State Board of Education Having “Workshop” On WEIC Ten Days Before They Vote On The Plan

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.

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16 To Watch In 2016: Tony Allen

Wilmington_Delaware_skyline

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?

WEIC Public Hearing At Brandywine Springs Brings A Different Crowd

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?

Generous Delaware Family Donates $4 Million For Autism Program At Nemours/A.I. duPont

The News Journal just reported that the Katzin family of Greenville donated $4 million to enhance an autism section of the Nemours/A.I. DuPont Children’s Hospital in Wilmington.  This is incredibly awesome!

Although Nemours has treated children with autism for decades, the Katzins hope their gift will serve as seed money to make the hospital and Delaware a major center for the understanding and treatment of autism. Their son Jack was diagnosed in 2002.

The donation will help neurologists and doctors better understand how autism works in the human mind and will allow them to research more effective treatments for the disability that has seen a spike in diagnosed cases in the past twenty years.

“We have a chance to put together something unique to better understand the scientific causes of autism and to work toward better treatments and better support,” said Diane Chugani, who has been director of the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Autism Center.

Any additional funding for disabilities is great.  This could certainly help Senate Bills 92 and 93 in Delaware which face a steep price tag in a coming fiscal year budget deficit battle where everyone will be fighting for funding.

Delaware Met Moms, Dads, Students, & Teachers: Make Your Voice Heard!

Monday night is the Formal Review Public Hearing for the Delaware Met.  It starts at 5pm at the Carvel State Building, on the 2nd floor.  It should be easy to get to because it is right next to the school, across the street to the right of the school.  This is the time to let the Delaware Department of Education and the world know what is really happening there.  If you have been bullied, or your kid is not getting the special education they rightfully deserve, or you have not been given due process, or you just have some thoughts to get out, THIS IS THE TIME!!!!  Do not let this opportunity go to waste!

Special Education Law Firm McAndrews Opens Office In Georgetown, IEP Clinic On 11/16

The special education law firm of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C. is opening a new office in Georgetown, Delaware in an effort to more adequately serve parents in lower Delaware.  Prior to this, their only office in Delaware was in Wilmington.  This will be a big help to parents.  If you are having special education issues with your child’s school and you are not able to resolve them, I would reach out to McAndrews.

On Monday, November 16th, they are having two education clinics in Georgetown in conjunctions with Delaware Community Legal Aid Society, Inc.  Here is a flyer:

Flyer - November 16th Education Clinics

While some schools can’t stand McAndrews because of lawsuits, they provide an essential service in Delaware and surrounding states by holding schools accountable for violations of special education law.  If our special education system in Delaware did the right thing there would be no need for McAndrews, but until then they are desperately needed.  It sounds like business is thriving in Delaware if they are opening a second office.  Which means kids are not getting the services they legally deserve.  Which also means schools are in violation.  Any reader of this blog knows I am a huge advocate for special education rights and I will always advise parents to do what is best for their child, not the school.  I do recommend trying to work things out with a school, but when you hit that wall (any parents who have been through this know exactly what I’m talking about) you need to advocate for your child and if you have to go that next step, McAndrews is ready to help and evaluate the situation.

As part of their advocacy, McAndrews goes a step further and holds these clinics throughout the year to educate parents about their rights.  This is something the firm’s founder and managing partner Dennis McAndrews wants all his attorneys to do with these clinics and through community outreach.  I attended one of these clinics a year and a half ago and it was well attended and parents learned many things they were not aware of.

For any parents in Kent County or Sussex County who may be in need of legal advice for special education matters, I would give them a call today!

Anani Maas Returns And Looks At The Big Picture At Delaware Met

This is the second guest article by Anani Maas in a week, and I have to say I am very impressed! Thank you Anani!

By Anani Maas
Delaware Educator
In response to the discussion on the Delaware MET and the interest in their model, here are some things that I know about Big Picture Learning:
1. It is a charter chain with over 60 schools nationwide.  The first school was opened in Rhode Island in 1995.  They are non-profit, but that doesn’t mean the founders aren’t bringing in big bucks.  If I were a teacher there and I was making peanuts while the leaders are pulling big $$, I’d be pretty mad.
2. It sounds good. From their website: “In the schools that Big Picture Learning envisioned, students would take responsibility for their own education. They would spend considerable time doing real work in the community under the tutelage of volunteer mentors and they would not be evaluated solely on the basis of standardized tests. Instead, students would be assessed on their performance, on exhibitions and demonstrations of achievement, on motivation, and on the habits of mind, hand, heart, and behavior that they display – reflecting the real world evaluations and assessments that all of us face in our everyday lives.” – See more at: http://www.bigpicture.org/big-picture-history/#sthash.ecQGJHsw.dpuf
The problem with good theories is that they are hard to replicate, and hard to meld with DE state requirements.   Delaware requires charter school students to take standardized tests and those tests determine their funding and charter renewal, no matter what their model describes. So, the charter will have to decide to trust their model and risk reduction in funding and difficulty in renewal, OR, teach to the test anyway and attempt to do both.  This almost always means that the model cannot be followed with fidelity.
I personally agree with the model IN THEORY, but as an educator, I know that educational theories and educational realities are usually not the same thing!  For example, their model says students SHOULD take responsibility for their learning.  So, what is their plan if a student doesn’t?  They also say that students will be assessed on their habits of mind, hands, heart, etc.  Again, I ask, what is the plan if students come with horrible attitudes, bad habits, poor motivation, low skill levels, and etc.  What if they won’t or can’t find mentors?  What if the students use their freedom to do nothing at all, or worse, to harm and take advantage of others?
We don’t live in utopia, we live in a real city with students with real problems.  Having good intentions and great ideas isn’t enough to help students who are at-risk!  They need resources, wrap-around services, guidance counseling, qualified educators, etc.  If the school isn’t providing these things, then all the theories and research in the world won’t help them.  In fact, removing them from a school that has those services could actually be hurting them.  Why would you choose to put children who need the MOST resources in a school with the LEAST?
3. They exist through grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as others.  Because Big Picture Learning is promoting “individual” learning, each student needs a computer, and Gates supports those kinds of charter schools.
4. Their website does not offer any independent research that has been done on the model outside of that performed by the founders themselves.  This sounds like more radical changes to education not based on research.

Parents Of Delaware Met Students: If You Are Having Issues, The DOE Wants To Hear From You

As most readers of this blog know, the Delaware Met is on formal review.  And the Delaware Department of Education wants to hear from you!  When a charter school in Delaware goes on formal review, there are two opportunities to be heard: a public hearing or leaving public comment on their website.  The public hearings will be November 16th and December 7th, both at 5pm, at the Carvel Building in Wilmington on the 2nd floor auditorium.  As well, you can give public comment here: https://form.jotform.com/52888685884178?

To give your public comment the weight it deserves, I highly recommend using your real name.  This is your chance to tell your story about your child’s experience with this school.  The DOE needs to hear from every single parent who is not happy with the Delaware Met.

Another Lewis With Fake Credentials Destroys Something Good

Fake Credentials.  It’s a stupid thing to do in this day and age.  And you will get caught.  Putting a fake college name on your resume or LinkedIn is just asking for trouble.  For one special education advocate, this is exactly what happened.  But this isn’t just any special education advocate, this one the CEO of a major advocacy company called National Special Education Advocacy Institute.  I just wrote about this company a month ago when I received notice they were having certified special education advocacy courses in Wilmington at $195 a class.  Someone tipped off Fox29 in Philadelphia because they did a huge investigation into Marie Lewis, the CEO of this company.  The video and article make it crystal clear why I can not and will not endorse this company.  Fraud is fraud and it absolutely disgusts me someone with fake credentials would try to profit off students with disabilities and parents trying to help.

Where she’d go to school? It just says “R.U.”

“Where’s your Ph.D. from?” Cole asked.

“From Rockville University,” Lewis said.

“Where’s that, ma’am?” Cole followed-up.

“And so, why are you asking that question?” Lewis asked.

We wanted to know where it is.

“Well, Rockville used to be in Maryland, and they moved, and they actually were absorbed by another school,” Lewis told us.

We checked with Maryland’s Higher Education Commission. No college or university may operate in the state without commission approval, and it has no record of a “Rockville University” when Lewis claims she got her Ph.D. in 2008.

There are also huge issues with their IRS certification as well with questions if they are a for profit or non-profit business.  In the title to this I mentioned another Lewis with fake credentials.  This distinction belongs to Ann Lewis, the former Head of School of the now closed Pencader Business School in New Castle, DE.

State Board of Education: “Poverty Is Not An Excuse…It Is Not Destiny”

The Delaware State Board of Education continues to ignore the effect Poverty has on students in high needs schools in our state.  As part of their presentation on the Smarter Balanced Assessment at Grotto’s Pizza in Dover, the State Board presented a slide that said:

Poverty Is Not An Excuse…It Is Not Destiny

Once again, the State Board is using the data that helps to further their cause of convincing the state the Smarter Balanced Assessment is necessary for our children to succeed.  The biggest challenge for the State Board and the Delaware DOE is the issue of low-income and poverty.  To fight this, they are hand selecting schools that fared well on Smarter Balanced.  But do some of these schools already have extra programs that could warrant higher Smarter Balanced scores?  Yes they do.

Lewis Dual Language Elementary School (Red Clay), South Dover Elementary School (Capital), and John M. Clayton Elementary School (Indian River) are all part of Governor Markell’s World Language Immersion program for Spanish.  Booker T. Washington (Capital) houses the district’s gifted and talented program for their elementary schools.  As well, Capital only has 3rd and 4th grade in their elementary schools and no 5th grade.  Other schools cited by the DOE as “beating the odds” (my words) are Long Neck Elementary School and Georgetown Elementary School (Indian River), Town Pointe Elementary School and North Dover Elementary School (Capital), Lake Forest South and Lake Forest East Elementary Schools (Lake Forest), Banneker Elementary School (Milford), Kuumba Academy and Thomas Edison Charter School.

An important distinction to make with all of these schools is that they are elementary schools.  The DOE did not praise any middle schools in this presentation.  The tests 3rd graders take are very different than those for 8th graders.  Comparing the two is not a true indicator for why 3rd graders did better on the Smarter Balanced Assessment than their peers in 8th grade.  As well, this ignorance of poverty does not take a large portion of the poverty issue to task: the very real part that deals with addiction, violence and crime in many of these students’ homes.  All of the schools the DOE talks about are in lower Delaware with the exception of two charter schools in Wilmington.  There are no Red Clay, Christina, Colonial or Brandywine schools “beating the odds”.

As well, the State Board emphasized the Smarter Balanced Assessment is just one indicator of how our schools are doing.  Then why are measurements from the Smarter Balanced Assessment going to account for 90% of elementary and middle schools accountability ratings and 70% for high schools in the upcoming accountability system called the Delaware School Success Framework?  All the other indicators the State Board talks about, growth and resources, are tied to students doing better on this test.  Education in Delaware is now based on performance on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Poverty DOES matter, and there are facets of poverty Governor Markell said last March “that you and I can’t imagine“.  But it sounds like Governor Markell, the DOE, and the State Board of Education are unable to not just imagine it, they don’t have the first clue how to understand it.  Below is the entire presentation Donna Johnson, Executive Director of the State Board of Education, presented to a group comprised of mostly educators and very few parents last night.  If any of you have more knowledge about what these schools may possess that other schools don’t, please share this information in the comments section.

Is There Toxic Ground At The Delaware Met Or Just A Huge Conflict Of Interest?

The address of 920 N. French St. in Wilmington, DE is listed as a “Brownfield Site”.  This is also the home of the Delaware Met.  What is a Brownfield Site? The Environmental Protection Agency defines a Brownfield Site as:

With certain legal exclusions and additions, the term “brownfield site” means real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.

On September 11th, 2002, 920 N. French St. was designated a Brownfield Site by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources (DNREC).  In the below report, a plan was put forth and finalized in order to clean up the site to allow for commercial development of the property.  Duffield Associates was the company that formulated the plan to clean up the site and remove any contaminants from the soil.

Not long after, MBNA bought the property.  When MBNA was bought by Bank Of America, the company soon sold their former employee training center to the State of Delaware for $6.5 million dollars.  The State of Delaware bought the property on October 12, 2007.  However, the appropriation allowing for the purchase of this building was not approved until the 144th General Assembly on July 1st, 2008, as part of House Bill 525.

Section 31. State Employee Workforce, Education and Training Center. The Section 1 Addendum

14 to this Act contains an appropriation of $6,500,000 for the State Employee Workforce, Education and

15 Training Center, currently owned by the Bank of America. These certain tracts of land are located in the

16 vicinity of 920 N. French Street in the City of Wilmington, New Castle County, and the State of Delaware,

17 being known as New Castle County Tax Parcel numbers 2603520172, 2603520255, 2603520185,

18 2603520190 and 2603520195. For the acquisition of this property, the real property procurement

19 procedures in 29 Del. C. §9505 shall not apply.

For the entire time the State of Delaware owned the building, the property was vacant.  Why would a State purchase a property and never use it?  In March of 2014, the State of Delaware issued a public notice to any interested buyers of the property.  Both The Delaware Met and Freire Charter School were actively seeking the property, and eventually the property was sold to Charter School Development Corporation, under the official company name of CDSCPC 920 French LLC.  The address for this company is 6731 COLUMBIA GATEWAY DRIVE, SUITE 220, COLUMBIA, MD 21046.  But Charter School Development Corporation is a non-profit company based out of Arizona.  The sale occurred on November 14th, 2014, which set into motion a great deal of controversy for Freire Charter School of Wilmington and the Midtown Brandywine Neighborhood Association when Freire was forced to find a new location for their school.  There is no public record of how much the State of Delaware sold the building to Charter School Development Corporation.  In Fiscal Year 2012, Innovative Schools donated $1 million dollars to Charter School Development Corporation.  In FY2014, the company bought 920 N. French St. and leased it to Innovative Schools who is subleasing the property to The Delaware Met.

In Fiscal Year 2015, the Delaware Met paid a considerable sum of money to Duffield & Associates to do work at the property, the very same company that was contracted in 2002 to clean up the soil at the site.  From the Delaware Online Checkbook:

DelmetDuff

All told, Delaware Met paid Duffield Associates $37,654.83 in a seven month period.  On The Delaware Met’s original application, Jeff Bross is listed as the Chairman of Duffield Associates and was also listed as a board member of Delaware Met.  Interestingly enough, while searching for information about Delaware Met and Duffield, this link came up: http://dedoe.schoolwires.net/Errors/AccessDenied.aspx with a message stating the page was inactive or protected and to contact Alison May at the Delaware DOE if you don’t have an account or have any questions.  Jeff Bross is still listed as a Board Member at Delaware Met and is still the Chairman of Duffield Associates.  2014 was a busy year for Duffield and Bross as they were also contracted to help with the I-495 Bridge Debacle.  So is there a clear conflict of interest with having the Chair of Duffield on the Board at the school while also hiring his company to do an extensive amount of work?  Duffield’s expertise seems to be in fixing structural issues at sites where there could be large problems.  What was the problem with 920 N. French St.?  In the school’s only board minutes posted on their website from October 8th, 2014 there is no mention of pending work with Duffield Associates or a vote to retain their services.  Bross attended the meeting.  As well, another board member named Richelle Talbert sits on the board at Delaware Met and is also an employee of the school’s charter management organization, Innovative Schools.  Surely that is a conflict of interest as well.

These are questions that need to be asked by our legislators and the Delaware Department of Education in determining what in the world happened with this charter school.

The Delaware Met Down For The Count A Month Into The School Year

Today, I got an email from someone about The Delaware Met closing next week.  Usually, I want to get more information on something like this, so I reached out to the Delaware Department of Education and the leaders at the school.  Not one response.  I put out some more feelers, and it looks like this story has some weight to it.  I don’t have specifics, but I’m hearing about multiple incidents of violence at the school, a student brought a gun to the school on the very first day, and students leaving the school in mass quantities.  The school just opened a month ago.

This school is being touted as a “Big Picture Learning School”, whatever that means.  But it looks like families aren’t buying it.  Is this a sign of things to come for Delaware charters?  I’ve heard that many of the new charters are not prepared for their students this year, despite what the DOE is saying.  I’ve heard of multiple special education issues going on at many charters this fall.

Back to The Delaware Met, I’m hearing their relationship with Innovative Schools has soured to the point of breaking.  This is not a situation where the DOE will be closing the school, but The Delaware Met will be voluntarily closing down.  Has that ever happened before in Delaware?  This is a charter school that met their enrollment figures last Spring when many other charters were struggling.  So what happened?  I’m hearing many of the students were at-risk students who were facing issues at other schools including potential expulsion and suspension issues.  I have no idea how many students at this school are students with disabilities.  But how prepared was the school to handle these issues?  If the allegations are true, not prepared at all.  It’s one thing to apply to open a charter and get through the DOE.  It is quite another to actually implement all the talk and ideas once the school opens.

The other night at the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission committee meeting on Charter-District Collaboration, a Red Clay principal actually advised the committee he is getting a lot of students transferring back to traditional schools from charter schools.  The charter movement in Delaware may be hitting the brakes folks.  Is the party over?  Between financial concerns, funding issues, transportation problems (more last year), special education, and Smarter Balanced results showing the most at-risk students in charters are no different than traditional schools, I think it is past time the Delaware DOE ended their love affair with the charter movement.

If the school were to voluntarily close next week, it would make sense because the school would receive funding based on their September 30th count.  Better to do it now than to wait until after they get funding…

Updated, 5:44pm: This story is gaining traction by the minute.  Multiple sources are confirming, but no official word from DOE or the school.  The only question is exactly when and how many students are actually left at the school….

Updated, 5:47pm: Other sources are telling me this school received a significant student population from Moyer, which was shut down by the state a year ago and closed it’s doors for good on June 30th, 2015.

Is The DuPont Hay Road Dioxin Pile Already Leaking? All Delaware Citizens Need To Read This!

The below information was forwarded to me today.  It is an email from John Kearney with the New Jersey Department of Children and Families to Delaware State Representative John Kowalko.  Yesterday, Kowalko started a petition for the removal of a dangerous toxic pile of waste at the former DuPont currently Chemours site at 1201 Hays Road in Wilmington, DE.  The petition stated the following:
Protect the health of Delaware’s residents by mandating the total removal of the hazardous waste pile built from 1997-2001 by DuPont at its Edge Moor facility, containing titanium dioxide, benzene and other life-threatening toxins and carcinogens.
Governor Markell, we the undersigned demand that you protect the health and welfare of Delaware’s residents by mandating the total removal of the hazardous waste pile containing titanium dioxide, benzene, and a host of other life-threatening toxins at the Edge Moor facility, holding both DuPont and Chemours fully liable (jointly and severally) for any costs borne by taxpayers for cleanup.
This caught the eye of John Kearney with the Department of Children and Families over in New Jersey who did some rather clever detective work on this issue, and the below results are startling.  If I were a family living in this area, and you are facing any potential health issues, I would seek advice immediately.
Is DuPont’s Hay Road dioxin Pile already leaking?  I’m unsure whether DuPont passed this liability off via its recently conceived Chemours entity, but that veil can be legally pierced to hold DuPont responsible for this location; therefore I am going to continue to refer to this as the DuPont Dioxin Pile.
Wasn’t this supposed to be a lifetime cap solution?  Is their lifetime solution already starting to wear down?
Earlier today I read Jeff Montgomery’s New Journal story about the closing of the Chemours Facility on Hay Road and then I went to Google Maps to look at satellite images of the caped Dioxin Pile.  While looking at the Google images of the Dioxin pile on Hay Road, I noticed something interesting.  It looks like the pile has already been leaking and that they have patched it.  Grey material can been seen in the recent pictures of the location that is not shown in older pictures.   This grey material clearly looks like a patch that has been added by DuPont.
This first set of pictures was from the satellite pictures included with the August 21, 2015, News Journal story  regarding  the closing of the Chemours,  Edgemoor facility.    From these pictures, it looks like some green runoff has pooled in the south east corner of  the capped DuPont Edgemoor site (see below).  If you look close, it looks like the green material goes all the way up to the base of the cap.  See the next set of pictures below.  I have marked the locations with red arrows and labels.  The patch is not in the picture included with the  August 21, 2015, News Journal story.    
The pictures and News Journal story can be found here:
This is the picture included with the August 21, 2015, News Journal story: 
Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: cid:image001.png@01D0E180.6950F080
Close up showing that the green wastewater extends all the way up to the edge of the pile:
Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: cid:image002.png@01D0E182.28BAC030
The red arrows show what looks like could be the source of the leak because the green color can been seen all the way up here, the furthest west that this material can be seen.
Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: cid:image003.png@01D0E182.28BAC030
Now, if you go to the current pictures on Google Maps.  There is a cap in this exact location.  The cap appears to be made of the same material that they have placed around the edge of the pile and the same material as a patch on top of the pile.  This ridge of material around the edge of the pile, almost looks like a bad caulking job in an old bathtub.  The patch in the latest Google pictures is clearly made of the same material.  Again, this patch is not present in the pictures included with the News Journal Edgemoor closing story.   There also appears to be less standing green wastewater in the more recent pictures.  See below. 
Another close up showing this cap is not present in the older Google Maps pictures:
Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: cid:image004.png@01D0E182.99862D90
This series of pictures is taken from the current Google Maps pictures.  You can follow this link and see for yourself:
Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: cid:image005.png@01D0E182.F04D72F0
Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: cid:image008.png@01D0E186.85487550
Here is a close up of that same location shown above near the source of the leak.   A comparison between the picture included in the August 21, 2015, News Journal story and the current pictures found at the Google Maps website on August 28, 2015, indicates that this is a recent patch.  Current Google Maps images in use on the Google website can be anywhere from a few months old to, approximately, two years old. 
This is a closeup of the patch.  The grey material can be seen covering the entire area, where in the older pictures, no grey material can be seen at this location.
Conspicuous black line and current leak without the red markup.  This line also was not in the August 21, 2015  New Journal article about the closing of the Edge Moor facility:
Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: cid:image011.png@01D0E185.CBE66B80
Why would this patch be there, if the pile wasn’t leaking?  Did DuPont report this leak to DNREC?  What is in this green wastewater runoff?  What toxins are contained in the runoff?  I sure would like to know.
Please see this recent story from the Huffington Post regarding DuPont and C8 as an example of how honest DuPont has been with these types of leaks:
John Kearney
Yesterday, James Dawson with WDDE/Delaware Public Media published an article about the toxic pile.  In this article, he wrote:

The nearly 23-acre site sits next to the Delaware River, east of I-495 and within a mile of surrounding neighborhoods and other waterways. Earlier this spring, Dupont installed more than 4,000 solar panels on part of the encapsulated pile that generate enough electricity to power nearly 150 homes for a year, on average.

Kowalko proposed legislation in 2007 and 2009 that would have forced companies to safely treat, store or dispose of hazardous waste they generate in Delaware according to federal standards.

“Once we allow these things to accumulate, eventually, we’re looking tragedy in the eye,” said Kowalko. “I think that we have to be more respectful of what we are using, what we are making, what we are distributing and how we are storing it in between distribution.”

The legislation did not pass.  While I don’t normally write about matters outside of the education/disabilities realm, this concerns me.  The Delaware DOE and their standardized testing vendor, American Institutes for Research questioned the overdiagnosing of special education needs for students with disabilities and openly stated Delaware’s percentage of students with IEPs was too high compared to most states.  I took great offense to this.  Delaware is known to be one of the most polluted states in the country.  Disabilities are on the rise across America, especially in Delaware.  The Autism Task Force stated they expect the number of Autism cases in this state to rise significantly in the future.  Is there a connection between the rise of disabilities in Delaware and situations like these that happen right before our very eyes while the Delaware government looks the other way?  In addition, how many cases of cancer and dangerous diseases could be attributed to these man-made environmental poisons?  Questions to ponder as this “capped” pile of toxic waste continues to pose a grave danger for all around it.

My Favorite Blog in Delaware

Most would assume it is Kilroy’s Delaware, but they would be wrong.  It isn’t even a blog about education.  It is the most brutally honest words I’ve ever read.  It is the truth far too many want to ignore or pretend it will just go away.  To truly understand the plight of the homeless in Delaware, you have to read Homeless In Wilmington.

The author used to be homeless, and this is all he writes about.  He understands their perspective and shares it with us all.  His cry should be a cry we all feel.  I want to share one of his more recent posts.

I Wept For You Today

July 14th, 2015

i wept for you today. when i saw the group of you standing in the rain, waiting for the doors to open so you could go inside in the early morning darkness. when i saw the number of you and the blank expressions on your face as you waited, i wept.

when i passed the mother with her young child in a stroller, i wept. my heart went out to her as she passed me on the sidewalk and i glanced at the young child. my eyes went back to the mother who looked at me and half smiled, hiding the pain, the anxiety and the weariness that only a mother could know as she tries to keep her child at her side. i thought of where she slept last nite and the fear that must have crept around her as the darkness sank in and she was alone in the abandoned building that i know she sleeps in. i thought of the relief that the early sunrise must have brought her, only to be quickly replaced by the burden that the same sunrise brings.

i passed the elderly gentleman with mental illness wandering down market street. as i passed he paused and began to speak as he always does when i see him. his greeting was familiar but his conversation after that was sprinkled with reality and the bizarre ramblings of dementia and paranoia that fills his world. i looked more intently at him this morning as i listened to him speak in the world that he is trapped inside. when i began to move on and glanced back i thought of him and the many times i’ve seen him wandering the streets of my city going to a destination that only he is aware of. in the rain, the snow, the darkness and the heat of the summer he shuffles down the same streets every day, content in the world that only he knows. as i looked ahead again, i wept because i know he will not make it thru another winter on the streets.

i passed the single young woman whom i see often in my travels among the homeless. when i first saw her she was pretty, young and physically fit. this morning she was a shell of herself and her eyes seemed to be dimming with each meeting. her once physically fit body was now thin, worn and bore the marks that heroin addicts wear. she was weathered and street hard. when i thought of the moment that the needle will enter her arm and as surely as i was standing before her today, it will take her life…i wept.

i learned of a young woman’s death this morning that i haven’t seen in awhile. i inquired about her to her once boyfriend who had just relapsed and was beginning again to attempt to kick the drugs that have had a reign over him since the first day i met him. his response that she died 7 months ago hit me particularly hard this morning when he told me she overdosed. i wept as i thought of the last time i saw her, drug free, eyes clear and a bright smile. i wept for a life cut short in what should have been her prime. 

every time i passed a homeless person today and saw the backpack on their back or duffel bag at their side i wept for them.  i wept because i know the struggle, the weariness and the anxiety that comes with that backpack and worn sneakers. i know the look on their face and the feelings inside them despite the smile on their face. i wept for them because i know the inner sadness and feeling of being alone that eventually comes to them whether it be late at nite, early in the morning or all during the day. i wept for them because i know that the chances of ending their homelessness soon is small and that their struggle is ongoing. i know the heavy burden they bear. i wept as i passed the ones that were drunk, high or somewhere in between.  i know they carry a death sentence with them and every time they smoke, drink or stick a needle in their arm they are quickening that sentence and shortening that green mile.

at the end of the day when i saw the homeless finally at their destination, i wept, i know that they will sleep on a bed that isn’t theirs, in a building that houses sadness and desperation. i know they will sleep tonite and wake to the thought that soon another day of walking the streets of my city will begin. another day of surviving and living with the thought that tomorrow will bring another day…just like today. 

i wept for my city today as i wondered how it could allow this day after day after day and year after year. i cried as i wondered how my city could allow men, women and children to be homeless, alone and often hungry and fearful for their own survival. i wept when i thought of you allowing this to begin, grow and continue in your community being fully aware that the homeless are among you.

i wept for all of you today, but you did not know it. i shed not one tear down my cheek and i did not wipe my eyes as the pain of your homelessness sifted thru me. as you keep your pain inside of you, so i kept the tears inside of me as assuredly as the woman at your place of employment keeps her homelessness inside of her. i kept it inside of me just as sure as the homeless child who shares your son or daughter’s classroom keeps their secret inside. i kept my tears inside of me just as intently as the elderly woman you pass on the sidewalk as you scurry to work or lunch or on your way home keeps her fear and pain inside. 

i wept for you today…all of you…in my soul. i wept for my city.

see you around town

Many of the homeless children go to school with our kids.  You may not even know it.  When my son is hungry, I give him food.  When he is cold, I give him a blanket.  But these children don’t have the luxury over going to the latest Disney movie when it comes out.  For them, the only game they play is the constant “when will it end”.

I live in Dover, and there are homeless here as well.  Every once in a while you will hear about one of them freezing to death in the winter.  One day I was walking on a path near Silver Lake, near the park, and I found what appeared to be a small homeless town, with tents and grocery carts.  Nobody was there, but it was obvious I have it much better than these people.  Most of us do.

The homeless are people, just like us.  Circumstances brought them to their current situation, but they bleed the same blood, and feel the same pains we all do.  But they feel it every day.

Some of these homeless children are the ones we so desperately want to fix at school.  The ones that can perform the same as their peers with the right amount of rigor.  As if this can cure their current plight.  If our Governor and DOE truly want to “fix” these children, no amount of high-stakes standardized tests is ever going to change their reality.

As campaign season kicks in during the next few months, and the rich gladly pay $100 a plate at a dinner, remember what those funds could really do to those who need it more than any person running for public office.  Maybe buy some sleeping bags.  My favorite blogger is stockpiling them now for those who will need them.

Delaware MET Charter School Performance Fund Application

I love when schools that aren’t even open yet apply for a performance fund!  Because they have so much data to show they can even perform…

The Delaware MET is scheduled to open August 2015.  So I’m guessing they need more money…

While I don’t really have a problem with what Delaware MET is asking for, why would they wait until a few months before they open to institute such a high-caliber part of their curriculum as part of a performance fund they may or may not receive?  If they don’t get this funding, what happens to this program? No internships for these kids?

What Is The New Castle County Education Project? Find Out Here!

Recently, a report for the New Castle County Education Project completed.  This is another report centered on students in Wilmington.  It covers school busing, drop-outs, and charter schools.  Commissioned by Wilmington Mayor Denis Williams and New Castle County Executive Thomas Gordon, this report seems like it is very pro-charter school.  Is something in the air?  Might we expect to see something happening outside of our knowledge?

Final Public Hearings For Freire, Prestige Academy and DE Design Lab Tonight At 5pm, Academy of Dover Tomorrow At 6pm

The Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware Department of Education is holding the final Public Hearings for Freire Charter School, Prestige Academy and Delaware Design Lab High School tonight in the 2nd floor auditorium at the Carvel Building in Wilmington at 5pm.  Academy of Dover will have their final public hearing tomorrow night at the main Delaware DOE building across from Legislative Hall at 5pm tomorrow in the 2nd floor Cabinet Room.

These are not public hearings where the schools are on trial.  Rather, it gives the public time to give comment on these schools official formal review proceedings.  There is a transcript which is put on the DOE website a couple days after.

I anticipate quite a few of the community members near the new Freire sight to protest this school’s location again.  For Academy of Dover, God only knows what will come out at this hearing!

Christina School District Should Apply For A Grant From The Longwood Foundation

Why not?  They already give millions of dollars to Delaware charter schools.  Is it even legal for a traditional public school district to do this?  I have no idea.  But I think the very nature of a referendum should not be legal.  Yesterday’s vote on the Christina referendum shows a clear disparity between traditional public schools and charters.  When a charter needs funds fast, there are many organizations willing to donate funds.  But when a district like Christina needs money, they have to beg for it.  The charters will say they need to beg, but when they get extra funds from transportation funds, non-profits, and even DOE awards, you never hear them offering solutions for the districts that give them their main source of funding.  Nearly 6,000 votes should not decide a source of funding for over 21,000 students and cause the termination of 200 teachers and support staff.

Legislators are already calling for change.  Delaware State Rep. John Kowalko sent out an email this morning in response to very concerned constituents in the Christina District:

I do not pretend to offer lip-service or support from a distance. I will meet with a House lawyer this Friday and plan to compose and consider legislation that may be offered immediately to help and legislation to create a task-force with a reporting requirement no later than Jan. 1 2016 to offer a plan to change Delaware public education funding structures and eliminate the referendum process. I am open and willing to hear any and all suggestions to accomplish that and will meet with your group at your convenience to discuss this. I want to thank you for all of your hard work in trying to secure a favorable outcome on the referendum and to specifically applaud all of your group’s efforts to dispel the lie and the implication that some unidentifiable flaw in Christina Board/Administration/educators should cause voters to pause before casting a ballot in support of the referendum. These types of references did much more damage and influenced many, many more negative votes than the weak whispers of support voiced by some leaders with the caveat that the district was corrupt, misusing funds or populated with malcontents. Once again thank you all for your reasonable and intellectually honest assessment of the needs of our public school children.

Respectfully,

Representative John Kowalko

With the topic of school funding already a hot topic in Dover, yesterday’s vote is just going to add fuel to a raging inferno.  Add standardized testing, opt-out, redistricting of Wilmington schools, special education funding, Autism, charter school audits, teacher evaluations, change in the Department of Education and Secretary’s roles, and how to protect our schools.  It is more than obvious that the biggest concerns in Delaware right now are around education.  Should the General Assembly extend their legislative session to deal with these crucial issues?  They essentially have five weeks left.  Three days a week.  With education committees meeting once a week for an hour or two.  They need to do more and act quicker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delaware and Poverty, How Far Have We Come In Six Years?

I found this report online, and I have to wonder how far Delaware has come since the issuance of this report back in 2009.  In terms of the education part of the report, this has the corporate education reform hallmarks all over it.  This is pre-Race To The Top and Common Core in Delaware, but everything was gearing up for it, even when the Poverty Task Force started under Governor Minner back in 2007.

Are we going to reduce that poverty level by 50% in the next four years?  I hear teachers from the priority schools talk, and I hear stories that bring tears to my eyes.  It’s heartbreaking that we live in a state where this happens.  It angers me that our Governor is more concerned with implementing education initiatives that don’t tackle the problem of poverty at all.  As if rigor and assessment is the way out.

I see lots of familiar names in this report, and many I’ve never heard of.  I wasn’t really involved in education six years ago.  I see this report and wish I was.  It’s not just Wilmington where poverty exists.  I live in Dover and it is here too. It’s pretty much everywhere in our state.  I have to wonder why we “invest” millions upon millions of dollars in education with little or no results?