Tuesday, July 31, 2018

High School Graduation Rates are up again-who cares?

High School Graduation Rates Up Again

Look, look see the superintendent celebrating and parading through the high school with banners and pompoms.   See the New Orleans style dance the superintendent did as he extolled long awaited gains in the high school’s graduation rate.  How really wonderful is that!!

The Prince George’s County DuVal high school’s graduation rate had gone from an above average of 81 percent to a celestial 95.4 percent.   Is that not wonderful and worthy of so much celebration?!  “We have made remarkable progress.” said the superintendent.

How high they fly; how far they fall.   Soon the Governor ordered the State Department of Education to hire investigators and soon after that the thrill of achievement was filled with the fog of doubt.  There had been cheating.  Staff were told to do what you need to do to get kids to graduate. Whatever you do, staff were told, just find a way to make them pass.   So students who barely attended school found themselves with passing grades. Other kids were “helped” to learn what was needed to pass the tests.  In the end, 3 counselors were removed from their jobs, an assistant principal resigned and the principal retired.  The superintendent, Maxwell,  decided to resign as well; he did his snake dance right out the door.  Even members of the school board came to physical blows over the amount of buy-out the Maxwell should receive. Really, I am not making this up.   The situation might also have brought down the county executive who lost his bid for higher office after he continuously supported the superintendent he had hired in spite of the developing scandal.  

Nationally graduation rates have been climbing since 2011.  Federal law expects states to set sky-high graduation rates and targets.   But are the schools and students really doing any better?   Is the rush to higher graduation rates ensuring that the weaker willed will succumb to changing exam grades to ensure passage, ignoring excessive absences and providing tutoring that looks a lot like cheating.

The problem turned out to be much larger than just one high school. Overall there were 5500 grade changes and 30% of the county’s graduating class lacked proof to show they qualified for graduation.  The virus seemed to have impacted the entire county system.

With all of this happening, why has the question never been asked- What’s the big rush to get kids out of high school in four years?  What makes four years the magic number in which every kid needs to complete high school?  Wouldn’t it make much more sense to set goals that related to skill sets and that kids would graduate when they reached those goals?   We would have more graduates ready for employment and fewer college freshmen taking zero credit make-up courses.

But graduation rates are up again.   We are all happy.  Will someone PLEASE ask why does that matter.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Cover Up or Career Protection

Coverup or Career Protection

The Supreme Court recently ruled that public sector employees no longer need to be forced to pay agency fees to the union.   This ruling heavily impacts teachers’ unions because they are the largest public-sector employee unions representing millions of teachers nation-wide.   Many states, Maryland included, have required teachers to pay an “agency fee” in lieu of membership dues to cover the cost of the union representing all teachers in the contract negotiations.

There are two issues here- free speech, the one the Court used for its ruling and the second issue long advanced by union opponents, that unions protect weak teachers and severely limit the ability of school administrators to weed the gardens of education of the weak teachers.  

Conservative groups have jumped on the Court’s ruling.  They are emailing union members nationwide informing them that they have a choice to opt out of the union.   The response of these groups to the ruling has been sophisticated and tactical.  Unions have been quick to point out that these efforts are funded by Koch family foundations and Betsy DeVos foundation money.  The organizations are using freedom of info acts to get access to teachers’ email addresses.   Anne Arundel County in Maryland is one of the school districts that has blocked the opt out feature of school emails at the union's request.  Governor Cuomo of NY has signed an executive order preventing the release of the info for NY teachers.  Regardless of the funding source, that does not change the facts on the ground.   Teachers will no longer be required to pay the agency fees and that is going to cost the unions income and membership.  

Does that matter?   Depends on where you sit.   Some people see anything that limits the unions as a good thing.  School administrators are extremely limited in disciplining teachers and removing weak ones by the union agreement.   They cannot require that teachers work a single minute more than what is in the union contract.  A big part of the union representation is that a union will go to bat to protect any teacher regardless of the accusations of wrong-doing with the exception of criminal acts.  Unions, and some teachers, say that is exactly why they need a union because otherwise they would be subject to the whims of administrators and their salaries and benefits would suffer greatly.

On the other hand, lawsuits are currently pending in Maryland and other states by teachers who are demanding the return of the agency fees they have already paid in what they are now saying was an illegal collection in the first place.

So what is the role of a union?   Does it protect the weakest links or does it protect academic freedom? The recent Janus vs. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 is going to make us all consider that question.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

An Ill Wind

An ill wind

It is often said that even an ill wind blows some good.  Such is the case with the current employment situation in the United States.  Presently, the U.S. has an aging population and therefore, workers are leaving the workforce. Ordinarily this condition is not a bad thing because that leaves room for the younger members of the population to move into those spots.   Problem is there aren’t enough younger members to join the workforce.  The situation is going to get worse since the number of people immigrating to this country is down considerably and so is the birthrate of those people living here.
As a consequence, businesses cannot expand as much as they would like and some are having difficulty maintaining the status quo.  Capitalism is a creative economic system.  To meet this challenge we are seeing two big changes coming into play. First of all big companies are going all out for AI (artificial intelligence) converting as many operations as possible to robots.  But what about the little guys without millions to spend.
That’s where the good news comes in.   Many potential employees who have been marginalized because of ethnic background and/or perceived disability are getting another look.  That is particularly true with regard to those with disabilities.   Employers have been very slow to hire folks with disabilities.  They often need special training, are not as easily switched to different functions and may not have good attendance.  Bottom line, they need extra work by the employer and if people who require less attention are standing in line for the job why bother.
The truth is that once trained, people with disabilities make terrific employees and employers are finding that out in droves.   More cognitively challenged workers are finding jobs with small convenience stores doing stocking and assisting customers, as checkers in super markets, and in small restaurants that value customer service over speed.  Employers are learning by their own experiences that these employees love their work and are happy to do it.  And just as importantly, they will stay on the job for a long time.
There are also lots of jobs for people on the autism spectrum.  The rigidity is reframed as great attention to detail  Microsoft is discovering the value of workers on the spectrum in programming and organization.  
The unemployment rate for the general population is currently at 4%.   The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 67%.   That ill will that is blowing across the land might just blow some very good news for people with disabilities.  The times may be a-changing.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Making Money or Doing Good

Making Money or Doing Good

More and more colleges are creating programs for students with disabilities.  Some of these students have cognitive disabilities to the extent that they are intellectually limited.  Still there is a college program out there for these kids.

As of this coming fall, there are 270 colleges with programs specifically targeted for people with intellectual disabilities.  Under typical circumstances these students would not even consider applying to college.  Now they can. So isn’t that a good thing?

Students do not receive a degree for the experience.  Mostly there are only a few dozen or fewer students in the program.  Only some schools allow students to live on campus.  They audit regular college courses and are assisted by peer mentors and university advisors.  They also participate in internships.  Figuring out how to include students with IQ’s at 70 or below is challenging.  Advocates insist that students are experiencing college life and maturing in the process.  These students are also eligible for postsecondary financial loans to pay for the programs, so they can join their typical peers in completing programs steeped in debt.   Most of these programs are only two years long; although Temple has just expanded to a 4-year program.  Parents are demanding more of these programs.  The students are not graded for their academic work and receive modified assignments.  Temple University claims that 60% of graduates are employed, working at day-care centers, restaurants, gyms and at horse farm.  Doesn’t this seem really great?  

Or maybe it is reality delayed.  Students leave these programs having paid regular tuition and with no degree.   I wonder how much socialization goes on between these students and typical age-mates.  Or is it similar to inclusion programs in the lower grades where socialization with students with disabilities is limited to good deed kindness but not invitations to parties.  And are these students prepared for the hard life choices that college students need to make at college parties- to drink or not to drink, have sex or not to have sex?  Are they prepared to protect themselves from predators who might take advantage the disability and their deep desire to belong.   And while I am being cynical, are these programs the response to the law of diminishing return on 18-year old students who each year are becoming a smaller portion of the population and thereby causing freshmen classes everywhere to take a hit.

What is the benefit to the students with disabilities?   Wouldn’t that money be better spent on true training programs that are geared to the young adults abilities rather than putting them in yet another environment where they don’t measure up?  So why are colleges starting these programs-  they want to do good or they want to fill the gap left behind by the reduced number of typical 18-year old students.   You decide.