Exclusive: A Delaware Legislator Is Not The Hero For Public Education They Appear To Be

I’ve been wrestling with something for a long time now.  I found out something.  Something big.  Usually my first instinct is to get it out there.  But this was BIG, and if I was wrong about it, it could have shot me in the foot.  It concerns a legislator and an election.  But more than that, it concerned friends.  Friends who are very supportive of this particular legislator.  I’ve had wrestling matches in my head before about these kind of things, but usually the need for truth prevails.  This time though, it was different.  Continue reading

16 To Watch In 2016: State Senator Colin Bonini

ColinBonini

For the past six months, I have heard the entire state of Delaware talk about how John Carney is the heir apparent to the Governor’s mansion.  Because he is a Democrat.  Because he should have become the Governor in 2008.  On the Republican side, the leading contender is State Senator Colin Bonini.  For the past 21 years, Bonini has been a Delaware State Senator, winning every election.  He did run for State Treasurer in 2010, but lost to Democrat Chip Flowers.

Bonini will definitely be one to watch in the coming year.  Many Delawareans are not happy with the “one-party rule” that has existed in the First State for many years.  With education a complete mess, a looming budget deficit, and a general feeling of unhappiness with our state government, it may just be a time that is ripe for change.  There have been no Republican governors in Delaware since 1993.  Many feel that John Carney will just be “Jack Markell light”.

Bonini has been preparing for the election drumming up support from many different areas of the state.  As recently as December 1st, Bonini sent a letter to the leadership of the Delaware House of Representatives and Senate to request the creation of a standing Civil Rights committee in the Delaware General Assembly.  I think this is an excellent idea!

boninicivilrights

In terms of voting history on crucial education matters, Bonini voted yes on the very controversial charter school bill, House Bill 165 and yes on the equally controversial Senate Bill 51, concerning teacher educator licensure.  On the flip side though, Bonini voted no on the Smarter Balanced Assessment bill, House Bill 334, and voted yes for House Bill 50, the parent opt-out legislation Governor Markell vetoed last summer.  His primary opponent, John Carney, voted yes for the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Last summer, Carney voted no for an opt-out bill introduced earlier in the year.  I think it would be foolhardy for everyone to assume Carney has this in the bag.  While Carney has been strolling around the corridors of Washington D.C., Bonini has been in the first state tackling a lot of the issues.  His loss to Flowers in 2010 was very narrow, with Flowers carrying 51% of the vote for State Treasurer.

Both candidates need to speak openly and candidly about education in Delaware.  This conversation needs to start now.

 

Opt-Out Haters Of Delaware: Who is Senator David Sokola And How Has He Damaged Public Education For A Quarter Of A Century?

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?

Delaware DOE FOIA Reveals Disdain Of Delaware Higher Education

“This launch will mark the first significant pressure point since the passage of SB51, and will raise the ire of every Delaware higher-education institution.”

These words were said in an email memo at the Delaware DOE about Relay Graduate School of Education’s introduction to Delaware.  Read the below, and go to the part about Relay.  And by all means, read the other stuff as well.  More intriguing stuff in there as well!  You know an email is going to reveal something when it starts off with “not to be shared”…

Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques Issues An Apology

From his public figure Facebook page:

Recently I made a comment regarding standardized testing in Delaware that was hurtful to some families of children with special needs. For that I am truly sorry.

As a longtime volunteer with Special Olympics Delaware, and the grandfather of a child on the Autism spectrum, I understand the challenges that parents face every day with children who have intellectual disabilities. I have witnessed the extraordinary accomplishments these children achieve and I would never underestimate their abilities. I completely understand that their parents will take the appropriate actions they see fit regarding their education. That is why I co-sponsored SB 229 last year, which allows parents of students with cognitive disabilities to make their own choices when it comes to standardized testing.

I offer my sincere apology to these families and their children.

While I appreciate the apology, I am very torn on what it means.  This wasn’t just a shot against special needs kids, this was against ALL kids who are opted out, and their parents.  His apology doesn’t even offer the words opt out, just standardized testing.

Furthermore, his reference to Senate Bill 229 troubles me.  This bill allows children with severe cognitive disabilities to be opted out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment to take something called DCAS-Alt.  It is a great bill, don’t get me wrong.  But he also voted yes for House Bill 334, which allowed the Smarter Balanced Assessment into the state code.  As well, he voted yes for Senate Bill 51 which allows for teachers to be evaluated based on standardized test results.  In addition, most special needs children would not even qualify for the alternate assessment.

I still don’t have faith in him as the Chair of the House Education Committee, so my petition will stand, unless he apologizes to ALL students and parents who have gone through the opt out process.  Being American is important to me, and I take it as a slight when I am told I am not being American.  Being American also gives people the ability to make certain choices, so I am exercising that right.  I also think he needs to reach out to more than the Delaware Teachers of the Year to get a gage on this test.  I have to wonder, has Earl Jaques taken the Smarter Balanced Assessment?

As a father of a special needs child, I accept that part of the apology.  But on behalf of ALL the children who are forced to take this test and the lucky ones who have been opted out, none of which are failures, I just can’t.