Instead of taking copious amounts of notes at the 2 hour Wilmington Education Improvement Commission meeting tonight, I decided to record it for video. Please keep in mind I am an amateur with this stuff. My laptop battery was about to run out half way through so I had to move my laptop away from the crowd to keep recording. All of the Governor Carney visit is visible and most of the Secretary of Education Bunting visit is as well. Once again, I apologize for the quality!
The Delaware charter school train is back on the schedule. The Delaware Department of Education is accepting applications for new charter schools. The moratorium on new charter school applications will be lifted once the DOE finished the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities strategic plan. The committee coming up with this has one more meeting (tentatively scheduled for 12/19) and the strategic plan will come out. Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman hinted at the meeting last week that the DOE anticipates at least two new charter school applications.
While this doesn’t mean these charters will get past the application phase, it means the machine is revving its engines again. No new charter schools have been approved for Delaware since the very crazy Spring of 2014 when the State Board of Education was handing out charters like they were candy. The ramifications of their carelessness and haste caused two charters to close. Delaware Met closed less than six months after they opened and Delaware STEM Academy never even opened.
Meanwhile, the settlement between the Christina School District and 15 charter schools will set precedent that all charters will get more money from the tuition tax if they are implementing special education with fidelity. Say what you will about the settlement, but this will provide greater oversight of special education in Delaware charter schools. In my eyes, greater oversight is needed for ALL Delaware schools.
Will Delaware STEM Academy make another attempt at a new school? Last Spring, the school underwent a formal review due to low enrollment for their opening. This resulted in the State Board of Education taking their charter back. Will the Mapleton Charter School try to come back in some form in some town? Last year they submitted a modification to open up a charter school in Dover instead of at Whitehall (a new development in the Middletown area) but rescinded the request and handed their charter back to the DOE.
In my opinion, Wilmington is still saturated with charter schools. More is not the answer at all for that city. Sussex County, with only one charter school, would be my best guess for the next wave of Delaware charters. The way Kendall Massett kept giving comment at the above strategic plan meetings about Sussex districts collaborating to meet programs they couldn’t do on their own tells me the Delaware Charter Schools Network really wants more charters in lower Delaware.
We shall see who applies this year. At this point, no applications have been uploaded on the DOE website, but give it time!
Many people in America today are facing an impossible choice. We call this Election Day. I am choosing to spend the day looking at all that is good about America and more specifically the state I live in, Delaware. No matter what happens today, we can’t let anyone take away the spirit of what makes us Americans. We have liberties we often take for granted. Beyond the politics of it all, we all should want the best for each other, especially the children. We have so much talent in this country. Each mind is a unique and wonderful creation of beauty and grace. In Delaware, we have people doing things no one hears about, every single day. We have children who have so many gifts. We have stories of hope and inspiration. As a friend of mine said on Facebook the other day, we are more than this election.
This morning I followed-up on plans to observe a talented and gifted program in one of our Delaware schools. It was great seeing the kids interacting with their teacher. I arrived at Pulaski Elementary School at about 9:45am and stayed until shortly before noon. I got a tour of the building. I haven’t been in too many inner-city schools that are older, so it was great to see the design of the building and the different levels.
About fifteen minutes after arrival, I developed a nasal drip. Which was very strange because I wasn’t congested prior to getting there. About ten minutes later I began to have a headache. I ate a full breakfast this morning and took my vitamins. Most headaches I get require me to take some type of medicine like Motrin or Tylenol. Alas, I didn’t have any with me. The headache went away about 45 minutes after I left Pulaski.
I saw the rooms where the mold remediation took place. They were sealed off with plastic zipper doors, like what we saw in E.T. back in 1982. I asked if the carpeting was the same in the one room to which my guide said yes. Other areas that were not remediated had a musty, damp kind of smell. Not the whole building, but areas near the remediated rooms and above them. Even the front office had a peculiar smell.
I met the principal. A very nice woman. I met quite a few teachers, most of them in passing. All were very polite and doing what they do best, teaching kids. There were a few times I had to ask my guide to repeat herself. Unfortunately, under doctor orders, she had to wear an air filter mask because of lingering health issues.
By the way, the Christina Board of Education will meet tonight at the Sarah Pyle Academy in Wilmington. The meeting opens to the public at 7pm and public comment is always welcome. I know they will be discussing the mold issues as well as the charter school lawsuit against them and the Delaware Dept. of Education. Last night, the board held an Executive Meeting to discuss the litigation. I anticipate a very large crowd in attendance this evening, so you may want to think about arriving early. Meanwhile, the Delaware Division of Public Health is set to release a report on their walk-through of the school last Friday.
Personalized Learning, as a concept, has been around since the 1960’s. In its original form, it was an effort to personalize learning between a teacher and a student. Students don’t always learn at the same pace. The term has been bastardized by corporate education reformers over the past five years. Their idea is to launch a technology boom in the classroom where investors and ed-tech companies will get tons of money. To do this, they had to use education “think-tanks” and foundations to sway the conversation towards this lucrative gold-mine. No one has been a bigger supporter of personalized learning in Delaware than the Rodel Foundation. They began talking about this new and exciting education reform movement as early as November, 2011. A company called Digital Learning Now! released their 2011 report card on different states ability to transform into a digital learning environment and Delaware scored poorly on their report. According to this Rodel article on the report written by Brett Turner (the link to the report card doesn’t exist anymore), Turner wrote:
…the initial results are not promising, demonstrating that we have significant work ahead of us before the necessary policies are in place to ensure our students benefit from high-quality next generation learning opportunities.
Digital Learning Now! was an initiative of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Other digital “experts” the company thanks in their 2012 report include the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Data Quality Campaign, iNACOL, SETDA, Chiefs for Change, Getting Smart, and the Innosight Institute. The Foundation for Excellence in Education was founded by Jeb Bush in 2008, just as Common Core was in its formation stages. In the Rodel article, Turner talks about how Delaware needs to adapt to this environment so our students can succeed.
Over the next two and a half years, as Race to the Top became more of a nightmare than a promise of better education, Rodel began to take steps to have Delaware become a part of this next big thing. They formed the Rodel Teacher Council to recruit well-intentioned teachers to join their personalized learning dream team. I don’t see these teachers as evil but rather teachers who are easily manipulated and coerced into being connected with the “next big thing”. I see them as unwitting pawns of Rodel.
Rodel didn’t write much about personalized learning too much during this time, but they did release a Personalized Learning 101 flyer in 2013. At the same time, four Delaware districts formed BRINC: Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech, and Colonial. Using funds from Race To the Top and a Delaware DOE “innovation grant”, the districts used Schoology and Modern Teacher to usher Delaware into the digital learning age. Rodel’s blog posts about personalized learning didn’t touch on the concept again until February, 2014 when a Rodel employee by the name of Matthew Korobkin began writing posts about digital learning. More followed by other Rodel employees in the coming months. At this time, Dr. Paul Herdman of Rodel was palling around with an ed-tech company called 2Revolutions and went around Delaware talking to groups about the glory of personalized learning.
In the beginning of June in 2014, Rachel Chan with the Rodel Foundation attended a seminar in Washington D.C. on personalized learning sponsored by iNACOL. She wrote about this extensively on the Rodel website.
Later that month, the United States Department of Education released their state reports on special education in America. Delaware received a rating of “needs intervention”, prompting Governor Jack Markell to set aside funding in the state budget for a special education “Strategic Plan”. What no one knew until recently was this plan consisted of hiring Korobkin away from Rodel and into Secretary of Education Mark Murphy’s office to put this plan together.
Later in the summer of 2014, the Delaware Department of Education, with the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, banded together to form a clandestine group of “stakeholders” to look at competency-based education in a personalized learning environment in Delaware. The biggest hurdle in getting this going in Delaware was the barriers in the state code. Their were many players in this non-public group, including members of the Rodel Teacher Council who were also working on a “Personalized Learning Blueprint” at the same time. This group shaped the future of education in Delaware. But they used people to do so, including some of the members of this group.
The timing for this group couldn’t have come at a better time. There were many distractions happening that allowed them to fly under the radar with no one the wiser. Invitations were sent out to select participants from Theresa Bennett at the Delaware DOE. She was an Education Specialist for English/Language Arts in the Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development area of the DOE. She was the person who scheduled all the meetings. An introductory webinar, sponsored by Achieve Inc., was held on August 14th, 2014.
After an explanation of competency-based education and personalized learning from some folks at Achieve Inc., they opened the webinar up for questions. At the 30:07 mark on the video, Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows explained his district already began the process for personalized learning. He mentioned several hurdles, especially the teachers’ union. Next came Judi Coffield, the former Head of School at Early College High School, a charter school run through Delaware State University. Coffield asked how Carniege units and high school grades would come into play with this. Bennett explained what role the DOE played in this and how she and Rachel Chan from the Rodel Foundation were going to run the group. Bennett went on to explain that select allies were invited to participate in this group. She also talked about a meeting with Achieve Inc. in Washington D.C. in May of 2014 to pave a path forward.
Bennett did a roll call of who was participating in the webinar. Jose Aviles, the director of admissions at the University of Delaware, was not on the call. Bennett explains how Aviles accompanied her to the Achieve Inc. meeting. “Is there a representative from Delaware PTA on the call?” No response. “Is Donna Johnson on the call?” Silence. “Kim Joyce from Del-Tech?” Nothing. “Pat Michle from Developmental Disabilities Council?” Empty air. She added Laurie Rowe and Stanley Spoor with Howard High School of Technology would be joining them. Susan Haberstroh with the Delaware DOE joined later in the Webinar.
Rodel and Markell knew they needed to stage a distraction to further this personalized learning agenda away from prying eyes while at the same time steering the conversation towards their end goals by using the distraction. They knew one of these distractions would automatically happen based on federal mandates from the US DOE, but the other would need careful planning and coördination. The first drove the need for the second.
A few weeks later, Governor Markell and then Secretary of Education Mark Murphy announced the six priority schools in Wilmington. The DOE picked the six “lowest-performing” schools in Wilmington, DE and announced the two school districts involved, Red Clay and Christina, would have to sign a “memorandum of understanding” and submit to the demands of the Delaware DOE. This put the entire city into an educational tailspin. Teachers in the affected schools felt outrage at the Governor and the DOE. Parents didn’t know what this meant. Politicians scrambled to make sense of it all as primaries and general elections faced them while constituents furiously called them. Teachers in Delaware were still reeling from the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment and the scores tied into their evaluations. Meanwhile, the secret meetings of the Delaware Department of Education Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition began without any public notice as an email went out from Bennett…
Thank you for your interest in the Competency-Based Learning Guiding Coalition. If you were unable to attend the informational webinar, please use this link to access the recording: http://www.achieve.org/DelawareCBLwebinar
The Guiding Coalition will be charged with laying the foundation for competency-based learning in Delaware. This will include creating a working definition of competency-based learning and what it could look like in Delaware, understanding current barriers to implementing CBL in Delaware, and establishing support for CBL initiatives to take root in the state. Once we have a common understanding of CBL, we will surface key ideas and develop recommended strategies for helping CBL take shape in the state.
The time commitment for the Advisory Group of the Guiding Coalition will be attending approximately two or three 2-hour meetings during the coming school year, with 30-60 minutes of pre-work for each meeting. There will also be opportunities to engage further through optional readings, school visits, webinars, and other convenings if your schedule/level of interest allows.
We are excited to share that an expert facilitator will be guiding each of our meetings; we would like to collect information to inform our meeting agendas. Please complete the following survey by September 10th: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DECompetency-BasedLearning.
Please complete a Doodle to help us best schedule the meetings for this group. We hope to begin late September/early October, with meetings held in Dover. Responses to the Doodle poll will help us find the best day/time for the first meeting. Please use this link: http://doodle.com/mts6ncf74v77mnf
Education Associate, ELA
Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development
Delaware Department of Education
401 Federal Street, Suite #2
Dover, DE 19901-3639
Coming up in Part 2: Delaware gets Marzanoed
I’ve known Sherry Dorsey Walker for a couple of years now. I first met her at a Christina Board meeting on the priority schools two years ago. She stood quietly in the back, listening to every single word said. It was one of the very few meetings I’ve been to in Delaware where the public comments were longer than the actual board meeting.
Sherry is a huge education advocate. She wants the best for the children of Wilmington and the entire state. Sherry gets it, in ways that many others do not. She recognizes that poverty and violence are a hurdle to overcome. She is all about ending the school to prison pipeline and making sure suspensions drop, especially for African-American students.
Jackie Kook, a Christina School District teacher, had this to say about Sherry:
I’ve been working with her on the Coalition for Fairness and Equity in Schools. She has a sister who is an educator. She’s good people and listens to the teachers.
I couldn’t agree more. I would love to see Sherry presiding over the Delaware Senate!
The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan to move the Christina schools in Wilmington over to Red Clay has entered its final leg in the long journey. House Joint Resolution #12 was filed today with primary Sponsors State Rep. Charles Potter and State Senator Margaret Rose-Henry with the following co-sponsors: State Reps Baumbach, Bentz, Bolden, Brady, Jaques, J. Johnson, Keeley, Lynn, Mitchell, Mulrooney, Osienski, Paradee and Viola; and State Senators Marshall, McDowell, Poore and Townsend. There are some names I thought might be on here but aren’t. Including any House Republican. Kim Williams is also absent, but I suspect that has a lot to do with the fact House Bill 30, which would provide basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade has, for the most part, been ignored by the General Assembly.
This is where it will get very interesting folks! Since it is a joint resolution, it must go before the education committees in both Houses of the General Assembly. Unless they should happen to suspend the rules, but with legislation as controversial as this, I would tend to doubt they would do that. All of this rides on the final budget numbers. What do you think? Will the General Assembly move forward with the WEIC redistricting plan? Or will Tony Allen’s “once in a generation” moment disappear?
In the wake of what happened at Howard High School of Technology a week ago, many are questioning how to fix what is happening in our schools. There are no easy answers. I have not heard anyone defending the perpetrators of Amy’s murder. But I have seen people describe students who exhibit behavior issues referred to as “animals” and “they should be sent to labor camps”. While this is an extreme, I’ve heard these types of comments more than once, and I hear it more and more. Once we go down that path we are essentially labeling these students as helpless and stating there is nothing we can do to help them. And let’s face facts: when people say this there is a very racist undertone and they are referring to African-Americans. I don’t agree with it on any level and every time I see it I want to ship the people who would say things like that out of our state.
Just this school year we have seen the following: a charter school that closed mid-year due to an uncontrollable environment, a change in feeder patterns resulting in many instances of bullying at a Red Clay middle school, a bizarre number of bomb threats resulting in many schools closing for the day, a child intimidated by a bus driver in Appoquinimink, a father suing Brandywine over what he alleges are due process violations and unsubstantiated searches, students sent to hospitals as a result of fighting that are never publicly acknowledged but whispered about on social media, inclusion practices that are not working, and a student who died from a brutal assault last week at Howard.
As our state grapples with these issues, we have not seen solutions put forth that look at the big picture. Why are our students acting out? Why are many of our schools attempting to hide many of these issues? I have attended many State Board of Education meetings this year and I listen to their audio recordings. We don’t hear them discussing these kinds of issues too much, if at all. They seem to be more concerned with student outcomes based on standardized tests, Pathways programs, charter schools, accountability for schools, and celebrating the good things in our schools while giving short shrift to the issues that truly impact school climate.
It starts there. To get to the heart of issues like this, you have to start at the top and have it trickle down to the Superintendents or Heads of School, to the building administrators, to the teachers, to the students and to the community. If we have that massive disconnect at the top, the issues can never truly be addressed. If our State Board and legislators can’t get these matters fixed, how can we expect our schools to do so?
To adequately blame one thing that started a lot of this, we can blame zero tolerance. After the Columbine shootings in 1999, a massive wave of zero tolerance spread throughout America. No school wanted to have a situation like that on their hands. Students would be suspended for frivolous things. It got to a point in Delaware where an African-American first grader was expelled in the Christina School District for having a cake knife. As a result of that one bad judgment call, a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) resulted in the district entering an agreement with the OCR. Because the OCR ruled too many minority student suspensions were happening, the district had to be very careful about how they were meting punishment to students. Other districts saw what happened to Christina and didn’t want to suffer the same fate.
As a result, there was no consistency throughout the state on best practices. For all the accountability and “standardization” of students based on very flawed state assessments, there has never been any definitive set of standards for school discipline and school climate. There is no consistency with how schools report instances of bullying, offensive touching, and fighting. Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn pointed this out many times but there has been no direct accountability to schools over these issues. Part of the problem with discipline issues is the unique nature of them. Because of student privacy and FERPA regulations, many situations can’t be discussed publicly. There is no accurate tracking method to make sure our schools are recording these instances on the state reporting system, E-school, as required by state law within a set time period. The result is very bad data in the one area we actually need it the most. Add in special education issues and behaviors exhibited by students with disabilities. Is it a result of their disability or is it everyday behavior? Sometimes we just don’t know.
Some schools are very faithful with recording issues, but far too many aren’t. How do we know which schools need help with issues if they aren’t being 100% honest about what is going on in their halls? What shape would that help even be? If it is a punitive measure from the state, is that going to solve the problem or persuade schools to hide things better? Non-profits and corporations are lining up to get into our schools to offer what amounts to for-profit assistance. Under the guise of the Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a call for companies to come into our schools like never before to offer after-school programs and to turn our schools into all-day community centers. As well, we are seeing some states allowing companies to essentially bet on student outcomes in return for financial profit through social impact bonds. Many of these ideas are concerning to parents. Should schools be a place where medical and therapeutic treatment for students occur? For neglected and abused children, this could be a life-saving measure for those children. But it also opens up more of our public education system to less control at the local level. Many feel government should not even be allowed to write something like this into any law. The Elementary/Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was designed to make sure minority students were given equal footing in schools and were not disadvantaged. Written in 1965, its goal was actually simple: equal rights for all. Fifty years later, we are still tackling many of the original issues. But now we want to turn our schools into more than what they should be.
As far as this insane filming of fights in our schools, it is a new environment with no oversight. Students want to become social media famous because people come to their profile to look at it. Something needs to happen immediately. It is fostering an environment that is not healthy and desensitizes kids to violence. Even community Facebook pages that have nothing but street fights on them exist unchecked and unmonitored. In some of these videos, you actually see people telling others how to evade the police and they give warnings when the police are in the area. For some reason, students are fascinated by this. But the effect is chilling. As well, the role of technology in our schools and homes is greater than ever. But why are we allowing students to carry iPhones around school? How much of the violence from gaming is warping young minds? For that matter, what is all this screen time doing to all our brains?
If Amy’s tragic death has shown us anything it is that something is very broken. We have to fix it, no matter what. Amy’s situation is by far the worst thing that could happen to a student in school. But many students bare physical and emotional scars from this broken system. They are the survivors of fights and bullying that cause trauma to the soul, if not the physical. On the flip side, we have students like Patrick Wahl’s son Joseph who many view as a victim of very bizarre due process circumstances for a district that still follows zero tolerance tendencies. There are good things happening in our schools. Don’t get me wrong on that. We see students participating in charity events and giving back to their community on many levels. But that can’t be all the public sees. We have to look at the bad too. We can’t put a blanket over the violence in our schools and pretend it isn’t there. Amy’s death shattered that illusion in our state.
In the shadow of all this is the other illusion the state has cast on parents. Many parents judge schools based on their performance without realizing the measurement of that performance is fundamentally flawed. To get a basic breakdown of how this works, many years ago corporations decided they could make money off education. They tailored reports to give the illusion that “the sky is falling” and all students were in danger of falling behind other countries. Politicians jumped on the bandwagon through concerted lobbying efforts on the part of these companies, and soon enough new laws came down from a federal level based on student outcomes from standardized tests. No Child Left Behind opened the door but Race To The Top opened the floodgates for this corporate invasion. As schools were labeled and shamed under “school turnaround” laws, the US DOE started their ESEA flexibility waiver scheme. They bribed schools with money to further these agendas. Our schools and districts took the money with immense pressure from state governments during a recession. A dramatic shift in school climate happened. As more and more teachers took part in professional development to train them on the Common Core and other company initiatives, something happened to students. They were not supervised the way they were prior to all of this and they found new ways to usurp authority, especially in schools with large populations of high-needs students. Add in the situation with the OCR in Christina, and it was a recipe for disaster. Diane Ravitch wrote today about the fifteen years of “fake” reform and how the impetus behind it all, NAEP scores, show students who are now seniors more behind than they were compared to their counterparts in 1992. Common Core doesn’t work.
What if what we are seeing with student behavior and the reasons behind it are all wrong? What if those who come from poverty, special needs, and low-income minority populations isn’t just misbehavior but something else altogether? What if it is a direct result of a system designed for conformity? The supposed goal of the Common Core was to make all students get the same set of standards across the country. I hear many consistent things from parents in Delaware. For smarter kids, Common Core isn’t so tough once they get it. But for struggling students, basically the ones from sub-groups that perform poorly on state assessments, it is much more difficult. Perhaps what we are seeing with this absolute disregard of authority in schools is a natural defense mechanism kicking in. A fight or flight mechanism when their way of living, of being, is attacked. The natural instinct for teenagers is to rebel. Compound that with an entire education system designed to make students question authority less and use “critical thinking” based on standards that actually give children less choices, and something will give. We are seeing this now. And if we continue on the same track, it will get far worse. If a “smart” student gets it faster, it would naturally put other students behind. This is the impossible bar the Common Core puts on students. For the intelligent who come from wealthier and more cohesive home environments, this isn’t a problem. But for students with disabilities who cannot always control their actions and minority students who do not have the environmental stability their more advantaged peers have, it will take a great deal of effort to catch up with their peers. Add in the stress and anxiety they have from their environment outside of school to the pressure to perform in school, and the pressure gage gets higher. Then add the explosive need every teenager has, to belong and have friends, and the gage gets closer to the point of no return. Throw in a fixation on violence mixed with wanting to be accepted and the Pompeii of public education is set. Last week we saw the volcanic eruption of rage unchecked and bystanders filming it and doing nothing.
The biggest victims of the education reform movement are inner-city African-American students. While civil rights groups demanded more equity for these students they fell into the trap the corporate education reformers methodically laid out for them with financial enticements. The reformers echoed their complaints and pitted parents against teachers. The reformers used standardized test scores to give a false impression of schools and invented a whole new language based on the word “gap”: the equity gap, the proficiency gap, the honesty gap, and on and on and on. Add in school choice, a growing charter school movement, forced busing based on a horrible Neighborhood Schools Act in Delaware, and the rise of Jack Markell as Governor wrapped in a corporate bow and the perfect storm began in our schools.
To ignore the plight of African-Americans in Delaware would be a gross injustice. It goes way beyond apologizing for slavery. A friend of mine sent me an article about the 1968 Occupation of Wilmington. The article written by Will Bunch with philly.com talked about the nine-month Occupation of Wilmington by the National Guard following the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. For the African-American community in Wilmington at the time, this was a grave injustice:
On the other hand, in a sign of some of the deep divide and mistrust in Delaware that lingers to this day, the white Democratic governor down in Dover decided to send in the National Guard – and then kept troops on the streets of Wilmington for nine long months, the longest military occupation of a U.S. city since the Civil War.
And this quote from former Wilmington Mayor James Baker:
But the memory still burns for those who lived through the occupation. “It sent a shock wave through the social-service agencies . . . and the city as a whole,” Baker recalled. “People said, ‘What are we doing?’ “
Many African-American communities in Wilmington are very distrustful of the government, and for very good reasons. This belief gets handed down from generation to generation. But when drugs enter a city like Wilmington, followed by violence and murders, that distrust can get out of control. How do we tackle this? How do we lift a whole city out of a problem of this magnitude? When my friend sent me this article, it was a response to my question about why we don’t just send in tons of cops and clean it all up, all the drugs and gangs. She informed me the last time this happened it didn’t work out too well. It astonishes me that we are still dealing with issues of race in the 21st Century, but we are and we need to face it and deal with it, all of us. But at the same time, we cannot ignore what individuals are doing in individual circumstances.
We need to be very careful on how we plan to deal with the situations in far too many of our schools. Far too much is tied into the very bad education reforms that show, time and time again, how it just doesn’t work. But our current system has been infiltrated with far too many people tied to these efforts. I expected to see a late rush of legislation coming forth at Legislative Hall in the final days of June. With very little community input and transparency, we need to watch our legislators like a hawk and make sure what they put forth is best for students and not the broken system some of them are trying desperately to make permanent. The funding mechanisms for our schools are under the microscope, but if we squeeze the property assessment orange too fast, it could cause many to leave the state they moved to because of low taxes. As well, we need to be mindful of laws Delaware could pass in anticipation of the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. The law is still being flushed out in a lot of areas and the DOE and Governor Markell WILL take full advantage of that to please the hedge funders and corporations.
If businesses want to come into our schools and turn them into community schools, they should pay rent to our schools. If they want to turn education into a marketplace, like any other store they need to pay their rent. Why are we giving them a free ride while they make millions and millions and our districts get less? It makes no sense when you look at it like a business model. But no, our state wants to give them tax discounts for doing business in our state. We are giving them free reign to pump out the same products over and over again with no actual results.
While these aren’t the solutions we need to make our schools safer, it is a big start. Our district administrators are far too distracted with all of the nonsense around Common Core, state assessments, personalized learning, and career pathways when they should be focused on the more important things. The first steps to ending violence in our schools are actually quite simple. A rebellion like none seen before in public education. A collective and concerted effort to rid ourselves of the catalysts that are stroking the flames in our children’s lives. End Common Core. End state assessments. End the testing accountability machine that destroys morale in students, teachers, and schools. End the corporate interference in education that perpetuates the false ideals that if students have more “rigor” and “grit” they can become college and career ready. We are indoctrinating children at a very young age to be something they are not meant to be. The human mind won’t allow it. Some will conform. But for the growing poor and disabled in our country, they will not be what the reformers want them to be. You can’t guide a four-year old towards a certain career path based on data and scores. You can’t say they don’t qualify for special education if a disability has not manifested itself yet. End the abhorrent amount of data collection on our students for “educational research”.
This is the start. Let’s get back to more human education. Why are we doing this to our future? No child should be a victim of a padded resume or a fattened wallet. The majority of teachers will tell you privately what we are doing is not working. Administrators will as well if you catch them on a good day. But they feel threatened that if they don’t comply their profession will disappear. They will fight for certain things but when they need to openly rebel against the system, it doesn’t happen. It is their self-defense mechanism. The closest we have come to ending this era of education reform is opt out. But even that is in danger of disappearing if the education tech invaders get their way and have the state assessment embedded in small chunks instead of a once a year test. The personalized learning and competency-based education models are already calling for this.
When I hear people say “all you do is complain, what are your solutions?”, I cringe. The problem is so epic in scope, so large in diameter, that it will take a great deal of effort by many well-meaning people to find all the answers. And when I say well-meaning, I don’t mean the Rodel Foundation or the Governor. I mean the people who are not affected by corporate greed and a lust for power. I’m talking about the people who truly want to save our children.
Something happened yesterday in Delaware that shook them to their core. She knew she would be forever viewed as the student who died because of something that happened inside her school. She woke up yesterday, got ready for school, her mind heavy with whatever circumstances eventually led to her death, and faced the day. She probably didn’t know it was going to be her last. Her name is Amy.
She got to school and soon after found herself in a girl’s bathroom where she then found herself in a fight with another girl. Others joined the fight and what may have been even odds soon became unbalanced. As onlookers excitedly watched and some may have pulled out their iPhones to film the fight, the girl’s head went into a sink. As instincts for defense flashed out of her mind I imagine she felt a sudden jolt of pain and then nothing. Her name is Amy.
She may have felt her soul leap out of her body. She may have seen her mortal shell no longer a vessel for her heart and soul. She may have seen the confusion, anger, and sadness around her death. Depending on what she believed, many things could have happened. She felt a warmth and a light calling to her as she was welcomed into the arms of those she lost in her short time here. All her worries, confusion, and anxiety lifted from her in an instant. Surrounded by unconditional love with a true understanding of what existence is truly about. Her name is Amy.
As she met our Heavenly Father and His Son, she understood why everything happened the way it did and she was at peace with it. She may have shared some of that light and kindness with her family on Earth, and her friends, and even her enemies. She may have seen the endless tears stretch across a nation yesterday as people who never knew her tried to grapple with what happened. Perhaps she knew her death may have meaning in the long run and serve as an example of much-needed change on our world. Her name is Amy.
She may have seen the pervasive darkness that surrounded the city she called home. The true evil, mixed with moments of grace, as the city endlessly struggles to heal itself. She may have seen the light inside each and every one of its inhabitants, struggling to bring out that light and let it shine. She may have seen those who do not have a home to call their own except the hard streets. She may have seen the endless debate, trying to find fault in her death. But she knew her death meant she would have eternal life. She understood that her freedom was our loss and for some, nothing would ever be the same again. She knew some would attempt to change things because of her death and she smiled. Her name is Amy.
It was the last day of her mortal life and the first day of her eternal life. The things that mattered to her here were still with her but in her new life she felt a connection with it all. She saw how one pebble could have a ripple effect on those around her which spread out around the world. A butterfly effect. She understood that human beings could make a choice, to give her death true meaning they would need to look outside themselves to understand the multiple reasons for answering the whys. She understood the factors that led to her eternal life and no one thing could give a clarifying and simple answer. From the time she was in her mother’s womb until her last breath, everything mattered. How one smile to a stranger could have lifted their burdens of the day. How one word of anger could have darkened the light inside someone. How one tear of sadness could have hardened a soul to indifference. While these things made her who she was, she understood that it meant everything to those who cried for her but none could understand the entire puzzle. Her name is Amy.
She understood that it wasn’t just about education, or boys, or crime, or authority, or lawlessness, or anger. It was about life, in all its shapes and forms and colors. Every action, every thought, every moment… it mattered. She saw the pictures forming in the minds of the lost and she knew one day they would understand. She knew God gave each of us a piece of Himself and we could never see the full picture until we returned to Him. She saw the technology with her name everywhere and she laughed, a jovial soul-cleansing laugh that spread throughout the afterlife. Heaven got brighter yesterday as it does when every new soul joins it. An unending light that gives each of us a piece of that light. She understood this in her first day. Her name is Amy.
Tonight we’ll build a bridge across the sea and land
See the sky, the burning rain
She will die and live again tonight.
-U2-“A Sort of Homecoming”
The Delaware State Board of Education approved all the major modifications that came across their table last Thursday. The charter schools involved either raised or lowered their enrollment numbers with their modification applications.
Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security got rid of 8th grade and lowered their enrollment numbers to 330 for the 2016-2017 school year with increased enrollment of 375 by the 2020-2021 school year to keep them as a 9th to 12th grade school.
Delaware Design-Lab High School also lowered their enrollment, but they will be adding 11th grade next year as per their original charter application. Their growth is a bit more aggressive with 350 students in 9th-11th grade for 2016-2017, 475 for 2017-2018 when they add 12th grade, and up to 600 by 2019-2020.
First State Montessori Academy, who will be taking over the former Delaware Met building next door to them, was approved to add a middle school with students in 6th to 8th grade. Their enrollment for 2016-2017 must be 430 students in Kindergarten to 6th grade and by 2021-2022 they must have 654 students in K-8.
Prestige Academy is now a 6th to 8th grade school instead of a 5th to 8th middle school, and their enrollment has been lowered to 240 from the 2016-2017 school year and every year proceeding that.
Odyssey Charter School had a modification approved without the consent of the State Board of Education since it was considered a minor modifications. Their modification surrounded enrollment with increases less than 15%. Odyssey’s approved enrollment includes their high school which will make them a K-12 school by the 2019-2020 year. Both Kuumba Academy and Great Oaks Charter School had similar minor modifications approved in February by Secretary Godowsky with no grade level changes.
With the charter moratorium for Wilmington still in effect from House Bill 56, no new charter schools can apply for a Wilmington location. But that doesn’t seem to stop the existing schools from tweaking their numbers. Many First State Montessori parents wanted the change, but some folks submitted public comment around their enrollment preferences and were worried this could create more bias in the school. Prestige and Delaware Design-Lab were both on probation due to low enrollment figures last year. Their will still be many charter school enrollment changes next school year based on these approvals. More students in flux around Wilmington is not, in my opinion, a way to stabilize the situation with constant student movement in the city. If the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan is approved by the 148 General Assembly, it will create even more flux with students as Christina’s Wilmington schools become a part of the Red Clay Consolidated School District.
One of the three Delaware charter schools currently residing in the Community Education Building in Wilmington now wants out. Academia Antonia Alonso Academy, as of January 29th, submitted a major modification to change their school location from the CEB to the Barley Mill Plaza location currently owned by Odyssey Charter School. Should their modification gain approval, the plan is to lease one of the buildings from Odyssey. So why would they want to move from the lauded CEB?
After reviewing options of other potential locations, it was determined that a location that can be conveniently accessed by families, can be managed directly by the school, and also provides green space and playground facilities would be preferable to the current location in enabling the school to deliver the educational outcomes that it is striving to achieve.
Now this is some logic I can get behind! Looking out for students, recess, and families is crucial to school success nowadays. It is underestimated by our Delaware Department of Education and Governor Markell.
Given that 61% of La Academia’s students live in the City of Wilmington zip codes of 19801, 19802 and 19805, the majority of the school’s students live in neighborhoods where they may be regularly exposed to violence and crime, and where their families do not feel safe having their children play outside. This makes it even more important that the school be able to offer the opportunity for these children to be able to have safe play spaces. Non-structured play time has a positive impact on social development and general well-being and allows children the opportunity to practice essential social skills, which in turn improves learning and school climate.
Thank you! While some schools have reduced or gotten rid of recess, this school is actually celebrating it!
Our school has students in grades K-2 who are young and small, and during transitions they have to either navigate 2 to 6 flights of stairs or wait on elevators that require the school to make multiple trips to transport everyone, depending on the location of their next activity. We have had one incident of an elevator full of students getting stuck for over 20 minutes. A second incident occurred with Kuumba Academy students and staff. This has caused some of our students to be afraid of the elevators. Some of our younger students have tripped on the stairs, and now are afraid of using them.
Sounds like a health inspector needs to get in there as soon as possible!
In order to get our students to the outdoor fenced parking lot that is their recess area, our teachers go down the elevators (or six flights of steps), walk down a full city block, cross a dangerous intersection where accidents have happened right in front of our students, down another half of a city block and into the Wilson Street lot. This typically takes 15 minutes. Adding another 15 minutes for the return trip the students lose precious recess time. Developmentally, it is critical that 5, 6, & 7 year olds are able to have time for recess and play.
Wow! How much thought went into student safety for this building?
The Wilson Street Parking Lot, our recess area, has a number of issues relating to safety and supervision. Several areas in the fence are a concern to the school, as well as there being no barrier (mesh fence or other) to prevent students from going behind the storage unit where teachers have no line of sight. This recess area is not fully secure from the public after hours and dangerous items such as broken glass, syringes and other items are routinely found by both teachers and students. There is no typical playground equipment for the students to use such as swings, slides etc.
So what happens if a student accidentally pokes another student or themselves with a syringe? Who is responsible for the potential of a student getting HIV or some other disease from a dirty needle? I would get the hell out of this location too! I’m guessing Governor Markell and Acting US Secretary of Education John King didn’t go out with the kids to recess during King’s visit last month to the Community Education Building…
To see the full major modification request, please see below. For the next few months, the school will go through the charter school accountability committee and public hearings. A final decision will be made by the Delaware Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education at their April 21st meeting.
Now the big question becomes which charter school will now submit a major modification request to get into the Community Education Building? I hope no elementary schools based on what I’m hearing!
On Saturday, I published an article concerning First State Montessori Academy’s major modification request to increase their enrollment and add middle school grades. To say this has been controversial would be an understatement. Public Comment, whether it was on this blog or through the official public comment channel on the DOE Charter School Office website. Last night, the Public Hearing for First State Montessori’s major modification request was held. When the transcript from the hearing becomes available I will put it up here.
At their December 2nd board meeting, First State Montessori talked about forming a committee to explore the option of increasing their enrollment and adding extra grades. The board passed a motion to increase their enrollment by 5-15%. School leader Courtney Fox said they would have to get a major modification request to the DOE by 12/31/15. What is very interesting here is the school leader’s mention of the Delaware Met building next to them, at 920 N. French St. While she doesn’t come out and say it, it is obvious the school is assuming Delaware Met would be closed. The board doesn’t even mention the possibility of adding middle school grades at this point in time either, only adding more Kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms. As well, Fox, who is NOT a member of the board, announces a future meeting to discuss the possibility of the modification request and increasing their enrollment. Why did the board not vote on this? Does Fox run the board as well as the school?
On December 19th, an agenda for a 12/28/15 board meeting was put up on their website. It indicated their would be an update on the Exploring Expansion Committee. One would assume the board voted at that meeting on their major modification request and to add middle school grades. By this time, the announcement by the State Board of Education over Del Met’s closure was old news. Three days after Christmas is a very odd time to have a board meeting. While the board did do the right thing in putting up the agenda at least a week prior to the meeting, how much ability was there for members of the public to know about this meeting and potentially weigh in on the topic? On the flip side, the State Board voted on the charter revocation for Del Met on 12/16 so the school had to see what would happen with that decision before moving forward. But I still find it ironic there is no definitive plan set in motion earlier in December to add middle school grades to the school and all of a sudden it materializes in their major modification request submitted on 12/30/15.
This is merely conjecture on my part, but we already know the DOE suggested DAPSS submit a major modification request instead of a minor modification request. How much input should the DOE have in suggesting modification requests to Delaware charter schools? And what of Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network who seems to be a intermediary between charter schools and the Delaware DOE? I will be very upfront and say something really doesn’t smell right here. And with all these modification requests coming from charter schools how can we be sure this could not somehow influence the State Board of Education’s vote on the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan?
In the meantime, check out what folks had to say about this hot topic:
Kevin, the interest in Montessori thing is as easy as taking a tour or even talking for a moment to someone from the school in the community. They are at the expo and other events. Have held info sessions at local libraries, etc. It’s easy. The Montessori model is very different. There are mixed grade classrooms, no traditional desks, no traditional homework packets. Very different and something that families and students should be aware of. “Interest” in this case is awareness of the differences, that’s all.
Ask about it – learn about it. Heck, e mail me. This doesn’t cherry pick anything.
Eve Buckley said:
The questions raised in the final comment have been asked since FSMA opened. According to DOE’s “school profiles” for this school year, FSMA students are 65% white and 8% low-income. The two districts surrounding it are 44% white, 35% low-income (Red Clay) and 32% white, 41% low-income (Christina); those figures include suburban regions with less poverty than the city. So FSMA could clearly be doing more to attract and retain a student population more reflective of its surrounding communities (or even of the countywide student population). No pressure in that direction from its authorizer?
Note that Cab and Newark Charter, also very popular “choice” options, also have low-income % around 8. That seems to be the sweet spot for appealing to middle class public school consumers in the area (if you can’t achieve the 2% attained via testing by CSW).
Mike O said:
For families who “choose not to apply” to charters such as NCS or Montessori, I am sure many don’t even realize those are public schools their child is eligible for. Which is how you get to 8% low income without testing
jane s said:
it’s especially sad to see this happening at an elementary school. the goal should be to give children the best start possible regardless of their background. this could be a place that helps children enter middle school and high school on equal ground, but instead it’s just adding to the divide. nothing will change if people don’t speak out.
Eve Buckley said:
I agree! It is really sad–waste of an opportunity.
hi. i think the practices of fsma are fair and comprehensive. interest becomes a priority only because the montessori method is not of interest to everyone, much like a dual-language school like aspira is not of high-priority to many families. if you are to apply to fsma, because it’s a school in your neighborhood, without carrying any interest in montessori principles, then how detrimental will that student be in the classroom? (in terms of congruence, not as a human!) i do not know why the five-mile radius is not ‘more of a priority’, but i believe the admissions process does indeed actively reach out to all areas throughout delaware. it just depends on who researches montessori/has experience with it, and who thinks it is an important addition to the learning process. shown by the small number of montessori schools across the country, and the small classroom size within those schools, one can only surmise that is it not a hot topic among majority of families in delaware or beyond, regardleses of SES, ethnicity or neighborhood. we are ultimately creatures of comfort, and stick to the path most traveled. a school like this, or any other magnet, charter, votech, etc has enrollment because of interest and the desire to trek the brambly, gravel path. please see the good nature of such schools. i know it doesn’t sell like trash-talking does, but in a society deprived of an identity, the journey to recreating one for delaware schools could stand to be a lot less hotheaded. thank you.
John Young said:
No idea who Jenn is, but maybe she should join that sorry CSAC team which appears to olnly authorize losing propositions in DE Charterland. Bet it would be a great fit for a truly dysfunctional organization.
Natalie Ganc said:
I think that a stipulation should be put on all of these charter schools claiming that their school panders to their geographical radius: They should have to go pound-the-pavement (pamphlet in hand) to educate their neighbors to inform them of all of the benefits their child will receive if they choose to enroll. I say this, because I am quite certain that the folks living in the high-poverty areas have no idea what some charter schools are all about.
And from the official public comment section on the DOE website:
The Delaware State Board of Education fulfilled their obligation to the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission by providing them a letter regarding their rejection of the final redistricting plan. There are serious questions as to the legality of the State Board’s actions at their meeting on January 21st. But in the meantime, WEIC is meeting tonight to go over the letter and plan their next move. The meeting will begin at 5:30pm at the Red Clay Consolidated School District office on 1502 Spruce Avenue in Wilmington.
Below are the letter the State Board sent to WEIC on 1/31/16 and WEIC’s response letter from the same day.
Tamara Varella worked at The Delaware Met as part of A.J. English’s mentoring team. She reached out to me and asked me to share a post she wrote on Facebook about her time at the school. She offered some insight into what went on at the school from a very different perspective. I think most people are in agreement that Delaware Met was cursed from the onset, but could it have been saved at some point?
This post is to all of my family, friends, followers, current/past/future clients. Thank you to everyone that has checked on me, prayed for me and even slightly noticed my drastic pull back from social media the last 4 months. I more than appreciate you! The DE MET School closed last week, literally 5 months after opening its doors. Back in September I was asked by my client, AJ English to help him transition his after school mentoring program to a full-day in-school program at the Delaware MET Charter School. When I went to the school and saw how great the need was I knew I could not walk away and turn my back on “Our Kids”. I made a conscious decision to put my business and whatever plans I made for my future on complete hold because I personally felt it was warranted and would require that level of dedication. For the last 4 months AJ, Cheris Monique and I have been literally pouring out our heart, tears and soul every day ministering to the students at the MET. It just so happens that the majority of students at the MET were the At-Risk, troubled youth no one wanted to deal with let alone play a role in shifting their lives. Regardless of what you read in the paper or heard in the streets, the students at the MET were not animals or just numbers tied to funding! They were our babies that needed direction and more importantly someone to care enough to show them love and correction. The way God used our team, English Lessons, during this time was miraculous. We have countless testimonies of students changing, improving grades, being respectful to adults, restoring relationships w family members and most importantly getting to the root causes so students could be made whole. Our in-school fight prevention rate was insanely high as we were able to resolve issues, restore respect among peers and instill a level of respect for each person involved in a disagreement that was brought to our attention prior to an altercation. School administrators had never seen this done before. The work we did transcends school walls and was felt in the streets of Wilmington as our interventions involved predominantly “street issues”. Students come to school with issues and problems that the average adult would not be able to handle AND go to school and learn!!! From being hungry to almost getting shot the night before, to fear of getting jumped when they get home, to getting kicked out the house and I could go on and on. If you have not viewed Monique Taylor-Gibbs testimonial of the state of our children in DE Schools I beg you to click the link below or look at my last post.
I’m sharing all this not to gloat but to put a call out to everyone taking the time to read this….. Our kids need US!! Not a new system, not a new program, not a bunch of hype and empty promises. Our kids need YOU!! We won’t see a change in our community, the city of Wilmington or even our state until YOU show up!!! YOU have what our kids need. Your story of overcoming, your story of a shady past and bad decisions, your story of being told u would be nothing but proved them wrong, your story …. which comes with the ANOINTING TO BREAK THE YOLK. This generation is a different breed. They only want to hear and receive from those who can relate. I could go on and on abt the system and how they failed our kids but that would be a waste of time.
Please come back to the HOOD, ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES AND GET INVOLVED!! Thank you to both AJ and Cheris for allowing me to be part of the team. Thank you to all my clients that were patient and understanding. For those of you who were upset about my not doing my workshops, I promise I’ll make it up to everyone! Please keep praying for me as the closing of the school and worrying about the students has me hurt and saddened. This whole experience has caused me to shift internally …. Not clear yet on what that means… But it is definitely time to get back to business. See you all soon!
PLEASE VIEW: Link to Monique’s testimony abt the state of DE Schools
Or you can access it on my last Facebook post.
First off, a very big thank you to Delaware Senator Brian Pettyjohn for inviting me as one of his guests for Governor Markell’s State of the State Address today. I really wasn’t sure why he invited me. I’m not even in his district! But I just talked to him. He asked me what I thought. I told him it seemed like more broad strokes than really delving into any specific issues. I thanked him for inviting me and let him know how much I appreciated it. He said it is their way of saying thank you to people out there who are making a difference. I don’t always feel that way, especially in the face of lost battles, but even when I seem down and out I always have that hope deep inside me.
When I entered the House Chamber and sat down, some familiar faces looked over at me. Almost like, “Huh, what is he doing there?” After some staring contests, State Rep. and Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf brought the House to order. Markell’s wife Carla and his son Michael came in, followed by the Judiciary, elected officials, and his Cabinet. Two State Reps and two Senators were picked to escort the Governor in. It was cool to see the rookie David Bentz announce the Governor’s State of the State.
As Governor Markell walked in the room, I was in the back corner, next to where the Sergeant-In-Arms sits. Markell was shaking hands with some folks, and for a split second he glanced my way and raised an eyebrow. You can read the full speech here but I do want to touch on a few parts. When it comes to Governor Markell, I am very hard on him with his education policies. I don’t believe they are the right policies and I don’t believe they serve all the students of Delaware in the best way. With that being said, I can say he is a very passionate speaker. When he said it has been the greatest honor of his life to serve as Governor of Delaware, I believe him. When he talked about what a tremendous loss it was when Delaware lost Beau Biden, every single person in that room felt that loss. When he honored our veterans, a police officer from Newark who saved three lives in one night the day before Christmas, and many citizens who have gained employment through some of the initiatives he helped to create, we clapped.
Instead of blasting the Governor over the nitty gritty, I’m going to give his speech some broad strokes.
Looking back, it’s easy to think we were always on this path. But seven years ago, we had no guarantees about the progress we would make, and certainly no guarantees that we would lead the region in job growth, lead all states in graduation growth rates, and transform opportunities for so many Delawareans. We could only have accomplished all of this by committing to do more than just reversing the tide of the recession – more than just hoping for a return to the past.
Way before I was blogging, the recession hit my family in a major way. I was doing commercial collections for a company in Dover. Up until about a year after the Great Recession hit, business was booming in that industry. But once the bottom hit, my job became more and more difficult until I had to make a choice. It was almost two years after that bottom hit that I left the company, while also working the job I am currently at. Working seven days a week was hard, but I had to do what needed to be done. My wife also went through some employment woes during those years. After I left the commercial collections industry and continued at my current job, I delved into substitute teaching at a charter school in Dover. My son went there, so it helped to see how he was doing everyday. Eventually, I became a paraprofessional during the final days of the charter’s high school. It was rewarding helping struggling students who were special needs. It was shortly after that when I discovered my son had very unique special needs, and his journey became my journey.
The biggest challenge we face is the sharply accelerating cost of health care.
Tell me about it! My insurance goes up every single year while the costs in the industry go up even higher. Far too much of my income goes towards medical insurance. I pray the cuts you are proposing do not affect the many families who have to rely on state-paid medical costs for their children with disabilities. Without that, many families would be hopelessly lost.
Over the past several years, our students, families, teachers, and staff have set and reached loftier goals in almost every possible way. And the more we have asked, the more they have achieved, like record high graduation rates – improving faster than any other state – and some of the nation’s best test scores in the early grades.
It is so hard for me to get into this aspect without touching on my opposition to Markell’s education policies. All I can say is stating that the graduation rates are higher and all college-ready students applying to college are getting in is not the most genuine thing to say. Because lost in that proclamation is all those who are not college-ready. Considering the vast majority of the country got an F on standardized test scores this year, that isn’t really saying much of anything except that the tests are really bad.
We reached all of these goals because of the incredible impact Delaware educators have every day – collaborating on effective lesson plans, providing help after school, believing in their students. Let’s thank them.
And we did, quite loudly I might add.
We all know that education is the great equalizer – providing the ladder from poverty to opportunity, separating the citizen from the inmate, distinguishing the vibrant thriving communities from those that seem to be forever in decline.
There are a lot of rungs on that ladder Governor Markell. The community holds up the ladder. If the community is in disarray, such as very violent crimes all around you, rampant drug use, and homelessness for many children, education is only going to do so much. There is a whole middle class between your vibrant thriving communities and those forever in decline. I’m not going to say education has never lifted anyone from poverty. But there are far too many trapped in this cycle. Education does not, can not, and will not solve all the issues. I know you think that, along with many others that were in that room today. But it just isn’t true. I’ve found it is easy for those with power and wealth to think these thoughts, but the reality on the ground is vastly different than the aspirations you have for everyone.
Some of our highest need students are in Wilmington and are dealing not only with poverty, but the trauma of violence many of them see every day. Last year, with leadership from members of the City delegation and the support of Senator Sokola and Representative Jaques – we created the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, chaired by Tony Allen.
While many questions remain about the specifics of the Commission’s plans, broad consensus exists on this point:
In a state whose courts set the precedent for Brown vs. Board of Education more than 60 years ago, but yet never acted to make any real change until told to do so by the federal courts, the time has come to take bold action on behalf of the children of Wilmington.
This does not leave me with a good feeling. He is basically saying if the redistricting plan doesn’t pass, they are still going to take action on the matter. If I were the Governor, I would have given a shout-out to who those city legislators were. While Sokola and Jaques may have gotten the legislation rolling, other legislators were the ones demanding change. Reps like Potter, Bolden, Keeley, and Senators like Rose-Henry. I know I’ve missed quite a few, but they are the true legislator inspirations for what became WEIC.
If a plan comes to you that is clear and responsible, and does not place an extra burden on the residents of Red Clay or any other district, let’s make the most of this opportunity to transform education in Wilmington for generations to come.
Any other district is the entire state. Any plan that costs money is going to put an extra burden on the residents of Delaware. It’s called paying taxes. Our taxes would go towards this initiative. And while it may not seem like anything to the average citizen, with Delaware facing a budget deficit, that means something somewhere else is going to be reduced or cut. Are you telling us that we have not seen this final plan?
The recognition of the discriminatory sins of prior generations also presents an opportunity to reflect on whether we have learned history’s lessons – whether we are living up to our core values of opportunity and equality for all people.
I’m just going to say four words, and hope that everyone understands: Charter School of Wilmington. It’s not a choice if there isn’t equality. It is elitism and segregation. As well, what students with disabilities go through in Delaware with no basic special education funding in Kindergarten to 3rd grade is a national embarrassment. If you truly want us to learn the lessons of the past, then stop allowing charters to further segregation. Please stop demanding students with disabilities perform the same as their peers, and make them have to work harder to get to these dream levels. That isn’t equality. That is pompousness and arrogance.
The National Guard and our state suffered a heartbreaking loss this past year with the death of Beau Biden. Every day, the accomplishments of Beau’s service touch people in our state – from the military members with whom he served to the vulnerable children for whom he fought tirelessly as our Attorney General. We will help ensure we never forget his incredible legacy when, this spring, we officially name the Major Joseph R. (Beau) Biden III Armed Forces Reserve Center.
Much has changed in Delaware since the first time I delivered the State of the State, but from my first day in office one constant has been the determination with which Delawareans seize the opportunities available to them.
This job and serving with all of you continues to be the honor of my life. It has only strengthened my faith in the good that we can do together. It has only reinforced how important our work is to the security and prosperity of future generations. I look forward to all we can still accomplish.
I know I’ve changed a lot since you first delivered the State of the State. I wasn’t involved then, and I probably couldn’t tell you the names of two of our state reps and senators. I didn’t know much about you at all Governor Markell. I truly wish you meant that when you say “the good that we can do together”, because from my vantage point that work has consisted of gathering up the selected ones and having them make all the decisions. Your every day parents have been shut out of most of the crucial education decisions going on.
I saw a different side to Governor Markell today. I saw the Governor, in action, doing what he does best: public speaking. He is a Corporate Democrat, and like any good business person, he knows how to sell the products. He can be very persuasive, and for those who aren’t hip to what may be going on behind the scenes, it can be very easy to get sucked in. I definitely saw his leadership qualities today. But if you are losing the will of the people, it isn’t just that room you need to be talking to. It’s the entire state. And websites showing your speech don’t count. You may be a lame duck with only a year left, but I don’t believe for one second that is slowing you down. And you know I’m right Governor. You are putting a rush on all the things you weren’t able to implement or accomplish in your first seven years. It’s okay to let go now.
That didn’t take long. The former New York City superintendent of schools, who is now the Acting US Secretary of Education is coming to Wilmington on Friday. Have any Secretaries of Education ever bothered to check out our schools outside Wilmington? Anyways, John King is coming to Kuumba Academy this Friday, and afterwards he is having a chat with civil rights leaders. Probably about opt-out and how we can fix the low-income, poverty-stricken schools with more corporate education reform, personalized learning, less assessments that actually help, and more Smarter Balanced type tests to keep the hedge funders nice and rich. Throw in some competency-based education for good measure… I’m sure the Governor will be in attendance as well.
And once again, only “credentialed” journalists are allowed. For God’s sake, keep the damn bloggers away!
John King is Acting Secretary because the US Senate will never confirm the guy. Talk to New Yorkers who are against education reform and they will tell you stories all night long! Of course he is going to Kuumba Academy in the Community Education Building. Maybe he would have gone to Delaware Met had they not shut down three days early. That would have been an eye-opener!
Here is the official press release from Alison May down at the DOE:
ACTING U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION KING TO VISIT DELAWARE FRIDAY
Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King will visit Wilmington Friday as part of his Opportunity Across America tour to discuss the state’s efforts to improve and reduce testing.
King will visit a classroom at Kuumba Academy Charter School prior to joining two roundtable discussions at the Community Education Building in Wilmington. The roundtables will include an assessment discussion with district and state leaders and legislators as well as a second meeting with civil rights advocates.
Credentialed journalists are invited to join King for the following:
9:20 a.m. Classroom visit (Kuumba Academy)
9:30 a.m. Hour-long roundtable discussion about better assessments
10:40 a.m. Press availability
10:55 a.m. Hour-long roundtable discussion with civil rights advocates
Members of the media who would like to join the visit should RSVP to Alison.May@doe.k12.de.us by noon on Thursday, Jan. 21.
The next time you see a civil rights organization or leader trotting out the “Testing Is A Civil Right” rhetoric, check them out at the Gates Foundation website and see just how much payola they’re taking.
Over the past year, the question of opting your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment has been one of the biggest issues in Delaware. Many parents have made the choice, despite the Governor, the Delaware Department of Education, and certain school districts and charters resisting the movement. One group in Delaware has not made a lot of noise about opt-out though. The African-American community. I have often wondered why this is. After all, history has shown a clear pattern on standardized assessments of African-Americans not performing as well as their peers.
For many, this is the heart of the problem. Some, such as Governor Markell, feel that all children can perform well on these tests if given the right amount of rigor, instruction, and leadership in our schools. Others feel as though the issues facing many of the children in the African-American community in our cities like Wilmington and Dover, such as crime and poverty, are harmful and transparent factors in preventing a student’s educational success. The Governor will not accept the “status quo” but really doesn’t do much to change the environment many of these students live in. I believe the Governor thinks education can overcome the obstacles these children face at home, but when you talk to the teachers in many of these schools they don’t see it.
When opt-out was reaching its height in the 2014-2015 school year, civil rights groups voiced strong objection to the opt-out movement. They felt it would cause African-American students to become further behind. Despite laws preventing schools and teachers from opting kids out, these groups were very public about their point of view. Leading these voices was Michael Lomax, the President of the United Negro College Fund. As opt-out becomes a major issue again with the potential override of Governor Markell’s veto of House Bill 50, the Rodel Foundation and civil rights groups in Wilmington are bringing Lomax to town to speak about education for African-Americans.
On January 14th, from 6pm-8pm, Lomax will speak to citizens of Delaware at the Christina Cultural Arts Center (CCAC) in Wilmington. The event is sponsored by the Parents Advocacy Council for Education, a program from the CCAC, The Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League (MWUL), and the Wilmington Education Strategies Think Tank (WESTT). But the real kicker is the next entity behind this event, which comes directly from the flyer for it: “Made possible in part by the Rodel Foundation of Delaware”. All of these groups were very vocal with their opposition to the opt-out movement last spring, and some even took out an ad in the News Journal right before critical Senate votes on House Bill 50.
How does Michael Lomax, the President of the United Negro Fund, feel about opt-out? He is dead set in his beliefs this is not the right path for African-American students. Even though several civil rights groups joined in unison last year in support of the movement, others are sticking with their guns and fighting the movement. What is causing this radical shift in thought among different groups?
Some, such as the popular blog called Perido Street School, believe there is a direct correlation between civil rights groups fighting opt-out and how much money they receive from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation has long been a proponent for the Common Core, standardized testing, teacher reform, and charter schools. In fact, Lomax has written about how his grandchildren attend a charter school in Louisiana. Last April, Lomax wrote an editorial in the New York Daily News about opt-out.
By opting out, parents do a disservice to all children, not just their own. Without an ample number of test takers, we will lose perspective on how our children are truly doing against the higher bar. This is especially important for students who need a better education the most: children of color, children from low-income families and those who require special education services or are learning English.
On its face, Lomax is absolutely right on several of his points in the article. African-American students do have a history of not receiving equitable services compared to their Caucasian peers. But the problem becomes what happens when those very same issues are continually brought up again and again so education consultants and vendors can profit off of the need to fix these problems. Setting a higher bar all but ensures that there will always be proficiency gaps and attempts needed to get children to the point where they can reach this mythical end point. The bar will always change to allow for more Wall Street intervention in our schools.
At the forefront of the civil rights groups is Michael Lomax. He has spouted the same rhetoric about African-American students ever since he became the President of the United Negro College Fund in 2004. In 2009, Lomax took part in a large education debate sponsored by the Philanthropy Roundtable in New York City. Lomax made his feelings about teachers and unions very clear during his part in the debate:
The unions, superintendents, and school boards make up hundreds of hunkered-down intransigent, vigilant, resistant, inert status quo guardians guarding these gates.
He refuses to accept the possibility that the problems facing so many African-American students come from outside of the school. He actually thinks education will bring African-American students out of poverty, as he wrote in a joint letter to the editor in the Washington Post:
Apologists for our educational failure say that we will never fix education in America until we eradicate poverty. They have it exactly backward: We will never eradicate poverty until we fix education. The question is whether we have the political courage to take on those who defend a status quo that serves many adults but fails many children.
For Lomax, the status quo has served him very well. In Delaware, the figure for low-income status varies, but depending on family size, the average could be anywhere between $20-$25,000.00. If you added the figures for 22 families at $25,000 for their annual income, Lomax would still make more. According to that link, Lomax made $458,000 in 2014. In 2013, with bonuses, he made $700,000. The event in Wilmington, made possible in part by the Rodel Foundation, has their CEO making $343,000 a year. It is very easy for these groups and “education leaders” to tell people how bad education is because it is obvious they get paid handsomely for doing so.
The United Negro College Fund received many donations from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over the past seven years. Over $1.5 billion dollars in donations. As Perido Street School wrote in the top quote in this article, it would not be good for folks like Lomax to support opt-out at the risk of losing such generous sums of money.
Now it’s possible that Michael Lomax, CEO of the United Negro College Fund, would love testing and Common Core without the billion and a half+ in cash his organization has received from the Gates Foundation to fund scholarships. But getting that kind of help from Gates sure does cut down on the time the organization has to spend fundraising and you can bet neither Lomax nor the United Negro College Fund want to lose that source of funding. Now I dunno if somebody at the Gates Foundation called in a chit and “suggested” Lomax write his pro-testing screed or if Lomax just decided to be pro-active on his own and do it himself. But you can bet it’s not an accident that a national civil rights organization that is receiving over a billion and a half dollars in cash from the Gates Foundation is pushing an education reform agenda that makes the Gates Foundation happy.
I have no doubt it is integral to Lomax’ financial wealth to continue to perpetuate the beliefs of the corporate education reformers. He hangs out with some of the most vocal proponents of those who profit off the backs of students, teachers, and schools. They are given the ability to raid state and local funding for their agendas and are given full support and approval by the United States Department of Education. Folks like Joel Klein from Amplify, who was also brought in by Rodel to speak about education at $100 a seat last September. The two of them helped to write the Washington Post editorial linked above. In February, Lomax wrote an editorial for a website called Real Clear Education about the upcoming ESEA reauthorization. This letter was written with Rahm Emanuel, the former Chief of Staff for President Obama and the current Mayor of Chicago, who is also a lightning rod for controversy these days. In fact, Lomax is cited as one of the key people involved in the creation of state longitudinal data systems (SLDS) which are collecting a massive amount of data and personal information on students according to this article in the Huffington Post. These SLDS initiatives, with federal funding and massive amounts of money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation circumvent around appropriate laws to protect student data by allowing education vendors and outside companies to see much of this data.
Does Wilmington really need another supposed trumpeter of civil rights coming to town to tell us how bad African-American students are doing in our schools and how much our teachers need to change? If you are the Rodel Foundation and Governor Markell, the timing could not be more advantageous. Rodel and Markell are fierce opponents of parental rights when it comes to the opt-out movement. They do not believe parents have any rights when it comes to testing. They would rather see parents lose sleep over making the opt-out choice and have them fight with difficult charter schools and districts than allow a law to pass that would give them protection when making a fundamental and Constitutional supported decision. When the arguments heat up over opt-out, Rodel decides to bring a very big weapon to town. I do not believe it is mere coincidence Lomax will be speaking on the very same day the Delaware PTA is having an opt-out rally outside Legislative Hall and State Rep. John Kowalko may bring up the override question to the Delaware House of Representatives. This is how Rodel operates, in my opinion. This event was just announced yesterday, the day after a very controversial article about opt-out in the News Journal.
I will be exploring the issue of opt-out, especially for African-American students in Delaware, at greater length. But for the people going to see Mr. Lomax speak next week, I would urge all to question a few things: “Why now?”, “How much is he getting paid to speak”, “Would he feel the same way if he was making the same amount of money as the students’ families he claims to want to lift up out of poverty?”, and “Would he be willing to go to the roughest neighborhoods in Wilmington after his speech tonight and hang out with the folks on the street for a few hours?”
The Delaware State Board of Education is having a workshop at 9am on January 11th concerning the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss and review the WEIC Final Proposal. This is a public meeting as it appeared on the Delaware Public Meeting calendar. It does not state whether public comment is allowed or not. There is not an end time for the meeting either, but the final proposal is very long. At the December State Board of Education meeting, WEIC leaders Tony Allen, Dan Rich and Elizabeth Lockman, along with Joe Pika, presented the proposal to the State Board. There was a lot of discussion during the meeting about whether or not moving the Christina School District schools in Wilmington to Red Clay was the best for students. Later on in their board meeting, President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray was visibly upset about the Christina Priority Schools getting another planning year based on the recommendations of WEIC’s predecessor, the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee. This will definitely be an interesting conversation on the 11th. The State Board of Education will officially vote on the plan at their January 21st regular meeting.
In the plan, WEIC is asking for the state to chip in $6 million to fund the plan, which would bring the Christina students to Red Clay during the 2018-2019 school year. Typically, the Governor of Delaware does not release the following Fiscal Year’s budget until the final days of January. With the board voting on the plan on 1/21 and the budget not being publicly released until most likely a week later, how can the State Board of Education vote on this if they don’t know where the funding will come from? I would not assume the $8 million Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn is asking for from the foreclosure crisis settlement fund, which he would like to see go towards Delaware’s 16 schools with the highest populations of low-income students, would be allocated for the WEIC initiative. Though the funds Denn is asking for are similar in scope to what WEIC would like to see for this new Red Clay Consolidated district map, there are schools outside of that potential new district that would be included in the 16 schools he is requesting funds for.
On December 9th, Governor Markell appeared at the regular meeting of WEIC and announced Red Clay taxpayers would not have to pay for this. If the receiving district of the Christina students (Red Clay) taxpayers aren’t paying for it, then who is? The logical answer would be the taxpayers of Delaware, which by default would include the Red Clay taxpayers.
Oddly enough, this meeting does not appear on the State Board of Education website. Any state board meetings usually appear on there in advance, but it is not known when this meeting was scheduled. Delaware state law does call for any public meeting to have seven-day notification, and by it appearing on the public meeting calendar it did fulfill that requirement.
Tony Allen wears a lot of hats these days. First and foremost, he leads the Corporate Communications for Bank of America’s Consumer Banking. He sits on the Board of Directors at the Rodel Foundation. But his biggest role in 2015 was the Chairman of both the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and the Wilmington Education Commission (WEIC).
Unless you’ve been living in a hole, the WEIC’s job is to formulate a redistricting plan to get the Wilmington schools in the Christina School District shifted to Red Clay Consolidated School District. Originally, the Wilmington schools in the Colonial School District were to be a part of this initiative, but their board said no. They are still a part of the commission, but the most recent draft isn’t calling for their less than 300 students to move over.
WEIC has been controversial since day one. Their biggest hurdle will be how to fund this long-term plan. Ideas have surfaced over the past few months regarding raising property assessments to current day levels over time. Many in Delaware oppose this, especially those in Sussex County around the beach towns. Property values have increased dramatically in this area, and any change in property assessments will hit those homeowners very hard. Recently, WEIC called for $6 million from Delaware’s General Fund in the budget for Fiscal Year 2017. Delaware Governor Jack Markell promised members of WEIC at their most recent full commission meeting that Red Clay citizens will not have to pay for this. So who will? This is the question on everybody’s mind.
WEIC will present their draft to the Delaware State Board of Education on 12/17, next Thursday. At that point, it is expected the State Board will vote yes on it in January and it will go the Delaware General Assembly for a vote. This is where WEIC will face its greatest challenge. With Delaware projected to have anywhere from a $150-$200 million dollar deficit for FY2017, many are guessing WEIC and the redistricting will be dead in the water once it hits the House and Senate floors.
For Tony Allen, he sees this as a “once in a generation” action. Others feel this is being rushed through for various reasons. I have always been suspicious of the overall motivations of the redistricting. Kilroy’s Delaware thinks it is revenge against the Christina School District. But there is one thing Red Clay has which none of the other districts do: they are a charter school authorizer, the only one of its kind in the state aside from the Delaware Department of Education.
As recently as last summer, Governor Markell was overheard, when asked about where the Wilmington students would go to high school, as saying “The Community Education Building”. If WEIC is not all it claims to be from its leaders, expect a lot of heat put on Tony Allen and Dan Rich. There are many who would benefit from Wilmington eventually becoming an all-charter district. I pray this isn’t the end result. I sincerely hope this is not the intentions of Tony Allen. But I often ask if he has been used in this initiative, if he is one of the chief architects, or if the fears of many are just that.
At the end of the day, it should always be about the students. Will the students of Wilmington truly be better off under one banner so to speak? This is the question that all decision-makers will face in the coming months. These children are the most vulnerable of all Delaware’s children. The bulk of them come from poverty and low-income, are minorities, and many students with disabilities. They are the ones that matter. They are trusting the adults are doing the right thing. If that trust is broken, how many generations will it take for that trust to be restored?
The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission held their fourth public hearing concerning the draft plan for the redistricting of Wilmington schools last night at Brandywine Elementary School. Shana O’Malley with WDEL wrote about the WEIC draft concerns earlier today.
Something’s broken in the school system and no amount of money is going to fix that.
Many attendees expressed concern with the funding for this initiative in Wilmington Schools and how it will not only affect citizens in the Red Clay Consolidated School District, but the entire state.
“If it’s socioeconomic, something going on in the house, that belongs to social services,” said one parent. “The school district is not in the business of taking care of the mental health aspects of these kids, providing for them. Where are the parents at?”
With the Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a section on “Community Schools” where many of these services would be provided. It is a very fine line in my opinion. There is a huge difference between the population at Brandywine Springs Elementary and Warner Elementary. One is out in the suburbs and the other is in the middle of the city. Is it fair for a more affluent population to protest funding for the low-income populations? This is the age-old question. It also gets into the whole school choice issue in Delaware as well, especially up in Wilmington. Some folks would love nothing more than “government schooling”, the public school system, to go away. This crowd favors school vouchers to have funding diverted to private schools. But then on the other end of the spectrum, we have students in Wilmington, usually African-American, who don’t have a complete family unit and live in neighborhoods filled with crime and drug use. These are two completely different worlds, however, the first world inadvertently helped create the second world through “white flight”.
The speaker asked where the parents are at. They could both be working. It could be a single-parent home. A parent could be in prison or deceased. But chances are, a parent in Hockessin makes a lot more money than the parent of a child at these Wilmington schools. If parents are unable to set up mental health services for children, when does the city, county or state need to step in? It comes down to the haves and the have-nots. The haves want to keep what they have but the have-nots see what the haves have and want that but are unable to get it themselves. But here is the key issue: these are children who didn’t write the script here. This is the world they were born into. Should inner-city students be denied the things folks in the suburbs take for granted? This became very evident at Skyline Middle School in Red Clay this fall. Due to a change in feeder patterns, Skyline took in many students who are considered disadvantaged. As a result, school bullying increased causing parent outcry at their past couple board meetings.
These are the modern issues of the day. We have come a long way since the first half of the 20th century when blacks were separated from whites. We are, and should be, past that. But economic levers still dictate these kinds of situations from happening in many cities in America. For any issues like WEIC to work, it is going to take a lot of listening, convincing, and patience. It will take compromise, from all sides of the issues. But the big problem here is the timing. Some of the people behind WEIC are afraid that if the moment passes it will be lost for a generation. So in a sense, it is being rushed. During an election year, and even during a gubernatorial election year. If it comes down to the rich wanting separation and the poor wanting equity, with the dwindling middle class straddling both sides of the issues, we will get nowhere. And in all of this, are those with disabilities. Students from low-income, a minority and a disability. If we keep these children “out” of the public school system in our affluent areas, is that not a form of triple segregation? We can’t just rely on the status quo in Delaware. These are deep concerns that affect the viability of our state. Compared to many other states, we are woefully behind not only in education but also moving away from the past. In this “me” versus “society as a whole”, I personally choose society. Because if society isn’t right, I don’t feel I can be in my head knowing I’m not contributing to society. I know, we all pay taxes. Some pay more, some pay less. Nothing in life is free. We pay for products that constantly go up in price, but complain when taxes go up. Why?