Tuesday, February 24, 2015

When is an IEP not an IEP?

Federal and state laws have required that all students receiving special education services receive an Individual Education Program or IEP.   This requirement has been in existence since 1975.   The idea is that children will have a program that is tailored to their specific educational needs and thereby be able to compensate for the disability that is challenging their learning.
All of this sounds very good.  However, in recent years and as the movement towards standards based education has gotten into full swing, the reality of an IEP has changed dramatically.
IEP's are hammered out in conjunction with the child's parents/guardians and the school's instructional team.   The law requires that a member of the IEP team also be someone who has the authority to commit the school's resources.   That seldom happens.  Nancy Regan once opined that the war against drugs could be won if people would "just say no".  That approach has been widely used at IEP meetings when the need for more costly services comes up.  Schools just say no.
But I digress.   Let's go back to standards based education.   In a standards based system all of the students are held to the same standard.   It does not matter what a child's intellectual limitations might be or if other challenges prevent the child from reaching his/her full academic potential.   All children are required to climb the same tree, even those kids who are better suited to swim the river.  In a standards based approach, the purpose of the IEP becomes a blueprint for getting the child to the mainstream standard.  To do otherwise would be to "lower the standards".   Lowering standards is akin to giving in to terrorists.   It is definitely something we do NOT want to do, even it if means we sacrifice children's futures.  Oh wait, maybe maintaining standards in the face of all reality is a lot LIKE giving in to terrorists.
But what if a child's natural endowments are not suited to achieving the mainstream standard?  What if the child needs to learn other things in order to make the best use of his/her strengths.  That was exactly the purpose of the IEP, to give each child with a disability an INDIVIDUAL education program suited to that child's strengths and needs.  However, we are now in a place where the full force and purpose of the IEP is geared towards achieving some generalized standard that has been deemed right for everyone, and probably in practice is right for very few with or without disabilities.
Most IEP's today are all about aligning the child's program with the Common Core standards, our latest attempt to get everyone at the same level of achievement, like that could ever happen.
What can we do to regain the IEP for what it was intended to be?  In the present environment, there is only one way.  Families must insist on keeping the I in the IEP.  Doing so will take a great deal of fortitude.  There will be huge push back from school people who will remind parents of the horrendous consequences of "LOWERING STANDARDS".   I say call up your Nancy Regan and "JUST SAY NO"

Monday, February 16, 2015

Who "owns" the kids?

U.S. Senator Rand Paul defended parents who refuse to immunize their kids by saying that "the state doesn't own your children, parents own the children".   A few weeks ago in Maryland, the police stopped two children ages 10 and 6 who were walking home alone in the dark from a park that was one mile from their home.  The children had permission from their parents to make the walk.   The 10 year old was convinced that their parents were going to be arrested.  The parents believed the walk was an interim step in teaching their children independence.  Child Protective Services did not agree and now the agency wants a plan to protect the kids.
So who "owns" the kids?
If parents own their children, do we even need an agency for child protective services.   If I own my kids may I skip school and put them out to work at 14 or 15?   Children used to leave school and go to work much younger than that until school attendance was made mandatory until age 16 in most states.  If I own my kids may I put them into sexual trafficking?  Do I really need to feed, clothe, and provide medical care? How about all those fees for playing sports.  After all these kids are mine.
Then there is that busy body nanny state that thinks it can require that I provide basic minimum protections for my children.  You know feed, clothes, medical care and education.  The nanny state won't even let me discipline my kids the way I think they should be managed.  Since when did the government decide to substitute its judgement for that of the lawful parents.
Probably since the lawful parents far too often failed to provide the protection that children need and deserve.  How is it that someone in the United States Senate speaks of "owning" another human being even if that human being is a minor.  Who speaks for the disenfranchised in our society.  Isn't one of the services we expect from our government the protection of people who, for whatever reasons, can't protect themselves?  Children would certainly fall into that spot.
Can protective agencies go too far in their zeal to protect?   Absolutely- no question about that.  But the reality is that these very under staffed agencies much more frequently err on the side doing too little to protect.  They return a child to an abusive home, don't sufficiently monitor foster care, and just plain ignore complaints from school personnel who are mandated reporters if they suspect abuse.
Governments don't spend money on these agencies because they want to, that is why they are so underfunded.   Government has been forced into protecting children because of the large numbers of people who do not protect what they "own".

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

How do you solve a problem like inclusion?

About 70% of general education teachers feel they lack the expertise to address the needs of students with disabilities in their inclusive classrooms.  In 1990 about 34% of students with disabilities spent most of their time in a general education classroom.  By 2011 this percentage had increased to 61%.   And it is the teachers in those general education classrooms who do not feel competent to teach these children.  Clearly there is a very strong disconnect between these two situations.  So it is not surprising that researchers have tried to come up with a way to resolve the problem.    And here are some of their solutions.
First of all, principals need to assert the kind of leadership that teachers know there is a strong value in the school for inclusive education.  Check.  Got that.   Now how does that value translate into improving the skill set of those 70% of teachers who are asking for help.
That comes in recommendation 2.   Schools need to have a strong data system that monitors students' progress all during the year.  Data indicate that in spite of No Child Left Behind's requirement for annual testing, kids with disabilities are still far behind their typical age mates.  So evidently that testing is not sufficiently informing teachers re: improving instruction.   Clearly this second recommendation is one that suggests we need to do more of what isn't working.  We can double the dose and see how that works.
Recommendation #3 is that school leadership needs to develop better trust between the leadership and the teaching staff.  Demonstrating trust and support for teachers provides the foundation for developing good relationships with teachers.  I couldn't agree more.   What I am missing is how this trustful relationship will morph into better teaching skills.
The elephant in the room is the sequence of this wonderful new policy.   Why were teachers not trained before they were asked to provide the education for these students?  Why were educators more concerned with political correctness than they were about protecting the interests of these vulnerable learners?
The answer to the question of "how do you solve a problem like inclusion?" is the old Boy Scout motto, be prepared.   Educators did what was politically and fiscally convenient.  The taxpayers may have saved a bundle, but the students involved have lost a great deal.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Pay to Play

An interesting court case is winding its way toward the Supreme Court.   Sensing an opening, a conservative group is asking the Court to strike down laws in Maryland, California, Illinois and about 20 other states which require public employees to pay fees to the union even though they choose not to belong to the union.
Here is the deal.  In most states teachers'  unions negotiate contracts for all teachers in the district.  All teachers in the districts get the benefits of those negotiations whether they are members of the union or not.  The unions have argued that it is not fair for those teachers to get a free ride of having the union negotiate benefits without having to pay the costs of such negotiations.   The non-union teachers have argued that they are being forced to support the speech of the union even when they do not agree with it.  In some states, unions have secured what are known as "fair share fees".   Although formulas for these fees differ, essentially the unions factor out the cost of any union political activity and fair share payers only pay for the costs of negotiations.  Unions say this is a common sense way to provide equity.
Voices on the other side say that they should not be required to pay money to a private organization (i.e. the union) in order to hold a public employee position.  These people also argue that their salaries are determined by the amount of money available for salaries and have nothing to do with union negotiations.  They do not address other benefit issues such as planning time, hours required to work or responsibilities.
The country is split almost down the middle.   At least 24 states have "right-to-work" laws which forbid forced-fee arrangements with unions.   Mostly these states are in the south, the Great Plains and more recently Michigan and Indiana.  The coastal states have generally maintained the pro-union fees.
Teachers associations are arguing strenuously that the Supreme Court should not allow the case to be heard.  They say it is unnecessary since there are state laws already established. But conservative groups see an opening with comments by Justice Alito who has written several recent opinions on the "bedrock principles" of the First Amendment.  He has said that no citizen should be required to subsidize the speech of another.
All unions are under pressure.   Manufacturing jobs, the great underpinning of unions, have decreased.  And as some of these jobs have come back, they are non-union shops.  Unions have been blamed for the downfall of the American auto and steel industries.  The two huge supports for teachers unions are the fair share payments and the dues payroll check offs.  If fair share goes, payroll check offs will be next in line.
The elephant in the living room is where were these teachers unions when laws like No Child Left Behind were passed and have beaten kids and teachers into the ground.