Tuesday, January 29, 2019

How Bad is it?

How Bad Is It?

The death of a single child at the hands of an intruder is one very much too many.  Something must be done, but what?  And can what needs to be done, be done in proportion to the extent of the problem.
In 2018, Education Week reports that 35 people were killed in school shootings, 28 of that number were students.  Of the 35 people killed, all but 8 were killed in two mass shootings: the February 14 rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida and a May 18 massacre at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe Texas. Thirteen of the incidents happened in a school building and during school hours.  Ten of the schools involved HAD police officers/SRO’s assigned to the building.  At Marjory Stoneman, the SRO’s and sheriff deputies on site hung back from the conflict and did not intervene.  Students on the third floor of the building heard a fire alarm and staff guided them to evacuate down the stairs into the range of the shooter.  There was lots of mishandling to go around.
Florida courts has recently ruled that schools are not legally liable for the deaths and injuries done by invaders to students and staff.
As a nation, we are beating our rattle on the highchair and demanding more school security.  We want more SRO’s, even though the SRO’s that have been present have not been able to thwart the shooter.  We want to arm teachers, even though some teachers don’t want to be armed and we have no evidence that teachers will be better defenders than the trained SRO’s.
There is no profile of a shooter, although they are overwhelmingly boys and are much more likely to occur in a high school.  For the 2018 calendar year, 50.7 million children attended public schools k-12 in the US.  That means a child in our country had .000055% chance of being killed in a public school.  One child is entirely too many.  But are we responsibly allocating resources by spending millions of dollars in every state and creating a school security industry for a problem that is horrendous when it does happen but is really (thankfully) not particularly widespread.  Some schools are beginning to resemble prisons.   Shelby schools are spending $400,000 dollars on security and at the same time paying teachers barely $43,000 a year.
We do not have money for school counselors and social workers to help all children.  We do not have money for remedial math and reading teachers to help most children. We do not have money for more teachers to reduce class size that will give all children access to greater learning opportunities.   But we do have tons of money for training teachers to use firearms even if the teachers don’t want to be trained.  We do have money for camera systems that often do not work.  We do have money for alarmed doors and special detectors at school doors.   Just how bad is this problem when we have money to prevent something terrible but we can’t find money to promote the learning environment to serve all kids and foster something great.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Looking for ways to serve children or save money

Looking for ways to serve children or save money

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA sets the goal- and the requirement- that schools provide a free and appropriate education for ALL children with disabilities.  This appropriate education includes related services such as speech and language, occupational therapy, physical therapy and clinical services if needed by the child to access his/her education.   This is  an expensive operation.
So we should not be surprised that as soon as this entitlement became the law of the land, those tasked with its implementation set about putting barriers and cost saving measures into place .  The first was to avoid identifying the children. And once identified, systems tried to keep the amount of service to an absolute minimum.   The law requires that a school district have an operation known as Child Find.   Once the kids are identified school systems have to provide services.  Some states, such as Texas, actually put a cap on the number of children that could be identified.   If we don’t identify the children we cannot be expected to serve them.   Hence, IEP committees started denying that children had a disability that interfered with that child receiving an education.   Families are often denied the identification of their child’s disability.   Sometimes they even have hired outside evaluators to make sure the child received the needed services.  Families fight over with the IEP Committees over how many related services a child needs. Families have hired advocates to defend their child’s needs at the meetings when theoretically everyone at the meeting is there for the child’s benefit.
The second major effort by school systems was how to save money. This effort took two major forms.  First, a child was to remain in what is called the “least restrictive environment”.   In translation, that means to the maximum extent appropriate a child with disability is to be educated with plain kids.   Most systems just simply chose to ignore that pesky word “appropriate” and pushed to have all children with disabilities fully included with plain kids.  Being fully included became a mantra.  The so-called advantage of being with plain kids became a smoke screen for how much money was saved by not providing special education services by a specially trained teacher.   Today the vast majority of children with disabilities are co-taught in classes with a general ed teacher and a special education teacher.  The problem is those classes often have well over 25 children in them so it is hard for either teacher to do what needs to be done.  General education teachers are not trained to teach kids with disabilities.  Many of them, at best, have had one three credit class in either introduction to special education or full inclusion.   However well-intentioned these general ed teachers might be, they do not have the necessary skills.   Content gets covered, but it does not necessarily get learned by learners with challenges.  Pacing guides to satisfy the standardized testing make the situation even worse.
President Ford doubted we could ever meet the expectations of educating all children with disabilities, but I don’t think he envisioned that our energies would be on saving money not serving kids.

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.