Dear Secretary Duncan Letter

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September 17th, 2015

United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202
Dear Secretary Arne Duncan,
I am a Delaware father of a student with disabilities. I am writing to you today for a simple
request: please deny the accountability “school report card” Delaware will be sending you on
October 31st, 2015. I have been very active in education reporting in Delaware through a local
blog, and I have attended and investigated many state education meetings. I will be the first to
admit I have supported our state’s opt-out movement and legislation designed to honor a
parent’s right to opt-out their child from the state standardized assessment. Up until recently, I
promoted it as a parent’s choice. Based on activity from our SEA, I am now encouraging every
single parent who has a child in a public school to opt-out.
Over the past year, our SEA has engaged in a private group of superintendents and
administrators, DOE employees, one representative from our state PTA, and one representative
from our state educator’s association. This Accountability Framework Working Group (AFWG)
is not open to the public, and this group has been tasked with setting up the Delaware School
Success Framework. Based on their work and what was submitted in Delaware’s ESEA
Flexibility Waivers on March 31st, I have already submitted a complaint to our state Department
of Justice on 9/10/15. There are many other issues included in this complaint against the
Delaware Department of Education as well. In addition, I also filed a complaint with the US DOE
Office of Inspector General on 9/16/15 in regards to the ESEA matter.
As part of ESEA waivers, the state must present the package to the public for public comment.
What our SEA did was not honest and transparent. As part of their package for accountability,
they provided the categories to the public. One of them was proficiency on the state
standardized assessment, currently the Smarter Balanced Assessment. In the draft the public
saw, this category stood alone, as just proficiency. However, on 3/31/15, they updated the
draft to include “participation rate” against the “proficiency” calculation. In essence, whatever
a school’s proficiency rate is, they will then multiply it by the participation rate in the state
assessment. As well, if the participation rate dips below 95%, a school will not be able to
achieve the highest rating. This new category, which was discussed in meetings of this AFWG,
was included in their meeting minutes from early March, however these minutes were not
posted on our SEA website until after our State Board of Education met on 3/17/15 to approve

the draft. The only place any member of the public would have heard of this participation rate
category prior to submission to the US DOE would have been if they attended the State Board
of Education meeting on that day. This is a deception to the public. If I had to guess, it was in
the middle of a lot of legislative debate about Delaware’s opt-out legislation, House Bill 50. And
our SEA did not want parents to find out about it. But I cannot speak for our SEA’s motivations
and deception and non-transparency.
What I can say is that no one from the general public, including several education groups: the
PTA, LEA school boards, local education association chapters, etc., did not have any idea about
any of this until the end of August this year. I actually stumbled across this information while
researching another article for my blog, and I published all of it.
This past Monday I attended a public meeting of our State Board of Education. This was a
retreat, and different groups from our SEA gave presentations to the State Board. One of them
was from the Chief of Accountability and Assessment, Dr. Penny Schwinn. She explained how
the growth portion of our accountability system is the most aggressive in the country, and it is
“pushing it with US DOE”. She also said this is not something she is “comfortable backing down
from.” The proposed weights for proficiency growth in our state range from 45% to 50%.
Added weights from overall proficiency of 20-25% will result in our schools being held
accountable for anywhere from 65-75% based on performance on the Smarter Balanced
Assessment. At our Town Hall meetings our SEA had with community members, I specifically
asked about this, and I was assured it would not be more than 50% based on the Smarter
Balanced Assessment. Now we find out, at this late hour, this was a lie without a wide enough
range of stakeholder input. As well, in the minutes for these meetings, Dr. Schwinn informed
the AFWG that participation rate was mandatory as a punishing factor against schools in
Federal mandate. However, ESEA law is explicitly clear that states must report the participation
rate. Nowhere is it in Federal law that is must be punitive in nature. The US DOE did offer
guidance on this, but that is non-regulatory guidance and is by no means to be taken as law
with repercussions.
The participation rate is also, in both Delaware state law and Federal law, a measure of how
many students are opted out by the school and staff. Nowhere in these laws does it state
anything about a parent’s fundamental and Constitutional right to refuse to have their child
participate in the state assessment. I agree that schools and teachers should not encourage
opt-out because that is a parent’s decision to make or a student once they reach the age of
majority to make those decisions for themselves.
Delaware is a very unique state. We are in the midst of turmoil stemming from a huge influx of
charter schools which are changing local feeder patterns and is now affecting the economic
viability of one of the largest school districts in our state. Based on low-income and high-crime

areas, our most vulnerable schools are being labeled and shamed based on the state
assessment with names such as “priority” and “focus” schools. This has caused a great deal of
community outrage. Most recently, our state ACLU along with the Delaware Community Legal
Aid filed a complaint with the US DOE Office of Civil Rights in a lawsuit against our SEA and one
school district in regards to discrimination and segregation as a result of some charter school
enrollment practices. Our largest city, Wilmington, is in the midst of a very large redistricting
effort at the same time our state is facing potential budget deficits in the next fiscal year in the
six figure amount. Meanwhile, there are coalitions attempting to change our student-funding
system which is widely acknowledged to be archaic and does not serve the best needs of our
students. In a nutshell, there are far too many hands in the “fix Delaware education pot” right
now, from our SEA, our State Board, local non-profit companies, many outside vendors that are
reaping large profits in contracts from our SEA, and it is causing a lot of noise with little room
for improvement.
The last thing Delaware and our students need right now is the “toughest” accountability
system in the country. I certainly agree that our students can do better and they should be
given every possible resource available to them. But I don’t, along with the vast majority of
citizens in our state, think true measurement can be used overwhelmingly based on the
Smarter Balanced Assessment or any other standardized assessment. What we have
consistently seen, regardless of teacher effectiveness or not, is that our schools with high
populations of low-income students, students with disabilities, ELL students, and high pockets
of certain minorities, tend to perform bad on these tests. While certain charter schools, with
highly controversial enrollment practices, do the best. Our state is angry, and this
accountability system, if approved by the US DOE, will most likely cause our education system
to fall apart.
I am writing this to you because I have zero faith that our SEA or their State Board of Education
will stop the train that is hurtling towards educational oblivion in our state. They say they listen
to the public and stakeholder groups, but they have consistently picked the same voices that
bend their ear to our SEA and State Board agendas. As a result, Regulations are passed without
any legislative input, as the bulk of them are brought forth and approved by our Secretary and
State Board while our legislators are not even in legislative session. Some call this “The
Delaware Way”, but I choose to call it morally bankrupt.
If you need any concrete evidence of the deviousness of our SEA fooling the public with ESEA
waivers and not presenting the full scope to the public, please feel free to contact me and I will
happily hand over that information. Even with their latest update of Delaware Regulation 103,
based on this new accountability system, our SEA did not provide sufficient public notice of it
until, once again, I happened to stumble upon it while researching information for another

article, and published it myself last week. As a result of this, our Delaware Register of
Regulations has advised our SEA to extend the comment period on this regulation, which they
did, thirty days from the time I published the information.
I am a parent who cares about our public education. I should not be the one to make the public
aware of our SEA’s regulations and ESEA requests and matters of transparency. For all of the
reasons above, I formally request the United States Department of Education deny in full our
Delaware School Success Framework when it is submitted to your office on October 31 st, 2015.
In closing, I would like to say I know we may not agree on some education policy, but I would
like to think we both believe in the law and that failure to abide by it is a true measure of
accountability. I believe that if the US DOE expects all LEAs to be accountable, this ideal has to
begin with the SEA otherwise the center cannot hold.
Respectfully,

Kevin Ohlandt

Cc: Heather Rieman (acting Assistant to Secretary Duncan)
James Shelton III (US DOE Deputy Secretary)
Carlas McCauley (US DOE Office of School Turnaround)
Delaware Governor Jack Markell
Lindsay O’Mara (Education Policy Advisor for Governor Markell)
Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy
Dr. Steven Godowsky (Acting Delaware Secretary of Education after 9/30/15)
David Blowman (Delaware Deputy Secretary of Education)
Dr. Teri Quinn Gray (Delaware State Board of Education President)
Barack Obama (President of the United States)
Matthew Denn (Delaware Attorney General)
Frederika Jenner (President of the Delaware State Educators Association)
Dr. Terri Hodges (President of the Delaware PTA)
Delaware State Representative Peter Schwartzkopf (Speaker of the Delaware House)
Delaware Senator Patti Blevins (President Pro Tempore of Delaware Senate)

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