Saturday, July 27, 2019

Aint' Got no Respect

Ain’t Got No Respect

Salaries keep going up; respect keeps going down.   Teachers are responding with their feet, leaving classrooms after just a few years.  What is going on?
Fifty years ago teachers were paid only $3,500 a year.  Yes, that was a year!  Some school systems did not spread the money out over twelve months so teachers had to budget carefully to cover the two summer months.  And most took a second job during that time.  
But they took the job and they STAYED.   Common wisdom was, it doesn’t pay much, the benefits and retirement plan are good, the kids are fun and what we do is important.
It is that last item, what we do is important, that kept teachers coming back year after year sometimes teaching several generations of children in the same family.   So what has happened to change all that especially now that salaries are quite respectable, and the benefits are still pretty good.
Well, in the olden days you didn’t make all that much money but when a teacher spoke, even B.F. Hutton listened.  Parents told kids, “I better not hear you got into trouble at school because you will get into double trouble when you get home.”   Kids knew that.  They also knew, “don’t make me call your mother” was a threat to be reckoned with.
Not so any more.   Now students are openly disrespectful to teachers.   Parents challenge school staff for on any disciplinary consequence.  Every issue becomes a legal one with both sides contacting lawyers.    Principals tell teachers do NOT send children to the office.  School systems tell teachers do NOT suspend a student unless they do something that is really egregious- like setting a fire, bringing a weapon to school, selling drugs.
If that weren’t bad enough a teacher’s professional ability to run a classroom has been taken away.  It started when elementary teachers were told what teaching method to use to teach reading. Didn’t matter how the kids learned, this is how we are teaching reading.   Used to be a teacher closed her classroom door and taught her class.  If needed she took time off to talk about a dying pet, a pending divorce or a lost love.   Now there are pacing guides that leave no room for humanity nor for teacher decision making. How quickly or slowly teachers move through the content is decided some place far from a teacher's classroom. Sort of like the Ford assembly line. And then there is the content.  In its infinite wisdom, schools used a curricula that was appropriate to the sphere in which the kids lived.  Curriculum has now been homogenized to align with those God-awful standardized tests that are setting the standard for education nationwide.
With kids revolting, school administrators dictating, is it any wonder there isn’t enough money to put up with all that.   Maybe when teaching becomes a profession again, teachers will come back and stay.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

It's a serious shortage

It’s a serious shortage

School districts in the Washington/Baltimore metropolitan area are extremely short of teachers.   In fact, as the beginning of the school year approaches school districts are reporting deficits of hundreds of teachers.   One of the reasons for the shortages being offered is low salary. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the U.S. reports that the average high school teacher in Maryland is earning $69,070 and the average elementary teacher in Maryland is earning $67,340 and that is for 200 days a year.  Benefits are pretty good as well.  The Kirwan Commission is recommending increases over the next 5-10 years that will raise those salaries even more.
So the answer to why there are not enough teachers is not money.  It is probably the working conditions in our schools today.   In order to fight this problem, districts are taking an alternative approach rather than trying to look at the conditions that are driving teachers out of their jobs within a few years of starting.   The solution now is to increase the speed at which teachers are coming through the teacher preparation pipeline.  It would appear the approach is to put as many or more new teachers in the backdoor of classrooms to replace those who are walking out the front door.
Two plans seem to be gaining prominence.  The first plan gets kids to commit to a teaching profession in high school. As a reward the district will pay for some of the student’s education.   If after making the commitment, the student changes his/her mind then the student or the family has to repay the district.  This plan is being used in Virginia but is not paying off that well.   Districts are seeing net gains of about 20 graduates a year.  Hardly enough to solve the problem.
The second approach will definitely fill classrooms, but I am not sure it will give us teachers.  With this plan, young people can go into classrooms after two years in college. They can learn on the job and eventually get their degree that way.  When they are interning during the junior and senior years of college, they will be mentored by an experienced teacher.  Here is what I can never understand.  Why is it that we think people can become teachers without proper training?  What other profession would consider letting someone “practice” on the job with NO professional training and get that training while they learn.   Being a teacher is not an industrial trade.  It is a professional job that requires a great deal of academic training that forms the basis of the practical on-the-job work that comes later.  Physicians intern AFTER their medical training not before, so do all of the other professions.
Our kids deserve better.   Everyone is correct there is a serious shortage.  It is a shortage of people who are thinking strategically to build a trained and talented teacher pool.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

What a wonderful idea- Full Inclusion

What a Wonderful Idea- Full Inclusion

We have brainwashed ourselves into believing that the full inclusion of children with disabilities is a great idea for the kids and not just because it saves the school districts money.   It is supposed to teach children better social skills and make greater academic demands.   More than half of the children with disabilities spend 80% of their day in general education environments, according to federal data.  Now a recent study by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) is showing that those general educators and paraprofessionals are not prepared to do the tasks we are asking of them.

CEC surveyed 1,500 special educators from around the country.  These special education teachers work with those general educators to serve children with disabilities.  Only 8% of the people surveyed believe that the general educators they work beside are prepared to serve children with exceptionalities.   They felt slightly better about the paraprofessionals, but they still only had confidence in 12% of them.  And that may be because there were lower expectations for paraprofessionals.    Of the people surveyed, 70% believed that they and the related service personnel were well-prepared.  However, it should be noted that only 38% of beginning special educators felt that way about themselves.  What is most frightening is that while all educators say they look at a child’s IEP several times a week, they were almost unanimous in saying that they were too busy to use them in the development of daily lesson plans!   One cannot help but wonder what they were used for!

We have a situation where the most vulnerable learners are being taught by people with the most limited training and skill set to address those learning challenges.   Yet we continue to mark progress by the percentage of children with learning challenges who are being served in the general ed classroom.  It seems like this wonderful idea of full inclusion only looks good on the outside of the apple, but when we slice the fruit there may be a rotten core.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Restraint is a Good thing- Wait, no it's a Bad thing

Restraint is a Good Thing- No It’s a Bad Thing

Well which is it?  Is restraint a good thing or is it a bad thing?  Maybe it is both.  There is no question in my mind that restraint is over used as a behavior management technique. I was stunned to learn not long ago that the Montgomery County MD school system was the second largest user of restraint in the country. That is a school system generally considered to be one of the best! There is also no doubt that sometimes (though not as often as used), restraint is necessary for the safety of the child and others.  So how do you differentiate?
One of the excuses that I don’t buy, is that because of the child’s disability, “they can’t help it”.  All behavior serves a purpose for the person exhibiting the behavior.  We may not be able to immediately discern that purpose but it exists and serves a purpose for the child.  To suggest that the child (or adult) cannot help the behavior diminishes the humanity of the child. Some behavioral approaches treat the child as if he/she were an animal needing to be trained.  All of our children have feelings that need to be recognized.  The very first effort in changing behavior is to try to figure out from the child’s point of view, the purpose the behavior is serving.  Sometimes a child can tell you and sometimes the child doesn’t have the verbal facility or insight.  Until the adults can figure that out, there needs to be logical consequences for the behavior.  Children with (and without) disabilities will be living in the broader society which does not care if a person has a disability.  There are certain behavioral expectations for living in the larger world and those charged with that preparation, parents and professionals need to take on that responsibility .   Consequences should be immediate and logical.
When is restraint acceptable?   People who are responsible for children with disabilities cannot allow children to hurt others.  Nor should children with disabilities be allowed to hurt themselves.  If a child (any child) is hurting someone else that behavior needs to stop.  If the only way you can get that behavior to stop is a VERY short-term basket hold, then that needs to happen. Just be aware that holding child sends a contradictory message.  On the one hand you are holding the child because you are telling the child he/she cannot be aggressive toward others.  But at the same time you are being aggressive toward the child by holding him/her.  That is one reason the basket hold or any other restraint should be used only as an absolute last resort. The same thing  is true if a child is hurting him or herself.  Most often once the behavior has been stopped the child is grateful for the restraint.  Kids don’t want to hurt others and they don’t want to hurt themselves.
So the answer to the question is restraint is a bad thing- except when it is a good thing necessary to provide safety for someone.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Too many, too few

Too Many, Too Few

One of the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is that significant disproportionality of minorities in special education programs needs to be reported and addressed.   Truthfully, that requirement always troubled me because it took away from what is supposed to be an individual program.  So why not increase the requirement that assessments be culture free to ensure that all children are appropriately identified and provided with the individual education program that the law requires.  
Instead, enforcement has taken a very simplistic approach.  If there are 13% minority children in a district then there should be no more than 13% minority kids receiving special ed services. As usual simple solutions are just that simple.  As a consequence trending data are showing a dramatic decrease in African American and Hispanic children receiving service and a growing increase in the disability rate of white children.  Since these are just data figures, we don't know if kids are missing out on the service they deserve.
Now there appears to be a growing body of research that is seriously challenging these simple ideas.  Where children attended school seemed to be a prime indicator of who would be diagnosed with a disability.  But the results were sort of counter-intuitive.  Researchers looked at children based on factors OTHER than race. Instead they used birth weight, the educational level of the mother, and/or complications during delivery as some of the factors.  Black and Hispanic children were more likely to be identified with a disability if they attended a school that was majority white.  AND much LESS likely to be identified if they attended a school that was majority minority.  One of the reasons offered for these findings is that mostly white schools were more likely to have services to offer all children.  Whereas mostly minority schools did not have the services and under the law, if a child needs a service it must be provided whether or not the school can afford it.  Another interesting finding was that white children were more often identified as having a disability in schools that were mostly minority and that white families fought for their children to receive service even in schools with limited provision. The most predictive factors for all students were poverty, the school the child attended and scores on standard tests.   Another interesting wrinkle in the studies is that some disabilities are considered to have higher status than others and are often more likely to be diagnosed for children with higher social economic status independent of race or ethnicity.  So autism, speech disorders or other health impaired (usually used for ADHD) were more likely to be applied to higher socio-economic groups; while intellectual disabilities and emotional/behavior disorders were more often applied to lower socio-economic groups.
Asking states to do a better job of sorting out proportionality is not likely to happen any time soon.   Just too much trouble.  So how many are too many and how many are too few- simple question, complicated answer.