Archive for March, 2014

Common Core opponents jump the shark

March 31, 2014 4 comments

The test results are in: Knee-jerk opponents of Common Core are NOT smarter than a fifth grader.

The latest bogus example to gin up fake outrage comes from an anti-CCSS website called whatiscommoncore. A Utah high school student captured screenshots of the SAGE test, showing somewhat philosophical resource material for the essay question, which was about the nature and value of books. Follow the link to view the screenshots.

The question presents some reading material on the value of books, making a sort of modest proposal that books are static narratives that do not engage the reader, compared with narratives like video games that involve the reader. The essay questions then invite the student to write on that prompt, either supporting or refuting the argument. This is in the best pedagogical tradition of rhetoric, by making the student support or refute an argument on a provocative topic.

The author says right in the text “It should probably go without saying that I don’t agree with this argument.” That’s in the screenshot.

But the opponents’ claim, of course, is that CCSS is “anti-book” and teaches the value of video games over books. I am laughing out loud at the sheer willful idiocy of it all. Here’s what they say:

Utah High School Student Captures Screen Shots of the Anti-Book Common Core Test

A Utah High School student took the Common Core (SAGE) test this week. Seeing objectionable issues in that test, she thought her mother should know. The student took screen shots using her cell phone and sent them to her mother. Her mother passed them along to us.

The message given in this test is that book literacy is inferior to the playing of video games. The test claims that literature forces passivity but video games teach students how to be leaders. Long live grunts and smoke signals.

The test makes these following devilish assertions: “books understimulate the senses” and “books are downright discriminatory” and books are “choreographed by another person [while video games are not]“. These are mean pushes toward valuing video gaming instead of books and they precisely match the pushy philosophy of Common Core creator-turned College Board President David Coleman. They also match the philosophy of Microsoft Owner/ Common Core funder Bill Gates. So it is no surprise. It’s still sickening.

I am reminded of Tea Party rallies featuring OBAMA=HITLER signs and demanding “Government, hands off my Medicare!”

It is the same idiocy that claims “Huckleberry Finn” is racist – or that “Brave New World” advocates sexual libertinism.

The worst part is, it just might work.


ACLU letter finds choice/charter questions “likely” violate several Federal statutes

March 30, 2014 1 comment

A February 27 letter from the Wilmington ACLU notes that certain questions asked on applications for Delaware charters, Vo-Techs, and other choice schools are likely in violation of Federal statutes:

The questions probably lead to a disparate effect on groups who are protected by two federal statutes, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Since there is no need to ask those questions during the admissions process, it is likely that asking them violates both statutes.

This is in contrast to a memo from the Delaware Attorney General’s office, which did not find any legal prohibition against the same set of questions. The ACLU letter notes of the AG memo:

The memorandum recognized the regulations under Title VI and Section 504 that require data collection, but did not consider the federal regulations at 34 C.F.R. § 100.3(b)(2) and 28 C.F.R. § 41.51(b)(3)(i), which prohibit questions that have a disparate effect on protected groups

The Enrollment Preferences Task Force received the letter from the ACLU, and it was distributed at the March 24 meeting of the task force. Here it is:

Public hearings on charters Tuesday/Wednesday this week

March 30, 2014 Comments off

All meetings are in the Townsend Building in Dover:

John G. Townsend Building Cabinet Room
401 Federal Street
Second Floor
Dover, DE, 19901

Tuesday April 1 5:00 pm. New charter application hearings for Mapleton Charter School at Whitehall, Delaware STEM High School, and Freire Charter School.

Tuesday April 1 5:00 pm. Charter modification application for Odyssey Charter School.

Wednesday April 2 6:00 pm. New charter application hearings for Great Oaks Charter School and Pike Creek Charter Middle School.

Wednesday April 2 6:00 pm. Charter modification application for the New Maurice Moyer Academy Charter School.

The following links to the 2013-2014 applications don’t seem to be available from the web page of the charter office – I had to find them the hard way:

2013-2014 New Charter Applications
2013-2014 Charter Modification Applications

All upcoming charter meetings:


Sussex League of Women Voters calls for action on education inequities

March 29, 2014 Comments off

From the Cape Gazette:

State must address educational inequities

By Jane Lord and Charlotte F. King | Mar 28, 2014
A page one article in the March 25 Cape Gazette cites the concerns of school officials and citizens in Sussex County that there is need for more diversity in charter and vo-tech schools, as well as more equitable allocation of resources. The League of Women Voters of Sussex County and of Delaware strongly share this concern, particularly since state- level education officials have long been aware of the diversity issues raised in this article.

During the Minner administration, the Delaware State Board of Education and the Delaware Department of Education commissioned a report on Delaware’s charter schools, headed up by a nationally recognized authority on education evaluation, Dr. Gary Miron of Western Michigan University. Miron’s March 2007 report on a comprehensive study (240 pages) of Delaware charter schools had the following statement in its conclusions:

While moderate success is obvious in the charter schools, a number of negative or unanticipated outcomes need to be watched and considered carefully. These include accelerating the resegregation of public schools by race, class and ability, and the disproportionate diversion of district and state resources (both financial and human resources) from districts to the more recently established charter schools.

A bedrock principle underlying our public education system is that every child is provided with an equal opportunity to fulfill their potential and become a productive citizen in our community. It appears that this principle has been seriously compromised for at least seven years by those responsible at the highest level in our state’s educational hierarchy. Action by the governor seems called for, now.

Jane Lord
League of Women Voters of Sussex County
Charlotte F. King
League of Women Voters of Delaware

A remarkable document

March 26, 2014 6 comments

A remarkable document landed in my inbox recently. It is a 103-page transcript of the 1995 Delaware Senate debate on SB 200 – Delaware’s charter school law. It is sort of like finding the Dead Sea Scrolls under a rock in your back yard, or finding the bill for the Last Supper stuck in an old pot.

Here it is: SB 200 Transcript

The filename says it is “Vol. 2,” and I suspect there is a Vol.1 still to be found. If anyone has it, please send it to me at (hey, it can’t hurt to ask).

There don’t seem to be any surprising revelations, though Kilroy hasn’t yet gone over it with his new bionic eye. The first 48 pages of the transcript are debating amendments to the bill. The rest of the transcript is fairly mundane, except for some fairly tense questioning of Bill Manning (then President of the Red Clay board) by Senator Marshall.

Marshall presciently grilled Manning about the potential for the new school eventually coming to serve mostly the economically advantaged, while leaving lower income students behind. Manning replied – well, you read it:

SENATOR MARSHALL: Understanding that the harshest critics of charter schools around the nation where they’ve been in place and operating, is the issue of the schools skimming off the top and creating an elitist academy with public money.
My concern is looking at the focus of the charter schools by attracting the best at times for a specific educational discipline offered by that charter school; and the concern of recruitment.
I looked at children throughout New Castle County in moderate low income neighborhoods, I looked at the City, the west side, the east side, hilltop, I need to understand how your board and how you will guarantee fairness and equal access to every student from every unit.

MR. MANNING: Thank you Senator. Let me approach that question two different ways because I hear the creaming argument over and over again with respect to schools of choice.
One thing that particularly bothers me about that argument is that whoever is making the argument, whether you’re a member of the State PTA or whether you’re a Superintendent from a school district 100 miles away from a district that wants to try a charter, that person is basically saying I know better than the parents of that child where that child ought to attend. But that’s an argument that I’ve never really understood, and it’s always been a little offensive to me.
You also hear the suggestion that for some reason children whose parents are college educated and have jobs that pay more will somehow get the better end of the deal. Which suggests that children of parents who for some reason don’t have a college education somehow aren’t able to cope in this system and aren’t able to make good choices for their children. I don’t believe that. And in Red Clay the experience is just the opposite.

There’s more in that vein; go read the whole thing.

Another thing that may be of interest: the roll call vote. I was surprised by how close it was 11-8, with 2 not voting.

MADAM PRESIDENT: Mr. Secretary would you please call the roll on Senate Substitute No. 1 for Senate Bill No. 200 as amended.
MR. SECRETARY: Senator Adams?
SENATOR ADAMS: Not voting.
MR. SECRETARY: Not voting. Senator Amick?
MR. SECRETARY: No. Senator Bair?
MR. SECRETARY: Yes. Senator Blevins?
MR. SECRETARY: Yes. Senator Bonini?
MR. SECRETARY: Yes. Senator Connor?
MR. SECRETARY: No. Senator Cook?
MR. SECRETARY: No. Senator Cordrey? Absent. Senator Haig?
MR. SECRETARY: Yes. Senator Henry?
SENATOR HENRY: Not voting.
MR. SECRETARY: Not voting. Senator Marshall?
MR. SECRETARY: Yes. Senator McBride? Absent. Senator McDowell?
MR. SECRETARY: Not voting. Senator Reed?
MR. SECRETARY: Yes. Senator Sharp?
MR. SECRETARY: No. Senator Sokola?
MR. SECRETARY: Yes. Senator Sorenson?
MR. SECRETARY: Yes. Senator Still?
SENATOR STILL: Not voting.
MR. SECRETARY: Not voting. Senator Vaughn?
MR. SECRETARY: No. Senator Venables?
MR. SECRETARY: No. Senator Voshell?
SENATOR CORDREY: Madam President.
MADAM PRESIDENT: Senator Cordrey.
MR. SECRETARY: Senator Cordrey from absent to voting no.
MR. SECRETARY: Senator McBride from absent to voting yes.
SENATOR STILL: Not voting to yes.
MR. SECRETARY: Senator Still from not voting to voting yes.
SENATOR HENRY: From not voting to voting yes.
MR. SECRETARY: Senator Henry from not voting to voting yes. Madam President the roll call on Senate Substitute No. 1 for Senate Bill No. 200 is amended by Senate Amendments No. 5, 1 and 6; eleven yes, eight no and two not voting.
MADAM PRESIDENT: Senate Substitute No. 1 for Senate Bill No. 200 having received the required number of votes is declared passed the Senate.


Choice enrollment reform resolution making the rounds

March 25, 2014 5 comments

A resolution promoting diversity policies in choice schools, including Vo-Techs and charters, is making the rounds of all the Delaware school boards:

In order to bring socioeconomic, racial and special needs equality, fairness and balance to our public schools, we resolve to support policy, regulation and legislation that would require choice or receiving schools to mirror the demographics of the sending school district […] Once adopted, this regulation, legislation or policy, would apply to every public school in the state of Delaware including vocational, technical and charter schools.
(full text of the resolution)

(Hmmm… reminds me of The Lowery Doctrine.)

The resolution was authored by Seaford board member Frank Parks, and has already been adopted by the boards of Seaford, Cape Henlopen, and Christina. According to the resolution, the Delaware School Board Association has made it a legislative priority.

Apparently cherry-picking and white-flight academies are alive and well in Sussex too. The Cape Gazette lays it out:

Frank Parks, a Seaford school board member, says charter and vo-tech schools cherry pick top students from traditional school districts, leaving high numbers of minority students behind while creating an exclusive education for high-performing students. […]

While Sussex County student population is about 24 percent African-American, only 2 percent of Sussex Academy students are African-American. Sussex Tech is somewhat closer to the county profile, but still, only 17 percent of students are black.

The gap is even greater for low-income students – 62 percent of the county students are considered low-income while Sussex Tech has a low-income students population of 33 percent and Sussex Academy has 18 percent.

More food for thought for the Enrollment Preferences Task Force as it begins to form its recommendations. I know this resolution was on Brandywine’s agenda last night… How’d it do? I can’t imagine this being adopted by Red Clay.

Enrollment Preferences Task Force meeting tonight, 6:30 @Buena Vista

March 24, 2014 2 comments

The fourth meeting of the Enrollment Preferences Task Force is at 6:30 tonight at Buena Vista. Here is the legislative web site for the task force including all minutes, agendas, and other documents.

I have been delinquent in blogging lately, especially on this Task Force – life gets in the way sometimes. I am not a member of the Task Force but I have attended the first three meetings, and I am going to this one tonight. But first, I owe you a recounting of the previous meeting (Meeting #3).

Back in October, the group identified a number of dubiously intrusive questions that charters, Vo-Techs, and other choice schools were asking on their applications. Co-chair Kim Williams forwarded the list to the Delaware Attorney General’s office asking for some guidelines on whether some of those quesions were lawful. This question was important enough that the next meeting was postponed until an answer came back. Meeting #3 was the big reveal – The DOJ taped two ten-foot poles together, but still didn’t want to touch that one:

In reviewing the list of questions presented, I did not find any current legal requirements that would prohibit the list of questions, tests, or auditions presented.
(full text of report)

But while the DOJ was not willing to take on the charter lobby with this rebort, there is plenty to suggest that there is in fact a problem:

While it may be advisable as the best practice for an RLEA to have a two step process separating admission and enrollment information, it is not legally mandated. Each RLEA has the legal responsibility to ensure that they are complying with state and federal law and in doing so they should review their application process and practices carefully to make sure they are consistent with the law and do not have a chilling effect on the enrollment. (emphasis mine)

Nice punt, to suggest that the schools should determine whether their own questions are consistent with the law. In effect, DOJ is (probably correctly) handing the issue back the to legislature and the task force recommendations, all but inviting them to take action:

If pursued through successful legislation, those recommendations would then become legally binding restrictions.

Most of Meeting #3 was structured in workshop format, with small groups working on ways to separate application info from enrollment info, as suggested by the DOJ. It looks like that is where the group is headed, and tonight it will begin discussions on forming recommendations.

This is a time for public education advocates to stay on their toes and watch for untoward legislation being advanced from sources outside the task force. I remember all too well how HB 165 seemed to come out of the blue after the conclusion of the illegally secretive Governor’s Working Group on Charters. Fortunately, the Enrollment Preferences Task Force is transparent and wide open to the public, thanks to HB 90 sponsor Kim Williams. So get down to Buena Vista tonight and take advantage of the open access.

Red Clay’s inclusion vote triggers some memories

March 20, 2014 3 comments

As you probably know by now, Red Clay’s inclusion plan failed at the board meeting last night in spectacular manner, with some provisions even failing to be seconded. The Inclusion Plan is Red Clay’s plan to move all special needs students along with their resources from their current special ed schools into the regular district schools.

My younger brother was born with Down’s Syndrome and is a Meadowood graduate. Professionals of the day classified him as “severely retarded.” The R-word sounds harsh today, but that was the correct medical and political term at the time, and was a helluva lot better that the term used before that.

He could not speak, not in a way that could be understood outside the family. Nor could he read, although he did learn to pick out some words in children’s board books. Arithmetic was out of the question. So was a career, or independent living. Of course my sainted mother read to him at home, but I credit the skills he learned to the intensive special education and speech therapy he received at Meadowood. He feceived the designation “trainable,” which was one step below “educable,” and which the euphemism treadmill later morphed into “severely mentally retarded” to “severely mentally nandicapped” and then “severely intellectually disabled.” This basically means he has an I.Q. of less than 50.

But he got on the Meadowood bus every day, which was undeniably shorter than the other buses, and which stopped at each rider’s house, and attended school like everyone else. I hope he wasn’t bullied – if he was, he wasn’t able to tell anyone. I know in the 1970s the kids in my schools weren’t ready for him.

Back then, inclusion meant having a school designed for special children, so they could attend school like their brothers and sisters. That was a step forward. Before that they were kept at home or as legend has it, in church basements. Only a generation earlier, if you had a disabled child you didn’t mention him or her publicly.

My father became an advocate and was an early president of what was then known as the Delaware Association for Retarded Children, now ARC I guess. This was in the wake of the reforms illuminated by a youthful Geraldo Rivera’s 1972 report on the scandalous conditions at the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island. The term FAPE was codified into Federal law in 1973, and state and local advocates were busy rewriting state laws to conform. I wasn’t really aware of what was going on, but I knew my father spent a lot of late nights in Dover.

After Meadowood, my mother passed on and my brother continued to live at home into my father’s old age. As a child of the Great Depression my father insisted that his son should work, so his inherent stubbornness and force of personality badgered administrators into accepting my brother at a branch of Elwyn Industries which, although it was a sheltered workshop was entirely inappropriate for him.

My father’s once-useful stubbornness gradually transformed into clinical dementia, on its way to full-blown Alzheimers disease until he passed away in 2008. Today, my brother lives in a nice group home in Delaware, and my sister and I are co-guardians. He attends a much more appropriate day program sponsored by Easter Seals. He gets on the bus every day, which is still short and still stops at his door.

As I read the emotional quotes from parents who attended last nignt’s board meeting, I can’t help noticing that each parent saw the inclusion plan through the lens of their own child. Some thought it would be best for their child, while others thought the current special schools would be better for their child. And you know what? They are both right.

District proponents keep repeating the mantra “least restrictive environment” as if it alone had some moral force or shaming power to make their inclusion plan prevail. But who gets to decide which environment is least restrictive for any given child? Special needs children are all different, even more so than other children. Many special needs children would thrive under an inclusion plan, while others would wilt. Not every special ed child fits the inspiring made-for-TV model.

Currently special ed students are perfectly well allowed to attend regular schools, and many do. The placement decision is up to the student’s individual IEP team, which includes school professionals and the parents. The discussion often hinges on where special-needs resources are located.

At one of the public meetings this winter I asked: “What happens if a student’s IEP finds that the student would be best served in a segregated special ed environment?” The answer was that Red Clay has agreements with certain providers to provide those services. In other words, students who need a dedicated special ed environment would be outsourced.

But now, Red Clay has pitted one group of special ed parents against another, and is butting heads with those parents who don’t want their special schools taken away. This is unworthy and needless friction. Often when confronted with an ugly binary choice, the right answer is “Both.” In other words, inclusion should be opt-in, and not forced upon students or parents who don’t want it. True, there would be costs associated with adding special ed resources to regular schools while also keeping the special schools open. But let’s put a price tag on it and get the numbers out there and then decide, instead of butting heads.

Happy snowy St. Patrick’s Day!

March 17, 2014 1 comment


A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

– from “The Dead” by James Joyce