Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Star Struck

Star Struck

After several years in the making, the Maryland State Department of Education has not only released its star ranking systems but has also awarded the stars.    Schools get stars for test scores, attendance, climate survey and year over year improvement on tests scores.
Now that the report is out there really aren’t all that many surprises.  Baltimore City did not do too well. Only a few five-star schools. Howard County did very well.  So did Carroll County.   You could lay a socio-economic template down over the map of the state and the correlation between socio-economic level and number of stars is obvious.   We are regularly taught that correlation does not equal causation but in this case many of the factors that lead to low socio-economic status are also the same issues that will impact the star categories.
Some people have complained about the number of five-star schools, why so many?   If you look closely at the spread you will notice something interesting. There are the same number of one-star schools as there are 5-star schools.  Ditto the numbers of two and four-star schools. That is because MSDE took the data and spread it out over a configuration known as the Bell Curve. Maybe you have seen it.  It is shaped like a bell jar.  The Bell Curve scales the various scores so that the schools with the highest number of stars  get 100% on the curve.   Schools with the lowest scores are placed at the other end of the curve.   With this method the 2.5% of schools with the highest scores would get five stars and the 2.5% of the schools with the lowest scores would get 1 star.  The next 13.5% on either end of the Bell Curve would get 2 and 4 stars respectively; while the middle 68% in the bubble or high point of the bell would get 3 stars.   So when the superintendent of Baltimore County said that she believed a 3 star rating was average she was correct.
But here is the point.  When you set scores on any distribution along a Bell Curve, 2.5% will ALWAYS get the highest ranking regardless of what the actual scores are.  This is the reason some people have complained about too many 5-star schools and too many 1-star schools.  
So what exactly does all this star rating stuff do for us?  Well it will raise property values in the 5-star school areas, and lower them in the 1-star areas.   But those were probably already pretty low.   It does recognize year over year improvement in test scores for some schools.  The schools with high absentee rates probably already knew that.   The stars system does inform the community about its neighborhood schools.   It does put pressure on school administrators to work to get more stars. It also cost a great deal of money to develop and to implement, and provides very little new information. How much better would it have been to not be so star-struck and to use that money to fix the problems we already knew existed.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Walking the Welcome Walk

Walking the Welcome Walk

A few years ago, a parent came to me with a concern.   Her parish priest had asked her and her husband to take turns coming to services so the other parent could stay home with their son, Richard.   Richard has learning disabilities and ADHD.  The priest believed he was disruptive to their services.   The priest’s request came not long after Richard’s grandmother had requested that Richard not come to Thanksgiving dinner because she found him to be disruptive as well.  

This family is not alone in discovering that their son is not welcome because of his disabilities.   Throughout our country parents of children with disabilities have been asked to attend services without their children or if they must bring the children the parents are asked to sit with the children in a separate space, often called a “family room”.  

The result of these policies is that across the United States, children with developmental or intellectual disabilities are much more likely to never attend religious services than are children with no disabilities.   

In a recent study, the odds of children on the autism spectrum never attending religious services are almost double what they are for plain children. There are similar odds for children with depression, a developmental delay or a learning disability.  This situation is not true for children with chronic health conditions that are more physical in nature such as diabetes, vision or hearing problems.  

There are multiple issues here.  First of all, houses of worship often signal that the welcome mat is not out for those with challenges.  The places of worship lack ramps for those who use wheelchairs.  No adaptations are made to the rituals or liturgy to meet individual needs.  Sometimes lights, sounds or visuals that are part of the service are disruptive to children with some disabilities.

Members of the congregation could be taught an attitude of acceptance. Instead parents of children with disabilities report being told by other congregants that their children are disruptive or “probably aren’t getting anything out of the service anyway so why should they ruin it for others.”  Clergy people could use these attitudes to teach acceptance of all at God’s house.

In addition to the isolation of the children, parents of children with disabilities often feel socially isolated because of child care needs and the difficulty of finding suitable babysitters.   Often attending a religious service is an important outlet for families to be able to be with others in their faith community.  

A theological and ethical commitment needs to be made by faith communities to these children and their families.  These children need to be welcomed and valued.  Communities need to go beyond talking about compassion and start taking tangible steps to show they have a heart that welcomes these children with special needs.  It is not enough to talk the talk.  It is time to walk the walk of welcome.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Deep In The Heart of Texas

Deep In The Heart of Texas

We already know Texas is a different land.   It imposed a limit on the number of children with disabilities it would serve.  Got itself smacked by the US Office of Education, in and of itself, a miracle given Betsy DeVos is in charge.
But this case might be a new low even for Texas.
An elementary aged child with autism repeatedly came home with bruises, abrasions and contusions over a two-year period in her school.  On more than one occasion, the parents took their child to the hospital or her physician for treatment of the injuries.  The parents reported the injuries to school officials.  First, the school personnel said that the injuries were self-inflicted.  Later these same officials said the injuries were caused by other students.  Finally, a staff member ultimately admitted to hurting the child.
The parents went to court and sued the school district and the employee who acknowledged the behavior.  The parents sued for assault, infliction of emotional distress, disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act,(ADA)  and constitutional rights violations.
The parents lost on all counts.  Why you ask?   Partly because the case was filed in Texas.
The Court granted qualified immunity to the school district and to the employee because it felt the hospital records and doctors’ visits were vague and there was no evidence that the employee has caused the particular injuries for which the child was treated.
Then there was the issue of emotional distress.  In Texas there is a law that if someone sues a government agency, the employees of that agency cannot also be sued.  So since the family sued the school district the employee was off the hook for his responsibility.
Next the school district claimed that the assault charge was an intentional tort under Texas law and that the state would need to waive sovereign immunity in order for the case to proceed, which the state refused to do.  So, the court dismissed that charge.
Lastly, the district said that the ADA claim should have been made under IDEA and that the parents had not exhausted the administrative remedies under IDEA.  The Court agreed with this reasoning as well.
Therefore, none of the claims survived and the case was dismissed.
How do these things happen?   In Maryland a licensed educator who was physically aggressive towards a student would lose his/her license.   Maybe the issue is that Texas no matter how deeply you go doesn’t have a heart.  I would think that teacher might want to think again about supporting open carry and gun laws in Texas.   If that were my kid being hurt like that and nothing was being done about it…   Just sayin’

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Black Teachers Matter

Black Teachers Matter

African-American children who are taught by just one black teacher during their school years are 13% more likely to go to college.   Students have at least two African-American teachers are 32% more likely to go to college.   These are facts garnered from a recent study by a Johns Hopkins University professor.  This information isn’t new.  It builds on what has been found previously that black students with black teachers are also much more likely to graduate high school.    The theory seems to be that black teachers can tap into their lived experiences when relating to black students.
Next up there were lots of concerns that in Baltimore City (with the most African-American teachers at 40%) and in the surrounding counties the percentage of black teachers was well below the percentage of black students.  The author of the study insists that public education needs to get moving to increase the numbers of black teachers that minority students experience.  It all seems so simple.
But let’s hold up here for a minute.  In Baltimore City roughly 80% of the students is black while only 40% of the teachers is African-American.  So it stands to reason, that even though the number of black teachers doesn’t equal the percentage of black students, those African-American students most likely had at least 2-3 African-American teachers in their twelve years of schooling.  According to the predictions of this research, these kids are 32% more likely to go to college-except that they don’t!  Not sure how that would be explained.
Then there is the issue of numbers.  Maryland colleges of teacher education are graduating about 550 qualified to teach black graduates.  That is 550 all-total, not just one school.  So where are these African-American teachers going to come from.
There is also another issue and that is the BIG assumption that all African-Americans share the same “lived experiences”.   From my perspective that is racism at its finest.   Sure, both students and teachers are black and as such have certainly shared racist experiences.   But I am willing to bet that those middle and upper middle class young African-American adults who are graduating from Maryland colleges have hardly had the same “lived experiences” as the kids growing up in Baltimore’s shooting galleries- where guns and drugs are everyday happenings.  And yes, I know that some kids do make it out of the low socio-economic neighborhoods and go to college.  But I also know that when they do, they may be looking for more high status and higher paying positions than teaching.
In my view, it would make more sense to provide in-service education experiences for all teachers, black, brown, yellow and white, about implicit racism, those sneaky little conclusions that sleep in our minds with no visible means of hard evidence.   Pre-service programs might want to do a bit of that as well.
Yes black teachers do matter, but so do all teachers and we need to start training our educators so that all STUDENTS matter regardless of the color of skin teachers and students are wearing these days.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What's Money Got to Do With It?

What’s Money Got to Do With It?

What’s money got to do with it?   Turns out not too much.  The average teacher’s salary in Maryland is in the mid-60’s.   They work about 190 days out of the 365.  That means they are off almost as many days (175) as they work. The benefits are good and the likelihood of getting fired is very low. 

 In spite of these happy numbers, 44% of new teachers leave within the first five years. And that is 44% of all teachers, not just teachers who work with students with challenges.
The number of teachers in public schools is exploding.  It is growing much faster than the number of students.  The pressure for reduced class sizes, more special ed services, STEM teachers and English-as-a-second language have all pushed the numbers higher.  The question of how long the cost can be sustained by the taxpayers has not even been asked let alone resolved.

Teachers are getting younger and much less experienced.  In the 2007-08, the average age of a teacher was 55. In just ten years that number has dropped to a number where most teachers are in their late 30's.  In 1987-88 school year, the most common public school teacher had 15 years of experience.   Today that number is three years or less. 
Teachers have become more racially diverse, but they are still primarily white women.

So, what are the issues if it is not money?   First of all, it is the testing and the blame teachers get when the test scores go south.  The presumption is if your students get bad scores on the test it is because they have not been taught well.  We do not give the students or their families any responsibility for attending school, doing the necessary studying nor do we acknowledge that children have differing academic abilities that no amount of teaching is going to totally change.

In order to do the testing, school systems have instituted the pacing guides.  These guides ensure that the students have been “exposed” to the content that is being tested.  They also require the teachers to be on the precise section of the curriculum on each precise day.  There is no time to re-teach or teach differently.  The joy of connecting with kids and matching the pace of the program to the pace of the child’s learning no longer exists.

Then there is administrative support and the demand to decrease the number of out-of-school suspensions.  Teaching is not supposed to be a contact sport.  It is true that we have been suspending kids for the dumbest of reasons. So if you are truant (illegally absent from school) as a consequence we suspend you and make you legally absent from school.  Seriously dumb!   However, if you commit an act of aggression against a classmate and/or a staff person, that student needs to be suspended.  Recently a student smacked a teacher in a local school system.   The student was not suspended, he was counseled and the union said the teacher forgave the student and accepted his apology.  I would not be surprised if that teacher did not become one of those 44% of teachers who do not return next year.  Administrators are also worried about their numbers. The test scores of the students in the building and the number of suspensions each semester.   They are not protecting teachers.

In the end, what’s money got to do with it?   Not too much if you don’t enjoy the job and need to play duck and cover from your students.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Far Right and Far Left agree

Far Left and Far Right agree

What do Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch agree on?  Turns out that as with Anton Scalia and RBG the right and the left can come together and even do!

This current issue is the almost complete absence of civic studies in our public schools.   Why is that?   One of the reasons that is often advanced for the provision of a free education at public expense is that a democracy depends on an educated electorate.  However, it turns out that as we have been spending  more and more time preparing for standardized testing in areas students will seldom use, we have squeezed out what they desperately need and that is an education in how our democracy works.  And what their responsibility is as a citizen in that democracy.

It is pretty sad that while we are testing our kids on algebra II, Justice Gorsuch said that only about 25% of Americans can name all three branches of government and 33% can’t name ANY branch of government.   And, showing the power of the media, 10% of those surveyed THOUGHT JUDGE JUDY WAS A SUPREME COURT JUSTICE!!!   I wonder how they did on their algebra test.  Justice Gorsuch has made a plea for civility, making appeals to decency and good faith in both his legal practice and when speaking in public forums.  He has demonstrated these behaviors since being appointed to the Bench.

Justice Sotomayor believes that it is well-documented that the shift toward science and technology has left out civics.   Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has made the teaching of civics a mission of hers since she left the Court in 2008.  She founded a non-profit iCivics that provides elementary and secondary schools with digital resources and lesson plans to cultivate citizenship responsibility. This past fall Justice O’Connor announced she was leaving public life due to a diagnosis of dementia.   Justice Sotomayor will be taking her place on the Foundation leadership.

Why are our school systems ignoring this pressing need to educate our children?   The extreme partisanship of today’s politics has made all of us vulnerable to lies and half-truths.   If we knew more about how our government was supposed to run perhaps we could recognize when politicians are working to make us dysfunctional.  If Justices Gorsuch and Sotomayer can get it, why can’t the rest of us.  Hopefully everyone exercised the most important lesson of civics- vote!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

# School Too

We have heard a lot lately about sexual aggression at the recent hearings for the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh.   Good thing we work in schools where that kind of thing doesn’t happen right? No, actually quite wrong.
It is easy to believe that the k-12 education profession, that is predominately female, is immune from sexual harassment.   In fact, there is a phenomenon called vertical sex segregation.  Have you ever noticed that even though the education profession in schools is  heavily female in its professional staff, the principals in the higher-paid, higher-powered positions are often men.   There are power imbalances between the lower status teachers and the higher status men.  This situation often shows up with new, younger staff.  Younger staff are very much aware of the power imbalance and want to do well and please their bosses.
Based on data collected by Education Week, one in four teachers has been sexually assaulted on the job!   Sixty percent of those who witnessed the assault did not report it. When asked who they told about the misconduct, the union reps were least likely to hear of the situation.  Usually teachers told friend and/or family members.
The three major reasons teachers did not report the assault were: they didn’t think they would be taken seriously, they didn’t think anything would be done, and, finally, they feared retaliation.  Many women feared they would lose their jobs.
I remember in my days as an administrator in a local public school system that our supervisor for speech therapy never assigned young therapists to a particular principal.  When I asked her why, she said that he came on very strong to young, attractive staff and they had no way to combat his aggressive behavior.  I asked why this principal was allowed to continue this behavior, why wasn’t he called out.  Her response was simple.  He is a principal; he will deny it; everyone will believe him.  Oh, and he was a married, upstanding man in the community.  So young therapists went to other schools.   Older more mature therapists went to his school.  We had several psychologists who were also known for their sexually aggressive behaviors.  The cure- just stay away from them.  
In the survey of teachers, Education Week found that teachers were desperate to tell their stories to make the workplace safer for colleagues.  But men held all the power.   Men would deny.  It would be her word against his.  He had the more powerful position.  She would be exposed, be retaliated against and nothing would change. The pain would not be worth the gain. Any of this sound familiar?
We talk a lot about making schools safer for our students.  We do not think about how the power imbalance in the education profession mirrors the rest of the world.  Sexual assault is happening #schooltoo and it is happening to the teachers of our kids.