Every year, on June 13th, Exceptional Delaware celebrates its anniversary. This year is, pardon the pun, no exception. You won’t see what the mission is until you read about it. But it is definitely time to reboot the mission and go back to basics. It’s about the kids. It’s about families. It’s about what is covered up and hidden. In ALL facets of education, people want quiet. They didn’t want the dirty skeletons coming out of the closet. But they are there. Like an ostrich with a head buried in the sand, so it is with Delaware education. Continue reading “Season Four On Exceptional Delaware Just Got Very Interesting, Time To Reboot The Mission”
I am getting very sick of the political games in Dover. Very sick. We have the Joint Finance Committee cutting programs left and right, with House and Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle continuing to bicker over raising taxes or having more cuts. We elect these people to do what is right for Delaware, not to kick the can until the next election. They continue to use the most vulnerable citizens of Delaware in their political football games: the students, those who are sick or rely on state assistance, and those who live in poverty. Enough.
In a Delaware State news article, JFC Co-Chair Melanie Smith brags about needing only $60 million in “soft cuts” while Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf says further cuts would be “drastic“. Do these two even talk to each other? They are in the same damn party. Meanwhile, we have Senator Greg Lavelle preaching from his pulpit wanting the state to have even more cuts. But both sides are not giving serious thought to State Rep. John Kowalko’s bills which would raise taxes on the wealthy of Delaware. Hell, they spit in our faces in the House by passing the very ridiculous estate tax appeal last month.
Delaware Republicans, let’s get one thing straight: prevailing wage will NEVER happen as long as the Democrats hold power in the House and Senate. It is a pipe dream. Delaware Democrats, the Republicans will NEVER allow you to raise taxes on the wealthy. Delaware citizens, we are screwed.
I believe they are making these “drastic” cuts in the JFC to cut to the heart of Delaware. By going after the most vulnerable of Delaware citizens, they are hoping the legislators will cave and come up with some sort of short-term compromise to fix the budget. Governor Markell left the station, but not without spending our way to prosperity. But guess what, the bill came in for that spending and we have treated the state wallet like an ATM without any limits.
In Delaware, we have this insane tendency to vote the SAME people into office every election. While there are some very good State Reps and Senators filling the halls in Dover, I fear we have reached a stalemate in Dover. For far too many of our legislators it is about one thing: holding on to power and the next election. The Delaware Way has become a steaming pile of horse manure.
Governor Carney and his office have shown no sign of getting rid of this stink in Delaware. My recent FOIA complaint against Carney’s office over the Family Services Cabinet Council generated a response from his office. Because the Attorney General’s office is still working on the legal opinion for this, all I can say is the response is one of the most insulting things I’ve read in my entire life. It reeks of corruption and deals made behind closed doors. The solution, which is Carney’s way of saying “Don’t mess with me Ohlandt, cause I will do what I want no matter what” screams of the very thing I have grown to expect in Delaware. It evaporates hope and replaces it with a bad taste that no mouthwash could replace. I can’t wait until this legal opinion comes out to the public so they can see firsthand what I am talking about.
Our children, poor, and sick should not be held hostage because these lawmakers think they can do what they want. In the State News article, Matt Bittle discussed the decision by the JFC to hold off on meeting until later in June. Bittle writes:
The move, an atypical one, minimizes public backlash and concern in response to spending reductions and gives the caucuses more time to come to an agreement on tax increases.
I disagree with this. The public backlash is just beginning. I see more discussion about what is going on with the budget this year than I’ve seen in years. The very ugly move by the JFC yesterday on not allowing the cut sheets from yesterday to be released to the media or the public is the shadiest thing I’ve seen in my entire time blogging. In response to cuts already made, I’m sure their phones and emails were lighting up like a Christmas tree. Get over it. It is your job to listen to your constituents, not to stifle their voices. When you play games with people, don’t get upset when they voice their concerns over it. Last I heard, freedom of speech was still a real thing. Last I heard, we elected you to balance the budget, not to keep it from us.
Because of loop holes in state code, there are no-brainer ways to raise revenue in this state that are impossible because of budget allocations. We could raise the gas tax but that would only go towards the transportation fund. How about shifting that in state code so it would go to the general fund? I would support a ten cent raise in the gas tax if it would dig us out of this mess that the General Assembly created in the first place. It is things like that which make it impossible for me to give the General Assembly more than a shrug when this time of year comes around. They need to think outside of their very small boxes and get creative. Because I am sure they will get the same salary, benefits, and pensions. Meanwhile, I know I am going to have to pay more for getting less in Delaware as will every single citizen in this state. Except some of those really rich people who will bully legislators into making sure their shared sacrifice is palatable to their over-stuffed bank accounts.
I believe in Delaware. I believe in the people of Delaware. I don’t believe in our very corrupt state government who throws away their conscience in favor of lobbyists and back-door deals. I don’t care if you are Democrat or Republican. The very second you replace a moral with some incentive, you have failed in your duty as an elected official. That isn’t integrity. It isn’t honesty. It is the Delaware Way.
Do you want some cheese with that wine Mark Murphy? That is the thrust of an online article from The Job in which Mark Murphy laments his time as the Delaware Secretary of Education. Murphy gets it wrong on so many levels it isn’t even funny.
Frankly, kids’ interests and adults’ interests don’t always align. Kids have no power, no say, no decision-making authority, no money — so nobody has a real reason to listen to kids. Go shadow a high-school kid for a day — good luck staying awake. You have to walk from class to class, with four minutes between each bell. You have to raise your hand to go to the bathroom. It is so disempowering and so boring.
Yes, he did use the word boring. Because we are desperately clamoring for high school students to do whatever they want in school. I’m terribly sorry Murphy had to exercise so much while shadowing a high school kid. He did always seem fit. Perhaps that is why. Let’s be very clear on something. Teenagers are trying to figure out who they are. They are going through puberty. I’m not saying their voice isn’t important, but adults often need to be the ones to make decisions for students. It isn’t because they are on a power trip, it is because they went through their teenage years and entered adulthood (well, most of them did). They went through it and came out on the other side and know what works and what doesn’t. But then a bunch of billionaires got together and decided they knew what was best for education. They used students and parents in their quest to get rid of teacher unions. That is whose side you were always on.
What would happen is, I would feel like I had reached an agreement with the union leadership, but then they came back a month or two later and that wasn’t how their membership felt. I should have spent more time meeting with local leadership. In hindsight, I would have done that differently.
Yes Mark, you should have. It sounds to me like the union leadership wasn’t also aware of what was happening at the ground level either or perhaps they were just placating you. The union leadership should reach out to their membership before making agreements on their behalf. If that is how it went down.
Each time you try to turn around a school, or you open or close a charter school, or disagree with the union, you punch another hole in the bucket and you start to drain out. You lose some political capital. Eventually, you’re out of water.
Mark, you became the Delaware Secretary of Education at the worst possible time in Delaware. Post Race to the Top and knee-deep in Markell’s very bad education policies. We are seeing a lot of those policies reversed throughout the country. Being a leader is allowing yourself to stand up to the criticism and not letting it get to you. If you ran out of water that’s because you kept listening to the same people over and over again and were not willing to hear what was happening at the grass-roots level.
If every kid had access to a middle-class lifestyle, the country would be a much better place, and people wouldn’t be so angry about all the immigrants.
The two don’t really intersect Mark. I know the goal is for every kid to be the same, but good luck with that. The bad education policies you pushed on Delaware at the behest of your education totalitarian boss, Jack Markell, failed because they did not look at the individual, only the collective. Not sure where your immigration comment comes in.
I am really nervous that really great people are going to stop being willing to pursue public office because you get publicly and professionally assassinated in these jobs.
Does this mean you see yourself as “really great people” Mark? Since I became involved in Delaware public education a few years ago, I have seen three Delaware Secretaries of Education: yourself, Dr. Steven Godowsky, and Dr. Susan Bunting. Both Godowsky and Bunting treated me with respect although we do not always agree on policy. When you were around, you didn’t give me the time of day. You treated opt out parents as if they were somehow beneath you and should be squashed like a bug. You didn’t even mention the Rodel Foundation in this article, but you listened to them far more than any educator, student, or parent. The priority schools initiative was the death knell of your time as the Delaware Secretary. The whole thing was a Delaware Dept. of Education public relations nightmare from the onset. It was shoddily planned and I would have to think you knew that.
If you’re a teacher in one of these schools, the new principal who comes into the school should decide whether you stay or whether you don’t stay. The teachers’ union was quite upset about that.
Of course they would be upset about it because the whole basis for this was standardized test scores. It failed to address issues such as trauma, special education, segregation, and the individual student. Who wants some corporate education reform Principal hand-picked by the Delaware DOE to come in and can a ton of teachers over Smarter Balanced scores? That’s why parents and citizens also objected to this plan. The biggest failure was your inability to predict the severity of the public backlash for this. I have to think you felt so empowered at the height of the corporate education reform movement that you felt infallible. No human being is infallible.
In retrospect Mark, this sounds like sour grapes on your part. You cast far too much blame on others while failing to address your own failures in your term. Playing around with the priority schools funding was the final straw. You can’t make promises and then back away from them. I’m not sure why you blame the unions for all that is wrong with public education. I know that is the corporate education reform mantra, but perhaps you should think of your own future and get off the shame and blame bus.
Sometimes a landmark passes you by and you never take notice. As I looked at my blog earlier today, I saw I had written 2,999 posts. That is a heck of a lot of articles for a blog that isn’t even two and a half years old. So I thought I would do something special for the 3,000 mark. I want to talk about fear.
There is no crippling force greater than fear. It can turn the most well-intentioned person into a bowl of jello in a heartbeat. We have all been there. Some live in this state constantly. What is my greatest fear? Probably that my son will have a hard life. It is one of the reasons I fight. With every bone in my body. I see teacher fear constantly. Those who are afraid to speak because they can’t lose their job. Fear can paralyze you when you least expect it. It gnaws at you and turns conviction into uncertainty. Truth into doubt. But there are those who fight the fear and do something with it.
Do you want to know who doesn’t seem to have any fear? Rita Landgraf. The News Journal announced today she will take a job at the University of Delaware. The soon-to-be former Delaware Secretary of Health will have big things to do at the University of Delaware.
She will join UD’s College of Health Sciences as a professor of practice and distinguished health and social services administrator in residence. She also will direct the UD Partnership for Healthy Communities, a cross-state and college initiative that looks to address healthcare challenges in the community.
Landgraf has been fighting for those who aren’t able to fight for themselves for a long time now and I’m glad to see she will continue that tradition.
Sometimes fear means rising up out of your comfort chair and doing the right thing. Shelley Suckyj spoke out at a Christina Board of Education meeting on September 20th. This one action drew major attention to the mold issues plaguing Christina schools right now.
Then there is Kathleen DeNight. Last week, she received Autism Delaware’s Volunteer Of The Year. As a parent of a child with Autism, I have seen DeNight at meetings. She is not one to mince words and she will fight for her child.
Next is my wife. On Saturday, she participated in a 5k walk. In the pouring rain, she completed the whole thing and came in 11th place. She has worked very hard in the past year to get to this point and I am very proud of her.
We can’t forget Jerry Fickes and Chris Leach, the two Wilmington firefighters who sacrificed their own lives to save others last month.
Another is one of my sources who I can’t name because then they wouldn’t be a source. But sometimes sticking your own neck out in order to do good for others can be tough. But this source does it consistently, and has been doing this for years.
There is this guy at work. He says some of the most outlandish stuff I’ve ever heard in my life. But he always does it with a smile. He has absolutely no fear at all in this world and will say whatever is on his mind.
The Chicago Cubs may have a lot of fear going to the World Series, their first in 71 years. But fear doesn’t get a team that far. It is hard work and dedication. I’ll be rooting for the Cubs.
Take Mike Matthews and Jackie Kook. The two are running for the President and Vice-President of the Delaware State Education Association next year. But they are starting their grass-roots campaign now and have committed to holding 15 meetings throughout the state in the coming months to meet with teachers and hear their concerns. They have no fear whatsoever in speaking their mind for what they believe in.
Some take their fear from younger days and turn it into something good. Such is the case with the Dover High School Peer Group Connections members. These seniors help new freshmen transition to the high school.
I want to give a shout-out to some other bloggers out there in this country. Especially two of them who continue to astonish me with the level of investigative prowess they exhibit. They are heroes in my mind, and what these two blog about is very frightening stuff.
One of my favorite artists, a bloke by the name of Steve Dillon, passed away recently. He was one of the co-creators, along with Garth Ennis, of Preacher. Before that, they had a fantastic run on a comic called Hellblazer. Dillon lived life by his own terms, and he wasn’t afraid to stand by what he believed.
Or what about Scott Goward. A Dover resident running for Governor on a 3rd party ticket. I’m sure he knows he will most likely lose, but he runs anyway, announcing his candidacy long before candidates from the “major” parties did so.
Fear conquering is all around us. We see it every time a baby takes its first steps. When a dying person is finally ready to let go. When a student walks into a school for the first time. When a couple finds out they are expecting. People who struggle with addiction who take those tentative steps to ask for help. When someone goes into surgery not knowing what the outcome might be. When a parent attends a board meeting to give public comment about issues with their child. When an African-American tells the world no more. Or it could be a teenager who ignores a bully and walks right past them with their head held high. Or another teenager who tells his mother, “I did it”, knowing that confession is better than the guilt. Those who wake up in immense pain every single day but find the courage to get out of bed and face the day. The opposite of fear is courage. In big ways or small ways, courage is overcoming fear.
For those who have been along this journey from the very beginning, thank you for the road to 3,000. For those who came along in-between, thank you for sticking around. For those who just read occasional articles, that’s cool too.
Things are changing fast in education right now. It will take great courage to speak your truth. But it has to happen.
2016 has been a very interesting year in blogging. Some articles took off way beyond what I thought they would while others didn’t even hit the 1,000 mark. Such is life in Delaware education! The articles that get the most hits on this blog seem to take on a life of their own. It is very odd to watch as the writer of this blog. I think to myself, “this is Delaware, it can’t be that interesting!”
Without further ado, here are the top 2016 articles on Exceptional Delaware:
- Delaware Public Schools: You Have Until Thursday To Get Rid Of Your Data Walls Or I Start Filing FERPA Complaints 51,505 hits
- Her Name Is Amy 36,029 hits
- Holodick & Brandywine Named In Lawsuit As Father Seeks Justice From Year Long Nightmare 22,277 hits
- Tragedy Strikes Howard High School In Wilmington As Student Dies From Head Injuries In Fight 6,924 hits
- Niche.com Delaware School Rankings By High School, Middle School, Elementary School, Best Teachers, & More 3,098 hits
- Delaware Senate Passes The “No School After Labor Day” Bill With Close Vote 3,054 hits
- Delaware DOE Hits All-Time Low With Very Scummy Move Against Teachers… 1,993 hits
- ***UPDATED***Channel 6 ABC Action News Gives Updated Information About Details In Amy Joyner-Francis Case 1,823 hits
- Governor Markell Takes It To Facebook And Receives The Beat Down Of His Life! 1,783 hits
- Delaware’s Pee Problem 1,712 hits
Out of all the above articles, the one that was the hardest to write was Her Name Is Amy. It was the day after her murder at Howard High School of Technology, and the words just came out of me. The data walls article really took me by surprise. I wrote the whole article in about five minutes while at work one day in response to a Facebook post. When I checked my laptop a few hours later at my next break, it had over 3,000 hits. The whole Senate Labor Day bill was also a post I thought no one would really care about, but it clearly resonated with readers for some reason. A lot of these articles generated so many hits because they were either original topics that couldn’t really be found anywhere else or because they dealt with a tragedy on a scale we weren’t used to in Delaware. The fact that three of these articles dealt directly with Amy Joyner-Francis speaks volumes at the grief we felt (and still do) over her senseless death. There was a lot of misinformation about what happened that day. Some of it was discounted only to be later verified. In some instances, it was just bad information. When I was prepping the Brandywine lawsuit article, I had a feeling it would be big, but not that big. The Pee article was meant to be serious, and it was. But sometimes the title just jumps out and says “read me”.
For the data walls article, I will be keeping a close eye on this topic. I want to hear from any parent, teacher, or student who sees data walls in our schools that give out names and test scores and rankings of students. In the classroom or out, especially if it is in an area where anyone can see it. Many schools who practiced this last year got a reprieve from me because it was the end of the school year, but I will not be so kind this year.
Blogging is an odd thing. None of these posts were heavily linked to with the exception of Facebook in certain situations. Facebook, Twitter, and Google have always been my biggest “referrers”. What none of these hits include are hits to my “homepage” which received 93,065 hits so far this year. Each year, this blog gets bigger, and I am very grateful for that. When I began this little thing back in June of 2014, I didn’t foresee anything like this or what it became. I thank all my readers, near and far, for coming to visit. It’s been controversial, it’s been real, and it’s even been fun with some stuff. The people I’ve met since have left a very big impression on me. I am a better man for meeting a lot of you! And some, I won’t go there!
While I don’t always slow down in the summer, my readers do. I have noticed a crystal clear trend with this as my 3rd year of summer blogging comes to a finish. Things ramp up big time in late August/early September. That continues up until Christmas. Slows down for a few weeks, and then the General Assembly comes back. Things slow down around Easter for a week, and then back up again until June 30th. Slows to a crawl on 4th of July, and goes up or down all summer depending on how many people are around and not purposely checking out from “real life”. But summer is when the DOE is usually the most crafty, so I make it an extra point to monitor them closely then. Sometimes it takes a while to put the pieces together, but eventually a picture forms.
Funny story, the first time I wrote an article about Governor Markell in the title, I thought for sure the Delaware Secret Service would be collecting me at work. It never happened, and as time went on, I stopped worrying about stuff like that. It’s not that I’ve ever been about to destroy Jack Markell. I’ve always hoped he would wake up one day and do the right thing. But he is very predictable once you figure him out. He constantly disappoints me, but that feeling leads me to the truth every singe time. I’ve always made it a point to tell the truth on here. Some of that is perception, and some were gut reactions, borne out of frustration and anger. I’ve flip-flopped on a lot of things, but some things have stood the test of time: my stances on Smarter Balanced, Opt Out, personalized learning, Rodel, Markell, the Delaware DOE, and the Delaware State Board of Education. I still think special education needs vast improvement in Delaware. Following the money has taken more time and research the past few months, but I understand things so much more than I used to. It isn’t just a charter thing, it’s a Delaware public education thing.
I’ve written some things on here that some found reprehensible but I stand by those decisions. To my detractors, I ask this: if I am wrong about so many things, why do I get no response for those things from those who know the truth? They have the ability to reach me. They all know how. It has been a very rare event when I left a comment in moderation because of the nature of the comment. I can count those on one hand. I have never edited a comment. I’ve corrected articles many times. In Delaware education, transparency is not always there so you draw conclusions based on what you have and the information presented. I’ve even apologized if I was wrong in the past. Sometimes I hear that others are upset with me, but I never seem to hear from those “others”. To those “others”, you should not feel afraid to reach out to me. I may not agree with you, but I will certainly present your side of the story. As long as you don’t lie to me or intentionally try to mislead me. Cause if I find out, you can be pretty damn sure I will write about that.
At the end of the day, this isn’t my blog. It isn’t even about the people who read it. It’s about the Delaware kids in public education. It’s about my kid and yours. When politics gets involved, it can get ugly. I won’t endorse those who toe the party line or vote against something that could and should be in a student’s best interests. In Delaware, we have the capability of ushering in true change to education. We stand on the cusp of something better and different. But all of this depends on how you vote in the September primaries and on Election Day in November.
I urge all of you to do research into which legislators have stood up for public education. Who has supported the rights of teachers and parents? Who voted against the Smarter Balanced Assessment? Who has openly, even in the face of disdain from their peers in their own party, voted for what is right and not for what the Governor or the forces against public education want? Who goes to a lot of education meetings and serves the will of the people and not the Governor? This can be a very thin line at times. There are many parents who support charter schools and school choice in this state. I recognize that, and I accept that. Some assume certain politicians are out to destroy charters. They aren’t. They just want transparency and honesty, about their finances or their enrollment practices. They see and hear things you never hear a word about. They see the lobbyists in full swing at Legislative Hall and know who is zooming who.
I think most of us want something better for our kids than what we have. But if you want to live in a sheltered island where everything is safe for the few, and not the many, then that isn’t always the best thing. Parents are used when they exist in those kind of environments. They are more willing to believe certain things because it is all they know. But trust me when I say the reality is very different. There are people in this state who are all about themselves. They may smile and appear to be the nicest people in the world. They aren’t. They know who they are. They know what they do. I believe most, if not all of them, are fully cognizant of their actions. I’ve seen many of their faces when they aren’t in a crowd. They aren’t the same faces. It is truly horrifying to see sometimes. I can also see the weight of guilt on some of them. I see the stress on their face and the remorse in their eyes. But they feel powerless to do the right thing. This isn’t something I can fathom. I guess it just isn’t in my genetic makeup. I feel for them in the same respect I feel bad for anyone who does wrong and it eats at them. We have all been there at one point or another. It isn’t a fun feeling. But at the same time, I don’t feel any loyalty to these people. Everyone has the opportunity to tell the truth or live a better life. It might mean sacrificing something these people aren’t willing to do. I don’t think it’s a question of not being able to do so for any of them.
We all make choices, for good or bad. I believe we all face moments when we wrestle with those choices. Struggle with what to do. We may be protecting someone else, or just ourselves. But when it involves kids, there is no place for ego or greed or manipulation or lies or fraud or power. Because most of these kids, they don’t know how to do those kind of things. They are seeing the paths set for them by the adults. So for those who I am talking about here, and you know damn well who you are, are you okay with Delaware students being who you are when they are your age? Are you okay with them taking the same actions you have? Because that is what will happen. If it isn’t your own children or grandchildren, it will be someone else’s kid. Someone who will grow up and think the game is more important than life. Is that really what you want?
“With great power must also come great responsibility.”-Stan Lee
If you haven’t heard those exact words before, then you have been victim to one of the greatest butcherings of the past fifty years.
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
Now this you have heard.
in 1962, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko introduced the world to the Amazing Spider-Man. We all know the story. Peter Parker gets bit by a radioactive spider which gave him the proportionate strength of a spider. An orphan who lived with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben. He learned an important lesson very fast when he became a superhero. At first, he used his powers for fortune and fame. One night, he failed to stop a robber. The same burglar later attempted to rob his house and shot and killed his uncle. When Peter, dressed up as Spider-Man, finally confronted the burglar, he saw the same face he failed to stop. As he walked off into the night, he remembered what his Uncle Ben always told him, “With great power must also come great responsibility.”
This is the problem with the Delaware State Board of Education. The initial phrase Stan Lee provided to readers shows that just because you have power doesn’t mean you already possess an inherent sense of responsibility. That is something you have to develop and learn. The rewording of the classic phrase, which appeared in the 2002 Spider-Man movie, changes the concept of the phrase. As if power and responsibility are there from the start. As Delaware plows into the upcoming Every Student Succeeds Act regulations, this will become very important. I don’t feel our State Board has developed the responsibility that comes with their power. In fact, they want to hijack this term in their meetings about the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Many of the decisions they have made since 2008 have not been in the best and long-term interest of children. They embraced the corporate education reform movement and haven’t looked back. They continue to listen to the Rodel Foundation more than the teachers, students and parents who are their primary stakeholders. As a result, they have allowed an environment of false labels against schools, demeaned teachers, created a false illusion of praise for rushed teacher and leader programs, subjected our students to three different high-stakes tests that have not created improvement for anyone, manipulated legislators into believing their mantras, approved charter schools without any consistent or necessary follow-up to ensure they will be successful upon opening, revoked five charter schools, and nearly destroyed a generation of students. They will never take responsibility for these actions or events or even state they had anything to do with it. They will sit there and say most of these events were based on federal mandate or existing state law.
They have an opportunity now to change that. With the Every Student Succeeds Act, the law states that the United States Department of Education cannot dictate what type of state standard any state chooses to have. It also deals with parent opt out of state assessments as a state’s decision. However, U.S. Secretary of Education John King seems to have some comprehension issues as the regulations coming out of the U.S. DOE contradict what the law states. Granted, the law is a confusing mess and there are parts that contradict each other. King knows this and he is taking FULL advantage of it. King will, in all likelihood, be gone by January next year, but he will be able to approve regulations and state plans based on forced dictates from his office. That is NOT responsibility either. That is power run amok.
As our State Board of Education prepares to deal with these regulations, they are having a workshop on ESSA before their regular State Board of Education meeting on July 21st. They will go over what many of the corporate education reform companies are translating the law into along with King’s regulations and accepting it as the Gospel truth. This is a critical time for Delaware education. A wrong move by our State Board and Delaware DOE will leave us in the same problems we have faced since No Child Left Behind came into law fifteen years ago. If you read the below presentation, you can clearly see their interpretation of the law based on the regulations and what the education companies want. Keep in mind, many of these “companies” have never taught in a classroom. But they have a vested interest in education. Actually, make that an invested interest in education.
There are others who have power in education: parents, teachers, administrators, unions, and even students. I urge all of you to watch our State Board of Education and the Delaware DOE like a hawk. Yes, it’s the summer and in a couple of months kids will be back in schools with all the business surrounding that. This is why they are choosing now to push regulations through when parents aren’t paying attention. Those who want to profit off education are already on this. They helped to create ESSA. They have power but no responsibility. They will control education if we let them. And our own Governor, Jack Markell, has been the largest cheerleaders for this movement. Power, with no responsibility, or even accountability.
We need parents, teachers, administrators, and students to take a role in this. Don’t rely on me as a mouthpiece. I’m a hot-tempered judgmental and pissed-off dad who has already been through many wars over this stuff. I will continue to fight the war, but I could hit by a truck tomorrow. Even if you are busy, you need to make the time to attend any meeting about ESSA in Delaware. You need to review what our state is proposing, carefully watch the public comment timeframes, and make your voice known. As well, contact your state legislators and Congressmen. Let them know how you feel. We have the opportunity and means to take back our children’s education. But not if we don’t become a part of it. This is our power. This is our responsibility. We have to use our power and become responsible. If you are relying on our policymakers and unelected State Board of Education to get it right, then you have already allowed them to shape education into what they want. They want to control the conversation and trick us. They are masters at it. They will smile and invite you to their events and give you real yummy eclairs and make you feel special and wanted. But they don’t want you, they want your child. Make no mistake about it.
To add insult to injury, Delaware is embarking on a “regulatory review”. So not only do we have federal education regulations under review, but also a statewide regulatory review which could easily cause mass confusion. I believe this is very intentional. So if you are reading up on regulations, make absolutely sure you know which ones are state and which ones are federal.
If you want to change the future, you have to act now. Don’t wait until it’s too late. I will do my best to inform you and give crucial dates and timeframes, but make sure you also do this.
In this undiscovered moment
Lift your head up above the crowd
We could shake this world
If you would only show us how
Your life is now
At the Capital School District Board of Education meeting tonight, the vendor for their Strategic Plan, Demosophia, presented a white paper on the plan. Their findings were based on forums held with the public as well as a series of one-on-one interviews and small group discussions with different stakeholders in the district: teachers, administrators, board members, students, parents, and citizens. The next part of the Strategic Plan is co-labs. With these, a diverse set of stakeholders will convene for all-day sessions on 4/28 and 4/29 to formulate a definitive plan for the district which will be presented to the Board of Education next month.
Below is the white paper. One thing to keep in mind is the data the Delaware Department of Education put together from the IDEA Parent Surveys sent out last year. Recently, Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn encouraged all parents of students with an IEP to participate in the survey rather than the random number sent out by the DOE.
After 19 months and a couple of days of posting an article on this blog every single day, I broke that streak yesterday. It was intentional. First off, it got me out of that “have to post something every day” mindset. Second, what else is there to say? I’m not saying this to be obtuse, but there are several reasons why I am now limited in what I can do or say. Continue reading “Why?”
Today is Leap Day. Every four years, except for a millennium, Earth adds an extra day to its calendar. Apparently, it takes 365.25 days for Earth to revolve around the sun. To make up for that .25, we get an extra day every four years. It is also Superman’s birthday. I remember four years ago, when my son attended a Delaware charter school, a classmate of his had a birthday on Leap Day. He was turning two that year since he only had two birthdays. The things kids believe!
My first Leap Year was 1972. I was two, so I don’t remember anything. In 1976, I was in Kindergarten in Syracuse, New York with Mr. McKinney. I wanted to be a detective when I was older. 1980 brought us the Lake Placid Winter Olympics when the USA beat Russia. I didn’t watch the final game because I was salivating over my Wacky Pack stickers. I wanted to be a doctor when I was older. In 1984, I was most likely not doing what I was supposed to be doing: homework, studying, chores. What can I say, I was a rebellious young teenager! My dreams of becoming a doctor went up in smoke when I saw an elderly man have a heart attack in Stop & Shop one day. 1988 was my Senior year of high school. It was a good year, but also full of angst wondering what the future was going to hold. I was going to major in business. In 1992, I was in my final year at community college looking forward to transferring to Cabrini College in the fall. I was going to finish college by 1994 with an English/Communications degree. In 1996, I had just moved to Sweden. Literally. I had sold most of my comic book collection and lived in a small town outside of Stockholm called Tullinge. I didn’t work the first couple months I lived there. There was no leap year in 2000 because it was a millennium year, but I was working at Chase Mortgage doing loss mitigation work. 2004’s Leap Day was definitely full of curiosity. My wife was due with our son in a month and I couldn’t wait to see him! Still at Chase. In 2008, I was unemployed on Leap Day. Luckily, it didn’t last long. 2012, the last Leap Day before this one, I was working two jobs and rarely had time for anything outside of work. I was at my current job and also working as a paraprofessional at Campus Community School. Which brings us to 2016 and today.
My point behind all of this, nobody knows for sure what they want to do with their life. Some do, those who have exceptional drive and motivation. Not everyone has that. But our Governor and the Delaware DOE seem to think every child should know what they are going to do when they are “career ready”. If not, the test scores will determine that and they will make sure you are put on a fast track to that career. It isn’t right. People need the freedom to stretch their own wings and figure things out for themselves.
The Class of 2017 at Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security are planning on buying a Fire Engine for their school. They are requesting help on their GoFundMe page. The total they are looking to receive is $5,000 and as of now they have collected $860. If you want your name on a plaque, please consider donating. The school already has a police car and an ambulance so a fire truck would complete the triumvirate of first responder vehicles. How many people can say their name is on a fire truck? I wish my school had this kind of stuff growing up!
Last Monday, December 7th, the Delaware Met had their final formal review public hearing. Numerous students spoke out in support of the school, along with teachers, board members, staff, and parents. Upon reading the transcript, I could not find one negative comment about the school. Every single speaker, and there were many, wanted the school to stay open. Many acknowledged the issues but said those situations are getting better. Do you think the Delaware Met should close or stay open?
The public comment period ending at 11:59pm last evening. To read through the entire 82 page transcript from the public hearing, please read below:
The Delaware Department of Education is preparing to launch a survey unlike any other in the coming months. The survey is a product of UChicago Impact, a non-profit company owned by the University of Chicago. The survey, which is part of the Delaware School Success Framework (school report card), will have questions for students, teachers and parents to answer. To say some of the questions are intrusive would be an understatement. The part that offends me the most is this:
*Questions from the parent survey do not affect a school’s performance on the 5Essentials
Not to let the cat out of the bag so fast, but last week the DOE had a section for this on their website, but you couldn’t access any of the links. I contacted their public information officer, Alison May, and advised her of this. She emailed back and said it was supposed to be on their intranet for teachers. But today, all the links were available. So you can read the questions ahead of time and let me know what you think.
5Essentials 2016 Survey Questions
5Essentials Communication Kit for Delaware
5Essentials Phase 1 Training/Orientation for Delaware
When I emailed Alison May at the DOE about this last week, this was her response:
“The Delaware School Success Framework (DSSF) will include information to highlight performance across multiple domains. Based upon significant stakeholder feedback, information about school climate and culture will be provided through student, teacher and parent surveys. The Department recently selected the UChicago Impact, a nonprofit organization focused on K-12 education at the University of Chicago, as the state’s vendor to administer the surveys. UChicago Impact’s “5Essentials” (5E) is an evidence-based system designed to drive improvement in schools nationwide. Currently school administrators are signing up for a related training. So likely that is the restricted access. They likely can see that page when they sign into the site. I’ll alert the web folks that the tab should be on the intranet as well if it is confusing.”
A year ago, the United States Department of Education really pushed 5Essentials for survey use. It looks like Delaware took the bait. Oddly enough, I can find no contract for this company anywhere on the State Contract website, nor could I find any payments going to 5Essentials, Urban Education Institute, UChicago Impact or the University of Chicago. So who is paying for this and who holds the contract? In doing an exhaustive search, the contract number for this was DOE_2015-15SuccessSurvey_RFP, but it shows no awarded bidder under the Awarded Vendors or Awarded Contracts. But we do know what was in the Request for Proposal (RFP) and who put in bids for it:
Delaware DOE School Success Survey RFP
Solicited Bids for Delaware DOE School Success Survey
So once again DOE, why is there no contract with this company for the public to see? We have seen this before with contracts with American Institutes for Research in regards to DCAS and the Smarter Balanced Assessment. When information like this is missing, it always makes me suspicious. Sounds like Dr. Godowsky may want to look into why the DOE cherry-picks which contracts the public should see. Interesting that the State of Delaware links to the bid website page in a section called “transparency”…
Every time a Delaware citizen talks about our “failing schools”, it gives the Delaware Department of Education fuel. They absolutely love it when people say this. Because what so many of our citizens are forgetting, any label of success or failure is based on standardized testing. This year, it is the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Last year, it was DCAS. A few years ago it was DSTP. Everyone loves to put an easy Band-Aid on a deep flesh wound. This is what our DOE has done. They have allowed and brainwashed the public into believing their own fallacies.
It sickens me what the DOE has done to our communities and schools with their ideology that only puts more of OUR taxpayer money into the hands of companies that aren’t even incorporated in our state and make them rich beyond our wildest dreams. All in the name of “progress” and erasing the “status quo”. Failure is the Delaware DOE’s favorite word. We need to STOP using this word as a measurement of our schools, and by default, our teachers and students. We can talk about education, especially in the most impoverished and high-crime statistics. But don’t for one second believe our children are failing based on the DOE’s measurement. Because then you have fallen into their trap.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment is bad. It’s very bad. Refuse this test for your child. Write a letter today and let the DOE know you will not let your child be their guinea pig for one day longer.
In Delaware, all public school students are back in school. This will be a very interesting year ahead for all of us. The invasion of corporate education reform will be felt the strongest this year. The Smarter Balanced Assessment results will be released on a statewide level in a couple days and the results will go to parents in a few weeks. Priority and focus schools will feel the pain of submitting plans to the Delaware Department of Education. Opt-out will become bigger and more complicated. Schools will lose essential funding due to budget issues in our state government that will continue to go unaddressed. Reports will come out showing how some charters in this state should practice certain application tactics. Parents and teachers will complain about things. The DOE will make it look like everything is awesome when they come out with press releases. Governor Markell will most likely have about 20 weekly messages and 30 public comments about how great education is but how much we need to do to make Delaware the best state in the country for education. A new Secretary of Education will decide if the DOE should stay on course or course-correct. The 148th General Assembly will debate education issues for our children and the DOE and their reform buddies will lobby the legislators for their own agendas. Parents will become increasingly vocal about hotbed education issues in our state. Common Core will be a common pain for students and parents. Wilmington schools will be the front page headline for most schools in the state. Vouchers won’t go anywhere. Most of the people in the state will still have no clue who Rodel is. I will keep blogging about all of this. But at the end of the day, it’s about our children. We all need to keep them safe and keep them learning. The rest is just detail. Best of luck to all involved in any way with education this year!
The engrossed version of House Bill 50 is now available on the Delaware General Assembly website. I am really hoping Governor Jack Markell does the right thing here and honors parents. It could be a matter of days folks. Keep in mind that even if the Governor does veto this, the General Assembly can override it. They may not be able to do it by June 30th, but they can certainly do it by January 2016. The next year of Smarter Balanced Assessment won’t even start until well after that, so we would be okay.
- Today at 10:23 PM
I am the writer of Exceptional Delaware, and I would like to know why your organization is objecting to House Bill 186 and other legislation that would provide the essential oversight Delaware charter schools so desperately need. This isn’t about protecting the finances of these schools, it is about making sure the students in these schools get the best education possible.
What is occurring in so many of our schools: Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy, Providence Creek Academy, Odyssey Charter, Thomas Edison and others is a direct result of financial mismanagement, boards not properly trained in oversight, and allowing administrators to cut the board out of important decisions. It isn’t the boards that suffer or the admins. It is the students and teachers.
If your organization truly represents school choice, then you need to make sure the schools under your purveyance are effectively able to run those schools. Because we both know the DOE isn’t able to. You have the backing of millions of dollars and several huge companies, but at the end of the day none of that matters if the charters are involved in all these scandals. I would ask that you allow transparency to rule the day and that your organization backs House Bill 186 and House Bill 61. Parents should have choice, but only when everything is crystal clear and out in the open. It is completely inappropriate for any school to conceal finances or other important matters that can impact children.
I’m sure you don’t like me, and I’m okay with that. I don’t like a lot of the underhanded tactics I have seen your organization perform, like having parents mass email representatives to block a bill that would actually allow the charters to escape from the financial malfeasances and show why they can be just as good as traditional schools. I don’t understand the need to protect them, because it always comes out. If it isn’t me, it will be the next blogger or reporter. Things are reaching a crisis point with education in Delaware, and serving the will of money over students is not going to help these kids.
Many people say the entire goal of the education reform movement in the past 10 years has been about the eventual destruction of traditional school districts and the “privatization” of schools, making them all charter or private schools. I believe this point of view is the goal, but I also know it is a system that will never work. Because along with that comes the notion of power and people will abuse that. If you truly want charter schools to survive in our state, than I would strongly consider a different approach. Because this way, it doesn’t work. Charters will never take over. Now it needs to become a matter of co-existence. The way our schools are funded, with funds coming out of local funds from the traditional school districts does not work. Fighting for scraps will always cause fighting. We all need to come up with a better way and stop the fraud, waste and abuse going on in our schools. For schools that only represent a small percentage of our students, I have never seen such so much chaos and disruption coming from anything in education as I have with the charter school movement.
The next move is yours. And since I am a firm believer in transparency, I will publish this email.
The Christina School District referendum did not pass today. Unofficial results for Newcastle County are showing 5,074 for and 5,968 against. This is a stunning defeat for the children of this school district. Those who voted no must see these children as Delaware’s most unwanted children in the state. It amounted to $4.50 a week for the average citizen. I feel ashamed to live in Delaware right now. Red Clay is celebrated like the second coming, but Christina is the unloved stepchild of Wilmington. Did any of you who voted no ever think about that? What these children will lose? You voted NO for the future of our state. You voted NO for the over 13,000 students in this district. You voted NO on their ability to get the same equal education other districts get. Your vote guarantees more jobs will be lost. And with charters getting shut down left and right or going under formal review or probation, not to mention all the stuff yet to come out, there will be more teachers looking for jobs. Way to screw education in Delaware haters…
Steve Newton is a Professor of History and Science at Delaware State University. He also ran for State Representative last fall as an independent. I fully endorsed him at the time, and it would have been very interesting to add him to the dynamic down at Legislative Hall. Steve wrote an excellent post today on Facebook about what happens after House Bill 50 is decided on. With Steve’s permission, I share his awesome ideas with you. Please let me know what you think and we can start to build a foundation for something.
The important truth to understand is that Opt-out is really a political and not really an educational strategy. That’s not a bad thing, but critical to understand. First, opting-out as an individual family educational strategy only avoids visiting the consequences of high-stakes testing on your child; it DOES NOT change the aim of the several months of classroom experience before that, which is–in many schools–directed preparation toward a test that the student will not take. By itself, opt-out will only be a bump in the road, unless …
… unless we recognize that opt-out is the most effective political strategy that anti-corporate-reformers have come up with to date. Resistance to Common Core has been too easily pigeon-holed as right wing or conservative, and the potential coalition of left and right wings behind education is going to get severely undermined in a presidential election year. Simply put, Democrats as a group are not going to vote for Rand Paul or Marco Rubio simply based on Common Core.
But opt-out is different. Opt-out focuses on the potential harm (or lack of value) to MY child, and offers ME a chance to do something. Moreover, it is about local politics. The Governor may rant and rave (he usually does), but this is an issue where (again, in an election year) voters WILL punish their legislators. Moreover, opt-out has DSEA and DPTA back on the same page, resisting a government mandate.
Even if opt-out passes, however, the momentum will be lost UNLESS an equally wide-ranging follow-up goal is established. This will have to be selected carefully. Resistance to charters or teacher evaluation programs is all well and good for education activists, teachers, and other insiders, but those are unfortunately NOT propositions that are going to reach as wide an audience as opt-out has. There are way too many pro-charter parents and voters, and way too few people who will do more than shake their head about teacher evaluations. They certainly won’t vote out the state rep who got their sewer fixed because of it.
Here’s my initial suggestion, (and being a libertarian there’s an agorist twist): let’s put DSEA, DPTA, and as many parents and academic partners as we can find at work on a new Delaware Content Standards Project. We did this as part of Pat Forgione’s New Directions agenda two decades ago, and there is a lot to learn from that process. First lesson: we don’t need to have government sanction or even government participation–in spite of how they act, for example, Rodel is not part of the government. We can create our own organization to do this work, and invite the districts to participate. If DOE would like to observe the process, well, it’s still supposedly a free country.
Second, let’s invert the usual approach. Common Core started with ELA and Math. Instead of going head-to-head with that initiative, let’s start with one or more of the following:
Standards for integrating the Arts and Music into the core academic curriculum.
Standards for developing interdisciplinary units that combine Social Studies and Science to examine how technology and new research is affecting the way we live.
Standards for the services necessary for special needs children with disabilities not normally covered under the easier rubrics of IDEA.
Standards that integrate healthy living (Physical Education/Health) with Civics (building healthy communities) and Technology (building platforms–apps if you will–to allow people to have more control over what they eat, how they exercise, and how they live).
The beautiful part about starting here is that by starting with integrative standards, not content-level standards, we get back toward actual teaching and learning that matters. Meeting the Math and ELA proficiency requirements is easily addressed within that more meaningful context.
More to the point, these standards would be voluntary, but schools that met specific benchmarks toward implementing them could receive certification from DSEA, DPTA, National Council for Social Studies, and other organizations. Eventually, if we did this right over a 2-3 year period, I’m pretty sure we could even build up some financial support from a variety of carefully considered sources.
This is an endeavor that, realistically speaking, I doubt will happen. I doubt it because I’m not the person to put it together, and any group of people that gets together with the time, energy, and motivation is going to come up with its own plan. But I offer this as an alternative–a non-governmental political alternative–run by parents and teachers themselves to having to always sit back and respond to the horrible things being done to education today, rather than initiative our own mechanisms for positive change.
In other words, it is time to go on offense in a strategic sense.
Steve is absolutely right on all of this. What I love about the opt-out movement in Delaware is the bi-partisanship of it all. Democrats and Republicans are coming together and uniting in a common cause…our children. Steve is not asking to lead a group, and I can’t say I would want that either, but coming together would be good. I tried to get something going with parents of special needs children last summer, but this blog was brand new and the readership certainly wasn’t anywhere close to where it is now. We have already changed the conversation with the opt-out movement. Let’s keep talking….
The Parent Press Conference on Delaware Education today went amazingly well! About 25-30 parents came out, and many of the major Delaware media outlets were on hand as well. Some parents from up north were unable to make it do a very nasty stomach bug making it’s appearance up there, but there were many familiar and unfamiliar faces there. I gave an opening speech:
Thank you all for coming out today. My name is Kevin Ohlandt, and I am a proud father of a wonderful 5th grader in the Capital School District. I would like to recognize Delaware State Rep. John Kowalko and Delaware Senator Dave Lawson from the 148th General Assembly for joining us. As well we have State Rep. Kim Williams in the audience today. Both John and Dave are the co-sponsors on House Bill 50, which is the parent opt out bill. This legislation would codfify the parental right to opt out of the state standardized assessment, which is currently the Smarter Balanced Assessment. In the details of the bill, no student would be penalized for being opted out, and the student’s opt out data would not become a part of the school’s accountability ratings.
Since this bill was first announced, other legislators have made comments such as “This bill will never pass” or the Smarter Balanced Assessment is just a “little test”. When the opt out movement in Delaware began in earnest earlier last month, many parents were frightened or intimidated by certain school districts in our state. They received letters and emails from districts which included the following types of language:
-“Only students who have an extreme medical condition or a mental health can concern may be precluded from taking the assessment.”
-Making parents sign a waiver indicating “Despite this legal requirement for state testing, I elect NOT to have my child tested for the 2014-2015 school year and that my child will be counted as “absent” for purposes of testing.”
-“You will have to go to the DOE to get a form.”
-A superintendent saying “I’m the only one who can say who does not have to take the test.”
The reason much of this confusion began in the first place started with the Delaware Department of Education. In early December, they issued suggested guidance to school districts to handle the issue of parent opt out. This included having schools issue letters to parents indicating details regarding the Delaware state code and the state assessment. For three months, they watched school districts cite this code and knew it did not include parents in this part of the law. Parents felt intimidated and bullied by schools and the DOE let it happen. It wasn’t until the Delaware PTA had town halls concerning opt out that the Delaware DOE was forced to admit they can’t do anything to stop parent opt out. They said as a state they can’t legally do anything and it is up to the districts. There is no consistency among the districts in Delaware. Some have complied with parents in their requests, and some have flat-out said no, and that their child will test. I have seen an email where one director of curriculum stated he was afraid too many of the “smart” kids would opt out which would affect the school’s rating. As well, threats of Federal funding cuts to our schools are unsubstantiated based on other states not meeting the mandatory 95% threshold for testing participation in each sub-group. Over 40 schools in New Jersey did not meet these guidelines last year and not one single school received any cuts in funding. Continue reading “Parent Press Conference Went Very Well, Big House Bill 50 News!!!!”
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, about this little thing called education in Delaware. Want to know what I hear? A lot of screaming. A lot of people stamping their feet on the ground saying you can’t do this. I’m guilty of it. We all are. Whether it’s the DOE, Governor Markell, the teachers, the superintendents, the boards, the charters, the legislators, whoever. Tempers are flaring, and everyone is up in arms. We can sit here all day and talk about what hasn’t been done, or what we think will happen. We can say our way is the best way. But guess what’s not going to change… the everyday reality of the students in this state. We can form committees or a task force or whatever you want to call it. It will drag things out, kick the can down the road, and someone else will have to pick it up. And there we are, right back at the same place we started from. Do I have an easy solution? Probably not. Nobody does. We can keep throwing stones at each other. Whether it’s done with a state board resolution, a vote of no confidence, or a blog post. But guess what? None of it is working. We have eight sides in this battle: the teachers, the parents, the DOE, the districts, the administrators, the charters, the politicians and the communities. Actually nine if you want to count the students. But they aren’t a side, they are the victims.
I’ve taken many sides in this war, but at the end of the day, I have to ask: is anything better? Have I improved education in Delaware? Nope. Not one iota. If anything, I’ve made it worse. I’ve brought fire down in regards to a standardized test, preached from the heavens, and parents are opting out. I think that’s a good thing, but the reality is it is not going away any time soon. It can’t. Too many of the sides are for it. The big and powerful ones. But here is the deal, we need to get together. Not in one hour meetings every couple of weeks. Not in a board meeting where things can or can’t be said. All sides need to get together. There needs to be a whole week or weekend thing. Where appropriate stakeholders get together and hash all this out. We will scream, we will fight, and it will get ugly. But no one can leave. And when the fire of anger dies down to a few smoldering embers, that’s when the conversation starts. We talk, we strategize, we form ideas, we find out what’s working and what isn’t. And we do it together. Cause if any of these sides do this without all of the others, nothing else matters. Then it’s just noise.
Certain things aren’t going away any time soon: standardized tests, charters, school districts, opt out, choice, bullying, special education, crime, poverty, lack of funding, behavior issues, teacher evaluations, and anger. All need to come to the table and deal with these issues on EQUAL standing. This can’t be about one side saying they are more important, cause that doesn’t work. People will need to eat some crow and give up some things. If it means a consensus and taking on the Feds, then so be it. If it means teachers have to give up what they feel are some inalienable rights, then so be it. If it means parents have to be more tolerant about things, then so be it. If politicians have to give up their own political ambitions with education, then so be it. All sides must be willing to listen and collaborate. We need to get real, and we need to do it NOW. If you don’t think this is a crisis with immediate attention, then you need to open your eyes. If you think the Delaware Way is appropriate for the students in this state, open your eyes. Let’s get all the cards on the table so everyone can see them, and let’s start to fix things. Adult egos and students don’t mix.