Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Department of Education’

The Washington State Supreme Court voted 6-3 to strike down charter schools, saying they “aren’t governed by elected boards and therefore not accountable to voters.” Read the decision here

Some background: In November 2012, voters approved a referendum to establish as many as 40 charter schools in the state. Charter school opponents became “Alarmed over the lack of local accountability and fiscal impacts of the Act” and filed a lawsuit against the network. The Washington State constitution says funding must be given to “common schools”, which were essentially defined as traditional public schools. The main complain is, charters and other school choice options are “selective” and force traditional schools to take “problem students.” The schools must also be “uniform”, or the same. If charters have lotteries and restrictions public schools do not have, then the schools are no longer uniform and charters cannot be provided public funding.

Delaware has a similar constitutional law which requires the government to fund a public education system, though it does not say the schools have to be run by the government, only provided. But the point is the same: these rules were set up not to ensure everyone an education, but to make sure as very few kids would be able to have an option besides the traditional public school. The way public schools are funded requires as many kids as possible to get into the buildings so the schools receive money.
Anti-charter proponents celebrated; at long last, they have succeeded in their quest to prevent students from going to a charter school. Most of these children will either end up home-schooled, sent to a private school which can take them, or, most likely, sent back to traditional public school where their attendance will ensure the schools get more taxpayer dollars and make any sort of education reform even more unlikely. Sadly, some adults are so opposed to school choice, the idea that a child might leave public school, that they openly cheer for the demise of alternative schools and education freedom just to make sure public schools (and those whose livelihood derives from public schools) keep getting money AND the status quo is maintained.
If you don’t think there is a problem yet, keep in mind SAT and ACT scores are flat, or even in decline. Here’s an article from left-leaning Slate acknowledging this.
The excuses abound: more students are taking the test (which is 1. dumb policy and 2. aren’t we supposed to improve everyone’s education? Isn’t that the whole point of No Child Left Behind?), Common Core State Standards are so stringent they are raising the bar too fast, the SAT and ACT are not fully aligned with student goals. The problem with this argument is, scores have declined for decades now in reading, and since 2006 writing scores declined across all ethnic and gender groups, and is now being eliminated from the SAT. Therefore, blaming Common Core for raising the bar and making the test now too difficult is a convenient overlook of the long-term problems we’ve had in this country.
What is not acknowledged is the stark reality: Most students just are not ready for college. Some ought not to go, but even then too many students are graduating high school lacking the basic skills needed to obtain a decent-paying job and career advancement opportunities. Of course, every entity except our current education system is to blame.
The same people who go after charters almost always include homeschooling and private schooling as a problem as well. Their attacks on charters and choice are little more than a thinly veiled effort to push all students to attend public schools, no matter how good or bad the school is run, no matter how ridiculous the government mandates are, or even irregardless of whether public education is right for every child.
Take the battle over HB 50, the Opt-Out bill. Supporters see this as a way for parents to have a say in their child’s education and keep their children from having to submit to a standardized test many feel is a problem. We agree- parents should be allowed to have a say in their child’s education, and absolutely students, especially in public schools, are over-tested. But what HB 50 supporters do not seem to understand is how futile their efforts are the long run, the “big picture” if you will. HB50 supporters seem to believe if you just get rid of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), somehow everything will be alright in the end. But they continue to believe in the system which gave them SBAC, they will find the bureaucracy will just provide a new program and standardized tests with similar, if only slightly different, objectives.  As long as they continue to keep the current system of education in place, there will be no real change.
Supporters of HB50 and anti-testing advocates also need to find a common alternative to Common Core/SBAC which will give principals the data they need to measure student progress and teacher competence. There are, in fact, teachers who are incompetent; admitting this is not “anti-teacher”, but a reality that no organization has complete competence from every single member. Not every student is motivated to learn on their own. Not every school is run well, or run poorly. As long as a method of measuring student progress is offered, education progress can be made.

Education Savings Accounts by themselves will not improve our education system, but they will move us forward when parents realize they do have the power to improve their children’s education if they want to. It’s parents, not school boards, not school districts, not teacher’s unions, not elected officials, not employees of the state Department of Education, not employees of the U.S. Department of Education, not private sector companies, who ought to have the final say in how their child is education. With a more competitive education system in place, one which empowers teachers and principals to do what is right, one which allows parents to have choices beyond what is in their zip code, education will improve.

And for those who say it won’t, look at our university system. We have arguably the best system on the planet, and there are plenty of public and private schools to go to. Oh, and public schools receive plenty of funding and are in no danger of going under, even though the government provides student loans to students who might go to a private school.

Read Full Post »

A few weeks ago President John Stapleford (yea, that has a nice ring to it) published an article praising Governor Markell for making the decision to ask state employees to contribute a little more to their healthcare plans. He wrote:

“State employee and retiree health care costs have been rising exponentially and are not sustainable. The claims have jumped 20% over the past three fiscal years and the latest Pew Trusts analysis estimates that the State of Delaware has unfunded long term health care liabilities of $5.6 billion.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows what the Governor proposes is not onerous. The State pays for almost 91% of the employee’s health care premium. Nationwide, state and local governments pay 87% and the average in the private sector is just 79%.

According to the BLS, the average pay for workers in service-providing industries in Delaware was $51,647 in 2013 while the average pay for Delaware state government employees that year was $53,450. The 2013 BLS occupational wage survey for Delaware shows an average wage of $39,130 for full time workers in protective service occupations while 2013 State of Delaware payroll data shows annual pay for full time workers in the Department of Corrections to be over $46,800.”

After publishing this article, we heard back from state employees, upset by our article. Some unfriended us on Facebook. Others unsubscribed from our e-mail blasts. I even received on particularly upset letter with a five-dollar bill saying the following:

“As a State of Delaware employee, I work hard for my paycheck. I do not have a flashy job and am not in a position where I will ever receive accolades for my wondrous feats. When I retire, no one of acclaim will come to speak at my send-off party, if I’m lucky enough to have my friends pay to have one. I am grateful to have the ability to contribute to a retirement plan that will help supplement the meager social security check that I will receive when I am eligible under the rules of the Federal Social Security Administration….I am a fan of your organization, but would love to see some positive support for the hardworking State Employee.”

This particular letter is upset over our Transparent Delaware website, where we wrote:

“Caesar Rodney requested the State Pension Data as part of our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) effort and received this response from the State Office of Management and Budget.

“The release of pensioner information is addressed in Delaware Code.  Specifically, 29 Del. C §8308 (d) states as follows:
‘(d) All records maintained by the Board or the Office of Pensions and Investments relating to the pensions or pension eligibility of persons receiving pensions from the State or other post-employment benefits and who are not presently employed by or serving as officers of the State or its political subdivisions shall be confidential.’

Accordingly, your request for state pensioner information as contained in your December 16, 2011 request cannot be fulfilled.”

Many other states now release State Pension information for public use.

Caesar Rodney would have to go to court to secure the release of the Pension data even though the release of that data is forgone because it is taxpayers’ money. ”

We have a large number of supporters who are current and retired state employees, so let’s set the facts straight and respond to our letter writer.

No one at CRI hates state employees. Nor do we assume they are collectively a lazy, undeserving bunch. Delaware needs some number of competent, hardworking state employees, and this letter writer is correct that most of them receive middle class wages and not the six figures much of the leadership gets.

But what this letter writer misses, and what many state employees miss, is that they are receiving their salaries from taxpayers in the private sector. Regardless of where it comes from, if the government provides it, the private sector paid for it in some way. If government were completely honest about spending, we would not need to threat a lawsuit. But we as taxpayers have a right to know what they are giving to others, and while this letter writer may believe his or her pension is too meager to be noticed, the collective pension total of all state employees is very high- just how high, we don’t know.

AS for the complaints that Markell was wrong to ask state employees to contribute more to their healthcare plans, they are not being asked to pay more than anyone in the private sector, nor do we want it taken away in its entirety. But for many people, it’s difficult to see past their own personal lives. Most of those who voted in our poll to say taxpayers should pay more because state employees haven’t received COLA raises since Markell took office are missing the point that their private sector counterparts aren’t doing much better.

The reality is, Delaware spends too much money. Unfunded liabilities are a problem and private sector tax collection from individuals and businesses has declined the last two years, not even counting the casino troubles. This is a big reason why most of the referendums to raise property taxes to pay for the public schools were voted down- it isn’t because people hate teachers or don’t want to see the local public school succeed. In fact, all of us at CRI join the majority who want to see public schools do well because when all schools succeed, all children have the opportunity to succeed to. This success can and should include traditional public schools.

But people are tired of paying money into a system with mediocre to poor results. They are tired of being excluded from the policy-making process, all while told they need to cough up more or else they’ll prove they don’t like teachers, et. al. Why should taxpayers continue giving money to a system which has failed?

If state employees feel disrespected, they should understand the current system is the problem. The way we do business is simply unsustainable and unless changes are made, we really will collapse, and this is not a blog for conspiracy theories or nihilistic predictions. CRI is a government accountability organization, and as long as our state government officials are not held accountable for their actions, then CRI will continue to support policies which reduce the burden on the private sector and hold the government accountable for how they spend our money.

Read Full Post »

The big news in Delaware today (not the awesome magazine, but today today) is that the state Department of Education has issued Christina School District with an ultimatum: close the three “Priority Schools” in the district (Stubbs Elementary, Bancroft Elementary, and Bayard Middle School) by the end of February 2015 or else turn them over to an outside manager. If they don’t comply the state will take them over.

Whereas Red Clay SD countered the state’s takeover plan with one of their own which did not require teachers to reapply for their jobs or for school principals to be fired and replaced with new $160,000 a year principals, Christina SD did not come up with a plan the state finds acceptable. Their school board also voted to reject the turnaround plan. So now the state is flexing its political muscle to get control over these three schools.

If you look at a map of Christina (click this link) you’ll see the district boundaries make no sense.

Christina serves the city of Newark and the suburban area around it, and then a piece of downtown Wilmington about 12 miles from its easternmost edge. Newark and Wilmington are not the same city and each has its own challenges. We at CRI believe there should be changes to how districts are drawn and the City of Wilmington should have its own school district. All three of the schools scheduled for closure or loss to outside managers or the state are in the city limits of Wilmington. Nonetheless, Christina is in charge and must come to a decision soon. What will they do?

If the past is any indicator Christina will fight the state all the way to the last week of February. In 2013 the district initially rejected Delaware’s requirements under Race To The Top but changed a portion of their plan when the state threatened to withhold $2.3 million in RTTT funding from the district unless it complied with federal directives. However, Governor Markell and Secretary Murphy are not exactly pushovers; we expect them to stand their ground on this issue and fully take over the schools at the end of the month if Christina doesn’t counter the Priority Schools plan with one the state finds acceptable. However, in the end the Governor has more power than the district and they know it; they will have to implement some reforms or else those three Wilmington schools will probably be turned into charters or turned over to private “for profit” entities who will (most likely) hire private management to oversee a turnaround effort.

Whatever happens, we will be watching with interest. From our end we have no stake in this battle except to see education in Delaware turn around. Again we repeat: 51st in SAT score performance, 9th in per-student per-year spending, and 4th in per capita administrative budget (number of administrators to students). Without serious education reform the state will continue to see businesses decline to invest here (unless they get goodies from DEDO) because our public education system isn’t “world class” enough to produce enough educated young people needed to take the high-paying jobs which move people out of poverty. Parents with children who have jobs in New Castle County will move over the border to Pennsylvania or send their children to one of Delaware’s private schools (we are #1 in the country for highest ration of children in private schools as a percentage of the total student body).

We are involved in our own education reform efforts. Look for CRI, in the days and weeks ahead, to continue to talk about Education Savings Accounts and why Delaware needs them. or visit http://www.caesarrodney.org and learn about what you can do to Impact Delaware.

Read Full Post »

This week is National School Choice Week, a week where we draw attention to the need for parents and families to have School Choice as an option for all students.

No doubt this week is under fire from school choice opponents who worry school choice is a corporate, Koch-brother funded project to destroy public schools and, more importantly, public teacher’s unions,but those of us who believe in “free to choose” ask just one question:

1. “Who is more likely to make a better decision about a child’s future: That child’s legal guardian, or elected and unelected officials in state capitals and Washington D.C.?”

If you believe government officials, union leaders, school boards, superintendents, Department of Education employees, and politicians can all make a better decision about your child than you can, school choice is not something you will support. But if you believe schools should be run at the local level, with fewer mandates from above and more support for those who are there day-to-day, and if you believe students are unique human beings who should not be forced into “one-size-fits-all” based on their parents’ financial ability to find another school, then school choice week is for you.

If you believe there should be accountability for performance in our education system, without automatically blaming teachers and parents for poor performance, instead of the system which has been created, school choice is for you.

If you believe public schools who wish to have your child attend should have to work hard for your tax dollars, like every non-monopolized market in the private sector (i.e. sectors where companies use government to give themselves business or hurt competition), instead of requiring children whose parents aren’t rich to go to a school based only by their zip code, school choice is for you.

If the thought of stagnating academic performance, the rising number of students who enter college needing to take remedial classes, and the high drop-out rate for both high school and college bothers you, school choice is for you.

If you believe money spent on education, where Delaware spends to the tune of $13,000 per student per year and $16,500 if you include capital spending (refurbishing or building schools, source: DE DOE), ought to be spent efficiently and with the student’s best interest at heart, school choice is for you.

If you feel genuinely heartbroken every time you hear about another shooting in places like Wilmington, and know most of those young people get involved in drugs and gangs because they don’t have hope for a better future, school choice is for you.

If you are concerned about the values being spread in society at large, and would like to see your child(ren) be placed in a school setting which is closer to the values you wish the child to learn, school choice is for you.

If you believe America is a great nation with a lot of untapped talent among our youth, and want to see students use their talents in the best way possible, school choice is for you.

And lastly, If you believe a high-quality education is a fundamental right for each child to have, then school choice is for you.

If you believe school choice is something we can all work for together, then join the Caesar Rodney Institute in celebration of National School Choice Week, and let’s support #SchoolChoice!

Why do you support school choice?

Read Full Post »

Hispanic CREO2014

photo: hcreo.com

Yesterday, January 7, our Director of the Center for Economic Policy and Analysis (CEPA) Omar Borla appeared on 104.1 and 930 AM “La Exitosa” (the success) on the Cristian Tijerino show for a Spanish-language interview about the most recent Friedman Foundation poll on attitudes toward school choice. The interview transcript is available by request and we will begin to integrate more content towards the Hispanic community, which comprises nearly 8% of the state’s total population.

The observation Cristian made was that for many Hispanic families, lack of information about school choice options prevents them from ever considering alternatives such as charter schools or private schools. Since many parents are either not able or capable of homeschooling or cyber-schooling their children they are often left in the traditional public school system, typically in schools which lack the resources to properly educate Hispanic children. Many Hispanic children come from homes where one or both parents do not speak English and it is this language barrier which discourages many parents from being more active in their children’s education, whether that means not going to parent-teacher conferences or being able to help with homework.

Omar explained the poll results and pointed out the huge enthusiasm gap between people of ALL groups who supporter school choice versus those who don’t. For Hispanics 74% of parents and for Blacks over 70% of parents were supportive of the idea of charters and vouchers. You can read the full results by clicking that link but there were overwhelming majorities in every demographic group: ethnicity, age, gender, party affiliation, among others.

In regards to the Hispanic community, where language is often a barrier, the question is what to do to help bridge this gap. Cristian pointed out that in addition to a lack of information about education alternatives, two other barriers which exist are: lack of interest with many parents in regards to the children’s education (NOT the same as not caring- just means by and large accepting the status quo without personally seeking alternatives) and also the negative perception floated around about alternatives. Cristian cited one parent who told her he though charter schools were for “kids with learning problems.” Many told her they thought charter schools are private schools and thus they cannot afford them.

Omar answered this by showing a data point where support for charter schools, vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts went up in every demographic when the options were explained, meaning more people were supportive when the understood exactly what these ideas were. Understandably school choice isn’t good for every child but parents can and should be better educated about these opportunities. Efforts to misinform parents about what these options are (how else would a parent think charter schools were private schools) are well underway and it’s up to us to counter these false perceptions.

At the end of the day we have only one question for parents, grandparents, legal guardians, educators, principals, elected officials, appointed officials, community leaders, and everyone else: Of all these groups,  who is likely to know best what is best for the child? We’re going out on a limb and saying “Education Department bureaucrats” and “elected officials” are not going to receive the majority of votes.

Read Full Post »

The College Board recently released new SAT data for 2013-2014 and for Delaware it doesn’t look any better than last year. On the positive side Delaware is no longer 51st in SAT scores and 16th out of 16 “High Participation Rate” states and D.C. (70% or greater participation). The state moved to 50th this year and 15th out of 16, surpassing Washington D.C. in both categories.

Total average SAT scores, class of 2013-2014:

Critical reading: 456

writing: 444

math: 459

Total: 1359

For college-bound seniors the numbers improve slightly:

Critical reading: 497

writing: 487

math: 513

Total: 1497

The number best estimated to predict success at the college level is a total score of 1550 for the entire SAT. Delaware scores nearly 190 points below average. 26 out of 51 states and D.C. reach this 1550 threshold. The CATO Institute studied Delaware and factored in the mandatory SAT testing, and even weighted we are still near the bottom. Even when factoring in only high school seniors who attended any college institution this year, the average scores were still below 1550.

Another interesting note: for college-bound seniors, writing scores dropped 10 points from 2006 for both boys and girls, and both boys and girls score 32-34 points lower respectively in reading than in 1972. Math was up 4 points combined since 1972, with girls making slightly bigger gains.

Excluding the writing section, in 1972 the average college-bound high school senior in Delaware earned a 1039 on their SAT’s, while the class of 2014 had a mean of 1010. Meaning, we’ve DROPPED in proficiency, particularly in reading, from the 1970s. Remember, these are seniors who went to college this year. We aren’t counting those who didn’t go.

The only real way we can move forward is to agree that only a robust range of education options for children will allow children to learn as best they can. A one-size-fits-all public school model does little to understand that some students do better in bigger classrooms, others smaller. Some students may do better with the parent as a teacher and for others cyber school may be a better choice. Even among charter and magnet schools there are diverse options, such as the First State Military Academy set to open in Clayton later this year, which is a Junior ROTC program charter school for which some students will benefit from more than others who enter. For some kids and parents issues like safety, school hours, or programs will determine the best options.

The point is we want a system which allows parents or the children’s legal guardians to choose the place best suited for the kids. There is absolutely no reason a child’s fate should be determined by their zip code or that a child should attend a school which either a) is not serving them properly, or b) is not suited to the child’s best method of learning, simply to appease those whose primary interest is keeping the system as-is.

It’s time we made education options available for all children. Visit our website www.caesarrodney.org and sign up for our e-mail newsletters. See what you can do today to make tomorrow’s education a better experience for all children.

Read Full Post »

This article first appeared in The News Journal on November 15, 2014.
The article can be viewed here: http://delonline.us/11cpWNg
The obstacles to a good Delaware public school education have been many, varied and usually school specific but not so with the attempted solutions. The obstacles have included such things as poverty, student and parent indifference, community turmoil, varying teaching and administrative abilities, etc. Proposed resolutions to overcome the obstacles are often preceded by, “One size doesn’t fit all,” followed by a new law, regulation or procedure that applies across the board usually with a new person or office to oversee it.

Every few years we see new people arrive with new ideas. We gather data, cultivate alliances, get input, design plans and essentially begin anew. After the recent Vision Coalition Conference at the University of Delaware, a respected member of the Department of Education and I agreed that the conference was very good, but we had heard everything many times before (funding, salaries, teacher recognition, student needs, parental involvement, testing, etc.). In addition to the merits of any proposed plan, the challenge has been to fully implement that plan. Currently there is an underlying suspicion that history will continue to repeat itself and completion will remain an illusion.

Charter schools are an example of that implementation history. They were to be small laboratories used to experiment with new ideas that, if successful, would be adopted by the traditional schools. If they failed they would be closed. School autonomy was a major component. The original draft of DOE’s charter regulations (1995) said they would be “free of most state and school district rules and regulations” and “reliance on bureaucratic decisions would be a thing of the past.” Have the traditional schools moved toward greater autonomy, or have the charter schools become more traditional?

A bureaucracy (not a bureaucrat) is concerned with compliance. It enforces the letter of the law. It is not anarchy to suggest that a creative mind can work within the spirit of the law. However, that requires thoughtful and skillful decision-making. Merriam-Webster clarifies the problem with its definition of a bureaucracy: “an unwieldy administrative system burdened with excessive complexity and lack of flexibility.” Many years ago the U.S. Department of Education said we had to “replace rules-based governance (think compliance) with performance-based accountability, thereby stimulating the creativity and commitment of teachers, parents, and citizens.”

The impact of a systemic change has been modeled in computers. First introduced in the late 1940s the new technology did small operations quickly using a binary system. The world demand for the new technology was estimated to be only five units. Today computers are ubiquitous, and yet they are still doing the same thing (small operations quickly). What has changed is how they operate. They went from bulky, inefficient, heat-producing vacuum tubes to today’s microchips. That enabled the system to operate much faster, be more efficient, become smaller and do more. Would changing our current education system produce similar results?

Since combinations of obstacles can be found uniquely in various schools, a “cookie-cutter” approach will fail. Individual schools must be given the authority to design customized plans to address the needs of their students. Such schools, according to DOE’s 1995 draft of charter regulations, would “… empower local communities to try new, unique solutions to problems that are facing their own schools.” The separation of powers among the education entities could be stated, “Powers not delegated to districts or the state are reserved to the local school.” In any event, the properly prepared principal (CEO) should have broad administrative authority including the responsibility to hire, fire and manage the budget. Districts and the state should have oversight responsibilities and an appeals function. They should provide opportunities for the professional growth of school personnel so that the new education system will be one of continuous improvement.

Educating students involves a professional relationship between teachers and students (similar to doctors – patients, and attorneys – clients). Running a school is a business function, and the essence of administration is decision-making. The principal’s (CEO’s) role is to provide teachers with the support they need to get the job done and to create a culture of success that permeates all operations with a goal to “max every child.” Building CEOs must be properly prepared before taking over the helm of the school. The time needed to do this will vary by building administrator so this process will have to be phased in.

The state’s business community, the Vision Coalition, DOE, Rodel, etc. have played a significant role in moving things along. They should continue to support education and to provide a vision of what the future expects of our students so that the education professionals in the buildings can better prepare them. Parents should select the “best fit” school for their child using available choice opportunities. Such choices might include alternatives like Education Savings Accounts that have been successful in Arizona and will soon be considered in Delaware.

Just changing the system can improve student performance. Andreas Scheleicher, a member of Rodel’s International Advisory Group, presented information at Rodel’s April Education Event to show the positive effect of local, front-line autonomy. When that autonomy is coupled with distributive leadership (involving teachers in the decision-making process) student gains were increased even more.

Some assumptions: This plan will be phased in over a period of three to five years; it will use mostly current educators; properly prepared principals (CEOs) are important for its success; teachers are critical assets; 19 school districts are too many (Los Angeles has more students than Delaware but only one district).

Education is a multi-billion dollar business whose purpose is to maximize the abilities of all students. That would have a positive economic effect on all residents. Site-based management may not be a panacea for all of Delaware’s education ills, but it is the right course of action at this time. So let’s put on our old Nikes and “just do it.”
Ron Russo
Senior Fellow

Read Full Post »