for their case.  But in Delaware, special education funding comes from three sources: the feds, the state, and local funding.  Is this $815,000 increase just the local increase or overall?  For “tuition”, which is based on special education students choicing out of the district to another district to attend a special school, like the Delaware Autism Program or the Delaware School for the Deaf, the sending district has to pay the other district that portion of funds.  As well, it could also be to cover funds for students sent to alternative schools within the district, but since Appoquinimink has no alternative schools, this is a moot point.  In a sense, it is the customary tuition, but the districts pay each other.  Students in Appo don’t tend to choice out at the higher rates other districts have to deal with.  But students with disabilities in Appo do tend to choice out more than students with disabilities in other districts, as detailed by the Statewide Review of Education Opportunities report commissioned by the Delaware State Board of Education last year:

SWDChoiceBarExplanation

Appo’s biggest student population drain is MOT Charter School.  Since the Delaware Department of Education hasn’t published these reports since 2014, it is very difficult to tell just how many students choice in or out of Appo.  However, in looking at choice students historically, Appo tends not to bleed out as many students as other surrounding districts.  Even more misleading is the fact that, aside from basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade, the special education funding from the state is based on the number of special education units in the district.  If you have more special education students, you would get more state funds.  However, and where tuition funds come into play, when the school cannot provide the special education services to the student based on the individual special education allotment of funding for that student, the state doesn’t pay more.  And if the student attends a special school in another district, this is where the tuition costs are created.

But Appo seems to justify this tax hike on their district website:

At the beginning of each new fiscal year, school districts must review their financial obligations and establish school tax rates to be collected on their behalf by New Castle County. A system of checks and balances is in place to ensure fiscal responsibility. This includes a review by the volunteers who serve on the District’s Financial Advisory Committee and approval of the Board of Education. Current and historical tax rate information is available in our budget documents accessible via the links to the right.

It’s funny they bring up the District Financial Advisory Committee, because when you click on that section of their district website, you see no reports or a list of the members of this committee, just a log-in for these special members.  Delaware law states each public body must show how the committee representation is made up.  While actual minutes or committee members are not required to be listed on a district or charter website, most districts and charters do show this information to support a level of transparency.  But not Appo.  They don’t even show meeting times, agendas, or minutes for their version of a Citizens Budget Oversight Committee.

But even if the district had a massive influx of special education students choicing in or out of their district after the official September 30th count (which determines special education funding from the state for each district), we should see that reflected in their final budget approved by the board on 2/23/16, right?  Not so.  Their tuition tax did increase by $90,000 from last summer until February of this year.  However, only 30,000 of that was for special schools out of the district.  Furthermore, on page 12 of the budget, it states they transferred $276,000 out of the tuition pool to another bucket of funding.  As well, it was projected the tuition fund would be at $8,407,661 in the initial budget, but due to the transfer and an unidentifiable increase in “Instruction and Operations” to the tune of $425,630.00, it left the district $702,039 in the hole.  But it gets more interesting on page 15 when it shows projected revenue of $8,503,168 for the year coming from property taxes.  But there is no viable proof anywhere that justifies a $720,000 increase for this in FY2017.  At least not in special education.  Upon careful review of this budget, they actually overestimated their initial special education costs by over $100,000.00 for the receipt of federal IDEA-B funds, which means they must have had a decrease in students with disabilities, not an increase.

To make matters worse, I checked to see how much Appo spent on special education in FY2016.  Since none of our districts or charters are consistent with how they code education funding in many areas, it took some time to find Appo’s portions.  According to Delaware Online Checkbook, Appo spent over $1.8 million dollars in FY2016 to cover related services for special education in the district.  That is what they spent under the categories for basic, intensive, and complex.  But those covered special education salaries.  When you look at their tuition payments, I’m not seeing $8,503,168 or anything close to that number.

AppoTuitionPmtsFY2016Instate

AppoTuitionPmtsFY2016OutStateorPrv

I looked in every possible category to see if it these tuition payments could somehow be miscoded and I found absolutely nothing going towards other school districts.  In the above pictures, I also included funds going to Delaware and out of state residential treatment centers.  So at a maximum, Appo spent a little over $3 million in tuition payments for FY2016.  Perhaps they haven’t paid some of the bills for this?  I checked the prior year, and we are looking at a little bit less in FY2015:

AppoTuitionPmtsFY2015InState

AppoTuitionPmtsFY2015OutState

So where did over $5 million in funds allocated in their budget for tuition payments go?  This is a question only Appo can answer, and I expect we will find out after this article comes out.  Keep in mind, this is budgeted funds, so it isn’t missing like someone stole it.  They spent it somewhere else when tuition funds are specifically earmarked to cover special education costs.  The only other areas where a district board can approve a tax warrant is for reading and/or math specialists and minor capital improvements.  In FY2016, Appo spent about $983,000 on reading and math specialists.  To be on the safe side, I reviewed a few other districts budgets and what they have allocated for tuition.  For the most part, those districts matched their budgeted amount and what appears on Delaware Online Checkbook.

According to the Delaware DOE school profile site, in FY2015, the feds provided 2% of the district’s overall funding, 67% came from the state, and 30% from local taxes with an average district cost per student of $11,226.00.  If you compare this to the average for the rest of the state, the feds provide 10% of funds, the state  pays 59% and local funds make up the remaining 31%.  So why does Appo receive such a small amount of federal funds?  Most of that has to do with Title I allocations, which go towards schools with high concentrations of low-income students.  For Appoquinimink, their low-income population represents 14.7% of the students in the district.  For the state, this average is 36%.  As well, the state average for students with disabilities is 14.4% while Appo has a lower number at 11.8%.  To break this down even further, the most expensive category of special education is students in a complex status.  These are students who need one-on-one support at all times and many related services which are very costly.  Appoquinimink has a very low number of this special education population compared to other districts in New Castle and Kent County.  The two closest districts in terms of student populations, Brandywine and Indian River, have much higher populations of complex special education students.  Appo is at 58% of Brandywine’s total complex population while they are at 36% of Indian River’s number.  Even against Colonial, who has 1,000 less students in their overall population, Appo comes at 37% of their complex special education population.  We know the district isn’t losing special education students to MOT Charter School because they only have 4 complex students with disabilities and only 69 special education students overall.  What does that tell us?  Either there aren’t that many complex special education students in Appoquinimink or their parents send these students to private schools.  The Middletown/Odessa area is growing at an incredible fast rate, however, it is also one of the more affluent areas of the state.

“That’s why the state and feds protect the right to get this money without going to referendum–they prescribe the services, how to identify them, what needs to be offered,” said Appoquinmink Public Information Officer Lilian Miles.

Of course they protect the right.  It allows them to pay less of the allocations they should be paying for special education.  But the district doesn’t seem to care, because one way or another they will get this money.  They don’t care if they have to gouge the taxpayer.  Perhaps those are harsh words, but in light of the biggest fabrication coming from Miles is this absolute lie:

Miles said the population of special education students has doubled over the past five years in Appoquinmink, though it remains a very small percentage of the district’s student body. The growth is representative of what’s happening all across the Middletown area.

Wow, the special education population doubled?  That is a massive increase Ms. Miles.  However, your statement doesn’t hold water.  In checking on the Delaware September 30th Enrollment unit count reports, I found Appoquinimink had the following special education populations from FY2011 to FY 2016:

FY2011: 839

FY2012: 963

FY2013: 976

FY2014: 1,038

FY2015: 1,125

FY2016: 1,268

Even using Common Core math, it is easy to determine that 839+839=1,678.  Being that the difference between 839 and 1,268 is 429, I would hardly call that a “doubling”.  Unless they are counting the students with disabilities who either graduated or turned 21 over the past five years and are no longer a part of the district population in those numbers, than yeah, I could believe that statement.  But it would be a statement built on false pretenses.  Granted, the district’s population of complex special education students did double from 43 to 87 students but would that be enough to cover $8 million dollars in tuition costs?  Not even closeWhat astonishes me even more is either their board was oblivious to this outright lie or they really didn’t care.

If a tax warrant weren’t approved, Miles said funds to cover special education would have to come from the general operating budget.  “You don’t want to short the 90 percent by taking money from their pot–you just have to work to get it right,” said Miles. “It’s raising taxes for the services you are required to provide for this special population.”

So, Ms. Miles, if those funds won’t come out of the general operating budget based on revenue from what I view as a fraudulent tax increase based a board’s suspension of disbelief over special education populations within the very district they oversee, what are you using those funds in the general operating budget for?  And furthermore, say nothing happens as a result of this article which happens in Delaware way too much for my liking, and we have already caught you in a major lie concerning the most vulnerable of children, how do we know those funds would even go towards special education?  Especially since nine districts put basic special education funding all in one bucket to the state, as opposed to allocating those funds towards buckets like occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapy, and whatnot.  And only Appo and Capital put funds going towards complex and intense special education students in these lumped groups, thus making it impossible to find out how much these two districts are paying for certain types of services.  But at least you aren’t Brandywine who seems to throw it all in one bucket for basic to regular special education students, assuming they have NO intense or complex special education students.

But according to the special education section of Appo’s website, at least they are fully aware of which bucket these funds should go in:

The most common types of special education services are: Reader or interpreter; Assistive technology; Speech therapy; Occupational therapy; Life-skills training; Personal counseling or therapy; Transportation assistance; Physical therapy; Hearing-loss therapy or audiology; Job counseling or training.

I would strongly suggest the Appoquinimink Board of Education reconvene in an emergency session to rescind their vote cast Tuesday night and actually review this situation for what it is.  How dare this district and board use special needs children in their quest for more money, and to add insult to injury, charging every property tax paying citizen in the district to get that money.  I looked on the boarddocs section of their website, and most traditional school district boards provide documents to go along with items like this.  Not so with Appoquinimink.  So there is no way for the public to see this huge increase needed for special education funding based on an already missing $5 million dollars for this purpose.  Anyone involved in this should resign now or face charges for fraud.  Furthermore, any tax warrants for New Castle County have to be approved by county council.  I would strongly recommend this council not even entertain this farce.

The Delaware DOE’s Official Response To The State Board Shutting Down Delaware STEM Academy Before They Opened

The Delaware DOE came out with an official press release on the Delaware State Board of Education’s decision today to revoke the charter of Delaware STEM Academy.  The decision came just hours ago at the monthly State Board meeting.  Most of the information is factual with the exception of one item which I will notate after their press release.

Delaware STEM’s charter revoked

Delaware STEM Academy will not open this fall after its charter was revoked today. Students who had planned to attend the school will be able to enroll elsewhere.

Earlier this month, the Delaware Department of Education’s Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC) recommended the revocation of charter unless the school’s board could provide sufficient information to address the committee’s concerns about its financial viability and programming. The New Castle high school was scheduled to open this fall with grades 9 and 10 with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The school was placed on formal review in April.

While committee members praised the school’s board for its transparency, responsiveness, involvement and leadership, citing its members’ experience and commitment as among the school’s greatest strengths, they raised concerns about how the school would be able to execute its approved charter with fidelity due to low enrollment and thus reduced funding that has led leadership to make programmatic cuts.

The school’s approved application was for 250 students in Year 1 with reliance on state/local funds generated by student enrollment. At the time of its final meeting with CSAC, the school had 124 students enrolled with a budget also reliant on private fundraising and a line of credit.

Following a public comment period, including two public hearings, Secretary of Education Steve Godowsky presented his decision to the State Board of Education for its assent Thursday.

“While the public record demonstrates that the school’s leadership and founding board are committed to the school, the low number of students and low levels of state and local funding raise too many concerns about Delaware STEM’s financial stability,” Godowsky said. “My review of the documents led me to the same conclusion as that of the accountability committee – that the school has failed to meet legal standards for financial viability and fidelity to the approved charter.”

The state will assist the families of the students who planned to attend the school this fall in enrolling in other schools. The children are able to return to the district schools in their home feeder patterns or choice into another district or charter school.

In terms of students being able to choice into another charter school, that is only if the charter school has openings.  If a charter is full and there is a waitlist, these students would not be able to automatically just choice in.

Cape Henlopen Board To Vote On Very Controversial District Enrollment Reorganization

The Cape Henlopen School District Board of Education will hold a board meeting tonight to vote on proposals that will change the enrollment patterns of their elementary and middle schools in the fall of 2017.  A new elementary school called Love Creek will be built by then and the board recognized this will change the boundaries for which students go to which schools.

At issue with many parents is what happens with Richard Shields Elementary School if they go with one of the proposals.  After six proposals have been presented, the Superintendent is leaning towards Proposal F, but the board prefers the newer Proposals G, shown in the below document.  The Board feels the greatest priority should be having a balance of low-income children in each of their schools.  Currently, Shields has a population of 27% low-income students, but with the proposed changes that could increase that level to 42%.  Love Creek, the new school, would have a 26% low-income population.  Many parents felt the priorities should be students attending schools closest to their homes and how the changes would affect families in the district.  Parents are concerned about changes in school climate, similar to what happened at Skyline Middle School in the Red Clay Consolidated School District this year.  They also feel that forced busing is not the way to go.  Other parents I spoke with were okay with the changes and feel there should be more equity between the schools in the district.  While not official, the students who have been choiced to a school already will be allowed to stay, but if a student is moved through the reorganization they will not be allowed to move back to their original school through choice.

As per the Delaware Dept. of Education website, Cape Henlopen as a whole had 5,170 students as of their September 30th count.

The board meeting tonight will be held at Beacon Middle School at 6pm which could decide the schools 2,600 students go to in the Cape Henlopen School District.  185 students have been choiced by their parents within the district while 273 students from other districts were choiced into Cape Henlopen.  For their race and ethnicity profiles, 66.7% of Cape students are white, 14.3% are Hispanic/Latino, 13.7% are African-American, and the other almost 6% are either a multi-racial, Asian or American Indian.  For the 2014-2015 school year, the average district expenditure per pupil was $15,254.

For their elementary schools, the DOE profiles (which are based on the September 30th counts) look like this currently:

Brittingham: 41.1% white, 31.7% Hispanic/Latino, 21.1% African-American, 57.4% low-income, 15.4% English Language learners, and 12.5% special education

Milton: 72.6% white, 11.4% Hispanic/Latino, 11.7% African-American, 30.2% low-income, 5.1% English Language learners, and 14.7% special education

Rehoboth: 75.5% white, 10.3% Hispanic/Latino, 9.3% African-American, 34.7% low-income, 5.3% English Language learners, and 9.5% special education

Shields: 71% white, 10.2% Hispanic/Latino, 8.5% African-American, 23.7% low-income, 3% English Language learners, and 8.7% special education

 

Amy, Skyline, Bomb Threats, Bus Issues, Fighting, Bullying, Inclusion, Zero Tolerance: How Do We Fix The Mess?

In the wake of what happened at Howard High School of Technology a week ago, many are questioning how to fix what is happening in our schools.  There are no easy answers.  I have not heard anyone defending the perpetrators of Amy’s murder.  But I have seen people describe students who exhibit behavior issues referred to as “animals” and “they should be sent to labor camps”.  While this is an extreme, I’ve heard these types of comments more than once, and I hear it more and more.  Once we go down that path we are essentially labeling these students as helpless and stating there is nothing we can do to help them.  And let’s face facts: when people say this there is a very racist undertone and they are referring to African-Americans.  I don’t agree with it on any level and every time I see it I want to ship the people who would say things like that out of our state.

Just this school year we have seen the following: a charter school that closed mid-year due to an uncontrollable environment, a change in feeder patterns resulting in many instances of bullying at a Red Clay middle school, a bizarre number of bomb threats resulting in many schools closing for the day, a child intimidated by a bus driver in Appoquinimink, a father suing Brandywine over what he alleges are due process violations and unsubstantiated searches, students sent to hospitals as a result of fighting that are never publicly acknowledged but whispered about on social media, inclusion practices that are not working, and a student who died from a brutal assault last week at Howard.

As our state grapples with these issues, we have not seen solutions put forth that look at the big picture.  Why are our students acting out?  Why are many of our schools attempting to hide many of these issues?  I have attended many State Board of Education meetings this year and I listen to their audio recordings.  We don’t hear them discussing these kinds of issues too much, if at all.  They seem to be more concerned with student outcomes based on standardized tests, Pathways programs, charter schools, accountability for schools, and celebrating the good things in our schools while giving short shrift to the issues that truly impact school climate.

It starts there.  To get to the heart of issues like this, you have to start at the top and have it trickle down to the Superintendents or Heads of School, to the building administrators, to the teachers, to the students and to the community.  If we have that massive disconnect at the top, the issues can never truly be addressed.  If our State Board and legislators can’t get these matters fixed, how can we expect our schools to do so?

To adequately blame one thing that started a lot of this, we can blame zero tolerance.  After the Columbine shootings in 1999, a massive wave of zero tolerance spread throughout America.  No school wanted to have a situation like that on their hands.  Students would be suspended for frivolous things.  It got to a point in Delaware where an African-American first grader was expelled in the Christina School District for having a cake knife.  As a result of that one bad judgment call, a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) resulted in the district entering an agreement with the OCR.  Because the OCR ruled too many minority student suspensions were happening, the district had to be very careful about how they were meting punishment to students.  Other districts saw what happened to Christina and didn’t want to suffer the same fate.

As a result, there was no consistency throughout the state on best practices.  For all the accountability and “standardization” of students based on very flawed state assessments, there has never been any definitive set of standards for school discipline and school climate.  There is no consistency with how schools report instances of bullying, offensive touching, and fighting.  Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn pointed this out many times but there has been no direct accountability to schools over these issues.  Part of the problem with discipline issues is the unique nature of them.  Because of student privacy and FERPA regulations, many situations can’t be discussed publicly.  There is no accurate tracking method to make sure our schools are recording these instances on the state reporting system, E-school, as required by state law within a set time period.  The result is very bad data in the one area we actually need it the most.  Add in special education issues and behaviors exhibited by students with disabilities.  Is it a result of their disability or is it everyday behavior?  Sometimes we just don’t know.

Some schools are very faithful with recording issues, but far too many aren’t.  How do we know which schools need help with issues if they aren’t being 100% honest about what is going on in their halls?  What shape would that help even be?  If it is a punitive measure from the state, is that going to solve the problem or persuade schools to hide things better?  Non-profits and corporations are lining up to get into our schools to offer what amounts to for-profit assistance.  Under the guise of the Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a call for companies to come into our schools like never before to offer after-school programs and to turn our schools into all-day community centers.  As well, we are seeing some states allowing companies to essentially bet on student outcomes in return for financial profit through social impact bonds.  Many of these ideas are concerning to parents.  Should schools be a place where medical and therapeutic treatment for students occur?  For neglected and abused children, this could be a life-saving measure for those children.  But it also opens up more of our public education system to less control at the local level.  Many feel government should not even be allowed to write something like this into any law.  The Elementary/Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was designed to make sure minority students were given equal footing in schools and were not disadvantaged.  Written in 1965, its goal was actually simple: equal rights for all.  Fifty years later, we are still tackling many of the original issues.  But now we want to turn our schools into more than what they should be.

As far as this insane filming of fights in our schools, it is a new environment with no oversight.  Students want to become social media famous because people come to their profile to look at it.  Something needs to happen immediately.  It is fostering an environment that is not healthy and desensitizes kids to violence.  Even community Facebook pages that have nothing but street fights on them exist unchecked and unmonitored.  In some of these videos, you actually see people telling others how to evade the police and they give warnings when the police are in the area.  For some reason, students are fascinated by this.  But the effect is chilling.  As well, the role of technology in our schools and homes is greater than ever.  But why are we allowing students to carry iPhones around school?  How much of the violence from gaming is warping young minds?  For that matter, what is all this screen time doing to all our brains?

If Amy’s tragic death has shown us anything it is that something is very broken.  We have to fix it, no matter what.  Amy’s situation is by far the worst thing that could happen to a student in school.  But many students bare physical and emotional scars from this broken system.  They are the survivors of fights and bullying that cause trauma to the soul, if not the physical.  On the flip side, we have students like Patrick Wahl’s son Joseph who many view as a victim of very bizarre due process circumstances for a district that still follows zero tolerance tendencies.  There are good things happening in our schools.  Don’t get me wrong on that.  We see students participating in charity events and giving back to their community on many levels.  But that can’t be all the public sees.  We have to look at the bad too.  We can’t put a blanket over the violence in our schools and pretend it isn’t there.  Amy’s death shattered that illusion in our state.

In the shadow of all this is the other illusion the state has cast on parents.  Many parents judge schools based on their performance without realizing the measurement of that performance is fundamentally flawed.  To get a basic breakdown of how this works, many years ago corporations decided they could make money off education.  They tailored reports to give the illusion that “the sky is falling” and all students were in danger of falling behind other countries.  Politicians jumped on the bandwagon through concerted lobbying efforts on the part of these companies, and soon enough new laws came down from a federal level based on student outcomes from standardized tests.  No Child Left Behind opened the door but Race To The Top opened the floodgates for this corporate invasion.  As schools were labeled and shamed under “school turnaround” laws, the US DOE started their ESEA flexibility waiver scheme.  They bribed schools with money to further these agendas.  Our schools and districts took the money with immense pressure from state governments during a recession.  A dramatic shift in school climate happened.  As more and more teachers took part in professional development to train them on the Common Core and other company initiatives, something happened to students.  They were not supervised the way they were prior to all of this and they found new ways to usurp authority, especially in schools with large populations of high-needs students.  Add in the situation with the OCR in Christina, and it was a recipe for disaster.  Diane Ravitch wrote today about the fifteen years of “fake” reform and how the impetus behind it all, NAEP scores, show students who are now seniors more behind than they were compared to their counterparts in 1992.  Common Core doesn’t work.

What if what we are seeing with student behavior and the reasons behind it are all wrong?  What if those who come from poverty, special needs, and low-income minority populations isn’t just misbehavior but something else altogether?  What if it is a direct result of a system designed for conformity?  The supposed goal of the Common Core was to make all students get the same set of standards across the country.  I hear many consistent things from parents in Delaware.  For smarter kids, Common Core isn’t so tough once they get it.  But for struggling students, basically the ones from sub-groups that perform poorly on state assessments, it is much more difficult.  Perhaps what we are seeing with this absolute disregard of authority in schools is a natural defense mechanism kicking in.  A fight or flight mechanism when their way of living, of being, is attacked.  The natural instinct for teenagers is to rebel.  Compound that with an entire education system designed to make students question authority less and use “critical thinking” based on standards that actually give children less choices, and something will give.  We are seeing this now.  And if we continue on the same track, it will get far worse.  If a “smart” student gets it faster, it would naturally put other students behind.  This is the impossible bar the Common Core puts on students.  For the intelligent who come from wealthier and more cohesive home environments, this isn’t a problem.  But for students with disabilities who cannot always control their actions and minority students who do not have the environmental stability their more advantaged peers have, it will take a great deal of effort to catch up with their peers.  Add in the stress and anxiety they have from their environment outside of school to the pressure to perform in school, and the pressure gage gets higher.  Then add the explosive need every teenager has, to belong and have friends, and the gage gets closer to the point of no return.  Throw in a fixation on violence mixed with wanting to be accepted and the Pompeii of public education is set.  Last week we saw the volcanic eruption of rage unchecked and bystanders filming it and doing nothing.

The biggest victims of the education reform movement are inner-city African-American students.  While civil rights groups demanded more equity for these students they fell into the trap the corporate education reformers methodically laid out for them with financial enticements.  The reformers echoed their complaints and pitted parents against teachers.  The reformers used standardized test scores to give a false impression of schools and invented a whole new language based on the word “gap”: the equity gap, the proficiency gap, the honesty gap, and on and on and on.  Add in school choice, a growing charter school movement, forced busing based on a horrible Neighborhood Schools Act in Delaware, and the rise of Jack Markell as Governor wrapped in a corporate bow and the perfect storm began in our schools.

To ignore the plight of African-Americans in Delaware would be a gross injustice.  It goes way beyond apologizing for slavery.  A friend of mine sent me an article about the 1968 Occupation of Wilmington.  The article written by Will Bunch with philly.com talked about the nine-month Occupation of Wilmington by the National Guard following the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.  For the African-American community in Wilmington at the time, this was a grave injustice:

On the other hand, in a sign of some of the deep divide and mistrust in Delaware that lingers to this day, the white Democratic governor down in Dover decided to send in the National Guard – and then kept troops on the streets of Wilmington for nine long months, the longest military occupation of a U.S. city since the Civil War.

And this quote from former Wilmington Mayor James Baker:

But the memory still burns for those who lived through the occupation. “It sent a shock wave through the social-service agencies . . . and the city as a whole,” Baker recalled. “People said, ‘What are we doing?’ “

Many African-American communities in Wilmington are very distrustful of the government, and for very good reasons.  This belief gets handed down from generation to generation.  But when drugs enter a city like Wilmington, followed by violence and murders, that distrust can get out of control.  How do we tackle this?  How do we lift a whole city out of a problem of this magnitude?  When my friend sent me this article, it was a response to my question about why we don’t just send in tons of cops and clean it all up, all the drugs and gangs.  She informed me the last time this happened it didn’t work out too well.  It astonishes me that we are still dealing with issues of race in the 21st Century, but we are and we need to face it and deal with it, all of us.  But at the same time, we cannot ignore what individuals are doing in individual circumstances.

We need to be very careful on how we plan to deal with the situations in far too many of our schools.  Far too much is tied into the very bad education reforms that show, time and time again, how it just doesn’t work.  But our current system has been infiltrated with far too many people tied to these efforts.  I expected to see a late rush of legislation coming forth at Legislative Hall in the final days of June.  With very little community input and transparency, we need to watch our legislators like a hawk and make sure what they put forth is best for students and not the broken system some of them are trying desperately to make permanent.  The funding mechanisms for our schools are under the microscope, but if we squeeze the property assessment orange too fast, it could cause many to leave the state they moved to because of low taxes.  As well, we need to be mindful of laws Delaware could pass in anticipation of the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  The law is still being flushed out in a lot of areas and the DOE and Governor Markell WILL take full advantage of that to please the hedge funders and corporations.

If businesses want to come into our schools and turn them into community schools, they should pay rent to our schools.  If they want to turn education into a marketplace, like any other store they need to pay their rent.  Why are we giving them a free ride while they make millions and millions and our districts get less?  It makes no sense when you look at it like a business model.  But no, our state wants to give them tax discounts for doing business in our state.  We are giving them free reign to pump out the same products over and over again with no actual results.

While these aren’t the solutions we need to make our schools safer, it is a big start.  Our district administrators are far too distracted with all of the nonsense around Common Core, state assessments, personalized learning, and career pathways when they should be focused on the more important things.  The first steps to ending violence in our schools are actually quite simple.  A rebellion like none seen before in public education.  A collective and concerted effort to rid ourselves of the catalysts that are stroking the flames in our children’s lives.  End Common Core.  End state assessments.  End the testing accountability machine that destroys morale in students, teachers, and schools.  End the corporate interference in education that perpetuates the false ideals that if students have more “rigor” and “grit” they can become college and career ready.  We are indoctrinating children at a very young age to be something they are not meant to be.  The human mind won’t allow it.  Some will conform.  But for the growing poor and disabled in our country, they will not be what the reformers want them to be.  You can’t guide a four-year old towards a certain career path based on data and scores.  You can’t say they don’t qualify for special education if a disability has not manifested itself yet.  End the abhorrent amount of data collection on our students for “educational research”.

This is the start.  Let’s get back to more human education.  Why are we doing this to our future?  No child should be a victim of a padded resume or a fattened wallet.  The majority of teachers will tell you privately what we are doing is not working.  Administrators will as well if you catch them on a good day.  But they feel threatened that if they don’t comply their profession will disappear.  They will fight for certain things but when they need to openly rebel against the system, it doesn’t happen.  It is their self-defense mechanism.  The closest we have come to ending this era of education reform is opt out.  But even that is in danger of disappearing if the education tech invaders get their way and have the state assessment embedded in small chunks instead of a once a year test.  The personalized learning and competency-based education models are already calling for this.

When I hear people say “all you do is complain, what are your solutions?”, I cringe.  The problem is so epic in scope, so large in diameter, that it will take a great deal of effort by many well-meaning people to find all the answers.  And when I say well-meaning, I don’t mean the Rodel Foundation or the Governor.  I mean the people who are not affected by corporate greed and a lust for power.  I’m talking about the people who truly want to save our children.

State Rep. Kim Williams Looking To Change “Good Cause” School Choice Options For School Bullying

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams introduced a bill yesterday concerning school bullying and when a student can transfer to a different school when “good cause” has been established with school bullying.  The current law does not specify what category of bullying can trigger such a transfer.  Rep. Williams legislation would create a new law requiring the bullying to be a substantiated incident.  This would mean an official bullying complaint would need to be filed by the parent or guardian at the school, who would in turn have to rule bullying did occur.  All Delaware schools are required to report this information to the Delaware Department of Education.

This bill would prevent parents from just switching out students without a valid good cause, which unfortunately happens at times in Delaware.  The current law does not protect the schools and the loss of funds when these events occur.  While some parents may take issue with this due to schools not ruling a bullying incident as substantiated (which is a whole other issue which I would like to see improved), there are other options for parents to take should a school not agree with the complaint.  All Delaware schools are required to have the website and contact information for the Delaware Ombudsman for Bullying Prevention through the Department of Justice.

In 2014, then Lieutenant Governor Matt Denned issued a statement regarding the responsibilities of schools reporting bullying incidents:

“It is encouraging to see the progress our schools have made in keeping parents informed about bullying, because that was one of the primary goals of the 2012 legislation,” said Attorney General Denn who co-authored the 2012 legislation as Lieutenant Governor. “But our schools clearly have more work to do in letting parents know what recourse they have when bullying does occur, and the state needs to do a better job accurately tracking bullying incidents so we can accurately monitor our overall progress.”

All bullying complaints, whether substantiated or not, are required to be reported to the Dept. of Education and it is the school’s responsibility to enter the information on a system called E-School.  I have always encouraged parents to request a copy of their child’s E-School report.  This can be done at a school or district level in most situations.  To read the legislation, please see below:

Under The Radar, Another Delaware Charter May Go Down Tonight

All the media attention has been on Delaware Met, but another charter school may face the charter revocation knife in less than twelve hours!  The Delaware Department of Education is the charter school authorizer for most of the charters in the state, but three of them fall under the watch of the Red Clay Consolidated School District: Charter School of Wilmington, Delaware Military Academy and Delaware College Prep.  The last of those is on formal review, and the odds are in favor of Delaware College Prep getting their charter revoked at the Red Clay board meeting tonight.

If this happens, and Delaware Met goes down at the State Board of Education meeting tomorrow, that will be five charter schools shut down in the past few years: Pencader Business School, Moyer, Reach Academy for Girls, Delaware College Prep and Delaware Met.  For a state with anywhere from 22-25 charters (it is getting hard to keep track with the openings and closings), this is an abysmal track record.  Delaware doesn’t have the charter chains like many other states.  Most of them are “mom and pop” charters.  Most of these are serving children with needs greater than other charters.

The inner-city charter experiments are clearly not working.  Sure, folks can say East Side is a resounding success, but when you look at their Smarter Balanced results, they weren’t much better than their traditional school district peers.  I am not saying I agree with using standardized test scores as a measure of success or failure, but for the sake of argument, their perceived “growth” blew up with their SBAC scores.  The problem is also the charters who do “perform” well.  This is another illusion cast upon our state because of their enrollment practices.  We all know who those players are but nothing ever changes.  So we continue this game of Russian Roulette with our Wilmington students.  We are rolling the dice with them and the results are horrible.

And yet, the charters with some of the most egregious financial abuses in our state stay open.  Academy of Dover and Family Foundations Academy collectively wasted over $300,000 in taxpayer funds for personal use.  Their schools are still open.  Their former leaders are not in prison for outright theft.  But we will bounce students around Wilmington through choice and charter openings and closings without any regard to the amount of instability this inflicts on our districts, our communities, and most of all, the students.