Tuesday, August 20, 2019

it's My Right

It’s My Right

Federal and state law give children with disabilities the right to an assessment every three years if there is evidence that new information is needed.   Generally, parents feel this is a good idea.   School systems know assessments are expensive and they want to take advantage of the provision that says if "new information is needed".
Unequivocally, more and better assessments are good- sometimes.
But sometimes, too many assessments are not good for children.  Assessments generally cause kids anxiety and too many assessments just cause more anxiety.
Sometimes- taking the same assessment too many times invalidates the assessment itself.  Kids begin to remember what is on the test and so the test no longer measures what it is supposed to measure and instead measures the student’s memory.
Sometimes- when children take assessments too close together there is no discernable measurable progress and that upsets children and families.
Sometimes- the progress that the test does show is meaningless.  Moving from a 4.5 grade level reading to a 5.0 grade level reading is not that big a deal in terms of functioning in the world.  There are a lot more important things that children could be working on than moving the needle on grade level.
Sometimes- kids’ progress doesn’t keep up with the test so the results seem to indicate that the child has moved backwards when in fact what has happened is that the child has not moved forward at the same pace as the test has set expectations.
Sometimes- school systems measure the cost of the assessment against the benefit to the child and do not think the assessment is worth the investment.
Sometimes- there isn’t any new information that the tests will give to the service delivery team.   If a teacher has been working with a child for a year or two, that teacher should know more about that child than a newer test score can tell him/her.
Sometimes- people who do the testing don’t give good information about the results.   The test score is probably the least important information from the test administration.   A good test administrator will know what learning processing challenges were most difficult for the child and will report that information back to the direct service personnel.  Unfortunately, it takes a very skilled test administrator to do that and it takes a very good school system to provide the vehicle for this information to get back to the teacher.
Sometimes- updated assessments are only done when there has been a marked change in the child’s learning behaviors and there is hope that a new assessment might tell why.
And sometimes, it really isn’t necessary to exercise every right that you have and it is best to let the assessment review go unnoticed.   That’s your right too.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

'Tis the Time to Strike up the Battle

‘tis the Time to Strike up the Battle

The new school year will be starting shortly and with that often comes IEP meetings.  IEP meetings are sort of odd experiences and depend a great deal on the level of trust between the school and the parents.
First of all IEP meetings are supposed to be held to develop that Individual Education Program (IEP) that each child with a disability is entitled to by federal and state law.  It is because the “individual” in the IEP is frequently forgotten, families feel the need to bring an outside expert to the meeting to remind the school people of that.  I knew a family who regularly brought an 8"X10" photo of their son to the meeting to help people focus on the whole point of the process.
People do not like to write IEP’s.  So school systems make the process easier by creating templates that teachers and related service providers can use to write the IEP.   These templates frequently have objectives taken word for word from the school’s curriculum or from a prepared bank of objectives that has been precisely written.   In IEP meetings schools often pay more homage to these prepared items than they do to make sure the child's needs are met.  They also want to make sure the IEP will stand up to any legal challenges.  It is also not unusual for educators to feel defensive or threatened by parents who challenge their expertise or who want to explain that the child the parent sees at home is much different from the one who comes to school every day.
Parents often feel outnumbered and outgunned at these meetings as well.  Sometimes school people meet ahead of the formal meeting to make sure everyone has his/her talking points and everyone stays on the party line message.  To even the odds, parents will sometimes feel the need to bring an advocate or a legal expert to the meeting.  Sometimes both types of experts will attend the meeting.  The time of these professionals does not come cheaply so only parents with the financial wherewithal get to enhance the troops in their corner of the ring.
It is sometimes difficult for direct service staff to be truthful at these meetings.  Teachers will tell people that they cannot be a strong advocate for the child because they “do not want to lose their job”.   In fact, it is next to impossible for a teacher to be fired for something said at an IEP meeting, but perception is much stronger than reality.
So what is a parent to do if he/she does not have the financial resources to come to the meeting supported by professional experts?   In the olden days, Nancy Regan advised the nation to fight the drug problem by “just say no”.  That advice seemed simplistic at the time for that problem.  But it is realistic for a parent at an IEP meeting who comes without some supportive hired guns.  The IEP won’t happen until the parent agrees.   If a parent is unhappy with the IEP or feels it does not meet their child’s needs.  Channel you inner Nancy Regan and “just say no” until changes are made that will serve your child.   ‘Tis the beginning of the season, unfortunately parents need to strike up the battle lines until the school system produces an INDIVIDUAL education program as the law requires.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Mass Shootings are bad for children

                                           Mass Murders are Not Good for Children 
Many years ago a student went into his school and killed other students.    The event came to be known as the Columbine shooting.  Kids were scared in school.  I spoke with our students.  They were not afraid in our school.  They felt known.  They felt their teachers knew them and cared.
Years later terrorists weaponized the airplane and killed thousands of people not all that far from our school.  Out students were afraid.  They knew people who were impacted by the terror.  Again we assured them that we, and their parents, would keep them safe.  They believed us.
Now there is a new kind of terror and what do we tell our children.  
Throughout human history there has always been fear and a consequential fear of the “other”.   It is the responsibility and role of the leader to lead us away from this darker side of nature.  In our relatively recent national history we have separated the Native American, the Catholic, the Irish, the Italian, the Jew, the African American, the woman, and the disabled.   Now it is the Hispanics turn to be separated from the humanity that links us all.   
Our leadership is guiding the separation.    We are not reminded that these “others” want for themselves what we want for ourselves, safety, security, the chance to build a better life for our children.  Instead some leaders call humans animals and characterize them in the basest way.    Because today’s “other” has deeper skin tone, it’s easier to identify them from “us”.
In this time of domestic terror of repeated mass shootings our leadership has given license to our darkest instincts.  How do parents and schools tell our children we will keep them safe when we are not even sure we can keep ourselves safe.
We are separating parents from their children whether by our country’s border policy or by a murder's bullet.  Our children deserve to be led to our better nature as humans.  Leaders need to teach us all that as humans we are ALL yearning for safety, security, the chance to build a better life for ourselves and our children.   

What do we tell our children so they feel safe?   More importantly what do WE DO for our children so that they ARE safe. Mass shootings are not good for children

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Aint' Got no Respect

Ain’t Got No Respect

Salaries keep going up; respect keeps going down.   Teachers are responding with their feet, leaving classrooms after just a few years.  What is going on?
Fifty years ago teachers were paid only $3,500 a year.  Yes, that was a year!  Some school systems did not spread the money out over twelve months so teachers had to budget carefully to cover the two summer months.  And most took a second job during that time.  
But they took the job and they STAYED.   Common wisdom was, it doesn’t pay much, the benefits and retirement plan are good, the kids are fun and what we do is important.
It is that last item, what we do is important, that kept teachers coming back year after year sometimes teaching several generations of children in the same family.   So what has happened to change all that especially now that salaries are quite respectable, and the benefits are still pretty good.
Well, in the olden days you didn’t make all that much money but when a teacher spoke, even B.F. Hutton listened.  Parents told kids, “I better not hear you got into trouble at school because you will get into double trouble when you get home.”   Kids knew that.  They also knew, “don’t make me call your mother” was a threat to be reckoned with.
Not so any more.   Now students are openly disrespectful to teachers.   Parents challenge school staff for on any disciplinary consequence.  Every issue becomes a legal one with both sides contacting lawyers.    Principals tell teachers do NOT send children to the office.  School systems tell teachers do NOT suspend a student unless they do something that is really egregious- like setting a fire, bringing a weapon to school, selling drugs.
If that weren’t bad enough a teacher’s professional ability to run a classroom has been taken away.  It started when elementary teachers were told what teaching method to use to teach reading. Didn’t matter how the kids learned, this is how we are teaching reading.   Used to be a teacher closed her classroom door and taught her class.  If needed she took time off to talk about a dying pet, a pending divorce or a lost love.   Now there are pacing guides that leave no room for humanity nor for teacher decision making. How quickly or slowly teachers move through the content is decided some place far from a teacher's classroom. Sort of like the Ford assembly line. And then there is the content.  In its infinite wisdom, schools used a curricula that was appropriate to the sphere in which the kids lived.  Curriculum has now been homogenized to align with those God-awful standardized tests that are setting the standard for education nationwide.
With kids revolting, school administrators dictating, is it any wonder there isn’t enough money to put up with all that.   Maybe when teaching becomes a profession again, teachers will come back and stay.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

It's a serious shortage

It’s a serious shortage

School districts in the Washington/Baltimore metropolitan area are extremely short of teachers.   In fact, as the beginning of the school year approaches school districts are reporting deficits of hundreds of teachers.   One of the reasons for the shortages being offered is low salary. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the U.S. reports that the average high school teacher in Maryland is earning $69,070 and the average elementary teacher in Maryland is earning $67,340 and that is for 200 days a year.  Benefits are pretty good as well.  The Kirwan Commission is recommending increases over the next 5-10 years that will raise those salaries even more.
So the answer to why there are not enough teachers is not money.  It is probably the working conditions in our schools today.   In order to fight this problem, districts are taking an alternative approach rather than trying to look at the conditions that are driving teachers out of their jobs within a few years of starting.   The solution now is to increase the speed at which teachers are coming through the teacher preparation pipeline.  It would appear the approach is to put as many or more new teachers in the backdoor of classrooms to replace those who are walking out the front door.
Two plans seem to be gaining prominence.  The first plan gets kids to commit to a teaching profession in high school. As a reward the district will pay for some of the student’s education.   If after making the commitment, the student changes his/her mind then the student or the family has to repay the district.  This plan is being used in Virginia but is not paying off that well.   Districts are seeing net gains of about 20 graduates a year.  Hardly enough to solve the problem.
The second approach will definitely fill classrooms, but I am not sure it will give us teachers.  With this plan, young people can go into classrooms after two years in college. They can learn on the job and eventually get their degree that way.  When they are interning during the junior and senior years of college, they will be mentored by an experienced teacher.  Here is what I can never understand.  Why is it that we think people can become teachers without proper training?  What other profession would consider letting someone “practice” on the job with NO professional training and get that training while they learn.   Being a teacher is not an industrial trade.  It is a professional job that requires a great deal of academic training that forms the basis of the practical on-the-job work that comes later.  Physicians intern AFTER their medical training not before, so do all of the other professions.
Our kids deserve better.   Everyone is correct there is a serious shortage.  It is a shortage of people who are thinking strategically to build a trained and talented teacher pool.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

What a wonderful idea- Full Inclusion

What a Wonderful Idea- Full Inclusion

We have brainwashed ourselves into believing that the full inclusion of children with disabilities is a great idea for the kids and not just because it saves the school districts money.   It is supposed to teach children better social skills and make greater academic demands.   More than half of the children with disabilities spend 80% of their day in general education environments, according to federal data.  Now a recent study by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) is showing that those general educators and paraprofessionals are not prepared to do the tasks we are asking of them.

CEC surveyed 1,500 special educators from around the country.  These special education teachers work with those general educators to serve children with disabilities.  Only 8% of the people surveyed believe that the general educators they work beside are prepared to serve children with exceptionalities.   They felt slightly better about the paraprofessionals, but they still only had confidence in 12% of them.  And that may be because there were lower expectations for paraprofessionals.    Of the people surveyed, 70% believed that they and the related service personnel were well-prepared.  However, it should be noted that only 38% of beginning special educators felt that way about themselves.  What is most frightening is that while all educators say they look at a child’s IEP several times a week, they were almost unanimous in saying that they were too busy to use them in the development of daily lesson plans!   One cannot help but wonder what they were used for!

We have a situation where the most vulnerable learners are being taught by people with the most limited training and skill set to address those learning challenges.   Yet we continue to mark progress by the percentage of children with learning challenges who are being served in the general ed classroom.  It seems like this wonderful idea of full inclusion only looks good on the outside of the apple, but when we slice the fruit there may be a rotten core.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Restraint is a Good thing- Wait, no it's a Bad thing

Restraint is a Good Thing- No It’s a Bad Thing

Well which is it?  Is restraint a good thing or is it a bad thing?  Maybe it is both.  There is no question in my mind that restraint is over used as a behavior management technique. I was stunned to learn not long ago that the Montgomery County MD school system was the second largest user of restraint in the country. That is a school system generally considered to be one of the best! There is also no doubt that sometimes (though not as often as used), restraint is necessary for the safety of the child and others.  So how do you differentiate?
One of the excuses that I don’t buy, is that because of the child’s disability, “they can’t help it”.  All behavior serves a purpose for the person exhibiting the behavior.  We may not be able to immediately discern that purpose but it exists and serves a purpose for the child.  To suggest that the child (or adult) cannot help the behavior diminishes the humanity of the child. Some behavioral approaches treat the child as if he/she were an animal needing to be trained.  All of our children have feelings that need to be recognized.  The very first effort in changing behavior is to try to figure out from the child’s point of view, the purpose the behavior is serving.  Sometimes a child can tell you and sometimes the child doesn’t have the verbal facility or insight.  Until the adults can figure that out, there needs to be logical consequences for the behavior.  Children with (and without) disabilities will be living in the broader society which does not care if a person has a disability.  There are certain behavioral expectations for living in the larger world and those charged with that preparation, parents and professionals need to take on that responsibility .   Consequences should be immediate and logical.
When is restraint acceptable?   People who are responsible for children with disabilities cannot allow children to hurt others.  Nor should children with disabilities be allowed to hurt themselves.  If a child (any child) is hurting someone else that behavior needs to stop.  If the only way you can get that behavior to stop is a VERY short-term basket hold, then that needs to happen. Just be aware that holding child sends a contradictory message.  On the one hand you are holding the child because you are telling the child he/she cannot be aggressive toward others.  But at the same time you are being aggressive toward the child by holding him/her.  That is one reason the basket hold or any other restraint should be used only as an absolute last resort. The same thing  is true if a child is hurting him or herself.  Most often once the behavior has been stopped the child is grateful for the restraint.  Kids don’t want to hurt others and they don’t want to hurt themselves.
So the answer to the question is restraint is a bad thing- except when it is a good thing necessary to provide safety for someone.