Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Honoring character when it is in low supply

Honoring Character when it is in low supply.
As an educator, teaching character is one of the most important things that I do.  I believe it is one of the most significant end products of a good education.  In today’s climate, it is difficult to make the case for the importance of good character, when all around us people who are supposed to be our leaders are demonstrating poor character and mocking the good character in others.

Each of us lives in a box of our own experience or choosing. How we each got in our box varies by individual.   Some of us made poor decisions.  Others may have had negative events happen to us through no fault of our own.  Still others may have worked very hard to create the best box imaginable. Many people have had opportunities that have allowed them to build a good box.  Other people have managed to build wonderful boxes by making their own opportunities.   For some the quality of the box is measured by the number of dollars one has amassed to put in the box. A great space or a challenged space, our box is still our comfort zone.  

 No matter how wonderful the box, a person should not stay within those confines. The number of windows and doors in that box will determine the quality of our lives.  Coming out of our box helps to build character.  The more we explore beyond our box we see the character of others and that everyone is a variation of ourselves.

People with good character have a moral core.  That moral core does not belong to any one faith.  Indeed, it may not be a part of any organized faith at all.  We need to see other human beings as people who have wants and needs just as we do.  Who, on some scale, struggle to achieve the same things- good health, safety (physical and emotional), food, shelter and freedom to become whatever our talents lead us to.  We must see and respect the kernel of dignity in all of us. 

In the middle of the night, when fear is often rearing its ugly head, we all need a hand to hold; whether that hand is physically present or figuratively present in some special relationship.  It is something that cannot be purchased.  It is earned by the good character that creates connections with others.  We may think that power is important; that character does not matter.  But power has a very short shelf life.  Character is enduring.  If you ignore the circumstances of others because of your vaulted position, what kind of person are you?

We must teach our children to reach out to a hand that may be trembling.  The time may come when that trembling hand is yours and you will be grateful to whomever provides comfort to you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Gambling on Good Schools

Gambling on Good Schools

Fact:  Maryland is the wealthiest state in the nation based on typical household income. ($75,847)  Fact: Marylanders were sold on the concept of casinos and gambling in Maryland because the money was going to go into the Education Trust Fund.  Fact: In the last seven years, income from gambling has pumped 1.7 billion dollars into the Education Trust Fund.  Fact: Maryland was ranked #1 in the nation in the quality of its schools for several years in a row.  Now it is #5.  Still pretty good.  Fact: Maryland does the best job in the country of even funding of education throughout the state.  At least it did up until a couple of years ago.

Now for the rest of the story.  While it is very true that 1.7 billion dollars have gone into education from the gambling enterprises, it is also true that this money has been used to supplant the state money that used to go into education.  That money has gone into salaries, roadwork and to support other government services.  So even though a lot of money is coming in, a similar amount is going out the other end and not to schools.   Sort of like a funnel.  In fact, Baltimore City, one of the most strapped districts in the state, has actually received less money, not more, and it stands to lose another 42 million under the Governor’s latest FY 18 budget.  And it has the Horseshoe casino right downtown. 

One of the reasons Maryland has received credit in the past for having the most equitable spending is that Maryland has had an adjustment fund in addition to the mandated maintenance of effort funding required by law.  This additional fund gave extra money to school districts such as Montgomery County that has a very high cost of living.  It also gave supplementary funds to the poorer school districts to help them to compensate for lower local revenues.  Last year, even though the State Legislature found the money to fund this compensatory fund, the Governor refused to allocate the funds.   For the FY18 budget there are no monies appropriated for this fund. 

The law that allowed the casinos required the profits to go toward school funding BUT that law did NOT require that the funds would need to increase state funding for education.  And indeed, the profits have not.  Instead the money has been used to supplant funding.   Because the school state funding mandate requires the Governor to allocate more money to schools each year, he can assert that his budget has allocated more money than every other governor.  That will be true next year and the year after that, regardless of who is governor unless the Legislature changes the law, which is not likely.  

The casinos can continue to advertise that the profits from casino gambling are pumping millions of dollars into state education.  This is true.  Not the casinos fault that the Governor is using those funds to take the place of State funds, leaving schools no better off.   In fact, in 2011, before gambling, Maryland spent $31 billion, 21% of its overall budget.  Today with gambling, the State spends just 18% of its budget on education.

Maryland is the wealthiest state in the union.  Why does it need to play a shell game and gamble with our kids’ education?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Little Red Riding Hood Solution

The Little Red Riding Hood Solution

In 1975, The Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) reborn as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) promised all children with disabilities a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).   In 1982, a Supreme Court decision that later became known simply as Rowley, defined FAPE as requiring some educational benefit to the student in addition to being at no cost.  That definition has pretty much set the standard.
However, as with Little Red Riding Hood, how much of “some” is just right.  Parents have gone to court around our country to contest the benefit of the education their children are receiving.  The various circuit courts have used differing terminology.  The 3rd U.S. Circuit in Philadelphia in 1988 stated its view that Congress did not write a blank check to children and their families but neither did it intend only trivial benefit.   That Circuit stated it believed the Congress intended meaningful benefit.   In 2004, the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati sort of agreed by stating that it believed the statute provided a higher standard than the provision of “some” or “any” educational benefit.  By 2011, it seems the winds were shifting slightly.  The 8th Circuit was willing to accept a program that provided more than “slight” or “de Minimis academic progress.  The opinion suggests that anything above de Minimis would be okay.   Most recently in 2015, the 4th Circuit in Richmond (Maryland is under the 4th Circuit) determined that children receiving special education services must secure some educational benefit that is more than minimal or trivial.
Drew was in the 4th grade when this case started in Colorado.   He is now 17.   Drew is a young man on the autism spectrum.   When he was in the 4th grade he received special education services.  His behavior and academic achievement deteriorated.   His parents said that the 5th grade program offered was just more of the same programming that had not worked.   They withdrew him and placed him in a private school and thus began the family odyssey through the court system.  Drew’s mom says she was advised at the beginning of the journey not to begin unless she was ready to go all the way to the Supreme Court.  She was ready, but never expected the journey to go there. 
The family’s position is that FAPE is not FAPE unless it offers “significant educational progress”.   School districts have argued they could never afford this standard- whatever it is.   Parents of plain kids have argued that this benefit is not offered to their kids.  However, IDEA already creates a special class of children known as children with disabilities who have more rights than plain kids.  Although the family has won some and lost some cases in this journey to the Supreme Court, they did gain a powerful ally, the Obama administration’s Justice Department when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on January 11.   The school district has said “All the government can say for sure is that schools should ‘enable eligible children to make progress that is appropriate in light of their own particular needs and capabilities.’ But telling courts that an ‘appropriate’ education means a ‘significant’ one, which in turn means an ‘appropriate’ one, hardly helps them draw a principled line”.
School districts care about the kids they are trying to educate, but they are fenced in by available economic resources and the capabilities of their staff.   Parents love their children and fear for their children’s futures if the children are not appropriately educated. They are fenced in by those fears of the future.  What if enough is not enough?   Humans with disabilities want a future.  Their lives are constrained by the very disabilities that are getting them the special education.  They are fenced in by their thoughts of having no future.

One bowl of porridge is too cold, one is too hot.  The big question is will our children with disabilities get the bowl that is just right.