Education Funding Mismanagement In Delaware

The below picture portrays exactly what is wrong with education funding in Delaware.  There is no consistency or oversight with where existing funds are going.  As a result, we have a boiling cauldron of fraud, waste, and abuse.  It seems like anyone can get paid in education and it can be catalogued however a school wants.

In this picture, we see the former Head of School from Family Foundations Academy and East Side Academy doing what appears to be consulting work for three Delaware charter schools.  Given that the amounts are very similar, I can assume it was the same type of work.  All three schools put the payments under different categories: Educational Benefits-Chld, Consultants, and Other Professional Service.  All three schools used different funds for what I assume to be similar work: Special, General, and Federal.  All three schools belong to the same Wilmington Charter School Collaborative, which is an alternate teacher evaluation system.  This initiative came about through Lamont Browne.

Lamont Browne left Delaware last summer and moved to Colorado to work his “magic” in another corporate education reform state.  So how is it he is able to do all this work in Colorado and still get paid by the State of Delaware through various charter schools?  Does he have a finders fee for this teacher evaluation system?

Governor Carney wants to talk about all these education funding decisions but has completely ignored the elephant in the room: we don’t know where existing funding is going to, especially in our charter schools.  School districts pull the same kind of shenanigans (wait until you see the next major audit investigation report coming out of Tom Wagner’s office!) but they can be harder to find.

I did go ahead and submit this as a tip to Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office as I wrote this article.  In the vein of full transparency, I am including screen shots of my tip:

When I write about this kind of stuff, all too often charter school supporters start defending the schools and say I am picking on charter schools.  While this most likely isn’t a Sean Moore kind of deal, it is symptomatic of what is wrong with our education funding oversight in Delaware.  I’m not looking for the causes as much as I truly want a solution to these kind of problems.  I would love to stop writing about these matters.  So Governor Carney, I am throwing you the gauntlet one more time: are you ready to talk about this or do I need to keep writing?

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Teacher Evaluation, Charter School Audits, & WEIC Extension Pass The General Assembly

It was a wild and crazy night-morning at Legislative Hall in Dover.  I can honestly say I have never bounced back between the Senate and the House as much as I did in the past six hours.  But some of my “must list” legislation passed.  Some with changes and some intact.

House Bill 399 passed but not without some amendments and an odd conversation about teachers and a comment Jack Markell made years ago in the Senate.  Senator Colin Bonini talked about how Governor Markell gave a speech on the Senate floor many years ago and told everyone only 19% of students in Delaware were college and career ready.  But yet our teachers were rated 99% effective.  He couldn’t grasp these facts.  He said he would support the bill.  But then Senator Dave Lawson spoke against the bill and said the system isn’t working.  The bill passed with 19 yes and 2 no votes.  The no votes were from Senators Lawson and Henry.  The amendments added on can be seen here and here.  Apparently, this was the only way it was going to pass.  In looking at the first amendment, they changed a lot and many teachers won’t be happy about those changes.  But this was the compromise reached.  Will Governor Markell sign the bill?  We shall see.  I did speak briefly with Secretary of Education Godowsky and asked him if he thought they were good amendments and he said yes.

After four previous bills, the Kumbaya compromise charter school audit bill, House Bill 435, passed the Senate in the wee hours of the morning.  It hadn’t been on the agenda for the Senate.  I emailed Senator Sokola, and it appeared on there a few minutes later.  It passed soon after.

And the WEIC redistricting plan.  I thought rigor mortis was setting in on this plan, but it rose from the ashes.  A crucial amendment by State Rep. Kim Williams which deleted some of the unnecessary language in Senate Bill #300 seemed to be what is going to keep that train chugging.  This is what happened: WEIC is still alive, and they will plan for another year.  The $7.5 million initially requested in the final recommendations has been appropriated for FY2018.  But I will get to more of that after a message from Tony Allen, the Chair of WEIC:

Delaware General Assembly Affirms the Commission’s Plan
Governor commits the “necessary and sufficient funds” for next year
Commission suspends timeline

Tonight, an older African American woman stopped me on the Senate Floor and said “if you believe in this, you keep fighting on.” We did!

As the 148th Delaware General Assembly legislative session ended, the House and Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 17, an interim affirmation of the Delaware State Board of Education’s approval of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan and Senate Bill 300, which clarifies the funding implications and supports further analysis by the Commission.

In a related action, Governor Markell committed to put no less than $7.5 million in his FY 2018 plan to support the Commission’s plan, specifically to begin to change the 70-year old student funding formula. In a letter to the Wilmington delegation, Markell said, “I am proud to have worked alongside you in these efforts and pleased to commit that I will recommend an appropriation of the funds necessary and sufficient to fund the first year of implementation of the proposals of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, specifically an amendment to the unit count that would carry additional support for low-income students, English Language Learners and students with special needs statewide.”

Earlier this morning, I noted that because the “necessary and sufficient” funding has not yet been provided that we will immediately call on the Commission to suspend the timetable for implementing its plan.

While I am disappointed with several aspects of this legislative season, SJR17 allows the Commission to fight another day. After 62 years of waiting, fight on we will. The Commission is wholly committed to reducing the fragmentation and dysfunction caused by 23 different school systems currently serving Wilmington children, less than 10% of Delaware’s student population. In addition, the Commission will continue to focus attention on the needs of low-income students, English language learners, and other students with special needs in Wilmington and throughout Delaware. That includes meeting the non-instructional needs of these students, engaging empowered parents in school reform, and changing the antiquated funding system for students and schools that has for many years created sustained inequities dating back to well before Brown v Board of Education (1954). I am grateful to the 22 other commissioners, the previous members of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, and the more than 10,000 community members who have been participating in this process.

I urge your continued resolve.

There are some key words in this, especially Markell saying “to commit that I will recommend an appropriation of funds…  That isn’t a guarantee that the next Governor will do the same or that the 149th General Assembly will either.  We don’t know what the state’s financial picture will be a year from now.  But for now, WEIC lives after most thought it was dead and buried.  I find it odd that Allen talks about how 23 different school systems serve Wilmington students but the WEIC plan would only reduce that to 22.  Granted, Christina has a lot of Wilmington students, but that is still a lot students going to other districts or charters.  I will see what this additional year of planning will produce.  But it looks like I am not done writing about WEIC despite what I wrote earlier today.   I talked to Rep. Charles Potter after the vote and he said this isn’t what he wanted, but it keeps WEIC alive and it is about the students.

Senate Bill 93 passed, one of two Autism bills introduced last year.  Senate Bill 92, however, was another victim of funding issues in the state.  An amendment was added to Senate Bill 93 in the House which got rid of the Senate Amendment that had the DOE getting involved.  The Autism community in Delaware felt that was an unwelcome presence.  Good for them!

It was a long second half of the 148th General Assembly.  House Bill 50 had two shots to override the Governor’s veto in the House of Representatives and it failed both times.  But I want to thank Rep. John Kowalko for trying and standing up for parents.  I respect and admire him for doing that.  Had the House ever been able to actually vote on the override, I believe it would have passed.  The fact that they were never able to get to that point shows the will of the Governor influencing certain members of the House in very inappropriate ways.  My other “dream legislation”, House Bill 30, which would have finally given students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade considered to be “basic special education” students, never received a full House vote despite coming out of the House Appropriations Committee weeks ago.  I know Rep. Kim Williams fought hard for that bill.  I still remember when she first told me about it a year and a half ago and I truly felt it was a no-brainer.  For both of those bills, the 149th General Assembly will tell the tale on opt out and special education funding.

I will write more over the next few days about all the bills that passed and those that are now dead.  In the meantime, Happy Fiscal New Year 2017!

Guest Post By Jackie Kook Concerning House Bill 399 & The Senate Education Committee Meeting Today

House Bill 399 was heard in the Senate Education Committee today, June 29, 2016, the penultimate day of the 2015-2016 legislative session. This bill, which passed the House unanimously (with two absent Representatives and one amendment), was one of only two bills heard by the committee, yet the public filled the small meeting room beyond capacity. Among the onlookers were the usual subjects; individuals from the Department of Education, the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, a handful of educators, lobbyists, and the general public affiliated with different groups of their own. It was the general tenor of the public comment that compelled me to pen this post, as although I have studiously refrained from engaging in the raging online debate up to this point, I do feel that misconceptions need to be cleared and the process, as transparent as it has been, should be outlined.

 

Please note that all of the information I am sharing comes directly from the information that can be found through the online state calendar if you care to scroll back through each and every Department of Education meeting from September 15, 2015, through March 8, 2016. The only two meeting dates that do NOT have associated minutes were November 9 and 30 of 2015, although draft minutes are floating around.

 

Let’s take this back to the beginning, shall we? That’s always a good place to start.

 

In April of 2015, I was contacted by the Delaware State Education Association to participate in a workgroup of teachers, specialists, and administrators, co-facilitated by the Delaware Association of School Administrators. The pitch was novel: Let’s get teachers, specialists, and administrators in a room and give them a task discussing the evaluation system and see what happens. As I have undergone the training for new administrators at the Department of Education and was, at one time, a credentialed observer, and because of my continued interest in and work with the evaluation system, I understood why I was invited. As for the other members of the workgroup, I cannot say, but as I got to know them I realized that they were all amazing individuals with really spot on observations and unique perspectives on the evaluation system. Only one of the nine other educators did I know prior to our first meeting.

 

On April 21 we met, broke into groups, and began the task of looking at the current rating system to make a proposal for alignment of formative component ratings with summative component ratings as well as to look at the summative component ratings and how they could roll up to an overall rating for teachers and specialists. The groups were random, although an effort was made to have teachers/specialists mixed in with administrators, so no group had just one category of educator. By the end of our allotted time together, we realized that more work needed to be done, and we were eager to continue, so we met again a week later, on April 28.

 

After the two work sessions, the team had come up with terminology that would be consistent across formative and summative categories, designed a numerical system that would go along with the ratings and reduce the potential for inconsistencies and “discretion” in the system, and made a few recommendations that addressed some issues we discussed, including the concept of an annual summative process (instead of the current biennial process) and a pilot for the numerical system (which is being referred to publicly as an algorithm).

 

The workgroup recommendations and proposals were presented to the DPAS II Advisory Committee, a group of educational stakeholders who meet regularly to discuss the evaluation system and offer suggestions for changes as necessary. Based on feedback from the committee members, the workgroup reconvened and refined the process accordingly on May 12, 2015. What has come forward into HB399 that bears mentioning here is the mathematical algorithm, and specifically how it was established and the criteria for “cut scores”.

 

It was not really a question that an Unsatisfactory rating should be unacceptable, and as such a numerical value of 0 was assigned to that. To further differentiate Unsatisfactory from Basic, which can be acceptable as a starting point in some circumstances (hence the need for discretion), Basic was assigned a value of 2, with Proficient and Distinguished assigned values of 3 and 4, respectively. It was agreed that, if multiple data points were available for specific criteria and/or components over the course of a two-year summative cycle, those data points would be averaged to come up with an overall score for the summative rating. It may be important to note here that, under current regulation, all teachers and specialists must be evaluated by a credentialed observer at least once a year, with recommendations and accommodations made to facilitate more regular observations. For instance, certain categories would warrant additional evaluations (novice status, under improvement, etc.), and shorter observation times could be used for supplemental evaluations as necessary.

 

Let me say that again. Under current regulation, every teacher and specialist must be observed and have a formative feedback document at a minimum of once a year. The summative rating can be done every year in current regulation, though it must be done at minimum every two years.

 

Let’s say I am evaluated, and in Component I, Planning and Preparation, I receive Proficient scores on all 5 criteria. That means I have earned an average score of 3, Proficient, for Component I. In Component II, Classroom Environment, I receive Proficient scores on 2 criteria and Basic on the other 2. I have earned an average score of 2.5, which falls under Basic. In Component III, Instruction, I received an Unsatisfactory in 2 criteria and a Basic in the other 3. That averages to 1.2, which is an overall Unsatisfactory rating. In Component IV, Professional Responsibilities, I score Proficient for all 4 criteria, earning an average score of Proficient for that category. Finally, in Component V, Student Improvement, I earn an Unsatisfactory, giving me an overall 0 score for that area.

 

Component I = 3. Component II = 2.5. Component III = 1.2. Component IV = 3. Component V = 0.

 

Total rating is 1.94, which puts me into the Basic category. Which we could have guessed, because so many of my scores are low. These ratings would also trigger an Improvement Plan, and my teaching career would be in jeopardy unless I followed the plan and earned higher ratings in the next observation and evaluation.

 

I would be a Basic teacher even with two of five Components rated as Proficient.

 

I’ve earned 11 Proficient ratings at the criteria level, 5 Basic ratings, and 3 Unsatisfactory ratings, yet am still rated as Basic and warranting an Improvement Plan.

 

That’s how the algorithm would work. The cut scores are based on the full workup of the entire set of possible ratings combinations, which I calculated using an Excel document with the gentle prodding and patient guidance of my husband, who neither saw nor cared about what I was actually doing, just told me how to get it done. This document was made available to the workgroup, and due to the areas where there was significant potential for the rating to be really inaccurate based on a quick glance at the numbers, a pilot program was suggested. The pilot was generally regarded as a simple thing to do, as the possibility of having one system (Bloomboard, for instance) write in the algorithm so it automatically calculates seemed easy.

 

Let me repeat that this time that these workgroup meetings, though not “public”, resulted in group consensus on recommendations that were presented to, refined as a result of feedback from, and then endorsed by the DPAS II Advisory Committee. Furthermore, all documents created were made available to the Department of Education, DSEA, DASA, and the Advisory Committee as well as the Sub-Committee later on.

 

Who was on the workgroup? Who were these educators who sat in a room together and dared to create a set of recommendations and proposal to change the entire evaluation system so dramatically (end sarcasm font) without the possibility of public input?

 

The members were published in the document made available to all entities listed above, and are as follows: Sherry Antonetti, Clay Beauchamp, Cheryl Bowman, Kent Chase, Charlynne Hopkins, Chris Jones, Jackie Kook, Suzette Marine, Dave Santore, and Nancy Talmo. Four teachers, two specialists, and four administrators.

 

Two of those individuals were also sitting members of the DPAS II Advisory Committee.

 

Six of those individuals became members of the DPAS II Advisory Sub-Committee.

 

When it is alleged, as it has been, that the information from the workgroup was never shared with the DPAS II Advisory Sub-Committee, and that no questions were asked about it, the data shows differently. A presentation on the workgroup recommendations was made on September 28, 2015, at the second meeting of the Sub-Committee. Discussion was held around the recommendations over the September and October meetings, and it is noted several times in the minutes that “discussion was held”, though not every word uttered was captured. Many committee members have their own notes, but the minutes could not possibly be a transcription of the level and detail of conversation that occurred.

 

The pilot was requested at least in part because there was no way to see all the possible kinks in the system, and rather than going full-on statewide with an untested program we felt it was more responsible to try it out and make sure it was accurate. After all, these are folks’ jobs we are talking about, as well as the education of students. We must get it done right, even if that means it cannot be hasty.

 

I do not pretend to speak for this diverse, talented, dedicated group of individuals. The legislation was inspired by the recommendations of the Sub-Committee, and although the words may not reflect verbatim the discussions that were held (after all, even the minutes don’t) and this may still be an imperfect system, the group did work hard and have impassioned discussions about what would be best not only for the educators in the system but also for our students. Keep in mind that The Conjuring was inspired by a true story…

 

One final point of note, since the data is readily available in the published minutes.

 

On September 15, the Department of Education was represented by Shannon Holston, who is documented as arriving at 4:45, and Christopher Ruszkowski, documented as arriving at 5:50. The meeting began at 4:30.

 

On September 28, the Department of Education was represented by Angeline Rivello and Laura Schneider.

 

On October 12, the Department of Education was represented by Angeline Rivello.

 

On November 9, the Department of Education was represented by Eric Niebrzydowski, Shanna Ricketts, and Laura Schneider. *Note that these are draft minutes, as final approved minutes are not available on the State Calendar.

 

On November 30, minutes were not available in draft or final form.

 

On December 14, the Department of Education was represented by Eric Niebrzydowski, who is documented as leaving at 4:30, Laura Schneider, who is documented as leaving the meeting at 3:30, and Christopher Ruszkowski. The meeting began at 2 pm.

 

On January 13, the Department of Education was represented by Atnre Alleyne, who is documented as arriving at 4:49. The meeting began at 4:30.

 

On February 1, the Department of Education was represented by Atnre Alleyne, Laura Schneider, Shanna Ricketts, and Christopher Ruszkowski, who is documented as arriving at 5:01. The meeting began at 4:30.

 

On February 16, the Department of Education was represented by Atnre Alleyne, Shanna Ricketts, Laura Schneider, and Dr. Steven Godowsky, Secretary of Education.

 

On February 29, the Department of Education was represented by Atnre Alleyne, Shanna Ricketts, and Christopher Ruszkowski, who is documented as leaving before Public Comment.

 

On March 8, the Department of Education was represented by Christopher Ruszkowski, who is documented as leaving before Public Comment.

 

For those of you keeping track, that brings Department of Education representation to a total of 8 different individuals, including the Secretary of Education, and no single representative was present for every single meeting. Again, this is based on the minutes from each available meeting (including one set of draft minutes I personally had for a meeting which minutes are not posted online) that had the individuals listed as “Department Staff/Other Members” and does not differentiate between those who sat at the table and those who did not. The final submitted report lists only Christopher Ruszkowski, Atnre Alleyne, Eric Niebrzydowski, and Angeline Rivello as Department of Education representatives (non-voting members) of the Sub-Committee. Any notation of late arrival and/or early departure is from the minutes themselves and included solely to be comprehensive in providing information. Of the 10 meetings for which documentation is in my possession, no single DOE representative attended more than 5.

Serious Questions About Delaware Secretary of Education & Charter Modification Approvals

I was told last week by Alison May, the Public Information Officer for the Delaware Department of Education, that any change in teacher evaluation is considered a minor modification for Delaware charter schools.  If this is the case, why are there no applications shown online?  The DOE website clearly lists applications for other major and minor modifications, but for Freire and the Wilmington Charter Collaborative (EastSide, Prestige, Kuumba, & Thomas Edison), it does not show any of these.  At least not for the change in teacher evaluation.

The state law is very unclear about this aspect in relation to charter schools.  The code states all schools must use DPAS-II unless they have been otherwise approved for a different teacher evaluation system.  A minor modification is a change in school practices that does not go against their charter.  Since the DOE doesn’t list Freire’s actual charter, it is very hard to see if this meets the criteria for a minor or major modification.  And still, the DOE needs to be putting any application, from any school or district, up on their website.  But Freire seems to get a pass for some reason as their original application is not listed on the Delaware Charter Schools page on the DOE website.

So the unanswered question is this: Can Mark Murphy, in one of his last acts as Delaware Secretary of Education (his last official day is September 30th), approve an alternate evaluation system for Freire without consent from the State Board of Education?  I would assume a teacher evaluation part of a Delaware charter school would be embedded in their actual charter.  And was the approval for the Wilmington Charter Collaborative legal as well?  If anyone has the answers to this, with actual state law to prove it, please let me know.  I have searched extensively for this but I am unable to find it.  And it’s not like the DOE is actually being proactive and forthcoming with information these days, unless it’s to cover their own ass.  And the even bigger question, if it is proven this is a minor modification, should it be considered a major modification?

Update On Freire Getting Their Own Teacher Evaluation System

I reached out to Alison May at the Delaware Department of Education about Freire getting their own teacher evaluation system and I was informed this will be announced at the September 17th State Board of Education meeting.  Apparently, Freire Charter School of Wilmington jumped the gun a bit in announcing this at their July board meeting.

As May explained to me, if a charter school request this, it is considered a minor modification which means it does not need State Board of Education assent, just Secretary of Education approval.  It first goes through the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit (TLEU) at the DOE, and then to the Secretary.  The TLEU approved it in July, which was announced as an approval at their board meeting, but Secretary Murphy had not approved it at that point.  He has since, and this is what will be announced at the meeting next week.

I am curious though, with all the emphasis the DOE puts on teacher effectiveness, why this would only be considered a minor modification.  Something that big SHOULD have State Board approval as well.  What do you think?  Not that the unelected State Board ever differs from a Secretary suggestion!