Arne Duncan makes a visit

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is visiting Delaware today. I attemped to score an invite to this event, but was rebuffed by event planners. This is my usual piss-poor procrastination at work, so I’ll forgive them this time. Though, something tells me I’d be denied entry if they knew the type of questions I’d like to ask the Secretary. Even though I’m unable to attend this event, I’ve got some folks on the inside. I’ve forwarded them the below questions in the hope they can be asked.

1) Sec. Duncan, you’ve made many positive comments in the past about the highest-needs schools providing “wraparound services” to the neediest of our children. That is, keeping the school doors open well past the closing bell with medical services, tutoring for students and GED and college classes for parents, and enrichment activities. Many teachers support this model. How could the federal government best help state and local governments with funding these initiatives?

2) Under the banner of “education reform,” we are seeing an influx of “corporate influence” in our public schools. That is, lots of businesses want to have their say in the classroom, even though they may not have the unique insight that so many teachers and support professionals on the populations we work with every day. How do you feel we can best pair with corporate partners without their influence becoming too heavy handed in driving policy discussions?

3) Let’s face it. It really is all about test scores. In so many of our schools, students hear little more than “raise the score! raise the score!” It’s become a bizarre ritual to see students quantify and qualify their successes based on a score that could have been derived from guessing an answer. By some calculations, testing is taking between 10-15% of the school year for many of our schools. How much testing is too much testing and what results are we really looking for?

4) The 10th Amendment provides that powers not granted the federal government nor prohibited to the States are therefore reserved TO the States. Does the ever-increasing Federal oversight of our schools — which aren’t powers granted by the Constitution — constitute a grave intrusion into local control? I’m speaking specifically of No Child Left Behind to a large extent and Race to the Top to a smaller extent.

5) No Child Left Behind is the law. It specifies that by 2014 ALL students will reach grade-level proficiency in math and reading…or else! Now, many states are applying for waivers because they realize those goals are too lofty and perhaps wholly unattainable. Let’s take this a step farther. How long can we continue to go down this “waiver” road before we figure out what “or else” means?

6) “Education reform” is a business. Let’s face it. There are thousands of people in edreform who stand to make profits based on untested theories they believe will help close the achievement gap. Ask teachers, though. We know what works. Smaller class sizes and increasing parental involvement. Privatizing schools and converting them to charters will do little without our addressing these greater societal needs. Shouldn’t we be listening to more teachers than MBAers when it comes to our students’ needs? We don’t see teachers invading corporate board rooms and dictating how they should pay out their dividends.

I’ve got so much more to ask. I’m hoping there will be Q&A and that some of these questions — or variants therein — will be asked.


My two new business items passed!

1) My first business item was to request an internal DSEA review of the 2007 Class Size and Unit Allocation Task Force Report that seemingly has had no follow-up. This report made recommendations to collect data and look at ways to lowering elementary class sizes. I don’t see where any real follow-through was done on this report. The Representative Assembly today voted all yeas except for one abstaining vote on this item.

2) I proposed a new business item requesting an impact study, directed by the General Assembly, on the Neighborhood Schools Act. In particular, I’m asking the Assembly to review subsection 220 of the Act that guarantees “fair and equitable” planning for all schools in Northern New Castle County. Many community stakeholders believe there are inherent inequalities in certain schools that are in clear violation of the Neighborhood Schools Act. The General Assembly should initiate an impact study ASAP to see if some of our schools are being unncessarily harmed.  This new business item passed unanimously!

I am ecstatic right now. It was not a totally stress-free operation. I learned some great lessons in Robert’s Rules and making amendments and dealing with questions from the floor. Made some new friends in the process and I’m glad to have been part of it! Hopefully my new business items won’t be for naught. I will be following up.

This is me after today’s activities!!



We are here and wearing our red. Richardson Park representing!!! Say “Hi!” to my good friends (from right) Lisa, D-Webb, Steve, Gena, and me!



I’m looking forward to getting down to business today at the DSEA Representative Assembly. For those who aren’t aware of this annual event, it’s where DSEA member delegates from across the state come to Dover to discuss and vote on issues affecting the union in particular and greater education issues in general. This will be my third RA and I am learning more with each passing year.

This year I’ve done something different. I decided to take a leap and submit two new business items. I’m the only one who’s offered up new business items/resolutions this year and I’m looking forward to a good discussion today. Now, these resolutions and new business items are completely non-binding; there’s really no way to enforce them on a larger level because, well, DSEA is not a law-creatin’ or law-enforcin’ body! But, what can be done is DSEA can engage in larger debates that bring in more key stakeholders. And that’s just what I attempt to do today.

The first new business item I’ve submitted is in relation to school capacity formulas. Under the School Construction Manual as outlined by the State Department of Education, all elementary schools are to have 24 students in each instructional classroom that is between 736 and 914 square feet. No matter the school, this same formula is used. My new business items seeks to get a new dialogue going between DSEA, state legislators, and other key education constituencies in that I believe students in low-income and high-needs schools REQUIRE smaller class sizes. However, nothing in the law differentiates between a school with 5% low income and a school with 95% low income. I think this needs to be addressed.  In short, I believe school capacities MUST be tied to a school’s percentage of low-income students. The higher that low-income rate goes up, the lower class sizes must come down. Let’s get talking about this!

My second new business items involved the Neighborhood Schools Act and what I feel are inherent inequities in its application when, in fact, the law states that equity is to be assured at all steps. Well, not all of our schools are participating in the same programs in which some of our other, less-high-needs schools are participating. Neighborhood Schools Act provides for the same availability of programming across the board no matter the school. I’m thinking specifically of Talented and Gifted programming, though there are others. The mere fact the some schools have and others don’t, I feel, is a violation of the law. In the very least, I’d like to see DSEA initiate an impact study of that decade-plus law. 

There’s lots to discuss in education today. I hope to get a few people talking today and for a good long while going forward. Let me know your thoughts! I hope my new business items pass!

Mr. Matthews Goes to Dover

This weekend is the Delaware State Education Association’s annual Representative Assembly. Known simply as RA in many circles, this is the time when delegates from around the state come together to vote on bylaws updates, resolutions, and new business items. This will be my third year in attendance and it’s always been a great time.

This year, though, I’m doing something different. I’ve submitted the only two new business items to be worked this year on the floor of the RA. These are two issues about which I have a great amount of passion: school capacities and the Neighborhood Schools Act. I will go to Dover with the expectation that I will likely have to defend these new business items with reasoned arguments and respectful debates. I hope the delegates representing the school districts across the state will find my intentions to be pure and vote to adopt these new business items on Saturday.

I may share more information later, but I’ve been up since 4:30 and am quite tired!

DoE considers the law, backs off of NCS expansion — for now

I am employed by the State of Delaware in the Red Clay Consolidated School District. I have no fear of repercussions because of my frequent speaking out regarding educational issues affecting Delaware today. People who know me realize I tend to get passionate about many topics, but always wish for my debate to be respectful and conducive to a positive environment. That being said, I will very pointedly point out errors, inconsistencies, illogicality, or outright lies when I see them committed by either a local school district or the bigger Department of Education as a whole.

And today’s news that the vote on Newark Charter School’s expansion into high school has been put on hold is good news. Up until yesterday, many thought the expansion was a sure thing. Even though the arguments questioning the expansion were quite voluminous, it seemed the State Board of Education would simply ignore those concerns and issue their expansion approval post haste. Well, not so fast. It seems the ACLU’s letter yesterday detailing the school’s non-compliance with federal law as it relates to the free- and reduced-lunch program may have caused some folks at DoE and on the State Board of Education a moment of pause.

What disturbs me most about all this, though, is the seemingly insane cult of personality around the school’s leader, Mr. Greg Meece. He seems to hold some bizarre sway over the parents of that school. Check out this Delaware Liberal post courtesy of Pandora.

Meece says he got the heads up from [DoE Sec. Lillian] Lowery early this morning and he then passed this info onto NCS parents.  Which means if you were a recipient of an email from Mr. Meece, then you knew the outcome of the public meeting before, ya know, the public.  I feel bad for those people who took time out of their day to attend a meeting whose outcome was already announced to a chosen few.  Hell, why even bother with public meetings!

Not to mention Meece has shared with parents complete fabrications about DSEA robocalls to its members asking them to stack last week’s public hearing on expansion. No such robocalls ever were sent out. Ever. Just more anti-union flame-stoking courtesy of Mr. Meece. Meece likes to share lots with his parents, it seems. A little too much. And a little too little of the truth.

It may have taken a decade, but I suppose later is better than never to finally begin the process of evening out just what is happening at Newark Charter School.

Newark Charter in violation of law? Probably.

Head on over to the inimitable (and invaluable) Kilroy’s Delaware and read a copy of a letter from the ACLU to the State Department of Education regarding Newark Charter School’s expansion request to grades 9-12. Funny. The ACLU perfectly — and more eloquently — captures exactly what many of us have been saying for weeks: It’s abundantly clear that Newark Charter School is operating outside of current charter school law. By granting Newark Charter’s request for expansion, the State Department of Education is absolutely co-signing on this continued law breaking.

So, what law is the school breaking? Oh just the one that says the school has to comply with the “legal requirement of providing free and reduced lunch to students eligible under the applicable state and federal laws.” In NCS’s original charter application years ago, the school said it would meet those federal and state requirements by contracting with a provider like Aramark. It seems that was a short-lived affair.

What fascinates me most, though, is DoE’s continued renewal of NCS’s charter application TWICE even though they failed during both renewals to show they were following the above law. In 2004, NCS claimed keeping the free and reduced lunch program was “no longer viable,” so they told the state they’d go with outside vendors “such as McDonald’s” to fill the requirement. McDonald’s meals, though, don’t meet the federal requirement. I guess McNuggets, fries, and Shamrock Shakes don’t constitute a balanced meal. Oh, and the fact that the 2004 renewal application claimed the school doesn’t have a cafeteria didn’t arouse some suspicions among the folk at DoE?

In its next renewal application in 2008, NCS proposed no changes in its provision of meals. Lovely. No argument from DoE, apparently.

So, what we have here is a school violating the law. It’s quite explicit. The school is violating the law. As a consequence of its violation of the law, they’re leaving out a large group of children who should be eligible, but perhaps don’t sign on because of the lack of free and reduced lunch.

Here’s what I want to know: Considering there MUST have been individuals within the school’s five-mile-radius attendance zone that would absolutely qualify for free and reduced lunch, what was the process for explaining this lack of a cafeteria…this lack of food services…this LACK OF FREE AND REDUCED LUNCH to the potential incoming families?

You see where I’m going with this? I’d like to know who knew what and who knew it when. When were these families told and were they made aware of the law requiring the school to provide these services?

The deal is done. From what I’ve heard, NCS’s charter expansion will be approved. Good for them. But they must be called to task for this absolutely outrageous violation of the law that has gone on for 11 years.

Instructional Coaches=Magic Pill?

The News Journal has an article out today discussing the mid-year results of the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System (DCAS). (Sidenote: My apologies if you don’t subscribe to The News Journal. I (obviously) won’t be reprinting whole articles here, but I will paraphrase key points.) DCAS is taken at three points during the year to measure a student’s progress on grade-level curriculum. I won’t debate the efficacy of this test as it relates to certain segments of our students; I’ll save that for another post.

I also won’t get into the results of the test, as that’s apparently why we have data coaches — to assist our teachers with data interpretation and tell us how to magically make those students’ scores increase, external influences be damned! I will get into a conclusion that writer Wade Malcolm — perhaps illogically — draws in relation to certain successes from the winter scores in one school district:

The use of instructional coaches — funded by the state’s Race to the Top initiative — is part of the reason Indian River School District has so far exceeded the state average in reading and math for every grade level tested.

Now, it’s wonderful that Indian River School District has exceeded the state average in reading and math. We should absolutely magnify success whenever it’s shown at any of our public schools, be they traditional, magnets, charters, or otherwise.

I’m just a little interested in how a District — or Mr. Malcolm, in this case — can draw the conclusion that “the use of instructional coaches…is part of the reason Indian River” saw such success. We educate in an almost myopically, single-focused environment of “Data! Data! Data!,” so I’m wondering if Indian River has ACTUAL data to prove that the instructional coaches were a part of that success.

Or is this just the District’s attempt to find some — any! — successes in the state’s Race to the Top program, which has proven to be not at all that popular among  many teachers across the state?

Let’s Roll

I’ve been gone. For a while. Some would say for far too long. Things have reached a fever pitch on the topic of education in Delaware. RttT. PLC. NCLB. GLE. Alphabet soup, I tell ya!

So I’m here. I have lots to say. In many interesting ways. I’d like to lead this blog with the amount of fearlessness I feel I employed at my former blog, Down with Absolutes! Of course, this time, though, I feel I’ve overcome the angst of my early-to-mid-20s and I’ll comport myself appropriately. Maybe the occasional fart joke or two. Fourth and fifth graders love those and if they can take it, so can you!

Stick around. I’ve lots to say to you. And I hope you’ll have lots to say to me in return!