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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.