DE Dept. of Ed. and State Board of Ed. Need to Check Themselves

It’s been an interesting summer break for me. Full-fledged “summer” with the soaring temps outside. Not so much of a “break,” though. And that’s ok. Keeping busy keeps me sharp and out of trouble.

Or so I thought.

Let’s back this train up quick, fast, and in a hurry.

About three weeks ago, the Delaware State Education Association sent a request to all local presidents asking for their assistance in writing letters to the unelected and unaccountable State Board of Education to protest three planned regulation changes regarding teacher evaluations. These regulation changes included:

  1. Reclassifying the “pre-observation form” as the “observation form” and allowing it to be used in conjunction with unannounced observations
  2. Allow for the use of “short observations” (a.k.a. Walkthroughs) as part of a performance evaluation
  3. Changing the summative rating of “Needs Improvement” from “Satisfactory” to “Unsatisfactory”.

A summary of our actions/letters can be found here. This was a whiz-bang effort coordinated by DSEA, as all letters had to be turned in to the unelected and unaccountable State Board of Education two weeks before its scheduled June meeting. I turned my letter around in about a day. It cannot be overstated the value of these letters. Collectively, they represent the voices of THOUSANDS of educators from around the State of Delaware calling into question these recommended regulation changes.

How this works is the Department of Education makes recommendations to the unelected and unaccountable State Board of Education. The unelected and unaccountable State Board then votes on changes at its monthly meeting. There is, of course, a public comment period before the meeting where submissions can be forwarded to the Board for inclusion.

So the unelected and unaccountable State Board receives the thoughtful letters from over a dozen local association presidents. Letters that explicitly spell out WHY we feel these regulation changes are not appropriate for our profession, which in the past decade has seen a rising tide of almost insurmountable bureaucratic BS on top of the day-to-day responsibilities of educating children. Honestly, I figured the local presidents had made a damn-strong case as to why these regulation changes were bad for the profession. Namely, the recommendation that “defines a summative rating of “Needs Improvement” to be considered an Unsatisfactory Evaluation,” which could prematurely hasten the termination process for some of our novice teachers, for whom a “Needs Improvement” has actually been a rating to provide appropriate development and support in the past.

I was shocked to learn last week that all three questionable regulation changes were voted for unanimously by the unelected and unaccountable State Board of Education. How could they have bypassed the considerate letters of concern representing so many thousand teacher voices? How? I had much to think about.

In the meantime, I’d scheduled myself to attend a State Board of Education Workshop in Dover to hear teacher evaluation framework goddess Charlotte Danielson speak. I’ve long admired Danielson’s work. Although her framework has been effectively bastardized by states across the country and applied in punitive manners — against her wishes — I’ve always enjoyed her candor and experience on the topic.

I went in to this meeting knowing what question I would ask. In effect, “Ms. Danielson, you have said that you don’t appreciate when your framework is used in a punitive manner. Well, in Delaware just last week, our State Board of Education voted on a regulation change related to how a teacher rated ‘Needs Improvement’ would be evaluated as ‘Unsatisfactory,’ which could hasten the termination of some of our youngest teachers. As someone who has shared concerns with using your framework in punitive ways, do you believe it’s right for our State Board of Education to have voted in this manner?”

That is not quite how the question came out, but that was the gist of it. So, I asked the question. And, you know something? It obviously pissed some folks off. Immediately after the question and NOT EVEN ALLOWING MS. DANIELSON TO RESPOND, one member of the unelected and unaccountable State Board of Education assailed me as having not known what I was talking about. In front of a crowd of perhaps 50 people. I said “Sir, I have the regulation language right here.” Meanwhile, a Department of Education employee chided me “Mike, you’ve got it all wrong.” I said “Oh do I now?” In conversations I had with others AFTER the contentious meeting, it became clear to me that I did not have anything wrong.

The unelected and unaccountable State Board of Education member took offense that I had characterized his body in such a manner as to pervert the intent of Charlotte Danielson’s framework for teacher evaluation. He didn’t like that I called out his unelected and unaccountable body in a public manner. 

I stand by the comment I made.The unelected and unaccountable State Board of Education needs to check itself and start listening more to the teachers who work for the children of Delaware as opposed to the bureaucrats in the Townsend Building who have their own ed-reformy ideology that doesn’t square with best practice in our classrooms. Can’t take criticism from controversial, foolish votes you take on your unelected and unaccountable Board? Then find somewhere else to serve.

I think it’s high time the State Legislature look at the power the unelected and unaccountable State Board of Education wields. And they also need to look at the cozy relationship between the Department of Education and the unelected and unaccountable State Board of Education. Time for some legislation clarifying their roles.

12 comments on “DE Dept. of Ed. and State Board of Ed. Need to Check Themselves

  1. fsjenner says:

    You must have gotten tired of typing the phrase “the unelected and unaccountable State Board of education.” LOL. I hope you used copy and paste.

    The other part of the campaign was at the May board meeting when we made an in-person presentation with four teacher leaders and my own testimony about why these three changes were unnecessary, ill-advised, and potentially harmful. Board policy prohibits testimony on the day when they take action. Only the department gets to speak at that time.


    Frederika Jenner Sent from my iPhone


  2. jax2816 says:

    Mike you are completely right. We need to move away from the policy of elected governing bodies that have no accountability to the people whose lives are being impacted by the decisions the bodies make. I also support elected Vo-Tech School Board members, and for many of the same reasons. What is the incentive for a smart, well-rationed, appropriate decision when there is never a repercussion for doing the wrong thing? This saddens me beyond measure.

  3. jax2816 says:

    OOPS that should have read UNelected governing bodies! Maybe I should’ve used copy and paste 😉

  4. In their haste to get Common Core and Smarter Balanced testing, they have screwed over the special needs kids, teachers, and minorities in some cases. And from what I’ve seen, they really don’t care, with the exception of one of them.

  5. They are having a bad week in the DOE. Smarter Balanced Assessment just got defeated in the Senate, 13-8!

  6. It was brought back up for a revote and just passed 12-9. Ugh.

  7. John Young says:

    That rule about non same day testimony can be subverted by simply opining in public comment about theoreticals. They’ll know what you mean, but you ust don’t say it’s about the action item.

  8. 4equity2 says:

    Hooray for you, Mike, and others like you in a position to speak for all Delaware teachers, and, in doing so, for all Delaware students as well.
    I took it upon myself to write to the state Board of Ed expressing my objections to the proposals. I also sent the letter to the News Journal- on June 4. It was published, with considerable edits AFTER the “unelected and unaccountable” board voted. Classic NJ.

  9. Jack says:

    Legislators write the laws, if you want change at DOE, State Board, etc., vote them out.

  10. Yeah, I got punched in the gut when I went back and saw they voted again on HB 334. I was running around the house before that yelling “No Smarter Balance” while my son and wife were looking at me like I was crazy.

    Frederika: I was the Dad that spoke at the May Board meeting about special ed in Delaware. I thought all of the teachers speaking had a lot of courage to do that. Bravo!

  11. Debby Hines says:

    Thank you so much Mike for all your time and effort on our behalf. You are so right! I plan to be more vocal this year. You have inspired me!

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