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.