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Friday, October 31, 2014

Democrats should vote Libertarian in the 22nd District this year

The Democratic candidate for State Rep in the 22nd--John Mackenzie--is a good guy, a smart man, and a pretty typical Delaware Democrat.

Before you vote, I'd like you to ask yourself this question:  is one more Democrat in the General Assembly actually going to change anything in Dover?

If you look closely at his positions on the issues, you'd have to say, "No."

On Education:  John sees some of the problems, but doesn't present a plan.  In that Legislative Issues piece he just put in your mailbox, his list of what's gone wrong is actually very similar to (if much narrower than) the critique I've been presenting publicly for the past three years:  an antiquated funding system, money spent in Dover instead of classrooms, and State overreach in the "Priority" schools mess.  But this is as close as he ever gets to telling you what he'd do about it:
The first step toward improving our public schools should be modernizing this patchwork finance system, correcting the inequities, and simply spending smarter! ... 
The most important step toward improving our public schools should be to restore local governance and accountability to the communities they are supposed to serve.  DOE is taking over our schools.  These are our schools.  It's time to take them back.
Nice sentients, but no real proposals.  Nor does John talk much about high-stakes testing, Common Core, teacher evaluations, or the impact of charter schools on the traditional school system.  Oh, wait, he has talked about charters and resegregation, but what he said to the Delaware Chapter of Americans for Democratic Action seems to contradict his praise of local school boards:

Charters are re-segregating DE schools; socially divisive; cherry-picking passively if not actively. DOE and the state board of ed have really made a mess of this, but I'm not sure local districts and school boards will manage this a lot better. 
Which is it, you have to wonder?  Does John trust local school boards or not?

I'd ask you to contrast his rather vague ideas with my very specific plans to fix education financing, to reform the DOE bureaucracy, step back from high-stakes testing, give more autonomy to local school boards, and improve the way we educate special needs children. 

If you're wondering, I've been in the public square dealing with education issues since Governor Castle and Carper appointed me as Co-Chair of the Delaware Social Studies Curriculum Frameworks Commission in 1992.  This past April, I was the person who laid out the whole sordid story of the failure of high-stakes testing in the pages of the News Journal.  It was my research that revealed that DOE is not using test results to measure its own work with special needs students, and again my research that explained how (and why) DOE re-defined poverty earlier this year.

On Health Insurance:  John gets it (and then misses it).  He gets that there is a Highmark monopoly in the private insurance market in Delaware, but he attributes that to the Affordable Care Act with a rather vague reference to the General Assembly.  He really can't afford to be much more specific than that, one suspects, because after all he's a Democrat.  The $175 million sweetheart deal that brought Highmark to Delaware was crafted primarily by (Democrat) Insurance Commissioner Karen Weldin Stewart and by (Democrat) Senator (now President Pro Tem) Patti Blevins.  Anybody who aspires to becoming the next freshman Democrat knows he's got to tip-toe around that.

But more to the point--the point John misses--is that his solution to ever-rising costs is a mirage.  John, again calling on his credentials as an economist, tells us in his Legislative Issues that we should implement across the board
a promising 'patient-centered medical home' model of health care with coordinated teams of providers supported by an efficient electronic medical records system.  Providers would be paid on health outcomes rather than on numbers of office visits. 
I strongly support this reform of our state Medicare and Medicaid programs, and will push for adoption of 'patient-centered medical homes' in the private insurance market as well.
One tiny little problem with this plan:  the research doesn't support it.  A February 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded:
A multipayer medical home pilot, in which participating practices adopted new structural capabilities and received NCQA certification, was associated with limited improvements in quality and was not associated with reductions in utilization of hospital, emergency department, or ambulatory care services or total costs over 3 years.  
It turns out that the early glowing studies of the benefits of Patient-Centered-Medical Homes in Vermont and North Carolina (which generated all the initial positive vibes for the idea) don't actually show any significant cost savings or improved health outcomes.  Moreover, the most recent studies suggest that PCMH is a business model rather than a patient service model.  Here's what an Urban Institute study recently concluded:
The danger posed by the current enthusiasm for the concept is that it could cause unproven models to be adopted on a wide scale before evaluations of existing pilots can show us what works in what situations, and what levels of reimbursement are needed to get providers to engage in all the new activities encompassed by the medical home model. This could lead to a failure to improve quality or save costs...
Finally, you should know that the loudest cheerleader for the PCMH concept (besides John Mackenzie) is ... Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.  So John, who roundly and correctly criticizes Highmark for mercenary monopolist profiteering, adopts as his solution ... exactly what the monopoly wants to implement.

There's sound strategy for you.  It guarantees that the continued government silence about Highmark's smothering dominance of Delaware's entire healthcare system will not be addressed next year on the floor of the General Assembly.  In case you're wondering, I've been working on this issue for years.

One last note on health insurance:  John's passion for the Patient-Centered Medical Home in a mixed Medicare-Medicaid-private insurance system must be pretty recent, because five months ago he told Delaware ADA that his preference was something else entirely:

I would like to see Delaware follow Vermont’s lead in establishing a single-payer system. 
So now you know what John's position on health insurance is today (PCMH) and what it was five months ago (state single-payer).  The only thing you don't know is what it will be in January if you elect him.

On Taxes:  John supports an increase in the gas tax.  Here's what he said in the Legislative Issues that appeared in most of your mailboxes this week:
We need legislators who will rebuild voter trust.  If we're going to raise the gasoline tax, the revenues must be dedicated to rebuilding the Transportation Trust Fund.
On his Facebook page, John (an economist), has actually argued that raising the gas tax ten cents per gallon won't really make the price of gas go up that much.  His argument is that retailers and refiners will voluntarily eat up to 50% of that increase (just because they're nice, I guess):
ECON 101 lesson: The GA is debating a 10 cents/gallon increase in DE's gasoline tax. You might think this will simply increase retail gas prices by 10 cents. But like most taxes, the gas tax is shared between buyers and sellers: consumers pay a higher price while retailers receive a lower net price, and some of the sellers' tax burden gets passed pack up the supply chain to wholesalers to distributors to refineries.... 
If you actually go read the post, you'll discover that this confidence in the good will and generosity of Exxon and Valero not to pass on the total increase is based in equal measure on trust me, I'm an economist, and an internet app called "Gas Buddy."

The reality?  Research has consistently shown that raising gas taxes hits the middle class hardest, and the simplest way to rebuild the Transportation Trust Fund is to (a) stop looting it every year, and (b) start diverting some of the money we've wasted on corporate welfare back into rebuilding our infrastructure before we start talking about raising gas taxes.

On Development:  John follows Mike Protack's lead.  I know that might be hard to believe, because Mike's about as far from a progressive Democrat as you could get, but it's true.  At the GHADA candidate's forum in September, in the NCC Council debate with Janet Kilpatrick, Mike suggested that what needed to be done with hypothetical "golf course" to be laid out at Three Little Bakers was to turn it into a county park.  That's John's position as well (again, quoting Legislative Issues):
The most logical use for this land is as a county park, and I would solicit financial help from the state to make this happen.
The problem?  As Janet pointed out to Mike Protack, even if the Delaware Supreme Court upholds the Superior Court ruling and forces Pike Creek Recreational Services LLC to lay out a 130-acre "old course," it's still private property.  Neither the County Council nor the General Assembly can simply wave its hand and turn that private property into a public park.  This is a very strange position for a candidate who presents himself as not just an economist, but a specialist in land use and open spaces to take.

On the Second Amendment:  John thinks many gun owners are "deviants" who bear watching.  Here's his response to Delaware ADA about potential bans on high-capacity magazines:

Unfortunately, dickering over the specifics--hollow-points? silencers?--kind of legitimizes the gun nuts. Most of these people who "need" cop-killer bullets, concealed carry or high-capacity magazines are deviants and should be identified as such. 
Look, we can have different opinions on gun rights.  I'm not an advocate of trying to make ourselves feel safer by taking away the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.  But I don't characterize people who want stronger gun control as "gun grabbers," either, because all that you do with that level of invective is shut down the conversation.  We can't afford to shut down that conversation; it's to important to a civil and safe society.

If you're a gun owner, can you imagine having a serious conversation with somebody who's already written you off as a "deviant"?

On mischaracterizing his opponent:  John's attacks on Joe Miro don't hold water.  

Instead of dealing with the positions that Joe put forth for supporting the casino bail-out, John recently released a campaign mailer suggesting that Joe did so because of campaign donations.  I agree with John that bailing out the casinos (especially by taking the money from the Transportation Trust Fund) was wrong, but here's an important point:  people can be wrong with integrity.  Just because I disagree with Joe's arguments doesn't mean he's dishonest or unethical.

Likewise, here's what John said to Delaware ADA about Joe Miro and constituent services:

An effective legislator is an educator. We share similar visions and goals for our community, but we differ on how to achieve them. That’s [what] constituent service is about: you and your constituents identify problems and find solutions together. My opponent does not even hold regular open meetings for 22nd RD constituents... 
Seriously?  John's going to attack Joe Miro on constituent services?  What district do you live in, John?  Joe goes to every civic association meeting, every PTA meeting, and pretty much every coffee shop where there are at least three people from the district sitting together talking about potholes.  One of the toughest mountains to climb in deciding to run against Joe Miro is convincing people that the bad policies he supports in the General Assembly are at least as important as what he does in the community, and that I'll be equally dedicated to constituent services.

To attack Joe Miro on that issue shows one of two things:  either you don't really know the district you live in, or you're willing to throw anything up against the wall to see if it will stick, regardless of whether or not it's true.  Or both.

As far as openly differing with Joe on substantive issues, I've really only seen John talk about the Community Transportation Fund and a stoplight near the Woodside Creamery.  That's not making a convincing case for replacing an incumbent.

On being a Democrat:  John became one so that he could vote in primaries.  Seriously.  Here's what he says on his campaign Facebook page:
I was an Independent for years, until I got tired of being shut out of DE's primaries: they often determine the outcomes of general elections! 
So if you're planning to vote Democratic just because you've always voted for Democrats, ask yourself--how long has John been a Democrat, anyway?

As I said at the outset, John's a good guy and a smart man, but here--in his third election campaign--he's still not quite ready for the job.

What I'd like you to do (the four of you still reading to the end) is take the time to look at my plans and positions, and my resume for the position before you make a final decision to vote Democrat because you always have.

Then vote the issues and the candidate, not your party.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Breaking! DE DOE wipes out child poverty!

There have been rumblings of this across the blogging community, but I finally found the DE DOE info-graphic that proves it:  Secretary of Education Mark Murphy has found the key to eliminating poverty as an element in public education ...

Just re-define it.

First, take a look at the amazing drop in poverty seen in Delaware schools this year:
WOW!! DOUBLE WOW!!  22,967 Delaware children escaped poverty this year!!!

That's a 19.5% drop in low income children!!! Amazing!!! Secretary Murphy for President!!!

Well, don't let a little thing called FACTS deter the Delaware Department of Education. Secretary Murphy's people understand that in order to control the conversation you have to control the definition of the terms.

So they changed the definition of "low income" to wipe poverty as a factor in school performance.

Here's the evidence:
In plain English, being on Medicaid or qualifying for Free or Reduced Lunch no longer identifies children as being "low income."

In case you're wondering, the Federal Government did not create this requirement. Indeed, here is the Federal definition of "low income" for educational purposes (from the US DOE):

So while the Federal Government would automatically conclude that any child qualifying for Medicaid was "low income," the DE DOE says, "No Way!"

This is simply unacceptable.  And the fact that the bureaucrats are getting away with it without being generally called on it is also unacceptable on our part.

It's truly time for some changes in Dover.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A reply to Education Secretary Arne Duncan

While there is a great deal of fine-sounding window-dressing in US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's recent op-ed ("cut back testing that doesn’t meet that bar or is redundant"), the heart of his philosophy for public education is covered in a single paragraph (especially the last sentence):
Parents have a right to know how much their children are learning; teachers, schools and districts need to know how students are progressing; and policymakers must know where students are excelling, improving and struggling. A focus on measuring student learning has had real benefits, especially for our most vulnerable students, ensuring that they are being held to the same rigorous standards as their well-off peers and shining a light on achievement gaps.
Because this is all couched in very high-minded rhetoric, that last sentence has to be very carefully unpacked to understand the baseline assumptions at its foundations.

Please note the three phrases in red; let's look at them one at a time:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Did Highmark have a role in demise of Aetna's DE Physicians' Care?

No competition? Higher rates?
Sweetheart deals?  What's not to
love for an insurance monopoly
in Delaware?
Aetna, which has provided the only token competition to Highmark in the Delaware private insurance market, has announced that it is shutting down its Medicaid group plan--Delaware Physicians' Care--at the end of this year:
Aetna Medicaid President and CEO Pamela Sedmak said the company is “reluctantly” taking the action after several months of extended negotiations with the state failed to result in a rate agreement that would cover the costs of operating the plan. 
“We regret having to make this very difficult decision,” said Sedmak. “Delaware Physicians Care is an integral part of the fabric of the community.… Unfortunately, recent changes to the Medicaid landscape in Delaware are requiring the plan to absorb significantly higher levels of costs. Without payment rates that support our ability to continue to provide high-quality service to members, we cannot keep this great health plan open.”
This is a very interesting development in the State's health insurance and health care landscape for a variety of reasons.

First, there's the absence of coverage of this story (at least so far) in Delaware media.  You have to ask yourself why Aetna choosing to shut down the largest (137,000 customers), most popular, and easily most effective Medicaid group plan in our State would not be news.  But apparently it isn't.  Maybe tomorrow somebody in the News Journal's "Newsroom of the Future" will read the Philadelphia Business Journal and discover what's happening in our own back yard.

Second, there's the fact that the reason cited for the closure--failure to achieve "a rate agreement that would cover the costs of operating the plan"--is really suspicious.  Here you need to know that Delaware is one of only a handful of states wherein the physicians reimbursement rates are virtually the same for both Medicare and Medicaid--in 42 of 50 states Medicaid reimbursements have always been significantly lower than those of Medicaid.  One of the reasons that most physicians in Delaware will accept Medicaid patients is that they don't get short-changed on the reimbursements.  On the other hand, in a state that did not make adequate financial provisions for the recent Medicaid expansion (potentially 30,000 new patients), you can see how the government might be trying to reduce those costs.

Moreover, Aetna is NOT notorious (at least in Delaware) for gratuitously charging higher rates.  Two months ago, when Highmark was proposing rate increases for some plans in the 5-15% range, Aetna was reducing rates on some plans and only filing for about a 2.5% increase on others:
Aetna ... filed requests for several plans, some of which would reduce rates by an average of 2.5 percent for those holding similar 2014 plans under its Coventry brand. 
The cost of some small-group plans would rise by an average of 1.9 to 3.1 percent, Aetna's filing said. Aetna acquired Coventry last year, but will offer all 2015 plans under its own brand.
So the idea that Aetna is somehow price-gouging and therefore could not come to an agreement with state negotiators does not initially pass the smell test.

Third, you have to consider the torturous (one might say, "fratricidal") relationship between Highmark and Aetna.  In Delaware we like to ignore the fact that our state is too small to be the driver in major economic issues--we are more usually the piece of paper whirling around in the larger hurricane.  In this case the larger hurricane is what's going on in Pennsylvania, which is home territory to Highmark of Delaware's parent company, and the Mecca to which Highmark Senior VP Paul Kaplan is often summoned to kneel for his marching orders.

Most of the coverage of what's happening in the Keystone State has centered on Highmark's well-publicized feud with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centers, but there has been plenty of friction between Highmark and Aetna as well.  Here's just one item to give you the flavor of it:
When Westinghouse Electric Co., the Cranberry-based nuclear engineering giant, announced this autumn that it was jilting Highmark Inc. and handing its health insurance business to Aetna in 2014, Highmark responded with radio and TV ads implying that Aetna is an out-of-state carpetbagger, stealing business and jobs from Pennsylvanians.
Highmark attempted to appear philosophic about the whole affair:
"Westinghouse is considered a national account," Highmark spokesman Aaron Billger said. "The national account space is extremely competitive. We win some accounts and lose some accounts." Westinghouse is a "name-recognizable loss, but we have a tremendous book of business with national accounts." 
The reality is, however, that Highmark is facing a real challenge to its dominance in western PA, a challenge it cannot afford on its corporate doorstep:
Now the Pittsburgh health care landscape looks very different. "It went from one of the least competitive environments that you can imagine — a dominant insurer and a dominant health system joined at the hips with a long term contract," says Romoff, "To one without a long-term contract with, now, five choices." 
In addition to the two new competitors, UPMC invited three large insurance companies into the Pittsburgh market: Cigna, Aetna and United Healthcare. "Competition is good," says Romoff, "It keeps us all on top of our game. It gives us incentive to not be fat and sloppy."
Hopefully you caught that "competition is good" meme--don't believe it for a second, because monopolies are never interested in competition.  They are interested in profits, and profits are generally higher when there is no competition to keep prices down.

So where is the connection to Delaware?  Here I've only got patterns and logic so far, but as Sherlock Holmes famously suggested, it is important to note that the dog did not bark.

We know (patterns) that Highmark's feuds with other insurance companies and health providers has repeatedly spilled over Pennsylvania's borders--that's how we ended up abruptly having multiple MedExpress locations dropped in Delaware about two years ago.  Highmark's preferred strategy is to move out of the purely insurance arena and into the provider area (hence the acquisition of hospitals in PA and the cobbling together of the nation's second-largest retail optometry chain).

We also know (or at least infer) that Aetna's footprint in Delaware is currently slender enough (and our market is small enough) that it wouldn't take much to cause that other insurance giant to pull out of the state completely.  Aetna's Delaware Physicians' Care contract is a lot more significant than its small (well under 10%) share of the private insurance market.  So is it merely an interesting coincidence (remember what Ian Fleming and James Bond said about "coincidence") that talks with State officials break down right after Aetna embarrasses Highmark with far lower rate increase requests?

Why (or how) would State officials be responsive to the Highmark-Aetna conflict of interest?  First, you have to know that this Insurance Commissioner has been completely onboard with whatever Highmark wanted since she actively recruited the Pennsylvania insurance giant to buy out Delaware Blue Cross Blue Shield with a $175 million sweetener.  Then you have to realize just how quickly and thoroughly Highmark has penetrated even physician circles in Delaware over the past two years, a tangled web involving the Medical Society of Delaware and its subsidiary Mednets and four Provider Organizations.  That's a story that can only be pieced together from fragments, but as you get the puzzle pieces one at a time it amounts to the de facto elevation of Highmark from an insurance company to a provisional element of the State government.

Ask yourself, especially if you have taken the time to check the links I have provided, why you've heard no hint of any of this in the mainstream media?  If you google for critical work on Highmark in Delaware, guess what?  Almost all you will find is my own work.

I wish I could let you read my mail.  Not a week goes by that a physician or medical service provider does not contact me to say (paraphrasing):  "Why isn't anybody else covering this?  Highmark is taking over everything.  Here are the documents, but you can't print them because I'll lose everything if you do."

There is one other voice in our state discussing this issue, Delaware Business Daily:
Delaware has made the  American Medical Association’s  annual list of 10 states with the least competitive commercial health insurance markets. 
The lack of competition means consumers and employers in Delaware have fewer choices among commercial health insurers than consumers and employers in almost all other states, the association stated.
By the way, according to this survey we are the 4th least competitive insurance market in the USA.

In the end, one of the reasons I decided to run for 22nd State Rep is that SOMEBODY has to tell the story of what Highmark is doing to Delaware health insurance and health care.  Maybe we're past the tipping point (and this Aetna story suggests that to me), but people have the RIGHT to know what's happening here, and apparently no platform short of the General Assembly will allow me to tell that story.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Can we make it happen?

Good ideas are wonderful, but you've got to be able to deliver.  That means experience, credentials, and the proven ability to get people working together.

Here's what I bring to the table:

20 years of military service--US Army/VaRNG Master Sergeant (Ret.)--field medic; infantry brigade evacuation NCOIC; State Medical Training Detachment NCOIC; military hospital administrator.

24 years (and counting) as Professor of History & Political Science at Delaware State University--Director of Social Studies Education; Director, Global Societies pilot program; member, President's Blue Ribbon Task Force; member, DSU Wilmington Task Force.

6 years at union president--DSU Chapter, American Association of University Professors; experience in grievances, personnel issues, collective bargaining, general labor law.

Parent Advocate for Special Needs Children in Delaware and Arizona, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.  I understand both the Americans for Disabilities Act [ADA] and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act [IDEA], and I've spent years in the trenches helping parents of special needs kids get the education they deserve.

Member, DE Division of Public Health Task Force on Non-Nurse Midwives--fighting for broader birth choices for Delaware women.  We almost got a bill re-legalizing Certified Professional Midwives through the last General Assembly; I'd love to be there to vote "YES" for it next time.

Co-Chair, DE Social Studies Curriculum Frameworks Commission--primary editor and co-author of the DE Social Studies Curriculum Standards, adopted in 1995 and not yet watered down by Common Core.

Parent Representative, Interagency Committee on Adoption--conducted Delaware's first survey of mental health resources available to adopted children and their families.

Consultant, US Office for Domestic Preparedness--in the aftermath of 9/11, I created and piloted the original course, "Introduction to Terrorism," taught to State Readiness Officers across the nation at the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston AL.

Activist for Marriage Equality--before the Democrats were even willing to touch the issue, I led the Libertarian Party of Delaware to start collecting hundreds of signatures for Delaware Right to Marry.

Volunteer activities supporting Resurrection Parish, Western Family YMCA, Hockessin Soccer, Charter School of Wilmington sports.

Politics is the art of the possible; you've got to be able to convince people to sit down at the table and work with you.  I've done that, and with your help (first your vote, then your active support), I'll take those skills to Dover on your behalf.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

DOE: micro-managing district bus routes

Today's WNJ points out that DOE is overruling Cape Henlopen on where to place bus stops by withholding funds for additional buses:
In the past, when the district requested additional buses for its fleet, the state denied those requests because Cape had not followed the code for development stops or enforced walk zones. 
At the Oct. 9 Board of Education meeting, board members, such as Jennifer Burton, were caught between state mandates and local safety concerns. 
"Obviously we have our hands tied with the Department of Education and Transportation Department," Burton said. "In a lot of these instances the state has no idea of what is going on down here. They don't come and look and they're not really mindful of what is happening."
This, of course, is spun by the State as saving money, like it did when it cut the reimbursements to local districts for transporting homeless children to school.

The reality is that if the State actually cared about saving money it could do so by extending allowable school bus life to 20 years, saving 63% per year on bus replacement costs.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Roadmap for fixing the Common Core mess ...

Look, academic standards are important.  I know--I led the Commission that from 1992-1995 developed the Social Studies Standards that Delaware still uses today.

Overzealous linkage of standards to high-stakes testing is dangerous, and we are experiencing its aftermath today (as the explosion continues to go off).

Meanwhile the Federal government is mandating draconian "scorched earth" financial action against States that abandon the Common Core, which makes political and educational leaders leery of the risks of dumping Common Core.

But there is an answer, as respected educational blogger/reporter Valerie Strauss suggests in the Washington Post:  adopt the husk of Common Core [mostly the name] and then exercise State authority to review and modify the standards.

Strauss suggests three "modest" starting points:
Step 1: Insist that the State Education Department translate each standard into clear language that the public can understandIf the standard can’t be written so that the average parent can understand it, throw it out.
For this purpose, DOE and the districts could create a Curriculum Review Commission similar to the Content Standards Commissions of the early 1990s, tasked with cleaning up the excess and overly technical jargon existing in the Common Core State Standards.  That Commission should be co-chaired by a teacher and a representative of higher education in Delaware, NOT by a DOE bureaucrat or politicians.  The commission should be mandated to have open meetings and take public testimony before taking on the task of rewriting the standards, and then those revised standards should be taken to an up or down vote by the State Board of Education.

Back to Strauss:
Step 2: Ask experts on childhood development to review the Pre-K to 3rd grade standards. Standards should be rewritten based on their consensus.
This step needs to be entrusted to a sub-committee of the CRC (above) composed entirely of Pre-K-3 teachers and childhood development experts from UD and DSU.  Their recommendations should again be folded into a final report that cannot be nitpicked, but must receive an up or down vote.

And again:
Step 3: Reduce the emphasis on informational text, close reading and Lexile levels.
This one may take some explanation (pay particular attention to the very first words):
There is no evidence that reading informational text in the early grades will improve reading. Informational text in primary school should be read as a one means of delivering content or included based on student interest. Ratios of 50/50 (informational text/literature) in elementary schools and 70/30 in high school are based on nothing more than breakdowns of text type on National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, not on reading research. The force-feeding of informational texts in the primary years is resulting in the decline of hands on learning in science and projects in social studies, as my teacher’s email attests.   At the high school level, literature is being pushed out of English Language Arts to make room for informational text. For example, take a look at the readings of Common Core Engage NY curriculum modules for 9th grade. Literature is minimal, replaced by texts such as “Wizard of Lies,” a biography of Bernie Madoff, and articles that include “Sugar Changed the World,” “Animals in Translation” and “Bangladesh Factory Collapse.”

Another subcommittee of the CRC for ELA teachers and academic content experts.
 Strauss does not directly address CC Math, but the same process applies.

Of important note:  while DOE should be able to supply ex officio members, under no circumstances should they (or elected politicians or union leaders as such) receive a vote on the commission.  In my opinion, the best mix would be to create a commission that included about 45 people (enough for working subcommittees) with 20 of the spaces reserved for teachers, 5 for district content specialists, 5 for higher education experts, 5 for community partners, and 10 for parents.  At least 2 of the teachers should be special education teachers, and at least one of the parents should have a special needs child.

Look:  we can rail about CCSS and exchange memes on the internet for as long as we want, and that will gin up reservoirs of impotent outrage useful only to defeat some politicians who lack the ability to make that many changes in the first place.

But if we really want to get serious about giving a professional voice to Delaware teachers and higher education content experts, we need to be incredibly subversive and create the CCSS(D):  Common Core State Standards (adapted to Delaware) and take that process outside the normal process.

Then we let the Feds threaten us, and we laugh and tell our Attorney General to do his (or her) damn job and defend us.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

DOE: Don't hold us to the same standards we hold the schools

As Lt. Gov. Matt Denn's IEP Task Force continues to wade through the morass that is Special Education in Delaware, lost in the shuffle is a particularly blatant and telling piece of DOE sidestepping on so-called "Standards-based" IEPs.

In 2012 DOE applied for a grant to improve Special Education outcomes in Delaware.

What DOE told the Feds was that not enough kids on IEPs were passing DCAS or graduating:

Goal 1: To increase the academic achievement of students with disabilities, through the implementation of sustainable, evidence-based instructional strategies to impact students with the greatest academic needs. 
Goal 2: To increase the graduation rates and academic achievement of students most at risk of dropping out of school, through the use of sustainable, evidence-based social and behavioral practices, as well as enhanced professional development to educators and related staff. 
"Academic Achievement" is clearly and unambiguously defined in the grant proposal as scoring a passing grade on state assessments (then DCAS).

What DOE proposed to do (not surprisingly) was double-down on Common Core and High-stakes testing, and require--beginning in pilot districts then later extending to the whole state--that ALL IEPs be directly linked to Common Core standards.

Red Clay was selected as one of these pilot districts, and the special needs teachers there have been literally inundated with "training" in developing and implementing those new IEPs.

I'm going to leave aside for the moment the very real question of whether or not this is a good strategy for improving the education of these kids (it isn't).  Let's just assume that, for sake of argument, Standards-Based IEPS are actually going to work as advertised.

That's what DOE believes, right?  Or else they wouldn't be putting themselves on the line here to raise test scores for special needs kids, would they?

Well, it turns out that DOE is NOT putting itself on the line, and is in fact holding itself to a FAR LOWER standard than it does, say, the six "Priority" schools, Moyer, or Reach.

You see, DOE has identified the Problem (low Spec Ed test scores) and then identified a strategy to improve those scores (Standards-based IEPS), and that only leaves the ASSESSMENT of how effective the strategy has been, once it has been implemented.

That assessment would logically involve looking to see if test scores actually went up for the students in question, right?


Here's what DOE is assessing itself on:  Fidelity of Implementation
The project evaluator, working closely with the DE SPDG Management Team, will develop training, coaching, and intervention fidelity instruments during the first two quarters of Year 1. Each intervention fidelity instrument (IEP development, SIM, and communication interventions) will be developed in accordance with the evidence-base it is derived from. IEP training and coaching fidelity protocols will be developed in alignment with the research presented in the Holbrook/Courtade and Browder publications, and reviewed by the authors. SIM fidelity instruments are provided by the University of Kansas. Fidelity protocols established by researchers at U.K. will be used to assess the implementation of communication strategies. Pre/post training assessments will also be developed during this time. 
The DE SPDG Management Team will be responsible for overseeing fidelity measurement and reporting. Project evaluators will train and coach the state and LEA coaches on the use of implementation (training and coaching) and intervention (i.e., IEP development, SIM, and communication) fidelity instruments. An easy to use, web-based data management system (using tools such as SurveyMonkey and Microsoft Access) will be developed. 

"Fidelity of Implementation" means whether or not DOE trains teachers as it said it would do, and whether or not the teacher actually employ the new strategies like they are supposed to do.  In other words, DOE is evaluating its success in this grant NOT on whether student test scores actually go up, but just on whether or not they tried real hard according to the model they thought up.

Now you will have to read the entire 103-page grant to assure yourself that what I'm saying next is correct, and encourage you to do so:  DOE never uses data about improvements in student test scores on state testing to determine whether they have done their job.

Do you understand what this means?

To Red Clay, Christina, and the rest of the schools in the State, DOE has repeatedly said that all that matters in determining your effectiveness as educators is how well students do on the State assessments.  If a school does not do well on those assessments, it is failing, plain and simple.

Yet when DOE implements a plan to raise the test scores of a target group of students (in this case special education students), it does not evaluate its own success based on test scores.

Wow.  Just wow.

So while DOE is passing out MOUs on "failing" schools (based entirely on test scores) that empower the State to fire entire faculties and convert public schools involuntarily into charters--again, based entirely on test scores--DOE does not feel it is appropriate to measure the success of its own programs based on test scores.

Here's a serious suggestion to Red Clay and Christina:  how about when you finally develop those Priority Schools plans, you base success or failure on "fidelity of implementation," not test scores, and cite as your rationale that this is the standard that DOE applies to its own initiatives?

Here's the link to the grant application.  Check it out for yourself.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Populism in Delaware Frightens our Elites

Over the past 2-3 years something very new, and, for our political elites, very frightening has been happening in the Delaware:  the rise of actual populist (or popular) politics on both the right and left.


Marriage equality advocates gathered signatures and lobbied for years before even the Democrats would touch their cause publicly.

The Occupy Wilmington movement held out for months in the face of every official pressure that could be brought against a handful of committed activists.

The Campaign for Liberty used grassroots organizing defeat gun-control measure HB 88 in 2012 when the supposedly essential NRA had given up.

On the other side of the spectrum, Residents Against the Power Plant turned back the University of Delaware and assorted political elites (corporate and union combined) in the fight over the so-called "data center."

Organizers for women's right to have home births attended by Certified Professional Midwives came within a hair of passing new legislation during the last General Assembly session, and will be back, stronger than ever, this year.

Parents and teachers in the Red Clay Consolidated School District organized themselves to engage their school board on a special education inclusion plan, and changed the district's choice.

A handful of activists, employing the Freedom of Information Act, got a Governor's working group on charter school reform declared to have met illegally (even though the Attorney General then declined to act).

Parental critics of Common Core and high-stakes testing have become so vocal and so numerous that even the usually-very-pro-"reform" Delaware PTA found itself forced to take a survey on parental opt-outs.

When Governor Markell and Secretary Murphy announced their "Priority" schools initiative, both the RCCSD and CSD boards, supported by massive outcry from parents and teachers alike, refused to sign DOE's "take it or leave it by September 30" MOU.

And it's starting to show in the polls:  even the University of Delaware has had to admit that, on the left, Green Party candidate Bernie August is polling four times as strongly as he did two years ago, and on the right, Libertarian Party candidate Scott Gesty is polling seven times stronger than in 2012.

But, of course, neither August nor Gesty nor Andy Groff (Green; polling at 6% for US Senate) will be invited by UD to its major televised debate.

From the Tea Party to the Green Party, the Libertarians to the Progressives, what's happening in Delaware is a sea change in the political landscape.  It's called "populism," the radical notion that citizens themselves can organize, protest, campaign, and effect direct political change without having to defer to the existing political elites.

It's unlovely, raucous, and quite scary for the people who insist that everything has to be filtered through the appropriately sanctioned organizations, to find out that rest of us are no longer willing to accept their decisions about who gets to be at the table.

For a long time the small size of Delaware contributed to the illusion that we could all have a voice in what goes on, but lately our political leaders have become so smugly satisfied that they dropped all pretense at subtlety, and that gave away the game.

Consider:  when the new IEP Task Force was formed, the "parent representative" from New Castle County was the wife of a State Senator, and one of the House appointees was the spouse of a State Board of Education member, while the other was an incumbent campaigning for his political life against (you guessed it) a special needs parent.  Several individuals with considerable experience were turned down as "parent advocate representatives" because that slot was reserved for somebody from the Federally funded Parent Information Center.  I like Matt Denn, and he works hard for special needs children, but the political debts being paid here by somebody were pretty obvious.

Or consider that when the Wilmington City Council meets this week to discuss Secretary Murphy's "Priority" schools plan, no public comment will be allowed.  Unrestricted time for the appointed bureaucrats of the entrenched politicians--no time for response or rebuttal from parents, teachers, or district officials.

They're scared that we're coming, and they're falling back on what has always worked for them before:  plowing millions into political campaigns to keep you voting for more of the same.

But if we don't lose our determination, and if populists on the right and populists on the left learn how to work together on some issues and always advocate for broader inclusion (even of their opponents), then guess what?  We'll make inroads.  We'll get there.  Maybe not this year, and maybe not in 2016.  But they are learning that it is not safe to ignore us.

(The next thing they'll try is to buy us off.  Be careful.)

Be the change  you want to see.

Ron Russo's faux call for education "conversation"

During the 1950s in the USSR, people used to parse Pravda editorials for the smallest nuances of verbiage to try to determine which way the wind was about to blow. Something similar is happening with the current education debate in Delaware.

Parent and teacher outcries at RCCSD and CSD board meetings; parent comments at the IEP Task Force; the willingness of the DE PTA even to float a survey about test opt-outs; and the mildly worded letter by DSEA supporting its upstate locals represent a groundswell "push back" against corporatist education reform in our state that is unprecedented over the last decade.

Ron Russo's op-ed in today's WNJ, combined with Secretary Mark Murphy's "charm offensive" of the past week, can be read as an indicator of just where the self-appointed intelligentsia intend to take the process now.

All of a sudden, with the great unwashed of parents, teachers, and (now) district administrators, starting to rethink and rebel, the State has decided that its actions in designating "priority" schools and handing the districts a "sign by September 30 or we'll close your schools" MOU wasn't really about a State takeover.

No, now it seems (quite retroactively), it was all about having a "conversation":

Russo: "It is apparent from recent newspaper articles that various groups and individuals have differences of opinion on how to improve public schools. The good news is they share the same common goal – to provide every Delaware student with the best possible education.

"If you accept the frequently stated premises that, 'One size doesn’t fit all' and 'You can’t take a cookie-cutter approach to education,' then the presence of multiple solutions is understandable and not necessarily adversarial. It should provide fertile ground for intense conversations."

Please understand that this is crap, and that neither Mr. Russo (whose political-educational rehabilitation depends heavily on his willingness to parrot the party line when so ordered) nor Secretary Murphy (who can't keep straight in his many interviews whether the six priority schools are the lowest performing schools in DE or not) intends anything like an honest conversation.

They intend to derail the whole process into another series of "stakeholder"-driven "conversations" in which they will re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic while assuring all the passengers that there are plenty of lifeboats.

The use of "stakeholders" is the elitist attempt to stave off any real hint of unruly populism, whether it derives from rowdy parents or unrepentant unionized teachers. Just as "public comment" is a ghetto into which the leaders confine the ideas (that they're not really listening to) of those who--if they mattered--would be sitting at the adults' table, confining the conversation to "stakeholders" is a way of limiting the damage.

The problem, of course, is that those uppity parents and teachers have broken out of the blogging and social media world and gotten themselves footholds in the unions, in the PTA, and even among our legislators, so now they have to be convinced to accept the idea of "being at the table" as their reward.

Notice, however, that "being at the table" (as DSEA has hopefully finally discovered) is too often a synonym for "being ON the table" (as in "dinner") and is the last ditch effort of the corporate elites to keep control of the "conversation."

We need to resist any acceptance of their ground rules for dialogue.

Instead, let's invite them outside where the common people are having a picnic; eating and drinking too much; and letting their kids run around (possibly not always even wearing their bicycle helmets or knee pads).

In other words: don't let them talk you into believing that success is falling for the idea that they're really listening to what you think.

After November 4 they'll go back to doing whatever the hell they please.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Secretary Murphy's hypocritical "urgency"

When both the Red Clay and Christina School Districts "balked" last night at accepting the DE DOE MOU for the so-called "priority schools," and suggested they needed time to negotiate an alternative, Delaware Education Secretary Mark Murphy had this to say:
The state had originally planned on districts signing the plan by Tuesday. Murphy said the department will work with the districts to come to an agreement, but said the process needs to move quickly. 
"Our kids cannot wait," he said. "We need to have a sense of urgency about this." 
If the state and districts can't reach an agreement within 120 days, the state could force the six schools to close or hand them over to charter school operators or other outside agencies.
Here's the appropriate response:  Secretary Murphy, you're a hypocrite.

This Priority Schools agenda is being mounted with fourth-year left-over funds from a three-year Race to the Top grant.  The State received $119 million to spend on improving schools.  You handed nearly $2 million to the Vision Coalition.  You paid out millions to corporations for "data coaches" and "data consultants."  You handed out millions to charter schools and other schools that were already performing to standard or even exceeding it.  You paid Rebecca Taber a $12K/month "consulting" salary.

In the add-on year (because you failed to spend all the money) you discovered "a sense of urgency" about these six poverty-riddled urban schools, and are now hectoring the school districts about how quickly they have to move?

Let's not forget that the Delaware Department of Education, in recent years, cut the following out of its budget:  Minner Reading Specialists, Minner Math Teachers, full funding for transportation for homeless children.  Where was the sense of urgency about helping these students in these schools then?

Here's the reality behind the "urgency" hypocrisy:  Secretary Murphy has his marching orders.  The City of Wilmington is to be converted into an all-charter school district so that corporate education reformers can do for Delaware what they did for such beacons of hope as inner-city Washington DC and Newark NJ.

The State intends to use its vast expertise (so well demonstrated in the overwhelming success of Moyer) to make Wilmington a beacon for for-profit charter companies operating at taxpayer expense.

That's what all this "urgency" is really about.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Great School Leaders aren't in it for the Money

Time to get a little personal, and a little real.

There has been so much bandying about of the figure $160,000 as a salary for "school leaders" [when did we stop just saying "principals"?] in the so-called "Priority Schools" that I thought we all need a reality check.

First, the corporate education reform party line:  Ed Sec Mark Murphy recently said that he doesn't know of a great school without a "great leader" and that the $160,000 salary was to incentivize such great leaders to step forward and accept the challenges of high-needs schools.  Then our local "me-too" coalition of bankers and other Rodel hacks stepped up to agree with him.

Where this all comes from is the corporate mentality that says the only reason that people want to run the show is because the person who runs the show gets the best salary.  These are the people who've always said things like corporate CEO salaries have to be 300 times that of the workers, or otherwise we wouldn't get the very best people ...

So they naturally assume that teachers and educational administrators are in it for the money, which is a real laugh.

I know a lot of those people in that elite group of "best school leaders" in Delaware over the past twenty years.  One--my wife Faith Newton--I know really well, and I watched her spend countless hours turning around not one but two floundering urban middle schools (Central Middle School in Dover and Stanton Middle School if you're keeping score).  Then I watched her come back to the Red Clay Consolidated School District as a School Board member after back surgery took her out of the active school administration game.  I watched her take a massive pay cut to come out of disability retirement in order to go to work at DSU training teachers for half of what she used to make.

You know what?  By and large she never paid attention to the money.  She paid more attention to getting the scheduling done, observing teachers, working with curriculum, managing the physical aspects of the building, courting grant money, talking to parents, encouraging students, making sure the cafeteria ran smoothly, organizing student mentors, chaperoning dances, and doing all of the 1,001 things that a principal (sorry, I am so done with "school leader") has to do in the average 75+ hour work week.

Paying her more money would not and could not have given her more hours in the week to work or more reason to care about the teachers, kids, staff, and parents in her school.

(This also applies to most teachers as well, but I digress.)

Here's the thing:  education, as much as the corporate hack reformers would like to make it about "preparing the workforce" or "achieving high standards on high-stakes tests" is generally about avocation and calling--like the military or the clergy.  People go into these fields, for the most part, because some part of them is called or driven to undertake a life that will necessarily be challenging and fulfilling in ways other than total compensation and stock options.

They are an idiosyncratic group, most educators.  Those of you who live in Red Clay or Christina might love or hate Merv or Freeman, might vociferously disagree with this choice or that strategy, but do you really (REALLY?) believe in your heart of hearts that they're doing it purely for the big bucks?

As Education Secretary Mark Murphy has proven, there are a lot of easier ways to get to the big bucks than being a superintendent--something he knows precious little about.

Yeah, there are mediocre and even BAD principals and teachers out there.  There are also bad soldiers, bad sales representatives, bad mechanics, bad CEOs, bad chefs, bad reporters, and bad governors, ad infinitum ad nauseum.

But the reality is that almost NO competent school principal, classroom teacher, or district superintendent (yes, Joey Wise is the exception who proves the rule) is purely in it for the money.

You want a good, no, a GREAT principal?  Then have the courage to recruit for the traits that really lead to success in the job, rather than simply dangling a huge wad of cash and muttering about the lessons of corporate leadership.

Look for somebody who has shown a driving passion for kids and their success first as a teacher and then as an Assistant of Associate Principal (often your very best principals will be those in their first such position, because they don't yet know what can't be done and will often do the impossible).

Look for somebody who is so tough and independent-minded that they don't need guarantees of flexibility from Big Brother at DOE, because they're strong enough to take on their own district and get what they need.

Look for somebody who has the reputation of almost never being in the office, and always showing up at the right place ("How do your find the principal, kids?  Screw up and then look over your shoulder").

Look for somebody who makes it a point to know 75%+ of the kids in the building by name by the middle of October.

Look for somebody who not only knows curriculum, but can step into a suddenly absent teacher's classroom and start teaching without missing a beat.

Look for somebody with high standards that teachers are relentlessly expected to meet, but who will fight to the death for the building faculty and staff against all comers when necessary.

Look for somebody who hates to lose.  Who refuses to lose.

You can find these people ONLY if you convince them that the challenge is big enough and that they'll be able to do it their way.

But here's the thing:  the really great principals are also people with families and geographical preferences and (you'd better believe it) a survival instinct.  So they only constitute about 5-10% of the available folks with the theoretically appropriate qualifications.  You can't headhunt them.  Unless you're lucky and one just walks through your door by accident, you have to spend weeks, maybe months, sniffing around to find them, and then figuring out how to make the challenge of your problem school sound so attractive that you can steal them.

You don't get them with the bucks like Secretary Murphy thinks, and you don't get them as many of our districts do by simply promoting the next AP in line.

You get them by simply taking as long as it takes to find the square peg who will re-drill the round hole in spite of all obstacles.

And when you'll find them they'll help the teachers and students transform the building without ever wanting to take the credit for it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Time to make some changes in Dover: here they are

You deserve to know how candidates stand.

OK, here it is--in detail.  You may or may not like any specific point, but ask yourself:  who else is willing to be this honest and this detailed about what they'd like to do?

Public Education

1.  Let's change the State Board of Education from a politically appointed into an elected body.  Then let's return to having a State Superintendent of Schools who is hired and fired by that board based on his/her professional qualifications and performance.

2.  Let's change the overall mission of the Delaware Department of Education into a primary emphasis on service and support of our schools rather than being a junior-varsity co-regulatory agency that wants to be the US Department of Education.

3.  Let's create a statewide commission of teachers, higher education professionals, school administrators, parents, students, and community partners to review the Common Core State Standards for ELA and Math (the only ones that actually exist), to adapt them as necessary for Delaware use, and to become involved in the process of defining standards for Science, Social Studies, Fine Arts and other content areas.

4.  Let's change the model of state assessments in Delaware from a high-stakes model with draconian consequences (that makes passing this test literally the only thing that matters) into an information-gathering process that is used to inform rather than drive instruction and curriculum.  We could actually just use NAEP for most of that, saving the State large piles of money that could be funneled into our classroom.  We would also include a parental opt-out of testing in the package, but you know what?  If the tests were for information-gathering purposes, I bet not that may parents would resist them.

5.  Let's make some real changes in public education funding in Delaware.  We know that for a whole variety of reasons it costs more to educate poor children, so let's face that fact in a manner that makes sense.  We'll change the state funding formula so that low SES kids count as 1.5-2.0 students for the unit count and State funding.  School-community advisory boards in each school would have complete control of how the additional money is spent (more teachers, more tech, more programs).  The additional funds would follow children to charter schools, with the proviso that any charter that expelled or counseled out a low SES child during or immediately after the school year would have to repay all the additional funds to the state.

6.  Let's pay for it all by dramatically reducing the testing expenses at DOE and eliminating most of the intrusive "teacher effectiveness" types of offices there in favor of sending the money directly into the classrooms.  Let's also extend the legally permissible life of school buses to twenty years (they are safe; where do you think our private schools get their buses?), saving us up to 63% per year on bus replacement costs statewide.

7.  Let's make school districts the primary approvers of charter schools, so that we can build a more decentralized system of traditional, magnet, charter, and voc-ed schools that are actually innovating separately but working together to achieve student success.  The level of cooperation and integration between the Red Clay Consolidated School District and charters like CSW and DMA (as well as the experience with RCCSD magnets like Conrad, Cab Calloway, and the IB program at Dickinson) suggests that this is a very workable strategy.

8.  Let's finally address the education of special needs children in this State, starting with the provision of a parent advocate in every IEP meeting, and holding the Parent Information Center's feet to the fire to do its job (the PIC receives substantial Federal funding, after all).  Let's create an effective mechanism for due process complaints and mediation (which, despite official propaganda to the contrary) does not exist right now.  Let's concentrate on getting our teachers the training and resources necessary to improve the lives of these kids (including the idea that we stop raiding their funding), rather than locking them into hours of pointless minutiae of the new, excessively bureaucratized (and arguably illegal) "standards-based" IEPs.

Corporate Welfare

1.  Businesses, I am often told, want predictability and low tax rates.  Delaware's corporate tax rate is 8.7% with no brackets, but a whole boatload of exemptions and credits that the average voter never sees or hears about.  Our nominal rate is comparable to those of California and Connecticut; significantly higher than Maryland's and significantly lower than Pennsylvania's.  Here's the deal:  let's create a Corporate Flat Tax in Delaware:  8.25% (same as Maryland) with NO exemptions or credits.

2.  Next, let's take the lion's share of the money we are scheduled to waste on future corporate incentives and do three things (A) put about 85% of it to work on our roads, bridges, schools, and waterways; (B) save about 15% to be used ONLY for small businesses; and (C) let's require a "public checkbook" online for all State and local government corporate subsidies, tax breaks, abatements, land-use deals, and other subsidies so that voters can actually see where their money is going.

Our Environment

1.  Let's make the polluters--whether they are private enterprises or government facilities (and about 40% of the installations commonly cited by the EPA for groundwater pollution are owned by some level of government) pay to remediate the pollution they've caused.  It is a quite ludicrous contention on the part of our current administration that they cannot easily identify and/or locate polluters, since a major portion of the Governor's original plan called for giving out our tax dollars as grant money to the same corporations to help them clean up their own messes.  If we can find them to send them money, we can find them to pay for the clean-up.

2.  Let's actually enforce the Coastal Zone Act instead of handing out exemptions and variances as political patronage.


1.  Let's stop raiding the Transportation Fund.  You'd think that would be simple.  They all say we shouldn't do that, and then they all vote for budgets that steal the money.  It's this simple:  I will not vote for any budget that raids the Transportation Fund.

2.  See Number 2 under "Corporate Welfare" above.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs (I learned from the career politicians that you have to say it three times)

1.  Let's start by eliminating as many licensing requirements as possible, especially within the City of Wilmington, so that people are more free to start their own micro-businesses.  If you want to pay somebody to cut your hair who does not have a barber's license, of if you want to "ride-share" in a gypsy cab--guess what?  It is not the government's responsibility to protect certain trade groups by stifling competition.

2.  Let's start giving away property to small business owners and entrepreneurs.  Wilmington has hundreds of abandoned properties, for many of which the city actually holds the title.  Let's let anybody who walks in the door with a plan walk out the door with a ten-year tax free lease, and a guarantee that if s/he has put up a going business on the property it becomes theirs at the end of the decade.  That's not corporate welfare, by the way--it's handing out a currently completely useless piece of property on the chance it turns into something.  And I'd always give preference to people and businesses who were already established in the area.

Fighting poverty

1.  Let's enact a "living wage" into the tax code, with the State of Delaware refusing to take income taxes from any individual or family until they are actually earning enough money to survive.  What we lose in tax revenue (not that much) we will more than make up in reduced use of social services.

2.  While we're at it, let's make the Delaware Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage workers refundable, and require the State of Delaware to actually pay its full-time workers better than fast-food wages.  If the State is going to tell private industry how to pay workers, then the State should first be walking the walk and not forcing its own employees onto public assistance because they don't earn enough.

Our Freedoms

1.  Let's decriminalize home birth attended by Certified Professional Midwives.  While we're at it, let's get rid of the restrictions that keep Nurse Practitioners and other medical professionals who don't happen to be doctors from practicing independently.

2.  Let's finally end the War on Drugs in Delaware by first decriminalizing and then legalizing marijuana, and by taking a default stance that serious drug dependence is a medical issue, not a crime.  Let's also get all of our non-violent drug offenders out of jail, and expunge the records of non-violent drug offenders at least for all offensive committed before age 18.

3.  Let's not fall prey to the idea that we can end violence in our urban areas by restricting the Second Amendment rights of all of our citizens.

4.  Let's make government more transparent by (a) real campaign finance reform; (b) ending "secret" Attorney General's opinions; (c) expanding Freedom of Information Act access to more fully include our state universities (as occurs in 48 other states).

5.  Let's start meaningful citizen oversight of law enforcement in Delaware.  Surveillance of law-abiding citizens needs to be stopped, the Delaware "fusion" center (DIAC) needs to be brought under civilian control (and have its budget brought into the light), and allegations of police misconduct must be investigated by civilian oversight boards, supported as necessary by officers with necessary expertise.  We've got to stop letting police departments investigate each other.

6.  Let's pass a "right to farm" law in Delaware that gives small and hobby farmers the ability to sell their products without having to comply with onerous regulations required of massive commercial enterprises.

7.  Let's change the rules that have kept everybody except Republicans and Democrats from having equal access to the political system.  This is critical:  the reason I'm not running as a candidate for either of the major parties is that both of them appear more interested in harvesting contributions, passing out political patronage, and staying in power than making tough decisions for our State.  That's not to say that there aren't some really fine legislators in the General Assembly, but--sadly--they are very much in the minority, regardless of their party affiliations.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

DE DOE officially insane: housecleaning needed--DSEA resignations also needed

Delaware Department of Education declares Charter School of Wilmington failing academically!

Delaware State Board of Education member calls for Red Clay to be "punished"!

Delaware Department of Education violates labor laws with phony "turnaround" schools move!

Delaware State Education Association leadership needs to resign ... from something!

Let's take these one at a time, shall we?

DOE declares Charter School of Wilmington failing academically!

Whether you love the placement test or the Charter School law, everyone agrees on this:  CSW has the foremost academic reputation in the state.
CSW is listed as the 10th Best High School in America
CSW has a 100% college acceptance rate
CSW has an 1880 SAT average
CSW has 99% of their students, year in and year out, meet or exceed all State standards
So you have to ask yourself ... What would you have to be drinking to believe CSW was failing academically?  Apparently they serve some pretty strong Kool-Aid in the Townsend Building, because according to their "Growth Targets" model, even though 99% of CSW's students are scoring well on the high-stakes-test-of-choice-this-year, 49% of the students taking English and 52% of the students taking Math have failed to achieve their DOE computer-generated growth targets.

Damn them, anyway--they keep ignoring their failures and going on to full rides at Harvard, Princeton, Rhode Island, NC State, and other mediocre schools too dumb to realize that the CSW experiment is failure!

Or maybe ... just maybe (dare I say it?) it is the DOE "Growth Target" computer models that are a failure?  Having to justify their existence even when a school excels at everything without their assistance, maybe DOE just keeps tinkering with the numbers until enough schools fail.

How about this, Sam Paoli, Eric Anderson, and Henry Clampitt?  Will Mark Murphy come calling next year to place CSW on Academic Watch?  Maybe we should be considering a DOE-led "turnaround" effort to help out this failing school.

It would be the story of the year ... except for the next one ...

Delaware State Board of Education member calls for Red Clay to be "punished"!

It was the June 2014 State Board meeting at which politically appointed Board member Patrick Heffernan chose to cut loose against the prolonged dialogue that the Red Clay School Board, Red Clay administration, parents, and teachers had over Special Education this past spring.

You may recall that parents and teachers challenged the administration's new inclusion plan as poorly drawn, vaguely resourced, and created without adequate public input.  You may also recall that the Board decided to put off adoption until there was time for such public input, and that--three months later--the original plan died an unnatural death when a unanimous School Board sent the administration back to do it all over again.  So be clear:  neither Red Clay's board, nor Red Clay's teachers, nor Red Clay's parents rejected the concept of inclusion.  They rejected a specific plan as poorly conceived, and demanded a better one.

Apparently Patrick Heffernan wasn't paying too close attention to what actually happened when he said this, in his official board capacity:
Heffernan: So that brings up, I wrote this down, sometimes we talk about, I struggle sometimes when we call out districts and sometimes when we don’t, but I know this year, I’ll use Red Clay as an example, they had a vote on whether or not they should implement inclusion plan, right? I don’t understand why, you know, this has been law of the land since the 70’s and now we’re going to vote as to whether or not we should do inclusion. I don’t get that and I don’t understand, you know, we talk about good cop/bad cop thing, I don’t maybe wanna focus on what punishment someone’s gonna get by these things, but I don’t even think we have any punishment to give them, but if we at least do something good, if we have punishment, you know, whatever we should be doing in, you know, 2014 when were voting not to do inclusion, right?
So now we have a political appointee who doesn't have the first freaking clue what he's actually talking about calling for Red Clay Consolidated School District to be PUNISHED by the State for the crime of listening to parents and teachers, then telling the administration to hit a higher standard ...  Obviously that kind of behavior MUST BE STOPPED before it spreads to other districts.

I've got it, they said at DOE, we'll punish Red Clay by taking three of their schools away from local control ...

DOE violates labor laws with phony "turnaround" schools move!

The Red Clay Education Association has a signed, legally instituted Collective Bargaining Agreement with the employer of its teachers:  the Red Clay Consolidated School District.  It governs, among other things, the due process rights of teachers and the procedures that must be used in order to remove them.

DOE's plan to make every teacher in Warner, Highland, and Shortlidge re-apply for his/her job is a blatant violation of State and Federal labor laws, because nobody gave either the General Assembly, the US DOE, or the DE DOE the ability to abrogate contracts unilaterally.  DE DOE is NOT EVEN THE EMPLOYER OF RECORD for these teachers, no matter how the unit count is funded.

There are other issues involved in the so-called "turnaround" process that gives the lie to any belief that Governor Markell, Secretary Murphy, the State Board of Education, or even the Charter School Network are not collectively (and with coordination) pursuing the same strategy as Newark NJ, which is to convert the entire City of Wilmington into a "charter only" school district.   That, as RCCSD Board member Adriana Leela Bohm and State Representative John Kowalko pointed out so eloquently pointed out at Wednesday's board meeting, completely self-evident at this point.

DE DOE, which considers CSW a failing school, and whose governing Board has called for Red Clay to be "punished," has now officially announced that the law doesn't matter--State education bureaucrats can dictate whatever policies their little heartless chest cavities desire, since--apparently--they don't believe anybody has the brains, the heart, or the guts to stop them.

And speaking of the heart and guts, that brings me to my fourth and final story:

Delaware State Education Association leadership needs to resign ... from something!

As the "turnaround" story was unfolding, DOE and Rodel trotted out the leadership committee of the laughably ineffective Vision Coalition to pimp on the letters page of the News Journal for the necessity of doing all things in the strict manner prescribed by DOE/Vision [now consolidated into ED25], and essentially condemning everybody who questions their wisdom as backward hicks and social deviants.

Among the signatories of that letter was one Frederika Jenner, President of the Delaware State Educators Association.

Let's see:  when one of your largest locals has just passed a resolution rejecting the school turnaround model for Red Clay, what do you do?  Disown them by supporting the people who are breaking the law?

There's something wrong here, and it appears that the State leadership of the 12,000-strong DSEA is playing both sides of the fence.

You cannot present yourself as representing (and spending hundreds of thousands of member dues in political contributions) the teachers of Delaware if you also present yourself as representing and supporting the organization that is systematically destroying the careers of those teachers by (among other things) violating labor law.

So you have a choice.  In order to retain some shred of intellectual consistency or moral authority, the individuals on the DSEA State Board need to pick one of the following options:

A.  Resign from all leadership and committee positions with the Vision Coalition and remove DSEA's stamp of approval for the process.


B.  Resign from the DSEA State Board so that you can continue to pursue the goals of corporate reform without having to deal with your conscience for selling out the people you were voted into office to represent.

Pretty much, it's really that simple.

Parents--if you want your children to have a chance at a decent public education (maybe you mistakenly aspire to get them into CSW or want an appropriate placement for your Special Needs child), then you are almost out of time to act.

Because if you don't act ... at the school board, at public meetings, and with the ballot box ... Delaware DOE is simply going to continue to push forward with its insane strategy of fixing what's not broken, condemning the people who care about their kids, and trampling the law whenever it is expedient to do so.