Tuesday, April 20, 2021

That's not the half of it

 That’s not the half of it!


As of April 19 all adults and teens over 16 are eligible to receive the COVID 19 vaccine.  If enough people accept the opportunity, we will reach herd immunity by early summer and life will be good- or will it.

Since the pandemic began, children and adolescents have higher rates of anxiety, depression, and stress and even more specific issues of addictive internet behavior (Education Week, March 31,2021).  The CDC has reported that the percentage of children 5-11 visiting emergency rooms for a mental health crisis has risen 24% in the last year. Among 12-17 year-olds, that percentage of increase is 31%.  It is a good thing that with the vaccine we will all be fine, except that we won’t.

Experts tell us that the mental health impact of the pandemic is just beginning and will be with us for years to come.  There are significan differences between those students attending school in-person, hybrid and totally remotely.   First of all, kids need other adults beside their parents to turn to for guidance.  For students that is usually some respected/loved adult at school.  In fact, 84% of the students attending school in-person say they look to a teacher for that support.  Yet with all virtual teaching only 64% of students still feel they have that support from a teacher.  This situation is particularly true for low-income kids.  

Our country already does not treat mental health needs with the same intensity and support as it does physical health.   Some health plans have been forced to include mental health services.  And even plans that have the service, it is generally dramatically less strong than for physical health.

Many older students in communities without the technology supports for online learning have just “evaporated” from the school system.  Public school enrollments are down dramatically.  In higher income areas, those kids have gone to private schools.  In lower-income areas, those kids have gone to the streets.

We are going to need many more social workers, guidance counselors, pupil personnel workers in our schools once we are back in the school buildings.  That is expensive and with public school enrollments down, that will mean less money for schools to do anything.  Some school districts are bragging because they plan on keeping teachers they no longer need with decreased enrollments.  That money could be better spent on mental health professionals for the students who have stayed with the public schools.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for mental health issues and no great clamor to develop therapies.

The vaccines are great but they are only our hope to win half of the battle.  It’s the second half that is going to be a great deal harder.


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Is Good Teaching Like Pornography?

 Is Good Teaching Like Pornography?


Justice Potter Stewart in 1964 as part of a Supreme Court decision said that while he could not define hard core pornography, he knew it when he saw it.  Some folks will tell you that teaching is the same thing.  They can’t describe it so therefore there should be no pay based on merit BUT we all know great teaching when we see it.

Folks who say that are only half right.   We all know great teaching when we see it AND it can be defined.

Teaching is both an art and a science.  The science is the easy part.  Good teachers match method to the way the child learns, not to the latest and greatest magical way to teach.  There is no one best method to teach reading to all kids.  The independent variable in teaching is the way the child learns.  So, any “perfect” method will only be perfect for that group of students who learn that particular way.  The rest of the kids will be in the “third” group and we all know what that is regardless of what it is called.  Reading, math and writing are the core academic areas and a technically good teacher has enough methods in her tool kit that she can use those tools that match the child’s learning traits.   Science and social studies are supporting academic areas.  We teach them for the basic reasons that well over 50% of local budgets go toward providing a free public education to all who want it.  The major value of social studies is to assist children to understand how we got to where we are in the world.  The idea being that if we understand how we got here we won’t make these same mistakes twice.   The purpose of social studies really has nothing to do with the chronology of battles and wars, unfortunately that is how we teach it.  Our present state of politics clearly shows we are not teaching government and civics at all.  The point of teaching science if for kids to understand our physical world.  We have totally lost track of that too.

Demonstrating the science of good teaching definitely makes for good teachers.

But we are after GREAT teachers and that is where the art comes in.  People can be taught the science of how to be a good teacher.  They cannot be taught the art of teaching because the art of great teaching comes from the heart.  The great teacher sees each and every child as an individual.  The great teacher values and respects every child and will manipulate the learning experience so that each child is successful at that child’s level and interest.   The great teacher wants to be remembered by every child as the second most important person in that child’s life- right after the parents.   Will the great teacher be able to achieve that?  Nope, but that should be the mission.  Great teachers make sure kids feel great coming into that classroom.

Schools and school districts should make sure every teacher is good.  They should do their very best to have as many great teachers as possible and get out of their way so they can be great.  Because just like pornography, we all know great teaching when we see it.  Those folks who can’t, at minimum, be good teachers need to go into a less important line of work.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Private Schools want to discriminate.

 Private Schools Want to Discriminate


Private schools insist they are private and as such they have the right to discriminate.  That makes sense to me.   So private schools in Maryland openly refuse admission to children who are homosexual.  Some of the schools also do not accept the children of homosexuals regardless of the orientation of the children themselves.

Other schools say they admit children of color but in practice offer admission to few to no children of color.  Some openly say that they will admit children of color providing they are not expected to “lower academic standards to do so”.  

In higher education the discrimination is even more open.   Schools of the religious right argue that their religious beliefs forbid them from offering equal opportunity to gay and lesbian students. So they do not consider them for admission.   Organizations that support the rights of LBGQT students are not allowed to be official student organizations or have access to any of the student organization resources regardless of the orientation of the members.  Others do not allow students who are transgender to remain in the school.  

A national group, Teach Coalition, is ramping up to get local reimbursement for up to 50% of the health costs for their students.  The schools of Teach Coalition are religious right Jewish day schools.  These schools do not admit students of other faiths.

Is all this discrimination ok?  In my view absolutely.  After all- they are private institutions.
But are they really?   Baylor University, a school that openly discriminates against gay and lesbian students, receives upwards of 43 million U.S. tax dollars a year.  Other colleges and universities that are more overtly religious institutions also receive large amounts of tax dollars.  Private schools in Maryland receive state funds for books and other instructional materials.  

Non-public special education schools in Maryland must have clear non-discrimination policies as they should.  After all, they receive the bulk of their tuition from state tax dollars. 

Why are these other private schools allowed to freely discriminate while still eating heartily from the public trough?   I have no issue with private schools discriminating.  My issue is when they do it with the U.S. taxpayers dollars.   Discriminate all you want, just do it on your own dime not mine.


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

We have lost our way

 We have lost our way…


In the last year plus, hundreds of thousands of lives have been destroyed by this virus.   And that is not counting the hundreds of thousands of human lives that have been lost due to the illness.

Other than those with the illness and their loved ones, children have suffered the most by the pandemic.   The situation has been  made worse by the people who told us they have dedicated their professional lives to providing for the education of students.

The first response to the pandemic over a year ago was the closure of schools and the pivot to online teaching.  It did not matter that there was slim to no evidence (still isn’t) that schools were hotbeds for spreading the virus.  It did not matter that for many, many children schools were where they got food, emotional support, protection and, oh right, academic learning.  Life immediately switched to online teaching for the final quarter of the 2019-2020 school year.   Asynchronous learning began in full blast.  Kids got packages for worksheets mailed to them.  No matter that worksheets are one of the most boring forms of learning.  Next came Chromebooks so kids could watch that 12” screen for 3.5 hours a day.  Many times what they watched were videos and pre-filmed learning activities without real-time interactions with those well-paid teachers who received full salary and benefits.

Finally as the 2020-21 school year cranked up, there was more real-time teaching via internet access.  For those kids who didn’t have internet access, well there were hot-spots in parking lots.

During all of this time, where were the teachers and their unions.  Did anyone hear them jumping and shouting that “their” children were being deprived of an appropriate education?  I must have missed it.  Probably because that couldn’t be heard over the union cries of “hell no we won’t go” whenever they were asked to go back to work in buildings.  Finally it was the Maryland Governor who threatened that kids needed to be back in school this spring or he would need to look to see whatever measures as Governor he could take.  Miraculously, school districts began to respond with a few hours here for a few kids and a few hours there for a few more kids.

Data show that the course failures for the 3rd quarter of this school year are in the double digits.  The few kids that are returning in-school are showing positive signs for being back in school but there are also obvious signs of emotional damage that we do not have sufficient clinical staff to help.

Meanwhile, politicians are getting into the game.   The Baltimore County Council has issued a veiled threat if the County schools do not offer a rigorous free program this summer to help students recoup, their review of the school system’s budget request for 21-22 school year might get a more careful look than usual.  After all, education costs represent over 50% of the County budget.

And what was the teachers’ union response to all this- a HUGE hosannah that kids were finally getting what they needed?  Nope.  But the president of the union did say, “it’s an opportunity for teachers and support staff to make some extra money”.  Well there you go, now we know what the unions are all about, not that anyone could have missed it.  

In addition to taking so many human lives, and damaging so many kids, seems like the virus has caused us all to lose our way on what schools should be about.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

 The Language of Learning

Several books have been written on the Language of Love.  The question is how does a person want to be shown that he/she is loved.   One person might appreciate little acts of kindness, such as emptying the dishwasher or taking out the trash.   Someone else might want words of affirmation as in, “you look so great in that shirt”.   Or "I was so proud of you last week".  The idea is that if one person knows what the other person wants and then delivers that, there will be less miscommunication.

But what is the language of learning?  It seems that scholars can tell us about love but not so much about learning.  Somehow educators have convinced us that grades are the language of learning and that we all understand that language in the same way.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  

We have been told that during the pandemic kids’ grades are plotted in a U shape rather than the typical Bell Curve.  Essentially what is happening is that the number of students with failing grades or dropping out altogether has gone through the roof and so has the corresponding number of students whose grades have gone up.  All of the large school systems in Maryland are reporting double digit failures in core subjects. The question is why?   

There is a strong likelihood that the students who are failing are doing so because online learning does not align with their skill set.  There are also large numbers of kids, particularly in urban environments or lower social economic groups who do not have adequate WIFI for connectivity.  The hot spots established by schools just doesn’t do it.  

The great grades kids might be perfectly aligned with online distance learning.  Some children on the autism spectrum may be very happy not having to interact with peers.  Then there are families that may be so happy to be able to “help” their child that it is hard to tell just who is finishing high school.

But both of these scenarios hide the real issue which is the use of grades themselves.  No one wants to admit that the Emperor is not wearing any clothes.

Truthfully, do we really believe there is a quantifiable difference between a 91.2 average in a course and an 87.5?  Somebody must believe that foolishness because the two kids will probably get different grades.

Then there is the subject of how the teachers arrived at those grades.  Were the grades based on how many homework assignments the child handed in or on the quality of class participation?  These are totally different metrics but  you would never know that when you compared the grades.  One educator admitted that grades do not measure objective learning.  If they don't measure objective learning what exactly is the purpose.

Every person who has ever received grades in school can tell you about a class in which he or she got a terrible grade but a learned a great deal and the one where the course was aced  because the student knew how to butter up the teacher.

We are all learning about the language of love.  That is not a bad thing.  If we could consider working on the language of learning- that would be a great thing. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Separate but equal....

 Separate but equal never did work…

Separate but equal was a very false dichotomy from the beginning and it hasn’t gotten any better over the years.  It appears to rearing its ugly head again.

As the full impact of online instruction is becoming more and more apparent with both reduced learning and damage to children’s mental health, politicians are pressing hard for a return to in-building instruction.

As school systems around the state begin to prepare for full return by the next school year, some families are thinking about having a parallel school system in which some students are in buildings but some will remain online.  In Maryland, two members of the general assembly have introduced this parallel system as a continuing option.  Here we go again, separate but equal.

It is a terrible idea!

Children go to school for many reasons.  And as we have learned during the school shutdown, one of the primary reasons is to provide child care so parents can work.  While that is not a child-centric reason, it is still a reason.  They also go to school for instruction and to learn socialization skills. 

Online instruction may be popular among parents for a few reasons.  It gives them more control and input into their child’s education.  Some parents feel it is safer.  One parent remarked that she is not sending her child back to school until the COVID virus is totally eliminated.  Good luck with that.  Besides, living in a bubble makes a person much more susceptible to all manner of illness once the bubble is removed.  Some parents just really like having the kids at home all day so they do education at the family’s convenience.  A separate online system will deny children all of the things that make school fun for kids- hands-on art classes, sports, theatre, having a real best friend that changes weekly and getting into fights with your last best friend. All, important skills for living.

Some school systems are now requiring that teachers teach in-person and online at the same time.  Talk about a one-armed paperhanger.  No kids get a good education with that approach and teaching becomes even more impossible. Some districts have the kids in the building but the teacher is at home.  Students are in the building with Chrome books propped on their desks and an aide walking the room for discipline.  

Can we PLEASE get real here.  It is time for schools to open fully.  It is time for students to be back in buildings.  It is well past time for teachers to start earning the salary and benefits they have been receiving and to get into classrooms.

If there is some extra money around, let’s hire more clinical staff because I can tell you that when kids do come back there are going to be some serious mental health issues that will need to be addressed.  

We have been so busy worrying about the virus that we have not noticed a whole lot more that has gone wrong.   The piper is about to be paid.

Separate but equal was always inherently unequal and it still is!


Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Do Kids Deserve Compensation?

 Do kids deserve compensation?


During the last year, students have lost so very much in terms of their instruction and social development.  This situation is particularly true for children with disabilities.  Under federal and state law, children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate education through the school year in which they turn 21.  So far nothing has been done to change that entitlement timeline.  Many kids have suffered academic regression during this long stay at home period.  Others are emotionally impacted.  The usual job training experiences in the community are not happening.  Still the clock will tick and entitlement will end without the learning and the experiences.

Some legislators believe that entitlement should be extended for another year.  There is a bill in the Maryland State Legislature that would extend entitlement for another year for all students with disabilities 17 and older.  The bill has a price tag of just over 40 million dollars.  

There are multiple questions about this bill and the equity of it.  First of all, it will grant a privilege to kids 17 and older with special needs that will not be granted to plain kids 17 and older.   Many of these non-disabled kids have also missed out on their senior year in school and all of the traditions and experiences that go with that.  Students in vocational programs have had virtual machine experiences but that isn’t the real thing.  Would you like to fly in a plane with a pilot who only learned to fly online!?

What about other younger children with disabilities.  They, too, have been shorted in their educational experiences and what are the chances that they are going to be made up?   Not great.

So, what about this bill?  Is it a good one or not?  Depends on how you feel about some help for some students being better than no help for all students, even if the “some” help is unfair to the rest of the kids.

There needs to be a reckoning for all children.  Only a small minority of children have progressed in an appropriate way with distance learning.  All of our kids deserve compensation for what they have endured.  We need to make that happen.