Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The End and the Beginning- mostly forgotten

The end and the beginning-mostly forgotten

Transition programming could easily be argued as the most important phase of any special education program.  Yet it is the part of the total program that is often given minimal attention.   Fortunately, parents are catching on to its importance even if school systems are not.
There have been several court cases of late in which parents have demanded that their children get the kind of transition program promised in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).   IDEA requires that children over 16 must have appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based on age appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment and, where appropriate, independent living skills.
A court in Oregon has found that merely taking two classes geared toward transition, attending a career day and visiting a community college did not meet the standard of the law.   A New York court found that having a brief discussion with a student about vocational interests did not meet the standard for a transition assessment.  It also found that generic courses did not comply with the IDEA requirement for an individualized transition program.  The court found no individual tailoring of services.
Whereas, the instructional portion of the IEP (Individual Education Program) regularly spells out services and goals that are specific to the student, the transition part of the IEP does not.  So how and why does this matter?
We are currently consumed with standardized testing results and insistent upon using test scores for everything from promoting students to grading teachers.  Yet no one has shown any correlation, let alone causation, between good test scores and success after high school whether in college or a job.  In fact, community colleges and 4-year schools report no reduction in the need to take zero credit catch-up classes by incoming freshmen in the 20 years since No Child Left Behind gave us multiple tests during a school year in its quixotic  quest to have every child on grade level by 2014.
So, what’s a family to look for in providing for a successful transition to postsecondary success, particularly in a time when funds for eligible adult services are rapidly evaporating.
First of all, start with an honest assessment at age 16.   By that time a child will have been in school for 10-11 years.  Academic achievement is probably not going to make great leaps and bounds to grade level if it is not already almost there.  Secondly, what are the child’s strengths and weaknesses.  Skip the pipe dreams of being a rock star or an Olympic athlete.   Make sure the school does an honest assessment of what are real possibilities for the child.  Does the child have great people skills?   Or are the skills more in a technical or mechanical area but away from people?  Be honest.   Look at the deficits and decide which can be filled in the 4-5 years of entitled schooling that lie ahead.  Make sure the school evaluates and plans for the child as an individual not as mass marketing check off the boxes kind of way.

This end stage of entitlement could be the most important of all.  Do it well and do it right and the child will be assured of a new beginning when school is out.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

#It's even uglier

#It’s Even Uglier

Sexual abuse of women has been getting a lot of buzz lately.  Sometimes it seems as if Anita Hill never happened.  It is about time these crimes are being noticed and hopefully, once in the glare of light, will decrease.
However, there is another population that is 7 times more likely to be sexually abused than a typical person.   That population is made up of intellectually disabled people, mostly females but some males as well.
Rape and sexual abuse are crimes of power not sex.   It must be an ultimate power trip to sexually abuse an individual who does not necessarily even understand what is happening.  I don’t even want to imagine how dysfunctional these perpetrators must be.
Multiple reasons are given for the huge disparity between these rates of abuse other than the mental sickness of the perps.  One of the major reasons is the isolation and typical human need for love and affection experienced by many girls/women with intellectual disabilities.  Often times people with disabilities lack the skills to discern real affection from a scam artist who is looking for sexual power.  So they can become willing victims of a predator and accepting of the stories they are being told.  Social isolation is another reason.   Once out of school, people with disabilities miss the social contact with friends.
And VERY unfortunately, some of these attacks come from care givers at group homes, people who drive the vans transporting people with disabilities, and sometimes “typical” boys wanting to show off.  There was a case in New Jersey a number of years ago where several varsity football players at a high school took a girl receiving special ed services into the locker room and took turns raping her.  The poor girl believed them when they said they loved her.   Just as assault on typical women is not reported often enough, assault on females with disabilities is seldom reported for various reasons, most related to the disability.
People with disabilities make poor reporters, sometimes even refusing to admit the assault was not consensual.  Law enforcement is overwhelmed with cases they can successfully prosecute and aren’t necessarily looking for more work.  Families are embarrassed that they “let this happen” to the individual in their care.
Just as we need to eliminate sexual abuse against typical women, we must redouble our efforts for those with disabilities who are at much greater risk.
Middle and high school clinical and guidance services must confront the issue directly.   Students need to be taught the difference between a real romantic relationship and one that is just looking for power and sex. We need a structured curriculum to do this. Families need to not be afraid to acknowledge that their children may be sexually active.  We need to strongly and directly teach about personal boundaries.
We need to do more to provide our people with disabilities with healthy social connections well into adulthood.  We need to bring this crime out of the closet and make sure the events are reported to the proper authorities.  The first step to stopping something is to recognize its existence and then to count it.  We Americans are obsessed with counting things.
In the end, we need to help our people with disabilities have enough self-respect and confidence in themselves that they are not vulnerable to false promises.  And that they are loved and cared about because of who they are, not in spite of it.
#me too, is getting uglier.


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Join me on Fantasy Island

Come Join me on Fantasy Island

We are often told that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.  News sources tell us that many states are suffering from a shortage of teachers.   Virginia is reporting over 1000 teacher vacancies.  Some states are reducing school to 4 days a week because they lack money or staff.   One of the solutions has been to raise teachers’ salaries.  In Maryland, they are above the national average.  But that solution has been tried before to no avail.  People still don’t want to teach. 
It is a new year, so time for some dramatically new ideas.   Come join me on Fantasy Island.
First of all, what kind of people do we want as teachers.  Here would be my list: smart, self-motivated, invested in helping kids.   We could teach them the pedagogy skills.  Next we need to look at the kind of working conditions that people with those skills want.   I think smart people want to be able to utilize their abilities.  They do not want to be micro-managed.   Self-motivated people want to be rewarded based on how well they perform.   Wanting to help kids means giving teachers the freedom to do that.
So, if I accept my description of the kind of teachers we want, and I do J, then what do we do about teaching and teacher preparation.  We will need to step on lots of toes and get lots of oars out of the water.
First of all, let’s dump the teacher certification.   The rules are arcane and just lead to lots of box checking.  Plenty of people would be great teachers who are not interested in checking off 3 credits here, a Praxis test there.  Teacher certification may have been instituted to ensure some quality in the teaching ranks. It certainly has not worked. The unions have made sure terrible teachers, certified or not, get to keep their jobs.  If we do away with teacher certification, the state department of education bureaucrats will need to find more productive work.  And then there are the teacher ed departments in colleges and universities.  What will they do when teachers only need to take classes when there is something they want to learn rather than check off a box.  Those budgets will take a terrible hit.   But we might get some exciting people with new ideas signing up to teach.
Now that we are done with certification, we need to institute a “means” test to be in the classroom.  The means is not how well a teacher keeps up with the pacing guide. Aspiring teachers would present themselves to a state or local agency.  They would need to enter into a 2-year internship with a master teacher in whatever field the aspiring teacher wants to teach.   The master teachers would have a specific skill set that teachers needed to have.  The master teacher would teach the skill set to the intern.  The intern would both learn on the job AND take course work to develop a conceptual framework for the skill set.  Courses could be taught by the local college or by the local school system.   Again, in order to become a licensed teacher, the individual would need to demonstrate both proficiency in the skill in a real classroom AND understand the whys behind the skill.  Teachers would be paid based on merit and proficiency at their job. And teachers would be allowed to develop relationships with kids.  Sort of like great physicians generally make more money than average ones in their field.  Ditto other professionals.  Elementary teachers could hug kids again.  People who misbehaved would be fired.  The union could not keep them on the job.  But the vast majority of students and teachers would remember again what it meant to have a magical relationship with a teacher. Unions would need to stop being unions and go back to when they were professional associations.  They could advocate for educators having a seat at any table that was determining educational policy.  They might even offer some of those training courses.  What they would not do is negotiate for salaries or benefits.   And they would not be able to keep weak teachers teaching.
Even though recreational marijuana just became legal in California, I promise I have not been smoking any on my Fantasy Island.
Truly, do you think anyone would ever join me on my island.  One thing I know for sure, Fantasy Island would be known for the best teachers anywhere.