Delaware Competency-Based Education, Part 2: Reinventing Schools & Dark Omens

At the first official meeting for the Delaware Dept. of Education/Rodel created Guiding Coalition for Competency-Based Learning, an email went out to members to research an organization called Reinventing Schools.  Theresa Bennett with the DOE sent the following email:

guiding-coalition-1st-meeting

Bennett announces that a Kim Hanisch from the Reinventing Schools Coalition will be facilitating their meetings.  The organization changed their name because of the initials, RISC, to Reinventing Schools.  This group received their start-up funds from the Gates Foundation.  A blog called Save Maine Schools gave a very detailed description of the man that runs Reinventing Schools, Dr. Joseph Marzano.  I imagine Rodel and Reinventing Schools have a lot in common since they are both lovers of competency-based education and personalized learning in a digital classroom.  Oddly enough, Reinventing Schools does not list Delaware in their map of schools and districts they work with.  I guess non-profits don’t count as true education centers of learning!  Save Maine Schools referred to Marzano as just another corporate education reform snake-oil salesman.  His ideas, according to the article and commenters, were nothing new but repackaged to further this modern-day Competency-Based Education mixed with Personalized Learning in a digital environment.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, a lot was going on in Delaware education at this time.  The priority schools debacle was heating up.  On the same day as this first meeting of the “Guiding Coalition”, the Christina and Red Clay Consolidated Boards of Education were holding meetings to decide their next steps with the Delaware DOE and Governor Markell.  Red Clay indicated they would capitulate with the DOE, but Christina was defiant and insisted on writing their own Memorandum of Understanding with the DOE.  The priority schools MOU called for the firing of half the teachers and each school had to get a new principal.  As teachers and Delaware citizens seethed, a growing voice was calling for the resignation of Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and a new employee at the DOE named Penny Schwinn, who led the Accountability & Assessment department, soon became the most hated person in the Delaware education landscape.  Many, including legislators, began wondering what the heck Delaware did with all the Race To The Top money and FOIAs started going out to the Delaware DOE.

As a result of this, the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee was born.  Governor Markell issued an Executive Order to come up with recommendations on how to deal with the rising Wilmington education crisis.  Bank of America Communications Chief  and Former Chair of the Wilmington Metropolitan Urban League, Tony Allen, was chosen to lead the committee.  Meanwhile, a certain blogger started talking about Delaware Opt Out more and more.  All of these were easy distractions for those who were very worried about what was going on with Delaware education.  Markell was taking a very hard stance on the priority schools.  Nobody saw what was going in with the back-door and secret meetings of the Guiding Coalition.

The Rodel Foundation of Delaware was busy preparing for their next Vision Coalition annual conference.  One of their guests at the conference was a company called 2Revolutions.  I did not attend the conference, but I followed along on Twitter.  I decided to look into this digital learning company and was shocked by what I found.  Pretty much everything I am current writing about with Corporate Education Reform 2.0 is covered in that link.  That was from almost two years ago.  The next day I received an email from the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC):

gacechalloweenemail

This email contained a copy and paste from the Rodel Teacher Council for their “Performance Learning” blueprint which I included in an article I wrote on this.  I was skeptical of Rodel based on everything I saw and read before that email from the GACEC.  But this horrified me.  It was obvious Rodel was facilitating the reinvention of Delaware education and nobody was paying attention.  Changes were taking place.  The Delaware DOE was not running the show.  It was Rodel.  I began to commit myself to finding out all I could about Rodel.  It was Halloween and nothing horrified me more than what I wrote about that dark evening.  I didn’t truly understand it all at that time.  There was a lot going on.  But this was the beginning of putting the puzzle pieces together.  However, the upcoming General Election in Delaware would cause things to change in the Delaware General Assembly that would provide very big distractions for many.

As everyone prepared for a potential takeover of the Priority Schools, the Delaware DOE and Rodel continued their secret meetings.  To be continued in Part 3: Rodel gets a surprise and a matter of civil rights…

 

WEIC Addendum Gives Red Clay Distinct Advantages Over All School Districts In Delaware

KeyserSoze

The State Board of Education will vote on the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan on Thursday, February 18th.  What they are voting on will give Red Clay certain advantages over every other school district and charter school in the State of Delaware.  The plan calls for additional funding for Red Clay Consolidated and the Christina schools currently in Wilmington that would become part of Red Clay by Fiscal Year 2019.  This funding be based on a weighted funding formula to be approved by the Delaware General Assembly (of which there is no current legislation addressing this).  The weighted funding would give additional funding for English Language Learners, low-income students, and basic special education for children in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  The money would come in FY2017.  This funding would spread out into FY2018 to the remaining schools in the Christina School District.  By FY2019, all city of Wilmington School districts and charter schools would receive this additional funding.

Hey Tony Allen and the WEIC gang: What about the rest of Delaware?  While I think it’s great you are recommending the entire state gets these funds as soon as possible, there is no crystal clear plan for that happening.  But there is certainly a plan for all of northern New Castle County.  In case you forgot, over half the students in the state exist outside this plan.  So what happens when Wilmington gets all this extra money, support and resources?  What happens to the almighty standardized test scores?  Will there be a curve for the rest of the state when Red Clay does better and then the rest of the Wilmington districts?  It will give those schools a disproportionate advantage over the rest of the state.  More funding means more teaching units in the classroom, whether it is more teachers or more paraprofessionals.  In case you haven’t checked, there are poor kids south of the Canal as well.  Kids with disabilities and many English Language Learners, especially in Sussex County.  I guess it’s okay to make them wait until FY2020 or never based on your plan.

But this goes beyond just funding, because all these organizations like the United Way of Delaware (not Wilmington) and other community service associations will be pouring support into Wilmington schools as well.  I’m not saying Wilmington doesn’t need all of this.  I’m saying ALL of Delaware does.  The problems in Wilmington schools are not necessarily unique to just Wilmington schools.  They are all over the state.  Wilmington doesn’t get to receive $22-26 million in additional funding on top of community organization support AND $3 million going to the University of Delaware over the next few years while the rest of the state watches AND pays for it.  It’s like going to a birthday party and watching someone open up all their presents.  But this birthday party will go on for three years.  And this party isn’t in Wilmington, it’s in the whole state of Delaware and we all have to pay the rent for the party while Wilmington gets all the presents.  Meanwhile, we won’t get any of those cool presents but we will be judged on the same level as if we got those presents.  And the result…

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Tony Allen, I met with you last March.  I told you then about my concerns with Delaware special education.  I told you about the funding issues, the charter issues, and the district issues.  I told you if special education isn’t a major part of this, I can’t support it.  To date, I’m not seeing it.  I don’t see it in the plans for the next few years.  I don’t see a committee that is just about special education and how to improve it.  Even though you told me this would happen.  When Tony?  Next year?  The year after?  Or never?  That really pissed me off Tony.  You gave me your word.  That word doesn’t mean anything now.  Sorry to call you out like this, but I don’t appreciate being told something and then it doesn’t happen.

But I do see WEIC will take all the propaganda and corporate education reform lingo and throw it into their plans to appease the State Board of Education and the Governor.  WEIC swallowed the bait.  All this birth to eight crap, and birth to college.  Who do we think we’re fooling?  Wait until the Social Impact Bonds start coming out.  When students futures are hedged for the investors.  That’s what all this is about: Student Capital.

If the goal of all of this is to turn schools in Wilmington into community centers, I can’t back this.  At all.  That’s where we’re going with all this.  I feel for the kids up there.  I truly do.  My heart bleeds when I read about the murders and violence in Wilmington.  But pouring all this money into education doesn’t even address the problem.  Get the social workers out there, get the police to effectively put an end to the drug and gang problems, and get the Attorney General to clean up Wilmington.  Where are the jobs for the unemployed up there?  Where is the drive to end homelessness?  You are ignoring these crucial issues that impact education.  But what you are really doing is placing the burden on the whole state for Wilmington’s problems!  Who pays for this?  Every single taxpayer in the state.  All of us.  If it comes from the state budget, it comes from every single one of us.  But you want us to pour all this extra money into Wilmington schools while the rest of the state sits stagnant and waits?  So high-stakes testing scores can go up?  Really?  What happens if those test scores remain the same or actually go down?  Do we call all of this a failure?  What happens when the Red Clay schools show the coveted “growth” in test scores because they got more money.  It makes the schools and districts who don’t get this funding look worse.  More labeling.  More shaming.  We will prop Red Clay and the other Wilmington schools up at the expense of the rest of the state.

All of you involved with this who don’t have the guts to address the true issues here need to wake the hell up!  The biggest problem is the illusion of failure!  You are allowing the DOE and Markell to dictate the terms of success for this without realizing those terms consign every student in Delaware to their money-making Ponzi education reform buddies on Wall Street!  And those buddies are going to start betting on the outcomes.  That’s all a Social Impact Bond is: a bet.  Between a governmental unit and a company.  It’s a gamble.  Our children, all the children of Wilmington, all the children of Delaware, are pawns.  WEIC is just making sure it happens sooner than expected.

chess

Last month, WEIC got played by the State Board of Education.  It was out there for everyone to see it, in real-time.  But now WEIC is kissing the State Board’s ass!  Completely ignoring the fact they broke the law is one thing, but now you are going to play kissy-face with them?  It’s disgusting.  It’s appalling.  But I guess that’s the Delaware Way, hard at work again.  This whole thing kicked off because of two things: priority schools and charter schools.  Let’s not forget that.  Based on two things: standardized test scores and discrimination.  We can sit here and pretend it’s all about sixty years of Brown vs. the Board of Education, but the reality is simple.  It’s about the damn scores.  It’s what we measure success and failure by.  What the hell is WEIC doing to address those things?  You recommended a moratorium on new charter schools but many of them are increasing and decreasing their enrollment all over the place up there.  And nobody is saying boo about it.  Those charters are taking full advantage of this cause they know they have the full support of the State Board, DOE, and Governor Markell.  Wasn’t that the biggest thing to come out of WEAC?  And now you’re going to put all these students into a district that can’t even get an inclusion plan right?  While you ignore the cherry-picking and discrimination by two (possibly three) of the biggest offenders in the state, let alone America?  You have now become part of the problem WEIC.  My issue with WEIC isn’t that I underestimate them, it’s that I don’t trust them.  And please, change the name of your website.  These aren’t solutions for Delaware schools, these are solutions for Wilmington schools.  You aren’t fooling anyone.

To read all the latest on the WEIC plans, read below:

 

Christina Priority Schools & The Weird Behavior Of The DOE & State Board

On Christmas Eve, Avi with Newsworks/WHYY published an article called “A year later, still no money for three Delaware ‘priority’ schools”.  I found this article to be fascinating and revealing.  Especially since it gave information that, apparently, the Christina Board of Education wasn’t even aware of.  One thing is for certain: the Delaware Department of Education is gunning for the Christina School District and they don’t care who knows anymore.

Last year, the DOE labeled six Wilmington schools as priority schools based on standardized test scores.  Three in Christina, and three in Red Clay.  Red Clay submitted their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), their plans for the schools, and received funds from the state for the initiative.  Christina fought it tooth and nail in many intense board meetings.  Finally, the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee released their recommendations for redistricting in Wilmington.  The Christina Board signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the DOE giving a one-year pause on their priority schools and granting them a second planning year.

The Christina priority schools seemed like a dead issue until October of this year.  At the Delaware Education State Support (DESS) meeting, a DSEA representative asked Penny Schwinn (Chief of Accountability at the DOE) what would happen to the three Christina priority schools if the redistricting effort fell through.  Schwinn responded that had been a recent topic of conversation at the DOE.  But as per several members of the Christina board of education, nobody from the DOE contacted them about the priority schools or even mentioned them until the State Board of Education meeting on December 17th.

Both Avi and I were present at this meeting and we both saw State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray’s very bizarre behavior.  Avi described it well in his article:

The issue surfaced publicly during last Thursday’s State Board of Education Meeting. In the middle of a presentation, board president Terri Quinn Gray grew so upset she rose from her chair and blurted, “I need to take a break.”  She meant it literally. Gray grimaced, clutched her stomach, and walked out of the board meeting.  The source of Gray’s discontent wasn’t charter schools or testing or redistricting in Wilmington. It was priority schools.

There were several contentious moments at this board meeting.  But for Dr. Gray it was something that should have been a throwaway line during a presentation from Penny Schwinn’s Accountability department.  The second Penny Schwinn mentioned Christina was on their 2nd planning year for their priority schools, Gray either was truly surprised or she was putting on a show for everyone to see and hear.

The State Board is presented with information for their meetings from Executive Director Donna Johnson.  Most of the time, the information can be seen by the public on the State Board website.  But sometimes, information isn’t seen until the day of the meeting.  I truly don’t know if this applies to the actual State Board members or not.  But based on attending one of their State Board retreats, I did see the information was available to them and not the public when it came to a presentation on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Now whether they actually read this information or not ahead of time, or any of the information presented to them, cannot be determined.

During a late September 2014 Christina board meeting, Dr. Gray and fellow State Board member Gregory Coverdale gave public comment and pleaded with Christina to sign their MOU.  The audience was filled with Christina board members, and Gray and Coverdale were booed and left when board member John Young was talking about how the DOE needs great leaders.  As revealed in a FOIA of DOE emails a year ago, Donna Johnson accused Christina Board member John Young of giving a speech that was most likely written by State Rep. John Kowalko or State Senator Bryan Townsend.  Both Gray and Johnson were hammering Christina at the State Board of Education.  And we can’t forget Donna Johnson’s very bizarre and strange accusation leveled at the Christina School District last summer.

Based on the last link, I filed a complaint with the Delaware Department of Justice’s office of Civil Rights & Public Trust against Johnson.  Over three and a half months later and I have not received an answer to that complaint.  No one has contacted me to clarify any of the information about it.  I did speak with Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn a week ago about the status of these complaints.  He explained to me that the new office in the DOJ is still in the planning stages and they are still sorting out what they can and cannot do based on state code.  He also said someone from that office would be contacting me in a few days.  That never happened.

In my perception, this is a very personal amount of contention against Christina between Gray and Johnson.  I do not think the State Board will approve the WEIC plan for the redistricting of Christina’s Wilmington Schools into Red Clay.  I think they are reintroducing the Christina priority schools conversation to put us back to the exact same moment we were at a year ago where the State wants to take those schools and convert them into charter schools.  The Delaware Met building is in the Christina School District.  There is room in the Community Education building for another school, which is also in the current Christina School District.

The true disconnect here seems to also be taking place within the Christina School District itself.  Acting Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski admitted to having conversation with the DOE about Christina priority schools earlier this month.

Andrzejewski, who started as acting superintendent on October 1, told NewsWorks/WHYY he didn’t know money was available for the three priority schools until early December. He said the district will submit sub-grant applications for each of the three school before the month ends.  “It kind of surprised all of us when we heard come December that there was money available,” Andrzejewski said.

But this is something the Christina Board had no idea even came up until the State Board meeting on 12/17.  And it doesn’t stop there, because Andrzejewski submitted an application for a grant without anyone on the Christina Board even knowing about it.

State and district officials say they’re working together and that both want the schools to receive money as soon as possible. As this article was being reported, a Christina spokesperson told NewsWorks/WHYY that grant applications for each of the three schools were sent to the Department of Education on December 23.

It sounds to me like Andrzejewski needs to get it together and actually speak with his board.  The board hired him so he is beholden to informing them before anything like this is submitted to the DOE.  Beyond that though, this shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation.  The DOE should have given those funds to Christina once they had them available.  Instead, they are pretending this is a big deal to give it a media push.  Behind the scenes, they are just biding their time and waiting for the pushback from Christina so they can take the schools.  And lest we forget, Schwinn herself said one of the consequences of Christina not agreeing to the DOE’s terms on the priority schools is making Christina a “high-risk district”.  Imagine if the DOE could somehow take the whole district lock, stock and barrel?

Christina Priority Schools: What Happens If Redistricting of Wilmington Schools Collapses?

Since last Winter, the fate of the three Christina School District Priority Schools has been in limbo.  While threats from the Delaware Department of Education and Governor Markell were thrown against the district if they did not comply with the Memorandum of Understanding, a last minute miracle seemed to rise in the form of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee.  Their suggestion of taking the Christina schools currently in Wilmington and transferring them to Red Clay put a freeze on the Christina Priority Schools.  They are still priority schools, but the plans are not really moving forward as they are in the Red Clay Consolidated School District.

On Tuesday, at the Delaware Education Support System Advisory Council (DESS), Kristin Dwyer with the Delaware School Education Association (DSEA) posed a question to the Chief Officer of Accountability and Assessment at the Delaware DOE.  To paraphrase: What happens if the redistricting effort doesn’t go through?  Penny Schwinn said this is a question on many folks mind at the Delaware DOE.  She said the schools are eligible to receive funding this year, but did not go into details about what the terms of that “eligibility” is.  She said she felt uncomfortable giving a firm answer to this without the blessing of Interim Secretary of Education, Dr. Steven Godowsky.  But she did say this will be a topic of conversation between the two in the next couple weeks.

Dwyer indicated that the unique situation with the Christina Priority Schools does not match with the proposed language in Regulation 103 to which Schwinn nodded in agreement.  While the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission continues to have meeting after meeting, time is rapidly running out for them to come up with a firm plan that will have adequate funding and resources for this initiative.  There is a lot of talk, and some good ideas, but nothing is set in place at this point.  If the redistricting effort falls apart, I can foresee a scenario where the DOE and Markell go back to their status quo before the WEAC recommendations and begin the bullying tactics again.  In my opinion, Christina thwarted the DOE and Markell at their intimidation efforts and made the DOE and Markell look very bad in the process.  The whole process created a fire in teachers, parents, and communities in Wilmington and they do not trust the DOE as a result.

Family Foundations Major Modification Approved By State Board of Education, Potential Conflict Ahead?

On Thursday, the Delaware State Board of Education approved the major modification Family Foundations Academy submitted on June 30th.  Following the Charter School Accountability Committee’s final meeting on August 7th, a public hearing occurred on August 10th.  On August 20th, the CSAC approved the major modification.

The modification was approved for FFA to move it’s elementary school from it’s present location at 1101 Delaware Street in New Castle to 170 Lukens Drive in New Castle.  The 170 Lukens Drive has been home to the recently closed Reach Academy for Girls as well as the Pencader Business School which was shut down by the state two and a half years ago.  In addition, they will move their middle school from their former location in Newport at 1 Fallon Avenue in Newport to the former FFA elementary school location.  In the 2016-2017 school year, FFA will move it’s middle school to 160 Lukens Drive, the  other building where Reach and Pencader used to be and will sell the 1101  Delaware St. building.  If they sell the building sooner, the middle school will move to 160 Lukens Drive shortly afterwards.

The goal of the modification is enrollment expansion.  Currently both schools have enrollment up to 800 students.  This would allow them to expand to 1100 students.  Where this gets somewhat sticky is House Bill 56, passed by the 148th General Assembly in April of this year, and signed by Governor Markell on May 5th.  While this law put a moratorium on any new charter schools until 2018, it does not specifically mention major modifications with existing charter schools.  If a charter school is expanding, it may go against the law because the law specifically states:

“There shall be a moratorium on all new charter schools opening until June 30, 2018 or until the State Board of Education develops a strategic plan for the number of charter, district, and vocational-technical schools in the State, whichever occurs first. The aforementioned strategic plan shall be based on a systematic evaluation of educational needs using national models and best practices that align with the public education system, such as the National Association of Charter School Authorizers guidelines.”

By expanding their enrollment, FFA is throwing off the dynamic of existing charter schools and traditional school districts enrollment figures during this crucial time of transition with the current redistricting effort in Wilmington.  If Red Clay Consolidated takes Christina’s City of Wilmington schools, those schools may suffer from a decreased enrollment based on the actions of FFA.  The current Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities initiative, suggested by Governor Jack Markell in March, is enacting the Strategic Plan called for in House Bill 56.  The Delaware Department of Education must submit this report to the Governor, and they are anticipating its completion in November.

It would not shock me to see more charters submitting major modification requests in an effort to increase their enrollment before all is said and done.  At Gateway Lab School, the new principal and interim head of schools is a former assistant principal from East Side Charter School, Rebecca Brookings.  When FFA was under formal review last winter, East Side essentially took over the school from its prior leadership team and board.  With one of their key employees overseeing Gateway, some have expressed concern about the East Side Board of Directors and Dr. Lamont Browne beginning a charter consortium in New Castle County.  East Side, Kuumba Academy, Prestige Academy and Thomas Edison are all part of what is known as the Delaware Charter Collaborative, a consortium of charters that have their own teacher evaluation method outside of the DPAS-II used by every other school in Delaware.  How long until FFA and Gateway become a part of this consortium?  And what does it all mean for WEAC’s recommendation of a group to help manage the Wilmington charters?  The mysteries continue….

Updated, 10:03pm, 8/22/15: This article has been corrected to clarify Family Foundations Academy is NOT selling their 1 Fallon Ave. location because they do not own it. This is owned by St. Matthew’s Church.  But they will be selling the 1101 Delaware St. location.  Sorry for any confusion folks!

Avi Wolfman Arent’s Fantastic Education Articles Two Days In A Row! Charters & Graduation Rates!

I have been a fan of report Avi Wolfman-Arent since he appeared on the education reporting scene last fall.  He writes for WHYY/Newsworks, and he has conducted investigative pieces on charter schools, the DOE, opt-out and has also conducted interviews with Mark Murphy and others in the education landscape of Delaware.

Yesterday, Avi wrote a very well-researched article on Delaware’s climbing graduation rate in an article called Progress or Illusion: Examing Delaware’s Drop-Out Rate.  Last February, the Delaware Department of Education and Governor Markell were praising the rise in Delaware’s graduation rate, but Avi discovered the increase wasn’t what it appeared to be.  He found out it had more to do with better reporting of numbers by school districts than a mark of progress on the state’s part.  And the timing issue was crucial on the DOE’s part the day of the announcement, considering their appearance before the Joint Finance Committee on the FY16 budget, their meeting with the House Education Committee on Race To The Top funding, and Arne Duncan’s visit to Delaware the next day.  As well, they were beginning to feel the mounting threat from the opt-out movement.

Today, he wrote about the rapid proliferation of charter schools in Wilmington in the excellent Wilmington, The City With Too Many Charter Schools.  Avi got both sides and perspectives in this story, with the side of too many charters being pushed by Dan Rich, a member of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, and the other side by Mike Petrilli, the President of the Thomas Fordham Institute, a “conservative-leaning education think tank” as he described them.  In my research on Rodel, I found the Thomas Fordham Institute is one of the leading corporate education reform advisory groups and has influenced Delaware education reform considerably over the years, especially through Rodel’s Paul Herdman.  I take anything Petrilli says with a grain of salt because he is paid a considerable amount of money, like Herdman, to perpetuate the idea of more and more charter schools.

Avi continues to be a welcome addition to education reporting in Delaware, and I highly recommend checking his articles out and putting Newsworks in your favorites!  Blogs are very different from mainstream journalism, and we don’t always get both sides of the issues, but Wolfman-Arent does this in great detail with great transitions in his articles.

Governor Markell Showing Clip From Warner Priority Schools Announcement In Extremely Bad Taste

In Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s weekly message to the citizens of Delaware for July 4th, he showed a series of video clips to highlight his bragging about how great education is in Delaware.  Included was a clip from the 9/4/14 priority schools announcement at Warner Elementary School in Wilmington.  I find this to be pretty disgusting and vile considering what that announcement meant to so many educators, students, parents, legislators, leaders in Wilmington, and the citizens of Delaware.  I wouldn’t consider that a proud moment Governor Markell.

To the above people, this was a shocking announcement, and this began the end of your reign as the supreme education watchdog in this state.  You showed the people of Delaware, that no matter who questioned your wisdom on this decision, you were going to be a bully about it. Until that moment you couldn’t anymore.  That day in January you and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy received two letters.  The first was the letter from the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee asking you to hold off on any decision for the priority schools in the Christina School District.  The second was the letter and petition from Parents & Teachers for Public Education.  The one with well over 600 signatures protesting the priority schools initiative.

Everything changed after that.  The legislators started hammering out bills that would limit the power of the DOE.  Parents started opting their kids out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment in force.  Charter schools lost their veil of secrecy as first Family Foundations Academy and then Academy of Dover had their dirty secrets brought to light.  Your appointed Secretary got multiple votes of no confidence and you actually kept him, weakening you from many citizen’s viewpoint.  Since then, a lot of your plans haven’t gone the way you wanted them to.

But one did, and we both know what that is.  The way those bills flew through the General Assembly you would think it was for the welfare and security of the state.  It will be very interesting to see how this all comes out in the end.  I have a very good idea, and I know you know that.  I foresee some radical power player changes in the next year and a half.  Yes Senator Sokola and Representative Jaques, I’m talking about you.  I will be keeping a very close eye on any who have engineered this redistricting of Wilmington and how they land when all is said and done.

What is even more puzzling is your choice of a weekly address.  Delaware balanced the budget, but not without a lot of consequences.  Instead of going into detail about that, you babbled on and on about education.  Like we haven’t heard it all a million times.  What I took extreme offense with was your statement about children with disabilities.  I think it’s great that you want to make sure they get jobs when they are adults, but I never hear you talk about special education in the schools.  I imagine your advisors would have a cow if you praised it because pretty much everyone in the state knows how bad it is for most special needs students.  There is so much more to these children’s lives than savings accounts and transition into the adult world.  They need that solid foundation.  Something your standards and assessments and rigor have prevented from happening.  I fear for these children every day.  I fear for their general well-being and their future.  It is YOU who allowed this to happen.

I would think you would have talked about the economy, and legislation that will make it better.  Wait, there wasn’t much of that during this legislative session.  Instead we saw deals and compromises made behind closed doors with no public transparency.  So much for letting the sun shine!

My best guess, and I have nothing to base this on, would be that you needed to get another pumped up message about Delaware’s education out there before you need to make a big decision this week.  Yes, House Bill 50.  Your decision is eagerly awaited by the parents and advocates who fought tooth and nail to get it passed by a majority in the House and Senate with lots of issues along the way.  We find out this week if you will honor us.  If you will let the voice of the constituents mean more to you than your glorified standardized assessment, the Smarter Balanced.  As I told you in my email to you, this is the KEY legislation of your tenure as Governor of Delaware.  This is the one you will be remembered by.  House Bill 50 is your legacy.  You may not even realize this yet, but it will determine how the people of Delaware remember you.  While other state governments are wisely questioning the usefulness of education reform that includes high-stakes assessments, you are actually going around saying “Smarter Balanced is the best test we ever made.”  Somewhere along the way I think you forgot the definition of “we”.  When you are a Governor, “we” is the people you serve, who voted you into power.  Not the corporate interests that have you in their back pocket.

Markell & News Journal Education Article: My Spin On This & The Two Words Not Mentioned By Anyone

The Delaware News Journal had an article about Governor Markell and education as a front-pager today.  Some of the comments certain folks made were very shocking while others had the usual drivel coming from their education reform views.  What nobody talked about was special education in Delaware.  While the DOE reports about 13% of students having IEPs in Delaware, I’m going to say as many as 20% should have an IEP.  So with 1/5th of Delaware students not even being mentioned in an article on Delaware education is insulting.  Even though my estimate of an IEP population of 20% is high, I would definitely say it affects over 50% of education in Delaware.  Read on as I go through this article part by part with some cold hard reality.

After years of pushing education reforms in Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell is facing a revolt in the General Assembly.

You are also facing a revolt from parents and teachers.  We are sick of all of this.  Especially parents of special needs children.  While you think you are helping, you are making it worse for our children.

Lawmakers, including many from his own party, have little faith Markell’s Department of Education knows what everyday educators think is the best way to improve schools. They are skeptical the $119 million federal Race to the Top grant, one of Markell’s signature education achievements, has done any lasting good.

Markell’s signature education achievement was using $59 million to beef up the DOE with high-paid employees and contract after contract with little or no results.  And it keeps going on.  In the month of May, the DOE has put up seven proposals for “professional services” because they don’t know how to do the work themselves.

Legislators are sending a clear message that they need to more actively make policy on behalf of classroom teachers and district leaders, rather than approving a top-down state agenda led by Markell and his education secretary, Mark Murphy.

But there are still some very tricky legislators who still bow to the Emperor.  Unfortunately, they run the education committees for the House and the Senate.  How long until their house of cards crumbles?

“It’s not just the representatives and the senators who are having problems with the way things are going, it’s parents, it’s teachers, it’s people on the local level,” said Rep. Kim Williams, D-Newark. “There are loud voices out there saying, ‘We’re done. We’re tired of being told how to teach and how to run our schools.’ “

Amen Kim!  No one should be afraid to stare Markell dead in the eye and say “You are wrong!”  It is also parents who have less to fear about speaking up.  Those of us who are screaming at the DOE and Markell are not easily intimidated or fooled.

Markell acknowledges he and Murphy are taking heat for some of their proposals.

Now this is the understatement of the year…  You and Murph are taking heat, but it isn’t for some of your proposals.  It’s for about 90% of them.  And the only reason we aren’t tackling the other 10% is because we haven’t found the catch in those yet.

He contends the education system is improving, pointing to a steadily declining dropout rate, a growing number of students taking and passing Advanced Placement and college-level classes, more low-income students in highly-rated preschool programs and more students applying to college.

I’ll give you a sort-of pass on this.  I question the validity of some of these numbers.  What I can say is homeschooling in Delaware has never been higher.  These are mostly special needs children.  What does that say about special education in Delaware when parents reach such a high level of anxiety and don’t feel the public school system in Delaware can provide a Free Appropriate Public Education for their children?  This will go down as your greatest failure.  While you are trying to “improve” the lives of these children, they have been drop-kicked out of the rights they are legally entitled to.  We have so many denied IEPs, schools openly violating IDEA law, and “counseling out” going on in charters, and no one on your staff is addressing these issues.

“It’s no surprise to me that there’s some controversy and angst over some of the things we’ve done,” Markell said. “But the results speak for themselves. And I’m more concerned about results than I am about what people think about me.”

No matter who pays the price, right?  And I don’t buy for one iota of a second that you don’t care what people think of you.  You and I both know this to be true.  Don’t try to play the “I’m going to take the high road on my actions now” card cause you aren’t fooling anyone.  Everything you have done with education in Delaware has been to serve YOUR future and those of your corporate education reform buddies.

A bill strongly opposed by Markell that would let parents pull their kids out of standardized tests sailed almost unanimously through the State House of Representatives, and several other bills aimed squarely at reducing the authority of the Department of Education are in the works. Budget-writing lawmakers slashed in half a request to continue Race to the Top initiatives and balked at a request to pick up the tab for 10 department positions paid for in the grant.

I am appreciative of what these legislators did, but the DOE doesn’t need a budget increase, they need an audit and an accountability of every single penny they have spent.  Those who have squandered taxpayers funds need to be sent packing.

“I think there’s frustration among parents and educators and students that education policies don’t seem to be based on feedback coming from the classroom,” said Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark. “I think also though that now is a natural time for us to take a step back and re-assess what we’re doing. Race to the Top has naturally come to an end, and I think we’re at a point where the question is, what’s next?”

Massive improvement Senator Townsend!  We need to take an excruciatingly hard look at special education in Delaware.  We need to find out why a student was kicked at a charter school by a special education teacher.  We need to find out why, as of a year ago, there were 60-70 pending special education lawsuits and only a handful of due process hearings.  We need to know why the DOE wants to write Common Core into IEPs without having the ability to fix the IEPs that are already out there.  We need to find a way for parents, teachers, and school districts to effectively collaborate with special education and stop the battleground mentality.  Why are these children and their parents being put through the wringer while the DOE and school districts think they know best?  This philosophy is a dying breed, but no one is listening.

The challenge, Townsend argues, is moving in a new direction without abandoning some of the good things that have happened in schools.  “It’s about our educators who are very justifiably tired of yet another iteration of education reform, but it’s also the business community that sees a lot of progress and wants to see some accountability,” Townsend said. “It’s parents who are trying to be involved in the process. I’m worried that, whatever the next steps are, that people are going to view them as just another round.”

Then my suggestion would be to invite more of them to the table.  The biggest problem with Markell’s policies is they are approved with little or no oversight, and then parents and teachers are invited to rate them with pre-determined results.  As well, the amount of lobbying by companies like Rodel and the Delaware Charter School Network needs to stop.  And yes, I will throw this in there as well, DSEA as well.  Here is a novel idea: parent lobbyists.  They are the most important.  We also do that little thing called VOTING!!!!

There is no better symbol of lawmakers’ willingness to buck Markell’s will than House Bill 50, which would explicitly allow parents to “opt out” of the statewide standardized test.  Markell says that’s a bad idea because the state needs good test-score data to make smart policy, especially when it comes to closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students.

If the state needs “good test-score data” then what the hell are we doing with the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  And enough about the achievement gap.  The only gap I want to see closed is the one between your upper and lower lip when it comes to education.  The only “smart” policy going on right now is parents exercising their rights when it comes to the educational outcomes of their children.

But when the House took up the opt-out bill, sponsored by firebrand Markell critic Rep. John Kowalko, only three representatives out of 41 voted against it.  That’s a massive margin in a Democrat-controlled chamber for a bill that a Democratic governor has so strenuously protested.  “I was frankly stunned by the margin,” Kowalko said. “That hasn’t happened before.”  Kowalko, who has fiercely criticized Markell in previous years, believes there is a “new awakening” where lawmakers are starting to look more critically at what the executive branch proposes.  Lawmakers say they voted for the bill because they routinely hear from teachers and parents that Delaware tests students too much and stakes too much on the results.

It was also about hundreds of parents actually opting out and emailing the legislators.  It was a wake-up call for the legislators that said “we vote for you and the power we give you we can easily take away.”  This is something folks like Earl Jaques, Michael Barbieri, Timothy Dukes and David Sokola don’t understand.  I don’t buy the whole idea that lawmakers voted yes on HB50 cause they heard from parents their children were being tested too much.  That was the same rationale they used to pass House Bill 334, which allowed Smarter Balanced to officially infest our lives.  I think it was them actually listening to parents and realizing Smarter Balanced is a horrible test.

The Delaware Parent-Teacher Association and the Delaware State Education Association union both urged lawmakers to vote yes.

I would definitely say the Delaware PTA urged lawmakers to vote yes.  They came through hitting grand slams left and right.  DSEA…maybe a bunt here and there.  I see the DSEA’s contribution as being a bit sheepish.  They kind of sort of supported it, but they could have done a lot more.  Look at the New Jersey unions.  They put up billboards and videos all over the place.  That is the kind of support I would have liked to see from the DSEA.  Instead we got the “time to teach, time to learn” videos without once even mentioning parent opt-out.  If that’s the full pressure DSEA can use to support a bill as important as House Bill 50, it’s obvious new leadership is needed.

Markell has acknowledged the concerns over testing, and the Department of Education is reviewing tests to see if any extraneous ones can be eliminated. But Markell says he isn’t backing away from the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the state test that teachers complain is overused in judging students, teachers and schools.

Albright and Starkey, you keep talking about the teachers.  What about the parents?  That’s what House Bill 50 is about.  You are both making the SAME mistake Markell and the DOE keep making: underestimating the will and resolve of parents to protect their kids.

Markell has not said whether he will sign the opt-out legislation if it clears the Senate and reaches his desk. If not, it would not be the first time Markell has wielded his veto pen.  But the governor, working throughout his term with a Democrat-controlled General Assembly, has not found himself in that position much.  Markell has vetoed just 13 pieces of legislation since 2009. And he has never vetoed a bill related to education.

I heard the WDEL interview with Rick Jensen, and when Markell was asked if he would veto House Bill 50 if it came to his desk, there was a distinct “yeah”.  It might have been edited out, but it was there.  I heard it, and so did others.  I hope he realizes if he does veto it, parents will haunt him as long as he holds any semblance of power in Delaware.

The other major education legislation this year would redistrict Wilmington schools and create a weighted funding formula to students. The Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, led by Bank of America Executive Tony Allen, has led the charge for those changes.  Though Markell created the Committee, it has operated independently of the governor and the Department of Education.

Nothing operates independently of Markell and the DOE.  And throw in Rodel there for good measure.  I’ve met Tony Allen, and he’s a great guy.  But I have to wonder what the grand picture is here.  The timing on this was a little too perfect…

Markell supports those bills. But he said his primary focus right now is making sure some of the programs he thinks are most important and have already passed the legislature — higher academic standards and more access to good preschool, for example — grow and are implemented well.  “I don’t have any big new bills that I’ve spent a lot of time on, for sure,” he said. “We’ve started a lot of big things. So a lot of it is not necessarily legislative in nature at this point.”

Except holding the DOE accountable for their actions during your reign.  I can see why you wouldn’t be a big supporter of those bills.  You will sign anything that gets your agenda going, but if it doesn’t you make a few phone calls and get bills stalled or killed.

Legislators are taking steps to shrink the size and power of the Department of Education, which many school district educators believe has grown too powerful under Race to the Top and Markell’s tenure.  There were signs this would be a tough legislative session for the Department well before HB 50.  Near the start, lawmakers grilled Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and senior Department of Education staffers for hours, both in the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee and the House Education Committee.  “You may have a view of the wonderful things Race to the Top has done, but the public does not appear to share that view,” said Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley.  During legislative budget meetings last week, lawmakers expressed concerns with Markell’s education policy, and voted to cut by half the governor’s $7.5 million plan to fund high-paid positions in the Department and programs previously covered by the Race to the Top.  “I can’t support this spending, this continually throwing money at something that’s not working,” said Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel. “It’s just a poor investment. I don’t think anyone in this room, at this table, would put money into it out of their own pocket. I’m very disappointed in what I’m seeing from the top.”  Members of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee took extra steps to show they had little confidence in Markell’s education bureaucracy to use the money as intended.  They moved most of the remaining appropriations, more than $3 million, into budget lines that directly fund school district operations, not the Department of Education. And they approved epilogue language that prevents the Department of Education from using any of the money to add or retain positions in the department.  “We want to make sure the money that we did fund goes to the purposes that we’ve specified,” said Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Bellefonte, a budget committee member. “I just think that the epilogue language clarifies and makes it perfectly clear where that money is going to go.”

Why does it take the amount of money being spent before some legislators wake up after falling asleep at the wheel after years of rampant spending by this Department?  It’s good they are doing it, but next time we get some program like Race To The Top, please do this before millions upon millions of dollars are spent with little or no results for the students.

In addition to shrinking the size of the department, some lawmakers think the state exerts too much influence over schools that should be locally run.  Williams, for example, has filed a bill that would give local administrators and school boards sole authority over hiring and firing.  That’s a direct response, she says, to the state’s controversial Priority Schools plan to improve six inner-city Wilmington schools. State leaders said the plan would funnel much-needed money and talent into schools with sagging test scores, but they soon drew outrage from those schools’ parents and teachers.

What the Delaware DOE should be doing is holding school districts and charter schools more accountable for special education results.  Solely going by the 17 indicators for US DOE compliance and sending letters to schools saying “fix this” is not effective.  I am not against a DOE in and of itself, but they should only be monitoring activities that are outright illegal or not truly for the benefit of students.  Just think what this Department could actually accomplish with special education if they actually did what is necessary?

The Department of Education, which said elite educators could turn around those schools’ sagging test scores, clashed with the Red Clay and Christina School districts, which bristled at the notion that state leaders should have any say in who runs their schools.  Williams and other lawmakers say the fight over Priority Schools, more than any other debate over education, energized opposition among teachers and parents.

What the priority schools initiative did was open the eyes of the general public to what the DOE is willing to do in accomplishing their goals at any cost.  It was very stupid of them to attempt this at the time they did.  That’s what cockiness and arrogance will do every time: bite you in the ass.

Some lawmakers have taken aim at Secretary Murphy in particular.  “We don’t see him day-in, day-out in Legislative Hall, having conversations with us,” Williams said. “I think, unfortunately, people have lost faith in the Department and Secretary Murphy. They’re not willing to just go along with them anymore.”  Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, has filed a bill that would require the Secretary of Education to have at least 10 years’ experience in schools, at least of six of them as a classroom teacher.  That bill aims to address criticism of Murphy, who was a classroom teacher for only three years before climbing the ranks of administration and education nonprofits.  The Delaware State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, voted no confidence in Murphy earlier this year, the first time the organization has taken such a step.

I think Townsend’s bill obviously sends a message, but it could also cause someone with Murphy’s ideology but more experience to insert themselves into the DOE.  It would be a very frightening thing what a more knowledgeable and assertive Secretary of Education would be like in this education reform world.  A vote of no confidence is only as good as the ability to follow-up on it, which I have not heard from DSEA.

Murphy, in a statement issued through a spokesperson, cited the same educational achievements as Markell.  “There’s no question that this work has not been easy and we have asked a lot of everyone involved in our education system,” the statement said. “We understand that not everyone agrees with everything we have done and that many pieces of legislation proposed have been in direct response to certain initiatives that have been controversial. That said, the progress our students are making shows that an enormous amount of positive work is happening. We are committed to continuing to make that progress.”

Please Murphy, just be quiet.  We are ALL sick of hearing the same boring things coming out of your mouth.  You have more corporate education reform Kool-Aid around it, and I don’t think you even realize what an idiot you sound like anymore.

Markell said people are rushing to judge the Department because of a few controversial proposals. The Department doesn’t get enough credit, he argues, for coordinating things like the state’s College Application Month, where kids signed up for college during the school day, or Pathways to Prosperity, where students get real-world experience that sets them up for careers.  “Most of what the Department does is not controversial,” Markell said. “And even our biggest detractors have recognized that [Priority Schools] has brought some much needed attention to these schools, even if it got a lot of people really riled up.”

And who has benefited the most from these initiatives Jack?  That’s something on my to-do list.

Markell has his defenders, including Rep. Melanie George Smith, the budget committee’s co-chair who came to the governor’s defense amid criticism last week.  “What we have in front of us is our governor….who has spent an awful lot of his administration really focused on what we can do better to help teachers, what we can do better to help students,” Smith said during public budget negotiations.

Wow! I would say he has spent far too much time during his administration interfering and causing disruptions in education.  The fact you want to defend this man while our education is damaged is very telling….

Some political observers say backlash is almost a given.  “When you try to make drastic change, you’re going to hit nerves, on both sides,” said Rhett Ruggerio, a longtime Democratic operative and Dover lobbyist who represents charter schools. Everybody is well intentioned. The problem is they have strong philosophical differences.”  Ruggerio said much of the disagreement appears to have stemmed from Race to the Top, and questions over whether the program’s experiments have helped Delaware’s public schools.  Ruggerio defended Murphy, saying he “has been pretty aggressive, I think for the right reasons. He wants to make change,” Ruggerio said. “It’s very difficult to do that unless you’re willing to take a risk.”

Who let the Delaware Charter School Network in on this article?  Out of all the folks not hired by the state, you use DCSN as your “impartial” third party observer?  When any legislation is opposed by Markell and the Kool-Aid gang, these non-profits like Rodel and DCSN send in their overpaid lobbyists to whisper sweet nothings in the legislators ears.  Ruggerio and his boss Kendall have obviously benefited from the reform agendas Markell thrust upon Delaware.  This is where you lose a tremendous amount of credibility News Journal.  How many everyday parents did you contact for this article?  By my estimation, that would be a grand total of zero.  I guess parents aren’t part of the process…

The growing backlash against “education reform” in Delaware mirrors a national trend that has seen the rise of groups like the “Badass Teachers’ Association,” a loose coalition of fed-up educators. In places like New York, the outcry has gotten so loud that some school districts have seen more than half of parents opt their kids out of standardized tests.

A loose coalition with well over 50,000 members.  Wake up Albright and Starkey.  Just like that “small but vocal minority” of parents who want to opt-out.  I love the way you try to reduce these groups that have tremendous impact while pumping up groups like DCSN.  No bias here…

Delaware lawmakers “are focused on making sure all Delaware public school students have a real chance to achieve success,” said Frederika Jenner, president of the Delaware State Education Association, the teachers union.  With the expiration of Race to the Top funding, “now is the time for the General Assembly to weigh in on what they believe has worked and what hasn’t worked,” Jenner said.  If the momentum really is shifting in Delaware education policy, many people, like Sen. Townsend, hope that doesn’t mean everything built in the past few years crumbles.  “I think a key point is that there have been successes and there have been some not-so-successes,” Townsend said. “We understand there’s a need for course-correction. But let’s not pretend that everything hasn’t gone well.”  Townsend said, for example, that the state’s move to the Common Core State Standards will be a good thing, even though some schools have faced hiccups in implementing it. Common Core is a set of new, higher academic expectations for students.

So Senator Bryan Townsend is a supporter of Common Core but is against many of the evils that crawled through the back door in Delaware education when the DSEA, Delaware PTA and all the school districts and charters signed up for Race To The Top?  After coercion and political wrangling by the DOE and Markell?  This is part of the whole education reform movement.  People want to remove bits and pieces, but as long as the foundation is there, it remains.  I define this movement as Common Core, high-stakes standardized assessments, labeling and punishing schools over test scores while increasing the number of charter schools, the illusion of increasing supports for special needs students while teachers and administrators fight parents over the most basic of supports, hundreds of reform “non-profits” and “for-profits” invading every aspect of education and making billions of dollars that should be going to our schools, and the eventual destruction of public education and the teacher unions.  Senator Townsend, you can’t cherry-pick what stays and goes.  And let your legislator and DSEA friends know this too.  It’s all for one, and one for all.  I would be very wary about trying to fill the power vacuum when all of this crumbles without getting everything cleaned out of the wound.  I would be even more wary about your support for Common Core if you hope to get elected again.

Markell frequently says adopting and defending those standards in Delaware in the face of growing national criticism is one of his highest school priorities. In other states, lawmakers have eliminated or drastically modified Common Core, but, though some teachers have criticized the standards’ implementation here, no serious repeal effort has gained steam in the General Assembly. 

See my previous paragraph.  What Jack is saying here is even though he is being challenged on many fronts, he is working behind-the-scenes to make sure the foundation is still there long after he is gone.  Don’t worry Jack, Common Core and it’s elimination is coming sooner than you think.  This isn’t a forgotten issue.

Some of the inroads Markell’s administration has made with getting the business community involved in education, connecting students with jobs, internships and real-life learning experiences, should be made more common, Townsend said.

Markell has made it a priority to get the business community to take over education in our state, whether it was homegrown in Delaware or out-of-state.  And all of these lower-paying jobs and internships save these companies millions of dollars in salaries they would otherwise be paying.  Some of it is good, but the motivation behind it is not for the benefit of students.  It was, is, and always will be about money with Markell.

Though Townsend agrees with many teachers that the state’s way of judging teachers needs a great deal of work, he says Delaware is ahead of other states in some ways.  “I think this concept of trying to have accountability is important,” he said. “We need to improve it, definitely, but let’s not just get rid of this idea entirely.” 

This is the big elephant in the room.  If we don’t judge teachers by standardized tests, what do we judge them on?  Should teachers be blamed for events outside of the classroom in students regular lives?  Absolutely not.  But if their actions contribute to those actions, than I would say yes.  As an example, say a student with disabilities doesn’t have her IEP followed.  As a result, she doesn’t perform to the best of her ability because those supports aren’t being enforced.  As she becomes more frustrated, she starts acting out at school.  This becomes a part of her very fabric and it spills over into the “outside” world.  So while she was having problems in school, it is now everywhere.  Should teachers and schools be held accountable for things like this?  I think every single parent of a special needs child who has faced these kinds of issues would say yes.  It is essential that teachers and schools know special education and IDEA law like the back of their hand.

With Markell approaching the end of his second term, many lawmakers say the next governor will play a big role in steering the state’s educational future.  “I think one of the things our next governor is going to be elected on is education,” Williams said. “I know that’s going to be the biggest factor for me.”

Some would say Jack Markell was elected because of his talk about education before he was elected. I would personally like to see a gutting of the Delaware DOE, build it up from the bottom all the way to the top with employees who care more about education than what we have seen in this “corporate education reform” world.  I would also like to see less talk from a state Governor about education and more about creating more jobs in our state and reallocating funds so the citizens of the state don’t suffer needlessly.  Whoever the new Secretary of Education may be, it would be my hope he/she is the spokesperson for education in our state, and has the skills, knowledge and compassion to truly fix education in our state, not make it worse.

House Bill 148 Creates Wilmington Education Improvement Commission

That certainly didn’t take long.  Tony Allen, the Chair of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, hand delivered a letter to both the Delaware House of Representatives and Senate to create a Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.  The very next day, yesterday, State Rep. Helene Keeley sponsored House Bill 148, which would create this entity.

This is a very interesting bill.  It would allow a group not associated with the State government to implement changes through legislation.  I am very reluctant to any legislation that gives any type of authority to the unelected State Board of Education, especially for a redistricting plan.  I completely agree that many Wilmington schools desperately need help, along with many other Delaware schools.  But having a Wilmington-based group like this advising strategy for the rest of the state is a slippery slope.  I am intensely curious how this will all come out in the wash, over the long-term.  I agree with Tony Allen, the time to act is now, but it should not be designed to give short-term fixes to long-term problems.

I’m going to go on record here and say that 50% of the problems in Wilmington can be traced back to special education.  If this group does not tackle this issue, it will be destined for failure.  I don’t know who would be on this group, but it would have to be many people with a true understanding of children with disabilities.

This bill’s next destination will be the House Education Committee, which will not meet again until June 3rd after the General Assembly has a two week recess.  No agenda for that meeting has come out yet.

Governor Markell Wants A Conversation But Parents MUST Be An Equal Party

From the Delaware.gov website, my thoughts on the bottom.

Governor Initiates Statewide Plan for Future Education Offerings

Date Posted: Thursday, March 19th, 2015
Categories:  News Office of Governor Markell

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Announces review of public schools and programs to address unmet student needs

Dover, DE – Governor Markell today announced a needs assessment and strategic planning process for the future of Delaware public schools, including charter, vocational-technical, and magnet schools. The State will review current opportunities available to students, analyze trends, and quantify areas of unmet needs for Delaware families.

“Many amazing schools and programs across the state are offering students diverse and innovative opportunities to meet their individual needs,” said Markell. “However, not all of our students have access to the programs of their choice. Many schools are oversubscribed and should be expanded or replicated. At the same time, we don’t want our districts to start new programs, and we don’t want to open new charter and magnet schools, if families aren’t asking for what they offer.

“This effort will ensure that state and district plans are designed to best meet individual students’ needs and spark their interests.”

Launching the effort during a meeting of the State Board of Education, the Governor specifically referenced the tremendous progress made at Vo Tech schools in each county, noting that they don’t have the capacity to serve all of the students who select them in the school choice process.

Other trends include four new middle and high schools that will open in the City of Wilmington this fall, reflecting the desire for new options in the city. In addition, programs focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills that are needed for jobs in growing industries, like those offered at Conrad Schools of Science, as well as the college prep courses at Mount Pleasant High School, have garnered increased interest. However, no process has existed to systematically ensure that more students can gain from the experiences they want at traditional, magnet, and charter schools.

The strategic plan developed through the Governor’s Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities for Delaware Students will quantify programs where demand exceeds the state’s capacity and analyze demographic trends to project future needs. That will help the state, school districts, and charter school operators know where and how to invest, from which dual-enrollment programs are most valuable and popular to the types of curriculum from which more students would benefit.

“For the past two years, the State Board of Education has referenced the need for the state to develop a comprehensive analysis of our portfolio of public schools, a thorough needs assessment to identify strengths, weaknesses, saturations, as well as opportunities for success and innovation,” said Teri Quinn Grey, President of the State Board of Education President. “We believe that such an analysis would aid the state in the development of this strategic plan, as well as be a useful tool for local boards and school leaders in deciding school programming decisions, facility decisions, and other educational opportunities. It also will be a tool to be utilized by policy leaders, community members, and businesses to evaluate opportunities for further investment and expansion in Delaware.”

The review announced today was inspired by a proposal by the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC) – a group formed by the Governor last year that has urged the state to be smarter and more strategic about the growth of educational opportunities, particularly for charter schools in Wilmington. Markell said he agreed with the Committee’s recommendation, but also believes we can’t limit this effort to one city or county, or to charter schools alone.

“It can benefit our education system statewide,” said Markell. “All schools are part of the solution.”

WEAC Chair Tony Allen voiced support for expanding on the group’s recommendation.

“There is no question that charter schools will remain a critical part of public education in Delaware and that many students throughout the state will be served by them, and in many cases served well,” said Allen. “However, we cannot continue to operate two systems with little interaction and coordination and expect the quality benefits that all of our children deserve. It is our hope that a plan for charter schools extends itself to public education in Delaware broadly and forces stronger collaboration across the traditional district, charter and vo-tech boundaries.”

Representative Charles Potter Jr. (D-Wilmington North), who the Governor recognized at the event for his advocacy in establishing WEAC as an opportunity for members of the community to have a stronger voice on issues involving education of Wilmington children, voiced his support of the plan as well.

“I’m in support of the governor’s efforts to undertake this statewide strategic plan,” said Rep. Potter. “I feel strongly that we have to take a comprehensive look at what is happening in Wilmington and address those issues as well.”

It sounds like someone is realizing education is a mess in this state.  I think the people are the ones who need to control this conversation though.  For every person in this group, you need to have an EQUAL and state-wide amount of parents.  And not parents who are in this group or that group.  I’ve been to meetings like that.  We need down to earth, grassroots parents.  It is very easy to pick out the good and capitalize on that, but if you aren’t looking at the bad, the rot will still be there.

Nobody knows children like a child’s parent.  I defy you to find anyone that knows more than a parent that loves their child.  I think we are willing to hear a conversation, but we want to be an EQUAL part of it.  Otherwise, this just isn’t going to work Governor Markell.

 

Lavelle & Sokola Face Off While Markell Explodes

Word around the town is Delaware Senators Greg Lavelle and David Sokola exchanged words at that New Castle school district meeting yesterday.  It’s beginning to look like the WEAC recommendations have ruffled a lot of feathers lately.  And the power struggles begin anew in the 148th General Assembly.  My little birds are also telling me about another power grab occurring in our state between two sides.  One team is feeding right into the hands of the other team who are just sitting back and watching it happen.

Meanwhile, our Common Core Smarter Balanced loving Governor was very angry about the RCEA and CEA press conference on Thursday night.  Education has been his baby and someone snatched that baby. Even though he stole the baby from its original owners, he didn’t like the snatch back.  This is after an already bad week for Jack when he was forced to use the words “opt out”.  As well, he had to hear all the talk about his latest whipping boy and his very stupid comments about parents and students.

We have a lame-duck trying to quack, but nobody is liking the noise.  The cracks in the foundation are getting bigger and bigger, and it is all about to crumble.  Just go to Delawareonline’s Facebook page and look at the recent comments concerning education.  Aside from the Delaware DOE employee and a couple other strays (like one person who was in charge of a human capital project), most of the commenters are well aware of what is going on.

Newcastle County School Boards Meeting Gets Very Heated Over WEAC Recommendations

This morning, the New Castle County school districts had a meeting, and some districts were not too happy about not being included on the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC).  They are also very upset they were not consulted prior to the recommendations put forth by WEAC.

From Delaware State Representative Paul Baumbach’s Facebook post:

At this meeting, of the New Castle County school districts, in addition to an overview by House Education Chair Earl Jaques and Senate Education Chair David Sokola, there was a heated series of statements and questions regarding the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee’s work. Frankly, some of the questions (why wasn’t my school board included in the Governor’s task force) simply point to the structural challenges facing public schools in Wilmington–the city is divided amongst FOUR traditional school district, one VoTech district, and slews of individual public charter schools. The frustration vented at this meeting merely confirms the need to act on the Committee’s recommendations.

And from State Rep. Kim Williams Facebook page:

Several legislators attended this morning’s New Castle County Combined Boards of Education meeting. Local school board members, administrators and lawmakers discussed topics such as priority schools, standardized testing and the work of the Wilmington Education Advisory Group.

And from State Rep. Edward Osienski’s Facebook page:

There was a lot of strong discussion this morning at the New Castle County Combined Boards of Education meeting. School board members, administrators and legislators talked about issues affecting education like priority schools, redistricting and standardized testing. These types of conversations are going to be ongoing all session with many different groups.

I would have to guess the upset districts were Christina and Colonial.  If Christina board member George Evans was there, which my sources are saying he was, than it is a guarantee words were said!

Other legislators in attendance were State Rep. Stephanie Bolden, Senator David Sokola, and everyone’s favorite State Rep., good old Earl Jaques. (shameless plug: please sign the iPetition to request he be removed from the House Education Committee, here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/we-want-delaware-state-rep-earl-jaques-to-step )

The Recipe Behind the “Pixie Dust” at Eastside Charter: Very High Attrition Rates, Part 1

The magic of East Side Charter School is not magic, but merely a carefully crafted bit of smoke and mirrors.  It’s an illusion, not what the citizens of Delaware think it is, but the oldest trick in the book.

Last night at the Imagination Delaware forum, held at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington, Delaware, a crowd of over 700 people listened to a panel on not only Wilmington’s education, but all of Delaware.  The forum turned into a debate about charter and traditional schools in the state with the two main members of the panel.  Mike Matthews, the President of the Red Clay Educators Association and a special education teacher at Warner Elementary School on the side of the traditional schools and Dr. Lamont Browne, the head of school of both Eastside Charter School and Family Foundations Academy.

Governor Jack Markell gave the keynote speech, and left immediately afterwards for another engagement.  He spoke about Eastside Charter School’s great job with closing proficiency gaps, and stated “they have gone from only having 15% of their 5th graders scoring proficient in reading to 66% in just three years.”  If only this were true…

I will definitely say Eastside Charter does not perform in “cherry-picking” their students.  They seem to enroll anyone who applies.  I have never heard of a lottery for this school.  They have a very high population of minorities and their special education populations are in line with the traditional school districts around them.  So what is the issue?  Continue reading

Delaware House Education Committee: Wilmington Education Advisory Committee Presentation, Read Before You Go To Imagine Delaware

From the 1/28/15 House Education Committee meeting.  Tony Allen, the chair of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, gave a presentation to the Senate and the House on the recommendations from WEAC.  This has some really good information, and consider it a primer before the big event tomorrow night at the Chase Waterfront Center.  That’s right, tomorrow is the huge Imagine Delaware forum.  You should really go, it will affect education in all of Delaware!