Tuesday, November 14, 2017

How much is enough?

How much is enough?
Before 1975, children with disabilities could be excluded from a school because …, well actually just because the principal said no for whatever reason.  And many principals did say no.  In 1975 the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EHA)was signed by President Ford.  From then until now, children with disabilities must be given a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).  But how much is enough!
Gone are the days when parents were grateful their kids were in a school.  Now parents are making demands that courts have found to be beyond the responsibility of the schools.
There was a family in Maine who insisted that the IEP(Individual Education Program) for their child did not include the specific reading program that the family believed would make the child a successful reader.  The school district disagreed and did not want to include the reading program by name in the IEP.  The court agreed with the school district and said that IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, successor to EHA) did not require that specific methods or instructional techniques be included.  Professional educators get to make those calls.
A Jewish religiously observant family in Maryland turned down the IEP established by the school district because the IEP did not include religious instruction and instruction in Hebrew.  The child has a severe intellectual disability so it is unclear if the child even has the potential to learn Hebrew, a language that requires learning a totally different alphabet as well as a different grammar and structure.  The parents also wanted the public schools to provide instruction in Judaic studies and customs so that the child could participate in family religious observances.  The parents asserted that the child was being denied FAPE without these provisions.   The court denied the parents request noting that there is no requirement for religious instruction in IDEA.  The school district has agreed to make reasonable accommodations for the family to provide this instruction. 
In a recent Supreme Court decision, Endrew F. vs. Douglas County School District the Court said that IDEA does not provide any substantive IEP standard and that the maximization of a student’s potential was not required by the law.
So what do families want and how much is enough?   Is any child guaranteed that his/her potential will be maximized by the school system? Nope, not plain kids and not kids with disabilities.    Does the fact that a child has a disability negate the family’s responsibility for religious instruction? Evidently not, no matter how important religion is to the child's family.  Who is running the educational program, the parents or the professionals?  These are difficult questions and for the time being the various courts have answered them.  But there is a larger question. When are families expecting more than they have the right to expect?  And is there any limit on what is best for a child with a disability?  How much is enough? 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Let's Get Every Senior into College-How stupid is that?

Let’s Get Every Senior into College-How stupid is that?

A Lakewood California principal recently encouraged principals to do whatever it took to get every senior into college.   According to his numbers, nearly 70% of youth ages 16-24 who graduated from any high school since 2016 are enrolled in college.  Traditionally these numbers are much lower for public schools nationwide- roughly 40%.   The numbers are even lower for schools in low-income communities.
Here is what I do not understand.  We keep collecting data about how many students graduating from high school are going on to college.   Why don’t we care about how many are able to get a decent job!?
Going to college is a waste of time and money if your talents for earning a living lie outside of what colleges train people to do.
There are more important goals for our high school students than going to college.
First of all, we need to teach students that they matter and that they matter enough to do excellent work.  Not for the adults but for themselves.  We should not ask kids to do school work for us; we should repeatedly ask them  if what they are doing is their best effort for themselves.  Is their work something that they are proud to put their name to.
Next, let the students know that we notice and we care about how they are doing.  One of the things that is wrong (and there are many) with tying teacher evaluations to high stakes testing is that it communicates to students that we could be more concerned with our own evaluation rather than with how much they are learning.  Educators need to learn to be cheerleaders for the students.  Let them know we are watching how well they do for themselves, not for us.  This approach also empowers kids to realize it is their destiny that is at stake.
Make it clear what your school values.   People notice what is counted.  If all we count are test scores then it becomes clear that test scores are what we value the most.  Instead, why not celebrate kindness to others.  How about a shout-out when one kid helps another kid?  Or when we work together to solve a school problem.   Make it clear we value lots of other things besides high test scores and we should really mean it.
Let’s give physical space and opportunity to other things besides traditional academic course work.   Give kids the space and reward for tinkering, building and creating- these are going to be our leaders of tomorrow.  Enough with the test scores already.
Institutions of higher education report no decline in the numbers of entering freshmen who need remedial work before embarking on college level work.  This ridiculous emphasis on test scores is leading otherwise honorable people to cheat on transcripts and grades, embarrassing whole school districts when the graduation rate is audited.  We need to provide a wider menu of options for kids graduating high school.   Educators need to learn about many other opportunities for graduates besides college.  
Let’s get every senior into college- I don’t think so- and neither do the seniors.  Many of them have better things to do if we would just encourage them do it!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The definition of insanity

The Definition of Insanity

One of the definitions of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.  For some reason politicians and members of boards of education think that requiring more and more difficult tests and making these tests high stakes will improve the quality of education our students are receiving.
In the mid-seventies (yes that long ago), the State Superintendent of Schools instituted a testing program called Project Basic.  The idea was that the kids would all have basic skills in reading and math before they graduated.  It didn’t work.  Then came MSPAP, this program was performance based and took hours to administer.  That didn’t work either.  But hey, we weren’t done yet.  Next came the High School Assessments.  These were high stakes.  No pass, no graduate.  Except that too many kids didn’t pass, so the bridge plans were born.  The latest and greatest of this foolishness is the PARCC tests based on the Common Core Curriculum.  About a year ago, the Maryland State Board of Education put into place standards for passing these tests.  The goal was that the passing score would increase each year.  But that “aspirational goal” has been put on hold since at the last administration only about 40% of the students passed the test.  Now the State Board had said that it will be today’s current 6th graders who will be held to the standard for graduation.  Until 2024, students will need to score at least a 3 on the tests for English and algebra on a scale of 1-5.  A score of 4 indicates a student will be able to do college level work.  The funny thing is that even though Project Basic, MSPAP, HSA, and now PARCC were all going to prepare students for college- the kids AREN’T getting better at being prepared for college work.   Zero credit courses required for non-prepared students continue to enroll far too many undergraduates, costing them both time and money to learn what should have been learned in high school.   Colleges report an increase in the number of freshmen needing to take these tests.
Maryland’s high school graduation rate is 80%, its pass rate on the PARCC is 40%.  Obviously, there is a big disconnect.
 There has been some discussion on the State Board about a bold NEW idea.  Under this system, Maryland would award two different diplomas.  One would recognize the student as college ready and the other one would recognize the student as “not-college” ready.   There are two things wrong with this great NEW idea.
First of all, 50+ years ago Maryland had three different high school diplomas- academic, commercial/vocational, and general.  The diplomas recognized the differing talents and aspirations of the students.  Each diploma had different requirements depending upon what was required for the student’s goals.  None of these diplomas addressed what the award was not.  So, the idea is of multiple diplomas is not so new.
Secondly, labeling an award by what it is not is disrespectful to the students, their families and our community.   I recently needed to install some lighting fixtures.   I called an electrician.  He did not go to college.   He could install my fixtures.  I did go to college; I couldn’t do it.  Being vocationally trained is not embarrassing to an  individual or family. Why are State Board members acting like it is.
Smarick, the Board Chair, is worried as well about the number of bridge projects being used by students in low-income districts in order to meet the standard.
For once, the Union is voicing its strong position to tying graduation to an “arbitrary standard that was set by a private testing company.”

Steiner believes “students will gradually begin to live up to the higher standard, but until that time the Board cannot set the standard too high.”   “Politically,” he said, “it’s not conceivable in any state that a high school graduation rate would go below 70 percent.”   Now that’s putting us in touch with reality.