Tuesday, May 30, 2017

All Hat no Cattle

All Hat NO Cattle

America needs students to achieve more!  That is why we have instituted an extensive testing program to make sure that our kids are getting more and better education.  Everyone knows that more testing with greater consequences for teachers whose students do not test well will improve outcomes for our students. Not happening but we are still true believers  Even though institutions of higher ed report as many freshman as before testing needing remedial coursework.  As Americans we care greatly about better outcomes for our kids- all of our kids, that is why we want vouchers so poor kids can have better choices.  Such wonderful words!   Sorry but that is all they are is words.  Let’s look at the action.

There is the great state of Oklahoma.   Citizens of that wonderful state pay their teachers among the least in the country.  Teachers with a master’s degree and 20 years of teaching are earning in the mid-forties.  Taxpayers have refused to increase taxes for schools.  So what is a school system to do?  Simple, reduce the days in school to four a week instead of five.  That way the system can still get some people to teach there because they get paid the same amount of money for 4 days that they were paid for 5.  How does the school system save money when teachers' salaries make up by far the largest share of the budget?   The systems save on fuel for the busses and utilities for the buildings.   As one superintendent put it, “I can’t remember the last time we talked about what is good for kids, rather than how to save money.”

Then there is the District of Columbia schools.   In some schools in the District as many as 25% of the teachers have quit mid-year.   The teachers know this behavior is bad for kids but they feel they have no other choice.  One young new teacher quit in January.   She has a degree in math from Tulane University.  School started in late August.  By September she knew she was having trouble with behavior management.  She asked the administration for help.  No help came.  By January she couldn’t take it anymore and resigned.  With the proper support she might have been a great teacher.  The DCPS admit that some schools are using anyone who is upright and breathing to staff classes.   The students say they are passing courses for classes they never attend. 

U.S. Secretary DeVos tells us she is going to solve all that by giving vouchers to students so kids who go to bad schools can use a voucher to go to a private, presumably, better school.   But the experience in Indiana, a state that has used vouchers extensively, shows that most of the vouchers are NOT going to public school students but to students who have always attended private school at parental expense.  So now we will be providing discount coupons for the wealthy while still denying the lower socio-economic kids.  Now that shows how much we value a good education for all the children. 

Maybe if we talked less about how much we want to improve education and did more, our children might get the education they deserve.   All talk no action.  All hat no cattle.

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.