Tuesday, August 28, 2018

High Quality Teachers-dream or reality

High Quality Teachers- Dream or Reality

The Kirwin Commission named after Brit Kirwin former President of the University System of Maryland has been charged with making recommendations for the improvement of education in Maryland.  One big part of the recommendation is the report of the sub-group on High Quality Teachers and Leaders Workgroup.
There are many recommendations from the group, all of which will dramatically increase the cost of teachers in Maryland.  The bigger question is whether the recommendations, if funded ( a HUGE if), would also increase the quality of the teaching in Maryland.
The first section of the report addresses pay equity of teachers with other professions and with teachers in Massachusetts and New Jersey. The Workgroup is recommending an-across-the board increase of 10% in the next three years in order to achieve this objective.  No mention is made of whether or not merit will be taken into account for this increase nor of the fact that the cost of living in New Jersey and Massachusetts is much higher than that of Maryland.  
The report acknowledges the roles of the various unions in setting teachers' salaries.  It recommends that the State conduct periodic benchmarking studies of teachers' salaries. Each county and local union will receive from the State at the start of each collective bargaining process the weighted salaries of comparable professionals such as registered nurses and accountants.  Again there is no mention of the fact that merit figures highly into the salaries of other professionals unlike teachers who all receive the same salary with the same education and same time in the profession in the same jurisdiction.
The next big section of the report concerns a career ladder for teachers. The career ladder they are suggesting is similar to the those found in Singapore and Shanghai.  
The State would provide the design parameters for each step of the ladder, although local systems may make their own corrections within the parameters spelled out by the State.  It is projected that there will be many more teachers at the bottom rungs of the ladder than at the top.  Positions at the top will also be limited so that people will only be able to move into those spots based on availability.  This approach is different from a salary plan implemented by Baltimore City in which salaries are regularly topping 100K based on a system similar to earning merit badges.  In the proposed system,  movement up the ladder will be a function of performance and experience.  There will be a teacher leadership track and an administrative leadership track.  Individuals may move horizontally between the two tracks.  Along with these new tracks will be a proposal to raise the standards for acquiring a teaching license.   The new standard does not measure classroom performance but rather a test of teaching ability.  These new tests require the submission of portfolios designed to show how well an applicant teaches absent the children in a real classroom.  An individual can prepare a great portfolio but will it fly with 28.5 children in a real 8th grade classroom. 
All of these steps admittedly will dramatically raise the cost of teachers. And if teachers can’t meet the new standards, the plan will also reduce the number of teachers at a time when student enrolled in Colleges of Education is falling significantly.  
This is an ambitious plan that will cost a great deal of money without really assuring that the quality of teachers will improve.  Unless we can also improve the quality of the teaching we will just be getting better paid weak teachers

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

How do I IEP?

How do I IEP?

The school year is about to start anew.   For many families that means there will be an IEP meeting that will need to be negotiated.   These meetings can be fun, fulfilling and/or demanding and torturous.
Federal and state law require that the IEP (Individual Education Program) be truly individual to each child and be the document that describes how FAPE (Free appropriate public education) is provided to each child.  FAPE is guaranteed to each child with a disability from birth through the school year in which the child turns 21.  A school system cannot plead lack of resources or staff for failure to meet the requirements of the IEP, so it is very important that the document spells out what is needed.
Since school systems cannot claim shortages as reasons for not providing the services, they will sometimes go another route and insist the child does not need the service.
Flash to parents, first of all the IEP is a serious deal for your child, please dress the part.  You want to be taken seriously by the staff.  There is a good chance that staff will outnumber you, so you need to look like someone who is not to be messed with.  Parents may bring an advocate or an attorney to the meeting.  They may also bring separate independent evaluations about their child.   The law requires that the team consider these evaluations.  Consider does not mean accept or follow the advice given. It means simply that, consider. So, the team can read the evaluation, put it aside, and they have considered it.
This past year the Supreme Court gave parents a bright new tool. The Janus decision is very clear, an IEP that provides only the minimal amount of progress for a child from year to year is not providing FAPE.   In the past, before this decision, IEP teams could count any progress at all as meeting the requirement.  Now families can demand more and they can insist on differing expectations to meet their children’s needs.
It is not unusual for staff to report school performance that is below that which families see at home or for teachers to indicate that instructional performance in the classroom is higher than that shown on a formal evaluation. Kids do better at home because there is usually less pressure and parents help in many ways their support to provide.  Likewise, in everyday instruction, there are many supports that allow a student to do better than on a timed formal test.
No matter how young or how old the child is, a parent’s eye should be on where you want this child to be when the entitlement of FAPE is over.  
The IEP is parents’ best control over their child’s education. Use it carefully and wisely.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Will Your School Stand UP?

Will your school stand up?

Does your child go to a good school?   How do you know?   If you follow the common wisdom, you can tell by the test scores.  School systems are required to post the test scores of each individual school within the system.  Real estate values go up or down based on the posted scores.   Families agree to privately transport to the schools with good scores and/or make up reasons why their children need to go to the schools with better scores.
But are we chasing the wrong pots of gold?   Is there really lifetime success at the end of these rainbows?  The answer is probably not.
Sure, learning to read, write and do arithmetic are very important skills that will lead to vocational success but they won’t work alone.
In fact, a strong school stands on four legs not just one.  Like a table that is unbalanced unless there are 4 legs of equal length and strength, so a good school needs to provide skills in four areas equally.
It is easy to argue that a good school does a good job of teaching academic skills.  A really good school teaches those skills in multiple ways, matching the teaching style to the learning style of the children.  The teachers teach kids how to problem solve and apply old learning to new situations.  There is minimal emphasis on memorization and repeating answers to problems that someone else has solved.
No table stands on one leg.  And no good school does either.  There are three other legs that good schools provide for their students.
At some point in time, the expectation is that children will leave school, be it after high school, college or grad school and look for productive employment.   This means that ALL students need vocational and soft job skills to be able to thrive in the world of employment.  One of the most important of those skills is the ability to work in a diverse workplace. The United States is becoming more and more diverse.  Already white students are less than half of the students in public schools.  The workplace will soon follow.  Kids need to know that a big part of keeping a job is showing up and showing up on time.  It is being respectful to supervision and being able to problem solve and work collaboratively.  We are not teaching those skills and we need to.
You may have noticed lately that folks are lacking in social skills as well.  Saying please and thank you seems to be a lost art.  Yet those simple words can oil many a sticky situation.  Just yesterday I saw a car cut off an ambulance with its siren on.  That is an instance of poor social skills taken to a life-threatening extreme.  We know more about communicating in code via text, than we know about talking to each other.
Doesn’t matter where we go or what we do, we take ourselves with us- 24/7.  Most of all we need to learn to accept and like ourselves just as we are, without the “if only”.  As in I would be a better person, “if only”.  Each of us is the only version of ourselves.  We each need to learn to love the person we are, to put on our own oxygen mask on first. Teachers can be a huge help in teaching our children while they are small, before the world beats the joy out of them, that each of the children is a really special person and deserves to be celebrated.
That’s it.  Four legs to the table, academic, vocational, social and emotional.  As with any sturdy table the legs need to be of equal length and equally strong to create a sturdy balanced table.  So it is with schools.  Don’t be fooled by the shell game that teaches us that only test scores count.  Because when all school is said and done- we each need all four legs for our table

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Hate: A back-to-school supply

Hate, a back to school supply

Three swastikas were found on the mirror of the girls’ bathroom.   A homophobic comment was left in a note in a student’s desk.   Inside the back pack of a Latino student was a note that said: “Go back to Mexico”. The n-word has been whispered to students as they pass in the hall.  Muslim students are called by racist terms.
These instances are not new.  They have been in schools for decades.  What is new is the the uptick in the number of these incidents in schools since the election of Donald Trump.   There are some who will say that the coarse language used by Trump in referring to some minority groups has given license, if not tacit approval, to these events.  They will say that Trump’s influence has emboldened some children, teenagers and even school employees to openly espouse hateful views.
But can we really blame it all on Trump?  While his behavior makes him an easy target for blame, it is also true that schools have long been a venue for bias and harassment.  It is easy to say, it has always been thus. That does not let school leaders off the hook.   What a school can do and what a school should do to improve the climate so that all kids feel safe need to be one and the same.
These incidents are most likely to occur in suburban schools where white students are far in the majority.   As America becomes ever more diverse, these schools and all schools, are going to need to learn how to live together with everyone.  Minority students regularly report that majority students and staff just don’t GET the pain that is felt by the targeted students.
That situation needs to change.   Schools need to tackle diversity head on.   Diversity clubs and councils need to teach majority students that contrary to the old rhyme, words can harm us and do regularly.   White administrators want to do “one and done”.  They want to hold a meeting, invite a speaker, have a talk and then declare victory and go home.
It is not that simple by any stretch.  First of all, school leaders need to call out hate wherever it is found and bring it out of its hiding place.   They need to work to get first-hand accounts from the victims to the victimizers and let the victimizers know the harm they have caused.  Victimizers need to be made to do the research to see what horrible damage their hate has caused and does cause.  Social media gives hatred its best forum ever, more visual and faster.   So when a group of kids in a Maryland high school had a scrabble day and spelled the N-word on t-shirts with letters, the photo went viral.  Parents were informed of the ”incident” but there was minimal discipline.
School administrators need to see that these are not “incidents”.  These events are indicators of our failure to educate students to live in a diverse democracy.  It is way past time for us to start getting this right.
School is about to start soon.   We ALL need to actively make sure Hate is not the school supply we send back with our kids when classes start.