Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Watch what you count

Watch what you count.

Did you ever notice when you buy a red car, how many other red cars you tend to see on the road?    We pay attention to what we count.
In Baltimore, we are now counting murders.   Make no mistake there are plenty of them.  In fact, Baltimore ranks #2 in the nation in murder per capita for this calendar year.   Second only to St. Louis Missouri.   We are also second to Chicago with the highest number of murders, but they had 2.7 million people in the city; whereas Baltimore checks in at around 670,000 so Chicago comes in at #24 per capita.
Reasonably, everyone is trying to come up with a solution to stem this vicious tide that is tanking the city.    It has been suggested that we need to have more things for kids to do after school besides get into drugs and crime.   We need better housing so that children are not growing up in vermin infested homes- vermin both human and rodent.  We need to teach parents how to parent their offspring, many of whom are barely out of childhood themselves.  We need to teach responsible procreation. We need to send students to schools with the most experienced teachers not the least experienced ones. We need to send social workers into the schools in larger numbers to save these kids.  These are all good ways to salvage our children.
Here is what we seem to forget to notice.   Even in the midst of this large number of criminal adolescents and young adults, the majority of adolescents and young adults in the city and even in the worst neighborhoods-ARE NOT CRIMINALS.
These kids and young adults are living in vermin infested housing.   They don’t have decent activities to get into after school.   Their parents either don’t know how or don’t want to be responsible parents.   There aren’t enough social workers.   Still in spite of these terrible conditions, the majority of the kids are showing up most days.   About 70% of them are actually graduating high school, even though test scores show they aren’t getting much of an education from these poorly trained and experienced teachers.  Many of the kids who have escaped the pitfalls are siblings of of kids who have not and are in the criminal justice system at a very early age.

Why are these children hanging in there and working to succeed against incredible odds when others do not?    These are the students we should be studying.  These are the kids we should be talking to.   We need to find out why these kids have not been drowned by wave after wave of misfortune and poor circumstances.  We need to learn about the survivors.  We need to count them.   We pay attention to what we count.  We have been counting the failures.   Let’s count the young people who are making it against all odds.  They can teach us what to do and what to count. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

How much is enough?

How much is enough?
Before 1975, children with disabilities could be excluded from a school because …, well actually just because the principal said no for whatever reason.  And many principals did say no.  In 1975 the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EHA)was signed by President Ford.  From then until now, children with disabilities must be given a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).  But how much is enough!
Gone are the days when parents were grateful their kids were in a school.  Now parents are making demands that courts have found to be beyond the responsibility of the schools.
There was a family in Maine who insisted that the IEP(Individual Education Program) for their child did not include the specific reading program that the family believed would make the child a successful reader.  The school district disagreed and did not want to include the reading program by name in the IEP.  The court agreed with the school district and said that IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, successor to EHA) did not require that specific methods or instructional techniques be included.  Professional educators get to make those calls.
A Jewish religiously observant family in Maryland turned down the IEP established by the school district because the IEP did not include religious instruction and instruction in Hebrew.  The child has a severe intellectual disability so it is unclear if the child even has the potential to learn Hebrew, a language that requires learning a totally different alphabet as well as a different grammar and structure.  The parents also wanted the public schools to provide instruction in Judaic studies and customs so that the child could participate in family religious observances.  The parents asserted that the child was being denied FAPE without these provisions.   The court denied the parents request noting that there is no requirement for religious instruction in IDEA.  The school district has agreed to make reasonable accommodations for the family to provide this instruction. 
In a recent Supreme Court decision, Endrew F. vs. Douglas County School District the Court said that IDEA does not provide any substantive IEP standard and that the maximization of a student’s potential was not required by the law.
So what do families want and how much is enough?   Is any child guaranteed that his/her potential will be maximized by the school system? Nope, not plain kids and not kids with disabilities.    Does the fact that a child has a disability negate the family’s responsibility for religious instruction? Evidently not, no matter how important religion is to the child's family.  Who is running the educational program, the parents or the professionals?  These are difficult questions and for the time being the various courts have answered them.  But there is a larger question. When are families expecting more than they have the right to expect?  And is there any limit on what is best for a child with a disability?  How much is enough? 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Let's Get Every Senior into College-How stupid is that?

Let’s Get Every Senior into College-How stupid is that?

A Lakewood California principal recently encouraged principals to do whatever it took to get every senior into college.   According to his numbers, nearly 70% of youth ages 16-24 who graduated from any high school since 2016 are enrolled in college.  Traditionally these numbers are much lower for public schools nationwide- roughly 40%.   The numbers are even lower for schools in low-income communities.
Here is what I do not understand.  We keep collecting data about how many students graduating from high school are going on to college.   Why don’t we care about how many are able to get a decent job!?
Going to college is a waste of time and money if your talents for earning a living lie outside of what colleges train people to do.
There are more important goals for our high school students than going to college.
First of all, we need to teach students that they matter and that they matter enough to do excellent work.  Not for the adults but for themselves.  We should not ask kids to do school work for us; we should repeatedly ask them  if what they are doing is their best effort for themselves.  Is their work something that they are proud to put their name to.
Next, let the students know that we notice and we care about how they are doing.  One of the things that is wrong (and there are many) with tying teacher evaluations to high stakes testing is that it communicates to students that we could be more concerned with our own evaluation rather than with how much they are learning.  Educators need to learn to be cheerleaders for the students.  Let them know we are watching how well they do for themselves, not for us.  This approach also empowers kids to realize it is their destiny that is at stake.
Make it clear what your school values.   People notice what is counted.  If all we count are test scores then it becomes clear that test scores are what we value the most.  Instead, why not celebrate kindness to others.  How about a shout-out when one kid helps another kid?  Or when we work together to solve a school problem.   Make it clear we value lots of other things besides high test scores and we should really mean it.
Let’s give physical space and opportunity to other things besides traditional academic course work.   Give kids the space and reward for tinkering, building and creating- these are going to be our leaders of tomorrow.  Enough with the test scores already.
Institutions of higher education report no decline in the numbers of entering freshmen who need remedial work before embarking on college level work.  This ridiculous emphasis on test scores is leading otherwise honorable people to cheat on transcripts and grades, embarrassing whole school districts when the graduation rate is audited.  We need to provide a wider menu of options for kids graduating high school.   Educators need to learn about many other opportunities for graduates besides college.  
Let’s get every senior into college- I don’t think so- and neither do the seniors.  Many of them have better things to do if we would just encourage them do it!