Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Pigs At the Trough

Pigs at the trough

Why is it that schools with low-income families are generally not as good as schools in high income neighborhoods?   There are multiple reasons.   Experienced teachers often transfer out as soon as they have the seniority.  There is not as much equipment and instructional materials.  The buildings are not in good shape.  The parents really don’t care.
All of the above reasons are true except for the last one.  The parents do care.  In fact they may care more than higher income families because they know better than other families that a good education will lift their kids out of poverty.   So why do the schools of low income families seem to get the left-overs in the education world.
Many years ago I was hired as the Director of Special Education for a well-endowed suburban school district in Maryland.  At the time I was young and dumb.  On one of my first days, the superintendent assured me that he valued special education and I would get any money that was left over.   It took me a few months to realize that there was never any money left over and that the money always went to the first pigs at the trough.
Nothing has changed in all those years.   The first schools at the feed trough get the money and any left overs go to the little piglets that are hanging back.
It is not that low -income parents don’t care.  They just don’t know how to care in a way that gets them what they want.  Just as I had to learn how to get the resources I needed for the county’s special education program, so low-income families need to learn how to work the system to get what their kids need.
Community organizers need to teach low-income families how to work the system.   Families need to know how to show up at meetings and complain.  They need to learn how to reach out to the media and show the rest of the population how the resources at their schools differ from those of wealthier families.  This learning will not be easy.   Many parents are intimidated by the school hierarchy.  They are also under the mistaken impression that the school system looks out for all children equally.  That isn’t true.   School systems are like all bureaucratic organizations.  Their first line of duty is to protect themselves.   Better educated, and hence better financially endowed, families get that and will push the system to get what they want for their kids.
Low income parents need a community organizer to teach them not to be passive receivers of whatever the system is dishing out.  People say that lower income families are sometimes working two jobs and don’t have the time to push the school.  Fact is higher income families may only be working one job but they ae spending a great deal of time at that one job.  Higher income families know where the buttons are to push to get what they want.
There are lots of piggies at the trough.  We need to teach low-income families how to be one of them.   They need to do so for the sake of their kids.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Whose Kid Is It Anyway?

Whose kid is it anyway?

There are several new books on the market purporting to teach educators how to partner with parents.   When I look through these books I see a common theme.   It is simple We super smart educators know what needs to happen for our school children and you, uninformed parents, need to get on board.   Since you evidently are not doing so voluntarily, these books will give educators the skills to trick you into being true believers.
Don’t get me wrong.   I think that well-trained educators have much information that will benefit parents in their responsibility to make sure their children get an appropriate education.  But you will notice that I believe it is ultimately the parents who make the appropriate decisions regarding their children’s education.  Unfortunately, it seems that too often educators think working with parents is the art of keeping them from sticking their noses into things that ARE properly their business.
I am well aware that some parents have not a clue what the best decisions are for their kids.   I also realize that a very small minority of parents don’t really care all that much.  Certainly in these instances educators can inform parents and in the worst cases even leap into the breech.  But on the whole, parents are the people who should be making the final decisions based on information from educational experts and other professionals.
Why is that.  First of all, children will belong to their parents until the parents breathe their last.  So if the grown children do not succeed in life, it is often the parents who will pick up the pieces or be the people of last support.  Secondly, parents probably know their children better than anyone.  If they have multiple children, parents can tell you which one is self-motivated and which one not so much.  They can tell educators what things each child thinks is a reward.  Who would like something special to eat and who would like time to read.  Too often, teachers presume that what is rewarding for one child is also rewarding for another. They can also inform teachers about stressors in the child's life.  Thirdly, teachers will only be responsible for this child for a year or so.   Parents are responsible forever.  I think of educators as part-time employers while parents are full time almost forever.
Educators will sometime use the grammar of power in speaking to parents.  They will predict a dire future for the child if the parent does not follow the educator’s lead.  And then there is the fact that educators keep changing their minds.  One year it is test scores; the next year it is phonics.   Whatever the current metric is, parents are led to believe there will significant consequences if the child is not successful in the current calculus.  It is like repeatedly crying fire in a crowded room.
So what should parents and educators do?   Parents need to lean in.  Get themselves educated about just what their child’s capabilities are, not what they had dreamed they would be.   Next, find out what possible options there are for future careers, knowing full well that many of the jobs today's kids will have as adults don’t even exist right now.  Do as much investigating and research as you would do if you were buying a new flat screen or automobile.
Educators need to prepare similarly.  But educators need to prepare as advisors to the decision makers.  Educators should not see themselves in the role of decision maker.   They are not putting down their hard-earned money for that flat screen; that investment belongs to the parents.
On a good day, educators know a lot of some very important stuff when it comes to a child’s education.  Parents know a lot of other stuff about that child as well.  Smart educators try to learn as much as they can from parents, because the more the educator knows the better job he or she can do.  Parental information can make rock stars of teachers.
Oh, and one more thing educators, stop being so patronizing, it is not becoming.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Endrew: Victory or Defeat

Endrew:  Victory or Defeat

In an unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a merely “more than de minimis” academic growth would not meet the requirement of a free, appropriate education (FAPE) for children with disabilities as mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).   Some courts, specifically the 10th Circuit, had ruled otherwise.  
On the surface this appears to be news that all advocates for children with disabilities could cheer.  Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the Court, said that the “de minimis” standard could hardly be said to be any education at all.  Unfortunately, when Judge Gorsuch (yes, the same Judge Gorsuch that was just elevated to the Supreme Court) said in the opinion of the 10th Circuit that “merely” de minimis would be enough, panic spread throughout the advocate world.  The Endrew decision changes that.    There are basically three reactions to this ruling.
Advocates for children with disabilities are basically cheering the ruling.  Ever since the Rowley decision there has been disagreement on “how low can you go” in student achievement and still be considered to be delivering an appropriate education for a child.  So, the unanimous answer of not de minimis is good. 
But the Endrew decision went on to further describe what should be expected for children with disabilities who were fully integrated in a general education classroom and for those who were not.  For those fully integrated, Roberts said these children by virtue of their full integration should be expected to get passing grades and to be able to advance from grade to grade.  But he recognized that for those children not fully integrated, advancement from grade to grade might not be a reasonable expectation.  The opinion went on to state, that for those children the IEP needed to be “appropriately ambitious” with “challenging objectives”.   How very reasonable!   How terribly devastating!  For the first time, a judicial review has recognized that children have differing abilities and, therefore, should have differing expectations.   Squirrels are expected to climb trees; fish are expected to swim.  There are many among the special ed community who want squirrels to swim and fish to swing from tree branches.   The Court's decision, in my view, both recognizes and respects differences.  More importantly, there is now a standard for fully integrating kids in a general classroom- they should be able to advance from grade to grade and get passing grades.   Advocates can use this standard to avoid just dumping kids into general ed where the curriculum may not be appropriate to their needs.
A third reaction to the ruling reflects the disappointment of the Endrew’s parents.  It was their hope that the Court would set a standard that required “appropriate” to mean “to achieve academic success, attain self-sufficiency, and contribute to society.”  These are wonderful goals for all kids, with or without disabilities.  Problem is neither schools nor families can deliver perfection for all kids.   So while we should continue to shoot for the moon, we need to be grateful that the stars are within reach.

This new standard does not totally please anyone.  That must mean it is pretty good.