Delaware DOE Releases 2017 District & Charter Special Education Ratings

The Delaware Department of Education came out with the special education ratings for all Delaware school districts and charter schools.  The information the schools and districts were rated on were based on indicators by the federal Department of Education.  This is information the Delaware DOE collects from on-site monitoring of schools as well as performance data, including participation rates from the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  The ratings are based on information from the 2014-2015 school year.  I don’t necessarily agree with these ratings, especially as it relates to parents opting their children out of the state assessment.  I’ve always found that many schools who have higher populations of students with disabilities tend to get the rougher ratings.  It is a sure sign we need more funding, staff, resources, and training for special education.

 

Meets Requirements:

Academia Antonia Alonso

Academy of Dover

Charter School of Wilmington

Early College High School

First State Montessori Academy

MOT Charter School

Newark Charter School

Odyssey Charter School

Polytech School District

Sussex Tech School District

 

Needs Assistance:

Caesar Rodney School District

Campus Community School

Cape Henlopen School District

Delaware Design-Lab High School

Delaware Military Academy

Delmar School District

East Side Charter School

Freire Charter School

Indian River School District

Las Americas Aspira Academy

Laurel School District

Milford School District

Positive Outcomes Charter School

Providence Creek Academy

Woodbridge School District

 

Needs Intervention:

Appoquinimink School District

Brandywine School District

Capital School District

Charter School of New Castle (formerly Family Foundations Academy)

Christina School District

Colonial School District

Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security

Gateway Lab School

Great Oaks Charter School

Kuumba Charter School

Lake Forest School District

New Castle County Vo-Tech

Prestige Academy (closing this year)

Red Clay Consolidated School District

Seaford School District

Smyrna School District

Thomas Edison Charter School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delaware Parents Of Students With Disabilities: Your Immediate Input Is Essential!!!!!

The Delaware Department of Education released (finally) the Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan.  It will be available for public comment until June 5th.  I strongly encourage all parents of special needs children in Delaware to very carefully go through every single line of this plan.  I will be doing the same on this blog from now until then and I will be putting my breakdown into public comment form for the plan as well.  I do want to thank the very hard work of the Special Education Strategic Planning Group who spent many hours and days, volunteer I may add, to work on this plan.  The group consisted of 24 Delawareans, a moderator, and various employees of the Delaware Dept. of Education.  As well, former Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky as well as current Secretary, Dr. Susan Bunting, provided support for the plan.  I would especially like to thank State Rep. Kim Williams and Dr. Michele Marinucci, the Special Education Coordinator for the Woodbridge School District, for getting this large group of people together during a time when it could have been completely different (and not to the benefit of students with disabilities).

At first glance, I see both positive and negative things in the plan.  It isn’t going to please everyone.  But it is a start and more than we had before.  This isn’t a time to throw stones, but it is a time to let your thoughts be known.  Public comment for this plan is as follows, as per the Delaware DOE:

Public comment for this document can be sent to matthew.korobkin@doe.k12.de.us. Public comments can also be mailed to: 
Matthew Korobkin 
Special Education Officer for Strategic Planning and Evaluation 
Delaware Department of Education 
401 Federal Street Suite 2 
Dover, Delaware 19901 

 

Action Alert! Support Special Education Services In Delaware! JFC Needs To Hear From YOU!

For decades, special education has been the law of the land in Delaware and the United States.  In Delaware, our state funds special education services for all students except basic services for those in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  This is when children developing disabilities need those services the most.  Our state relies on a program called Response to Intervention which can not cure a disability.  Special education can’t either, but it give those children the individual resources and goals to help them succeed in education.  It is an absolute travesty that our state does not fund these students.

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee submits the final budget to the House and Senate for a vote in the final days of June.  This funding MUST be included in that final budget.  For far too long, students have either been denied special education services or local school districts have to make up the difference with what the state won’t provide.  We have a state that talks the talk about equity but when it is time to walk the walk, we still have this.

Please join the letter-writing campaign to our JFC to ensure students with disabilities get their fair shake.  Please follow the link below and make this happen!  This is not the same campaign from March where letters were sent to Governor Carney.  This is for the Joint Finance Committee!  A big huge thank you to Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams for her fierce advocacy on this issue!  If you are a parent, student, teacher, educator, administrator, state employee, or citizen of this state, we all recognize this is a tight budget this year.  But we must make this happen to make sure the students with the most needs are given a fair shot!

https://actionnetwork.org/letters/support-special-education-services-in-delaware?clear_id=true

Delaware Residential Treatment Center Numbers Go Down As Day Programs Shoot Up

Day programs for children with big behavioral issues stemming from disabilities are shooting up rapidly.  This is a good thing.  Prior to this year, most of these special needs students were sent to residential treatment centers which can result in separation from family and a large financial burden to the state.  This is the most promising Interagency Collaborative Team report I’ve seen since I began covering these three years ago.

The unique challenges these students face is very difficult for families and schools.  At times, extra intervention beyond the capacity of the local education agency is needed.  The choice of sending a student to a day program or a residential treatment center is still a difficult one for a parent.  But a day program, in the same state, is a better option for the student and their primary caregivers.  While a parent doesn’t pay for these programs when it goes through the ICT, it costs the state much more for residential treatment.  In most cases, a local school district pays 30% of the cost while the state pays the remaining 70%.

Most of the children, teenagers, and young adults are male, at roughly 80%.  Over half of these students are teenagers.  Around 3/4 of the students in residential treatment centers go out of state to receive those services.  The number of students in these unique services has hovered in the low 140s for the past three fiscal years.

Carney’s Budget Reset Will Put The Hurt On School Districts, Charters And Citizens Of Delaware

Delaware Governor John Carney released his FY2018 Budget “Reset”.  He is calling for a ton of cuts across Delaware programs as well as increase revenue by increasing taxes.  The extremely wealthy won’t get the tax increases many have been calling for in this proposed budget.  But property owners will feel it.  Here comes the Delaware sink hole!

In education, the match tax will switch over to the local side, to be raised by school boards without a referendum.  Which is all well and good if you don’t own property.  But if you do, expect to pay more in school taxes.  As well, $15 million will be cut from district and charter operation budgets doled out by the state.  I don’t see the funding for basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade but I see $4.7 million more for early childhood education.  We poured $18 million into that last year.  I don’t see any proposed cuts to the Department of Education even though Carney ran around during his campaign saying he was going to streamline the Department.  Carney is allowing for $25.1 million for new teachers and $1 million for his “opportunity grants”.  $22 million would be cut from the education sustainment fund (thus the district boards getting to get more school taxes without a referendum like they do with the tuition tax).

In the below document, we see absolutely nothing about marijuana revenue or an increase to the gax tax.  But smokers will be gouged another buck a pack.  The retirement age for additional personal credit will rise from 60 to 65 while all senior citizens will see their Senior Citizen Property Credit reduced by a hundred dollars.

I get that you have to make up for a $385 million dollar deficit by making cuts but it is important to know how we got there.  Former Governor Jack Markell came on board as the Great Recession of 2008 spread its wings.  After that, Markell just spent and spent and spent without really getting enough revenue to stick around in the state.  Our population grew as special education services grew at a much higher rate.  Something disability communities have been saying will happen for years.   I am not a big fan of this budget proposal.  Carney, like his predecessor, refuses to make the rich pay more.  I don’t see a lot of “shared sacrifice” going on here.  If it was truly shared, it would hurt everyone.  To someone making a million bucks a year, a nominal increase in taxes isn’t going to hurt them as much as it will to a family living off $30,000 a year.  Granted, this is assuming the General Assembly approves this and the budget deficit stays the same.  It could (and I predict it will) increase between now and June 30th.

I don’t envy Carney.  He inherited most of this from Markell.  But with all his “coffee klatches” as the folks over at Delaware Liberal call them, I would have expected something a lot more different than what Markell gave us back in January.  I’ve told Carney’s people exactly what he needs to do in terms of education funding.  The response from them?  Crickets.  They hear me out and then nothing.  Just because I haven’t written as much about district and charter funding shenanigans doesn’t mean it hasn’t been foremost in my mind.  I was counting on the new administration to do the right thing here.  Looks like I’m going to have to do this the hard way and start REALLY ticking people off.

Withholding Information: The Dangers Of Holding Back

This article originally appeared on the McAndrews Law website.  Attorney Caitlin McAndrews wrote this and it is very important!  It has pivotal information that parents of students with disabilities need to know about during the IEP process.  Parents, even with the best of intentions, can make mistakes during this process.  I agree with the author: give as much information as you possibly can to help your special needs child succeed!

Parents sometimes withhold information from School Districts, worried that the District will find a way to “use it against them.” This can include privately obtained evaluations, information from outside therapists or medical providers, or changes in medication. Though the instinct to protect your child’s privacy is understandable, withholding this type of information from the educators who work with your student typically does more harm than good.

In the example of an independent evaluation, providing the report to the District only gives them more information about how your child learns, which they should use to appropriately program for the student. Hopefully, the District will use the evaluation to help provide appropriate supports and services; but even if they do not, the family can at least say they provided all available information to the District. If parents have to go to a hearing, and they withheld a private evaluation, a hearing officer may hold that against the parent, and may question why the parent withheld outside information about the child that could have helped the District understand and program for the child.

Additionally, the private evaluation might contain information that would trigger the District’s Child Find obligation – that is, by putting the District on notice that the child has certain needs/diagnoses, and might require special education support.  If the District never saw the outside evaluation, it may be harder to prove that the District knew of the child’s disabilities.

Similarly, Districts often request permission to speak to outside providers, such as private speech/language or occupational therapists, treating psychologists, or pediatricians. This information could help the District program for your child, and withholding it can make a parent appear uncooperative in front of a hearing officer.

In general, the instinct to hold back can be a very natural and protective one, but ultimately, parents should ask themselves, “What am I afraid will happen if I share this information?” and “What good could potentially come from sharing?” In the vast majority of cases, the potential good will outweigh the potential harm.

By Caitlin McAndrews, Esq., McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.

Rodel’s Latest Can Of Spam Aims To Take The Special Out Of Special Education

The Rodel Foundation of Delaware came out with a whopper of a blog article today over on their site.  Entitled “Can Personalized Learning Defray The Cost Of Special Education?”, this article dares to suggest that personalized/blended learning can help save on special education costs.  By daring to think Rodel’s version of personalized learning (a constant zombie state whereby kids are in front of a computer all day going at their own pace) is the Dante’s Peak of education, Doc Paul Herdman and the gang have just poked this bear again.  I’ve stayed quiet with these absolute idiots for far too long.  I am wide awake.  Message received.

Why does ANYONE in this state swallow their absolute crap anymore?   What happens when these students with disabilities, who are going “at their own pace”, fall even further behind?  With this craptacular system, actual grades a student are in wouldn’t matter.  And they still have to take the not-so Smarter Balanced Assessment.  But in Rodel’s world, they want the stealth testing.  These are standardized tests embedded in the digital technology slowly taking over the classroom in Delaware.  Once a student masters the content, they can move on.  So what happens when they don’t?  What happens when they don’t get it?  They fall farther behind.  I warned about this public education hara-kiri for well over a year and half.  Now, here we are on the cusp of it.  NOW is the time for parents to stand up and say “Screw you Rodel” and to take back public education.  Our policy-makers and state officials have been drinking the Rodel Kool-Aid for 12 years now.  Enough.  Rodel doesn’t own Delaware.  We the people do.  Kids gloves are off now Rodel!  Fair warning!  And Delaware DOE and State Board of Education, if you even think of pushing this crap in Delaware more than you already have, I will unleash the public education parent hounds on you!  Fair warning to whomever wins the DSEA President: Back far away from this nonsense.  Do not be a part of it.

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

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

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

It’s never been easy.

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

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

But the last decade has seen major problems setting in Continue reading “Don’t let your special needs child fall victim to “new”​ Federal and State voucher/choice policies”

Capital School District’s VERY BOLD Long-Term Plans

The Capital School District has mighty plans for the district!  As part of their ongoing strategic plan, the district will discuss potential building and grade configurations at their board meeting this evening, beginning at 7pm.

While these plans are not set in stone, there is serious discussion about what the district will physically look like in the long run.  Referendum haters may want to relax because the plans I am about to discuss are long-term and could take twenty years to reach the finale.  But current plans call for sweeping building changes, grade configurations, and a new way of looking at middle school.  The district began earnestly looking at these changes last fall and held staff and community forums earlier this month after a facility master plan was presented to the board.

With the proposed changes, two current elementary schools would disappear and another would be renovated. Fairview and Town Pointe Elementary Schools would be demolished and Dover East would get a new building.  Both plans call for a potential expansion at Dover North.  Where things get very interesting are the plans for the existing middle schools, William Henry and Central Middle.  Central Middle would become an elementary school.  Since William Henry is connected to Kent County Community School, the plan is to use room in William Henry to house a growing high-needs special needs population.  This does not mean all special education students in the district would be going to this potential facility!

For the middle schools, they would be two separate schools but joined by a common area.  Potential plans would called for shared resources between the two such as a cafeteria and large gym.  But it would also allow the district to have Career-Technical education programs in one school and arts programs in another.  But since the schools would be in the same location, it would be difficult for diversity issues to come up since they are both there.  The district is looking at potential magnet programs in the future.  The proposed site for the new middle schools would be on the property of the old Dover High School.

Those are the major changes.  Other options call for an early childhood center attached to Dover East and potentially one next to Booker T. Washington Elementary School.  Both of the potential options would call for what is known as a “Main Campus” which would house the expanded Kent County Community School, Booker T. Washington (which holds the district Delaware Autism Program inclusion program) and the proposed early childhood center.  As well, other space in William Henry could house the Transition program for students with high needs between the ages of 18-21.  The district now leases space in a building across from the Department of Education in Dover.

In terms of grade configurations, the plan is to have the following: early childhood centers would hold Pre-K to Kindergarten, elementary schools would hold 1st-5th grade, middle schools would have 6th-8th, and high school would be 9th-12th grades.

So how much is all of this going to cost?  Probably millions and millions of dollars.  But not all at once.  The goal is to look at the projected growth of the district based on a capacity of 600 students in each elementary school, 750 in the middle schools, and 1,800 for the high school.  Keep in mind, this is a twenty year plan.  Things could very well change during the next two decades.  Projections are good but you never know when a huge business could come to Dover or Kent County which could change all the numbers.  But I like this plan.  I like the idea of sharing resources at the middle school level.  Having the “Main Campus” could also allow for that which could save the district tons of money.  Of course, any new construction or renovation costs tons of money but everything old must one day become new!

OPTION A

option-a

OPTION B

option-b

As the above diagrams show, Hartly Elementary School, Dover South Elementary School and Dover North Elementary School would have the least amount of changes.  The revamped district would actually have one less elementary school than present, but the populations in each school would change based on removing Kindergarten and adding 5th grade.  As a citizen of Dover, this will definitely be one to watch!  When the strategic plan process began last year I strongly advocated for changing the middle school grade configuration to what they are now proposing.  To hear the plans in more detail, come on out to the board meeting at the district office!

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos… God Help Us All…

The United States Senate deadlocked in a vote for Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education with a 50-50 tie.  Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie, confirming Bad News Betsy as the next Secretary of Education in America.  Now we recoup, focus, and battle.  Hard.  Fast.  And Furious.  She is going to unleash holy hell on public education.  She who thinks grizzly bears can stop school shootings and IDEA is a state and local mandate.  She who does not know the difference between growth and proficiency.

This is a billionaire.  With no teaching experience whatsoever.  She buys power and support and does nothing to earn it.  Exactly what is wrong in education these days.  We are about to enter an era of voucher hell which will only further segregate our schools.  Hold on to your seats, this is going to be a very bumpy ride.

I salute Republican Senators Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) for their courage in voting no.  It is horrifying to think that 50 Republican Senators put party lines over the best interest of children.  But this is Trump’s world and we are just living in it…

**UPDATED**Delaware Senators Pettyjohn, Lopez, Lavelle, Simpson and DelCollo Publicly Support Betsy DeVos…Why? Please Withdraw Your Support

delawarefive

*Please see below for a statement from Delaware Senator Brian Pettyjohn in regards to this letter.

This morning, Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams published a letter from several state legislators around the country supporting Betsy DeVos in her nomination for the United States Secretary of Education.  Senators Anthony DelCollo, Greg Lavelle, Ernie Lopez, Brian Pettyjohn, and Gary Simpson represented the Delaware contingent of these signatures.  I am publicly asking these five Delaware Republican Senators to withdraw their support for Mrs. DeVos.

Last week, DeVos had her Senate Confirmation hearing.  She did not know the difference between growth and proficiency.  She supported guns in schools to prevent grizzly bear attacks.  She stated when she was first nominated that she supported dismantling Common Core, but history with the DeVos Foundation suggests otherwise.  She is a fervent supporter of school vouchers which have the strong potential to further issues of discrimination and segregation in American schools the way they are currently set up in many states.  She supports charter schools which have not shown to be a greater success unless the pull smarter students in through selective enrollment preferences despite the legality of those preferences in many states.  But most disappointing was DeVos inability to understand that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA, is a federal law, not a state and local law.

As a father of a student with disabilities, I was appalled when Betsy DeVos said this.  The U.S. Secretary of Education is a person who leads all American students in public education.  The last thing we need is someone who does not understand special education going into the job.  DeVos is a billionaire but her ability to lead education in America is disturbing on many levels.

I have found myself in alignment with many bills that Pettyjohn and Lopez supported.  They stood with parents during the opt out saga.  They did not support the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Which is why I find their support of DeVos puzzling.  Education has become synonymous with standardized testing.  Students with disabilities do the poorest on these tests.  But they are expected to show the most “growth” in state accountability systems.  As a result, in my opinion, special education has become a gigantic mess.  It is now geared more towards the student outcomes on these tests than accommodating the true needs of each individual student.  If DeVos has her way, students with disabilities could be shuffled around different private schools through a very flawed school voucher system.  Private schools are not obligated to follow federal special education law unless they receive federal education funds.  Special education in public schools can be challenging enough, adding private schools to that mix with federal dollars could become a recipe for disaster for a population that is already marginalized to a great extent.

Once again, I urge these five Delaware Republican Senators to withdraw their support for Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education.  Our children deserve better.  Students with disabilities deserve better.  And my son deserves better.

**UPDATED**5:16pm: I spoke with Senator Pettyjohn about this issue shortly after I posted this article.  He echoed the statement he made on Facebook, which said:

Kevin, I agreed to support Betsy DeVos for her nomination to lead the US Department of Education based on my belief that an outsider view of the US DOE is necessary. In previous statements, Ms. DeVos had indicated her disdain for the Department and it’s overburdensome policies and regulations toward states and local districts. I have, for some time, been critical of the federal intrusion into our classrooms, and prior to Ms. DeVos’ confirmation hearings, those were concerns that she had also viewed with a critical eye.

That being said, I do have concerns that have been brought to light since her confirmation hearings; especially concerning her stance on special education. While this is an issue that our United States Senators will be faced with in the coming days, I believe that the letter that was sent, which I agreed to sign before the confirmation hearings took place, will have relatively little impact on the decision that will ultimately be made on Capitol Hill.

That Senate Confirmation hearing took a lot of folks by surprise.  In my eyes, it just proved that vast amounts of wealth does not always equal knowledge.  DeVos will face a vote for her nomination next Tuesday, January 31st.

 

Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan Nears Completion

facilitatedworkgroup

After some starts and stops, the Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan is almost finished.  The plan has been underway since 2014 when Governor Jack Markell inserted the creation of the strategic plan in the FY2015 epilogue language of the state budget.  Matthew Korobkin, the Special Education Officer through the Secretary of Education’s office at the Delaware Dept. of Education, will give a status update on the plan to the State Board of Education at their meeting on January 19th.  This is not to be confused with the State of Delaware Strategic Plan for Specialized Education Opportunities.

Last fall, the Special Education Strategic Plan was retooled after disability advocates viewed an initial draft.  As a result of that, along with a very big push from State Rep. Kim Williams, a Facilitated Workgroup came into formation to fine tune the plan and make sure all voices were heard.  In mid-December, the newly created group had a public two-day retreat to decide what should be in the plan.  From there, sub-groups worked on different parts of the plan.  It is expected to be released for public comment at some point in February, shortly after the State Board of Education meeting next week.  From there, at some point in March, a presentation will be given to the State of Delaware Oversight Group for the Special Education Strategic Plan which includes members of the Delaware Interagency Resource Committee, a representative from Governor Carney’s office, and the Chairs of the Senate and House Joint Finance Committee.

The stakeholder workgroup has seven goals for development of the strategic plan which include the following: Students, Parents & Families, Community, Staff/Partners, Resources, Policies & Regulations, and Delivery/Structure/Systems.  Like most Strategic Plans, this one will be not be set in stone and will be considered a fluid document whereby changes and tweaks can be added as needed.  But every plan needs a foundation and what we will soon see are the building blocks for this plan.  Things can happen which could substantially change the plan including the Delaware state budget and the upcoming ruling on the United States Supreme Court special education case of Endrew v. Douglas County School District.

Various groups and committees revolving around special education have occurred in Delaware over the past decade, but this is the first time I have seen such a huge mix of school districts, parents, and advocacy groups.  The last group to form policy around special education was the IEP Task Force from 2014 which led to a large number of changes to state law and regulations.  No education plan will ever please everyone and there will be parts people love and some others disapprove of.  If there is one thing I have learned in education, it is constantly evolving and nothing will ever be perfect.  But I would encourage any and all persons who care about special education to give this plan a very careful read when it comes out and let your thoughts be known with a goal of improving education for special needs kids.

The members of the Facilitated Workgroup consist of the following:

Michele Marinucci, Woodbridge School District

Daphne Cartright, Autism Delaware

Edward Emmett, Positive Outcomes Charter School

Katheryn Herel, PIC of Delaware

Jon Cooper, Colonial School District

Kendall Massett, Delaware Charter Schools Network

State Representative Kim Williams, Legislator

Kristin Dwyer, DSEA

Kristin Pidgeon, Down Syndrome Association

Lisa Lawson, Brandywine School District

Mary Ann Mieczkowski, Delaware Dept. of Education

Elisha Jenkins, Division for the Visually Impaired

Bill Doolittle, Parent Advocate

Sarah Celestin, Red Clay Consolidated School District

Vincent Winterling, Delaware Autism Program

Wendy Strauss, Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens

Annalisa Ekbladh, University of Delaware Center for Disability Studies

John Marinucci, Delaware School Boards Association

Sonya Lawrence, Parent Advocate

Teresa Avery, Autism Delaware

Laurie Kettle-Rivera, Delaware School for the Deaf

Mark Campano, Delaware Statewide Programs

Josette McCullough, Appoquinimink School District

Mondaria Batchelor, Woodbridge School District

*above photo courtesy of State Rep. Kim Williams, photographed by yours truly at the 12/9 retreat

 

The Heart Of Special Education Was Argued Before The U.S. Supreme Court Today

The United States Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments for the Endrew v. Douglas County School District today.  This case could determine the goal of special education in America: a bare minimum special education or a more than minimum special education.  These arguments weigh the words “significant” and “meaningful” quite a lot since it is the center of the case.  Another question is how do you measure progress for a student with an Individualized Education Program.  Does the IEP team just write the IEP and make sure the student is on target to perform as well as their non-disabled peers or do you go above and beyond?

Another huge issue is funding for special education.  The fact that the Federal government spends less than 15% of what they promised to do for special education is a large problem.  It was not the Congressional intent to dump all of this on the states and local school districts but that is exactly what happened.  As well, what does “standard” mean in this context?  Is it the Common Core State Standards and the high-stakes testing that supposedly measures the ability of the student to grasp those standards?  Do classroom grades count for anything anymore?

The case is officially submitted into the highest court in the country.  This will be fascinating to watch, especially the final ruling.

16 Who Defined 2016: Dr. Steven Godowsky

Dr. Steven Godowsky had quite a year as the Delaware Secretary of Education!  As he sails off to distant shores (across the canal), away from the Townsend Building in Dover, Delaware, let’s look back on 2016.  And stay tuned for the end of this article where I may or may not reveal a VERY BIG secret about Godowsky.

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Continue reading “16 Who Defined 2016: Dr. Steven Godowsky”

Look For New Charter Schools In Delaware For The 2018-2019 School Year

The Delaware charter school train is back on the schedule.  The Delaware Department of Education is accepting applications for new charter schools.  The moratorium on new charter school applications will be lifted once the DOE finished the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities strategic plan.  The committee coming up with this has one more meeting (tentatively scheduled for 12/19) and the strategic plan will come out.  Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman hinted at the meeting last week that the DOE anticipates at least two new charter school applications.

While this doesn’t mean these charters will get past the application phase, it means the machine is revving its engines again.  No new charter schools have been approved for Delaware since the very crazy Spring of 2014 when the State Board of Education was handing out charters like they were candy.  The ramifications of their carelessness and haste caused two charters to close.  Delaware Met closed less than six months after they opened and Delaware STEM Academy never even opened.

Meanwhile, the settlement between the Christina School District and 15 charter schools will set precedent that all charters will get more money from the tuition tax if they are implementing special education with fidelity.  Say what you will about the settlement, but this will provide greater oversight of special education in Delaware charter schools.  In my eyes, greater oversight is needed for ALL Delaware schools.

Will Delaware STEM Academy make another attempt at a new school?  Last Spring, the school underwent a formal review due to low enrollment for their opening.  This resulted in the State Board of Education taking their charter back.  Will the Mapleton Charter School try to come back in some form in some town?  Last year they submitted a modification to open up a charter school in Dover instead of at Whitehall (a new development in the Middletown area) but rescinded the request and handed their charter back to the DOE.

In my opinion, Wilmington is still saturated with charter schools.  More is not the answer at all for that city.  Sussex County, with only one charter school, would be my best guess for the next wave of Delaware charters.  The way Kendall Massett kept giving comment at the above strategic plan meetings about Sussex districts collaborating to meet programs they couldn’t do on their own tells me the Delaware Charter Schools Network really wants more charters in lower Delaware.

We shall see who applies this year.  At this point, no applications have been uploaded on the DOE website, but give it time!

The Christina-Charter School Lawsuit Is Now Public!

That didn’t take long.  Three days ago, the Christina board agreed to the settlement.  Last night it went public.  Delaware Liberal has the whole thing in all its glory.  From what I’ve read, the district is off the hook for any back exclusions.  There will be a one-time payout for this year of $150,000 plus the per student allocation from a 2003 referendum that amounts to 10 cents for every $100 worth of assessed property value.  Christina will pay out the charter school payment part of the $5.5 million they received from the last fiscal year.   But going forward…

DOE will have to determine the exclusions and let the charters review them before the annual determination is made.  Tuition tax will now be a part of the local district payments to charter schools if the charter has comparable special education services to Christina.  Which explains why Newark Charter School took in a special needs child over the summer.  As the parent wrote in comments on this blog, this student was 17th on the wait list at NCS.  One day the parent got a call from the school and her child was in.  That would mean a student left and sixteen parents said no or left the school.  The parent did reach out to me to let me know NCS does not have a football team and that with students who may have moved played a factor.  As well, the parent states the school was not aware her daughter had special needs and had to scramble a week before school to make sure she got a one-on-one para.  They also said there are quite a few students at NCS with either Downs Syndrome or autism that have one-on-one paras.

The settlement also allows for both parties to claim or not claim exclusions from the Match tax.  Which means more headaches in the future.  I have to wonder how all the other school districts feel about part of their tuition tax now going to charter schools if the charters meet that “need”.  Is this why Appoquinimink hiked up their tuition tax last summer?  Did they know what the charters were planning back then?

This settlement releases the charter schools claims against Christina and their CFO, Robert Silber.  But they also filed against the Delaware Dept. of Education.  I don’t see language releasing the DOE.  Is their suit against the DOE still alive?

I would attach the Scribd document from Delaware Liberal, but the ink isn’t dry on the settlement yet.  Thirteen charters, the Christina board President, and Silber all signed.  That leaves two more charters.  Not a (legal) done deal yet.  But why aren’t all the signatures by the President of each charter board?   Some are.  Some are signed by the Head of School or a title similar to that.  But the board is the legal entity behind a charter school, not the Head of School.  I suppose it would depend on the ability of a Head of School to legally bind the corporation to this settlement.  I don’t have time right now to look through the bylaws of fifteen charter schools.  I would think an interim principal, like the one at Great Oaks, does not have that kind of authority.

Out of everything I’ve written about this whole Christina/charter school funding war, beginning at the end of August, as well as the countless other articles in Delaware media, one question still hasn’t been answered.  What made Greg Meece, Steve Dressel, and Joanne Schlossberg from NCS request a meeting with the Delaware DOE and Christina to discuss the local funding formula?  In other words, for 13 years, this 2003 referendum and the 10 cent thing was in play.  DOE signed off in it each year.  But Greg Meece found out about this earlier this year which prompted this whole thing.  Who told Meece about it?  Meece would have gone after this a long time ago had he known about it.  So who betrayed Christina?  It had to be someone with inside knowledge of the district’s finances.  Someone who knew a 13 year history of the finances.  Someone with a deep understanding of school finances.  Someone who had the motive and means and willingness to go after Christina.  Someone who didn’t care that this would affect tens of thousands of kids across the state.  Someone who didn’t care that telling Meece this would instantly cause him to bite the apple and unleash a lot of crap on the Delaware education world.  That is cold and unfeeling.  I am about 99.9% sure of who you are.  I’ve known for a long time.  I know how you like to play the long con.  I also know how you play people.  I know who your allies are and who your enemies are.  One day, your actions will come out.  And your justification for this does nothing.  Not when your sins will cause thousands of students who already had less to lose out even more.  You sold out the kids you claim to stand for.  It doesn’t balance any scales and it doesn’t even begin to absolve you.  You aren’t that crafty.  I saw you coming a mile away.

This is a shakedown no matter how you slice it.  The Delaware DOE, who approved the exclusions for all these years, gets the stiff penalty of having to do some more paperwork, something they thrive at already.  In the settlement, Secretary Godowsky escapes any blame by simply stating he wasn’t aware of the exclusions.  Which could very well be true since he wasn’t confirmed by the Delaware Senate until October, 2015.  But all the former Secretaries of Education would have known: Mark Murphy, Lillian Lowery, and Valarie Woodruff.  Why weren’t they named in the lawsuit if the charter schools had allegations going back to 2003?

I see this as just one more nail in the coffin of public education.  Now this opens the door for charter schools to get more funds from a referendum.  Funds earmarked for a district are now questionable.  Unless some shady deal went down at some point between 2003 and 2015, Christina is not to blame.  So why on earth would they settle?  I highly doubt their attorney fees would have climbed higher than the results of this settlement.  There is no possible way ninety minutes was enough time for their board to digest this settlement.  I read it last night and I still have many doubts.

The whole part about Christina paying $150,000 as a “one-time payment”?  That reeks of the amount Saul Ewing will charge the charter schools for their legal fees.  Wasn’t the Longwood Foundation going to pay for them?

This will be seen as a victory by many charter school parents, especially the ones at Newark Charter School.  They will point fingers at Christina and say “See, you settled, it was your fault.”  This is not a win for kids.

Advocate NOW For Your Special Needs Child

Why do parents of special needs children need to advocate for them?  Because we have to.  If we don’t, who will?  There are those who will help, but nobody understands your child more than you.  I see it as my moral responsibility to advocate for my own special needs child when something is wrong.  When something doesn’t add up.  To say his battle has been long and tough would be an understatement.  When the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit neatly together at a school, a church, an extracurricular activity, or anything your child does, you have to look at the whole picture.  If those pieces don’t fit or some are missing, get loud.  Expose and find out the truth.  Because even if you may not get what you wanted for your own child, it could help another child down the road.

I see special needs parents go ballistic when a restaurant or some type of amusement activity discriminates against disabled children.  But I don’t see this with a lot of schools or churches.  Why?  Our child has just as much right to be some place as someone else.  If you tell me you don’t want my child somewhere, you better have a damn good reason for it.  As well, you better know damn well what you are talking about and be able to back up that talk with cold hard facts.  If it is a place that has already given certain promises or expectations, and those suddenly shift, you have every right to find out why AND go public about it.

If you feel your child has been treated harshly without some form of due process or a valid reason, you need to call them out on it.  If the institution has not done what they said they would do, you have EVERY RIGHT TO ADVOCATE FOR YOUR CHILD.  People hate to get named or called out.  They get scared.  They don’t like seeing their name in public.  Why?  Because that could tarnish what they believe is their good reputation.  If, after you have reached that point of no return, name them.  Expose them.  Let others know the grass isn’t that green.  Because if you don’t, you are saying it is okay.  You are saying it is okay for someone to discriminate against special needs children.  You are saying it is okay for other children to not be given a sense of justice and fair treatment.

I always ask these basic question when it comes to special education.  Would an adult tell a child who is blind that they need to see?  Would they tell a child in a wheelchair they need to walk?  Would they tell a deaf child to listen up?  Of course not.  So why would they tell our children with the disabilities they have, when those disabilities are medically documented facts, that they cannot provide for your child when they already agreed to it?  It is their responsibility to understand that disability.  When a parent provides documentation for their child to a school, it is incumbent on the school to actually read and understand that information.  A “cursory glance” is not acceptable and it should not be tolerated.  If you notice your child is having escalating behavior issues when they weren’t in the past, is that the fault of the student with disabilities if the school has not bothered to accommodate the child?  I would challenge any school that has not done its due diligence for that unique child to say they did.  Special education is NOT a one size fits all.  And if you are a private school with a program designed exclusively for students with disabilities, then you cannot deny a child services when you have done nothing to understand that disability.

Parents have to fight for their child.  It is their legal right.

DE Atty. General Matt Denn Files Brief For Special Education Supreme Court Case… What About My Kid Matt?

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn, along with the AGs from Massachusetts and New Mexico, filed an amicus brief for the upcoming special education case which will be heard by the United States Supreme Court.  The Endrew F. v Douglas County School District is a case which can change the face of special education.  But what about my kid right here in Delaware Matt Denn?  The one who was kicked out of a special education program at a Delaware private school last Friday with no due process, no advance notification to the parents about the true purpose of the meeting, and no chance for my son’s voice to be heard?

For the most part, I like Matt Denn.  I think he can be an excellent advocate for students with disabilities.  But sadly, what he wants and what we have in Delaware are two very different things.  I wish Denn could help my own son the way he is helping this child in Colorado.  I understand the implications of this case and what it can do for special education if they rule in favor of the student.  That would be a very good thing.  But there are far too many students here in Delaware that are now suffering with special education.  My own son Jacob included.  If Delaware’s special education is supposed to be so great, why isn’t it Matt?  We both know the answer to that.  But why should my kid have to go through all venues of education in this state and still not have schools understand his needs?  Charter, district, private school, private school homeschool-coop program.  None have worked Matt.  None.  They may be great at other things, but they have all failed my son.  As one father to another father, I’m asking you to do something here, in Delaware.  In your state.  Not later, not down the road, but now.  I don’t know if I can get my son back on track.  There has been so much damage done to him.  By adults who think power is more important than what is right.  Maybe you don’t know what it’s like to watch your own child’s spirit break time and time again.  I truly hope you don’t.  But I’m just one of many parents who has to pick up the pieces of a child’s shattered life again and again while the system fails him time and time again.  It doesn’t matter what kind of school it is.  I don’t care about all this fancy legal stuff.  I just want consistency and best practices with my son, with all the special needs kids in this state.  We are destroying lives here Matt.  What are you going to do about that?

Talk is on thing but actions speak louder than words.  How many more Jacobs do we have to have in this state Matt?  How many more tears have to be shed before something is done?  How many families have to deal with turmoil you can’t even begin to imagine Matt?  How many more children have to be psychologically beaten down before you do something?

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Delaware Files Amicus Brief Supporting a Colorado Student’s Claim on Behalf of Delaware, Massachusetts, and New Mexico.

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn, joined by the Attorneys General of Massachusetts and New Mexico, filed a formal brief Monday with the United States Supreme Court supporting the appeal of a Colorado public school student with disabilities who claims that his school district has not complied with federal law in meeting his educational needs. The brief filed by Delaware urges the United States Supreme Court to adopt a higher national standard for the services that U.S. schools must provide, and articulates that the standard reflected in Delaware state law, rather than the lower standard used in Colorado and many other states, is the proper standard to measure the provision of such services.

The brief was written by Delaware State Solicitor Aaron Goldstein and Deputy Attorneys General Patricia Davis and Laura Makransky. The brief states that the three Attorneys General “implore this Court to find that the highest level of educational benefit for children with disabilities currently recognized by federal courts of appeal is the correct level for all of the nation’s children with disabilities in order to ensure that the [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act]’s ideals of equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency are fulfilled.”

Although Attorney General Denn has joined other briefs filed with the United States Supreme Court since taking office in January of 2015, this is the first United States Supreme Court brief that his office has authored since he took office. “We chose this issue to seek to be heard with the United States Supreme Court,” Denn said, “because it is fundamentally important to the future of every child with a disability in our nation’s public schools. We also sought to be heard because how the Supreme Court phrases its opinion could also have a direct impact on students with disabilities in Delaware public schools.”

 

 

 

Capital’s Balanced Scorecard Is A Massive Shift In The WRONG Direction

Capital School District sure has changed in just two years.  Back in 2014, their board was railing against the Smarter Balanced Assessment and fully supporting a parent’s right to opt their child out of the test.  Flash forward to now, and their board will be discussing something called a “Balanced Scorecard.”

This balanced scorecard is five-year goals for the district.  Some of the goals are good: getting behavior referrals down, more parent involvement, things like that.  But then I wanted to vomit when I saw goals for Smarter Balanced proficiency.  Keep in mind this is just a draft.  The board hasn’t decided on this.  I’m at their board meeting now.  I thought their meetings started at 7:30 but I haven’t been here for a while so it looks like they changed it to 7:00.  Otherwise I would have assuredly giving public comment based on what I’m writing in this.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment is the worst test Delaware students have ever taken.  Why in the name of public education is this district wanting to kiss the DOE’s ass and follow their own despicable goals based on standardized test scores?

What truly shocked me was a goal of “increasing students exiting out of special education”.  Currently they are using a baseline of 31% but they want to increase this to 41% in five years.  I’m sorry, how do you put a measurement on unique disabilities that affect an individual student?  While it is certainly true that students can fall out of needing special education for varying reasons, that seems like a very high number.  As well, decisions on special education are decided on by an IEP team, not based on a district-driven strategic plan.  This is highly disturbing on many levels.  The last thing special education students is a district trying to hit some arbitrary goal and pushing schools to have students get out of IEPs.

The board is discussing this now.  Board member Matt Lindell asked why the district can’t use this as their accountability scorecard.  Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton explained how the Delaware DOE has no intention of removing their own Delaware School Success Framework.  That was the only question.  Three members of this board sat in front of a very similar audience two years ago and proudly passed their opt out resolution.  Now they seem like they have accepted the horrible status quo that is killing public education.  The board is voting on the scorecard, passed 5-0.  What the hell is wrong with this board?  They are prescribing to the point of view of the Delaware DOE.  They have fully accepted Common Core and Smarter Balanced as legitimate for their district.

In talking about technology in their ongoing Strategic Plan, there is a lot of talk about collaborating with BRINC and increasing ed tech in the classroom.  More personalized learning.  They have no clue, as they talk about building configuration, how they are signing their own district death warrant by signing on to all of this junk.  The board is not asking questions about anything they should be asking.  This isn’t the first time I’ve pointed this out with this board.  Stop drinking the Kool-Aid Capital!  You should be better than this!  And I distinctly remember when Matt Lindell was President of the Board when they approved a letter to the General Assembly urging them to override Governor Markell’s veto of House Bill 50, the opt out bill.  They never overrode the veto, so why has this district not come forth with an opt out policy like Red Clay and Christina did?