Tuesday, July 7, 2020

No One Will Save Us But Ourselves

No One will Save us but ourselves


Effective on July 1, Maryland will have a special education ombudsman assigned to the office of the State Attorney General.  Isn’t that a great thing!  Now families with concerns about failure of schools to provide a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) will have some place to take their concerns.  FINALLY!

Oh wait, for the last 20 years, yes that is correct 20 YEARS, there has been an ombudsman in the Maryland State Department of Education for that exact same purpose.   The MSDE ombudsman is supposed to research parental concerns and act as an intermediary between the families and the local school districts.  And this person is supposed to act with the power and authority of the State Department of Education.

How’s that working for you?  Thought so.   In fact I would guess that most people reading this were not even aware that such a position existed at MSDE.  After the job was created by state and federal legislation, the responsibilities were added to those the individual already had.  So it was not a dedicated position.  The woman who had the responsibility did a decent job because she really cared.  She retired a number of years ago and today it is unclear exactly who has that responsibility.   In any event, the name of the person and the assignment were never advertised nor made known to the disability community.

Now comes a similar position, this time attached to the Attorney General’s office.  We do not know if this will be a separate individual position of a task added to someone’s other duties.

Here is what we do know.  No one will save us but ourselves.  The disability community has a great deal of work to do.  Tremendous energy has been expended on getting every child the right to an appropriate education.  That has been happening since 1975.   We are 45 years into the fight, and yet the employment of people with disabilities is WELL below any other minority group.   The situation is really bad if you are “twice blessed”, have a disability and be a person of color.  What is the point of working toward a good education if the individual does not have a financial future.  We need to stop depending on ombudsmen who create a feel good moment but no real change.  No one is going to help the disability community but ourselves.   It is past time for us to get moving on part two of the journey.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

What's the best parenting style

What is the best parenting style for your kids?

Teaching and parenting aren’t all that different.   Different styles tend to produce  different kinds of kids.  

Kids need direction.  They need to know that there is some authority figure that can give them the guidance they need.  Parents and teachers who work in an authoritative way with kids produce remarkably well-adjusted children and adults.  Authoritative in NOT authoritarian which does not have as positive results.  Authoritarian parents/teachers set strict boundaries but do not teach the skills to allow kids to achieve expectations.  On the other hand, authoritative figures expect a great deal from children.  But they are also willing to put in the hard work to carefully explain expectations and are willing to put in the hard work to teach those skills. Children of authoritative parents and teachers enjoy positive relationships with peers and become independent and self-sufficient according to most recent research.

We like to think that all parents love their kids.  Teachers also love many of the children in their classes.  Parents who have strong physical and emotional bonds with their children often base their connection with kids on a strong bond of attachment.   Many teachers use the same approach recommending that students do learning tasks “for Ms. Lincoln”, rather than for the value of the learning.  Proponents of this approach to parenting insist that there are many fewer behavioral problems.  The risk is that both parent and child can lose their individuality and feel totally connected and blended as one.

Do you remember a few years ago when a New York mother was cited for failure to care for her 9-year old child when she allowed him to ride the subway by himself?   Free-range parenting believes in letting kids function independently with careful and judicious parental oversight.  The goal is for children to develop self-determination that will benefit them throughout life.  The advantages to children are that they will grow into independent adults.  Some teachers and schools use this approach allowing students to go from activity or subject based on whatever interests them at the moment.  For teachers or parents to use this approach, it is important to be aware of school rules or of what local laws are for leaving children unsupervised.  

At the other end of the control continuum are teachers and parents who want to remove all possibility of failure for kids’ experience.  Teachers will make sure that instruction for children is not too challenging as to cause struggle or frustration.  This is a lawnmower approach to challenges that may be in the child’s way.  With this approach, a parent may intervene with authorities to make sure the child does not experience the full consequences of behavior.  Bulldozing life obstacles will make for a slightly smoother adolescence for the child.  However, while life for the child may be easier in the short-term, the child misses the opportunity to learn to manage the slings and arrows of life that will come. These children often are less confident because they have not had to learn to solve a tough academic challenge or work through adapting to the failures that life will throw at them.

It is unusual for a parent or teacher to only be one style, but most tend to gravitate toward one style or another.   The right choice is the one that works best for the teacher/parent and the child.   Outcomes will be different.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Can't Win for Losing

Can’t Win for Losing

Three years ago the Supreme Court issued a ruling known as Endrew v. Douglas County School District.  The Court ruled unanimously, as in right leaning and left leaning justices, that a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) “must be appropriately ambitious in light of a student’s circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in regular classrooms.”  The Court went on to say, “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives”.  

Advocates for the disabled were thrilled by the decision.   Endrew determined that every IEP for a child with a disability needed to ensure that a child “make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances,” have “challenging objectives” and be “appropriately ambitious.”   Legal analysts agree that all three prongs of the decision are legally binding.

Parents felt that now they had a case if their child did not make progress from year to year in the child’s current program.  More appeals of IEPs were filed.   Parents had hope that this decision from the highest court would improve outcomes for their children.

Turns out, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Except in this instance the outcomes for parents became worse.  Recently the Journal of Legislation and Public Policy published by the New York University looked at 142 federal court decisions since the Endrew ruling.   They found that the school districts won 114 of those decisions.  That is a “win rate” of 98% for the school systems.   In cases heard prior to the Endrew decision, school districts were winning 90% of the cases.   So the Supreme Court decision that was supposed to help children, actually is helping school districts win.

Why is that?  Mostly the researchers believe that the primary reason is that judges are not looking at all three prongs of Endrew AND the family attorneys are insufficiently schooled to make sure that they do.   Others believe that the statistics do not tell the whole influence of Endrew.   These people believe that children are benefiting much earlier in the process and that Endrew is very much influencing IEPs.  

Only problem with that is that school systems are also winning 95% of the cases at the due process hearings and at state level cases.  Seems that regardless of where cases are heard, parents and their kids can’t win for losing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Point me toward tomorrow

Point me toward tomorrow

I love history.   Studied it in college; still read it a lot today.  It is very important to know history.  I wish we taught more of it in our schools.
All of the above is absolutely true.   Here is what is also true.  We can and should learn from history.   We should do that so we do not keep having a Groundhog Day.   However, yesterday is done.  It can’t be changed.  It is replete with lots of mistakes.  We can learn from those mistakes but we can’t have a redo.
We are in the midst of a pandemic, that was mishandled from the beginning.  It didn’t go away in 30 days.   Bad optics didn’t make it go away.   Only science finally began to shift the tide in favor of fewer deaths and hospitalizations.
We are also experiencing an outpouring of frustration as Americans, regardless of skin tone, are demanding equal justice for ALL, including those with darker skin.  From the beginning of the first Africans brought to America against their will and enslaved, they have never experienced equal justice.  And now they have had it, one man too many has been murdered and folks are at the tipping point.   What happens next is crucial.
We cannot, no matter how much we desire, go back and have a faster, more appropriate response to the virus.   We cannot, as much as we might want, go back hundreds of years, nor go back 1 year to erase and change the inequities that Americans with darker skin have experienced in our America.  And it is a waste of important energy to try and do so.  We need to stop wasting energy pointing fingers and identifying all the wrongs that have been committed.  We need to spend that energy going toward tomorrow.
We need to spend more time teaching our children about civics and how a democracy is supposed to work.  So they will grow up and vote for change, lobby for change, activate their communities for change.   So they will not sit home, wring their hands and sing “ain’t it awful”, because it, whatever the it is, will continue to be awful until we each do something about it.
We need to spend more time teaching our kids about Capitalism.  It is a wonderful system.  Money does not know color; but it can be used to promote the equal distribution of both money and opportunity. We need to “out” the big corporations that are racist.  We need to use our wonderful American dollar to make sure that American corporations live up to the fine words they are using now.  We need to teach our students how their money, used with discernment, can make a big difference in a capitalistic society.
We can’t keep looking back at past mistakes, except to learn to DO something differently going forward.  There is hope in change for the better.  Revolutions begin with hope, not with oppression as some people think.
Point me toward tomorrow with hope in my heart and action in my deeds.  We did not come this far, only to come this far.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Please do not talk to my child

Please do not talk with my child…
Please do not talk with my child about the death of George Floyd or the protest marches going on across our country and the world.  Please do not talk with my child about his reading problems.  Please do not talk with my child about the varying views of Donald Trump.  Please do not talk with my child about anything upsetting or controversial  because my child with disabilities does not know about any of these things and we are trying to protect him.
We are keeping our child inside an opaque bubble.  Inside this bubble life is grand.  Our child cannot see out and nothing upsetting can get in.   Inside this bubble our child does not experience failure.  Inside the bubble we never lose.  She can become anything she wants to be, we never tell her that she can’t be a surgeon, a fashion model or president.  We don’t want to disappoint her.  Inside the bubble all of life is grand.  Our child has a disability and that is bad enough so we do not allow in any discussions or information that would further upset him.
This bubble is located on Fantasy Island.
No child, with or without a disability, can be protected from the world we live in.  Social media prevents that protection if it ever were possible or even a good idea.  Long ago some people believed that sex education would cause promiscuity.   No child of color can be protected from the ignorance that is racism.  We want to believe that knowledge creates danger.
In fact just the opposite is true.  Our children with disabilities are a part OF the world, not apart FROM the world and that is the way we should want it.   The truth can be a burden; it can make us sad or disappointed; but it can also give us the strength to cope with the realities of our life.  It can energize us to understand others and ourselves.
Unfortunately, racism is part of our society.  So is discrimination against people with disabilities.  We can’t hide from either one.  Neither can those of us who are people of color or people with disabilities discard those traits as we would an itchy sweater that brings us discomfort or that has worn out its usefulness.  We need to learn to live with that.  There are many things any person can’t be.   Short people are not going to be professional basketball players.   People with limited academic ability are not going to graduate school.  
Our children with disabilities need guidance to live outside the bubble.  They may need life outside the bubble to be explained to them.   The world is challenging and as we have seen in the last few months, some times more challenging than others.  But we cannot run from that and we cannot shield our children from those challenges either.  If we do not talk with our children about these challenges, absolutely someone else will and we may like that even less.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Talk

The Talk

You know the talk.  The one parents have with their kids about the time of  pre-adolescence.  The one about sex.  But there is another talk that parents of African American kids have that has little to do with responsibility and pleasure.   This talk has to do with self-protection and how to deal with those who have sworn to defend and protect us.
Parents of African American kids, particularly parents of boys, need to teach their children how to respond when approached, either rightly or wrongly, by a police officer.   Police officers are sworn to their duties, regardless of color, creed or national origin.  They are sworn to treat each of us with justice and fairness and to serve the public good.  Most do, but some do not.  Hence families of dark skinned children have “the talk”.  Parents try to teach their kids to be safe when confronted by those whose sworn duty it is to keep THEM safe.
But what about the rest of America’s families?   What kind of talk should they be having with their kids?  Are they off the hook because their children are not at risk from police officers?  Each of us has a duty to do something about the racism in our country.   That is not only the job of police, teachers, or clergy.  Each of us has a duty to perform.  It is not enough just to do no harm.   We need to actively teach our children that those who stand by and see or hear injustice and do nothing are helping to foster and create more injustice.
We need to actively teach all children, but particularly majority kids, to be empathic to the lives of others.   We need to actively call our children’s attention to instances when others are not be treated appropriately.   And what did you do when another child was being bullied?  What did you do when another student was mocked?  What did you do when a joke was made at the expense of someone else?  What did you do when a racist statement was made?   Did you do anything or was your contribution just to not add to the injustice?  Dante has said that the hottest circle of hell is reserved for those who are neutral.
To stand and do nothing is not enough.  Evil needs nothing more than for good people to do nothing.  Evil is like the weeds in our spring lawn.  It will spread until we actively apply the weed killer.
Every family in our country has a role to play.  Every family in our country needs to have the “talk” with the kids.  Families of African American children may talk about self-protection.  Families of ALL children need to talk about actively feeling harmed when injustice is laid on others.  We must be one nation united for everyone.   We all need to have The Talk!  And ACT

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Unions have a need to complain

 Unions always find something to complain about

In this time of distance learning, school systems are developing memoranda of understanding (MOU) to state the expectations for instructional staff in terms of time and commitment to the job.   
Teacher contracts specify the number of hours and minutes a teacher is expected to work. Yes, really, down to the minute.  This time includes time for preparation, meetings and required professional development. The memoranda are requiring many fewer hours of instruction than the contracts, some as few as 15 hours per week.   Yet the unions are not accepting of the change because the changes were not negotiated.  Translation, they didn't have to be involved.
The MOU are also delineating the required time for meetings.   Some meetings will be held online while others are being suspended altogether.  Staff meetings, department meetings and professional development meetings are generally restricted to an hour or less per week.  Unions are complaining that these meeting times are being unilaterally imposed without negotiation with the union.  They also believe they are unnecessary and should be handled through an email even though the meetings are all virtual.
Distance learning is also an issue.  Many districts do not require any live teaching with students.  Others are requiring at least 1 hour per week of live instruction.  Unions believe that these details cannot be imposed by the school district but need to be bargained with the union.
Teachers are also concerned about the use of their personal devices.  No school district requires teachers to use personal phones.   There are means to make phone calls through a Google app that preserves the privacy of the teacher’s phone.   However, some teachers are also complaining that the contract does not require that they use their own laptops or desktops for distance learning, yet they are required to do so because the school district does not provide them with technology for use at home.
Attendance taking is usually the responsibility of the teacher.   Teachers are saying they cannot take daily attendance because they do not log in with students on a daily basis. Some school districts are requiring students to log into a school system portal on a daily basis.
Contracts include VERY specific ways in which a teacher is evaluated on the quality of the teaching.   The contracts include timelines and procedures for evaluation.  Most districts have suspended teacher evaluations during the period of distance learning.  Many districts are not even evaluating teachers for disciplinary reasons.  
Teachers are demanding PD before being expected to use a specific delivery platform.  A very reasonable request, yet they are also insisting that the amount of time for professional development be severely limited.   Which is it?
Teachers are receiving full compensation and benefits during distance learning.  It would be very hard to argue that they are spending more time at their jobs than they did when they were required to be physically present in a building.  Yet unions are complaining that these memoranda of understanding were imposed without bargaining.  Given the length of time it takes for a union and a school district to hammer out an agreement, the pandemic would probably be over.   Maybe unions just need to disagree to prove why teachers need them

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

What's the rush?

What’s the Rush?

Sometimes there is a headlong rush to get out of high school.  I don’t get it.  What is the big rush?
First of all, students with disabilities have an entitlement to attend school for a free appropriate public education (FAPE) until they are 21.  In Maryland that entitlement has been extended through the school year in which a student turns 21.  So if a child has a July birthday and his/her school year starts in July or August, that student has almost another full year of entitlement.   The wonderful thing about entitlement is that a school system cannot blame lack of funding as the reason for not providing the program.
Once a student graduates with a diploma or a certificate that entitlement is done, no matter the student’s age.  The key is the document.  If a student quits school at 17 but decides that was a dumb idea and wants to return to school, she/he can do that up until 21.   So why are some families pushing the schools to give their child a diploma or certificate.   Some really dumb reasons have been advanced, such as “he is done with school”, “her cousins are graduating and they are the same age”, “he is older than his siblings, so he should graduate first.”.   These are really very short sighted reasons.  The other thing families should know is that graduation represents a change in placement.  So if a family feels it is being shoved out by the school system, a family does not need to accept that change in placement.  The law recognizes that the child will be losing services.  Appeal!
Yes there are adult services agencies out there once a student has finished high school.   Students with disabilities may be eligible for these services.  Some of the services are not available until the student is 21.  Other agencies do serve younger kids.  BUT, only as long as the money lasts.  That is the thing about eligible, there are no promises.  No promises for money and no promises that the criteria that make you eligible for the services are not going to change whereby you will no longer be eligible.  These services are usually funded by a combination of federal and state funds.  The federal fiscal year opens on October 1. It is not unusual for the money for new applicants for these services to be gone by the end of the month.   Serving continuing needs comes first.
People with disabilities are significantly underemployed and unemployed.  The world of competitive employment is not welcoming people with disabilities and that is particularly so with today’s job market.
So what is the rush to get out of school?   Being in school gives students the opportunity to learn more and garner new skills.  Always a good plan.   Living on the edge can be a good thing, but not in this case.  What’s the rush to step off the edge? Beats me.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

People do not live in silos

People do not live in silos

People do not live in silos.   Schools do.  If this prolonged school closure has taught us anything, it is that schools need to recognize the expanded role they have in our society.
When schools first closed two months ago now, one of the first concerns was how are the children who receive 1-2 meals a day from school going to be fed.   Distribution sites were set up.   Food service staff were called in to work as essential staff which indeed they are.  It took a while for the logistics to get worked out.   Who could pick up the meals?  Did it need to be the student?  What kind of ID would be needed for an adult to pick up the food?   School districts in Maryland have now delivered thousands and thousands of meals for students.  One district has switched from breakfast, lunch and a snack to no snack but breakfast, lunch and dinner.   The expanding rate of unemployment leads one to believe that these meals are being shared with others in the house.
Food is not the only thing schools provide.  We need to realize that whether we want to admit it or not, schools are more and more becoming community centers.   Particularly in low socio-economic areas, schools need to more aggressively become community centers.   Not only can schools dispense food, they also need to be physical and mental health centers as well.  Health centers in schools can provide vaccinations, well-student check-ups, birth control information, birth control meds, treatment for drug and alcohol addiction (yes there are kids in our schools who are both using and peddling drugs) and mental health support.   There are people who will tell you these are not the roles of a school.   And they would be correct.   I remember when many people thought that sex education was not the role of a school.  But families weren’t doing it and the kids needed the information.
We have learned from the school closures that our families aren’t doing a lot of things that need doing.  Whether it is because they do not have the resources, are over-whelmed just keeping food on the table and a roof over their heads or because they really are not interested.   Do the reasons really matter?   Society is seeing huge fall out from failing families.   Next up is the question of just who is going to pay for all this.  Well in many ways we are already paying for these services in a very splintered and bureaucratic manner through the health departments, mental hygiene departments and departments of juvenile services.   We provide the services in silos, but we don’t live our lives that way.  Let’s put our money and personnel into tearing down the silos, reducing the number of bureaucrats populating all the silos, and put the service and the money into our schools that are already community centers in realty, it is time we make them community centers as an organized function.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

What did you learn in school today?

What did you learn in school today?

The word is that it is an ill-wind that doesn’t blow some good.   That is true about this pandemic and its required shelter-in-place orders by various governors.   Maryland schools have been closed now since March 16 and will definitely be closed through May 15 and possibly longer.   Students are being taught online with something euphemistically called distance learning.  Not sure how much academic learning is going on but there is certainly a lot of other kinds of learning.
Teaching  special education is one of the most wonderful and fulfilling professions.  Truly, there is nothing to compare to the challenges and feelings of achievement when a kid “gets it”.  And like everything else, there are downsides.   One of the issues that sometimes arises is the difference in aspirations between parents and teachers.   Parents have great dreams for their children.  They do not want to let those dreams go.  Who could blame them?   
Teachers have dreams too.   They want to take the kids as far as the child’s ability will allow.  Not every child, with or without disabilities, has the interest or talent to attend college.  That is not a bad thing in spite of the current culture that everyone needs to go to college.  Sometimes there is conflict between what teachers see the best career path for a child and what parents’ aspirations are.  
Parents will sometimes insist that their children should be doing grade level work or should be doing more advanced math.  Teachers see kids struggling to make change, write a five sentence paragraph or understand inferred meaning in something that was read.
During this period of online learning, that is seeming to last forever, parents have been recruited, willingly or not, to act as assistant teachers.  They have participated in their child’s struggle to learn.   They have seen how difficult it is for some kids to continue to attend.  And they have also learned a lot about technology from their children who were born to this stuff.  As a result of this new immersion into their children’s learning much has been learned by the parents.  
Each day we are one day closer to our children being schooled in school.   When we are all together again, teachers and students inside a school building, there will be a new appreciation of what teachers do and how students learn.  When we ask the question, “What did you learn in school today?”, it may be the parents who are the ones answering.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

IEP Light

IEP Light

The majority of school systems across the country are closed and students are enjoying the struggles of online learning.  That experience includes children with disabilities who have an IEP.  An IEP (Individual Learning Plan) is a contract for service between the school system and the child with disabilities.  Its purpose is to ensure that the child will receive a free, appropriate education which has been defined by the Supreme Court as allowing a child to move from grade to grade to the best of his/her ability.    We have learned lots about online learning.  One of the main things is that teachers and students miss each other and don’t learn as well long-distance.
We have also learned that children with disabilities learn even less online and that school systems are not doing very well at differentiating instruction to meet the needs of these kids.   Oh, and the IEP is just floating out there in the wind.   No one is even pretending schools are meeting the contractual agreement.
What to do about that?  Enter the distance learning plan, or in Maryland, the ICLIP, the Individual Continuity of Learning Plan.  The ICLP is presented as a temporary amendment to the IEP.   It will disappear and the IEP will return as soon as schools reopen.   Parents need to agree to the plan. They may do that through email or a phone call.   If they do not agree, then a virtual meeting is called to review the IEP so the student gets some education during the period of closed schools.
Obviously, an ICLP cannot cover everything that is in the IEP or it wouldn’t be needed.   Most school systems are requesting that teachers pick a couple of goals and one-two objectives for each goal.   Some areas are tricky, particularly related services such as OT or speech.  Also exactly how does a student learn to handle a table saw, landscape a yard or wire an outlet without touching any of those things?  
There was a time when people thought that online learning might be a great replacement for rural areas or to supplement teacher shortages.  We have learned that it is not.  We have also learned that parents, regardless of whatever professional training they may have, are not great teachers of their own kids.  And they don’t want to be.   One of the good things that may come out of this experience is that teachers will be more highly appreciated which is a very good thing.
The ICLP is the IEP Light, but at least it is a step to keep moving in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

No you won't get it right

No you won’t get it right

You probably never trained to be a teacher and if you did it wasn’t to teach your own children.   Now here you are, stuck at home with your children who should be at school, your significant other who should be at work, and those little furry children who are thrilled beyond compare because you are home.
There is lots and lots of stress to go around.   You should be grateful because you have a job and lots of people are not receiving a salary.  You are not all that used to working from home and that creates stress.  It was easier to just reach out and ask  question or walk around the corner when you needed a co-worker's help.  Now it is all virtual and sometimes the answers take longer to get back to you.  It is hard enough to work from home without being expected to be your child’s substitute teacher.  This is not what you want to do nor what you signed up for.
Or maybe, you are one of the unlucky people who would just love the stress of working from home if only you had a job to do that would bring in the money you need to live.  You are really worrying when the unemployment will kick in and will it be enough to get you by.   It is really hard for you to concentrate on your student’s distance learning when your mind is on next month’s rent or mortgage.   Yet the teachers expect that you do a lot of assistant teaching.   If your child is in high school, you may not even be familiar with the new content.  Your child keeps insisting that is not the way the teacher explains it.  If your child has special learning needs, the task just got harder.
People think they have complimented you by calling you an essential worker.  Sounds nice but no one told you that meant possibly putting your family at risk because of your contact with the outside world.   You know you need to work to keep your family solvent, but does that mean putting those same people at risk.  Wait a minute tell me again what today’s online learning objective is?   What is it you expect me to do for this lesson?  Sorry my mind wasn’t on it.
You are trying so hard to get it all right so you and your family can get through this pandemic together and your kids not fall too far behind in school.  There just seem to be so many balls in the air.  Why do you feel so guilty, like you are not quite measuring up no matter how hard you try?   Relax, you won’t get it right- just won’t happen way too much to juggle.  Kick the guilt to the curb- move on.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Time to step up

Time to step up

Seventy-five years ago (April 13, 2020), Harry Truman started his first full day as President of the United States.   Eleanor Roosevelt had summoned Truman to the White House the day before to advise him of the President’s death.  Truman, a humble man, asked Eleanor, “Is there anything I can do for you?”.   Mrs. Roosevelt, perhaps echoing the thoughts of the entire country, responded, “Is there anything we can do for you?  For you are the one in trouble now.”
Truman was one of the last people anyone would have looked to in a crisis.  Victory in Europe would come in about a month.   Japan would be another story.   
Truman was very undereducated for a president, having only finished high school.  He had failed at several businesses.  His vice-president position was the result of backroom dealing and compromise.  He would not have been anyone’s first choice to wrap up a world-wide war and to bring the world back to whatever was going to pass for normal.  Yet he did lead and most historians rank Truman among the top 10 US presidents, rising in recent years.
So unexpected leaders are among us.
This is an important time for parents to lead.   Kids are getting lots of “papers”  and "packets" being sent home from school.   There are expectations for online learning.  But teachers are not in the room.  Students will need a great many supplementary learning experiences.   Like it or not, families will need to step up to the plate to home-school their kids.  This means spending time with the work sent home.  It means following up with online lessons.  It means reading to your kids and perhaps watching historical or science documentaries and discussing them.   It means taking time away from your own working from home work to make sure your children are learning something.  It also means limiting the drug of video games and screen time.   It is too easy to sit your child in front of a screen and get some time for yourself.  Leaders lead in different ways in different times.  Now it is your time.
Teachers can really have it easy.  Let’s face it, the public schools are completely unprepared for this digital continuity of learning stuff.  As a teacher you can really take the easy way out.   Many school systems are only requiring a couple of hours a day of online teaching.  Some districts are only requiring a couple of hours a week with “busy work” as follow up.  You can take that easy way out.  You can worry about your own kids or your own life and just do the minimum that is required while you receive your entire salary and benefits.  Or you can lead.  You can step up to the plate and find Utube videos, more interesting articles online for kids to read, you can even post videos that you yourself have made.  In essence, you can do your best to teach school.  Leaders lead in different ways in different times. Now it is your time.
Employers, you too can lead.   Times are tough economically and many businesses are finding income slashed.  Are you doing the most possible for your employees?  Are you supporting and helping them in any way that you can afford to do?  This pandemic will be over at some point.  Economic life will come back.  You will want those experienced and competent staff members to be with you as you rebuild your business.  Are you with them now?  Leaders lead in different ways different times.  Now it is your time.
The man experts expected little of rose to the occasion and led our nation and Europe through recovery of WWII.   He had a sign on his desk, “The buck stops here”.  When it comes to leadership, what sign is on your desk? 

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Not as good, is well not as good

Not as good, is, well not as good.

Schools have shut down and shifted to online learning.  Kids who have struggled with in classroom learning will probably struggle more with online learning.  But there aren’t choices at the present time.  So what can we do.
Kids also miss the social piece of school so if families can use apps like Google Hangout to connect classmates that can help learning.   If teachers have time they can have private chats and hangouts with their students.  Facetime is important so that is good if it can be arranged.
Now comes the big BUT!   We have gone from record unemployment lows to some significant high rates of furlough and unemployment for our families.  Some teachers may see their own incomes fall from two salaries to one.  A lot of families are struggling to put food on the table and pay the rent.  Supporting online instruction may not be a first priority.  Additionally, some families may be shuffling to find online instructional support for more than one child on a limited number of devices.  There are a LOT of moving parts in this dilemma.   None of this had a lead time or time to plan.   People, parents and educators, are scared, overwhelmed and maybe even a bit impatient.  Technology is amazing until it isn’t.  For those with limited technology skills the frustration is worse.
What do to? First of all, as much structure as possible like a real school day will help.  If there is written material that arrived first, parents can prepare the kids for what is to come.  If possible, give the technology a dry run to make sure it is up and operating.  
Next breathe- deeply.  A child may miss an online lesson because he/she isn’t interested or technology failed.  Believe it or not that happens in a classroom too.  
As a parent you just didn’t give the lesson your attention that you should have for whatever reason, other kids, your own online job, your lack of skill.  It’s ok.  A missed lesson or two will not change the trajectory of your child’s life.
Embrace the fun part of online learning, the neat videos, seeing what a teacher’s house looks like in the background, seeing yourself on “TV”.   No, online learning is not as good as in school learning, not for plain kids and certainly not for children with learning challenges.
But sometimes not as good, is good enough- Breathe

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

I love you for life but not for lunch

I will love you for life but not for lunch

Schools are closed.   You are sheltering in place.  Kids are home, spouse/significant other might be home too.   It was kind of fun for the first few days, challenging but fun.  Somehow that fun has morphed into, I need some space, the kids need some structure, I am losing my everlovin’ mind.
There are some things that can help.   First of all, kids are used to the structure of school.  Oh they may rile against it and want to stay home sometimes but they do like the structure.   
So step one is to provide that structure.   Make a schedule for the day.  All of the school systems that have closed are required to provide some alternative instruction.  Set up a time of day for your children to be online to receive that instruction.  If you do not have multiple devices e.g. desktop, laptop, tablet, smart phone, you will need to schedule who has dibs when and which device.  Don't forget to include yourself in that as well.   Your structure for the day should include something fun and something social.
Social is the next item on your agenda.  Kids love school for its social factor.   They can’t visit with each other but they can do some kind of online get together.  Google Hangout is being used by a number of school systems for instruction but it can also be used just for kids to get together virtually.  Check it out, you might like it for your friends too.
Too much togetherness is well too much togetherness.  Make sure everyone has a neutral corner in which to go to get some away time.  If everyone has his/her own bedroom, that is a great space.  If not, you can reserve other areas of your home.  It can be as mundane as a walk-in closet, a space in the garage, the basement or even a bathroom.  When too much is too much almost any quiet space away from others will do.
Factor into each day a bit of fun.   Play a game, put together a jigsaw puzzle or make a good recipe.   Have a food treat for every day.  Sort of something to sweeten the day.
I read that all of the previous events that required people to stay in place: snow, super storms, lost power, have resulted in a higher birthrate 9 months later.  Predictions are that this event is going to raise the divorce rate.  Don’t let that happen to you.  And you can’t divorce your kids; it’s been tried.  Courts are not very generous.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

What should I tell the kids

What should I tell the kids?

School is closed.   Of course, the kids want to know why?   What should you be telling them so that they are not scared to death.   Be guided by two basic principles.
The first one is always tell your kids the truth.   There are multiple benefits to that plan.   You don’t need to remember near as much stuff if you only have one version to remember. And you will not have to backtrack about what you said.   You also want to set an example and model the behavior you want your kids to show as they grow and get older, particularly in their teenage years.  If you are always honest with your kids they will learn that honesty is not just the best policy but that it is also a safe one.  So when they are older and you tell them that it is ok to tell you anything and that you will be there for them, they will believe you.
So tell the truth.  How that truth is phased will depend on the age of the child.  For young children, explain that there is a flu or virus going around and a lot of people are getting it.  If the kids are older, the truth can be more expansive.   Older kids can understand that because this is a new virus there aren’t many people who have had it so there isn’t much immunity to it.   It is also important that older students understand this is serious stuff and not a time for fun and frolic in large groups.  You should also tell all kids what their responsibility is to themselves, their family and to the community at large.  This is a good time to teach responsible behavior.
Which brings me to the second basic guideline.   Keep this thing in perspective.  Don’t scare the kids or yourself to death.  Yes this is serious.  And yes people are dying of this virus.  But lots of people have also been dying of the seasonal flu for years.  In Maryland this past February, 38 people died of the plain old seasonal flu.  The difference is that each time someone died an announcement was not made on TV, radio and other media.   This virus is also more frightening because it is hitting in every state at the same time. It is also frightening because contrary to initial thoughts it affects all age groups.  And the fight against it is causing businesses to close and people to practice social distancing.  That is particularly hard for teenagers.   So the fight against COVID-19 is a serious one.   People who have issues with anxiety are going to be particularly hard hit.  It is important to strike a balance between “take this seriously” and “be scared to death”. People feel better if they are given something to do in an emergency.  Probably explains why in old movies, men are sent for hot water and towels during when a woman is delivering a baby.  There is a line in the musical The Sound of Music that is appropriate to this situation, “I am someone older and wiser, and I will take care of you.”  It sounds better when it is sung, but the message is the same.  Tell your kids the truth, just don’t scare them to death.  Leave that to the media.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

I love you but I won't hire you

I love you but I won’t hire you

Here is the truth.   Lots of businesses will generously donate to a charity that supports people with disabilities.   Some are even extremely generous.   And that is wonderful, especially if you are an organization that is providing service to children or adults with disabilities.
 Here is another truth.  People with disabilities are among the most unemployed and underemployed people in our country.  Why is that?
We live in a capitalist country.   Almost all businesses are operating to make money- no surprise there.  Even non-profits are in business to make money, just not necessarily big profits.  
Businesses that serve the public want to put a “pretty face” to their business.  They do not want someone representing their business that might make a customer feel uncomfortable.  So if the business depends on customer interaction, people who look differently- whether it is a hair style, piercings or facial traits that might indicate a disability- are generally not sought after as employees.
Then there is the issue of how much ability does someone need to have to work in my business.  Most business owners think it takes a lot more ability to do the work of the business than it actually takes.  So it is hard for them to believe that someone with a disability could do the job.   They also don’t want to be involved with government regulations that might protect people with disabilities but that aren’t there for plain workers.
Many employers worry that people with disabilities will not have the stamina to work a full schedule or they will be sick a lot driving up heath care rates.   In fact, people with disabilities are very grateful for their jobs so they usually have better attendance.  And data show that they are no more often sick than their counterparts.
So what is the solution?   Mostly the solution is in proper training of people with disabilities.  We need to make sure that people with disabilities do not grow into adulthood with a sense of entitlement that “people will understand I have a disability”.  Mostly they won’t.  And if they do “understand” it is less likely that they will employ you.  Additionally, we need to help people with disabilities develop the stamina to work full or part-time.  We need to make sure the soft job skills are in place.   As professional educators we can do this, but it is not easy.  Our job is to teach employers, “you don’t need to love me, you need to give me a chance at a job”.  You will be pleased and maybe surprised at how well I do.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Oh NO! Not Common Sense

Oh NO!  Not Common Sense!

For years we have been fed the fantasy that higher test scores mean a better school.  We have also been told that we need to have research based methodology for everything.  Here comes some research that a lot of these “raise standards, raise test scores” folks are going to have to explain away.
In a large study of over 150,000 students in every one of Chicago’s public high schools, research has found that students from schools that build social-emotional qualities do better than schools with high test scores.  How can that be?
The researchers found that the kids who went to schools that taught the ability to resolve conflicts, the motivation to work hard, and to have empathy are getting better both short-term and long-term results than schools with high test scores.  Specifically, schools that made a point to develop these so-called soft skills had students with higher grades, fewer absences and fewer discipline problems.  Later, students who attended these high schools went on to college at higher rates.   They even graduated at higher rates.
This is good research.  The findings were presented at the conference of the National Center for Longitudinal Data in Research Education, an organization noted for its significant follow-up research and credibility.  
Data were gathered by the researchers by interviewing students individually and through some survey data.  Data were collected at 9th grade and again in the final year of high school.  Students who went to schools that were good at developing soft skills had higher grades, better attendance and fewer disciplinary incidents.  They also had higher graduation rates and were more likely to attend college.
We sometimes are afraid of terms like “social-emotional” skills but we will probably see “grit” as becoming a goal for educational facilities.  And that is not a bad idea.  Into each life a little rain will fall, and if we can prepare our students to persevere, they are more likely to be successful regardless of their endeavors.  The schools with the higher social emotional scores from students did not follow a particular curriculum.  Instead, they were staffed by adults who treated students with respect, fostered a sense of community and encouraged everyone to work hard regardless of academic skill level.
Oh, please do tell me that this teacher skill set will replace the demands for higher test scores.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

So which is it?

So Which Is it?
The supporters of the tax increase to pay for the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations will tell you that education in Maryland is really struggling and that we need to make this 32-billion dollar investment right now to save our educational system.   But USA Today has ranked Maryland’s educational system as the 6th best overall among the 50 states.  Some people will tell you Maryland needs to spend more money, but we are already spending $500 more per student than are most states and we are 9th overall among the states.
On the other hand, we have spent a huge amount of money on high stake tests and on the Common Core standards, but achievement on those tests has not really moved up in the last several decades.  So what is that money being used for?
The United States ranks 9th among first world countries in reading but 31st of 79 in math.   It is being suggested that one of the reasons for this fall in math abilities is the “geometry sandwich” where kids have algebra 1 in 9th grade, geometry in 10th and then algebra 2 in 11th grade.   Math experts say this is the wrong way to teach mathematics.  That these are not separate and distinct areas and that instead we should teach math 9, 10 and 11 and integrate all 3 of the foregoing courses as they are actually used in mathematics.  School districts in the U.S. who have tried this new approach have found that the number of students needing remedial algebra in college has dropped from almost 80% to only 8%.   Sounds like something that makes sense.
The high school graduation rate in Maryland is 87.6%.  That number is 12th in the nation.  But it is falling.  It has now dropped to 86.9%.   Some school systems are blaming the decline on tougher graduation requirements including the Algebra 1 PARCC assessment.   Perhaps that is why the Maryland State Board of Education recently passed on raising the requirement from a scaled score of 3 (current standard) to a scaled score of 4, the standard Maryland was supposed to move to for the 2021 graduating class.   The graduation rate for students with disabilities was down nearly three percentage points to 63.5%.   The overall dropout rate for all students remained at 8.8% for both 2018 and 2019.
What is going on with education in Maryland?   Are we in dire need of a huge infusion of cash to improve?  Not according to USA Today.   Are kids dropping out because we aren’t offering appropriate programming?  Not according to the basically stable dropout rate.   Are students not graduating because the tests that were supposed to raise the standards are causing students not to graduate?  
It is no wonder folks are so confused and wonder why they should throw more money at education.  If only we could figure out what has become of the money the state with the highest median income in the country has already spent.  The message is confusing.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Why do you go to school?

Why do you go to school?

At age 26, most people have spent half of their lifetimes in school.   That is long-term confinement that doesn't even include post-secondary education. What is the point?  Originally, education was provided at public expense because the idea was that a democracy needed an educated electorate.   That idea has long since gone by the wayside.  Just over 30% of eligible voters vote and the majority of citizens can’t pass the knowledge test about government that new citizens are expected to pass.  So what is the point?
It is certainly high quality, if expensive, babysitting.   But what do the taxpayers expect to get out of the significant investment in the child’s time and the citizen’s money.
There has been a great deal of talk recently about improving standards, although what that means depends a great deal on whom you ask.  Some very forward thinking local superintendents from around the country are asking and answering that question in very different ways.   In Maryland raising standards seems to relate to how many students go on to college.  Few people bother to look at how many of those who start college actually finish with a degree and if they do, can they earn a living with that degree.
In Hamilton County Tennessee, the new superintendent is asking a different question.  He wants to know who is hiring in the area, what kinds of skills are employers looking to hire, and how many of those skills can kids garner while still in high school.   He calls his program “future ready institutes”.   These are schools within schools.  He is working on future readiness and determining what jobs require skill sets that can be achieved in high school or with just short term training and which need an associate or bachelor’s degree. He is matching those skill sets to what is needed in his geographic area so that graduates will be job ready or post-secondary ready when they graduate.  The attentiveness here is that kids are trained not just for jobs that are available but also that pay well.   It is also noteworthy that programs are individualized for kids so that not all college bound students take the same academic coursework.  Whether they take advanced mathematics, foreign language or more science depends on their career goals and talents not on some “expert” deciding what needs to happen to raise standards.
 At the local level in Maryland, the Kirwan Commission report is suggesting that there needs to be a career component in public school education.  The Commission is right about that.  What they are wrong about is pre-determining that these career training programs are only going to be for students who are academically competent.   There are lots of ways people can be competent and they aren’t all in the academic areas.   Someone needs to rethink exactly why it is we go to school today.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Want to spend a few billion?

Want to spend a few billion?

Marylanders are being asked to commit billions of dollars to improving education by a plan recommended by the Kirwan Commission.  It is still not clear where the legislature will get the money or even if they will.   Maryland is already one of the top states in the country when it comes to quality education.  Teachers are among the most highly paid with average salaries well above 50K.  Kirwan would start teachers at sixty thousand.  It has been estimated that the 3 billion dollar cost for Kirwan is just for the first year.  In ten years Kirwan could cost over 31 BILLION dollars.   Oh what fun it would be to spend that money on areas that really could do some good.
One might ask, is there a better way to spend all of that hard earned taxpayer money?   There just might be.   Here are a few thoughts.
First of all instead of throwing good money after poor teachers, why not use those dollars to hire more school social workers.   Or suppose we make schools into community centers.  In distressed neighborhoods, schools could be staffed after school with homework helpers, remedial teachers, athletic coaches, community organizers and even health clinic workers.  Kids could stay in-school and out of trouble.  
Families could go to schools to get advice on community services.  Government could have reps at a school once a week to guide families through all the available options to them.  Health care services could teach and provide reproductive health advice and supplies and how to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
We could help people not just get jobs but get TO jobs.  Right now mass-transit takes people from the hubcap of the wheel out to the rim.  But if you need to cross from one spoke to another, people need to go back to the hubcap and then out on another spoke.   This situation can make a 20 minute car ride take two hours by mass transit.  If you are in a low wage job and using mass transit your day is now twelve hours long.  Why not use some of those billions to create cross spoke mass transit routes to get people from the city out to the rim of the wheel where there are lots of jobs going begging.
Kids and young adults who are pushing drugs already get how capitalism works.  Why not teach them how to run a legit business that isn’t killing the community.  They are good at what they do, they just need a better product.
Kirwan is offering education for three and four year olds.  That is great.  But the cost of infant care is keeping lots of women out of the work force, including women earning professional salaries.    Some of those billions could go toward lower cost infant care.  Some of the women with infants could be trained to help provide the infant care. 
Maryland is already doing a good job with education.  And, while granted, it would be great to get even better education, there are many areas besides education that would support getting the benefit from the education we do provide.
If there are a few extra billions lying around we could throw that good money after some other problems.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Teaching Has Changed

Teaching has Changed

Teaching has changed in the last ten years and not necessarily for the better.    Back in 2010, there were states that were adding a “pay for performance” policy whereby teachers received an increase in salary if students did well on exams.  Or, a significant consequence if they didn’t.  After several prominent cheating scandals by teachers and upper level administrators those policies have largely fallen out of favor.
Teen suicide rates have increased dramatically in the last 10 years.  Social media usage has led to an increase in cyberbullying and teachers are expected to intervene in those situations.  The opioid epidemic has taken its toll on school communities as it has the rest of the country.
How to respond to the horrific school shootings in Sandy Hook, Connecticut and Parkland, Florida have fostered serious debate.  Active shooter drills have become ubiquitous and there is disagreement over whether these incite or reduce anxiety.  Some states have addressed the issue by allowing teachers to carry guns.  On the other side of the equation, teacher unions have come out against the active shooter drills as fostering anxiety and in some cases chaos.
Regardless of why, there has been a confluence of events which have led to fewer people enrolling in colleges of education creating persistent teacher shortages.  Most recently teacher strikes have happened again, leading some teachers to run for public office and thereby gaining the political control for themselves.  
Of all the changes, the increased testing and teachers being held accountable for test scores rather than the students themselves have created a sense of insecurity among teachers.   One college professor has said, “Once you make a person’s livelihood dependent on the success of someone she’s trying to help succeed, it changes the focus of what we are trying to do.”
In 2009, only 15 states required student-growth data in teacher evaluations.  By 2015, there were 43 states that required student test score data as part of the teacher evaluation.  That situation was partly due to the financial incentive to school systems offered by the Obama administration.  But after 2015, states moved back from that posture.  The financial incentive ended and the Every Student Succeeds Act stripped the power to determine how states grade their teachers from the U.S. Secretary of Education.  At the same time states began to receive backlash from their constituents.  The number of states linking student test scores to teacher evaluation has now dropped back to 34.
Not only has teaching begun to feel more rigid to teachers, but the public opinion of the teaching profession has also taken a hit.  In 2009, 70% of families said they would like their child to become a public school teacher.   By 2018, that percentage has dropped back to 46%.   Families cite inadequate pay and benefits, student behavior, lack of discipline and the feeling that teaching is a thankless job.  To make matters worse, a full 50% of teachers responded to a poll indicating that in the last couple of years they have seriously considered leaving the profession.
School children need quality and committed teachers in the classroom.   Over the last ten years teaching has changed, and not for the better.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Whatever Old is New Again

Whatever is old is new again!

Long ago and far away we had a program for students who were not interested in going to college or whose talents were more in the trade areas than the academic ones.   These students were taught in beautiful modern facilities by people who were experienced and licensed in the trade areas they taught.   They did not have college degrees but did receive a short training program to add the skill of teaching to the trade skill.  This program worked very well for many years providing excellent entry level skills to students ensuring that they would be able to earn a solid middle class living as people licensed in the area .
But along came standards and progress.   In the mid-60’s, it was decided by people who had never worked a trade job in their lives, that the teachers should all have bachelor degrees.   Within in months of these new teachers hitting the vocational areas, tools were put away, text books came out and there were written tests instead of practical ones.
Then in the interest of full democracy, it was decided that everyone like it or not, needed to go to college.  So these programs gradually shriveled up with limited support.
Now we have the Kirwan Commission which is strongly advocating for a career technology program that would parallel the college preparatory program.  My GOODNESS!   It is a wonder no one thought of that before!  Oh wait they have.  But these new programs will have entry level exams.  Supporters say the entry standards are necessary because the career path should not be mistaken for the shop classes of the past designed for students who struggled academically.   So it is wrong to have alternative programs for kids who struggle academically?  Instead these career programs are for “competent” students who want to graduate from high school with marketable skills but haven’t decided if they want to go to college or not.   Can’t we just admit that there are human beings who are not academically talented but whose skills lie elsewhere?
Critics argue that these students will not make as much money as a college graduate over his/her lifetime.   The situation is that only about 39% of people entering a 4-year college graduate in 6 years.   What is the lifetime earning ability of a college drop-out who has limited saleable skills?   Those kids who are plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, video editors, computer technicians and networkers and/or appliance repair people will be earning a good living.  Probably a lot better than the 61% who dropped out of college.  Sometimes the old ways of doing things were working just fine until they were fixed.