Archive for November, 2013

The latest attack on allowing parents the freedom to choose the best education for their children comes from the mayor of Laurel and the transportation director for the Laurel School District, John Schwed. In the Nov. 21-27, 2013 edition of the Laurel Star he wrote:

“Our State leaders have created a mess in public education. I recommend we wipe the slate clean and start all over. Why do I write this? Well, I believe by pandering to special interests: the Federal Government, unhappy parents, business, clever vocational school district administrators, etc., we have created a separate and unequal educational system for Delaware’s school children. That inequality is rooted not in racial segregation but in economic and social segregation.

A review of Department of Education (DOE) data indicates there are 16 charter schools in New Castle County, four in Kent County and one in Sussex County. I don’t believe New Castle County parents are more educationally enlightened than the people in Sussex County, so there must be some other good reason for their existence. If the Legislature believes charters are a good thing, then let’s make all schools charter schools. Oh? Perhaps that can’t be done because, quote: “traditional schools” have a different student population to serve, perhaps different governmental rules and regulations that are not there for charter schools? DOE also has an Office of Charter Schools funded by the Legislature. Now I read that some want this office removed from and made independent of DOE. Sounds like that would take charter schools one more step to becoming what they should be — private schools.

If that’s what those parents want, charter schools should not be funded by taxpayers, but by the parents, just like those parents who pay to send their children to tuition-based private schools. I am not in Rep. Kowalko’s district, but he really gets it, and I applaud his recent opposition to more funding for charter schools.

Choice, another well intentioned debacle, is now being made as easy as buying something online at Amazon.com. The American public school system was set up decades ago with school districts. This system served America well for decades. We educated generals and admirals who won wars, inventors who gave us ingenious inventions, and entrepreneurs who created very successful businesses. As a minimum there should be some financial penalty for parents who choose to send their children out of their home school district.

Teacher evaluations are the latest dustup. I applaud those school boards who are fighting back against the Component 5 section of teacher evaluations. Evaluating teacher performance on student test performance is ridiculous and unfair. I wonder if doctors would like it if we based their pay on how well a patient responds to their treatment.

Members of the State Legislature get their pay regardless of whether we agree or disagree with their votes. True, we can end their pay by voting them out of office, but while in office, everyone gets paid. The Legislature got into this because they took Federal money and it came with strings attached. Maybe you should send the money back and say, “No thanks, we are going to control our own destiny.” School administrators have rated teachers successfully for years. They know who is doing the job well and who is not.

The big elephant in the educational room that no one really wants to talk about is what has changed since WWII. Is it really the teachers or is it society and the students who have changed? I believe public education has become the whipping boy for society’s failures. Until our State and Federal government invest more energy to strengthen families we will continue to have problems with student performance. Until then government will continue to “reform public schools” as a way of showing a frustrated public they are doing something. We will get more special programs run by high paid consultants. We will get more experimentation with different techniques, but we won’t get financial support for sustainability. Districts in financially depressed areas of the State need money to hire additional resources who can provide the early intervention for students who need help and are not getting it at home. It cannot be done by the classroom teacher alone given the present state of the student population.

Now for Sussex ­— my home county. Years ago, clever administrators at Sussex Tech figured out a way to save their school from educational irrelevancy by converting a vocational high school to a comprehensive high school. The Legislature bought their story, allowed them to make a significant change, and then opened the financial floodgates. Now everyone in Sussex County pays a school tax for that school but has no say in whether their child gets to attend there. The school has great facilities, a 100-person band that they rightfully brag about going to national and international events and a host of other extras — all paid for by a willing State Legislature. The school never has to go to referendum like the people of the Laurel School District. 

State Legislature, level the playing field. Fund all public schools at the same per pupil level both for operational and capital expenditures regardless of where the student lives and repeal the Sussex Tech tax.

Business likes to hide behind the “there are no trained workers available statement.” I say to Delaware business, not DEDO, show me the jobs. What are you doing to create jobs?

I see one new business locating in Seaford and I see a brewery that’s expanding. That’s a good start but here in Western Sussex, we need thousands more at more than minimum wage to lift our people up.

I see many minimum wage jobs, but I don’t see the jobs requiring the skills that Delaware business likes to tout. The DuPont Family was a leader in making this State what is. It is time for the present DuPont leadership to rise to the current challenges and provide some new jobs throughout the State, not just New Castle County. Take the Seaford Nylon Plant back from Koch Industries, turn it into the DuPont Business Park and encourage other industries to locate there. Make washing machines, solar panels, wind turbine parts, or something to support the new budding aerospace business at Wallops Island.

State leaders, throw all of this alphabet soup back in the pot. Enact the Educational Reform Act of 2014 and level the playing field for all of Delaware’s school children.

Faced with declining or leveling revenues from the three casinos due to competition and a sluggish economy, perhaps it is time to review how to best spend the State’s educational dollars. Let the debate begin.”

Very clearly, Mayor Schwed (who had a note in the paper saying this letter was written asa  citizen and not in his official capacity as mayor) is going to be someone who will work hard to prevent parents from being able to choose the best schools for their children. Here are some facts for the mayor:

In regards to average SAT scores of students per district planning on attending college, Laurel School District is 14th of 19 (Seaford is 18th) with average scores of 1222 (out of 2400). That is 22% below what is considered a good score of 1550 to be enrolled in college, and 60 points below the state average (though Red Clay SD uses one of their charter schools to boost their numbers). Who would be the top performing district without that charter school being counted? Sussex Tech (average score 1413), which the mayor wants to eliminate by repealing their tax base, thus depriving some students of an educational choice because he doesn’t like that not everyone can go to the school.

The Laurel School District spends about $15,642 per student per year with $11,419 coming from the state. That is 13th overall. Seaford spends $16,378, which is 12th overall but is second to last in average SAT scores. 29% of education funding in Delaware comes from local taxpayers. Most private schools cost much less than this. Tall Oaks Classical School in New Castle, which has the highest average SAT scores of any individual school in the state, charges less than $5,000 per student per year and has about 30% of its matriculated students come from low-income family backgrounds.

Based on the state’s K-12 numbers, Delaware will have more high school dropouts than college graduates, and roughly an even number of students who drop out or are suspended or expelled from school as students who enter college, regardless of whether they finish or not.

In Delaware “The education finance system is simply not organized with the goal of knowing whether how money spent produces results or whether alternate allocations of resources would increase student achievement. Instead, the system is organized around counting kids. District finance personnel focus on managing unit counts (the codified system for counting students in districts and school buildings) in order to maximize revenues.”

This is  not a CRI quote. This is a quote from the Delaware Public Policy Institute Project: “Evaluating the Effectiveness of  Financing Delaware’s Public Education”.

Conclusion? Rather than just throw more money into Delaware’s public schools, Laurel included, Mayor Schwed ought to be supportive of efforts to control education spending to reasonable levels for taxpayers, where the money is accounted for and used wisely, and for efforts for parents who are unhappy with what is being offered in a below average district even by Delaware standards to go elsewhere. This will not destroy the Laurel schools, but it will require them to evaluate how resources are being allocated and make the schools more competitive with other schools, including Sussex Tech.

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As we head towards the Thanksgiving weekend, some people will be feeling a bit like the turkey when it comes to the battle for education reform. Those people will be parents, teachers, and students at Reach Academy, an all-girls charter school in New Castle.

The officially stated reasons for closing down the Academy was due to poor scholastic performance. The school has existed for four years and has suffered from poor leadership from its inception. However, as Jim Hosley quoted from Stephanie Ranchero of the Wall Street Journal:

In applying for a new school, many families take into account such factors as the distance from home and work, where siblings are enrolled, the availability of after-school care and campus safety, in addition to academic ratings.”    

Even though it was true that from a standardized test score component, Would the state have shuttered a public school which had the same numbers as Reach? Most likely, a few teachers and administrators would have been fired or laid off, a few students would have “choiced” to another public school, and there would be calls to spend more money to turn that public school around.

The basic truth is that for many parents, they didn’t pick Reach just because they felt like it or it was closer to the house. Many of them evaluated the full range of priorities, from education, school safety, and after school programs. While Reach did suffer from poor leadership in its past, that does not mean that giving up on the school after four years is to the benefit of the students.

And if anyone thinks the parents of Reach Academy students are OK with the DOE’s decision, you may be surprised.

Red the article by Jim Hosley on Reach Academy HERE



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State Treasurer Flowers’ office has posted new economic numbers in the “Delaware mini economic index”as of this November. Here are some of the numbers:

The State’s economic climate over the last 60 days is rated as “Fair”, which is the middle rating. The national growth is listed as “weak”.

The weakness is being led by a slowing housing market. After all, one can only buy so many homes at artificially low interest rates, can we?

There was an increase of 50 Delawareans per week filing jobless claims. This number will likely change when the EVRAZ steel plant in Claymont and the Georgia-Pacific plant in Harrington shut down.

Delaware had 440,172 people in the labor force in August 2013 (Delaware Dept. of Labor). 32,116 were part time, the rest full time. There are 1,600 fewer Delawareans working in August than in July, and likely fewer now than in August when the new numbers come out. The U-3 unemployment rating went from 7.3% to 7.4%, which is about the national average. A few places like CarMax and Kraft Foods are adding some new jobs or expanding on existing ones, but the numbers are small.

Gas prices have been dropping slowly but steadily, to the point where some are wondering if $3 a gallon gas by New Year’s is possible.

When September and October numbers come out, we will post them for you. Overall: Delaware could be in worse shape, but we could be in better shape as well. CRI has been offering ideas and solutions to address our economic growth issues. Visit http://www.caesarrodney.org to learn more.

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If you haven’t seen this video of a Tennessee high school student speak out against Common Core State Standards, you should watch it now.

Both the left and the right, teachers’ unions and Conservative organizations have been critical of Common Core, some of for the same reasons and sometimes for different reasons. From the left, they are unhappy with the increase in standardized testing being used in teacher’s evaluations and changing standards which make it harder for teachers to put together effective curriculum for the classrooms. From the right, they generally will agree with these complaints, plus there is the addition of Federalizing education standards and allowing third-party (read: big cronyist businesses) sources to obtain students’ information which can either be a) stolen or b) sold to these third parties as part of their marketing campaigns. Not that the left necessarily is in favor of those things, either.

In any case the student, Ethan Young, a senior at Farragut High School in Knox County, Tennessee, makes a good case from both sides as to why Common Core State Standards are not benefiting the classroom. The irony is that even if one believes this is a project of the National Governors Association and “the states”, as opposed to the Federal government, that does not explain how the NGA, most of whose members have no background in education or running a business but do have lots of experience in politicking, created these standards that are somehow superior to anything which could have been devised by parent and community activists, educators, business leaders, and a small number of politicians. Florida under Jeb Bush turned their education system around without coming up with a one-size-fits-all approach: they changed the way schools were graded, they rewarded schools who took more challenging students, they instituted a merit-pay system, and they held the schools that were failing accountable. the result? Hispanic and even special needs students in Florida over the last decade have scored well against the nationwide average.

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The number of reported enrollees in Delaware’s health insurance exchange is only four thus far.

Let us do a point count, here at half time. 6 people signed up for Obamacare, day one, 148 by day three. 6,000,000 people were given insurance termination notices in October, by health insurance companies whose products have been decertified by the government ACA requirements. The ACA and GSA predict 11,000,000 will lose their chosen coverage and be forced into Obamacare by January 11,2014,. Actuaries put that number at 43,000,000 who will lose their coverage. 43 million! The stated goal was to insure 16 million uninsured, and 7/10ths of a million pre-existing condition “uninsurable”.

The problem is beyond the number of enrollees who sign up. If only those who consume more health care services have signed up on the exchanges by March 31, then the actuaries who set insurance prices for the 2015 year will have only a limited amount of data to work with. If that is the case expect to see “sticker shock” prices for that year. This is because insurance may not be purchased on the exchanges after March 31 for 2014; therefore, very few people if anyone will volunteer to enroll in the health exchanges between April 1 and October 15 when the enrollment period opens for 2015. In addition, if one does not purchase health insurance but gets sick or in an accident, the hospitals can enroll people on the exchanges on the spot. This is something to keep in mind for next year unless a lot of healthy people decide to sign up for this.

Sweeney: Should climate deniers be banned from writing?

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