Ask, and ye shall receive! Whenever I put up an article about Newark Charter School and what I view as their low sub-group population percentages compared to Christina School District, I am asked to do closer comparisons. That is absolutely fair and something I should have done a long time ago. So I plead guilty on that score. But sometimes wanting to know that information to shut me up isn’t always the best idea. Especially when the proof is in the pudding. Continue reading “Taking A Deep Dive At Newark Charter School & Christina School District: 5 Mile Radius, Greater Newark Area, & District (Including Wilmington)”
Earlier this afternoon, State Rep. Rich Collins led the Delaware House of Representatives in prayer and asked them, no matter what, to put children first in their mind when they are voting on legislation. Two and a half hours later, Collins along with 26 other state reps both Republican and Democrat, voted to keep Newark Charter School first.
House Substitute 1 for House Bill 85 passed the House today with 27 yes, 13 no, and 1 absent. The bill removes the 5 mile radius enrollment preference for Delaware charter schools with one exception. Since Christina School District has a portion of their district in Wilmington, that is not landlocked with the rest of the district, those Wilmington children will not be allowed to choice to Newark Charter School. Even though the Wilmington students from Red Clay and Colonial can choice to other charter schools, those Christina Wilmington students can’t choice to that one school. They can still choice to other charters within the district or even outside of the district, but not NCS.
The bill still has to go through the Senate. By primary sponsor State Rep. Kim Williams’ own admission, if the bill did not have that provision it wouldn’t have moved forward in the Senate. The Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Senator David Sokola, used to be on the board of Newark Charter School. It isn’t really a state secret that State Rep. Melanie Smith bought a house in that area so her child can go to Newark Charter School. Why does it always come back to Newark Charter School?
State Rep. John Kowalko put an amendment on the bill that would have removed that provision, but it failed to pass the House. 25 state reps voted no on the amendment.
I know State Rep. Kim Williams very well. I know her intent with this bill was to get a start on changing this process. It is better than what we had before. But it really isn’t. Yes, there will be a greater number of Christina School District students who will have the option of choicing into Newark Charter School. That is true, provided the bill passes and gets signed by Governor Carney. But it also sends a clear statement about Delaware as a state: we will allow de facto segregation. Any time we are disallowing students from having a free and appropriate public education, we are not moving forward as a state, we are moving horribly backwards.
State Reps Charles Potter, Stephanie Bolden, and J.J. Johnson, all African-American, voiced strong opposition to the bill for the same things I am writing. Bolden said it best. What does it say about Delaware as a state when legislation like this comes up? She couldn’t say this, so I will. It shows what a discriminatory state we are to the rest of the country. It says city kids aren’t good enough for a charter in the suburbs. It says we vote in legislators who would rather keep one charter school from opening up to ALL students than making Delaware, the first state to sign the U.S. Constitution, a fair and equitable state for all children.
Let’s be honest here, the only reason for this legislation in the first place is because of Newark Charter School. Taking what could be a good portion of their student population out of the picture in the coming years defeats the whole intent of the bill in the first place.
Which State Reps voted to keep de facto segregation going in Delaware today?
Bryon Short (D)
Paul Baumbach (D)
David Bentz (D)
Gerald Brady (D)
William Carson (D)
Rich Collins (R)
Danny Short (R)
Tim Dukes (R)
Ronald Gray (R)
Kevin Hensley (R)
Deb Hudson (R)
Earl Jaques (D)
Quinton Johnson (D)
Harvey Kenton (R)
Ed Osienski (D)
William Outten (R)
Trey Paradee (D)
Charles Postles (R)
Melanie Smith (D)
Joe Miro (R)
Mike Ramone (R)
Steven Smyk (R)
Jeff Spiegelman (R)
John Viola (D)
Kim Williams (D)
David Wilson (R)
Lyndon Yearick (R)
Only one Republican voted no on the bill, State Rep. Ruth Briggs-King. I find it ironic that many of the Dems who have part of their district in the 5 mile radius for Newark Charter School voted yes. A couple of the no votes surprised me, but I will take it. For those who aren’t familiar with what our state legislators look like, there are no black Republicans in the Delaware House or Senate. All of the above legislators are white.
No offense to Kim Williams, and I get her intent behind this bill, but I can’t support this bill. I vehemently oppose it. Any legislation that restricts a child from doing anything will never be a bill I can get behind. Any bill that gives Delaware an ugly stain on our perception is one I can not support. This is not progress. This is very sad.
We need elected officials in our state who won’t follow the whims of Newark Charter School. We need legislators who will look out for ALL students. We need lawmakers who won’t bow to the Delaware Charter Schools Network and do what is right. We need legislators who realize collaboration when it comes to education is NOT always a good thing. Today was no victory by any means. It was a horrible step backwards in Delaware. We might as well paint a sign on Newark Charter School that says Wilmington students not allowed. The original five mile radius for NCS was bad enough, but this… this is blatant discrimination by a public school that gets funding from taxpayers around the state.
Newark Charter School is one of the best schools in Delaware. It is because of laws like this that have allowed them to cherry-pick their students and take advantage of the law so they give a façade of excellence. If they truly let in any student, they would be no better or worse than the schools around them. But they would be equal. I would never let my child go to a school like that. What kind of lesson would that teach him? If he were picked in their lottery, I would tell him he won because so many kids could not. If I lived in Wilmington, would I really want my child going to a school that practiced discrimination and segregation for over 15 years?
I would tell you to voice your opposition to the Delaware Senate on this bill. But it really doesn’t matter. If it passes as is, it is the same story. If it fails, Newark Charter School still has their 5 mile radius and still keeps kids from the Christina School District out of their prestigious public school. Any attempt at amending the bill will fail. But the truest failure is how Delaware looks to the entire country with this one bill.
Updated, 6:52pm: I want to add one thing. My thoughts on this bill are not a knock on all Delaware charter schools. There are many charter schools in Wilmington who would be more than happy to take the students Newark Charter School doesn’t want. And they do. My main issues with charter schools in Delaware have been the very inequity I am writing about here.
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:
House Substitute 1 for House Bill 85 was released from the Delaware House Education Committee today. There are very serious concerns due to a “compromise” brought forth by the Delaware Charter Schools Network. The bone of contention surrounds the Christina School District and Newark Charter School. Since a portion of Christina exists in Wilmington, those students would not be considered in the enrollment preference which includes all students in a choice school’s district. The line of thinking appears to be the district section of Wilmington is not connected to the rest of the district. However, those who oppose this section of the bill feel it is a barrier for Wilmington students who are part of the Christina School District.
Today, State Rep. John Kowalko is bringing forth an amendment but no one on the committee knew specifically what the amendment was. State Rep. Kim Williams, the primary sponsor of the bill, stated she assumes it would be to remove lines 7-9 of the bill which would give Newark Charter School their Wilmington exclusion. Williams said she would not support the amendment because she gave her word to Senator David Sokola. This, apparently, was an addition to the bill from Senator Sokola which caused the House Substitute bill from the original House Bill 85. State Rep. Joe Miro said he would not support the bill if the amendment passed.
State Rep. Sean Matthews said he is in support of the bill but does not feel the bill serves all students in the Christina School District. He felt the bill does not allow for Wilmington students to go to Newark Charter School and the exclusion for NCS was put in so it can pass the Delaware Senate.
If Newark Charter School is so good, they should take all students. -State Rep. Sean Matthews
State Rep. Deb Heffernan agreed with Matthews. The bill was released with 11 votes in favor of the bill.
Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting said the Delaware Department of Education is taking a neutral stance on the bill. Donna Johnson, the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, said former State Board member R.L. Hughes was on the Enrollment Preferences Task Force and voted in favor of removing the 5-mile radius. Kristin Dwyer, the Delaware State Education Association Director of Legislation and Political Organizing, said she is happy the conversation is opened with this bill but DSEA does not feel the bill goes far enough. DSEA feels the 5-mile radius should be completely removed.
My concerns with this bill are the very nature of Newark Charter School to begin with. Even with their 5-mile radius, their student populations do not reflect that of the Greater Newark area. This is the public comment I gave to the committee and my idea for a potential amendment.
While I am very happy to see this bill, I have concerns around Newark Charter School. When the charter school had their major modification approved to build their high school, they were instructed with formulating a plan to allow for more diversity in their district. I have yet to see that materialize, even within their current 5 mile radius. While their special education numbers have increased, they are still woefully under what the state average is, much less the Christina School District. In the school profile for this school year, African-Americans represent 10.7% of their student population compared to 39.4% of Christina. While factoring in the African-American population of the Wilmington contingent of Christina student population, the greater Newark area has a much higher population of African-Americans compared to NCS. I would recommend an amendment be placed on this bill for a weighted lottery for charter schools, magnets, and any choice school where the demographics are disproportionately lower than that of the surrounding district to allow populations that do not seem to be getting access to certain charter school even footing and representation within those schools. Enrollment preferences are meant to allow the most disadvantaged students into choice schools, not to keep them out. Thank you.
The bill, if passed, would take place immediately. However, it would not be able to kick in until the 2018-2019 school year since the school choice calendar for the 2017-2018 school year closed in January. During the House Bill 90 Enrollment Preferences Task Force, the majority of the members voted in favor of removing the 5-mile radius as an enrollment preference for choice schools. Williams said she does not necessarily agree with the Newark Charter School exclusion, but felt compromise was necessary. If the bill didn’t move forward, she would not be able to help any students.
Once Kowalko’s amendment is public, I will add it to this article.
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.
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.
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”
The definitive seeds for this blog bloomed in late 2013 and early 2014. But what if I said the germination of those seeds began years before?
In 2009, I met someone who was making some very poor choices with their life. They told me they had a child with a lot of problems. One night, that person had to take their son to the hospital. I thought about meeting the person to talk to them about those very poor choices, but the son’s problems took front and center. I went to Bayhealth in Dover that night after thinking about it for a couple of hours. As I walked in, the person didn’t see me. I saw them rocking this teenage boy child in their arms, back and forth, back and forth. While I didn’t agree with this person’s life choices, I understood how broken they were. Their entire life was devoted to helping this child. I could tell they didn’t have a support system that allowed them to get the help they truly needed. I walked out of the emergency room waiting area and drove home. It was about 2am in the morning. I talked to the person briefly a couple of days later but I lost track of the person and I have never seen or heard from them again. I’ve always wondered how that person and the boy were doing. I’ve never shared this with anyone until now, not even those closest to me. But it stuck with me for some reason. While I’ve been blessed in many ways to be able to give my own special needs child the most basic of comforts, there are others who are unable to.
Almost two years later, I had a dream one night. It was the most bizarre dream of my life and I remember every single detail of it. Terrorists were launching a full-scale attack on the airport in San Diego airport. I was on a plane attempting to take off in the midst of fire and carnage. I looked out the window of the plane to see fire and death on the ground. People were dying before my eyes as I flew off into the sun setting over the Pacific. As dreams go, moments shift in the blink of an eye. The plane was flying towards a mountain. There was a flat area so the plane could land. There were not that many people on the plane. We got off after a bumpy landing to find soldiers escorting us to a door in the mountain.
We walked into the mountain and I quickly realized the world was ending. Inside the mountain was an entire city. It was built like a mall with different stores and what I could only call processing centers. I walked into an auditorium and saw children and teenagers. All of them seemed like there was something unique about them. While I didn’t realize this in the dream, I believe they were special needs children. Those with Autism, Aspergers, Tourette Syndrome, ADHD, OCD, ODD, and the different. The separated. The cast out. They were told to listen and behave. I knew instantly that something was very wrong with this whole scene. For some reason, I got a job at the mountain as a guard of some sort. I walked around this mountain mall for a while. People were walking around and seemed happy, but I noticed I didn’t see any of the children that were in the auditorium. All the people walking around were grown-ups. What happened to the children?
I found out the answer to that question. Soldiers were placing corpses on a conveyor belt which went through a door to the outside. I got close enough to take a peek out the door and what I saw horrified me. Children were being sent into an outside furnace. Some of the children were still alive as they were led to the slaughter. A guard motioned towards me and I woke up from my dream.
That dream haunted me for months. One day at work during a break I happened to see a newspaper headline about a mountain in France that was attracting New Age followers. December 12, 2012 was fast approaching and they believed this mountain in the Pyrenes chain would save them from the upcoming apocalypse. They call Bugarach the “upside-down” mountain based on its geographical structure. That apocalyptic moment never came in 2012. UFOs did not take the New Age followers away to some interstellar promised land. But when I read the online article about this bizarre mountain in France, they showed a picture of it. It was the exact same mountain as the one in my dream. Granted, there was no revelation about a mountain mall at Bugarach. I began to do tons of research on Bugarach and found some bizarre stuff.
It was more the dream that stuck with me. When I began this blog, I did a couple of articles on treatment of those with disabilities in history. It really isn’t until the past fifty years that those with disabilities began to gain the rights they should have always had. I even incorporated Bugarach in a never-finished series called “Delaware Horror Story”. Maybe one day I will pick that up and give the history of what happened to Mike Matthews and Paul Herdman when Sussex County was wiped out due to melting glaciers. But not today. For me my dream about Bugarach and the dark horrors within represented a potential future to avoid at all costs.
So why am I just now revealing these what could only be viewed as crazy moments in my life now? First off, the topic of that person I met with the child at Bayhealth recently came up. I didn’t realize what an impression that made on me over the years. I didn’t know the first thing about special needs, how to advocate for rights, or certainly any knowledge of how to help a child who was clearly suffering. As far as the dream, I have tried to get back to that dream in the six years since with no luck whatsoever. It was the worst possible future for these kids. Do I think that could really happen? I pray to God not. But if you asked someone if the Holocaust or the wholesale slaughter in Rwanda in the 1990s if they could have foreseen those moments, perhaps not. History is filled with such atrocities going back tens of thousands of years. Like I said, history is filled with very bad treatment of anyone different. As I said in the intro for this, these were just seed germinations. The simple truth is this blog would have never happened if not for the very difficult birth of those seeds bursting to life all those years ago. For some, it seems like just yesterday that late 2013 and early 2014 happened. For me, it feels like a lifetime ago. Along with all that came before that.
I see what is going on now in our world. In America, we seem more divided than ever. I don’t see the “growth” happening for students with disabilities that all the faux Common Core believers profess they are having. I see people at each other’s throats over party lines. I believe we are fast approaching a tipping point in society. A line will be crossed and there will be no looking back. But I also have hope. Hope that we can overcome our differences and unite to help all people.
Last Friday night, I attended a candle-light vigil for Lieutenant Steven Floyd in Dover. For those around the country who read this blog, Lt. Floyd was the correctional officer tragically murdered in last week’s prison siege at the Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, DE. I saw hundreds of people paying tribute to a man that saved others with his actions. He was and is a true hero. Everyone who attended this vigil, along with the accompanying tribute in Smyrna, was there to pay tribute and to mourn. As we held our candles up high for Lt. Floyd, I remembered another evening where many of us lit candles to remember.
It was after 9/11. I lived in California at the time. Word was going around on the internet that everyone should hold a candle-light vigil one Friday evening. I went outside and found people just coming over. Some I had never met before. I became the de facto leader of this group and started to speak. This was something I never did before. I thought, “Why me?” But I got through it. After everyone left I felt a feeling of peace. In the midst of unspeakable tragedy, people could still unite for something bigger than themselves.
In the span of my life, my advocacy for special needs, opt out, and getting rid of corporate education reform is still in its infancy. I truly don’t know what will happen next. Things are moving very fast and there are many things I need to put in the “unable to control” box. While I was blogging, life continued to move forward. I’m at a crossroads with many things in my life right now but I know I have a few things in my corner: friends, hope, and love. Will the dreams of yesterday and missed opportunities create change in the future? Time will tell. But my days of living in darkness, of drowning in it, will not define who I am. It will not shape my world any longer. I refuse to let it.
At the vigil last Friday evening, a Reverend spoke to the crowd. His final words resonated with me like no other words in a long time. I can’t remember it verbatim, but he was talking about how much people need help from others. How so many of us just walk right past them. He said we should only be looking down unless it is to lift another person up.
When we are fighting on Facebook about politics, are we really contributing anything worthwhile to the world? Do we really believe a local fight on Facebook is going to change the shape of a nation? Are we that self-absorbed to think that? I am not bemoaning standing up for rights or what you believe. What I am criticizing is the way so many of us are going about how they convey their beliefs. If making a point hurts someone to a level where the words “I’m sorry” are said, it has gone too far. If friendships die forever over this stuff, that is the truest shame in the world.
The driving force for this blog has evolved in the past couple of months. I felt I said all I needed to say about certain subjects. I was no longer in a place to do vast amounts of research and spend so much time on it. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I still am in some respects, but I’ve also experienced a reawakening I never expected. Here comes the future.
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 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.
Today, the White House released a very long report on school discipline entitled “The Continuing Need to Rethink Discipline”. The report has a plethora of recommendations for public schools in America. I agree with most of them based on a cursory glance, but like many reports of this nature that I write about, it fails to recognize the fact that Common Core State Standards or other similar standards along with the high-stakes testing environment accompanying those standards are causing more problems than they are worth in our schools. I will write more about this as I go through the report in the coming days.
The Every Student Succeeds Act addresses school discipline and how our schools carry out punishment for negative behaviors. On Monday evening, the ESSA Discussion Group I am a member of in Delaware addressed this very issue. As well, a Delaware newspaper is working on an extensive article about bullying in Delaware and how our schools respond to bullying reporting.
It remains unclear how the incoming Trump administration will view this report.
For now, please read the below report.
Kendall Massett, the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, will soon be standing at a crossroads. As someone who preaches district and charter collaboration on one hand, the other hand is busy trying to find ways to get more district money to follow students at Delaware charters. This dichotomy is going to define the future of charter schools in Delaware.
As anyone breathing in Delaware is well aware, fifteen charter schools sued the Delaware Dept. of Education and the Christina School District over funds they felt should have been going to charter schools. The defining moment in the lawsuit: when Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky reversed changes to the local funding formula for school choice payments after September 1st. They could have been patient and allowed Godowsky or the next Delaware Secretary of Education and the General Assembly the opportunity to figure it out. But instead, they took the legal route which was championed by Kendall Massett. As a result, the law firm of Saul Ewing will get $300,000. How many teachers could be hired with that kind of money? How many students could have received a paraprofessional in a school room bursting with over 25 kids?
If the collaboration Massett truly desires took place, this lawsuit wouldn’t have happened in the first place. If there is blame to be thrown around regarding who was at fault with the local funding formula, that blame lands solely at the feet of the Delaware Dept. of Education. They should have been the ones answering the questions for the charters. Christina performed their due diligence and submitted their exclusions to the Delaware DOE. This originated last Winter, with Newark Charter School calling in the DOE who apparently “confessed” to the powers that be about the exclusions submitted by Christina. The DOE had an opportunity right then and there to make good on this. The charter schools could have gone public with this information and forced the DOE to do something about it. And if that didn’t work, they could have brought in the General Assembly. But instead, they kept this a secret for many months. They had to know when the public found out about this they would be understandably upset. These were huge funding changes with charter payments. This was not a wise move for the charters involved. By alleging that Christina was purposely withholding funds from these charters when the district did the same thing they had been doing for 12-13 years, which I might add was completely legal since the DOE approved them, the charters started a war. It is not that difficult to see this was the original intent. It boils down to Greg Meece having a hissy fit because his school wanted more money and if Christina wouldn’t willfully give it up, he was going to punish them and cast blame.
In an article on Delaware First Media, written by Meg Pauly on December 1st, Massett weighed in on the Christina Board of Education signing the settlement with the fifteen charters. Massett, as the go-to spokeswoman for Delaware charter schools, seemed to have some very big misunderstandings about what this settlement really is.
She said the decision most likely won’t require a vote from each schools’ entire board of directors, which could make it easier to approve.
“Because there would not be any money going out – they’re not paying out a settlement, it would be money coming in – there’s not really a fiduciary responsibility that the board would have to approve,” Massett said.
There is certainly a fiduciary responsibility stemming from this settlement. The charters, according to the settlement, would have to make sure the funds were allocated to certain functions similar to what those funds were used for in the Christina School District. As well, the Pandora’s box called tuition tax funds were brought up in the settlement. It states:
In the CSD settlement agreement, CSD has agreed to catalogue and describe, for DOE and CSD Charter Schools, those services provided by CSD to children with special needs (“Special Needs Services”) that are funded in whole, in whole or in part, with revenues generated by the levy of the so-called Tuition Tax by CSD. The objective of this undertaking is to determine whether CSD shall be financially responsible under Section 509(f) for funding the same or similar Special Needs Services provided by CSD Charter Schools to their CSD resident students. If requested, DOE will participate in the discussions and inquiry described in this subsection, and, where necessary, shall enforce this provision.
So what does Section 509(f) of Delaware State Code say?
For any student, who because of educational need requires services that are appropriately financed pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 6 of this title, either at the outset or subsequent to a decision to enroll in a charter school, the student’s district of residence shall remain financially responsible for such student and the charter school shall receive from such district a payment determined in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 6 of this title.
Which brings us back to Chapter 6 of Title 14:
§ 604 Special programs.
(a) If any pupil is counted in the preschool, intensive or complex unit and attends school in a program operated by a district other than that in which the pupil resides, by an agency of the Department of Education or is in an approved private placement pursuant to § 3124 of this title, the receiving district or the Department of Education shall collect a tuition charge for the nonresident pupil, provided approval for attendance has been granted by the sending district. Such tuition charge shall be paid by the school board of the reorganized school district in which the pupil is a resident from the proceeds of a local tax levied for this specific purpose, except that in the case of a district assigned by the Department with the approval of the State Board of Education to administer a school or program for children with disabilities, or special programs approved by the Department of Education for persons without disabilities such as programs for bilingual students or programs for pregnant students, the district so assigned shall be both the sending and receiving district in regard to that school or program and is authorized to collect tuition charges accordingly.
(b) In determining the tuition to be charged for a pupil counted in the preschool, intensive or complex units or for a person without disabilities attending approved special programs, such as bilingual programs or programs for pregnant students operated by a district other than that in which the student resides or by an agency of the State Department of Education, the receiving district or the State Department of Education shall compute the tuition by adding such receiving district’s share of educational related expenses as allowed by the Department of Education regulations. The sum so obtained shall be divided by the total number of pupils in the special program as of September 30 of the current school year. The resulting figure shall represent the amount of the “tuition charge” per pupil.
(c) In determining the tuition charged to the sending district in the case of private placement for children with disabilities, tuition will be defined as in § 3124 of this title and the sending district will be charged 30 percent of the total tuition cost. The remaining 70 percent will be covered through funding provided by the State Department of Education from the annual appropriation for this purpose.
The charter schools get IDEA Part B funding from the federal government. They receive special education funding from the state for Basic Special Education for students in pre-school (if they have those programs) and students in 4th-12th grade. They get intensive and complex funding for students in all grades. Where the tuition tax gets very complex is how it is determined. The local school board votes to set the current year’s tuition tax rate for taxpayers. It is not something the district can change on a whim. And state code is very specific about what those funds can be used for. What makes Christina very unique is that they are the management district for several special needs programs. Those are not funds the charter schools could touch based on this settlement unless they are providing comparable services. Then we get into the definition of a comparable service. Would Gateway Lab School be considered the same school as the special schools within Christina?
Where Kendall, as well as the entire settlement, performs a massive overreach is in this particular section. It is tampering with state code in unbelievable ways. State code does not legally have to honor a settlement stemming from a lawsuit between a school district and a group of charters. As well, it can not, and should not, dictate what a state agency has to do. That is what we have our General Assembly for, to create and amend laws. We can certainly discuss the merit of some of those laws, but that is the very essence of the Constitution of Delaware. A settlement should not create new contradictions that try to negate existing law. Which is why Secretary Godowsky wanted the General Assembly to intervene in this entire funding process. I am assuming the Delaware DOE signed their settlement agreement with the fifteen charters. Which is even more concerning in my eyes. The fact they would allow changes in Delaware law without approval of the legislative body charged with performing that task. A settlement cannot create laws or regulations.
What this section does is change the duty of charter schools in regards to their adherence of special education law which they should already be doing to the best of their ability. This settlement is much more than a “fiduciary responsibility” in nature, as Massett put it. Something that magnanimous in scope should be approved by a charter school board, not a Head of School or even an interim principal in one case. It is fiduciary in a sense that the charters would receive more money from a tuition tax, but it would require an oversight of the special education services within each of those charter schools to make sure they are performing at a comparable level to Christina. That could involve extra resources and staff those charters may not have. Could a charter hire that staff and pay for those resources and then submit for those tuition tax funds? Or would those services and staff have to already be in place to be eligible for those funds? The settlement does not define that.
If, for some odd reason, legislation is created out of this part of the settlement, it would require districts to collect even more tuition tax from taxpaying citizens within their district. They would have to because more would be required to go out to charter schools for those students. They should not be tasked with divvying up the existing tuition tax they receive for the students within their own district with those needs or funds they are already sending to special education schools outside of their district. That would take away from those students. But here is the major problem with this: the local boards have to determine the tuition tax rate in the summer before the school year starts. They base this on projections within their own district. How can they determine the needs of special education students who reside in their district but attend charter schools before the school year even starts? For some they can, but special education can be very fluid, evolving from year to year. It is hard enough for the districts to do this for their own students.
If Kendall Massett wants more collaboration between districts and charters going forward, she needs to stop drawing this line in the sand when it comes to money. She is going to continue to piss off the districts and they will not want to collaborate with the charters who keep demanding more and more from them. Districts can’t always get performance funds or donations from foundations. They can’t always have silent auctions like many charter schools do. All Delaware public schools have the capability of applying for grants from the state or the federal government, including charters. Districts don’t get to keep their excess transportation spending if they set their budget higher than what they actually spend. And charters are free to use this money as they please. So please, tell me Kendall, if the charters are getting what you view as their “fair share“, will you promote removing those extra perks for the charters that districts don’t get? When it comes to education funding, there is a crystal-clear difference between what a charter school needs and what an entire district needs. In some ways, it is like comparing apples to oranges. You can’t complain about charters not receiving capital funding. That was the way the law for charters was set up. It was the price of admission into Delaware public education. So by default, on paper, it would appear charters get less than districts for that very reason.
Some could argue that this latest misstep by the charters is just more of an ongoing agenda to privatize public education. Just one more chunk taken from school districts and flowing into the hands of charter schools which are actually non-profit corporations. By state law, those corporations are required to file IRS tax returns. But because of loopholes in IRS guidance, the one charter school who actually started this whole charter payment mess is the one school that does not file those tax returns. The guiding force behind the lawsuit was Greg Meece and Newark Charter School. They created the very conditions that led to the lawsuit. The settlement promises severe disruption to all Delaware schools involving special education and funding. But Newark Charter School is not transparent with their own finances the same way the rest of Delaware charters are. I have grave issues with that. And I have no doubt in my mind Kendall is aware of this.
In a News Journal article from December 5th discussing the settlement details, written by Adam Duvernay, Kendall states the following:
“I’m glad everyone will have a seat at the table, and that the process will be transparent, so we don’t find ourselves in this situation again where charter schools go for years without answers and feel like they need to resort to legal action to make their voices heard,” Massett said.
What about the questions many Delawareans have been asking the charter schools for years without any real answers? Like how certain Delaware charter schools can cherry-pick students in defiance of state and federal law? When does Newark Charter School, which created this whole mess, finally implement their plan to balance their demographics at their school? When does Newark Charter School become fully transparent with their own money the way every other Delaware charter school is required by law to do? Massett cherry-picks her statements. She wants districts to answer any questions charters have, but when those answers are needed by others, she either deflects or states it just isn’t true. And when people do take legal actions surrounding charter demographics? Like when the Office of Civil Rights asked for all charter school applications a couple of years ago going back the two years before that request? The Delaware Charter Schools Network became the organization tasked with collecting that information. And what happened? Massett informed the Office of Civil Rights the charters did not know they needed to keep that information. And then there is the matter of the now two-year-old complaint from the Delaware ACLU against the State of Delaware and Red Clay regarding practices of segregation and discrimination from some Delaware charter schools. Kendall called that “a myth.” Two years later and that complaint has gone nowhere. Forcing someone to sit at the table with a menu where there are two choices, our way or no way, is not collaboration. It is not legal action. It is manipulation that doesn’t belong in education. With education, every decision eventually affects students in a good way or a bad way. For far too long, those decisions have existed for the benefit of charter school students.
Getting real here, Kendall’s job is to promote charter schools and to serve as a buffer between them and the state in certain areas. At heart, Kendall is a lobbyist, seeking to influence the General Assembly and the Delaware DOE in ways that will benefit charter schools in the state. Charter schools pay dues to the Delaware Charter Schools Network. In a sense, they are very similar to some of the roles the Delaware State Education Association plays in education politics. But the difference is that DSEA represents the teachers in district schools. They promote or oppose legislation that will benefit the teachers within their organization. I have no doubt DSEA would love to have charter school teachers unionize. But the Delaware Charter School Network exists for a niche within public education that almost serves as a parasite on the districts they feed from. It takes from the host body and sucks the energy out of it. That is the price of school choice that Kendall cannot seem to fathom.
In 2017, education will once again be front and center in Delaware. The corporate education reform movement, led by the Rodel Foundation in Delaware, will become more pronounced with the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. But in some ways, it almost seems like the charter movement in Delaware and those who advocate for them, seem to have become more emboldened with the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA. He promised billions of dollars to charter schools. To add salt to that wound, he appointed Betsy DeVos as the next U.S. Secretary of Education. A charter school lover if there ever was one. I have no doubt charter advocates across the country are feeling almost empowered by these events. Supporters of public education are very worried about what will happen to further erode an education system that has been in place long before the very idea of a charter school was introduced.
In Delaware, Kendall Massett will continue to have great relationships with the Dept. of Education and the State Board of Education. She will exert her influence on the General Assembly. If any bill is introduced that will negatively impact charter schools, she will wield her power and influence to put a stop to it. She is backed by some very powerful forces in Delaware that will not be trifled with in any way. But none of these forces see what their choices and decisions make to education as a whole. If charters and districts were funded the same way as the vo-tech schools in Delaware, I don’t think the issues with charter schools in the state would be as big. But this parasitic relationship between districts and charters is paralyzing to education in Delaware. There are other things that perform the same damaging results, but we can control how this particular relationship evolves. Districts and charters aren’t going anywhere. If charters want to co-exist with districts and have true and meaningful collaboration, they have to stop these games. And Kendall Massett, as the spokeswoman for the charters, will have to take on a different mantra. It isn’t a question of choice at this point, it is an answer that demands immediate implementation. Fair goes both ways.
If I were Kendall Massett, I would actually recommend the Christina Board of Education rescinds their vote on the settlement. Funding is important, but shaking down a district like this which will only tick off the other districts in the state, is not something to be proud of. It is not a victory when students continue to pay the price.
No one seemed to be the center of controversy in Delaware education more than Head of School Greg Meece, the face of Newark Charter School. Greg Meece had a very busy year behind the scenes of many headlines. It almost seemed like the ongoing district and charter school war centers around NCS and the Christina School District. Here, in it’s entirety, is the story of Newark Charter School in 2016. There are still 27 days left, so I may have to put some updates in before 11:59pm on December 31st! If you see blue in the article, that is a link to an article I published on NCS or Greg Meece.
Before I get into the whole local funding formula fiasco, we need to look at other events Meece was involved in. Prior to this year, I really didn’t write about NCS that much. The school tends to keep things to themselves. What happens at NCS stays at NCS. That changed in February. On February 5th, it was announced NCS would get a “distinguished Title I” designation for their students outstanding scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The only problem? NCS isn’t really a Title I school. The reward was based on the district surrounding them which has Title I schools all over the place.
The next day, I posted how a special needs girl was denied an opportunity to participate in NCS’ lottery. This caused a massive outcry all over the state. The NCS board, the previous fall, said any child who turned six after a certain date would not be able to participate in the lottery. For children with developmental or other disabilities who may start school later, this would prevent those families for applying to NCS. I had people email Greg Meece. He responded to my email the next day. and it eventually caused the school to change their mind. The girl was let into the lottery but she did not win a placement.
A month later, I discovered NCS does not file IRS tax returns because of very vague loopholes from the IRS dating back to 1995. I sent a tip to the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office on this. As well, I submitted a FOIA to NCS to which they responded very fast. Nearly ten months later and nothing has come of the tip to the auditor. I know they were investigating this because I received a call from the state auditor’s office about this. When I called over the summer to find out that status of the investigation, I never received a confirmation that it was being worked on.
Things stayed relatively quiet until shortly after the school year ended. Delaware Senator David Sokola nuked a great bill dealing with teacher evaluations in Delaware. House Bill 399 was meant to undo some of the very damaging practices thrust open teachers from the state. Sokola got involved with the bill and put an amendment on it. One of the aspects of the amendment, the addition of parent surveys at the pilot schools, is something Meece implemented at Newark Charter School. The ties between Sokola and NCS just kept opening up like a can of worms.
As folks were getting ready for the 4th of July, I thought out loud about NCS, Senator Sokola, and the missing Kathleen Davies. I wonder if NCS had anything to do with that. Davies disappearance from the Auditor’s office hit mainstream media with a lot of details missing. While NCS and Meece were not mentioned in that article, that didn’t rule them out on my suspect list for what happened to Davies. State Rep. Kim Williams broke the news in comments on Kavips blog about a petty cash audit Davies had been working on that disappeared as well. I went into a lot of detail and started naming suspects. A few months later the mystery deepened what the petty cash audit turned into petty cash warning letters but NCS wasn’t involved.
While the Kathleen Davies mystery was simmering, I discovered NCS did away with the age restriction for Kindergarten applicants but they came up with a new policy that students entering Kindergarten could only apply once. So if a child with developmental or other disabilities did spend another year in pre-school, and the parents applied to NCS before that, they could not apply the next year. It was the same discriminatory package decorated in different wrapping paper.
After I received detailed breakdowns of every school district and charter’s payment allocations for Fiscal Year 2016, I began to take a closer look at NCS payments. I found they spent an exorbitant amount on student body activities. Only one district was higher than them. This raised my suspicions that something funky was going on which led me to examine the funding for their “cafetorium” addition along with a STEM laboratory. I didn’t find anything conclusive, but it was very ironic how numbers matched with other things.
By the end of August, as the school year started off nice and quiet, all hell broke loose. The local funding formula was changing so charter schools would get more from the local districts. I immediately pegged Greg Meece as the catalyst for this and dumped my feelings about NCS throughout the article. Less than 24 hours later, Secretary Godowsky changed his mind on the change to the charter payments. The next day I posed my theories on who was responsible for this at the Delaware DOE and openly asked Meece many questions about NCS. I never did get a response from him. I can’t imagine he is my biggest fan. This led to a resurfacing of Greg Meece’s famous crab bucket analogy. While all this was going on, Senator Sokola wrote a letter to the News Journal on his latest “discovery” for education. Speaking of the News Journal, they wrote a very misleading article on the whole thing which prompted me to do even more research. The President of the Christina board gave me the official news there would be no changes to the formula the next day. But apparently Meece and NCS Board President had their own thoughts on the matter and wrote their version of events in a letter to NCS parents. The true shock came the next day when a Senator Sokola email defended NCS and cast blame on Christina but I debunked a lot of his theories. Then Christina sent a letter to parents. For a week, NCS parents were coming out to defend their school. Some of them got very nasty which prompted this response from me. After a long ten days, I had to recap the whole thing and give some new information about district exclusions. On September 7th, Christina held an open to the public legislative briefing to explain their side of the story and how the funding works with payments to charters. I attended the meeting and recorded it. Transcribing it was a bitch but it gave a ton of key information (which still makes my head hurt when the final outcome of this reached its climax this week). I’ll have to see if I still have the recording to transcribe Part 2 of this meeting. I assumed Christina argued their case so well it caused Secretary Godowsky to issue a letter to the legislators calling off the whole thing for this year. Many assumed nothing would happen on this until the legislators returned in January based on Godowsky’s letter.
In the Spring, the General Assembly finally passed the Kilroy-inspired “All school boards must record” legislation. For Newark Charter School’s very first audio recording, it was a whopping 16 minutes. You can’t make this stuff up. The next week, they won the Blue Ribbon School status from the U.S. DOE for their “outstanding” test scores (smelling a theme here?). Senator Sokola got the spotlight treatment based on his upcoming General Election contest against Meredith Chapman so I felt obliged to showcase his very sad charter school legacy. Of course NCS got a nod.
One would think after such a crazy month, NCS would try to stay out of the news. Not the case. The school ended September with a student sit-in. Inspired by the U.S. Congress, students staged a sit-in when a teacher was fired over an incident with a student. Instead of getting barbecued by the parents, the students jumped in on the comment roasting of this blog. I actually admired the students for what some called “The Slappening”. The teacher got her job back a couple of weeks later as Earth started spinning on its axis again.
On October 5th, Delaware found out the charter school response to Secretary Godowsky not moving forward with the change in the charter school payments from Christina. 15 charters filed a lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE. I got my hands on the actual filing which named all the schools and parties involved. By this point, everyone knew it was NCS who started this whole thing which they confirmed in another letter to NCS parents. I soon received the whole timeline for the shenanigans involving Greg Meece, Kendall Massett, and Bill Manning. This prompted me to look at some things that were very peculiar about this lawsuit.
A couple of weeks later, Delaware United made a three-part video series where they interviewed Senator Sokola. Care to guess what the biggest topic was? Education and Newark Charter School!
At the end of October, I found out that Newark Charter School was supposed to have an outreach plan to get more sub-groups in their school. This was a condition of their major modification to start their new high school. We are still waiting for this.
Last week, the Charter School lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE came back in a big way. Christina’s board accepted a settlement with a 4-3 vote. By the end of the week, the settlement leaked out before all the signatures were on paper. Where did the leak come from? Governor Markell’s office!
So there you have it: Greg Meece and Newark Charter School. More controversy than Donald Trump at a rally for Democrats! More scandalous than… I can’t think of anything… I sure do hope 2017 is quieter for Newark Charter School. They lost their isolationism label this year!
The Delaware Department of Education released the Restraint & Seclusion report for the 2015-2016 school year. The number of physical restraints this year were 2,695, up from 2,307 in 2014-2015. That means there were 388 more physical restraints of students last year compared to the year before. I have to ask why everything is increasing with discipline in our schools. I can’t help but think that Common Core really isn’t working, especially for students with disabilities. Like last year, most of these physical restraints are going to students with disabilities and over half of them were African-American students. The highest age group was 9-11, and boys were more likely to be restrained than girls. You can read the full report below. I broke it down last year, but I really don’t have the stomach for that today.
Once upon a holiday season, in the land of Delaware, there lived a man who would become Governor. He was promised the throne eight years ago, but another man took his seat. In this land, the people chose their Governor every four years. The man who would be Governor finally won the seat and 58.34% of the people rejoiced. As he sat in his car one day after returning from his job in D.C., he looked out the window. He saw the sun setting in the distance.
John was anxious to get things going in Delaware. He had to officially wait until January 17th, 2017. “Only 47 days,” John said to himself. He had been so busy for so long. Things wouldn’t slow down for him in the next four years, and hopefully the four after that. His day was filled with phone calls, texts, and emails. Everyone wanted a piece of Delaware. He knew not everyone could get a piece. He called his wife from the driveway and told her he was going to go for a walk to clear his head. Always supportive, she knew John needed this and told him to take all the time he needed. John drove to the nearby park. As he walked out of his car, he put on his hat. It was rare he could get away from his security detail but at the same time he didn’t want to be bothered. John walked down the trail…
Meanwhile, 3,529.75 miles away, the jolly one was settling into his favorite chair. The elves were busy preparing for the big day. Santa was happy he had an extra day to prepare this year. As a tradition, during these leap years, he would pick one day off each leap year to do whatever he wanted. Mrs. Claus always forgot about it, but Santa didn’t. Today was his day off! Santa picked up his laptop and on his favorites bar was the website he enjoyed going to the most: Exceptional Delaware. Ever since Santa learned about Common Core and opt out, he found himself checking back in to see what was happening with the children of Delaware and the rest of the country. Santa was not happy when he found out what happened a few weeks after Christmas earlier this year. The people of Delaware wanted the lawmakers to override Governor Jack’s veto of the opt out bill, but it got hung up in some silly rule business. He knew exactly which of those lawmakers would be getting coal this year, led by their Speaker and the leaders below him. Santa heard there was a new Governor in Delaware so he decided he would pay him a visit. While he didn’t usually venture so far south during the busy month, it was his day off and he could do whatever he wanted. At least the things Mrs. Claus wouldn’t have cause to file for divorce over.
As hard as he tried, John couldn’t stop thinking about his plans. He didn’t count on the new President actually winning the election. All his plans were contingent on the Hill winning. But the Tower Man won and he had to plan around it. The Tower Man was picking people who John couldn’t picture running things down in D.C. His office was frantic over the mess. John had to strategize very carefully how he moved forward with everything. Not only did the Tower Man win, but the two bodies of Congress won a majority in the election as well. John’s Delaware was still blue, but a shocking election there threatened to turn the Delaware Senate red too. The state he was to lead had some peculiar problems in it and at the top of that list was the economy and education. Governor Jack treated the two as if they were symbiotic with each other and made some poor choices along the way. John knew if he was going to improve both he would have to find a way to draw everyone in. It was a difficult maze and John knew he wouldn’t please everyone. Governor Jack chose a particular route but John knew if he did the same it would not be good.
Santa knew John’s mind was heavy. As his sleigh crossed the border between Pennsylvania and Delaware, Santa could feel the weight on John’s shoulders. Leadership always carries a heavy burden. Santa knew that better than anyone. Santa knew John ever since he was a little boy. He always knew John would become a leader. John didn’t have the same political sharpness so many politicians had but this also made him more relatable to the people. He watched John’s humble beginnings in the town of Claymont. Carney was one of those tough kids who excelled in football which helped him out at St. Mark’s High School and then Dartmouth College. Santa remembers John’s awards. As John was teaching freshmen football at the University of Delaware, he was also studying public administration. From there, John began his political career working for the county he lived in and then for Governor Tom. From there, John’s political ladder kept getting bigger and bigger. He became the Lieutenant Governor for eight years and decided to run for Governor. But the future “education” Governor Jack beat him in a close race. Others told Jack to wait his turn, it was John’s turn, but Jack ignored them. A couple of years later, John ran for Congress and won. For six years, having to run every two years for a total of three Congressional terms, John worked in D.C. and learned how the game of politics really works. But he never gave up on getting back to Delaware to win as Governor. After Governor Jack was expected to end his tenure, many thought Vice-President Joe’s son Beau would run, but tragically Beau passed away after a long illness. It was then that John decided he would run but wished it had been under better circumstances.
John walked down the path. There was a crisp wind in the air but the moon was bright. He used to walk down this path many times. It hadn’t changed much over time and he remembered it like the back of his hand. John tripped on a branch and fell to the ground. As he looked up, he saw a bright light in the sky above him. A voice cried out “John, we need to talk.” John reached for his phone but he had left it in the car. He thought to himself, “This is it, all alone in the woods with no one to help.” He began to picture the headline in the News Journal the next day. “Who are you?” John asked. “Someone you haven’t thought about in a long time John.” Santa gracefully landed the sleigh on the path in front of John. His lights were still on so John couldn’t tell who it was. “I do have security watching me right now. They are watching you right now. So I wouldn’t try anything They will find you if anything happens to me.” “No they won’t,” Santa said. “Remember you let all of them have the night off and you so conveniently told each one there was coverage?” John wondered how this guy would know that. “It’s me, John. Santa.”
John couldn’t believe his eyes. As a child, he always believed. But as children grew older, that magic disappeared. John saw Santa everywhere this time of year. He began seeing him in stores as early as October. But it wasn’t the same as the man who just walked off a sleigh that came down in the middle of the woods. John took that early childhood magic for granted, as every adult does. John wondered what in the world Santa Claus wanted with him. Did he visit all the new leaders? “John,” Santa said, “We have to talk about the kids. Come with me.” John felt the world spin beneath him. Santa’s words captured him. They weren’t words demanding John obey him, but those of comfort and a calm John hadn’t felt for a long time. John looked at his watch. It was 6:30pm.
Santa and John got in the sleigh. The reindeer, who John hadn’t noticed before, began running down the path. John felt the sleigh lift up into the December night. “John, did you read my letter last year?” Santa asked. John read letters every day. There were some days he couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast he was so busy. John shook his head. “Did you send it to me?” John asked. He knew he probably had not seen it unless it was an issue of critical importance. He was sure if one of his staffers opened it and saw a letter from Santa Claus it would go in the circular bin next to their desk. “No, I let Exceptional Delaware put it up. I thought everyone in Delaware reads it.” That was a name John was familiar with the past six months. The blogger. “You mean the crazy education blogger from Dover? That guy wants to meet with me but I don’t know…” Santa abruptly interrupted John “Watch yourself,” Santa warned. “I have the utmost respect for the blogger. He helped me out last year and he knows what he is talking about.” John responded to Santa. “But he tends to tick off a lot of people. People I’m going to have to work with. I was warned to stay away from him.” Santa’s eyes widened. “Oh really? Would that have been Senator So-coal-A,” Santa carefully empathized. “And all those other adults who don’t have the first clue about what education really is? Let me tell you something John. You will be a leader of Delaware. Any state has a foundation from which it must build on. That foundation is the kids. Not the adults, and especially not the adults who try to make money and get power from kids. There are those out there who will pretend to speak the truth. You surround yourself with them. But there are those who speak uncomfortable truths that people don’t always want to hear. But they do so out of an innate need for change, in the hopes someone with the ability to hear will actually listen.”
John was familiar with what was going on in education. He was told of the long-range plans and how education would be reformed so all kids can succeed. The children would be trained to become the workforce of tomorrow. As he began his campaign, he knew many people in Delaware were hurting. When he ran for Governor the first time, the economy of the whole country was collapsing. Even though Delaware recovered from this, not all of the citizens did. Some never got the jobs back that made them more money. The cities were becoming too violent again. Drug use was up and children were getting shot in the street. But still, Delaware did the one thing it knows how to do best- spend money. John knew all that money wasn’t going to the right places. He also knew that when he became the leader he would have to fix a lot of these problems. Many of his advisors told him that education was going to fix all these problems. Not now, but down the road. But if he didn’t help follow the same paths Governor Jack made, nothing would ever get fixed. This was happening all over the country. There were critics, like the damn blogger, but they were just a whisper in the wind. They didn’t see the big picture and how this was for the good of the state and the country.
“Santa, where are we going?” John asked. “To see the children John.”
“Uhm, Santa. We are flying into downtown Wilmington. No offense sir, but I can’t be seen riding around in a sleigh with someone people don’t believe in along with eight reindeer.” Santa pulled out a pouch from his pocket. “Thanks for reminding me John, I almost forgot.” Santa took out a handful of dust and blew it all around him and John. “They won’t see us now.” Santa parked the sleigh on top of the Community Education Building. The duo went down through the building and to the streets below. They walked over to the playground next to the building.
In a dark corner, an African-American boy was reading with a flashlight. The boy was shivering as he turned a page. “Why is this boy out here Santa? Why doesn’t he go home?” Santa sighed. “This is his home John. He lives on the streets. During the really cold months he goes to a shelter with his aunt. She is at work right now.” John saw a grocery cart a few feet away from the boy. Covering it was a blue tarp. John could see some clothes in there and a few boxes. As John looked away for a moment in horror, he saw a hypodermic needle on the ground. The boy was reading a worn-out copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with a flashlight between his yellow teeth. He saw the boy lift a crumpled up bag out of his coat pocket. The boy began eating the few crumbs left in the bag of potato chips. Santa told John about how his father went to prison a few years ago. He belonged to one of the gangs. During a shoot-out in front of their apartment building, a bullet missed hitting the boy but instead lodged itself in his mother’s brain. He told John this is the first thing the boy sees when he wakes up in the morning and the last thing he sees at night. “Come on John, we have more stops to make tonight.” John walked to the sleigh but kept looking back at the boy.
Santa and John flew once more into the night. It was very quiet between them. They landed in a very wealthy neighborhood with mansions all around them. John wasn’t sure if he had been on this street when he was campaigning. Many houses were decked out in Christmas lights and he even saw Santas made up in lights. “This is never what Christmas was supposed to be John,” as Santa looked down at his belly. They got out of the sleigh and went into one of the houses. A girl was on her computer playing the latest version of Minecraft. Her mom asked her if she finished her homework. “I sure did,” the girl said. “You can check it on Schoology.” “Did you finish all the stuff on iReady?” the mother asked. “Yes Mom,” as the girl rolled her eyes. She had just finished eating the steak and shrimp but she was still hungry. “Can you turn the heat down Mom?” she yelled. As her hand grabbed the ice cream bowl, Santa and John left. As Sarah pulled the spoon to her mouth, she wondered if she had to be at the school in her cheerleader’s outfit by 9am tomorrow or 9:15.
They flew down to Georgetown. John was last there on Return Day in November. All the candidates who run for office, whether they win or not, participate in this event to “bury the hatchet”. But they flew away from the town to a trailer park. Inside, a Hispanic girl was kicking a ball around with her little brother. A man came into the room. “Hicerion sus deberes?” the man asked. “No podríamos papá. No sabíamos lo que significaban las palabras,” the boy answered. The man watched as his children did what they do after school almost every day. Kicking around the same ball. “Sorry Santa, my Spanish is very rusty. What did they say?” John asked. “The father asked if his children did their homework. They couldn’t because they can’t read the words. They don’t know English very well. They know enough for very basic things, but not enough to learn what they need to know. Their mother is still at the chicken farm working her shift. One of them always has to be with the kids. They aren’t here legally. The father is afraid all the time that his kids will be taken from him and he and his wife will have to go back to their country. He doesn’t know English at all.”
John felt his mind stir as they flew north. He was very troubled by what he saw. When he was campaigning, he tended to see the best of Delaware. In the daylight or early evening when many of his “Meet and Chews” with people were attended by those who had the means and the desire to see him. When he went to schools, he could tell the kids were on their best behavior because “an important man” was coming to visit. He didn’t see people in their homes or on the streets the way he did tonight. He felt uncomfortable, like he was seeing a side of the world he heard about but didn’t see first-hand. “Santa, I should really be getting back. It’s getting late and my wife is probably worrying about me.” Santa laughed so hard the sleigh shook. “Look at your watch John. What time is it?” John looked at his watch in bewilderment. It was still 6:30pm. No time had passed since he first got in the sleigh with Santa back on the trail. “Let me guess, another bit of your magic?” Santa smiled at John as they flew into a middle-class neighborhood in Dover.
The odd couple went into the house. Inside, a boy was crying on the couch. His parents were arguing in the kitchen. “What do you mean he was suspended again?” the father asked. “I got a call from school. They said he was acting out in class again and when the teacher told him to stop he ran out of the room. When another teacher found him, he pushed her away. The Principal came down the hall and yelled at him to come with him. David yelled back at him and Dr. Smith called two teachers to help bring him to the office,” the mother explained. “I didn’t get the call until two hours later. By the time I got there he was so upset.” “Did they give him any work to do when he was in there for two hours?” the boy’s father asked. “I don’t know. But this is not what his IEP says. They aren’t supposed to drag him down the hall and yell at him. He isn’t learning anything there. He’s depressed all the time. He can’t learn in a class with thirty kids.” John knelt down in front of the boy. He saw such pain and sadness in the boy’s eyes. “This boy has no friends John. The things you had growing up, kids to play with and throw a football around, running around in the woods, even going to the amusement park, David can’t do those things.” Santa explained how David was labeled as high-functioning Autism. He could do the work, but only under certain conditions. If there was a lot of activity in the classroom, people talking, moving around, David couldn’t handle that. His brain couldn’t filter out all the stimuli. Some days it worked, but for David, it was an endless litany of suspensions and leaving school early. “Special education John. If you don’t know what is going on with a child, and everyone is different, how can we put all kids in the same box?” Santa asked him.
John could see what Santa was doing. He understood that not every kid is the same. But if they didn’t try to help all the kids nothing would change. The two flew to the building where John was destined to spend many of his days in the next four years. Legislative Hall. Where all the laws in Delaware happened. John didn’t think there would be any kids there at 6:30pm, and he was right. Inside, a meeting was taking place. John knew about half the people at the large table in the House Majority Caucus room. There were some from the Department of Education, a couple from the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, the usual Delaware State Education Association contingent, some Superintendents, a few teachers, Delaware PTA, some of the disability advocates, the lady from the Delaware Charter Schools Network, four legislators, and a couple of State Board members. He knew them. A few people sat in the chairs outside of the table. A woman from the Delaware DOE was giving a presentation on the Every Student Succeeds Act. Delaware had to come up with a state plan so all students can succeed. She was talking about the Delaware School Success Framework and the measurements they wanted included in their state accountability system. It was all about proficiency and growth. Which John knew was based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. All these adults, sitting there talking about kids and how they can make education better. John knew a few of the people there had the best of intentions but this was what they do in Delaware. They sit around a table and talk. This was how things got done. They even had a name for it, The Delaware Way.
“You don’t get it!” John cried out. “We can’t keep testing these kids. They aren’t the same. We can’t keep doing this. Their lives mean so much more than these tests.” Santa looked at John. “They can’t hear you. Even if they could, too many of them wouldn’t listen. They think they know what is best. They forget what it was like when they were kids. Even that man over there.” Santa pointed to a man from Wilmington. “He kept fighting for the kids in Wilmington and how the teachers need to be better,” Santa explained. “The man believed what he said but he didn’t realize how much these children don’t have outside of school. The man didn’t understand that you can’t just wave a magic wand and make teachers better. And the best teachers, they were the ones already in those classrooms in Wilmington. They were the ones who came to school every day, knowing the problems these kids brought to the classroom. The look of hunger in their eyes as they wore the same clothes for the third day in a row. They dedicated their lives to helping these kids in the hardest classrooms in the state. In return, they were shamed by many of the people in this room. The little boy we saw on the playground tonight? He goes to the poorest school in the state. Most of the people in this room have never walked into his school. They don’t understand what he needs. That legislator over there? She sponsored a bill so special education would get better in the state. In their eyes, it did. Students went from 21% proficiency on the ELA part of Smarter Balanced to 23%. To them, that is growth. The Superintendent over there? She runs the district where the two kids from Georgetown go to school. She has a lot of students who can’t speak or read English. She hasn’t said one word tonight about how to help them. See the man over there? He runs a charter school in Newark. They just settled on a lawsuit against the Christina School District. In return they will get more money in the future. Remember the girl in the mansion? She goes to that charter school. That money will be taken from the homeless boy’s school. He will get less than he has today at school. The man over there? He sits on the board at the Rodel Foundation. He sees opportunity. He sees how the business leaders in the state can profit from all this. He is hoping they will start talking about more career pathway programs in our high schools. He knows that some will go to the coding school he sits on the board of. He talks with other business leaders and the graduates of that program do internships at their companies. Sometimes they get jobs. While they are learning, these coding students are building the network of tomorrow. They develop algorithms that will go into the education technology in all the schools. All that data, all that blessed data. They store it all. They keep everything, these futurists and visionaries. They have the money and influence to make sure what they want becomes policy and law. It is the way the modern world works John. Perhaps they know, and don’t care, that what they are setting up now will only make those children who struggle the most even further apart from any true opportunity to succeed. And them, over there, they work for the Department of Education. They are the middlemen between the schools and the business community. They make sure the business community gets what they want in the schools. They do this through regulations and conversations you will never hear about. That woman there, she runs the accountability section of the Department. Her job is to make sure all children in certain grades take the Smarter Balanced Assessment. When she sees the results come in, she doesn’t see the faces of the children who took the test. She sees numbers. Results. Scores. Her job is to understand why all the children we saw tonight got a 1 on the test last Spring except for the girl in the mansion who got a 4. She doesn’t see David’s disability. Or the two siblings who can’t read the instructions for the test in English much less understand the context of a passage in Spanish about the stock market. She doesn’t know that the African-American boy in Wilmington has slept in 124 different beds in the past year alone and the other 241 nights were outside with blankets. But she actually thinks they can close the achievement gaps and these children will grow into prosperity. How does she know this? It’s what her bosses tell her every single day. She hears the lie so much she believes it.”
John and Santa left the building. As the two flew north, they talked about what John had to do. What he needed to change. They talked about the blogger and the parents, teachers, legislators, advocates, and citizens who thought like Santa did. “Those are the ones you really need to talk to John. I’m sure you have heard from many of the people who were in that meeting tonight. If you haven’t, I have no doubt your advisors have.” John knew this to be true. “You need to understand the other side of the coin John, where the real world lives. These aren’t pleasant realities you saw tonight. For those fighting for the kids, even opting out of the test isn’t as easy as it once was. They are fighting for these kids, their kids. And their grandchildren. They are fighting for their jobs. They see beyond the results and the growth. They see what needs to change but no one listens. No one who can really make a difference. Some do, but not enough to make the changes. When they do speak, they are shunned by their peers. Given less importance. It isn’t right John. What the people in that room wanted, it won’t change anything. It will only cause more damage. You can’t incorporate education. These are children. You need to change all this.”
John walked out of the sleigh. He thanked Santa for showing him so much of the Delaware he didn’t see before. The two shook hands. “Santa, I don’t know if I can change all of this by myself. You know if I try I will make enemies. Those enemies won’t make my job any easier.” Santa put his hand on John’s shoulder. “That is what all leaders who understand what is right and just have to face. Some succeed and some fail. Some do it alone and some have support. All I can say is this John- remember what you saw tonight. Every single time you make a decision. Remember the children’s faces before you see the adults. You know in your heart who is really in this for the kids and who isn’t. When you hear that voice in your head, questioning what the true motives are, listen to that. Let that be your shield against your enemies John.” John hugged Santa. “Merry Christmas Santa.” “And to you as well Governor Carney.” Santa walked toward his sleigh and turned around. “John, find those who speak the uncomfortable truths.”
John looked down at his watch. It was 6:31pm. Santa was gone.
A month ago, I participated in a forum on Delaware education funding at the monthly Progressive Democrats for Delaware meeting. State Representative Paul Baumbach from the 23rd Rep District also discussed the issue. Baumbach is very supportive of implementing a weighted education funding formula in Delaware. Last Winter, Baumbach and then Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman presented a report on a weighted funding system to the Education Funding Improvement Commission. That commission was unable to get a consensus on any particular funding apparatus and ended the 148th General Assembly with no final report. The WEIC redistricting plan also called for implementation of a weighted funding system.
Education funding, with implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, will take center stage in 2017. As more and more citizens realize the system we have now is not working for all students, attempts at fixing the problems will appear. The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and their redistricting plan for Wilmington Christina School District students is still bubbling under the surface. Last night, Christina’s board voted 4-3 to settle on a lawsuit filed against them and the Delaware Dept. of Education by 15 charter schools that receive students from Christina. The charters claim Christina was filing exclusions that were “improper” to the Delaware DOE and the DOE signed off on them. While the settlement has not been made public, it will assuredly have an impact on local funding formulas going forward.
Baumbach’s plan is to have more money go to students with higher needs, such as low-income or poverty, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. Currently, students with disabilities do receive additional funding based on a unit-count system (with the exception of basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade). This system determines how much staff each district or charter school receive based on their September 30th count of students. With the funding system Baumbach is pushing for, the money would follow the student based on their needs. Another question involving this funding system is if Talented and Gifted students would be considered high need as well.
This is not equality funding but equity funding. Schools who have less sub-groups of students with higher needs would receive less money. Final accountability regulations for ESSA will require each public school in America to show the amount of funding per student based on local, state, and federal funding. The biggest problem with education funding in Delaware is property assessments. No county in Delaware has increased their property assessments in decades resulting in severe imbalances to what the current assessed values would be. As well, referenda held by school districts have had mixed results. Adding to this mix is the potential of school vouchers coming to Delaware if President Donald Trump and his pick for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, get their way. Baumbach argued against a bill that would allow vouchers for special education students last Spring and stated it would be a violation of Delaware’s Constitution to send state funds to a religious private school. Trump also announced he wants to incentivize new charter schools across America. Capital costs for school buildings is also a major issue. Delaware has many outdated schools that have serious structural issues with the recent Christina mold problem as a glaring example.
Baumbach will most likely bring forth legislation in 2017 to change how we fund our schools. As well, there is increasing talk in Delaware about re-examining property assessments. Some state officials have even suggested consolidating school districts to save money, possibly to a county school district system with New Castle County having two districts based on the population.
For my part, I can’t support ANY changes to our education funding system until we can get more assurances the money we are already spending is used with fidelity and honesty. The recent audit investigation into Indian River showed very clearly that this district was not being honest. We’ve had far too many Delaware charter school leaders and employees committing major fraud with funds that are not getting to students. Our state auditor is supposed to audit each school district every year and publish the results. This is not happening. Charter school annual audits, usually, do not have the ability to catch financial fraud. The State Auditor of Accounts Office, run by Tom Wagner, is massively understaffed. Why in the world would we dump more money into education when we can’t accurately keep track of the money already there? This is the viewpoint of many conservatives in Delaware, but more on the left are also waking up to a reality that can no longer be ignored.
As the chief legislative advocate for a weighted funding system, Baumbach will have his hands full in the first six months of 2017. If the Republicans manage to take control of the Delaware Senate after the special election for Bethany Hall-Long’s Senate seat, the voucher conversation will become very loud at Legislative Hall. Tony Allen also warned that time is running out to fix education for Wilmington students and advocates may file a federal lawsuit against Delaware which could leave education funding and districting in the hands of a federal judge. The icing on this education funding cake is the very flawed measurement of success for Delaware schools- the standardized test. If we use them as a barometer of success or need, the system will continue to be a confusing mess with no end in sight.
No matter how you slice and dice money for education, no system will please everyone. This has become painfully obvious. We need to look at what is best for Delaware students and not those of corporations who seek to profit from education. As corporate education reform is more embedded in our schools, more administrators are implementing the very bad policies from those reformers thus turning them into profiteers of education. Yeah, Baumbach is going to have a big fight on his hands with any legislation involving this system!
To read the final report conducted by Hanover Research for the Delaware DOE on a weighted funding system, please read below:
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.
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.
Is a bus driver beholden to a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP)? That was the question for an investigator at the Exceptional Children’s Resources Group, the special education division of the Delaware Department of Education. When behavioral issues came up for this student on the school bus, did the district do everything it could have when the student was denied access to the school bus? Find out the answers here!
PIC is the Parent Information Center of Delaware. Subsidized by the Delaware Department of Education, PIC is a federally mandated organization for parents to use as a resource center for special education. Every state is required to have this type of entity under IDEA, the federal special education law. Why is PIC of Delaware advertising Alliance For Excellent Education and “personalized learning”? Personalized learning, if implemented full scale, would diminish the role of special education in schools by giving every single student their own individual education program, otherwise known as an IEP.
As anyone in Delaware who regularly read this blog know, the biggest supporter for personalized learning has been the Rodel Foundation of Delaware. I get very concerned when I see special education groups pushing what Rodel pushes. As I’ve said before, personalized learning in its true context is light years away from the 21st Century push for it. It would turn teacher-led instruction into screen time for students with teachers becoming glorified moderators. This would take place in a competency-based education environment where a student doesn’t move on until they have “mastered” the material. All in a digital classroom with education technology that reaps high rewards for those who invest in them. Without any regard for the psychological and physical health effects on any student, much less those who have disabilities. As anyone who keeps track of progress for students with disabilities can tell you, special education students would be the last ones to “move along” in this type of classroom. Which makes it even more puzzling that PIC would promote this type of education. When I clicked on the link in the Alliance For Excellent Education ad, it brought me to a YouTube video.
Whatever the intentions were for the Every Student Succeeds Act, it was hijacked by corporate education reformers and they are taking full advantage of inserting what they want in every single state. States are working on their ESSA plans this fall and those who wish to profit off education at the expense of student futures are getting louder than ever.
PIC does a lot of good things. They can be a good resource. But I truly wish they would distance themselves from corporate Kool-Aid like this. It is misleading to parents who don’t know any better. There are enough issues with special education in Delaware. We really don’t want or welcome, for those of us who see these kind of education fix it companies as the charlatans they are, these kind of intrusions in our children’s lives.
Alliance For Excellent Education is led by former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise with funding by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Wise pushes the “Future Ready Schools” initiative, as detailed in the biography on the All4ed.org website:
Don’t let the fancy talk fool you. Future Ready Schools requires district Superintendents to sign a “Future Ready Pledge”, heavily pushed by the U.S. Department of Education, to turn classrooms into an ed tech wonderland. Five current or former Delaware Superintendents signed this pledge: Dr. Merv Daugherty with Red Clay Consolidated, Dr. Victoria Gehrt with New Castle County Vo-Tech, Alan Lathbury with Sussex Tech, Phyllis Kohel with Milford, and John Ewald with Laurel. I have to wonder if they got the consent of their school boards, teachers, students, parents, and citizens of their districts before they committed themselves to this bogus “pledge”. All you have to do is look at Future Ready’s “partners” to understand what this really is.
Remember when you were a child and someone, at one point in your life, told you “If I told you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you?” Apparently, far too many of those in charge of school districts take the plunge with no regard for students whatsoever. And it looks like PIC of Delaware is pretty wet already…