Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Plain Speaking

Plain Speaking

“Words, words, I’m so sick of words”, is part of a line from an old Broadway musical, “My Fair Lady.”  There are lots of days when I feel that way regarding educational terms.  Fifty-some years ago when special education was just beginning to gain some traction, we had three groups of children will lower intelligence.  We had educable retarded kids.  These were students with IQ’s between 50 and 75.  The idea was supposed to be that these students could still be “educated”. Then we had students with IQ’s between 49 and 25.  These young people were trainable, meaning they couldn’t be “educated” but they could be trained for some kind of work, usually in sheltered workshops.  Finally, we had custodial retarded students. These people were expected to remain in custodial care, usually in some specialized institution far away from public view.  The idea was to replace the previous really mean words, idiot, imbecile and moron.
Ok, these newer terms were not kind either  but they did communicate to the world in general.  Today’s kids with lower than average intelligence are cognitively challenged. These terms are designed to offend as few as possible and to communicate with as little specification as feasible.  
We talk about “urban education” which is code when we really mean figuring out how to provide for black and brown kids who are attending sub-standard inner- city schools (the white ones too, but we tend to ignore them and falsely assume that all poor inner city kids are of a darker color).  We are not talking about the upper middle class, also urban, children who are living in the new urban high rise apartments.
With all the emphasis on testing it is important that we “cover” the content whatever that means.  We have long since stopped talking about kids’ learning.  So teachers "cover" content to prepare kids for testing.
Kids who are poor are socially and economically challenged. Kids who misbehave are socially maladjusted as if they needed a social chiropractor to adjust their social skills rather than being taught some self-control skills.  Special ed teachers who work with general ed teachers in the general ed classroom are said to “push in” which may be more accurate than it sounds since mostly those people are pushing their way into a classroom to which they are only marginally welcome.
Of course, all of this help is to ensure that the academic program is taught with rigor as if the students were dead and becoming stiff corpses.  Given the way some teachers teach there may be a lot of truth to that as well.  And no matter what we do, it must be done with equity as if equity existed anywhere in the world, least of all in a classroom.  Children do not come to us with equal ability, equal interest or equal backgrounds and resources so why are we kidding ourselves that educators and schools can somehow fix that.  
I am reminded of the cartoon where a character says, “I used to be poor but that was considered unkind.  So. then I was culturally deprived, but that was bad because everyone has a culture.  Then I was economically disadvantaged but that was bad because it implied that I was in a permanent underclass.  I still don’t have any money but I have a helluva good vocabulary”.
Harry Truman, my favorite President, once said, “I never gave anyone hell.   I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.”  Wouldn’t be a bad thing if we just all told the truth and stated it plainly.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

it's My Right

It’s My Right

Federal and state law give children with disabilities the right to an assessment every three years if there is evidence that new information is needed.   Generally, parents feel this is a good idea.   School systems know assessments are expensive and they want to take advantage of the provision that says if "new information is needed".
Unequivocally, more and better assessments are good- sometimes.
But sometimes, too many assessments are not good for children.  Assessments generally cause kids anxiety and too many assessments just cause more anxiety.
Sometimes- taking the same assessment too many times invalidates the assessment itself.  Kids begin to remember what is on the test and so the test no longer measures what it is supposed to measure and instead measures the student’s memory.
Sometimes- when children take assessments too close together there is no discernable measurable progress and that upsets children and families.
Sometimes- the progress that the test does show is meaningless.  Moving from a 4.5 grade level reading to a 5.0 grade level reading is not that big a deal in terms of functioning in the world.  There are a lot more important things that children could be working on than moving the needle on grade level.
Sometimes- kids’ progress doesn’t keep up with the test so the results seem to indicate that the child has moved backwards when in fact what has happened is that the child has not moved forward at the same pace as the test has set expectations.
Sometimes- school systems measure the cost of the assessment against the benefit to the child and do not think the assessment is worth the investment.
Sometimes- there isn’t any new information that the tests will give to the service delivery team.   If a teacher has been working with a child for a year or two, that teacher should know more about that child than a newer test score can tell him/her.
Sometimes- people who do the testing don’t give good information about the results.   The test score is probably the least important information from the test administration.   A good test administrator will know what learning processing challenges were most difficult for the child and will report that information back to the direct service personnel.  Unfortunately, it takes a very skilled test administrator to do that and it takes a very good school system to provide the vehicle for this information to get back to the teacher.
Sometimes- updated assessments are only done when there has been a marked change in the child’s learning behaviors and there is hope that a new assessment might tell why.
And sometimes, it really isn’t necessary to exercise every right that you have and it is best to let the assessment review go unnoticed.   That’s your right too.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

'Tis the Time to Strike up the Battle

‘tis the Time to Strike up the Battle

The new school year will be starting shortly and with that often comes IEP meetings.  IEP meetings are sort of odd experiences and depend a great deal on the level of trust between the school and the parents.
First of all IEP meetings are supposed to be held to develop that Individual Education Program (IEP) that each child with a disability is entitled to by federal and state law.  It is because the “individual” in the IEP is frequently forgotten, families feel the need to bring an outside expert to the meeting to remind the school people of that.  I knew a family who regularly brought an 8"X10" photo of their son to the meeting to help people focus on the whole point of the process.
People do not like to write IEP’s.  So school systems make the process easier by creating templates that teachers and related service providers can use to write the IEP.   These templates frequently have objectives taken word for word from the school’s curriculum or from a prepared bank of objectives that has been precisely written.   In IEP meetings schools often pay more homage to these prepared items than they do to make sure the child's needs are met.  They also want to make sure the IEP will stand up to any legal challenges.  It is also not unusual for educators to feel defensive or threatened by parents who challenge their expertise or who want to explain that the child the parent sees at home is much different from the one who comes to school every day.
Parents often feel outnumbered and outgunned at these meetings as well.  Sometimes school people meet ahead of the formal meeting to make sure everyone has his/her talking points and everyone stays on the party line message.  To even the odds, parents will sometimes feel the need to bring an advocate or a legal expert to the meeting.  Sometimes both types of experts will attend the meeting.  The time of these professionals does not come cheaply so only parents with the financial wherewithal get to enhance the troops in their corner of the ring.
It is sometimes difficult for direct service staff to be truthful at these meetings.  Teachers will tell people that they cannot be a strong advocate for the child because they “do not want to lose their job”.   In fact, it is next to impossible for a teacher to be fired for something said at an IEP meeting, but perception is much stronger than reality.
So what is a parent to do if he/she does not have the financial resources to come to the meeting supported by professional experts?   In the olden days, Nancy Regan advised the nation to fight the drug problem by “just say no”.  That advice seemed simplistic at the time for that problem.  But it is realistic for a parent at an IEP meeting who comes without some supportive hired guns.  The IEP won’t happen until the parent agrees.   If a parent is unhappy with the IEP or feels it does not meet their child’s needs.  Channel you inner Nancy Regan and “just say no” until changes are made that will serve your child.   ‘Tis the beginning of the season, unfortunately parents need to strike up the battle lines until the school system produces an INDIVIDUAL education program as the law requires.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Mass Shootings are bad for children

                                           Mass Murders are Not Good for Children 
Many years ago a student went into his school and killed other students.    The event came to be known as the Columbine shooting.  Kids were scared in school.  I spoke with our students.  They were not afraid in our school.  They felt known.  They felt their teachers knew them and cared.
Years later terrorists weaponized the airplane and killed thousands of people not all that far from our school.  Out students were afraid.  They knew people who were impacted by the terror.  Again we assured them that we, and their parents, would keep them safe.  They believed us.
Now there is a new kind of terror and what do we tell our children.  
Throughout human history there has always been fear and a consequential fear of the “other”.   It is the responsibility and role of the leader to lead us away from this darker side of nature.  In our relatively recent national history we have separated the Native American, the Catholic, the Irish, the Italian, the Jew, the African American, the woman, and the disabled.   Now it is the Hispanics turn to be separated from the humanity that links us all.   
Our leadership is guiding the separation.    We are not reminded that these “others” want for themselves what we want for ourselves, safety, security, the chance to build a better life for our children.  Instead some leaders call humans animals and characterize them in the basest way.    Because today’s “other” has deeper skin tone, it’s easier to identify them from “us”.
In this time of domestic terror of repeated mass shootings our leadership has given license to our darkest instincts.  How do parents and schools tell our children we will keep them safe when we are not even sure we can keep ourselves safe.
We are separating parents from their children whether by our country’s border policy or by a murder's bullet.  Our children deserve to be led to our better nature as humans.  Leaders need to teach us all that as humans we are ALL yearning for safety, security, the chance to build a better life for ourselves and our children.   

What do we tell our children so they feel safe?   More importantly what do WE DO for our children so that they ARE safe. Mass shootings are not good for children