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
I am more convinced than ever that there are people in Delaware who are hell-bent on demolishing the Delaware State Education Association. The resignation of Mike Matthews over old blog posts was just the opening salvo. This is an all-out war on the teachers union in Delaware.
Yesterday, I received a letter in the mail. The envelope was hand-written and the actual letter was typed. The bottom part of the page was cut off. There was no return address, just a Wilmington postmark. I do not know who sent it but it feels and smells like a campaign to go after DSEA. This is what the letter said: Continue reading
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.
Racism in Delaware is very real. We saw it clearly with the situation at a Delaware Military Academy basketball game. Alleged racial slurs were yelled out by DMA students. When the A.I. Dupont High School basketball team was told to stay in their chairs after the game, members went to go towards the seats where they heard the horrible words. No adult will come forward about this and use honor instead of protecting their charter school. Why?
Racism is rampant in Delaware. Our media, especially The News Journal, does not do enough to curb this. Every time they post any article about issues that could possibly involve race, the hatred pours out in their comments. Perhaps they remove these but they have no filters whatsoever to prevent words like nigger being thrown out there. Don’t believe me? Check out this comment from their poll last night about the DMA/AI incident:
I don’t condone the use of that word by anyone, whether they are black or white. It is a word from history that signifies a time when black people were owned by white people. I don’t believe any race or culture should own the word. It is ugly and full of hatred. We all bleed the same blood. We all smile the same smile and we all shed the same tears. Maybe because I was raised in a home where the value of respecting others was instilled in me at a very early age is the reason I can’t even fathom this kind of hatred.
President Trump, for all his faults, does not bring out this kind of hatred in people. It is there and always has been. There are those who may not like the words but fail to do anything about as evidenced by this comment from a DMA parent:
Fear of retaliation. I’ve heard those words so many times to justify bad decisions in others. If you find those words unacceptable then do the right thing and speak up. What kind of message are you sending your child? That it is okay for others to say things that are unacceptable in today’s society? That adults can act just as bad as kids which further perpetuates racism? Speak up parent! By hiding things and covering them up, you are teaching your own child that it is okay for these things to happen. It is not okay. It is not right. Your job as a parent is to prepare your child for adulthood and instill in them a sense of right and wrong. We all want to protect our children, I get that. But if doing it has a cost that could make anyone think certain things are okay are you really doing your job as a parent? If administrators allow this to continue, what does that say about the school you chose to send your child to? Taking away a senior night, which is the first I’ve heard of any punishment for DMA students, is not enough. If this indeed happened, that would indicate wrong-doing on the DMA team and cheerleaders. If no racial slurs were thrown out, why a punishment at all?
Schools like Delaware Military Academy, Charter School of Wilmington, and Newark Charter School all have very low African-American populations compared to the schools around them. Some have even suggested they allow this culture of racism to continue so they get more white students. This furthers segregation in Delaware, especially around Wilmington. If these charters truly cared about diversity, they would do something about it. Instead, we get long drawn-out essays, significant expenses surrounding school uniforms and sports, and specific interests that dissuade low-income families and minorities from even applying. Despite the many who have called them out on this, our General Assembly turns a blind eye to this and allows this to continue. Despite federal guidance suggesting any specific enrollment should be designed to let students with the highest needs in.
Did the A.I. DuPont H.S. coach do the right thing? Many have suggested he did. By suspending the team for the rest of the season he sent a message that despite what others say reacting to it can only make the situation worse. But what about those players who are being called one of the most vile words in existence? The News Journal wrote an editorial and said the coach made the right decision. However, they did not mention one word about the alleged racial slurs. To me, that word is meant to strip away the humanity from a person and make them feel like less then a human being. Even though the above comment no longer appears in the comments of a poll they put up last night they allowed it to go up. Even by putting a poll up to see if the coach did the right thing without all the information conveyed to those answering the poll, they are slanting the issue.
Delaware is an odd state. We are a state between the south and the north. One only needs to look at the riots in Wilmington in the 1960s to see Delaware’s history with race issues. We still struggle with this in the present. Generations of hatred against black people still exist to this very day. But no one wants to really bring it out in the open. Those of us who try are chastised and told to shut up. That we have no idea what we are talking about. But it continues, every day. Every time we allow any institution to further issues of race, we are allowing the problem to continue. Any time we allow a school, a building of education, to not have student populations that match the local area, we are letting it happen.
The charter schools I mentioned were a cure for not-so-wealthy parents of white students who couldn’t afford to send their kids to private schools. They didn’t want their kids in “those” schools so some of our legislators created the perfect situation: schools with predominant white populations and barriers that effectively prevented “those” kids from even getting into that system. And many parents rushed towards the opportunity. Attack one of those charters and the parents will come out in full force to defend the school with a “How dare you” attitude. They will defend these institutions that further discrimination at the cost of their own souls. They don’t even see they are doing it.
Any person who makes themselves better than another with words designed to hurt someone based on race, gender, disability, age, or social status is discriminatory. They are racist. They are advancing their old-world vision on present-day society. Anyone who fails to speak out about these things happening is living in a fear basket cuddled up in a blanket called enablement. You are allowing this to continue. You are just as bad. If your child was given a hard time at school would you not speak up for them? Most of us would. We wouldn’t worry about fear of retaliation because it is the right thing to speak up for your child and advocate for them when they are unable to. So why would you not speak up when you see your child’s environment is hostile and ugly? That can be just as damaging as any situation where someone comes after your child. You are failing as a parent when you don’t speak up about injustice. If we all did that when we should, there wouldn’t be so much injustice. It would send a clear message that this will not be tolerated. It is unacceptable. We will not be a victim to your cruel words and hatred.
Children are the most susceptible and vulnerable population in this country. They absorb what is around them. If parents show racism as issues at the dinner table or use words to describe people that are not good, kids pick up on it and at a very early age. It becomes part of their personality. It goes both ways with race. Putting down the white man in front of your kids can elicit the same behaviors in kids. I go back to “Remember The Titans”. If it really went down that way, I don’t know. It had to have been “Disneyfied” to some degree. But the message is clear: when we band together we are all one.
I am not afraid to speak out. I will not stop defending the rights of any human being on this planet. And you can throw all the stones in the world at me but I will not let your cowardice stop me. This is why I loathe the use of high-stakes standardized testing in schools. It is just another system that puts up divides instead of unity. Far too many parents say “I don’t want my kid going to that school. Look at their test scores”. And they cycle continues. For the Delaware racists, you know who you are. You know what you harbor in your innermost thoughts. You may think you are right. You may go to church on Sundays and count your blessings. You may believe you have the might of angels behind your beliefs. But what you lack in humility and grace takes all of that away. As for media like The News Journal, telling half a story isn’t addressing any issue. Covering up things that went down and hiding behind “accounts on social media” as if that whitewashes what really went down is not journalism. It is cowardice.
Almost a day since I broke this story, DMA Commandant Anthony Pullella has not responded to my request for information about this incident. I can’t say I’m surprised. Many charter schools like to live in their own bubble and want to ignore the outside world. As if they are the beacon of society and can do no wrong. Why shouldn’t they think that? Our own state government has allowed them to thrive in that belief. Our legislators can sit in their legislative chambers and condemn actions that took place 150 years ago but when the time comes for them to address the true issues that are perpetuating racism, discrimination, and segregation in our state, far too many of them do nothing. Especially when it comes to education. There are those who will fight on these issues, reps like Kim Williams, John Kowalko, and others. But they do not hold the majority. All too often, bills are saturated with words that eventually continue Delaware’s backwards slide into racism. Some don’t even realize this at the time. Critics of issues involving racism and discrimination are all too often marginalized in this state. Our issues become back burner because money and power have the influence in Dover, not what is right. It becomes politics, not morality and doing what is right.
Unless you have been spoken down to like you are less than you are as much as African-Americans have in our very racist state, how can you effectively say you are right? Have you ever walked in the shoes of someone who has been demeaned and humiliated? If the answer is no, then kindly shut up. We don’t want your hatred spewing out of your mouth. I will never condone violence as a response to hatred. It does nothing except make the situation worse. But to point out the potential of violence without addressing why it got to that point is highly irresponsible.
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…
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.
Tony Allen issued a stern warning about Wilmington schools. He said a lawsuit is coming soon if we don’t fix it.
Last Wednesday evening, the Progressive Democrats of Delaware held a panel on Delaware education funding. The panelists were myself, Tony Allen (the Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission), Brian Stephan (on the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee), and State Rep. Paul Baumbach.
The main emphasis of the panel was to discuss the pros and cons of implementing a weighted funding system for Delaware schools. In this type of system, students with higher needs would have more money allocated to them. These would include low-income students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. For the last, this already takes place with the exception of basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.
All the panelists were in agreement that the system we have is not working at all. While I don’t necessarily have an issue with a weighted funding system, the devil is in the details. But beneath the surface, as I stated towards the end of the panel, is the huge elephant in the room concerning accountability. Not for standardized tests but where money is currently going. There is no viable mechanism in Delaware to ensure the funds we are using in public education are truly going to the needs of students. Our state auditor is supposed to audit every single traditional school district for all expenses, but when was the last time we saw one of those reports unless it was part of an official audit inspection? There is no consistency with where funds are going. There are so many sub-groups of payment allocations with many overlapping each other. It is a beast to understand. Coding expenses in definitive places is a must, but no one seems to want to address that at a state level. It is my contention that throwing more money into the system is a recipe for disaster.
Say the advocates for better education in Wilmington schools do file a lawsuit. What would the result be? The feds have made important decisions in the past that put temporary band-aids on the issues but eventually the situation with “failing schools” comes up again and again. The definition of a “failing school” is now tied to standardized tests. It is the heart of all accountability in public education. But it fails to address the issues facing students of poverty, spoken languages that are not English, and disabilities that are neurologically based. The “one size fits all” mentality, which the Delaware Dept. of Education is still pushing in their first draft of the Every Student Succeeds Act state plan, doesn’t work.
Tony Allen told the group he was disappointed the WEIC Redistricting Plan didn’t pass in the General Assembly. He said, without hesitation, that he fears a lawsuit will have to happen to truly address the issues facing Wilmington students. He did concede that one of the biggest issues facing WEIC was not having representation from Kent and Sussex counties in the group. This was something I advised WEIC about in public comment at their very first meeting in August of 2015. It was also why I didn’t go to as many meetings as I could have. But will a federal lawsuit fix Wilmington schools?
In my opinion, the biggest problem in Delaware education among high-needs students is a problem no judge, accountability system, General Assembly, or any advocate can fix: hopelessness. In our biggest cities in the state, and reaching out into the suburbs and rural areas, is a drug problem of epic proportions. And with African-American youth, that comes with a potential of joining a gang. Until that problem is fixed, we will continue to spin our wheels trying to fix education. We can have after-school programs and more guidance counselors in our schools. That will help, but it will NOT solve the problem. I don’t have the answer to that. I don’t know who does. But until we can fix that problem, making our schools the penicillin for the disease facing our state will not get to the heart of the issue. With the drugs and gangs come extreme violence and people getting shot in the streets. This “be tough or die” mentality is the deadliest issue facing Delaware. And when those issues come into our schools, that is when education gets put in the bulls-eye of blame.
I have no doubt, at some point, Tony Allen, Jea Street and others will file some huge lawsuit against the State of Delaware. And many will look towards a judge to solve all our problems. It won’t. Until we get really tough on hopelessness, we will fail.
Last night at the Delaware Every Student Succeeds Act Governor’s Advisory Committee meeting, audience members were given a chance to give public comment. I gave the following public comment, with the exception of a couple of sentences because that was covered during the meeting. I will put an asterisk between those sentences.
Good evening members of the ESSA Advisory Committee. My name is Kevin Ohlandt. Congratulations on your selection for this very important group. This is a mammoth undertaking, this new federal law. I will be completely frank: I do not trust this law. I do not trust our Delaware Dept. of Education. I believe ESSA is an unholy matrimony between education and corporations. You can consider me the friend of the bride, education, warning about the potential husband who will not be good for her. I have seen and heard far too much to suggest otherwise. I believe this matrimony will eventually result in a messy divorce. The custody battle for the students will be huge, and I fear the groom, the companies, will eventually win custody of the kids.
I urge this committee to give an immediate recommendation of postponing Delaware’s submission of their state plan to the US DOE. There are far too many moving parts. *States were given two dates to submit their final plan: March 31st or July 31st. Our Dept. of Education chose March 31st without any true consultation with the citizens of our state.* We were not given a choice as a state or allowed to be part of that decision-making process. Certain parties were given a much greater weight in consultation with the DOE before any public gathering took place.
As a member of the Student and School Supports discussion group, I see far too many members of that group who would financially benefit from the Every Student Succeeds Act. When that happens, I don’t see them as a stakeholder, but a benefactor. That is not what the term stakeholder means. I believe some good can come out of this law. I have seen many great ideas come forth in the meetings. But until we can weed out what is good or bad for students, we need to “slow our roll”. There are far too many conflicts of interest involved with this plan.
With that being said, the issues facing education in Delaware are at a crisis point. Whether it is mold in schools that is making people sick, or drugs and gangs reaching into elementary schools, or a teenager murdered in a bathroom stall, or the very fast implementation of educational technology in our classrooms with no research on the long-term psychological effects on children, or student’s personal data being given to parties that truly do not need that information, or lawsuits concerning school funding or segregation of minority students, or FOIA complaints against the DOE for continually failing to make certain public body meetings transparent and available to the public, we need to slow down.
Education should always be about the kids. Some in this world have already determined what their future should be and I find that to be an immoral and grave injustice.
The Indian River School District has seen better times. While the embattled district faces an upcoming referendum in November, they must also contend with a huge influx of new students, a discrimination lawsuit, a budget that cannot handle itself, and an audit coming out this month from the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office. Hopefully the last will answer the question of what their former Chief Financial Officer Patrick Miller was up to. As I reported last month, sources contacted me under anonymity that Miller somehow absconded with millions of dollars in his time as CFO of the district.
Coastal Point reported on September 23rd that Indian River is not the only school district under review by the state Auditor’s office. But, as usual, they are not ponying up any details. I get that, but at the same time it gives them the capability of making things disappear when things get too hot in the kitchen, like the charter school petty cash audit.
“We like doing these things quietly (and make the announcement) when we’re done and we have a report for the public, so there’s not speculation out there,” Wagner said. “People get into wild speculations, and we try to avoid all that.”
On November 22nd, the district will attempt an operating expense referendum, as detailed on their website:
The district is proposing a tax increase of 49 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The measure will raise $7,350,000 in additional local revenue. The average district taxpayer will see an increase of $95.41 in his or her annual property tax bill.
But Coastal Point indicates this may not be the only referendum the school will ask for this school year:
More students means less space for each, so IRSD is working with the Department of Education to potentially build new schools and classrooms. That could possibly mean another referendum in the spring of 2017, for major capital improvement (to build new schools) and current expenses (if more money is needed for continuing costs).
Taxpayers in the district, especially elderly ones, are not going to like the proposition of two tax increases in less than a year. In the Coastal Point article, Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner indicated the investigative audit against Indian River School District will most likely be released to the district first for them to review. After that it will be released to the public. Will it come out before the November 22nd referendum? That could be important for many reasons. If the audit comes back finding something bad, and it comes out before the referendum, that could cause voters to vote no. If it comes out after, taxpayers will say they felt cheated. As well, a post-referendum release could assure a failure of the potential 2nd referendum vote next spring.
The district was very clear about the ramifications of a failed referendum on November 22nd:
If the referendum is not approved by voters, the district could face cuts to school safety, a significant reduction in staff due to an inability to meet payroll, larger class sizes, further discretionary budget cuts, the loss of staff to other school districts and inadequate instructional supplies and materials.
But financial issues are not the only crisis in the district. There is also the matter of what happened earlier this week. On Tuesday, October 4th, it was publicly announced the Coalition for Education Reform filed a federal lawsuit against Indian River. Their allegations claim the district sent a disproportionate number of African-American students to an alternative special education school called the George Washington Carver Academy. According to Randall Chase with WDEL 101.7FM:
The Coalition for Education Reform claimed that the district is using the George Washington Carver Academy, a special education school, as a “punitive dumping ground” for black students branded as “troublemakers.” The group says black students are being removed from mainstream schools and sent to Carver in disproportionate numbers on flimsy pretexts and for arbitrary periods of time, while their educational needs are neglected.
As a parent of a special needs child, I can’t even begin to express how much this concerns me. Shuffling off any students to different schools over discipline issues has become the quick Band-Aid for many Delaware school districts. And some charter schools either expel the student or counsel them out. While a federal lawsuit may not play out for a long time, I have to wonder if the district knew this was coming and is beginning to look at this in future budgets should they lose.
It looks like the Christina School District is not the only district in the state facing an avalanche of issues all at once.
Their reach is everywhere. Foundations who say they represent the best interests of children. Who want to fix education so all children can get a shot. Why then, do so many of the children of these philanthropists, politicians, and corporate education reformers, attend private schools? Ones without the invasive education technology and Common Core standards? That alone should tell everyone they are not in it for the kids. For them, it is about the profit. Servant and master. They feel we should bow down to their infinite wisdom and do as they say. The reports from the Department of Labor showing increasing jobs don’t paint the same picture as the doom and gloom coming from the education “prophets”. They talk about gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers while putting forth policy that enforces those gaps, whether it is from standardized tests, “IEPs for All”, the false importance of education technology, or the perception that traditional school district teachers are horrible. They are the incubators of discrimination and segregation. But they fail to understand how their actions contribute to the outside factors our schools should not have to deal with, such as trauma and poverty. With all their vast wealth and power, they don’t spend their money helping to ease these issues. They believe that it is okay to track students into career pathways starting at the first moment they are able to take a test. They don’t care that very personal information goes out to 3rd parties that have no business seeing any information like this. They wrote the Every Student Succeeds Act. They are the ones pushing for more charter schools. They have the US Dept. of Education in their back pocket along with the politicians and groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the National Governors’ Association. They have many colleges and universities doing whatever they say. But they are wrong. What they are doing is the best for themselves, not the kids.
I get it now. A few months ago I was discussing parent opt out with an African-American friend of mine. He explained to me that African-American students don’t do well on standardized tests because they’re written for white kids. I disagreed with him. I couldn’t grasp what was right before my eyes.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment was made for white kids. Civil rights groups, usually backed by the Gates Foundation and other corporate education reformers, claim high-stakes standardized tests are important. They say they need to understand where African-American students rank compared to their peers. This only perpetuates the myth that these tests are necessary. These groups vehemently opposed parents opting out of these tests because they claimed it would only continue pathways to discrimination. Instead, the reality is staring them right in the face. Standardized tests do show achievement gaps. But not because they offer any solutions on how to close those gaps, but because they were written for a specific audience.
These tests fail to understand different minorities or cultures. They were created from a white culture perspective. They ask students to push themselves based on standards that don’t address poverty, low-income, special needs, violent environments, discrimination, segregation, or equity. Even for white students, many who also deal with issues of low-income in our country, don’t perform well on these tests unless they are from more affluent areas.
Charter Schools were supposed to be the savior of education. They were supposed to offer unique new ways of educating students and be models of innovation. Instead, at least in Delaware, they have served as incubators of discrimination, segregation, and racism. We can’t ignore this fact any longer. We have to address this as a state, head-on.
In all likelihood, our charters are merely copying what happens in our regular districts. We see that African-Americans in our traditional school districts do not fare any better on these tests. Charter schools and districts with higher populations of white students do better on standardized tests. This fact hasn’t escaped those who create these tests. They know this. Our politicians and education leaders know this as well. This story isn’t new, nor is it shocking. They have known this ever since standardized tests came about. But we expect African-Americans to perform the same as their white peers. If they don’t, our governments will label and shame the schools and teachers that administer these tests. Why? What is the point?
Education improvement programs make lots of money. If a school isn’t converted into a charter under the accountability schemes brought to you by Education Inc., you better believe some company out there stands to make a tidy profit off “fixing” the “problem”. In Delaware alone, a company called Mass Insight was paid $2.5 million dollars to help out six “priority schools”. All inner-city schools with, you guessed it, very high populations of African-American students.
Delaware Governor Jack Markell said the Smarter Balanced Assessment is the best test Delaware ever made. If that is true, then it shows Delaware to be a very racist state because we allow this to continue. Our Department of Education can throw out statistics and graphs until we are blue in the face, but the true facts are above, and in the article I did on low-income populations and Smarter Balanced proficiency. I have no doubt students will gradually do better on these tests. But not enough to give them the education they deserve. Not enough for African-Americans to catch up to their Caucasian peers. This isn’t defeat. This isn’t accepting a status quo. This is reality. A test solely designed for one pre-dominant culture under the assumption that other sub-groups will catch-up is always destined for eventual failure. Do we call that now? Or do our policy-makers only look at the cost of the test and not the cost to the children of their state?
For parents of African-American students: How many pictures that show the same thing do you need to see? Why are you continuing to let your children take a test that forces them to work harder to live to a different ideal and culture? I’ve seen some of you point out that your children have predominantly white teachers. If our schools and teachers are judged on a test that is written for white kids, and a white teacher is teaching a majority of African-American kids in a classroom, what do you think the results are going to show? This test serves a dual purpose: to keep African-Americans down and to push those unionized white teachers out of public education. If you want more African-American teachers in the future, how will today’s African-American youth even feel inspired to go into education when they are constantly told they are failures based on these tests? These same tests that will eventually break down and morph into end of chapter tests, taken by students multiple times throughout the year. This is not about helping students to become “college and career ready”. It is an elaborate and long-term tracking system. Think about it, and opt out until those in power change these pictures. Look at those in your community who want this. Follow the money. Who are they speaking for? Corporations or children?
Governor Markell sent an email to teachers and administrators thanking them for the latest Smarter Balanced Assessment results. Meanwhile, people don’t care. In the grand tradition of the former and very much lamented Transparent Christina, I hereby present the red-line edition of Jack’s chest-thumping email!
From: Markell, Governor (Governor)
Gee really, you need to write it down twice?
Sent: Thursday, July 21, 2016 2:01:51 PM (UTC-05:00) Eastern Time (US & Canada)
To: K12 Employees
Subject: Thank you to educators and school administrators
Thank you Governor Markell for forcing students to take this test and for teachers to administer them. God bless the opt out parents!
Dear Educators and School Administrators,
What, no love for the parents?
I hope you are all having a wonderful summer.
You too Jack. Speaking on behalf of teachers, thank you for interrupting our bliss and harmony with this email.
As many of you may have seen, today the state released our annual data showing student performance on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The improved scores across subjects and grade levels throughout our state serves as yet more evidence that your hard work is producing great results for our children and I wanted to take this opportunity to send a note of thanks.
In other words, over half our kids still aren’t proficient in math based on Smarter Balanced Standards and only 55% of them are proficient in ELA based on those same standards. I see what you’re doing here. Thanking teachers for their “hard work” for bad results. The joke is on you. Anyone who doesn’t know this is a crap test has been living in a cave somewhere.
Our transition to higher standards for what students should know at each grade level has contributed to making the last few years a tremendously challenging time for all of our educators, no matter what subject you teach, and all administrators. At a time when it’s clear that students will rely on their education more than ever to reach their potential, we know they deserve these higher expectations aligned to what colleges and employers will expect of them after graduation.
Newsflash Jack, education has always been needed for students to reach their full potential. This isn’t anything new. Stop making it a crisis. We get it. They don’t “deserve these higher expectations”. That’s like saying “I’m going to hit you in the face. It will hurt. But it will make you stronger.” Colleges hate Common Core, hate your stupid high-stakes tests, and I have yet to hear any employer say “what were your Smarter Balanced scores?” in an interview.
Accepting the higher standards at the state level was the easy part. Our progress is the result of what happens in our classrooms every day.
Yeah, rigor and grit. Lots of academic sweat that still hasn’t produced the results you think we want but you don’t really because as long as kids our doing bad they still need to be fixed. This story is getting as old as your time in office. Like the citizens of the state had much say in accepting these “higher standards”. When you dangle carrots like “Look, we’re getting all this money from the feds during a time when I had to cut teacher raises. Hip Hop Hooray! Come and board my train. It will be fun. Please fasten your seat belts cause you are going to get ridiculed and tested like never before. Don’t worry about the scores or the growth. Progress is progress. As long as my friends make money, that is the true progress!”
The improving proficiency levels released today represent another data point to show that what you are doing is working. Our graduation rates are at record levels, and recently led the country for the biggest growth. More students than ever are being prepared to be fluent in another language, and to pass college-level dual enrollment and Advanced Placement courses before they graduate. And you are making possible the incredible growth in our Pathways to Prosperity program, which just 2 years after it launched with about 30 students, will give more than 5,000 students this fall the chance to take courses that prepare them with college credit and workplace experience in growing industries from IT to health care to culinary arts.
But most of those students will need to go to Del-Tech. Way to spend millions of dollars on programs that benefit your buddies over there. Your asskissery has no limits. More flavor in the favors, that’s all this is. While I don’t mind students learning other languages, the fact that your “World Immersion” programs limit the number of kids who can enroll, especially students with disabilities, will just ultimately create more discrimination and segregation. Why is it whenever I see pictures of these programs I see mostly white kids Jack? But let’s take the time to thank Governor Markell for yet another data point that states the obvious: your ideas DON’T WORK!!! Maybe to the sycophant Delaware DOE, State Board of Education and the suck-ups who don’t realize they are on the table and still think they are at the table.
More than anything, I want to thank you for the daily efforts you put into making your classroom the best possible learning environment, taking time after the school day ends to provide the best extra support, and developing lessons that meet individual needs of each child.
Individual needs measured by a standardized test that does not differentiate between those individual needs and set up to make those with the highest needs look like failures. Teachers are burned out with your absolute hypocrisy and BS Jack. How many more months? I’m sure all the teachers are eternally grateful they have to spend so much of their day outside of their regular hours that get sucked up with professional development. I’m sure they are real happy about that. I’m sure they love the extreme waste of hours it takes students to take this cash in the trash test. Thank you for not providing the true funding our students need to be truly successful and giving all those corporations their big tax breaks. Thank you for giving the middle finger to parents and basically saying to them “Shut the hell up about what you want. This is MY Delaware,” followed by “If you thought those after-school hours are bad now dear educators, wait until your schools become all-day community centers from fetus to the grave!”
I look forward to following your lead and making the most of all of my remaining days in office to provide the support our teachers and students need to make the most of their talents.
I have no doubt you will spend your remaining days finding new ways to further your corporate education reform agendas for your Wall Street, Rodel, and big campaign donor buddies. Don’t forget Jack, you have to put those final nails in the public education coffin by getting those competency-based personalized learning plans into shape. How long before the announcement that Smarter Balanced will replace final exams and tlater will serve as end of unit tests? Can we take a peak at your stock portfolio? God help us all if you do anything education related at a higher level after you (finally) leave office…
“Not really but I have to play this up…suckers!”
Jack A. Markell
Lame-Duck! Quack Quack!
As I was surfing through my home page on Facebook this morning, I came across various mentions of President Obama’s eulogy for the five fallen Dallas police officers murdered last week in a moment of extreme violence in retaliation to the killing of two other men many miles away. Between all the Pokémon Go memes and the pictures of various families during their summer trips, something nagged at me to read the speech. Finally, I saw a post by Tony Allen, the Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission who posted the speech. I sat on my porch, reading the whole thing, my eyes bursting to tears. I will confess I’m not always the biggest Obama fan. I have not liked his education policies at all. But he gets it. He understands the true meaning of what happened last week. He echoed the same words I wrote in a reply to a friend’s post last night that we will heal through our actions, not our words. I wanted to post the entire speech as well. I’m sure it is all over the place, but I wanted to get it on my blog. As a memorial for the five Dallas police officers, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile. Thank you President Obama, for finding the right words to say in a troubling time in American history. Thank you as well to Tony Allen, who deserves far more credit than he gets for trying to make Wilmington, Delaware a better place!
Mr. President and Mrs. Bush; my friend, the Vice President, and Dr. Biden; Mayor Rawlings; Chief Spiller; clergy; members of Congress; Chief Brown — I’m so glad I met Michelle first, because she loves Stevie Wonder — (laughter and applause) — but most of all, to the families and friends and colleagues and fellow officers:
Scripture tells us that in our sufferings there is glory, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Sometimes the truths of these words are hard to see. Right now, those words test us. Because the people of Dallas, people across the country, are suffering.
We’re here to honor the memory, and mourn the loss, of five fellow Americans — to grieve with their loved ones, to support this community, to pray for the wounded, and to try and find some meaning amidst our sorrow.
For the men and women who protect and serve the people of Dallas, last Thursday began like any other day. Like most Americans each day, you get up, probably have too quick a breakfast, kiss your family goodbye, and you head to work. But your work, and the work of police officers across the country, is like no other. For the moment you put on that uniform, you have answered a call that at any moment, even in the briefest interaction, may put your life in harm’s way.
Lorne Ahrens, he answered that call. So did his wife, Katrina — not only because she was the spouse of a police officer, but because she’s a detective on the force. They have two kids. And Lorne took them fishing, and used to proudly go to their school in uniform. And the night before he died, he bought dinner for a homeless man. And the next night, Katrina had to tell their children that their dad was gone. “They don’t get it yet,” their grandma said. “They don’t know what to do quite yet.”
Michael Krol answered that call. His mother said, “He knew the dangers of the job, but he never shied away from his duty.” He came a thousand miles from his home state of Michigan to be a cop in Dallas, telling his family, “This is something I wanted to do.” Last year, he brought his girlfriend back to Detroit for Thanksgiving, and it was the last time he’d see his family.
Michael Smith answered that call — in the Army, and over almost 30 years working for the Dallas Police Association, which gave him the appropriately named “Cops Cop” award. A man of deep faith, when he was off duty, he could be found at church or playing softball with his two girls. Today, his girls have lost their dad, for God has called Michael home.
Patrick Zamarripa, he answered that call. Just 32, a former altar boy who served in the Navy and dreamed of being a cop. He liked to post videos of himself and his kids on social media. And on Thursday night, while Patrick went to work, his partner Kristy posted a photo of her and their daughter at a Texas Rangers game, and tagged her partner so that he could see it while on duty.
Brent Thompson answered that call. He served his country as a Marine. And years later, as a contractor, he spent time in some of the most dangerous parts of Iraq and Afghanistan. And then a few years ago, he settled down here in Dallas for a new life of service as a transit cop. And just about two weeks ago, he married a fellow officer, their whole life together waiting before them.
Like police officers across the country, these men and their families shared a commitment to something larger than themselves. They weren’t looking for their names to be up in lights. They’d tell you the pay was decent but wouldn’t make you rich. They could have told you about the stress and long shifts, and they’d probably agree with Chief Brown when he said that cops don’t expect to hear the words “thank you” very often, especially from those who need them the most.
No, the reward comes in knowing that our entire way of life in America depends on the rule of law; that the maintenance of that law is a hard and daily labor; that in this country, we don’t have soldiers in the streets or militias setting the rules. Instead, we have public servants — police officers — like the men who were taken away from us.
And that’s what these five were doing last Thursday when they were assigned to protect and keep orderly a peaceful protest in response to the killing of Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge and Philando Castile of Minnesota. They were upholding the constitutional rights of this country.
For a while, the protest went on without incident. And despite the fact that police conduct was the subject of the protest, despite the fact that there must have been signs or slogans or chants with which they profoundly disagreed, these men and this department did their jobs like the professionals that they were. In fact, the police had been part of the protest’s planning. Dallas PD even posted photos on their Twitter feeds of their own officers standing among the protesters. Two officers, black and white, smiled next to a man with a sign that read, “No Justice, No Peace.”
And then, around nine o’clock, the gunfire came. Another community torn apart. More hearts broken. More questions about what caused, and what might prevent, another such tragedy.
I know that Americans are struggling right now with what we’ve witnessed over the past week. First, the shootings in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, and the protests, then the targeting of police by the shooter here — an act not just of demented violence but of racial hatred. All of it has left us wounded, and angry, and hurt. It’s as if the deepest fault lines of our democracy have suddenly been exposed, perhaps even widened. And although we know that such divisions are not new — though they have surely been worse in even the recent past — that offers us little comfort.
Faced with this violence, we wonder if the divides of race in America can ever be bridged. We wonder if an African-American community that feels unfairly targeted by police, and police departments that feel unfairly maligned for doing their jobs, can ever understand each other’s experience. We turn on the TV or surf the Internet, and we can watch positions harden and lines drawn, and people retreat to their respective corners, and politicians calculate how to grab attention or avoid the fallout. We see all this, and it’s hard not to think sometimes that the center won’t hold and that things might get worse.
I understand. I understand how Americans are feeling. But, Dallas, I’m here to say we must reject such despair. I’m here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem. And I know that because I know America. I know how far we’ve come against impossible odds. (Applause.) I know we’ll make it because of what I’ve experienced in my own life, what I’ve seen of this country and its people — their goodness and decency –as President of the United States. And I know it because of what we’ve seen here in Dallas — how all of you, out of great suffering, have shown us the meaning of perseverance and character, and hope.
When the bullets started flying, the men and women of the Dallas police, they did not flinch and they did not react recklessly. They showed incredible restraint. Helped in some cases by protesters, they evacuated the injured, isolated the shooter, and saved more lives than we will ever know. (Applause.) We mourn fewer people today because of your brave actions. (Applause.) “Everyone was helping each other,” one witness said. “It wasn’t about black or white. Everyone was picking each other up and moving them away.” See, that’s the America I know.
The police helped Shetamia Taylor as she was shot trying to shield her four sons. She said she wanted her boys to join her to protest the incidents of black men being killed. She also said to the Dallas PD, “Thank you for being heroes.” And today, her 12-year old son wants to be a cop when he grows up. That’s the America I know. (Applause.)
In the aftermath of the shooting, we’ve seen Mayor Rawlings and Chief Brown, a white man and a black man with different backgrounds, working not just to restore order and support a shaken city, a shaken department, but working together to unify a city with strength and grace and wisdom. (Applause.) And in the process, we’ve been reminded that the Dallas Police Department has been at the forefront of improving relations between police and the community. (Applause.) The murder rate here has fallen. Complaints of excessive force have been cut by 64 percent. The Dallas Police Department has been doing it the right way. (Applause.) And so, Mayor Rawlings and Chief Brown, on behalf of the American people, thank you for your steady leadership, thank you for your powerful example. We could not be prouder of you. (Applause.)
These men, this department — this is the America I know. And today, in this audience, I see people who have protested on behalf of criminal justice reform grieving alongside police officers. I see people who mourn for the five officers we lost but also weep for the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. In this audience, I see what’s possible — (applause) — I see what’s possible when we recognize that we are one American family, all deserving of equal treatment, all deserving of equal respect, all children of God. That’s the America that I know.
Now, I’m not naïve. I have spoken at too many memorials during the course of this presidency. I’ve hugged too many families who have lost a loved one to senseless violence. And I’ve seen how a spirit of unity, born of tragedy, can gradually dissipate, overtaken by the return to business as usual, by inertia and old habits and expediency. I see how easily we slip back into our old notions, because they’re comfortable, we’re used to them. I’ve seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change. I’ve seen how inadequate my own words have been. And so I’m reminded of a passage in *John’s Gospel [First John]: Let us love not with words or speech, but with actions and in truth. If we’re to sustain the unity we need to get through these difficult times, if we are to honor these five outstanding officers who we’ve lost, then we will need to act on the truths that we know. And that’s not easy. It makes us uncomfortable. But we’re going to have to be honest with each other and ourselves.
We know that the overwhelming majority of police officers do an incredibly hard and dangerous job fairly and professionally. They are deserving of our respect and not our scorn. (Applause.) And when anyone, no matter how good their intentions may be, paints all police as biased or bigoted, we undermine those officers we depend on for our safety. And as for those who use rhetoric suggesting harm to police, even if they don’t act on it themselves — well, they not only make the jobs of police officers even more dangerous, but they do a disservice to the very cause of justice that they claim to promote. (Applause.)
We also know that centuries of racial discrimination — of slavery, and subjugation, and Jim Crow — they didn’t simply vanish with the end of lawful segregation. They didn’t just stop when Dr. King made a speech, or the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act were signed. Race relations have improved dramatically in my lifetime. Those who deny it are dishonoring the struggles that helped us achieve that progress. (Applause.)
But we know — but, America, we know that bias remains. We know it. Whether you are black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or of Middle Eastern descent, we have all seen this bigotry in our own lives at some point. We’ve heard it at times in our own homes. If we’re honest, perhaps we’ve heard prejudice in our own heads and felt it in our own hearts. We know that. And while some suffer far more under racism’s burden, some feel to a far greater extent discrimination’s sting. Although most of us do our best to guard against it and teach our children better, none of us is entirely innocent. No institution is entirely immune. And that includes our police departments. We know this.
And so when African Americans from all walks of life, from different communities across the country, voice a growing despair over what they perceive to be unequal treatment; when study after study shows that whites and people of color experience the criminal justice system differently, so that if you’re black you’re more likely to be pulled over or searched or arrested, more likely to get longer sentences, more likely to get the death penalty for the same crime; when mothers and fathers raise their kids right and have “the talk” about how to respond if stopped by a police officer — “yes, sir,” “no, sir” — but still fear that something terrible may happen when their child walks out the door, still fear that kids being stupid and not quite doing things right might end in tragedy — when all this takes place more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as troublemakers or paranoid. (Applause.) We can’t simply dismiss it as a symptom of political correctness or reverse racism. To have your experience denied like that, dismissed by those in authority, dismissed perhaps even by your white friends and coworkers and fellow church members again and again and again — it hurts. Surely we can see that, all of us.
We also know what Chief Brown has said is true: That so much of the tensions between police departments and minority communities that they serve is because we ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves. (Applause.) As a society, we choose to underinvest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. (Applause.) We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs. (Applause.) We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book — (applause) — and then we tell the police “you’re a social worker, you’re the parent, you’re the teacher, you’re the drug counselor.” We tell them to keep those neighborhoods in check at all costs, and do so without causing any political blowback or inconvenience. Don’t make a mistake that might disturb our own peace of mind. And then we feign surprise when, periodically, the tensions boil over.
We know these things to be true. They’ve been true for a long time. We know it. Police, you know it. Protestors, you know it. You know how dangerous some of the communities where these police officers serve are, and you pretend as if there’s no context. These things we know to be true. And if we cannot even talk about these things — if we cannot talk honestly and openly not just in the comfort of our own circles, but with those who look different than us or bring a different perspective, then we will never break this dangerous cycle.
In the end, it’s not about finding policies that work; it’s about forging consensus, and fighting cynicism, and finding the will to make change.
Can we do this? Can we find the character, as Americans, to open our hearts to each other? Can we see in each other a common humanity and a shared dignity, and recognize how our different experiences have shaped us? And it doesn’t make anybody perfectly good or perfectly bad, it just makes us human. I don’t know. I confess that sometimes I, too, experience doubt. I’ve been to too many of these things. I’ve seen too many families go through this. But then I am reminded of what the Lord tells Ezekiel: I will give you a new heart, the Lord says, and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
That’s what we must pray for, each of us: a new heart. Not a heart of stone, but a heart open to the fears and hopes and challenges of our fellow citizens. That’s what we’ve seen in Dallas these past few days. That’s what we must sustain.
Because with an open heart, we can learn to stand in each other’s shoes and look at the world through each other’s eyes, so that maybe the police officer sees his own son in that teenager with a hoodie who’s kind of goofing off but not dangerous — (applause) — and the teenager — maybe the teenager will see in the police officer the same words and values and authority of his parents. (Applause.)
With an open heart, we can abandon the overheated rhetoric and the oversimplification that reduces whole categories of our fellow Americans not just to opponents, but to enemies.
With an open heart, those protesting for change will guard against reckless language going forward, look at the model set by the five officers we mourn today, acknowledge the progress brought about by the sincere efforts of police departments like this one in Dallas, and embark on the hard but necessary work of negotiation, the pursuit of reconciliation.
With an open heart, police departments will acknowledge that, just like the rest of us, they are not perfect; that insisting we do better to root out racial bias is not an attack on cops, but an effort to live up to our highest ideals. (Applause.) And I understand these protests — I see them, they can be messy. Sometimes they can be hijacked by an irresponsible few. Police can get hurt. Protestors can get hurt. They can be frustrating.
But even those who dislike the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” surely we should be able to hear the pain of Alton Sterling’s family. (Applause.) We should — when we hear a friend describe him by saying that “Whatever he cooked, he cooked enough for everybody,” that should sound familiar to us, that maybe he wasn’t so different than us, so that we can, yes, insist that his life matters. Just as we should hear the students and coworkers describe their affection for Philando Castile as a gentle soul — “Mr. Rogers with dreadlocks,” they called him — and know that his life mattered to a whole lot of people of all races, of all ages, and that we have to do what we can, without putting officers’ lives at risk, but do better to prevent another life like his from being lost.
With an open heart, we can worry less about which side has been wronged, and worry more about joining sides to do right. (Applause.) Because the vicious killer of these police officers, they won’t be the last person who tries to make us turn on one other. The killer in Orlando wasn’t, nor was the killer in Charleston. We know there is evil in this world. That’s why we need police departments. (Applause.) But as Americans, we can decide that people like this killer will ultimately fail. They will not drive us apart. We can decide to come together and make our country reflect the good inside us, the hopes and simple dreams we share.
“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
For all of us, life presents challenges and suffering — accidents, illnesses, the loss of loved ones. There are times when we are overwhelmed by sudden calamity, natural or manmade. All of us, we make mistakes. And at times we are lost. And as we get older, we learn we don’t always have control of things — not even a President does. But we do have control over how we respond to the world. We do have control over how we treat one another.
America does not ask us to be perfect. Precisely because of our individual imperfections, our founders gave us institutions to guard against tyranny and ensure no one is above the law; a democracy that gives us the space to work through our differences and debate them peacefully, to make things better, even if it doesn’t always happen as fast as we’d like. America gives us the capacity to change.
But as the men we mourn today — these five heroes — knew better than most, we cannot take the blessings of this nation for granted. Only by working together can we preserve those institutions of family and community, rights and responsibilities, law and self-government that is the hallmark of this nation. For, it turns out, we do not persevere alone. Our character is not found in isolation. Hope does not arise by putting our fellow man down; it is found by lifting others up. (Applause.)
And that’s what I take away from the lives of these outstanding men. The pain we feel may not soon pass, but my faith tells me that they did not die in vain. I believe our sorrow can make us a better country. I believe our righteous anger can be transformed into more justice and more peace. Weeping may endure for a night, but I’m convinced joy comes in the morning. (Applause.) We cannot match the sacrifices made by Officers Zamarripa and Ahrens, Krol, Smith, and Thompson, but surely we can try to match their sense of service. We cannot match their courage, but we can strive to match their devotion.
May God bless their memory. May God bless this country that we love. (Applause.)
“When it comes to justice for children of color in the city, it has never been the General Assembly, it has always been the courts or the federal government that acts,” Street said. “I don’t think this is going to be any different.”
Civil rights advocate Jea Street told the News Journal he will sue the state of Delaware if the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan doesn’t pass. The Delaware General Assembly has a limited amount of time to act on the plan. There are six more voting days in the House of Representatives and nine in the Senate. One of the bills was released from the House Education Committee but two others haven’t been heard yet. If the bills pass the House, they must go to the Senate Education Committee. Time is running out but so is the patience of advocates like Street.
Most other states have created systems that give extra funds to high-poverty schools, but Delaware’s system, he says, assumes a school in a violence- and poverty-wracked neighborhood can operate with the same resources as a school in a quiet, wealthy suburb. “You talk to any expert, they’ll tell you that’s not how it works,” Street said.
Street was front and center during the press conference announcing the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the state and Red Clay Consolidated. I haven’t heard Street talk about that lawsuit since it was announced. That lawsuit alleged Delaware and Red Clay allowed charter schools to use discriminatory practices for enrollment purposes citing schools such as Charter School of Wilmington, Newark Charter School and Sussex Academy. I don’t see him beating on that drum anymore. That lawsuit has been lingering for over a year and a half while the Office of Civil Rights stalls on the investigation. I have to wonder why the News Journal doesn’t talk about that when they are writing an article about discrimination in Wilmington.
On the other hand, I agree with Street. Delaware passes the baton to the courts or the feds when things don’t change in the General Assembly. But when the article talks about the schools in Wilmington being operated by districts in the suburbs, the Wilmington schools will still be handled by a district from the suburbs. The inequities he is talking about will still be there, but they will be more concentrated in one district. From what I’m hearing, the Education Funding Improvement Commission report is delayed and may not be out by June 30th. Having gone to one of the meetings, no one could seem to agree on any one viable strategy. I’ve found Delaware likes to talk about education… a lot! But when it comes time to make the crucial decisions, everyone sits like a deer in the headlights. In the meantime, children suffer. We spend tons of money on research and reports but we don’t do anything with it. We had that huge Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities. The DOE paid Public Consulting Group somewhere around $50,000 to do that report. And what do we have to show for it? Absolutely nothing. It is money that could have been used on something viable, like an extra teacher in one of these schools. Instead we piss away money on absolute nonsense!
In December of 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware and the Delaware Community Legal Aid filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the United States Department of Education. The complaint was against the State of Delaware and the Red Clay Consolidated School District. The allegations in the complaint were around how the state and Red Clay, as charter school authorizers, allowed charters to develop segregation and discriminatory practices in their enrollment. Almost three months later, after the ACLU gathered information from people around the state, they submitted the information to the Office of Civil Rights in their regional Philadelphia office. Since then, their has been no official resolution on the matter.
Back in February, the Racial Justice Program of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation based out of New York reached out to the Office of Civil Rights for a status update. This is what they received back:
None of the charter schools listed in the complaint officially changed any of their admissions policies as a result of this. The Delaware Enrollment Preferences Task Force submitted their final report to the General Assembly shortly before the holidays last year, and not one piece of legislation has come out to address the issues. There is still a great amount of inequity in some Delaware charters compared to their neighboring school districts. I find it ironic both the Delaware DOE and the US DOE are so concerned about civil rights groups when it comes to high-stakes testing and how opt out could bring us back to “dark days” as some have put it. But when it comes to visible and transparent discrimination and segregation, the one office in the federal Government who could actually do something about it is sitting on it.
In looking at the OCR website at ed.gov there have been OCR complaints filed and resolved after the Delaware ACLU and Delaware Community Legal Aid filed their complaint. One was filed in September of 2015 and received a resolution in February of this year. The only cases showing from Delaware involved ones with Colonial School District, PolyTech and Family Foundations Academy from 2014. The longstanding Christina OCR resolution doesn’t show on the list because it only counts resolutions from 2013 and up.
I don’t see civil rights groups in Wilmington screaming about this. Why is that? When it comes to education and segregation, this is a shining example. Why are they so quiet on this issue but will say they know Smarter Balanced is a bad test but it is the only measurement for minority students to know if they are succeeding or not compared to their peers? I have to wonder how much influence the Delaware DOE and Governor Markell may have in making this drag out. Or possibly even higher up than them. Are any of our Delaware congressmen following up on this? John Carney? Tom Carper? Chris Coons? Or how about even Delaware’s own Vice-President Joe Biden? I’m certain this isn’t a resolution the Delaware Charter Schools Network wants to come out any time soon.
We need to rally civil rights groups on issues like this and not ones about opposition of parent opt out of high-stakes tests. I am calling on ALL Civil Rights groups to hammer the Office of Civil Rights office in Philadelphia, phone number (215) 656-8541, to make sure they are not stalling on this very important case.
Thank you to Richard Morse, Esq. for the Delaware ACLU in responding to my request to his office for information and allowing me to publish the response from the Office of Civil Rights.
I wrote an article over the weekend about Newark Charter School that touched on the heart of this blog. It was about a denial of the ability for parents to apply their daughter to NCS. Their daughter happens to have a very rare disability. Only a few people, from my viewpoint, have defended the school’s actions. One was the head of school. Thousands have come to the defense of the parents. Eventually, the school heard the people and allowed the little girl into the lottery. While she didn’t get picked in the lottery, equality was reached. This is why we fight.
I don’t write this blog for the schools. I write it to be a voice for parents in Delaware. It began as a voice for my own son, but quickly spread to ALL parents. In this article, the parents reached out to the admissions office, the school board, and the Delaware Department of Education. In all three instances they were told NO. The parents then reached out to a State Representative which was how I became involved. I brought the people into this and they spoke with a loud and clear voice. This is why we fight.
Had I contacted the school first, the article most likely would have been very different. The school could have flat-out refused to respond to me, which has happened in many situations. They also could have reached out to the parent, spun the tale their way, and no article would have been written. The parents wanted this information out there. They wanted parents to be aware of what was going on at one of our most “prestigious” public schools in Delaware. This is why we fight.
Right now, Delaware Governor Jack Markell is signing a joint resolution apologizing for slavery in Delaware. He will talk about how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go. In the meantime, his education policies, followed by those of the US Government, have done more to cause 21st Century segregation and discrimination in Delaware schools than anything else in the past ten years. Students with disabilities, English Language Learners, African-Americans, Hispanics, and children from low-income and poverty environments all bear the brunt of his false ideology. This is why we fight.
I changed the header image on Exceptional Delaware this morning. In my opinion, all seventeen pictures represent the faces of education reform in Delaware. They have ignored parents and caused most of the problems. Whether it was through their votes, policies, agendas, manipulation, fraud, plots, schemes, lobbying, coalitions, dictatorship, coercion, money-grabs, or arrogance, they are all guilty. This is why we fight.
Penny Schwinn. John King. Earl Jaques. Mark Murphy. Jack Markell. Greg Lavelle. David Sokola. Kendall Massett. Arne Duncan. Teri Quinn Gray. Chris Ruszkowski. Paul Herdman. Donna Johnson. Pete Schwartzkopf. Michael Watson. Chris Coons. Tim Dukes. This is why we fight.
They are the power brokers of education in Delaware. They destroy what is good and meaningful. They believe high-stakes testing is the right thing. Not for the good of students, but for their power. They institute policies that give no regard to what children are. They use them, as pawns and widgets in their laws and regulations. They don’t believe parents have the right to voice their opinion and they view transparency as a joke. This is why we fight.
To date, not one of them has been held accountable for their actions. Sure, they’ve had mud slung at them, but nothing has resulted in anything positive for students. Some are new to the landscape while others have been around from the very beginning. I’ve met some of these people, and they are very nice when it is just the two of you. But behind the scenes, in the offices where nobody sees what really goes on, that is when the plans take shape. This is why we fight.
Parents have the power to stop all this, but we lack the numbers. We talk about all this, or write about it, but to date we haven’t been able to stop anything they are doing. We need to change this. We need to fight, in unity and as a large and powerful group. Parents did this in New York. They forced change and it has come. There is no reason why, in a state as small as Delaware, we can’t do the same. Until they hear us, really hear us, we must opt our children out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. We must face those who would ignore us and make decisions about our children without any thought to the damaging consequences. We must stop believing the lies and manipulation and force the truth out of these people. This is why we fight.
Our children are the legacy we leave the world. They are the future. They are tomorrow. The forces around them will smile in front of you while planting the seeds for their control of your children. Every single law, every single regulation, every “non-profit” event we attend… we give them power. There are some organizations that have no choice but to comply with some of this. They will fight, but their power is limited because of who they are. I get that. They are also fighting for their own survival. I have judged these groups in the past, sometimes with humor, but most times with righteous anger. We just need to go around them and not go through them to make change. They are not evil, but they are in awkward positions. This is why we fight.
Only parents can speak loud enough to make the changes necessary for our children. We are their voice in the truest sense of the word. They need us to fight their battles for them until the time comes when they need to do the same for their children. They can’t see what is happening. They need us to find the truth and act on the knowledge we find. They need us to stop what is going on in their classrooms, in their schools, and how they want to control our children outside of school. This is why we fight.
We fight for our own children and we fight for all children. We fight for those who have neurobiological actions they cannot always control. We fight for those who are not picked because of the color of their skin or their last name. We fight for those who have nothing except the clothes on their back. We fight for those who want to teach our children the best way they can but have no voice because of the fear of retribution. We fight for equality and justice. We fight for public education and getting rid of anything that brings profit to those who don’t belong in our schools. We fight for our own rights, silenced by those in power because they know as a whole we can destroy what they seek to tear down. This is why we fight.
I’ve been following the live tweets from the Vision Coalition and their idiotic Student Success 2025 most of the morning. I see lots of district admins, Delaware PTA reps, teachers and legislators buying into this absolute nonsense. All you are doing is lining up the pockets of Rodel’s Dr. Paul Herdman and his corporate education reform buddies. Enough. You attend this event expecting some kind of miracle every year, and it is more of the same. Endless talk with no true progress. The NAEP scores came out today, and students did worse. Smarter Balanced is a complete failure. You talk and talk and do nothing about the true problems: crap like this making its way into the classroom. All this talk about personalized learning…you have no idea what you are turning children into. Drones for the millionaires and hedge fund managers. And who is going to pay for all this? Our state is facing a probable $200 million dollar deficit in the coming months, and you want to spend more money. While funds are siphoned out of the classroom for these events? Come on people, wake up!
If you want to do something meaningful for Delaware students, stop attending events like this. Get in the classrooms, see what teachers really need. See what students need. Personalized learning is not it. Standards-Based IEPs are not it. You can talk about community and parent engagement all you want, but I guarantee you the bulk of the parents in this state could not give a rat’s ass about this kind of thing. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel. All you are doing is making clowns like Paul Herdman rich. And trust me, he is laughing all the way to the bank. He likes to talk about unintended consequences a lot. You have no idea what just attending an event does to the students you like to think you represent. If you are there for the awesome eclairs, I get it. But if you are there to go back to your district, school, or association and fill heads up with all these great ideas, you are barking up the wrong tree.
I’m sure Jack Markell will give some rousing speech to go along with all the other bs you heard today. Don’t forget about the students and stop going to these “all-star country club” events. You are all culprits in the traps being set for students and teachers by merely attending. You should be supporting a nationwide push to get outside companies the hell out of education. You should be digging your heels in against standardized testing and all it’s punishment tactics. Support opt-out. Support special education. Stop bullying. Turn the discussion on how we can lift children out of poverty and reduce crime. Stop with the apparent racism that exists in our state. Stop the segregation and the tactics used to make it continue. This isn’t education, it is a corporation.
Delaware Senator David Sokola certainly had his moments with parents this legislative session, myself included. After a tumultuous four and a half months in the General Assembly, House Bill 50 eventually passed. Yesterday, Governor Jack Markell vetoed the bill to the amazement and anger of, well, Delaware. But the fallout from that one bill may echo into the second part of the 148th General Assembly as a potential veto override could take place as early as January, or barring some miracle where the General Assembly agrees to come back in special session between now and then. While State Rep. Earl Jaques was certainly the biggest obstacle in the House of Representatives, Senator Sokola was clearly the largest obstacle of the bill as a whole.
I wondered why a State Senator who is the chair of the Senate Education Committee would oppose legislation that would codify the rights of parents to opt their child out of harmful testing. I did some research on Sokola, and found his legislator history is filled with controversial education bills. Over the last twenty-five years, he has served as a State Senator in the First State.
In 1995, Sokola was instrumental in getting the original charter school bill, Senate Bill 200, passed. When Newark Charter School opened, Sokola was a board member and helped create the school. According to Kilroy’s Delaware, Senator Sokola sponsored legislation in 2002 that repealed the law surrounding the impact of new charters on other schools in the area. This led to Kilroy blasting the Senator in 2013 when he wrote a letter of recommendation for the never-opened Pike Creek Charter School, which was within his own district. Last year though, legislation sponsored by Sokola brought this law back into place with Senate Bill 209.
In another article, Kilroy slammed Sokola for creating the DSTP in Delaware. The DSTP was the state standardized assessment prior to DCAS, and was widely considered to be just as damaging as the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
“Many forget or might not know Senator Sokola is the godfather of DSTP the former standardized student test that was flawed from day(one)! Remember those 3-tiered diplomas grading student(s) based on one test like sides of beef in the supermarket.”
In fact, Sokola was opposed to DCAS and wanted another kind of standardized assessment in Delaware, but he was not granted his wish, and Delaware received the kinder and friendlier DCAS. But last year, Sokola was the Senate sponsor for the very controversial House Bill 334, which brought the Smarter Balanced Assessment into Delaware State Code. It would stand to reason he would oppose a measure whereby the state recognized and honored a parent’s right to opt out of a state assessment he sponsored legislation for.
In 2013, Sokola co-sponsored a bill to update the original Senate Bill 200 charter school law. This one brought out a lot of fighting in Delaware and helped set up some of the current animosity against the Delaware Charter School Network. House Bill 165 went through more amendments that were defeated or stricken than any bill in recent memory. It set up the whole transportation slush fund and the annual charter school performance award. The bill went through in a little less than a month with local school districts even more afraid of the impact a slew of charter schools would have on their enrollment and funding. Side deals occurred like crazy, and the blogger Kavips gave a list of the reasons why House Bill 165 was a very bad bill.
Another Sokola sponsored legislation caused the current wave of teacher resentment against the DOE with Senate Bill 51. This very controversial bill created the harsher evaluations currently used against Delaware educators. While the educators have received a two-year pass from the Smarter Balanced Assessment impacting their evaluations, there is plenty in this bill that ticked teachers off. And John Young with Transparent Christina warned citizens of Delaware:
“So, we have a group of legislators who have signed on, including my own Senator. But why? Well, I can only guess because it sounds so good and intuitive and simple and pure. All of which, when you are talking education should make your spine crawl.”
His latest offering to Delaware, signed by Markell yesterday, is Senate Joint Resolution #2. Like most Sokola offerings, this bill looks really great on the surface, but it is injected with a poison. SJR #2 is a convening of a group to look at district and state assessments and pick out which ones are good and which ones are bad. Kids are over-tested, sure. But this bill all but guarantees the further implementation of Common Core as assessments will be picked that are aligned with the state standards. This will give districts less autonomy in figuring out what struggles students are having and how they can help them. SJR #2 is filled with controversy. Shana Young with the DOE sent out an email in early May fully stating this bill was designed to be a counter to the parent opt-out bill, House Bill 50. When I submitted a FOIA for this email, the DOE claimed it never existed even though I have seen it with my own two eyes.
During the Senate Education Committee meeting on House Bill 50, Sokola graciously allowed the opponents of House Bill 50 all the time they wanted for public comment, but stopped the supporters short and towards the end would interrupt them. He then introduced an amendment to House Bill 50 when it came up for a Senate vote all but guaranteeing it would kick the bill back to the House of Representatives for another vote. It did just that, and another amendment put on the bill by Senator Bryan Towsend almost killed the bill, but common sense prevailed and Townsend’s amendment was shot down after a 2nd vote.
I am sure Sokola is presently making the rounds about an override of House Bill 50. It would need a 3/5ths vote in both houses to pass, and I have no doubt Sokola and his counterpart but not so smart buddy in the House Earl Jaques are making the calls as I write this.
A pattern begins to form with Senator Sokola’s greatest hits. Rigorous testing, more charter schools and autonomy for them that they clearly don’t deserve, and what many view as unfair accountability for teachers. Sokola has gone on record as recently as last month in saying we need to compete with other countries with standardized assessments, but he seems to forget that was the argument two years ago for Common Core. It is very hard for me to trust any legislation introduced by Senator David Sokola when it comes to education, cause something always seems to come back to bite public schools and educators in the ass, with the exception of his beloved charter schools. He has used his position and created multiple conflicts of interest but the Delaware Senate looks the other way. Just like the Delaware Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education seem to want. In a sense, Sokola could be directly blamed for the current status of segregation in Wilmington with his original charter school legislation and his demands for rigorous standardized testing that has done more damage to schools than anything Governor Markell could ever hope to do. He will pretend to stand up for black students, but his actions speak otherwise.
Senator Sokola is up for re-election in 2016. Will he run again, or does he possibly have something else lined up now that he has retired from DuPont? Rumors circulate, but at this time they are just that. Will he fade into oblivion or end up running some huge charter management company in Wilmington? Or will someone finally hold this man accountable for his actions?
I have to say I am extremely impressed! Delaware PTA made a very wise choice when they chose Laurie Howard to represent them with the House of Representatives on tomorrow’s House Bill 50 vote. She tackles the very controversial issues of parent opt-out affecting federal funding and the implications of standardized testing for urban minority kids. What she essentially did was take all the crap the DOE, Markell, Rodel, and civil rights groups have been throwing our way, put them in a blender, and made some delicious opt-out soup!
This says submission 2 of 3. What is #3 going to say? I can’t wait for this!
After months of hard work, the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee issued its final report today. This mammoth 204 page report has many suggestions based on interviews, research and community input. Please read the below report. I will post my own thoughts in an update on this article after I have read through the entire report.