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