What Is Exceptional Delaware? A Primer For New Readers And Some Changes For Old Readers

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Hello, and welcome to Exceptional Delaware.  My name is Kevin Ohlandt and I would like to introduce you to a blog about Delaware education.  For the confused among you right now, I often take for granted that folks reading this blog haven’t been around from the beginning.  In fact, most of you haven’t.  So I wanted to give a refresher for those just jumping on.

I started this blog a year and a half ago.  My original intention was to make this a blog solely about special education in Delaware.  I have a son with Tourette Syndrome and co-morbidities that accompany that primary disability.  Without going into a lot of details, he had some issues at a Delaware charter school.  He eventually changed schools, but during that journey I wasn’t satisfied with just resolving it like that.  I began to research special education in Delaware, and quickly found that the problems with special education in our state are symptomatic of a much larger disease.

I soon found myself writing his story on another great Delaware blog, Kilroy’s Delaware.  When I finished that, Kilroy suggested I start my own blog (probably so I could stop wasting space on his).  And thus, Exceptional Delaware was born.  It started out with most of the posts focusing on special education, but it quickly morphed into an almost bizarre cat and mouse game with the Delaware Department of Education.  As the months went by, I found out who all the big education players are in the state.  In a nutshell, it comes down to Governor Markell and the Rodel Foundation of Delaware.  Even bigger than that is the similar stories playing out across America.  Each state has a Markell and a Rodel.  Who do they all serve?  Wall Street.  Its called corporate education reform, and it is the single most destructive and devastating force to ever hit public education in our country.

I soon found myself walking out of the bounds of this website and involving myself in Delaware politics.  I would write about education legislation and became very involved in an opt-out bill in Delaware called House Bill 50.  The bill passed our House and Senate but Governor Markell vetoed the bill last summer.  Our General Assembly may attempt to override the Governor’s veto when they return in January which will bring about a host of articles from this blog.

Delaware spends a third of its budget on education.  It is over a billion dollars.  For a small state, with less than a million people, that is fairly significant.  Most of these funds go to our school districts and charter schools, but a large sum of it does go to our Department of Education and their host of education vendors and their attempts to “fix” a broken education system.  I put fix in quotes because I do not believe it is as broken as these entities claim it is.  The way they do this is very simple.  It’s called a standardized test.  In Delaware, along with many other states, our test is called the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  If the test wasn’t long, complicated, intrusive, destructive, disruptive, money-wasting, and made to make students, teachers, and schools feel like failures I probably wouldn’t give it the time of the day.  But it is more than these, and more.  It is the central fulcrum behind the education pirates who swarm into states and give the illusion that our schools need help.  It is a never-ending cycle that demands constant watch.  When you mix politics with big business, it is a nightmare of epic proportions.

I often feel like students with disabilities suffer the most from this drive for “rigor” and for all students to be “college and career ready”.  I don’t mind students flexing their academic muscles when they are in high school.  I am all for every student doing the best they can.  But when false paintings of success are put on a canvas, before the work is even done, I find something very wrong with that.  We can’t teach children, at school or at home, if someone else is micro-managing based on false ideology.

All too often the schools that suffer the most from this insanity are the ones with high populations of low-income, poverty, minority, and special education students.  The public is waking up more and more everyday to this reality, but occasionally carrots are thrown their way to lull them into a false sense of calm and security.  These antics could be called “assessment inventory”, or the “Every Student Succeeds Act”, or an “education funding task force”.  What the corporate privateers don’t want you to know is they want schools to fail.  They want them to always feel like they need to be fixed.  They would not make money otherwise.  This charade is supported financially by huge foundations across America, with the biggest being the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  These foundations and non-profits love their charter schools.

Charter schools are public schools, but they don’t operate the same way.  As long as they receive federal and state funding, they must behave like traditional public schools.  But all too often (not in every charter), some pick and choose who they want.  Since charters also receive local funding from the school districts students choice from, this can have a very debilitating financial effect on the local school district.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in Delaware’s Christina School District, up in Wilmington.

Traditional school districts have their own issues.  Large classroom sizes, less funding from the state, and what are known as referendums.  Referendums are an election in the school district.  They are needed when the costs to run the district go past the allocated budget.  The district needs more funds from its residents to continue.  If it passes, the school uses the extra funding from property assessments and makes the necessary adjustments.  If it fails, it is very bad for the school district.  Many feel that school districts in Delaware spend far too much on administrators within their districts.  For a small state, Delaware has 19 school districts, over 25 charter schools, and a fairly large amount of private schools.  The private schools have shed students since charter schools gained in popularity beginning twenty years ago in Delaware.

For large cities like Wilmington, the factors of numerous charter schools, failed referendums, charter schools siphoning the local school districts funding, some charters taking the “best and brightest”, and standardized testing that falsely labels schools with huge populations of at-risk students as failures, results in a perfect storm of chaos and disaster.  Add in unionized teachers, teacher prep programs like Teach For America and Relay Graduate School, school boards, along with the constantly interfering Department of Education, Governor, legislators, foundations, non-profits, and the corporate education vendors, and a picture forms.  This picture shows far too many hands in education and the ones that suffer the most are the children.

This is where I come in.  I write about it all in our state.  The DOE, the Governor, Rodel, the unelected State Board of Education, charter schools, school districts, legislators, education legislation, special education, bullying, charter school financial meltdowns, standardized testing, vendor contracts, transparency, and more.  For the most part it is the chase.  The constant and never-ending quest to get information out so the public can see it, while our DOE blithely implements agenda after agenda with no one the wiser.  It is exhausting and time-consuming.  Along the way, I will write satirical articles to keep my sanity.  Sometimes, as I did recently, I will write a human interest story about one particular person.  I will branch out to national stories.  Sometimes I just break away from it all and write about myself or something as far away from education as possible.

This isn’t my blog.  This is Delaware’s blog.  One of many.  Stories are told all over The First State.  Some blogs take place on long Facebook threads.  Others are in our major media, such as the News Journal.  Media has transitioned over time into a blog-like state.  As newspapers and major media outlets are essentially run by advertisers and corporations, the unbiased feel of journalism has radically shifted from what it once was.  True journalism does exist, but all too often the sides can become blurry and tainted.  I don’t blame the newspapers and major media outlets for this.  It is evolution and survival.  This is not to say that journalism as we once knew it is dead, but it has changed.  There are still great old-fashioned journalists out there who refuse to let themselves sway from the core journalistic principles.  But in our 21st Century society, with news available the second you click something, the need for urgency has taken away from the need for unbiased clarity.

After writing at least one article a day for the past consecutive 488 days, 2,112 posts (some of which are what are called “reblogs” from other great WordPress blogs) over the past year and a half, which have received over 525,000 views, over 426,000 which were in 2015 alone, a ton of board meetings, task force meetings, legislative sessions, committee meetings, rallies, phone calls, emails, Facebook posts, tweets, research, and yes, some fun thrown in here and there, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot on this little blog.  I never dreamed I would reach over half a million hits in this short a timeframe.  I don’t get paid for this, so it is truly a volunteer function.  I think any blogger likes to know they are being read, it is human nature.  But even more satisfying is when someone tells me “Hey, that article you did, it helped me,”  or “I was able to help my child because of what you wrote”.  That means more to me than any number.  A lot of this is never seen on here, and takes place offline.  I like that people feel they can come to me for advice about what to do.  I will flat-out tell them if I can’t help them, but I will also let them know where they can go.  Sometimes it is right back to the DOE believe it or not.

I don’t hate the DOE, or the State Board, or Rodel, or even the Governor.  I don’t hate any legislators.  I believe all humans operate on something called “tainted decency”.  We may have the best intentions or motivations, but something along the way leads to something vastly different.  For many involved in education, it is their job or business.  Their livelihood depends on the success and failure of their allotted tasks.  Intention and motivation take on a very different meaning when you have to answer to a superior.  And for some, that bait called wealth is a very dangerous and alluring call to action.  But it isn’t always the right action.  It’s called life, and I’ve gotten things wrong on here.  I’ve piped off without thinking, gotten angry, and even hurt my own reputation.  I’ve gotten mad at friends.  I know it, and at the end of the day, lying in bed with nothing but myself and my thoughts in that transition period between awake and asleep, I feel it.  There are things I regret doing during this journey.  Things I’ve said I just can’t take back.  It is very easy to tell yourself you are in the right, but if it comes at the expense of hurting another without knowing all the facts or justification (as in helping to protect the kids or parents), it can hurt.  I’ve been told I am cocky, arrogant, and ignorant.  On the flip side, which is even more dangerous in my opinion, I’ve been told I am a “savior for education”.  That frightens me more than anything.  I am no savior and I am no saint!  I’m just a dad writing.

With that being said, and I’ve said this before but not fully implemented this goal, I am going to make a concerted effort to be more careful about what I say and be less opinionated.  I’m also going to try to reach out to other parties instead of just doing the blitzkrieg article and ask questions later.  I may not agree with another person, and lets face it, many folks will outright lie when you catch them in wrongdoing, but I at least need to give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.  The caveat to this is if children or anyone is in imminent danger.  I have received information like this, acted on it, and never written about it.  I have no idea what the end results were, but I did my part.

I have one story I’ve been working on for a very long time, and I received information on it the other day that could draw it towards a conclusion, but I don’t even know if it is a story I can or even want to finish.  You see, last spring and summer someone reached out to me.  I still don’t know what their motivations were half the time, but it was meant to be in confidence.  Longtime readers know exactly who this person is.  When an issue became very blurry, I performed a very public outing of this person on here and betrayed the single most important journalistic and blogger credo: never out a source.  I let personal feelings, stemming from the fact that I felt like I was fooled and played with, cloud my judgment.  I justified it even when some were saying I was totally wrong.  I don’t agree with about 90% of what this person has to say.  I don’t like how they operate or how they go about their job.  I feel they interfere and manipulate others.  I have information that could, probably, bury this person.  And many would cheer if I did so.  But I couldn’t live with myself if I did it.  Not that way.  Not like that.  So to this person, and I hope you are reading this, I am sorry for what I did.  I still think you have some issues, and I would keep yourself in check, but your fall will not come from that.  And you can consider that chapter closed.

Does this mean I am now a Common Core Smarter Balanced Charter School Takeover of Public Education Rodel & Markell loving DOE sympathizer kind of guy?  Hell no.  None of my feelings have changed on any of it.  I will continue to write and do massive amounts of research and not get paid a penny for it.  Folks will see me, and wonder what I’m going to write.  But the feuding and animosity and vitriol coming out of me, I just can’t keep doing it like that.  It’s not good for me and it certainly isn’t good for anyone I profess to help if that is the end result.  No more email lightning strike articles.  No more outing (it was only the one person).  No more screaming at Mark Murphy and the DOE or State Senators during public comment (see many articles from April to July).  I want folks to feel they can come to me if they want to clarify something and possibly respond to me if I touch base with them or seek information on something.  Threatening and posturing, while it may have short-term benefits, does not solve problems.

If anything, I want to write more about the good out there.  Like my recent article on Braeden Mannering, a truly awesome kid with a big heart.  I have literally heard teachers tell me they had to stop reading me for a while because of all the doom and gloom I was sending their way.  I would like to believe that for every harbinger of doom article, there can be an equally positive and uplifting story.  I just have to find them and I am reaching out right here and now for others to let me know about these stories.

When it comes to education, there is no way any one person can cover everything.  It is massive in scope and reaches into all facets of society.  I find out new things every single day I didn’t know before.  It will never end, and it will never be perfect.  I’m just one writer in a long history of past, present and future writers doing their part to chronicle the events and confusion and shed some light.  If I can help others along the way, it is all worth it.

TheHeartOfTheAndes

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Why I Had To Kill Two Articles In One Day!

This is a first!  It is very rare that I remove an article.  Today, I had to do it twice.  The first concerned Delaware Met and closure information provided by the DOE.  They were still in the process of updating this information and wanted to make sure parents of the students there got accurate information.  The second article concerned State Board of Education member Dr. Terry Whittaker.  I was questioning why he has not been present at board meetings since September.  Shortly after I posted the article, I was informed his wife passed away last month.  This was announced publicly at the last State Board of Education meeting.  My sincerest condolences for Dr. Whittaker and his family…

Now if I have to kill a third article today, that hat trick will not be acceptable to me, so I am done writing for the night!  My apologies for those who saw these posts in their email, Facebook, or Twitter and wondered what the heck happened.  This is not something that usually happens.

A Year And A Half Of Blogging

It has been a year and a half since I started this blog.  18 months today.  Over 2,000 posts.  Only three days where I didn’t write something: 6/16/14, 7/14/14, and 8/31/14.  There has been an article on here every day since 9/1/14.  Without fail.  Some days I’ve put tons of stuff up.  This should tell you something: how jacked up Delaware is with education.  The very fact that I could find over 1,000 things to write about proves this.  Some of the articles have common themes: Special Education, Opt-Out, Delaware DOE, Charter Schools and Governor Markell are the most obvious ones.  Today, I’m just going to free write, say what is on my mind.  No theme, no clear topic.  Just writing.

I never thought I would get involved in pending legislation, but I’ve learned it is very important to know what is coming.  Not just for yourself, but for your kids.  If I’ve learned nothing in the past 18 months, it is that every single voice does matter.  Don’t be afraid to use it.  You never know when it will make a difference.

I still remember that first night when I picked the name.  That nervous anticipation.  Picking my “header image”, which graced the front of this blog most days and nights until very recently when someone wrote to Warner Brothers about my use of their image.  Its not like I profited over it.  Just someone being bitter and resentful I’m sure.  Whoever you are, let me just say this: you suck!

The one question I am asked constantly is how I have the time to do this.  The easy answer: I don’t.  I’ve spent far too many late nights and early mornings on this blog.  It is exhausting.  And for a while there, I was going to every meeting under the sun.  I’m spent.  Tired.  Exhausted.  I’ve said this before, announcing I was going to slow down, only to come back roaring and writing more than ever.  But like any long distance runner, you eventually hit that wall.  Where your body just gives.  I’m pretty sure I’m at that point.  But I am resilient and bounce back fast, so any pause will be short-lived I’m sure.  Or the DOE or Markell will do something to tick us off and that gets the blood boiling again.

There are days where I feel like nothing I do makes a damn bit of difference.  Special education in Delaware is still a mess.  Jack is still messing things up.  The DOE will do as they please as long as Jack is protecting them.  Charters still have big issues.  I never dreamed there could be so many issues with education that would warrant daily articles.  It really is crazy.  I’m just tired of being mad all the time.  I’m tired of seeing the same people do the same things over and over again and nothing seems to stop them.  And I see others blindly following them, ignorant of what is right in front of them.  I’m sick of charter parents arguing the whole choice argument over and over like it is their kids God-given right to attend “great” schools and screw the other kids.  Is it right to be mad at them?  I don’t know.  I can explain it until the sun sets in the east, but until you have a child that has experienced the painful art of not being included somewhere or not given services they are legally entitled to, it is probably hard to imagine.  But then I see something like House Bill 50 passing the General Assembly, or schools like Family Foundations Academy or Delaware Met and their stories being made public when most of the mainstream media aren’t touching on a quarter of the issues going on in these schools.  Someone has to tell the tales.

I don’t write much about my son on here any more.  Its not because I don’t want to, but I feel his stories are his to tell.  I could write stuff every single day about him.  But he knows I blog, and he knows what I blog about.  I’m cool with that.  Some days he wants to hear about stuff, but most days he just wants to be a kid.  Nothing wrong with that at all.

I got a hair cut the other day.  For men getting older, do you ever just watch as your hair falls and you notice as the years go by how much is grey or white?  I saw that today.  Usually it is brown with bits of grey here and there.  On Friday, it was a lot more.  It makes you think.  Not about how long you’ve live, but how fast it goes.  You blink, and time is gone.  If this is my “time capsule”, so be it.  There are much worse things I could be doing!

We Need Teacher Blogs In Delaware!

As I look at my Delaware blogger list, I see fewer posts by many on the Delaware blogs.  I see very few from teachers in Delaware.  I keep wondering why this is.  My first assumption is they are afraid of retribution for what they write.  Which is why we need Delaware teachers to write anonymous blogs.  We need to hear things from their perspective, the good and the bad.  What is working?  What isn’t?  How are students REALLY doing in the classroom?  How do they do on actual classroom assignments?  What are the concerns and fears teachers have?  How do they feel about Common Core and Smarter Balanced now that we are waist-deep in it?  This voice is dwindling in Delaware and people need to hear it.

So I am calling out for any teachers in Delaware to start anonymous blogs.  I welcome all education blogs in this state.  Kilroy doesn’t post as much these days, but that is for a good reason.  Kavips will sometimes post 10 articles in 2 days, and then nothing.  Delaware Way used to write an awesome collection of education blog stories from the past week.  Transparent Christina rarely writes new material these days.  Where has Steve Newton’s voice been?  What happened to Minding My Matters, Fixdeldoe, and theseventhtype?  I understand many of these people have real lives with things going on, but an occasional post about different viewpoints and opinions is missed.  I saw many blogs start in the past year and then they disappeared.

Blogging is free and it takes time, but it is also an essential part of today’s media.  Bloggers are the Wild West, able to post stories along with their opinions.  The audience is there, but they need YOU!  State Rep. Kim Williams is one of the busiest persons I know, but she recently started an excellent blog called Delaware First State.  Christina CBOC member Brian Stephan of Those in Favor now writes for Delaware Liberal.  So what say you Delaware teachers?  Care to give it a whirl?  Please use WordPress so I can reblog your stuff!  And I would love to hear from Kent County and Sussex County teachers!

Lover Of The Light

As I sift through countless documents, contracts, board minutes, financial statements, school profiles, reports, board minutes, audio recordings, FOIAs and whatnot one thing remains certain.  The truth must come out.  Nothing stays hidden forever, and bloggers know this.  Which is why we do our best to get the truth out, always.

It is no coincidence that education bloggers are those who either were or are involved in education.  It is a free endeavor, and we make no money from our writings.  The material we work with is endless, and one trail always leads to another.  This is what education has become in our country.  If we value one thing above all else, that is transparency.  If the subjects of our articles can’t be transparent, we will do it for them.

We start from scratch, with nothing but what our computer links us to.  Over time, we gain an audience and begin to get information.  Sometimes this information is reliable, sometimes it’s not.  We’ve all had to kill an article here or there for various reasons: to protect a source, the information wasn’t quite what we thought it was, or it just plain wasn’t newsworthy.  I’ve had months of research and theories go out the window because of one simple fact involved.

These are the times that we live in, and if we don’t wake the people up, our children will be lost in the quagmire that is public education.  The stakes have never been higher, but we are winning the war.  The light is shining on those who would destroy what is, and they can’t stand the sight.

Bloggers can have it rough.  We see tons of information when we really dig in, and what we see makes us angry.  We see the abuses in our education system on a daily basis, and we get upset.  It should.  We should all be angry enough to do something about it.  We love when new bloggers enter the fray because that means the odds of the truth coming out increase.  We are lovers of the light.

Synchronicity or Fate: Blogging About Education In Delaware

Synchronicity is defined as “the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.”  Fate is pre-determined occurrences that are determined to happen.  As I have been on the blogger journey in Delaware education for over a year now, I have to wonder if the fates are guiding me or if there is an unusual amount of synchronicity going on.  To be completely honest, I stumble on more information than you realize.  Sometimes I just happen to be at the right place at the right time.  It continues to astound me how much information I obtain by sheer luck.  But then I think there must be some purpose to all of this.  Like some unknown force guides me to the information I find.  The more you learn the more you understand, or so they say.  I don’t know.  I just hope when all is said and done I am able to make a difference.  That all this work means something, for not only my own son but all the students of Delaware.  There are times when I just want to quit and others when I feel like I can’t stop no matter what.  I get a huge rush when a story is really cooking, like an article is coming alive before my very eyes.  Synchronicity or fate…

The Calm Before The Storm

Everyone is on Spring Break this week, and for the first time in a long time everything is relatively quiet.  I know I have been at least.  I needed the down time to be honest.  Blogging is great, but it can be consuming at times.   The news will start coming soon enough.  I don’t think I’ve gone a day without writing an article of some sort since last summer.

Work was rough this weekend, very rough.  For those who don’t know, I work a Saturday to Monday schedule.  12 hours a day.  Hard labor, LOL!  I’m getting older, and sometimes I come home like a truck hit me.  This was one of those weekends.

I hope you all enjoyed your Easter, Passover, or whatever you celebrate.  If I disappear for a few days, don’t worry.  I’ll be back.  Thanks to all of you!

I Need Readers From China, The Stans, Greenland and Africa

 

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WordPress, in your blog statistics, gives you a nice colored map of the world showing different colors for the amount of readers from each country.  Some of them aren’t colored in yet!  The biggest ones are China, all the Stan countries except for Pakistan, and Greenland.  Please help me to fill the gaps.   I also only have about 1/3rd of Africa colored in as well.  And then there is that pesky country in the middle of South America that needs to start reading special education blogs in Delaware!

Exceptional Delaware cannot conquer the world without readers from every country!  So let’s get on it world!

Another Change for Exceptional Delaware: New and Improved!

For anyone who was reading this earlier tonight, I apologize for the blinding colors.  At the request of many, the colors are more appealing to the human eye.  I’ve also added many of my favorite quotes the further down you go into the blog.  If there are any quotes you would like to see, let me know and I will put them up.  I also included an exchange I had between another commenter and myself on Kilroys a couple months ago.  It pretty much sums up what I believe.  Thank you to all of you who are reading Exceptional Delaware.  I can promise you the next month in Delaware education will be very crazy!  And it all starts today at 10am.

Watching The Wheels by John Lennon

I remember a ten-year old me crying his eyes out when he heard John Lennon was shot and killed.  I was lying in my bed, listening to American Top 40 with Casey Kasem.  I loved the Beatles since the time I learned what music was.  I always hoped for a reunion.  With one bullet, I knew that would never happen.

My son is now ten.  Life is a cycle, and the wheels keep turning.  Quite a few people ask why I blog, for free, when I could be doing so many other things.  I can’t explain it, no matter how hard I try.  It just feels like something I need to do right now.   Every thing I have done with this blog has led me down the path one step further.  I won’t stop until I find out the answers to the questions that plague my mind.  The further I go, new questions are asked.  I would rather journey through life having asked the questions than just blindly accepting things the way they are.