Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Still Thankful After Turkey Day

Thanksgiving Day has come and gone.  Leftovers are eaten and/or frozen.  Football games have been played.  Some of our teams won and some others lost.  (Some teams were destroyed- go Terps) The kids and the teachers are back at school.  The countdown to Christmas and the winter break begins.
The next few weeks will be tough for students and teachers.  Activity levels will rise and teachers’ patience will be tested.  Perhaps, parents will be more thankful than usual for teachers.
We should be thankful for teachers.  They do important and meaningful work.  And they put up with our kids, all the while teaching them very useful skills and knowledge.  For many children, their teachers are the people who save them from anonymity.  They are the people who really see them.   Good teachers not only teach they listen.   They guide.  And sometimes they get children the help and resources they need.  Teachers have been known to truly love some kids.   Indeed, some teachers love some children more than the parents do. 
Unfortunately, all of our teachers are not created equally.   A significant minority of our teachers should not even be in the classroom.   Yet they are and they are paid very well. And they get a very nice increase and great benefits every year.   Some teachers are mean and/or sarcastic to children.   Some teachers show blatant favoritism.  Some teachers are bigoted.  Some teachers lack the basic skills of teaching, let alone knowing how to teach more challenged learners.  People with these traits have no business in a classroom where they can harm innocent children.   Some teachers are flat out lousy at their jobs and don’t even like students all that much.  These people are not only an embarrassment to their profession, the besmirch the reputation of the wonderful teachers who are truly making a difference.  They need to be out of the classroom.
We need to be thankful, support and embrace the teachers who are doing a remarkable job under difficult circumstances.  Just as we embrace the wonderful teachers, so we need to remove the ones who are not meeting expected standards.
Over 50% of local tax dollars go toward education.  This investment is proper and important.  But it should not be wasteful. Teachers' unions earn their keep by getting better benefits and salary for all teachers, including the ones who have no place in a classroom.  Teachers' unions will tell you that teachers need to be protected from unfair evaluations.    My view is that children need to be protected from bad teachers and uncaring unions.  We need to take care of the students; let the adults take care of themselves.   Let’s get rid of the bottom of the teacher barrel.  Now that will be something for which to be thankful.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Watch what you count

Watch what you count.

Did you ever notice when you buy a red car, how many other red cars you tend to see on the road?    We pay attention to what we count.
In Baltimore, we are now counting murders.   Make no mistake there are plenty of them.  In fact, Baltimore ranks #2 in the nation in murder per capita for this calendar year.   Second only to St. Louis Missouri.   We are also second to Chicago with the highest number of murders, but they had 2.7 million people in the city; whereas Baltimore checks in at around 670,000 so Chicago comes in at #24 per capita.
Reasonably, everyone is trying to come up with a solution to stem this vicious tide that is tanking the city.    It has been suggested that we need to have more things for kids to do after school besides get into drugs and crime.   We need better housing so that children are not growing up in vermin infested homes- vermin both human and rodent.  We need to teach parents how to parent their offspring, many of whom are barely out of childhood themselves.  We need to teach responsible procreation. We need to send students to schools with the most experienced teachers not the least experienced ones. We need to send social workers into the schools in larger numbers to save these kids.  These are all good ways to salvage our children.
Here is what we seem to forget to notice.   Even in the midst of this large number of criminal adolescents and young adults, the majority of adolescents and young adults in the city and even in the worst neighborhoods-ARE NOT CRIMINALS.
These kids and young adults are living in vermin infested housing.   They don’t have decent activities to get into after school.   Their parents either don’t know how or don’t want to be responsible parents.   There aren’t enough social workers.   Still in spite of these terrible conditions, the majority of the kids are showing up most days.   About 70% of them are actually graduating high school, even though test scores show they aren’t getting much of an education from these poorly trained and experienced teachers.  Many of the kids who have escaped the pitfalls are siblings of of kids who have not and are in the criminal justice system at a very early age.

Why are these children hanging in there and working to succeed against incredible odds when others do not?    These are the students we should be studying.  These are the kids we should be talking to.   We need to find out why these kids have not been drowned by wave after wave of misfortune and poor circumstances.  We need to learn about the survivors.  We need to count them.   We pay attention to what we count.  We have been counting the failures.   Let’s count the young people who are making it against all odds.  They can teach us what to do and what to count. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

How much is enough?

How much is enough?
Before 1975, children with disabilities could be excluded from a school because …, well actually just because the principal said no for whatever reason.  And many principals did say no.  In 1975 the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EHA)was signed by President Ford.  From then until now, children with disabilities must be given a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).  But how much is enough!
Gone are the days when parents were grateful their kids were in a school.  Now parents are making demands that courts have found to be beyond the responsibility of the schools.
There was a family in Maine who insisted that the IEP(Individual Education Program) for their child did not include the specific reading program that the family believed would make the child a successful reader.  The school district disagreed and did not want to include the reading program by name in the IEP.  The court agreed with the school district and said that IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, successor to EHA) did not require that specific methods or instructional techniques be included.  Professional educators get to make those calls.
A Jewish religiously observant family in Maryland turned down the IEP established by the school district because the IEP did not include religious instruction and instruction in Hebrew.  The child has a severe intellectual disability so it is unclear if the child even has the potential to learn Hebrew, a language that requires learning a totally different alphabet as well as a different grammar and structure.  The parents also wanted the public schools to provide instruction in Judaic studies and customs so that the child could participate in family religious observances.  The parents asserted that the child was being denied FAPE without these provisions.   The court denied the parents request noting that there is no requirement for religious instruction in IDEA.  The school district has agreed to make reasonable accommodations for the family to provide this instruction. 
In a recent Supreme Court decision, Endrew F. vs. Douglas County School District the Court said that IDEA does not provide any substantive IEP standard and that the maximization of a student’s potential was not required by the law.
So what do families want and how much is enough?   Is any child guaranteed that his/her potential will be maximized by the school system? Nope, not plain kids and not kids with disabilities.    Does the fact that a child has a disability negate the family’s responsibility for religious instruction? Evidently not, no matter how important religion is to the child's family.  Who is running the educational program, the parents or the professionals?  These are difficult questions and for the time being the various courts have answered them.  But there is a larger question. When are families expecting more than they have the right to expect?  And is there any limit on what is best for a child with a disability?  How much is enough?