Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Reward the good, or maybe the bad?

Reward the good, or maybe the bad?

Let’s say you have a school that has great test scores, good staff retention, and is creating an innovative learning environment.  If you were giving out money you would probably want to reward that school so they could continue to do more good things.   Or maybe you would decide they were good enough and you could give your money to other schools.
Then there is this other school.  Test scores are in the pits.  Teachers are standing in line to get out of there.   The school can’t seem to get traction to do what it needs to do.  Perhaps if they had some extra money they might be able to turn things around.  Then again why throw good money after bad?   Look how poorly they have done with the money they already have.
Then there are the schools in the middle of the heap.  How do they break out of mediocrity and would they break out if only they had the money to do so.  Or why aren't they doing something better with the resources they do have?
Money is finite.  As all of our parents used to say, it doesn’t grow on trees.  School boards need to decide which schools will get the money that is available and how much will they get.
In the past, Baltimore City Public Schools has made the decision to reward those schools that are doing a great job of educating kids.  Those schools got an extra share of the money pot.
However, this year the School Board took a turn south.  For the upcoming school year, schools with poor test scores, high poverty rates and poor staff retention are going to get extra money in the hope that money can help to turn those schools around.  Because budgets are a zero sum game that means the other schools will get less.
There are multiple issues here.  First of all, are we punishing the good schools and rewarding the bad ones?  Or how can a bad school get better without extra help.  Then there is the issue of how do you define a high poverty school?   The present federal administration has changed the definition of poverty so that now fewer kids are living in poverty.  Of course, their life situations haven’t changed at all, we just changed the definition.  Who knew you could use language to get rid of poverty. Baltimore is a city of immigrants both recent and long past.  Many of those children are learning English as a second language.  Not surprisingly, the language deficit impacts their scores on the tests.  Schools are punished for lower test scores but we don’t go much farther than blaming the teachers.  Maybe more intensive language instruction for those children for whom English is a second language, might improve test scores.  More intensive instruction costs money.

Money is finite.  There is only so much to go around.  How do we decide who gets an extra share.  All schools should be created equally, they aren’t and some are more equal than others.   Do we reward the good or the bad?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

People will have to understand...

People will have to understand and I will protect my child.

Unfortunately, the response to the above is no and no.   People in the broader world will not understand your child’s disability and sometimes folks in your own family don’t understand.   All those people in the grocery store, the shopping mall and on your very own street who give you dirty looks that imply if you knew how to raise children, your kids wouldn’t be acting that way.  They don’t understand and aren’t going out of their way to be able to understand.
The other sad situation is that hard as you may try, parents cannot protect their kids forever.  We cannot protect our children from being in a car that is hit by a drunk driver.  We sometimes cannot even protect our kids from another family member.  And unless we expect to keep our child always in our home and in school and expect to live forever so we can do that, we need a plan B when it comes to protecting our children.
Children with disabilities are more like their typical age-mates than they are different.   Their hormones will kick in at about the same time as typical kids.  Boys are likely to masturbate and/or to have spontaneous erections.  Children are going to develop secondary sex characteristics and to, all of a sudden, be curious about the kids of the other gender. These are the same people they had nothing to do with just a couple of years ago.  There will be lots of teen age drama about who likes whom.   Social media will make the information sharing much easier to do and, most unfortunately, much more graphic.   That is where plan B comes in.
Our children will always be our children but they will not always be our babies.  We need to teach and explain what is happening to their bodies.  We need to share that even without social media, we have fought these same wars when we were teens.  We need to be open to questions and we need to let our kids do some test driving.  We learned to drive a car by studying the rules and then really driving the car.  Our children need to learn to drive not just social media but social events.  We need to clearly teach about social boundaries and what “this far and no farther” means.   Just as it is important to teach about these things, we need to give children the opportunity to use what has been taught.  It does not serve our kids well to be kept in a bubble.   One day the bubble will burst.
The community at large and future employers are not interested in doing charity work.  Employers will give money to a good cause but when it comes to their business they are looking to make that money.  So anyone they hire has to have the social skills to contribute toward that end result.  Employers, and the community at large, look for five magic words, please, thank you, excuse me and for a smile at greeting.  
In the end, if we teach our children well and make sure they practice the skills, people won’t have to understand, and our children will have the skills to protect themselves and that is what we really want anyway.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The End and the Beginning- mostly forgotten

The end and the beginning-mostly forgotten

Transition programming could easily be argued as the most important phase of any special education program.  Yet it is the part of the total program that is often given minimal attention.   Fortunately, parents are catching on to its importance even if school systems are not.
There have been several court cases of late in which parents have demanded that their children get the kind of transition program promised in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).   IDEA requires that children over 16 must have appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based on age appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment and, where appropriate, independent living skills.
A court in Oregon has found that merely taking two classes geared toward transition, attending a career day and visiting a community college did not meet the standard of the law.   A New York court found that having a brief discussion with a student about vocational interests did not meet the standard for a transition assessment.  It also found that generic courses did not comply with the IDEA requirement for an individualized transition program.  The court found no individual tailoring of services.
Whereas, the instructional portion of the IEP (Individual Education Program) regularly spells out services and goals that are specific to the student, the transition part of the IEP does not.  So how and why does this matter?
We are currently consumed with standardized testing results and insistent upon using test scores for everything from promoting students to grading teachers.  Yet no one has shown any correlation, let alone causation, between good test scores and success after high school whether in college or a job.  In fact, community colleges and 4-year schools report no reduction in the need to take zero credit catch-up classes by incoming freshmen in the 20 years since No Child Left Behind gave us multiple tests during a school year in its quixotic  quest to have every child on grade level by 2014.
So, what’s a family to look for in providing for a successful transition to postsecondary success, particularly in a time when funds for eligible adult services are rapidly evaporating.
First of all, start with an honest assessment at age 16.   By that time a child will have been in school for 10-11 years.  Academic achievement is probably not going to make great leaps and bounds to grade level if it is not already almost there.  Secondly, what are the child’s strengths and weaknesses.  Skip the pipe dreams of being a rock star or an Olympic athlete.   Make sure the school does an honest assessment of what are real possibilities for the child.  Does the child have great people skills?   Or are the skills more in a technical or mechanical area but away from people?  Be honest.   Look at the deficits and decide which can be filled in the 4-5 years of entitled schooling that lie ahead.  Make sure the school evaluates and plans for the child as an individual not as mass marketing check off the boxes kind of way.

This end stage of entitlement could be the most important of all.  Do it well and do it right and the child will be assured of a new beginning when school is out.