Tuesday, May 23, 2017

If full inclusion is so great, why are kids dropping out?

If Full Inclusion is so great, why are kids dropping out?

The National Center for Children with Learning Disabilities (NCLD) has released a study with data from the 2015-16 school year.  The data show that kids with learning and attention disorders are three times more likely to drop out of school than are their more typical peers.  According to the report 1 in 5 school aged children face these issues and they are not being addressed in the mainstream classrooms.  The report chastises schools for not doing everything that it can to identify kids with these issues.  But after the children are identified, they do not receive specialized instruction.  In fact, children with IEP’s who are supposedly receiving an individualized educational program (IEP) are still 85% more likely to repeat a grade than are students NOT receiving the specialized instruction.

Under the federal law Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), thirteen different disabilities are identified.   In 2015-16, nearly 39 percent of the children identified as having a disability were identified as learning disabled.  Why aren’t we doing more to help these kids?   They are dropping out at a rate of 18.1% compared to the 6.1% of their typical age mates.

Most kids with learning disabilities are thought of as being mildly disabled.  Yet what is happening to them is far from mild.   Teachers, and sometimes families, think of these children as lazy and unmotivated.  It is quite common for people to exhort them to “try harder”.  When in fact what they need to do is to try differently.  And teachers need to teach differently.

Unfortunately, education seems to be a bandwagon profession.  We decide on the latest and greatest way to teach reading and then insist that all students must learn that way.  For some of those students, their learning disability might make learning to read by that method much too difficult.  Consequently, we create a doubly disabled child, first disabled by the learning disability and again by the instructional method.  Putting these students in the general education environment where the teacher is already overwhelmed by the complex mix of students only compounds the problem.

People love to identify the famous people who have succeeded in spite of their learning disabilities.  That is great!   But why should children have to succeed “in spite of”.  We can’t afford to lose a single brain in our country’s youth.  Maybe if we taught kids the way they learn, rather than the way the latest research study tells us to teach, we might not be wasting so much of our nation’s greatest resource- the brain power of our kids.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Enjoy it while you can

Enjoy it while you can

The recent Omnibus Appropriations Bill, better known as in the short term we won’t shut down the government bill, does save, for the next few months at least, several important education priorities.

Although this bill does not make nearly as many cuts as the President requested, it still cuts funds by 1.1 billion dollars compared to 2016.  Much of that cut comes from Pell grants.  Most programs will receive what they did last year.

The bill provides $400 million to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act and allows states to distribute that money based on competitive grants.  Pell grant loans were not so fortunate.  The bill does now allow for for students to apply for grants year round allowing them to use funds for summer programs.  Overall, funding is frozen at 2016 levels and 1.3 billion saved in an emergency fund was rescinded leaving lower reserves for future grants.

Monies to support teacher development through state grants was cut by 13%.  The President’s budget would have eliminated this program entirely.  His ed department is saying it will be eliminated in the September version of the budget.

Several programs received increases.  Most notably, special education funds were increased by 1% keeping the federal contribution to the education of children with disabilities at 16%.   The federal government has never met the authorization allowed in IDEA which is 45%.  Other programs saw bigger increases.  Title 1 increased by 4% and Impact Aid by 2%.  21st Century Community Learning Centers, after school programs in at-risk neighborhoods, were increased by 2%.   These programs were to be eliminated under the Trump budget. 

All of these increases are temporary.  The budget was only approved until September when all will be revisited.   Trump has said that he thinks a government shutdown might not be a bad idea.  Of course, he said that after much of his budget request, including the construction of a border wall with Mexico, was eliminated from the short-term budget.  He was angry since he was pretty much forced to go along with the bi-partisan program.

Still to be decided significant increases for charter schools (they got an increase of 3%) and a massive voucher program that is the love-child of Secretary DeVos.  Indiana has gone big for vouchers and a recent study showed that 50% of the children using vouchers have never been in a public school so the money has simply made private school less expensive for the kids who were already there.
Make no mistake about it, federal funds have a significant role in what happens in our schools every day.  And many state departments of education are running on federal administrative money.  So what we got from this bi-partisan plan is a stay of execution.  September will tell whether we have a full reprieve.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

And the wolf wins again

And the wolf wins again

A few months ago, the CEO of Baltimore City Schools claimed the schools were in debt to the tune of 130 million dollars for the next school year.   Notices were sent to principals telling them how much less money they would have for the next year.  Principals began talking about teachers who would be let go; services that would be eliminated.  Everyone acted as if they believed these things would come to pass.   No matter that this song has been sung every year for the past several years.

The new mayor went to Annapolis and cried wolf, wolf; the wolf is at our very door.   Community associations marched; children wrote letters; legislators from Baltimore City demanded that the Governor give the City more money.  Save our schools.   Save the children.  Keep the wolf from the door.  And so he did.

The Mayor took money away from the police department in a city that has had its highest murder rate in decades for two years running.   The Governor and the city  came up with 180 million dollars over the next 3 years.  And so once again, the Baltimore City public schools cried wolf and once again they were rescued.  The Governor did request gently (he is running for re-election) that the city schools might want to look at cutting expenses.

Several years ago Baltimore City Public Schools negotiated this great new contract that was supposed to reward teachers for leadership and additional duties.   Teachers were going to have better results with students and stay longer.  It hasn’t worked.   Baltimore City teachers are among the highest paid in the state and the students are among the lowest achieving.   On average, city teachers make about $6,000 more than neighboring Baltimore County with lower turnover and better test scores if they mean anything.  The City now wants to re-negotiate the contract that is coming up for renewal this month.  The president of the union says Baltimore City teachers work harder than other teachers in the state of Maryland.  They may be working harder but they are producing less.

Baltimore City also refuses to close schools with significantly declining enrollment.   Buildings meant to hold 350 children hold 200.  But they still have a principal and the other administrative accoutrements that cost money.  All of these buildings must be maintained.   All of these costs enter into the City’s per pupil cost being about $2000 more than its Baltimore County neighbor.

But not to worry.  The City schools do not need to control costs.  They do not need to operate efficiently.   Come next year, we will all hear the wolf howling yet again.   The marchers will come out, the legislators will wring their hands and cry for the poor children of Baltimore City.  Once again the City schools will be saved.   Whoever said you can cry wolf too often?   Hasn’t happened yet in Balmor Hon.