Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Bastardization of IDEA

The Bastardization of IDEA

Long ago and far away, 1975 to be exact, President Ford signed the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EHA), the precursor of IDEA.   At the signing, the President said it felt it was unlikely to achieve its goals and probably impossible to do so.
Turns out he may have been prescient in his remarks.   About 44 years later we still aren’t there.   What is even more troubling is that rather than look for better ways to help children, we have become skilled at playing a shell game to make it look like kids are being served when they are not.
There are truly egregious issues, such as Texas that had a rule that only a certain number of children could have disabilities in the state.  They were finally caught after many years and are now crying they don’t have the money- or the teachers- to catch up and help children.
But there are many more less blatant efforts to prevent students from receiving services.  Most of these lie in the use of artificial rules that are established.   For example, many school districts do not offer speech and language services to children in high school.   The excuse is that by high school the children have either resolved the speech and language issues or they are too old to be helped.   I find that very curious since these same kids needed the service in June at the end of middle school but somehow, after what could only be called an amazing summer, they no longer need these services.
One of the biggest push backs from EHA and IDEA is the addition of occupational therapy as a school service.  School systems resisted that right from the git-go.  Today the resistance has taken another form.  In order to receive OT as a school service, the assistance needs to be needed so that the child can access a free and appropriate pubic education.  Again, school districts are saying that once in high school these services are no longer needed.   One of the major goals of special education is for the students to be able to live independently and to be prepared for a career or college.   Everyone agrees with that objective.   Yet when an OT says that a high school student needs OT to be taught to shave himself, or for a girl to manage feminine hygiene issues, suddenly those skills are not related to living independently or being prepared for a job or college?   The reasoning for those conclusions escapes me except for one reason totally unrelated to the child’s right to OT.  The school districts want to save money.
And the truth is that from day 1, EHA/IDEA has never received the federal funding that was authorized in the original bill.  Laws “authorize” Congress to appropriate money to get something done.  That is the hitch.  That which is authorized most often does not get appropriated- as in put the money in the real budget. So while the authorization looks good, the real money never reaches the real beneficiaries.   In this case, children with disabilities are the ones deprived.
In fact, from day one, school districts have put most of their effort into the optics of looking good while obeying the law with the least amount of money. And that is how what looked like a beautiful child has become a bastard.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Let’s Blame the Teachers

We all know it is the teacher’s fault when kids don’t learn.  That is why there is the strong push to link teacher pay to achievement test scores of kids.   If teachers did a better job of teaching, students would do a better job of learning.  But what if there are other factors besides how well the teacher teachers.
The single highest corollary for achievement by children is the quality of the partnership between home and school.  Teachers sometimes think that partnership only goes one way, parents need to be nice to teachers and do as teachers ask.

But let’s look at it from another perspective.  Teaching is the teachers’ job.  They get paid a decent salary with good benefits and great vacation time off to do that job.  Yet consistently teachers complain to parents that the child is not learning.  A teacher will contact home and inform the parent that the child is not paying attention at school.  Just exactly does the teacher want the parent to do?   It is the teacher’s job to make school sufficiently interesting that the child will pay attention.  The teacher needs to look at the level of the work being offered the child and methodology being used.  That is not the parent’s job.

Teachers often complain to parents about things they see as being wrong with the child.   Parents live with their children.   They are more than aware of what challenges their children have.   They do not need a teacher to appraise them of the difficulty.

Teachers have a very bad habit of contacting parents with only bad news. So when a teacher’s name pops up in email or on a phone screen, the parent’s stomach will clutch and the parent will not want to respond.   Teachers need to send good news home, even more often than they send bad news.  Teachers say they don’t have the time to send home good news but yet, they always make the time to send home bad news or requests about how parents can make the teacher’s job easier.   That is not a parent’s job.  Parents have their own work to do and teachers who are also parents should be well aware of that.

It is easy to blame the teachers.  After all they make the big bucks.  But if we want kids to succeed, we need to stop blaming each other. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Let's Blame the Parents

Let’s Blame the Parents

The evidence is very clear.   The major variable that predicts a child’s success in school is parent involvement and support.   Parent involvement beats socio economic status, parent education level and single vs. 2-parent homes.   So now if those pesky parents would just do what they need to do, most assuredly test scores will go up.   So why don’t they?

The main reason is probably because many parents don’t know what we as educators really need them to do.  Remember that old advice we gave to young children, “to have a friend you need to be a friend”.  Problem was most kids without friends didn’t know HOW to be a friend, which probably explained why they didn’t have any.

Back to parents.   First of all, parents need to present a united front with the school.   It needs to be clear to children that both teachers and parents want children to succeed in school.  It is also easy for kids to figure out that they can pit parents and teachers against each other.  Parents need to resist that.   If parents have an issue with what a teacher is doing, that issue needs to be strictly between educators and parents. From the child’s point-of-view, the school team and the home team are one.  Sort of like not allowing kids to attempt splitting between parents.

Secondly, school needs to be seen as a value.  That means school is NOT a place where kids go when families need babysitting or when there isn’t a nice vacation set up.  School needs to be seen as the first priority for the child. School is the child’s job. Children should not miss school for any reason that would not be a good reason for a parent to miss work.  Most states have clear reasons that are acceptable for an excused absence.  School is serious business and parents need to act as if it is.

Good educators make a difference in a child's life.  But they aren't going to make the child into something he or she is not.  And it is not fair for parents to expect that a child with limited ability in any area is going to become exceptional in that area, if only the child had the the right teacher.

School requirements need to be part of a family’s schedule.  That means homework is done at a particular time and a particular place.   School forms need to be completed and returned to school.  School is important and our behaviors need to show that.

In today’s economy, it is unrealistic to expect parents to have lots of time to volunteer at school during the school day.   But parents can attend evening meetings and provide input via email and notes to the school.

As educators we need to educate parents on what they can do to help their child succeed, not just blame the parents for not doing enough.  Having said that, teachers aren’t off the hook either.   Next week let’s blame the teachers.