Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Old School Makes More Sense

Whatever is old, could be new again.  In the days before we got the notion that all God's children had  identical skill sets, we recognized that different children had differing talents.  Such a odd notion!  In those days school systems offered several types of high school diplomas.   There was a strictly academic diploma for those students who were going on to college and a career that required a college education.  Those kids took foreign language courses, advanced math classes and English classes that taught writing for college research papers.  Literature classes emphasized the skills needed for literary analysis.  Then there was a program called commercial classes.  Unfortunately too many girls were channeled into these classes where they learned to basically perform secretarial skills for office work.  Girls (and the students were almost entirely girls) learned to type, take shorthand from dictation and write basic business letters.  Some of those skills seem quaint today but they led to employability.  Finally, there was a vocational high school diploma for students whose skill set was mechanical.  Those kids might take auto repair, woodshop, or metal working.  Again they could expect to go right from high school to a good job.
In today's system, everyone is going to college and everyone will need to be in a college trained career.  That is like thinking everyone  needs to learn to be an engineer to build bridges but we give little thought to who will be repairing the cars to drive over those bridges.  We seem to think cows need to learn to climb trees and monkeys need to learn to give milk.  Why can't we respect the individual skills of our children and teach them how to enrich those skills.  Our economy does not need everyone to be college educated. Blasphemy I know.  Our economy is complex and we need people with the skills to repair the equipment that others may design or manufacture.
Was the old system perfect?  Not by a long shot.  It was assumed that girls would not go to college.  They would work in offices as assistants to men until they married, had kids and left the workforce or didn't get married and would live out their work lives being assistants to men.  It was also assumed that lower socio-economic kids would go into the trades and upper-middle class and upper class socio-economic kids would go to college.  There were enough students breaking through those assumptions to create a central tendency of upward mobility.
Today's system sets way too many kids up for failure.  Sure we can push everyone into a college program.  And when they drop out for lack of interest or skill, what are they prepared to do?  We are requiring far too many students to take courses that are only useful if they go on to more advanced academic work.  We have students struggling with algebra 2.   We have a significant minority of our citizenry who have not a clue how a democratic government functions.  Is this really what we want?
We can do better by all the children in the system.  We can recognize and RESPECT individual skill sets.  Could we for once look at the curriculum our children need and not the testing schedule our national ego needs.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Got a diploma, now the trouble starts

There is great news coming out of Washington DC these days.   The number of students with special needs graduating in four years is at an all-time high at 62% of the class of 2013- from a low of 23% in Mississippi to a high of 80% in Arkansas.   Problem is, got my diploma, but what happens now.
For many high school graduates with disabilities the answer is far less than satisfying.
The federal law IDEA that requires an education at public expense for those students with disabilities, also requires that the kids be provided with a transition program to launch them into the real world.
Awakening is for many of these graduates the launch pad is sending them flying over a cliff.

Many transition programs are the equivalent of dragging one chicken leg through multiple pots of water and calling it chicken soup. Few schools have identifiable transition specialists that carry individual caseloads.   Instead, these professionals hold general family meetings and distribute information.   Once the student graduates there is no one to do the hand holding to walk families through the new bureaucratic maze.  Families are given informational brochures about the adult services that are available in their communities.   What they learn very quickly is that these are services for which the graduate is eligible but not at all entitled.   This situation is very unlike the pre-21 special education services to which the students were entitled in school.  In the adult services world there are few rights; and programs look a lot like a Dickens' movie, "more porridge please".

Schools need to focus on a students realistic strengths.   People with disabilities make up 12 percent of the student population; yet they represent 25% of people in their age bracket who get in trouble with the law.  What can the person with disabilities actually do?  Can he stand on his feet for eight hours?  Can she handle a rapid fire environment?  And PLEASE can we ditch the totally unrealistic aspirations of being in a rock band, being a star athlete and other dreams that don't even come true for typical kids. Most teachers do not even know what can be available for students.   They are concentrating on improving test score and have not a clue what is needed for work place scores.   Kids are taught to follow the rules, let the grown ups work it out.   Mom and dad are not going to be on the college campus, in the interview office, or at the job site.   A grad can wave that diploma at a college prof or future employer all he or she wants, but it won't get the job done.   Now the trouble starts.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Failure is in style

We are in a place where failure is glorified.  Why is that?   Is is because the mandated testing has created so many failures that we don't want kids to feel quite so bad so we try to give the impression that failure is somehow ok.   Well the fact is, failure is not good and should not be glorified.
Failure is when the system breaks down and there needs to be a complete re-start.  Failure is not when there is a misstep along the learning curve and a student simply needs to be retaught that step in the process.  Failure is not even coming close.   It is totally missing the target.
Teams that fail to win are not lauded for trying hard.   Marriages that end in divorce are not celebrated at anniversary parties.  Wars in the middle east are the result of failed peace talks; people are dead as a result.  These are no small things.
Over 50 years ago, Benjamin Bloom developed several taxonomies of learning.  These taxonomies can be used as benchmarks in the development of formative learning assessments.  The taxonomies are sequential learning indicators that measure the process of learning.   There is no memorization.  When students make mistakes on this ladder to learning, teachers can adjust teaching and move on again to climb the ladder.  If used correctly there are no failures, just readjustments in the teaching learning process.
Failure, on the other hand, requires a total reboot.  Firstly, the individual needs to take stock and personal responsibility.  The question of "why did I fail?" needs to be asked.  Unfortunately, we are living in an age when personal responsibility is seldom the first reason identified for failure.   The coach didn't like me so that is why I did not make the team.  The teacher was not any good and that is why I didn't learn enough.  The test didn't test what I thought it would.
Where is the personal assessment and responsibility in all this?   I didn't study enough.   I didn't practice enough.  I didn't go after class and ask the teacher to explain what I didn't understand.
In attributing the reasons for personal failure, it is important to distinguish between those that are within my power to fix and those that are not.  If I am short, I probably won't be a great basketball star.  If I have limited musical ability, music is probably not a good career choice for me.  BUT there are lots of other areas where if I do accept responsibility and agree with myself to do the work I need to do, then I can change the outcomes.
Failure should not be glorified by saying it is good enough because you tried.   While it is true that Edison had thousands of failures before he hit the right inventions, it is also true that had he not finally had success he would not even be a footnote to history.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

What's with the Boy Scouts?

What is going on with the Boy Scouts?  The Boy Scouts do not do not allow openly gay adults to be scout leaders.   Some Scout councils have defied the ban and have been threatened with having their council removed from Scouting.  Robert Gates, the national president of the Boy Scouts of America, has suggested that perhaps in the future this ban should be modified to allow for individual councils to decide what is appropriate for them. Notice the national office is not taking a position of non-discrimination.  In 2013, after a very bitter internal debate, the Scouts allowed opening gay youths to be Scouts but have not allowed openly gay adults to be leaders.  A New York BSA chapter has hired an openly gay young man who is also an Eagle Scout to be a summer camp leader.  As of this time BSA have not taken any action.  Gates noted that while BSA could remove the charters of councils that defied the rules, that would hurt the boys who are scouts.   Gates also noted that a number of states prohibit the discrimination of hiring based on sexual orientation.  "Thus between internal battles and potential legal conflicts, the BSA finds itself in an unsustainable position that makes us vulnerable to the possibility the courts simply will order us to at some point to change our membership policy", Gates said.  So Scouting should look at its policies, not because it is the right thing to do but because they could be forced to do the right thing.  Interesting position for an organization that claims the moral high ground.
About 70 percent of Scout units are sponsored by churches.   However it is quite a leap to assume that  those churches would find welcoming gay leaders inconsistent with their faith.
The Boy Scout oath has scouts pledge to help other people at all times.  The Scouting code say that a scout is brave.   How brave is it for troop leaders to continue to discriminate against people for their sexual orientation when over 60% of the country believes that gays should be allowed to marry.  The Scouts need to wake up.
Then there is the situation in Illinois where a couple is suing the Boy Scouts of America Northwest Suburban Council for "improperly and illegally" revoking their son's membership in scouting because he has Asperger's syndrome, a form of high functioning autism.  Their son was a member of the troop for seven years and even became a patrol leader.  The Smiths received a letter which only stated that their son's membership was being revoked because of information received which "compelled" them to revoke the membership.  There is no mention in the letter about what that information was or where it came from.   As a response to the lawsuit the Boy Scouts of America spokesman issued a statement that BSA works to accommodate the needs of Scouts and he would investigate.
Funny how the Boy Scout movement views discrimination as helping people at all times.   A parent would need to look hard and long before exposing his or her son to this kind of helping others. I wouldn't want my son to have his moral compass heading south rather than due north.  
Oh and by the way, Girl Scouts have no such restrictions on the girls or their leaders.  Amazing how that works and Girl Scouting is growing, not so much the guys.  Guess someone is getting wise.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Declare Victory And Go Home

A recent evaluation of the state's preschoolers shows that only 47% of the kids are ready for kindergarten.   Last year the percentage was 83.   Golly, I wonder what happened to our kids in one year's time!   How did they lose so much skill?   Oh wait someone moved the yardstick.
This year the preschoolers were measured against the new kindergarten standards from Common Core.  According to Common Core, a child entering kindergarten is expected to know the difference between information/explanatory writing and opinion writing.  Well now that's easy for any five year old.
While we are at it, why not declare that all 5th graders should be fluent readers; and all 9th graders should be able to do a research paper with proper footnoted citations.  Why not go for broke and declare that all entering college freshmen should be able to do entry level courses in the basic skills of math and English.   Just isn't happening no matter what one declares.
Years ago, No Child Left Behind declared that all children would be on grade level by 2014.   Just in time that was realized to be impossible so the expectation was dropped with no fanfare at all.
Does ANYONE out there realize that kids are a lot like human beings and that each one is different from another?   Does ANYONE get that there is a developmental progress of both physical and cognitive skills?  Why don't we demand that infants talk and walk?  Oh how silly, they are not sufficiently developed physically for us to even consider that.   We easily accept that some babies will walk earlier than others or talk earlier.  That is all ok.
Common Core expectations have taken a page from Mussolini.  He was noted for whatever his other failures, he made the trains run on time.  Common Core is out to make kids' minds run on time.
No matter that students have differing needs and abilities.  Some students need advanced math, others need to learn consumer math.   Probably wouldn't hurt the advanced math students either.
We are demanding that all students learn the same thing.  We are also demanding that they do so at the same pace.  It doesn't even matter that the pace is not aligned with typical human cognitive development.  We are on a mission to improve education.   We WILL make all equal in what they learn.  We WILL do this so we will have equality in our education system and cure the ills of poverty and bigotry. When every child learns the same content on the same day, cognitively ready or not-- We will declare victory and go home.