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US education secretary weighs in on Christina

Arne's office is proud enough of his meddling that they put a link to this article up on Twitter.

Here is John Young's statement on his blog Transparent Chistina

I am at a point where I realize that those that control the money are going to get their way in the press. I only have solace in the truth of our meeting and our decision.
If you listen, you will hear me, asking to amend the motion that passed to make it conditional upon our Superintendent and Union Chief meeting on Wed 4/20/11 to work out the difference. They had reached agreement before the process, so I was confident they could do it agin. I never suggested that we should undo a process in the name of stopping the PZ plan or RTTT, and neither did the 4 board members who joined me in simply saying: we got a very small part of this wrong, let̢۪s get it right.
The Governor̢۪s and Secretary̢۪s hyperbolic response has both shocking and disappointing. I wish more press would be given to analyze their reaction to a legitimately benign, contemplative decision to introduce trust and respect into a flawed process so we can stabilize our schools and make them work for our students.

They seem to have picked this fight with us to pin us in a political corner and to get us to back down. We did nothing wrong, and I for one will maintain that we owe our employees a just process in order to create a school district that has trust and resources as the twin solutions at our disposal to fix problems. The political reactions of paid elected and appointed stewards of the public trust should not be aligned with the goal of bullying local school boards.

When that happens, nobody wins.

by Nichole Dobo

The U.S. secretary of education inserted himself into the controversy surrounding the Christina School District, saying Monday that he supports the state's move to freeze more than $11 million of the district's federal Race to the Top funding.

In a statement sent to The News Journal, Arne Duncan said he backed a decision by Delaware's top education officials and the governor to freeze money that was to pay for academic reforms and programs supported by the state's $119 million Race to the Top grant, a President Barack Obama initiative.

"Reform isn't easy," Duncan said. "Districts, like Christina, which signed on to the Race to the Top plan, made a commitment to dramatically improve the lives of children. Because Christina has backtracked on that commitment, the state of Delaware has made the tough but courageous decision to withhold Race to The Top funding. I believe that is the right decision. And I support the governor's commitment to reform and his courage in challenging the status quo for children trapped in chronically underperforming schools. I hope that the Christina School Board will reconsider its decision."

The district's Board of Education voted 5-0 with two abstentions last week to "retain and retrain" 19 educators who were going to be moved out of Stubbs Elementary and Glasgow High School, citing what the board has described as flaws with a district-run interview process.

Those two schools are part of a statewide program to make changes at the state's worst-performing schools.

In a statement, school board President John Young said Duncan was not accurate in his description of the school board's actions. Young said he was speaking for himself and not on behalf of the district. Efforts to reach the district's spokeswoman were unsuccessful.

"Secretary Duncan's remarks are unfortunate," Young's statement reads. "The Christina School District simply did not and has not stepped back from reform. All we did was address a process issue on one aspect of a giant plan. Governor Markell and Secretary Lowery's reaction to our right to govern our own district is wholly disproportionate to what we accomplished at our board meeting. ... I look forward to the opportunity to provide a full account along with the Board to Secretary Lowery soon in hopes that she will honor her commitment to Delaware's children and advise Governor Markell to reverse his hasty and punitive action to freeze our allocation of Race to the Top monies."

While Duncan's message was not unexpected -- he has been a supporter of Delaware's statewide education plans -- the decision to weigh in personally on a dispute between a school district and a state is rare. It shows that the federal government is listening to what's going on in Delaware, and that this issue at Christina has risen to a level that's garnered national attention.

The majority of the Christina school board contends that it sought to remedy what it described as a flawed teacher interview process when it voted to retain those teachers at Stubbs and Glasgow rather than allow them to be moved. Board member Elizabeth Scheinberg released an open letter to Markell encouraging him to listen to audio files of the school board's five-hour-long deliberation.

The state has balked at the school board's description of the situation, saying that the board's actions amount to a wholesale rejection of a plan written by the district and the union, and carried out by the district administration.

"Delaware's school districts have been given significant local control in how they make these reforms real for the children in their schools," Markell said in a statement. "But the state has also demanded local accountability for results. We appreciate the Secretary's support of Delaware's efforts to provide our state's students stronger schools and greater opportunity."

Young, a vocal critic of Race to the Top, gave a 15-minute speech at last week's board meeting that denounced the federal program -- calling out Duncan by name.

Young runs a blog that's prominently dedicated to criticizing Race to the Top. In an interview Friday, he said he's speaking for himself -- and not the district -- when he says that he does not care if the district loses $11 million in federal funding.

The district released a statement Friday through Superintendent Marcia Lyles that said the decision to freeze the district's funding would hurt its ability to continue time-sensitive education reform work.

Lyles said in interviews that she does not believe the interview process was flawed.

These teachers will not lose pay, seniority or benefits. They were not fired. They would be transferred, with the district saying they were not a good fit for intensive reforms at Stubbs and Glasgow.

The district's local union president said the 19 teachers involved have been unfairly maligned as bad teachers in the public dust-up between the school board and the state.

To help find a solution, Lowery intends to call a meeting of the school board, the state Department of Education and the local teachers union to find a solution.

On Monday her office sent a formal letter to the district informing it of the frozen $11 million allocation, and informing the district that it had 15 days to appeal.

The state had the option of only freezing a portion of Christina's grant that dealt with Stubbs and Glasgow, but it chose to take action against the entire grant because the efforts to reform the state's lowest-performing school's are so important, Lowery said.

Test scores at these two schools show that the majority of students are not proficient in reading or math.

The school board listened to five hours of testimony last week before they voted to retain those teachers. The union voiced objections to the interview process, saying that it was flawed for several reasons. For instance, the teachers were only given 20-minute interviews, which was not enough time, according to the local union representatives.

The interview process was clearly defined and was written by the union representatives, carried out by the district and voted on by the school board, Lowery said. There were no concerns with that process until after the results were known, Lowery said.

"They have been driving this train all the way down the track," she said.

— Nichole Dobo
The News Journal





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