Tuesday, February 27, 2018

When Entitlement Ends, Eligibility Begins

When Entitlement Ends, Eligibility Begins

Children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate education at public expense (FAPE) from birth through the age of 21.  But what happens when the entitlement ends.  For many young adults and their families, it is a lot like walking off a cliff.
Yes, there are public adult services agencies that are available to help young adults with disabilities to be further trained, given employment accommodations, and helped to find jobs.  But young people are eligible for those services and when the money runs out so do the services.  Consequently, families find that their children are eligible but there is no money to provide the service.  Only about 35% of adults with autism are employed.   Increasingly, businesses are finding that these people bring unique characteristics to a job and in many ways are better employees than non-disabled staff.
Families are seeking alternative ways to meet their children’s needs.   Some are going to the extreme of setting up a business in which they can assist their children in being employed.  Of course, that takes a good bit of start-up money and parents need to be able to stop their own employment to manage the new business.  It can take quite some time before these businesses become profitable so a good bit of start-up capital is necessary.   This solution is out of reach for most families.
Federal agencies and their funding have come down hard on what used to be called sheltered workshops.   These were facilities that provided simple assembly line work and for which employees were paid by the piece.   Most often this type of employment did not provide a minimum hourly wage and there were no benefits provided at all.   Some states, like Maryland, have now required that people with disabilities be paid at least minimum wage for any work they do.  That is great and reasonable for those people who have disabilities and who have a job.  But in some ways, it will decrease the number of employers who are willing to take a risk on an employee with a disability.
There are important questions that need to be answered regarding our societal values and what we believe.   Is it better to have a person with a disability employed independent of how much they will earn OR is that exploiting the person with the disability.   The answer to both questions is yes.  As in many things, the answer is grey.   For some very disabled people the socialization of any kind of work is more important than what the income from that work might be.  The work gives the person something to do every day.   It gives them a place to go.   And it also acknowledges that the disabilities of some people are such that they will not be able to contribute to competitive employment.  Admittedly some people are not willing to make that acknowledgment and think that those who do are selling people with disabilities short.

The fact is we have no coordinated plan or blueprint for moving people with disabilities into the workplace.   It has been 43 years since the United States created a law entitling all children with disabilities to an appropriate education.   You would have thought there would have been another plan by now besides throwing these young adults into an unfunded pool and telling them they were eligible to swim to the other side.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Crooked thinking need some straight talk

Crooked Thinking needs Straight Talk

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”   How many times are we going to be content with those words that do nothing to change the situation.  Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Once again there has been a school invasion that ended in the deaths of 17 students and educators.  Thoughts and prayers are wonderful but they do not repair the lives that have been devastated by the loss of children and family.  They do not recreate the lives that have been ended. 
Our country has had more mass shootings than any other country in the developed world.  What is wrong with our infatuation with guns and particularly assault weapons? How long will we relive the cowboy era?   The adults refuse to do the hard work of solving the problem.   Some of us keep retreating to the 2nd amendment to our Constitution. Others are afraid of the NRA so they just duck and cover instead of standing for something besides crooked thinking. Yes we have the right to bear arms, don't we also have the right to go to school, attend a concert, or attend a house of worship without fear.   We have done a great deal to prevent terrorists from getting bombs.  How about domestic terrorists who because of mental illness or estrangement are just as dangerous when they get assault weapons.
Maybe, just maybe, a little child shall lead us and shame us.  The students from the school in Florida, scene of the latest invasion, have decided to take matters into their own hands.  As one student said, “we are tired of being collateral” in the gun wars.
The students are organizing.  They have talked about creating a badge of shame that they will award to any legislator who cannot stand up for safety.  The students hit the Sunday talk shows.  They are reaching out across the country to organize a march on March 24.   They are prepared to challenge Trump.  They are prepared to challenge all those adults in the legislatures across the country.   They are tired of the crooked thinking.
How do we as the adults, the people who are supposed to be the leadership, keep telling our children that invasion drills will protect them. The invasion drills are reminiscent of the duck and cover drills of the 50’s and 60’s when we thought hiding under our desks would save us from a nuclear attack.
We know perfectly well that the drills will scare some, leave some kids dead in the next invasion, and will fail to keep school a place where kids feel safe.   Yet we, as the adults, offer nothing else.  We offer prayer, kind thoughts but no guarantee of protection.
The kids are doing the straight talking.  Maybe, just maybe, some of the so-called leaders will be listening.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Let's Test All the people, all the time

Let’s Test All the People, all the time

There are two competing ideas in the Maryland General Assembly.   One seems sort of logical, the other counting what can’t be counted.
Let’s begin with the sort of logical one.   The federal law, Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires that 95% of students be tested annually.  Over the past five years, Maryland has tested 98.5% of its students.  Students who are severely disabled are not tested.
A Frederick County delegate has introduced a bill that would exempt from testing those students whose disability is so severe that the student is non-verbal and lacking communicative competency.  Does it make any sense at all to test these students with grade level tests?   Apparently, it does to the Department of Legislative Services that has cautioned exempting these students could bring Maryland below the 95% threshold and that MIGHT jeopardize federal funding.   Let’s be clear, this is a very small percentage of Maryland’s students.  The law does not allow for an alternative assessment for the children with the most significant cognitive disabilities.  Exactly what is the point of this testing?!   It torments the kids and aggravates the teachers who must administer something that is not even entirely meaningful to students without disabilities.  This bill was introduced last year and failed.  Looks like it is going to fail again this year.   No one ever said politics is logical.
Another requirement of the ESSA is that each state submit a plan that explains how teachers will be evaluated.   Maryland’s plan has been submitted and approved by the U.S. Secretary of Education.  However, Governor Hogan calls this plan a farce.  Here is why.  The State’s plan says that test scores will account for 55% of a teacher’s rating.   Hogan thinks that is entirely too low and is pressuring the State Board of Education to raise it to 85% of a teacher’s rating.   It would be delightful in Wonderland if we could truly assess a teacher’s effectiveness by just looking at test scores.  But the fact is that students' test scores have never been shown to be correlated with a teacher’s ability to teach. You would think that people who seem obsessed with numbers would have wanted some research to support this idea.  There are other factors such as the teacher’s relationship with the children.  And the teacher’s knowledge of the content and the teacher’s enthusiasm for the subject.  These factors may influence test scores but there are other factors that also influence test scores over which a teacher has little to no control.  These are the abilities of the students, the support of the student’s family and the availability of teaching materials. 

The American culture has always had a fascination with things we can measure and put a number to.  Perhaps it is a test of our good sense to see how far we are willing to let this fascination take over our schools.