Tuesday, October 16, 2018

It's a miracle!

It’s a Miracle!  You will NEVER believe this!
This just in!  Training public school teachers to work with kids on the autism spectrum actually helps the kids achieve in mainstream classes.
A new study looked at elementary school teachers who had children on the autism spectrum in their classes.   Researchers involved 60 schools in ten school districts in California, Florida and Georgia.  
For half of the teachers, a website was made available to them with learning modules to assist them in relating to students with autism and modifying instruction for those students.  Teachers at the other schools participated in three days of specialized on-site training.
Following the two types of training, videos were taken in the classrooms to see if there were any differences in the interactions of the two groups of teachers.  Analysis of the videos showed that the teachers who participated in the live actively engaged training were significantly better in adaptive communication, social skills and executive functioning.  There were no controls to make sure that the teachers who were supposed to watch the videos actually did. 
Researchers say these results are meaningful because general educators in most states are not required to learn about autism despite the large potential of children on the spectrum being in their classes.
What are these school systems thinking?   Children with disabilities, any disability, need specialized instruction to reach their full potential.  It is fine to insist on children with disabilities being educated with plain students as much as is appropriate, but what about the training for those teachers who are working with these kids?
Is the thrill of being with a plain student so wonderful that children with disabilities are subjected to teachers who lack the specialized skills to meet their needs?   I know that people who feel strongly about full inclusion are very invested in children with disabilities being in a classroom with non-disabled students.  If their child had a heart condition would they feel as strongly about sending their child to a general practice or would they insist on a health care provider that had special training in cardiology.  Seems to me it is the same issue. If my child has special learning needs, I want my kid taught by a specialist in learning challenges.  But these are people who believe in miracles, give teachers some specialty training and they do a better job with the special kids who need it.  Will miracles never cease.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Do schools really prepare kids for careers?

Do Schools Really Prepare Kids for Careers?

Standardized testing is all about measuring the student’s preparation for careers and college.  It is interesting that we can do that without taking to heart what employers say they are looking for in an employee.
Employers repeatedly say they have trouble finding new employees with good oral-communication skills. Yet relatively few public schools teach these skills and even fewer teach them in a real-world worksite.
In almost every survey, employers say they need people who are good communicators.  They say this skill is more important than good reading or writing skills.  Good oral skills are the things employers want most but cannot find.  No, algebra was never mentioned.
You cannot find a single employer who does not value these skills so why are they not taught.   Probably the reason schools are not teaching these skills is that they are not tested on the standardized tests.   Common Core curriculum standards do mention the skills; it is just that they are not taught because they are not tested.
Employers say they cannot find staff who can construct a clear, concise message that is tailored to different audiences.  New hires cannot discuss issues as a team, prepare to respond respectfully to differences of opinion.  They do not appear confident nor make eye contact.  
The training provided by schools included book reports, Power Point presentations, and class room discussions.  Nothing about what employers are wanting in employees.
Employers have started to do their own training for these skills.
Soon Maryland will replace the PARCC tests with the MCAP.   The MCAP hasn’t been created yet but we are told it will test essentially test what the PARCC measures but will take less time and will be more easily scored.
Why doesn’t anyone pay attention to what employers want?  Why do we talk about students being career ready but not developing the skills that make the student career ready?
There is nothing in the request for the new MCAP developers that indicates they need to reach out to employers to see what schools need to be teaching and measuring for real post-secondary success.  Until they do there will continue to be the mismatches between schools and jobs.  These mismatches keep begging the answer when kids question the importance of school.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Where oh where will the teachers be?

Where oh where will the teachers be?

It is no secret there is a shortage of special education teachers.  Most school systems are still missing several at this time in the school year.   But what would you do if you needed 9000! special education teachers!  There may not be 9,000 special ed teachers without jobs in the entire country.
But that is just the spot the great state of Texas finds itself in.  Of course, it is their own fault.  For the last ten-to-twelve years, Texas has capped the number of children who may be identified as having special education needs.  The cap was 8.5% of the school age population.   Nationally, about 13% of school age children have disabilities needing special education. If your child was among those beyond the 8.5%, your child got no service in spite of the federal law requiring that all children with special needs between ages 3 and 21  be given an individualized free appropriate special education.   Texas must have forgotten it is no longer the lone star state, it is one of 50 and as such needs to obey federal law.
Two years ago, the Houston Chronicle did an investigation after numerous parent complaints.  That investigation triggered an audit by the U.S. Office of Education.  The department found that Texas had violated federal law. Texas has been directed to eliminate the cap.
The Texas department of education estimates that by 2021 they will be adding about 150,000 students to the rolls of special education.  That will necessitate the hiring of about 9,000 new special ed teachers if the current ratio of 1 teacher for every 16 students with special needs is sustained.  The State has started to add incentives such as forgiving student loans in order to get more special ed teachers but that hasn’t begun to move the needle.  Plus there is now a plethora of lawsuits working their way through the courts by students who have been deprived of a free, appropriate special education as required by federal law.   Texas is estimating the uptick in services could cost as much as three BILLION new dollars.  Additionally, special ed teachers leave teaching in Texas at a much higher rate than other teachers.  So Texas doesn’t just need to find new teachers, it also needs to replace the teachers who are leaving.  It is a lot like trying to empty a sinking canoe with a bucket.
The State acknowledges that money is only part of the issue.   People must be found to do the job and to do it well. The State agency is recommending schools modify their staffing models to fit the available staff.  Not sure what that means but sounds a lot like adding more water to the chicken soup but no additional chicken.
The situation is sort of like what happens when you tell one lie.  And then you need two more lies to cover for the first one and then…. Well you get the picture.
Texas is reaping the effects of lying to families and citizens for all these years, by telling them the state is serving the needs of children with disabilities in Texas-- NOT

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Least Restrictive for Whom?

Least Restrictive for Whom?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that students with disabilities be educated with non-disabled children to the maximum extent appropriate.  That last phrase “to the maximum extent appropriate” is generally ignored or the assumption is made that the more a child with a disability is with plain kids, the more appropriate the placement is.  That is very often NOT the case.   And seldom is the question asked, most appropriate for whom?

It used to be that whenever families wanted a “more restrictive” placement for their child, i.e. have the child educated in a placement with more students who were like the child with the disability, that request was dismissed out of hand as being too restrictive.  Parents were told that children with disabilities had to be educated in the least restrictive environment or LRE.  

In fact, our school recently received a request from a public school system to identify 1-2 students who could be returned to an LRE.   No mention at all was made of what would be better for the child.  The request is all about numbers and how many students will be placed with children who do not have disabilities.

Things may be changing.   Courts are stepping in with some common sense.  A First Circuit court (Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island) has said that placement decisions must consider the child’s needs and not be made by “mechanically choosing the least restrictive environment. While an IEP need not maximize a child’s potential, each child must receive personalized instruction and sufficient support services to benefit educationally”.  And the recent Endrew Supreme Court decision has made it clear that the benefit must be substantive and not minimal.  

A Fourth Circuit court (South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia) has found that although mainstreaming is preferred, it is inappropriate when a child’s disability “would make it difficult for the child to bridge the disparity in cognitive levels between him and the other students".

One of the big arguments for having children with disabilities with plain kids is that the children with the disabilities would benefit from being with plain kids.  Whose idea is that?   Look around, I don’t know about you but my friends are birds with similar feathers.  I notice that people flock to be with others who have similar socio-economic status, similar political beliefs and similar faith leanings even if the actual faith is different. Left and right wing folk don’t usually hang out in the same nest.

And so it is true for kids with disabilities.  They tend to be friends with people who are like they are just like the rest of us birds.   We are all more comfortable, rightly or wrongly, with our own flock.  That is where we can be most like ourselves.  So when people tell me less restrictive it is for children with disabilities to be with kids who don’t have disabilities- I can’t help but ask the question- Least Restrictive for Whom?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Let's see if we can get it right this time?

Let’s See If We Can Get it Right This Time…

If my memory is serving me correctly, the Maryland State Department of Education has tried five times in the last 30 years to come up with a statewide standardized testing program - all in the name of improving instruction.
The latest and greatest failure is the Partnership for Assessment and Readiness for College and Careers, better known as the PARCC tests. 
Everyone agrees that the tests are too long.  They are too disruptive to the instructional process and the results come back too late for the teaching staff to do anything that approximates using the test information to inform instruction.
But worst of all, after three years of teaching to this test, the kids are still not passing it.  Just 34 percent of the State’s elementary and middle-school students passed the most recent PARCC tests in math; nearly 42 percent did not pass in English.  These results are politically unsustainable.   I mean even kids in the economically advanced counties aren’t passing the things.  The tests are based on the content from the Common Core curriculum.  Most education experts have said all along that the standards in Common Core did not align with child development, but what do they know. The tests take upwards of 9 1/2 hours to give.  The idea originally was that all states would give the same test based on the same standards and school systems could be compared across states.  That idea really never got off the ground.  About half the states went with a different test right from the beginning- the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium.  That always sounded like a butter substitute to me but what do I know.
So for this current school year, Maryland together with New Jersey, New Mexico and the District of Columbia will be the last hold-outs for the PARCC assessments.  
Education is one of the biggest deals to governors. You will notice that Governor Hogan is claiming credit for the most money for education ever!  That is great but he really didn't have anything to do with it, there is a state law the dictates the increase every year. 
 So when people complain about a state-wide test and scores on those tests by students are terrible even in the “good” school systems what’s a governor to do.  Simple leave that test for another one.
And that is exactly what Maryland is hoping to do for the 2019-2020 school year.  The State Department of Education has put out a request for proposals (RFP) for a company to come forth and develop the new test, it will be called the MCAP, Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program.  Kind of catchy don’t you think?
The teachers’ unions are all over it.  It doesn’t exist yet but it is going to be shorter and the results will be back sooner.   But don’t you worry it will be just as rigorous.  Citizens be assured this is going to be no PARCC Light with a Maryland seal on the cover.  No cost figures have been released as to how much this ever better standardized test will cost the taxpayers after spending millions and millions on the PARC test.  Trust me it will be a bundle.
We have had Project Basic, MSPAP, MSA, HSA, PARCC- now comes MCAP.  Maybe the State will finally get it right this time- or maybe they will decide to use all that money to put better instructional programs in place for the students.   Nah, we are not quitters.  We will keep trying to get a state test that will be politically viable.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

No one was ever fooled...

No one was ever fooled…

Remember when you were in elementary school and your teacher grouped the kids into the Little Red House group, the Bluebird group and the Robin group.  All the groups were equal—right?!  Was there anyone in the class who did not know which groups was the slowest group and which group was the smart kids?  Didn’t think so.
Recently a study of over 12,000 students in 2,100 schools found that although kids in the lowest group did improve and by 3rdgrade almost half of the students in the lowest group had moved up to the median group. However, the researcher found that NONE of the children who started kindergarten in the lowest group moved up to the top group by 3rdgrade.  There are multiple reasons for this situation. One of which is that teachers do not believe that the students in the lowest group have the ability to be in the highest group for whatever reason. But first some other research.
In a series of three new studies from Switzerland, researchers asked teachers to evaluate student profiles. All of the test scores showed the children to be on the borderline of rigorous academic achievement.  The children’s records arbitrarily assigned them to high, median or low income families.  Again, it is important to note that these were arbitrary assignments, not really the children's socioeconomic status and the test scores were very similar for all children.  Over multiple studies, teachers assigned the lower income children to the lowest reading groups even though their test scores were essentially the same as the arbitrarily assigned higher income kids.
What these studies suggest is that we have been grouping children wrongly all along.  Here's a new idea, instead of grouping children based on teacher perceived ability, why not group the children according to the skill set they need to develop.  So, you can have children of differing abilities who all need to work on decoding by the use of phonics.  Another group could be working on decoding using a whole word or context clue approach.  And still another group of kids who are done with decoding, could be working on comprehension.  Every eight weeks, students are assessed again and groups are shuffled according to the new information.
In fact, a new approach, Assessment to Instruction (A2I) assesses children in four areas of reading instruction: decoding, fluency, comprehension and usage.  Students are grouped for instruction based on particular focus skills rather than overall reading ability.   The system does a several things.  First, it targets the areas of literacy that children need rather than working on all areas with all kids.  Secondly, it mixes up ability levels within the targeted skill areas so children do not see themselves as the low achievers in the room.  Lastly, it produces better outcomes.   In a recent longitudinal study in California, students who participated in the A2I approach over three years performed significantly higher than the control group that used the standard ability approach to grouping.
Every kid always knows which group is the dumb bunnies; and sadly so do the dumb bunnies.  By grouping kids according to skill set and changing the grouping every couple of months, even the smartest kids may not know which group is the dumb bunnies. Not a bad way to confuse children. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Inclusion is a delusion

Inclusion is a delusion- now we even have research

Many of us have said for a very long time that inclusion is a delusion that will not work for either children with disabilities or for plain kids.  It is a system that painted over a plan to save money with cheap PC statements about how much the children with disabilities would learn from the plain kids and how empathetic the experience would make plain kids.  Clearly these folks have never studied human behavior. 
 Some disability advocates have argued for ALL children with disabilities, regardless of the severity, to be educated in general education classrooms.  Today more than 60% of children with disabilities spend 80% or more of their day in a general ed classroom.  Not quite what the all-in advocates want but certainly enough to do damage to the kids with learning challenges.
Now comes some research that shows there is little academic benefit to the students and there is little evidence that the general ed teacher has the preparation to meet the unique learning and behavioral needs of students with challenges.  Oh, and there is also the interest and the will to learn on the part of the general educator. 
Unfortunately, common wisdom seems to be that the more a child with a disability is educated with plain students the greater the likelihood is that the program is appropriate.  In this model appropriateness  of program is based on setting not on instruction OR on academic growth of the student. One study looked at children with math disabilities who were taught with specially designed instructional methods.  Their progress was compared with similarly disabled students who were taught in an inclusion class with instructional methods that included multiple means for students to express learning.  This method is known as Universal Design for Learning. The two groups had very different results.  The math achievement gap between students with disabilities who received instruction in general education was double that of those children who received specially designed instruction in a separate group.  By year 3 the gap is even greater!   
Favoring the placement of children with disabilities in general ed classrooms seems to ignore that the vast majority of these kids have already failed in general ed, that is one of the prime reasons they were identified as having special learning needs.
Teachers, too, are chiming in on their thoughts with their feet.  Teachers without special education certification in North Carolina were 2.4% more likely to leave the school or teaching when 1/5thof their students had IEPs.   Teachers with “inclusive” classrooms report spending less time on instruction and more time on behavior management.  It is not clear whether the increased time on behavior management by the teachers was due to lack of skill on the part of the teacher or noncompliant behavior on the part of the child.  Nationally, the number of teachers with special education certification has declined to the point that the ratio of special education teachers to children with disabilities is LESS than the ratio of plain children to general education teachers.
There are 3 stakeholder groups in this discussion: students with disabilities, plain students and teachers, both general ed and special education certified.   All three of these groups would benefit from causal research into the benefits of inclusion on the achievement of all children.  
Until we free ourselves from the preconceived notion that location of program is an indicator of academic progress, that research is unlikely.
We will continue to wave the magic wand, declare inclusion a victory, and move on to other fairy tales.