For The Love Of Special Education

Yesterday morning, I read a Facebook post on a friend’s feed.  She didn’t write it.  It is one of those “copy and paste” things on Facebook.  I usually tend to ignore them, but this one tugged at my heartstrings.  I felt obligated to put it down here, on this blog.  Because this teacher reminded anyone who read this what is truly special about special education.

I don’t remember the exact moment my life was changed by someone with a disability. The memories seem far away, blurry, as if they don’t belong to me. But this is what happens after you’ve been working with people with disabilities for years. You change.
They don’t tell you that when you’re filling out your application. Instead, they tell you about the hours, the health benefits, the 401(k) plan, the programs and the strategies. But they don’t tell you about the fact if you do it right, you’ll never be the same.
They don’t tell you it will be the most amazing job you’ve ever had. On other days, it can be the worst. They can’t describe on paper the emotional toll it will take on you. They can’t tell you there may come a time where you find you’re more comfortable surrounded by people with developmental disabilities than you are with the general population. They don’t tell you you’ll come to love them, and there will be days when you feel more at home when you’re at work than when you’re at home, sitting on your couch. But it happens.
They don’t tell you about the negative reactions you may face when you’re out in the community with someone with a disability. That there are people on this earth who still think it’s OK to say the R-word. That people stare. Adults will stare. You will want to say something, anything, to these people to make them see. But at the end of the day, your hands will be tied because some things, as you learn quickly, can’t be explained with something as simple as words. They can only be felt. And most of the time, until someone has had their own experience with someone with a developmental disability, they just won’t understand.
They train you in CPR and first aid, but they can’t tell you what it feels like to have to use it. They don’t tell you what it is like to learn someone is sick and nothing can be done. They can’t explain the way it feels when you work with someone for years and then one day they die.
They can’t explain the bond direct service personnel develop with the people they are supporting. I know what it’s like to have a conversation with someone who has been labeled non-verbal or low-functioning. After working with someone for awhile, you develop a bond so strong they can just give you a look and you know exactly what it means, what they want and what they’re feeling. And most of the time, all it boils down to is they want to be heard, listened to and included. Loved.
When you apply for this job, they do tell you you’ll be working to teach life skills. But what they don’t tell you is while you’re teaching someone, they’ll also be teaching you. They have taught me it’s OK to forgive myself when I have a bad day. There’s always tomorrow and a mess-up here and there doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. They have taught me to slow down, to ponder, to take the time to just look around and take in this beautiful world and all of the simple joys we are blessed to encounter every day.
So when did I change? I realize now there wasn’t one pivotal moment. Instead, it was a million little moments, each important in their own way, that when added together changed me. And I’m grateful for each one.

I would love to know who the original author is.  I would shake their hand in a heartbeat!

Advertisements

Hysterical Providence Creek Email Surfaces. Sad Part Is She Was Serious…

You gotta keep ’em separated. -The Offspring

I received the following email today.  This concerns the “solution” that Providence Creek Academy, a charter school in Clayton, DE, implemented when students weren’t getting along.  Yes, let’s punish whole grades of classes because of the actions of a few.  That is always a smart thing to do!  Especially on the playground.  Weird.  Just weird…

From: Messick Joan
Sent: Tuesday, September 6, 2016 1:15 PM

Subject: Lunch/Recess – Seventh and Eight Grade Students

Good Morning Upper School Team

First, I apologize for not getting this out sooner.

On Thursday, there were several students reporting issues between the seventh and  eighth grade students.  The issues, in my opinion, seem to be brought on by some students intentionally starting arguments between other student and there seem to be issues about who should be where during recess time.  Since seventh and eighth grade students must follow a similar schedule, there isn’t much we can do to separate them during lunch and recess.  This morning I went to all special classes and stem so that I could have the opportunity to talk to all students.  The conversation was pretty one sided and I asked them to listen.  I did ask that if they had any questions, comments, suggestions, complaints or just want to share, they should write it down and ask that a staff member put it in my mail box. 

Side bar, we did have students, a parent, staff members concerned that if we don’t try and do something to be proactive the issues would escalate and change the climate in the upper school for the worse.  At this point it is fair to say that the issues are disrupting recess/lunch, disrupting the educational environment AND students are using social media to make comments that could be considered threatening in nature and there are implications that they might harm another student at school.  We are going to try some things to see if we can calm the issues. 

Starting today, we painted a line on the upper school playground.   Please have the seventh grade on one side of the line and eighth grade on the other side of the line.  We put a path on one side so that when those students are entering the building they don’t have to cross path with the other grade level.  I would have one grade level go in and wait two minutes and have the other grade level go in allowing enough time for the first group to enter their classrooms.  I am in the process in meeting with staff to keep them informed about what is happening and I would appreciate your feedback and suggestions since we will probably meet to discuss what is working, what is not and see if we need to make any additional changes.  Recess is a privilege, not a right.  Please reply to me, not “reply all”. 

Seventh and Eighth Grade students can take turns using each side.  I understand there is a upper school team meeting today after school, please decide as a team how you would like to rotate the grades by day or by week and please let me know.  We think that day on day off would be better because some students might have basketball withdrawalJ. Honestly, I feel sad that we have to do this since SO MANY of our students love recess and are using that time to get some energy out and relax with friends….

Thank you for your consideration and help.  Please keep me informed if there is anything you need and I would really appreciate it if you would send me an e-mail so that I have something that I can use as a resource with names, times and some basic information; And it will help to keep track in case I need to.  I am required to report documented reports of bullying and your e-mails help me with that.  More to follow….Take care.

Lastly, I have already gotten feedback from students and those that have responded think that this is a good solution. 

Joan

 

While I salute Ms. Messick for attempting a solution, does she understand that sometimes kids will be kids?  I understand schools sometimes have to think of creative solutions to problems, but what if some of these 7th and 8th graders actually enjoyed each other and had friendships? If some students are causing issues, deal with those students.  With that being said, I do think it’s great 7th and 8th graders get to enjoy recess.  This email is over a year old so hopefully it all got straightened out.  Any PCA associated people know if this playground line is still in existence?

In other PCA news, many have reached out to me privately to find out how the We’re Worried group is doing.  I have not heard a peep since their Labor Day email when they announced their intent to join DSEA (the state teacher association).  All in good time!

Developing Story: Thomas Edison Leader Salome Thomas-El Removed From School By Police This Morning

Breaking news: The police just removed Thomas Edison Charter School Head of School Salome Thomas-El from the school.  The Board of Directors was present for this.  Details are sparse at the moment, but from what I’m hearing the board was not pleased about the direction Thomas-El wanted to take the school in.  Apparently wanting more pay for staff and administration is a big no-no.  The teachers are not pleased with the decision and there could be a walk-out.  It looks like there is no such thing as due process at this Wilmington charter school.  More details to come as this story develops…

 

Guest Post By John Young: Christina Breaks Out!

Former Transparent Christina blogger and current Christina Board of Education member John Young wrote the following guest post based on an event held yesterday at the Chase Riverfront in Wilmington.  All Christina School District administrators, teachers, and staff members attended the event.

On Tuesday, August 22nd I had the distinct pleasure of attending our district-wide kickoff event. As most people who follow education know, Christina has faced many challenges in the last decade, many of which continue today: poverty, leadership, choice laws that do not put children first, policy, and politics to name a few of the big ones. We meet these challenges every day, across a 2000+ employee base that is dedicated, professional, and truly amazing!

I was struck by the enormity of having the entire district in the same place at the same time. We had done a similar event in the past broken into two sessions at Glasgow High School due to capacity issues, but our new Superintendent, Richard Gregg, was able to negotiate a single venue with capacity because he wanted to set our district upon this year with a distinct theme and direction: One District, One Vision, One Voice.  After 8+ years on the Board, it was so refreshing to have a message that resonated in a single setting, one that could be heard by all.  For me, one of the KEY takeaways is that each of those three prongs of the message will be uniquely and specifically fueled by a calculus with children at the center.

I know that’s what school districts claim to do, and pledge to do, but we in Christina have been led very erratically for such a long time (well over a decade now), we lost our way somewhere in there. I know each district leader before Mr. Gregg did their level best, but sometimes there was a lack of relation between intent and execution of the vision and direction which has fueled divisiveness at every level of the district, including our board.

I felt like so much of that began to thaw, even melt, in 4 short hours yesterday. I’ve been involved in countless issues over my tenure on the board many of which are not always about the students: contracts, consultants, ideology around destructive policies put for by the state, etc. etc.  Yesterday, it became clear to me that some of those things don’t deserve another moment of my time. They are worthless endeavors that do not serve children. We have new leadership and a new focus for our service model which requires the removal of “awfulizers” from our midst, and replace them with “awesomeizers”.

Christina planted a flag in the ground yesterday. I feel like it was our own metaphorical Gadsden Flag. Our referendum rally cry of a “New Christina”, an amorphous, unclear, and frankly controversial concept for some was jettisoned yesterday, not because it was bad, but because it took life. It’s beating in our core, and breathing on its own…

…and it had 2000+ parents and guardians present for the delivery. Quite a welcome sight to behold and an honor to witness.

The Hidden Secrets Behind Providence Creek Academy’s Bomb Threat & Audit Investigation

It seems random events are not so random at Providence Creek Academy, the charter school in Clayton, DE. It now appears that the audit investigation into suspected fraud by a former employee was missing a lot of information. Two other employees were also taking funds meant for students for their own personal use. Head of School Charles “Chuck” Taylor covered it all up. Continue reading “The Hidden Secrets Behind Providence Creek Academy’s Bomb Threat & Audit Investigation”

Mike Matthews’ First Day As DSEA President

Mike Matthews became the next President of the Delaware State Education Association today.  Taking over from outgoing President, Frederika Jenner, Matthews will undoubtedly generate news over the next few years.  After an actual tie in the election last January, Matthews won in a run-off election two months later.

With the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act in our schools, more personalized learning/competency-based education crap, the usual teacher evaluation based on Smarter Balanced, and all the budgetary/legislative stuff going on, look for Matthews to have his hands full the next few years.  Today, he sent out a letter to Delaware DSEA educators:

A Message from DSEA President Mike Matthews


Dear Fellow Educator:

Today I begin a new journey as DSEA President. Throughout my career as an educator, DSEA has been the strongest voice to ensure our members and students have what they need to succeed. I look forward to continuing this strong tradition of advocacy, but will need your help to be successful. Stay informed by reading our e-newsletters Professionally Speaking, which covers all manner of education policy news, as well as Legislative Matters, which provides comprehensive coverage of the legislative developments impacting public education and educators.  Also, DSEA maintains active social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter, and publishes an all-member newspaper, ACTION, on a quarterly basis.  These are just a few of the many ways in which you can stay informed and continue to advocate for your students.


Over the next few years, working with our network of strong local leaders, I hope you will share your stories with me about what’s going on in your school. Share with me the good… Share with me the not-so-good.  I intend for open and honest communication to be an important piece of my time as DSEA President.  To that end, please feel free to contact me to share those stories.  My email is Mike.Matthews@dsea.org.


Together, our unified, collective voice can speak up on behalf of our colleagues and the students we advocate for every day. I hope you are enjoying your summer and I look forward to working with you in the near future. Thank you for all that you do.

In Solidarity,
Mike

Season Four On Exceptional Delaware Just Got Very Interesting, Time To Reboot The Mission

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”

Christina Board Votes No On Many District Recommended Budget Cuts

Tonight at the Christina Board of Education meeting, the board voted in favor of NOT eliminating the following in their schools and the district based on recommendations from their Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber and Superintendent Richard Gregg. This was under the direction of “Minimize the number of students impacted by cuts.”

Elementary & Secondary Strings

Elementary Instrumental Music

A motion to reduce elementary specialists (such as music, library, etc.)

A motion to decrease technology investment

Academic Deans

Montessori Program

Reduce Department Budgets

Reduce School Budgets (based on need)

Change Credit Recovery Delivery Model-Integrate SPA with High Schools

The following DID pass the board:

Reduce EPER (Extra Pay for Extra Responsibilities)

Do not fill Vacant Non-Academic positions

Decrease in Professional Development

While these are good for the positions and programs not eliminated, those holes in the budget will have to be filled somewhere with other cuts, which could mean up to 100 teachers being cut from the district as well as higher classroom sizes.  This isn’t a good situation no matter how you slice it.  I don’t envy any school board faced with these decisions largely set in motion by Governor Carney’s proposed budget for FY2018.  He is recommending districts be able to raise match taxes without a referendum.  Many districts are balking at this scenario presented by Carney.  However, they have to give notice to teachers about returning this month, well before the Delaware General Assembly gives their final vote on the budget which will occur on either June 30th, or more likely, the wee hours of the morning on July 1st.

Mark Murphy Spews Sour Grapes About His Time As Delaware Secretary of Education

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.

The Best of Publius, Part 2: Priority Schools

So much for my daily “Best of Publius” series.  Mice and men and all that!  But I will make up for it.  Two and a half years, the shot heard round Delaware happened on the steps of Warner Elementary School in Wilmington when Governor Markell announced the priority schools initiative.  Take six “low-performing” schools and turn ’em around!  The planning for it was horrible as was the community reaction.  Legislators jumped on the Governor and the Delaware Dept. of Education.  Teachers and parents rallied at board meetings.  No one liked the idea of taking six inner-city schools, hiring new leaders, and replacing half the teachers.  Lest we forget, the definition of “failing” was based on standardized test scores.  Everyone hated the idea.  Well, except for Publius e decere over on Kilroy’s Delaware.  He had plenty to say about the debacle.

Yes, we should all bow our heads to the master, Publius himself.  I would shudder to think what would happen to Delaware education if his rantings ever bridged into an actual elected office!

Santa And John

santaclaus

Once upon a holiday season, in the land of Delaware, there lived a man who would become Governor.  He was promised the throne eight years ago, but another man took his seat.  In this land, the people chose their Governor  every four years.  The man who would be Governor finally won the seat and 58.34% of the people rejoiced.  As he sat in his car one day after returning from his job in D.C., he looked out the window.  He saw the sun setting in the distance.

John was anxious to get things going in Delaware.  He had to officially wait until January 17th, 2017.  “Only 47 days,” John said to himself.  He had been so busy for so long.  Things wouldn’t slow down for him in the next four years, and hopefully the four after that.  His day was filled with phone calls, texts, and emails.  Everyone wanted a piece of Delaware.  He knew not everyone could get a piece.  He called his wife from the driveway and told her he was going to go for a walk to clear his head.  Always supportive, she knew John needed this and told him to take all the time he needed.  John drove to the nearby park.  As he walked out of his car, he put on his hat.  It was rare he could get away from his security detail but at the same time he didn’t want to be bothered.  John walked down the trail…

Meanwhile, 3,529.75 miles away, the jolly one was settling into his favorite chair.  The elves were busy preparing for the big day.  Santa was happy he had an extra day to prepare this year.  As a tradition, during these leap years, he would pick one day off each leap year to do whatever he wanted.  Mrs. Claus always forgot about it, but Santa didn’t.  Today was his day off!  Santa picked up his laptop and on his favorites bar was the website he enjoyed going to the most: Exceptional Delaware.  Ever since Santa learned about Common Core and opt out, he found himself checking back in to see what was happening with the children of Delaware and the rest of the country.  Santa was not happy when he found out what happened a few weeks after Christmas earlier this year.  The people of Delaware wanted the lawmakers to override Governor Jack’s veto of the opt out bill, but it got hung up in some silly rule business.  He knew exactly which of those lawmakers would be getting coal this year, led by their Speaker and the leaders below him.  Santa heard there was a new Governor in Delaware so he decided he would pay him a visit.  While he didn’t usually venture so far south during the busy month, it was his day off and he could do whatever he wanted.  At least the things Mrs. Claus wouldn’t have cause to file for divorce over.

As hard as he tried, John couldn’t stop thinking about his plans.  He didn’t count on the new President actually winning the election.  All his plans were contingent on the Hill winning.  But the Tower Man won and he had to plan around it.  The Tower Man was picking people who John couldn’t picture running things down in D.C.  His office was frantic over the mess.  John had to strategize very carefully how he moved forward with everything.  Not only did the Tower Man win, but the two bodies of Congress won a majority in the election as well.  John’s Delaware was still blue, but a shocking election there threatened to turn the Delaware Senate red too.  The state he was to lead had some peculiar problems in it and at the top of that list was the economy and education.  Governor Jack treated the two as if they were symbiotic with each other and made some poor choices along the way.  John knew if he was going to improve both he would have to find a way to draw everyone in.  It was a difficult maze and John knew he wouldn’t please everyone.  Governor Jack chose a particular route but John knew if he did the same it would not be good.

Santa knew John’s mind was heavy.  As his sleigh crossed the border between Pennsylvania and Delaware, Santa could feel the weight on John’s shoulders.  Leadership always carries a heavy burden.  Santa knew that better than anyone.  Santa knew John ever since he was a little boy.  He always knew John would become a leader.  John didn’t have the same political sharpness so many politicians had but this also made him more relatable to the people.  He watched John’s humble beginnings in the town of Claymont.  Carney was one of those tough kids who excelled in football which helped him out at St. Mark’s High School and then Dartmouth College.  Santa remembers John’s awards.  As John was teaching freshmen football at the University of Delaware, he was also studying public administration.  From there, John began his political career working for the county he lived in and then for Governor Tom.  From there, John’s political ladder kept getting bigger and bigger.  He became the Lieutenant Governor for eight years and decided to run for Governor.  But the future “education” Governor Jack beat him in a close race.  Others told Jack to wait his turn, it was John’s turn, but Jack ignored them.  A couple of years later, John ran for Congress and won.  For six years, having to run every two years for a total of three Congressional terms, John worked in D.C. and learned how the game of politics really works.  But he never gave up on getting back to Delaware to win as Governor.  After Governor Jack was expected to end his tenure, many thought Vice-President Joe’s son Beau would run, but tragically Beau passed away after a long illness.  It was then that John decided he would run but wished it had been under better circumstances.

John walked down the path.  There was a crisp wind in the air but the moon was bright.  He used to walk down this path many times.  It hadn’t changed much over time and he remembered it like the back of his hand.  John tripped on a branch and fell to the ground.  As he looked up, he saw a bright light in the sky above him.  A voice cried out “John, we need to talk.”  John reached for his phone but he had left it in the car.  He thought to himself, “This is it, all alone in the woods with no one to help.”  He began to picture the headline in the News Journal the next day.  “Who are you?” John asked.  “Someone you haven’t thought about in a long time John.”  Santa gracefully landed the sleigh on the path in front of John.  His lights were still on so John couldn’t tell who it was.  “I do have security watching me right now.  They are watching you right now.  So I wouldn’t try anything  They will find you if anything happens to me.”  “No they won’t,” Santa said.  “Remember you let all of them have the night off and you so conveniently told each one there was coverage?”  John wondered how this guy would know that.  “It’s me, John.  Santa.”

John couldn’t believe his eyes.  As a child, he always believed.  But as children grew older, that magic disappeared.  John saw Santa everywhere this time of year.  He began seeing him in stores as early as October.  But it wasn’t the same as the man who just walked off a sleigh that came down in the middle of the woods.  John took that early childhood magic for granted, as every adult does.  John wondered what in the world Santa Claus wanted with him.  Did he visit all the new leaders?  “John,” Santa said, “We have to talk about the kids.  Come with me.”  John felt the world spin beneath him.  Santa’s words captured him.  They weren’t words demanding John obey him, but those of comfort and a calm John hadn’t felt for a long time.  John looked at his watch.  It was 6:30pm.

Santa and John got in the sleigh.  The reindeer, who John hadn’t noticed before, began running down the path.  John felt the sleigh lift up into the December night.  “John, did you read my letter last year?” Santa asked.  John read letters every day.  There were some days he couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast he was so busy.  John shook his head.  “Did you send it to me?” John asked.  He knew he probably had not seen it unless it was an issue of critical importance.  He was sure if one of his staffers opened it and saw a letter from Santa Claus it would go in the circular bin next to their desk.  “No, I let Exceptional Delaware put it up.  I thought everyone in Delaware reads it.”  That was a name John was familiar with the past six months.  The blogger.  “You mean the crazy education blogger from DoverThat guy wants to meet with me but I don’t know…” Santa abruptly interrupted John  “Watch yourself,” Santa warned.  “I have the utmost respect for the blogger.  He helped me out last year and he knows what he is talking about.”  John responded to Santa.  “But he tends to tick off a lot of people.  People I’m going to have to work with.  I was warned to stay away from him.”  Santa’s eyes widened.  “Oh really?  Would that have been Senator So-coal-A,” Santa carefully empathized.  “And all those other adults who don’t have the first clue about what education really is?  Let me tell you something John.  You will be a leader of Delaware.  Any state has a foundation from which it must build on.  That foundation is the kids.  Not the adults, and especially not the adults who try to make money and get power from kidsThere are those out there who will pretend to speak the truth.  You surround yourself with them.  But there are those who speak uncomfortable truths that people don’t always want to hear.  But they do so out of an innate need for change, in the hopes someone with the ability to hear will actually listen.”

John was familiar with what was going on in education.  He was told of the long-range plans and how education would be reformed so all kids can succeed.  The children would be trained to become the workforce of tomorrow.  As he began his campaign, he knew many people in Delaware were hurting.  When he ran for Governor the first time, the economy of the whole country was collapsing.  Even though Delaware recovered from this, not all of the citizens did.  Some never got the jobs back that made them more money.  The cities were becoming too violent again.  Drug use was up and children were getting shot in the street.  But still, Delaware did the one thing it knows how to do best- spend money.  John knew all that money wasn’t going to the right places.  He also knew that when he became the leader he would have to fix a lot of these problems.  Many of his advisors told him that education was going to fix all these problems.  Not now, but down the road.  But if he didn’t help follow the same paths Governor Jack made, nothing would ever get fixed.  This was happening all over the country.  There were critics, like the damn blogger, but they were just a whisper in the wind.  They didn’t see the big picture and how this was for the good of the state and the country.

Santa, where are we going?” John asked.  “To see the children John.”

Uhm, Santa.  We are flying into downtown Wilmington.  No offense sir, but I can’t be seen riding around in a sleigh with someone people don’t believe in along with eight reindeer.”  Santa pulled out a pouch from his pocket.  “Thanks for reminding me John, I almost forgot.”  Santa took out a handful of dust and blew it all around him and John.  “They won’t see us now.”  Santa parked the sleigh on top of the Community Education Building.  The duo went down through the building and to the streets below.  They walked over to the playground next to the building.

In a dark corner, an African-American boy was reading with a flashlight.  The boy was shivering as he turned a page.  “Why is this boy out here Santa?  Why doesn’t he go home?”  Santa sighed.  “This is his home John.  He lives on the streets.  During the really cold months he goes to a shelter with his aunt.  She is at work right now.”  John saw a grocery cart a few feet away from the boy.  Covering it was a blue tarp.  John could see some clothes in there and a few boxes.  As John looked away for a moment in horror, he saw a hypodermic needle on the ground.  The boy was reading a worn-out copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with a flashlight between his yellow teeth.  He saw the boy lift a crumpled up bag out of his coat pocket.  The boy began eating the few crumbs left in the bag of potato chips.  Santa told John about how his father went to prison a few years ago.  He belonged to one of the gangs.  During a shoot-out in front of their apartment building, a bullet missed hitting the boy but instead lodged itself in his mother’s brain.  He told John this is the first thing the boy sees when he wakes up in the morning and the last thing he sees at night.  “Come on John, we have more stops to make tonight.”  John walked to the sleigh but kept looking back at the boy.

Santa and John flew once more into the night.  It was very quiet between them.  They landed in a very wealthy neighborhood with mansions all around them.  John wasn’t sure if he had been on this street when he was campaigning.  Many houses were decked out in Christmas lights and he even saw Santas made up in lights.  “This is never what Christmas was supposed to be John,” as Santa looked down at his belly.  They got out of the sleigh and went into one of the houses.  A girl was on her computer playing the latest version of Minecraft.  Her mom asked her if she finished her homework.  “I sure did,” the girl said.  “You can check it on Schoology.”  “Did you finish all the stuff on iReady?” the mother asked.  “Yes Mom,” as the girl rolled her eyes.  She had just finished eating the steak and shrimp but she was still hungry.  “Can you turn the heat down Mom?” she yelled.  As her hand grabbed the ice cream bowl, Santa and John left.  As Sarah pulled the spoon to her mouth, she wondered if she had to be at the school in her cheerleader’s outfit by 9am tomorrow or 9:15.

They flew down to Georgetown.  John was last there on Return Day in November.  All the candidates who run for office, whether they win or not, participate in this event to “bury the hatchet”.  But they flew away from the town to a trailer park.  Inside, a Hispanic girl was kicking a ball around with her little brother.  A man came into the room.  “Hicerion sus deberes?” the man asked.  “No podríamos papá. No sabíamos lo que significaban las palabras,” the boy answered.  The man watched as his children did what they do after school almost every day.  Kicking around the same ball.  “Sorry Santa, my Spanish is very rusty.  What did they say?” John asked.  “The father asked if his children did their homework.  They couldn’t because they can’t read the words.  They don’t know English very well.  They know enough for very basic things, but not enough to learn what they need to know.  Their mother is still at the chicken farm working her shift.  One of them always has to be with the kids. They aren’t here legally.  The father is afraid all the time that his kids will be taken from him and he and his wife will have to go back to their country.  He doesn’t know English at all.” 

John felt his mind stir as they flew north.  He was very troubled by what he saw.  When he was campaigning, he tended to see the best of Delaware.  In the daylight or early evening when many of his “Meet and Chews” with people were attended by those who had the means and the desire to see him.  When he went to schools, he could tell the kids were on their best behavior because “an important man” was coming to visit.  He didn’t see people in their homes or on the streets the way he did tonight.  He felt uncomfortable, like he was seeing a side of the world he heard about but didn’t see first-hand.  “Santa, I should really be getting back.  It’s getting late and my wife is probably worrying about me.”  Santa laughed so hard the sleigh shook. Look at your watch John.  What time is it?”  John looked at his watch in bewilderment.  It was still 6:30pm.  No time had passed since he first got in the sleigh with Santa back on the trail.  “Let me guess, another bit of your magic?”  Santa smiled at John as they flew into a middle-class neighborhood in Dover.

The odd couple went into the house.  Inside, a boy was crying on the couch.  His parents were arguing in the kitchen.  “What do you mean he was suspended again?” the father asked.  “I got a call from school.  They said he was acting out in class again and when the teacher told him to stop he ran out of the room.  When another teacher found him, he pushed her away.  The Principal came down the hall and yelled at him to come with him.  David yelled back at him and Dr. Smith called two teachers to help bring him to the office,” the mother explained.  “I didn’t get the call until two hours later.  By the time I got there he was so upset.”  “Did they give him any work to do when he was in there for two hours?” the boy’s father asked.  “I don’t know.  But this is not what his IEP says.  They aren’t supposed to drag him down the hall and yell at him.  He isn’t learning anything there.  He’s depressed all the time.  He can’t learn in a class with thirty kids.”  John knelt down in front of the boy.  He saw such pain and sadness in the boy’s eyes.  “This boy has no friends John.  The things you had growing up, kids to play with and throw a football around, running around in the woods, even going to the amusement park, David can’t do those things.”  Santa explained how David was labeled as high-functioning Autism.  He could do the work, but only under certain conditions.  If there was a lot of activity in the classroom, people talking, moving around, David couldn’t handle that.  His brain couldn’t filter out all the stimuli.  Some days it worked, but for David, it was an endless litany of suspensions and leaving school early.  “Special education John.  If you don’t know what is going on with a child, and everyone is different, how can we put all kids in the same box?” Santa asked him.

John could see what Santa was doing.  He understood that not every kid is the same.  But if they didn’t try to help all the kids nothing would change.  The two flew to the building where John was destined to spend many of his days in the next four years.  Legislative Hall.  Where all the laws in Delaware happened.  John didn’t think there would be any kids there at 6:30pm, and he was right.  Inside, a meeting was taking place.  John knew about half the people at the large table in the House Majority Caucus room.  There were some from the Department of Education, a couple from the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, the usual Delaware State Education Association contingent, some Superintendents, a few teachers, Delaware PTA, some of the disability advocates, the lady from the Delaware Charter Schools Network, four legislators, and a couple of State Board members.  He knew them.  A few people sat in the chairs outside of the table.  A woman from the Delaware DOE was giving a presentation on the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Delaware had to come up with a state plan so all students can succeed.  She was talking about the Delaware School Success Framework and the measurements they wanted included in their state accountability system.  It was all about proficiency and growth.  Which John knew was based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  All these adults, sitting there talking about kids and how they can make education better.  John knew a few of the people there had the best of intentions but this was what they do in Delaware.  They sit around a table and talk.  This was how things got done.  They even had a name for it, The Delaware Way.

You don’t get it!” John cried out.  “We can’t keep testing these kids.  They aren’t the same.  We can’t keep doing this.  Their lives mean so much more than these tests.”  Santa looked at John.  “They can’t hear you.  Even if they could, too many of them wouldn’t listen.  They think they know what is best.  They forget what it was like when they were kids.  Even that man over there.”  Santa pointed to a man from Wilmington.  “He kept fighting for the kids in Wilmington and how the teachers need to be better,” Santa explained.  “The man believed what he said but he didn’t realize how much these children don’t have outside of school.  The man didn’t understand that you can’t just wave a magic wand and make teachers better.  And the best teachers, they were the ones already in those classrooms in Wilmington.  They were the ones who came to school every day, knowing the problems these kids brought to the classroom.  The look of hunger in their eyes as they wore the same clothes for the third day in a row.  They dedicated their lives to helping these kids in the hardest classrooms in the state.  In return, they were shamed by many of the people in this room.  The little boy we saw on the playground tonight?  He goes to the poorest school in the state.  Most of the people in this room have never walked into his school.  They don’t understand what he needs.  That legislator over there?  She sponsored a bill so special education would get better in the state.  In their eyes, it did.  Students went from 21% proficiency on the ELA part of Smarter Balanced to 23%.  To them, that is growth.  The Superintendent over there?  She runs the district where the two kids from Georgetown go to school.  She has a lot of students who can’t speak or read English.  She hasn’t said one word tonight about how to help them.  See the man over there?  He runs a charter school in Newark.  They just settled on a lawsuit against the Christina School District.  In return they will get more money in the future.  Remember the girl in the mansion?  She goes to that charter school.  That money will be taken from the homeless boy’s school.  He will get less than he has today at school.  The man over there?  He sits on the board at the Rodel Foundation.  He sees opportunity.  He sees how the business leaders in the state can profit from all this.  He is hoping they will start talking about more career pathway programs in our high schools.  He knows that some will go to the coding school he sits on the board of.  He talks with other business leaders and the graduates of that program do internships at their companies.  Sometimes they get jobs.  While they are learning, these coding students are building the network of tomorrow.  They develop algorithms that will go into the education technology in all the schools.  All that data, all that blessed data.  They store it all.  They keep everything, these futurists and visionaries.  They have the money and influence to make sure what they want becomes policy and law.  It is the way the modern world works John.  Perhaps they know, and don’t care, that what they are setting up now will only make those children who struggle the most even further apart from any true opportunity to succeed.  And them, over there, they work for the Department of Education.  They are the middlemen between the schools and the business community.  They make sure the business community gets what they want in the schools.  They do this through regulations and conversations you will never hear about.  That woman there, she runs the accountability section of the Department.  Her job is to make sure all children in certain grades take the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  When she sees the results come in, she doesn’t see the faces of the children who took the test.  She sees numbers.  Results.  Scores.  Her job is to understand why all the children we saw tonight got a 1 on the test last Spring except for the girl in the mansion who got a 4.  She doesn’t see David’s disability.  Or the two siblings who can’t read the instructions for the test in English much less understand the context of a passage  in Spanish about the stock market.  She doesn’t know that the African-American boy in Wilmington has slept in 124 different beds in the past year alone and the other 241 nights were outside with blankets.  But she actually thinks they can close the achievement gaps and these children will grow into prosperity.  How does she know this?  It’s what her bosses tell her every single day.  She hears the lie so much she believes it.

John and Santa left the building.  As the two flew north, they talked about what John had to do.  What he needed to change.  They talked about the blogger and the parents, teachers, legislators, advocates, and citizens who thought like Santa did.  “Those are the ones you really need to talk to John.  I’m sure you have heard from many of the people who were in that meeting tonight.  If you haven’t, I have no doubt your advisors have.”  John knew this to be true.  “You need to understand the other side of the coin John, where the real world lives.  These aren’t pleasant realities you saw tonight.  For those fighting for the kids, even opting out of the test isn’t as easy as it once was.  They are fighting for these kids, their kids.  And their grandchildren.  They are fighting for their jobs.  They see beyond the results and the growth.  They see what needs to change but no one listens.  No one who can really make a difference.  Some do, but not enough to make the changes.  When they do speak, they are shunned by their peers.  Given less importance.  It isn’t right John.  What the people in that room wanted, it won’t change anything.  It will only cause more damage.  You can’t incorporate education.  These are children.  You need to change all this.”

John walked out of the sleigh.  He thanked Santa for showing him so much of the Delaware he didn’t see before.  The two shook hands.  “Santa, I don’t know if I can change all of this by myself.  You know if I try I will make enemies.  Those enemies won’t make my job any easier.”  Santa put his hand on John’s shoulder.  “That is what all leaders who understand what is right and just have to face.  Some succeed and some fail.  Some do it alone and some have support.  All I can say is this John-  remember what you saw tonight.  Every single time you make a decision.  Remember the children’s faces before you see the adults.  You know in your heart who is really in this for the kids and who isn’t.  When you hear that voice in your head, questioning what the true motives are, listen to that.  Let that be your shield against your enemies John.”  John hugged Santa.  “Merry Christmas Santa.”  “And to you as well Governor Carney.”  Santa walked toward his sleigh and turned around. “John, find those who speak the uncomfortable truths.”

John looked down at his watch.  It was 6:31pm.  Santa was gone.

DSEA President Battle Heats Up As Three Vie For The Top Spot

To date, three Delaware educators have announced their intention to run for President of the Delaware State Education Association.  All three have announced this on Facebook.  I know two of them, but I haven’t met the other candidate.  Two of the candidates are running on a ticket with a Vice-President candidate.  Who are these brave souls? Continue reading “DSEA President Battle Heats Up As Three Vie For The Top Spot”

3000

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.

Kevin, 10/24/16

 

 

 

From Common Core To Competency-Based Education: The Slimy Tentacles Of Billionaire Foundations

Their reach is everywhere.  Foundations who say they represent the best interests of children.  Who want to fix education so all children can get a shot.  Why then, do so many of the children of these philanthropists, politicians, and corporate education reformers, attend private schools?  Ones without the invasive education technology and Common Core standards?  That alone should tell everyone they are not in it for the kids.  For them, it is about the profit.  Servant and master.  They feel we should bow down to their infinite wisdom and do as they say.  The reports from the Department of Labor showing increasing jobs don’t paint the same picture as the doom and gloom coming from the education “prophets”.  They talk about gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers while putting forth policy that enforces those gaps, whether it is from standardized tests, “IEPs for All”, the false importance of education technology, or the perception that traditional school district teachers are horrible.  They are the incubators of discrimination and segregation.  But they fail to understand how their actions contribute to the outside factors our schools should not have to deal with, such as trauma and poverty.  With all their vast wealth and power, they don’t spend their money helping to ease these issues.  They believe that it is okay to track students into career pathways starting at the first moment they are able to take a test.  They don’t care that very personal information goes out to 3rd parties that have no business seeing any information like this.  They wrote the Every Student Succeeds Act.  They are the ones pushing for more charter schools.  They have the US Dept. of Education in their back pocket along with the politicians and groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the National Governors’ Association.  They have many colleges and universities doing whatever they say.  But they are wrong.  What they are doing is the best for themselves, not the kids.

commoncore

Who Funds Teach For America, KIPP, & Rocketship Education?

We know a lot of school districts, charter schools, and state departments of education give a ton of money to Teach For America, but who got the group going?  And who still funds them?  Let’s just say it is a lot of organizations!  Some of these foundations I had never heard of.  Keep in mind, this is the corporate Teach For America.  There might be foundations funding each state chapter.  For example, the Rodel Foundation loves giving money to the Delaware TFA!

Richard Barth is the CEO of TFA, but Wendy Kopp, Barth’s wife, runs the show.  But Barth runs the KIPP charter school chain.

tfafunders

Going from here, it is amazing how many connections between Teach For America, Kipp, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the NewSchools Venture Fund, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Charter School Growth Fund, and Tom Vander Ark exist.  It is important to know Vander Ark’s role in this because he is one of the biggest pushers for the death of traditional public schools through his competency-based education personalized learning career pathways earn to learn agendas.

chartermap

I’ll be doing more of these.  If any traditional school district unionized teacher isn’t very worried about their future, I would probably start doing something about it now.  Unless you want to be working as a facilitator in an online charter school in 2026.  This IS corporate education reform, but only a part of it.  It goes much deeper than that.  I’ve been telling people this for over two years now.  But sometimes pictures say a lot more than words ever can.

You Can’t Make Things Better Until You Fix What’s Broken

In the past week, a light bulb went off in my head.  I’ve been to a lot of education meetings lately.  State Board of Education, ESSA, Special Education Strategic Plan, district board meetings, and so forth.  I’ve seen and met a lot of legislators and candidates.  I’ve seen the old faces and the new.  For the most part, we are all talking about the same thing: problems in education.  Whether it is at a state level or on the ground floor.  At an ESSA meeting, one of the participants at my table was Red Clay Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty.

He made a very valid point.  We keep talking about education and how to make it better.  We keep throwing ideas into the mix.  We have meetings and task forces and committees and town halls and strategic plans.  We talk ourselves to death.  We don’t take action and we have gotten away from the basics.  I agree with him.

There have been opportunities to act, but they pass by.  Until the next idea comes along.  I’ve met with parents, teachers, district administrators, board members, the DOE, advocates, disability groups, legislators and regular citizens.  There are deep rifts between everyone.  Hurts.  Things happen.  Perceptions are thrown out of whack.  I have seen two of those groups talk about the exact same topic in separate meetings but the tone and feelings about it are wider than the Pacific Ocean.

As much as I rant about the DOE, I do like that they are having these town halls.  I like that people are coming out to them.  But it’s not enough.  Not nearly enough.  What is confusing me is why different states are taking advantage of different timelines for their draft plans.  For example, Delaware wants to get their plan in by the end of March.  In Florida, they are not submitting their plan until the end of July.  The Delaware DOE wants to have their plan in place by the 2017-2018 school year.  Florida’s wouldn’t fully kick in until 2018-2019.  The Delaware DOE wants to have their first draft done by the end of October.  In 37 days.  While it is a draft and would most likely be amended based on public feedback, I don’t like that short of a time frame.

Is that enough time to heal the rifts between the adults involved in education?  Is that enough time for us to decide, as a state, what is best for students?  No.  I don’t like the idea that we are rushing to get a basic plan done, with public comment to possibly tweak that plan, and then again after the end of the year.  I would much rather see something more solid in the beginning and build from there.  I want a foundation that is grounded in fixing the already existing problems with a definitive action plan and a path forward to fix them.  While some may see ESSA as a grand opportunity to get things right, are we rushing to get certain plans that are representative of the more powerful at the expense of the majority?  I believe we are.  Delaware needs more time.  With the vast amounts of money we spend on education, I would think there could and should be a way to get more voices involved.

When many education bills are submitted in the General Assembly, they are symptomatic of larger things that are broken.  If we don’t fix those bigger things, the small solutions don’t always work.  So, I guess, I’m putting this out there for the Delaware DOE, Secretary Godowsky, and the Governor to think about.  What is the harm in waiting another four months to put forth our ESSA plan?  Yes, it’s another year students may not have something.  And many of those things they need now.  But if we squander a gift of time and having true collaboration, at a state-wide level, to get things right, then all the plans in the world won’t help.  It would also give the General Assembly more of a sense of what this will cost over the five and a half months they are in session.  By submitting the plans by the end of March, it will force the General Assembly to most likely scramble to introduce legislation to make it all fit.  Why not let the General Assembly have until the end of June to do their thing while the rest of us, and I mean ALL of us, do our thing?  I have no doubt the DOE has a very good idea of what they would like to see.  But I don’t think the rest of Delaware feels they have been given enough to do this.  We need more time.

This isn’t a rant against the DOE.  It is a heartfelt plea to all involved in education to use the time we could have.  We need to come together, for the kids.

32 Questions: Delaware Candidates For Governor On Education

I sent education surveys to all four of the candidates running for Delaware Governor.  Three responded.  I want to thank all the candidates for responding.  Many of the questions I asked deal with the issues I write about on this blog.  The survey was sent a few weeks ago, so recent events such as the district-charter funding issue and Blockchain aren’t in here.

These were tough questions in many areas and I challenged the candidates to do some research with some of them.  In some areas, all three were in agreement and in others not so much.  There were 32 questions overall, dealing with issues concerning teachers, special education, Common Core, Rodel, Markell, FOIA, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and more. Continue reading “32 Questions: Delaware Candidates For Governor On Education”

What’s So Bad About Educational Technology? Beware The Poverty Pimps!

Ed Tech.  It is everywhere.  Like the Vikings of yesteryear, it is invading every classroom in America.  It is pillaging the public education village.  For the Vikings, this was their way.  It was all they knew.  But for the Poverty Pimps, the companies who profit from students with the justification of fixing education for poor kids, it is disturbing on many levels.  If this technology is used in moderation and for the sole benefit of increasing the ability for students to learn, that would be one thing.  But companies are making billions of dollars off of our kids.  Even worse, the privacy of our children’s information is suspect at best.  One mom from Pennsylvania, Alison McDowell, has looked into all of this and she has found out a lot about what is going on with this aspect of the Ed Tech Boom.

A Skeptical Parent’s Thoughts on Evaluating Digital Learning Programs

With the school year beginning, questions about digital learning programs and computerized behavior management programs have started to pop up in my feed. Is X program ok? How about Y? Concerned parents are scanning privacy policies and trying to figure it all out. What does this mean for MY child?

As someone who took a symbolic stand and opted her child out of Google Apps for Education last year (and she didn’t seem to come out any the worse for wear for it BTW), I’d like to share my current thinking on this topic. I am not a Luddite, but I am concerned that rather than being taught to use and control technology, many children (especially children in turn-around or transformation schools) are increasingly being put into the position of being used BY technology to further the interests of for-profit cyber instruction and workforce development. I’m sharing my thoughts in the hope of opening up a discussion and to see where other folks are in this brave new world.

For me the bottom line is this: Does the technology under consideration empower students to be the creators of the content? Is the power with THEM?

If the answer is “yes,” then it shouldn’t depend on tracking personalized data to function properly. Sure kids should be able to work on a project, save it, and go back to it, but online monitors shouldn’t be tracking all their data. Students own the work they do. It is their intellectual property. It should remain accessible and editable by them for the purposes of what the child and the teacher are doing in the CLASSROOM-that’s it. Storing student learning with PII (personally identifiable information) in the cloud for some unspecified future purpose concerns me.

Fortunately for our family, the above scenario is the norm at my daughter’s school. Mostly they use GAFE for open-ended word processing and there is a geometry program that allows students to render shapes. But THEY are doing the creating. The work is being done in THEIR brains. They are not consuming pre-determined content and having their micro-data tracked and aggregated.

If the sole purpose of the technology under consideration is to distribute content from an online learning management system based on prior data that a program has gleaned from a student interacting with the program, that is NOT an empowering educational experience.

Others may feel differently, but right now that is my framework for looking at this issue. That, and the fact that technology should not supplant funds for human teachers and there should be age-appropriate screen time limits during the school day.

What we need is more educational sovereignty and less educational surveillance.

In Delaware, personalized learning is pushed heavily by the Rodel Foundation with support from the Delaware business community.  Rodel, a non-profit company, has been pimping personalized learning and competency-based education for years.  I have extreme issues with the CEO of a non-profit being the highest paid education person in the state, with a reported earning of $343,000 as of 2014.  That is a lot more money than the highest paid state employee in education, Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick, who earned $217,000 as of last year.  Every state has similar “foundations” doing the same thing.

Delaware teachers are at a crossroads.  Do they embrace this technology knowing it could eventually lead to the end of their career as they know it, or do they resist it and fade into obscurity as districts and charter schools feel they aren’t supporting education?  The problem is the power  structure.  The teachers who are embracing this technology are regarded as education heroes in the press.  They are considered the “trailblazers” who will lead our children to “college and career readiness”.  They get the rewards and the accolades while teachers in high-poverty schools, who work just as hard without proper funding and resources in bloated classrooms, get labeled and shamed over the state assessment scores.

For parents, their rights to protect their child’s personal information have slowly been dismantled through federal regulations involving FERPA.  Outside contractors with state and local education agencies have certain allowances which allow them to see personal information.  The laws surrounding this are very vague and unclear.  On the surface, they look great.  But the loopholes embedded in these laws are the true tale.  For parents, opt out is no longer about the state assessment.  It is also about education technology.  But how does a parent opt their child out of entire curriculums that use computers and hand-held devices?  It’s not like schools can say “that’s fine, we will give your child a textbook.”

As the world slowly begins to embrace Blockchain technology, modeled after Bitcoin, serious questions are being asked about how this could transform the education landscape.  And what it means for our children.  Make no mistake, the initiatives and “ideas” are already in play and have been for years.  Blockchain is the end of the agendas.  It is the Rubicon of the plans that began in the early 1990s.  While these “futurists” didn’t foresee the exact mechanism of what is now Blockchain, they knew education would become a master and apprentice society, with earn to learn programs replacing the traditional classroom.  Common Core and the high-stakes testing were a means to this end.  We are hearing more and more talk about career pathways and early education.  The role of corporations in these areas is too large to ignore.  We are knee-deep in Education Incorporated, but we are about to be swallowed whole.

Last March, I created a Parent Bill of Rights for Education.  It began as a response to the Center for American Progress’ Testing Bill of Rights.  I found their platform to be insulting to the students, parents, and teachers of America.  Since then, things have changed.  I landed in Facebook jail when I posted this to the same groups I show my articles to.  With no explanation whatsoever from Facebook.  The idea took on a life of its own.  But I need your help.  Please look at it.  Come up with ideas on how to improve it.  Let’s make this a real thing and present it to Congress next year.  We must be able to exert parental control over what is best for our children before that control is stripped from us forever.  To this end, I have created a Parent Bill of Rights for Public Education group.  It will be a private group.  It will be by invitation only, which some may see as hypocritical on my end given my  rants about transparency.  But we don’t want the corporations getting their hooks into this.  This will be created by parents, for their children.  Not for profit or power and gain.  This is for our kids.  Because we love them better than any company ever will.

 

Jack Markell, Blockchain, Coding Schools, Rodel, BRINC, Pathways To Prosperity, Registered Agents… Delaware’s Role In “The Ledger”

If Washington D.C. is the capital of America, than Delaware is the capital of corporate education reform.

Over the past week, many of us who are resisting the privatization of public education have been talking about The Ledger.  Peter Greene broke the news for the world to see, which Diane Ravitch quickly picked up on.  What is “The Ledger”? Continue reading “Jack Markell, Blockchain, Coding Schools, Rodel, BRINC, Pathways To Prosperity, Registered Agents… Delaware’s Role In “The Ledger””

2016 Update: Which Articles Get The Most Hits?

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:

  1. Delaware Public Schools: You Have Until Thursday To Get Rid Of Your Data Walls Or I Start Filing FERPA Complaints 51,505 hits
  2. Her Name Is Amy 36,029 hits
  3. Holodick & Brandywine Named In Lawsuit As Father Seeks Justice From Year Long Nightmare 22,277 hits
  4. Tragedy Strikes Howard High School In Wilmington As Student Dies From Head Injuries In Fight 6,924 hits
  5. Niche.com Delaware School Rankings By High School, Middle School, Elementary School, Best Teachers, & More 3,098 hits
  6. Delaware Senate Passes The “No School After Labor Day” Bill With Close Vote 3,054 hits
  7. Delaware DOE Hits All-Time Low With Very Scummy Move Against Teachers… 1,993 hits
  8. ***UPDATED***Channel 6 ABC Action News Gives Updated Information About Details In Amy Joyner-Francis Case 1,823 hits
  9. Governor Markell Takes It To Facebook And Receives The Beat Down Of His Life! 1,783 hits
  10. 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?