Tuesday, September 10, 2019

There Just Isn't Room

There Just isn’t Room

Test scores do not seem to be budging and when they do it is often, particularly in math, that they are trending down.  We are all about test scores so all this superfluous stuff like music, art, physical education and performing arts need to be squeezed or cut out all together.  There just isn’t time! In the old days these courses were called minors and the important classes were called majors. That poor logic, unfortunately, makes sense to many school administrators.   It is no wonder test scores are so low.
First of all, let’s look at what these so called “minor” subjects bring to the student.   The ability to problem solve is a critical academic skill.   It is also a skill that is used and refined in the arts. Problem-solving is an extension of creativity.  Employers regularly tell us they are looking for employees who can problem solve and are creative.
Secondly, for many students the arts are where they are successful.  The arts are what bring them to school every day and sustain them through the often boring and failure inducing academic “major” courses.  Without having the arts to look forward to as a break in the school day, many kids just wouldn’t come to school.  Every child needs one place where he or she can shine.  Often it is these performance based areas.
Thirdly, teachers of the arts relate differently to the students than do teachers of academic subjects.  There are no state tests in the arts, so there are no pacing guides.   Teachers do not need to be on a particular topic on any given date.  So teachers can relate to the kids and talk to them about their lives without being concerned about losing their place in the pacing guide.    It is natural to chat with a colleague while working on a piece of art or trying to get a rendition of a scene or song just right.   Many students are dealing with violence, addiction, divorce, serious illness or socio-economic issues.   Handing a student a book or a worksheet doesn’t cut it when the child has real problems.   Teachers of the arts can meet students where they are emotionally and can develop that cherished teacher-student bond of trust.  
Fourthly, the arts and music make a great coping mechanism for kids under so much stress that they feel they cannot work.  Listening to music on a device or drawing in a notepad can help a child move to a different mental state and calm down.  If we welcome the arts into our classrooms, we will see kids thrive.
But none of this is possible if there are no arts people in the building.  We need to make room.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Test Should Discriminate

Tests should Discriminate

Tests are designed to discriminate and that is good.  The purpose of a test is to discriminate between people who are good at something and those people who are not.   The key issue is not that tests discriminate.  The key issue is whether the test uses relevant factors in making its discrimination.

For example, driving tests are designed to determine who should be allowed to drive a car and who should not be allowed to have a license to operate a vehicle.   Almost all people would agree that knowledge of traffic regulations is a relevant factor in driving a car.   Vision would also be a relevant factor.   And it is.  But vision can be modified by eye glasses or contact lenses to the point where visual acuity is sufficient to operate a motor vehicle.   If vision cannot be sufficiently modified then the individual cannot be allowed to drive a car.   However, most people would agree that eye color or hair color are not relevant variables and that they should not be used.   On the other hand, some variables such as the ability to parallel park a car have now been determined to be used so infrequently that it is no longer tested in driving tests.

This same paradigm can be used in analyzing math test scores.  There has been a great deal of consternation of late about the decline in math scores on standardized tests.  Some have suggested that the issue is elementary school teachers, who are considered to be generalists, and not sufficiently skilled in math to teach it.  That argument begs the question of why are high school students also having declining math scores when most high school math teachers are specialists in the field.  Next up for concern, is the curriculum itself.   Local school districts with declining scores are rushing to change up the curriculum and the teaching methodology that goes with it.  The theory is that a different and, of course, better curriculum will yield better test scores.   Changing the curriculum has been the “go to” for school systems needing to improve test score since the millennium and yet test scores do not vary that much.   We could blame the students and suggest that climate change is lowering kids’ abilities to do math.  But no one with good sense would go there so we won’t.

To me the most obvious culprit in the declining test scores is the measuring tool being used to take the measure.   Almost 20 years ago a curriculum known as Common Core was developed by educators across the country (NO, it was not imposed by the feds) to create a common standard among states for educating kids so that the skills of a fifth grader in Alabama would be similar to the expectations for a fifth grader in Oregon.   In order to measure how kids were doing in meeting these Common Core standards companies were paid large sums of money to develop the tests that would make the measure.  Maryland chose the group of tests known as PARCC.   From the beginning everyone rushed to teach to the test so their scores would be great.  Teachers were not involved in developing the Common Core curriculum.  It was done by state level educators.   If someone had deigned to ask those same generalist elementary educators, they would have  quickly learned that the children would not be at the developmental levels appropriate to the skills being demanded of them.   In order to worship at the throne of the God of Rigor, skills were pushed down from higher grades to lower ones.   If the kids’ developmental levels are not there yet, no amount of good teaching is going to make the plants bloom before their time.   There is also the issue of relevancy because scores decline as kids get older.   Try to convince an adolescent that the tasks of algebra II are useful in their daily lives, or even will be useful when they become adults.   Good luck with that.

Last school year was the last time Maryland gave PARCC tests.   Now Maryland will give the MCAP ( Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program) test.   This set of tests will be shorter than PARCC and we are assured that it will be just as rigorous- all bend to rigor.  But the big question is – will the scores be better.   If not, we will again blame the usual suspects:  teachers, curriculum, poor schools.  There is a big elephant in the room but we will not see it.   It will have the letters MCAP written big and bold on its side. And it will discriminate, but will it be discriminating on the correct variables.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Plain Speaking

Plain Speaking

“Words, words, I’m so sick of words”, is part of a line from an old Broadway musical, “My Fair Lady.”  There are lots of days when I feel that way regarding educational terms.  Fifty-some years ago when special education was just beginning to gain some traction, we had three groups of children will lower intelligence.  We had educable retarded kids.  These were students with IQ’s between 50 and 75.  The idea was supposed to be that these students could still be “educated”. Then we had students with IQ’s between 49 and 25.  These young people were trainable, meaning they couldn’t be “educated” but they could be trained for some kind of work, usually in sheltered workshops.  Finally, we had custodial retarded students. These people were expected to remain in custodial care, usually in some specialized institution far away from public view.  The idea was to replace the previous really mean words, idiot, imbecile and moron.
Ok, these newer terms were not kind either  but they did communicate to the world in general.  Today’s kids with lower than average intelligence are cognitively challenged. These terms are designed to offend as few as possible and to communicate with as little specification as feasible.  
We talk about “urban education” which is code when we really mean figuring out how to provide for black and brown kids who are attending sub-standard inner- city schools (the white ones too, but we tend to ignore them and falsely assume that all poor inner city kids are of a darker color).  We are not talking about the upper middle class, also urban, children who are living in the new urban high rise apartments.
With all the emphasis on testing it is important that we “cover” the content whatever that means.  We have long since stopped talking about kids’ learning.  So teachers "cover" content to prepare kids for testing.
Kids who are poor are socially and economically challenged. Kids who misbehave are socially maladjusted as if they needed a social chiropractor to adjust their social skills rather than being taught some self-control skills.  Special ed teachers who work with general ed teachers in the general ed classroom are said to “push in” which may be more accurate than it sounds since mostly those people are pushing their way into a classroom to which they are only marginally welcome.
Of course, all of this help is to ensure that the academic program is taught with rigor as if the students were dead and becoming stiff corpses.  Given the way some teachers teach there may be a lot of truth to that as well.  And no matter what we do, it must be done with equity as if equity existed anywhere in the world, least of all in a classroom.  Children do not come to us with equal ability, equal interest or equal backgrounds and resources so why are we kidding ourselves that educators and schools can somehow fix that.  
I am reminded of the cartoon where a character says, “I used to be poor but that was considered unkind.  So. then I was culturally deprived, but that was bad because everyone has a culture.  Then I was economically disadvantaged but that was bad because it implied that I was in a permanent underclass.  I still don’t have any money but I have a helluva good vocabulary”.
Harry Truman, my favorite President, once said, “I never gave anyone hell.   I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.”  Wouldn’t be a bad thing if we just all told the truth and stated it plainly.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

it's My Right

It’s My Right


Federal and state law give children with disabilities the right to an assessment every three years if there is evidence that new information is needed.   Generally, parents feel this is a good idea.   School systems know assessments are expensive and they want to take advantage of the provision that says if "new information is needed".
Unequivocally, more and better assessments are good- sometimes.
But sometimes, too many assessments are not good for children.  Assessments generally cause kids anxiety and too many assessments just cause more anxiety.
Sometimes- taking the same assessment too many times invalidates the assessment itself.  Kids begin to remember what is on the test and so the test no longer measures what it is supposed to measure and instead measures the student’s memory.
Sometimes- when children take assessments too close together there is no discernable measurable progress and that upsets children and families.
Sometimes- the progress that the test does show is meaningless.  Moving from a 4.5 grade level reading to a 5.0 grade level reading is not that big a deal in terms of functioning in the world.  There are a lot more important things that children could be working on than moving the needle on grade level.
Sometimes- kids’ progress doesn’t keep up with the test so the results seem to indicate that the child has moved backwards when in fact what has happened is that the child has not moved forward at the same pace as the test has set expectations.
Sometimes- school systems measure the cost of the assessment against the benefit to the child and do not think the assessment is worth the investment.
Sometimes- there isn’t any new information that the tests will give to the service delivery team.   If a teacher has been working with a child for a year or two, that teacher should know more about that child than a newer test score can tell him/her.
Sometimes- people who do the testing don’t give good information about the results.   The test score is probably the least important information from the test administration.   A good test administrator will know what learning processing challenges were most difficult for the child and will report that information back to the direct service personnel.  Unfortunately, it takes a very skilled test administrator to do that and it takes a very good school system to provide the vehicle for this information to get back to the teacher.
Sometimes- updated assessments are only done when there has been a marked change in the child’s learning behaviors and there is hope that a new assessment might tell why.
And sometimes, it really isn’t necessary to exercise every right that you have and it is best to let the assessment review go unnoticed.   That’s your right too.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

'Tis the Time to Strike up the Battle

‘tis the Time to Strike up the Battle

The new school year will be starting shortly and with that often comes IEP meetings.  IEP meetings are sort of odd experiences and depend a great deal on the level of trust between the school and the parents.
First of all IEP meetings are supposed to be held to develop that Individual Education Program (IEP) that each child with a disability is entitled to by federal and state law.  It is because the “individual” in the IEP is frequently forgotten, families feel the need to bring an outside expert to the meeting to remind the school people of that.  I knew a family who regularly brought an 8"X10" photo of their son to the meeting to help people focus on the whole point of the process.
People do not like to write IEP’s.  So school systems make the process easier by creating templates that teachers and related service providers can use to write the IEP.   These templates frequently have objectives taken word for word from the school’s curriculum or from a prepared bank of objectives that has been precisely written.   In IEP meetings schools often pay more homage to these prepared items than they do to make sure the child's needs are met.  They also want to make sure the IEP will stand up to any legal challenges.  It is also not unusual for educators to feel defensive or threatened by parents who challenge their expertise or who want to explain that the child the parent sees at home is much different from the one who comes to school every day.
Parents often feel outnumbered and outgunned at these meetings as well.  Sometimes school people meet ahead of the formal meeting to make sure everyone has his/her talking points and everyone stays on the party line message.  To even the odds, parents will sometimes feel the need to bring an advocate or a legal expert to the meeting.  Sometimes both types of experts will attend the meeting.  The time of these professionals does not come cheaply so only parents with the financial wherewithal get to enhance the troops in their corner of the ring.
It is sometimes difficult for direct service staff to be truthful at these meetings.  Teachers will tell people that they cannot be a strong advocate for the child because they “do not want to lose their job”.   In fact, it is next to impossible for a teacher to be fired for something said at an IEP meeting, but perception is much stronger than reality.
So what is a parent to do if he/she does not have the financial resources to come to the meeting supported by professional experts?   In the olden days, Nancy Regan advised the nation to fight the drug problem by “just say no”.  That advice seemed simplistic at the time for that problem.  But it is realistic for a parent at an IEP meeting who comes without some supportive hired guns.  The IEP won’t happen until the parent agrees.   If a parent is unhappy with the IEP or feels it does not meet their child’s needs.  Channel you inner Nancy Regan and “just say no” until changes are made that will serve your child.   ‘Tis the beginning of the season, unfortunately parents need to strike up the battle lines until the school system produces an INDIVIDUAL education program as the law requires.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Mass Shootings are bad for children

                                           Mass Murders are Not Good for Children 
Many years ago a student went into his school and killed other students.    The event came to be known as the Columbine shooting.  Kids were scared in school.  I spoke with our students.  They were not afraid in our school.  They felt known.  They felt their teachers knew them and cared.
Years later terrorists weaponized the airplane and killed thousands of people not all that far from our school.  Out students were afraid.  They knew people who were impacted by the terror.  Again we assured them that we, and their parents, would keep them safe.  They believed us.
Now there is a new kind of terror and what do we tell our children.  
Throughout human history there has always been fear and a consequential fear of the “other”.   It is the responsibility and role of the leader to lead us away from this darker side of nature.  In our relatively recent national history we have separated the Native American, the Catholic, the Irish, the Italian, the Jew, the African American, the woman, and the disabled.   Now it is the Hispanics turn to be separated from the humanity that links us all.   
Our leadership is guiding the separation.    We are not reminded that these “others” want for themselves what we want for ourselves, safety, security, the chance to build a better life for our children.  Instead some leaders call humans animals and characterize them in the basest way.    Because today’s “other” has deeper skin tone, it’s easier to identify them from “us”.
In this time of domestic terror of repeated mass shootings our leadership has given license to our darkest instincts.  How do parents and schools tell our children we will keep them safe when we are not even sure we can keep ourselves safe.
We are separating parents from their children whether by our country’s border policy or by a murder's bullet.  Our children deserve to be led to our better nature as humans.  Leaders need to teach us all that as humans we are ALL yearning for safety, security, the chance to build a better life for ourselves and our children.   

What do we tell our children so they feel safe?   More importantly what do WE DO for our children so that they ARE safe. Mass shootings are not good for children

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Aint' Got no Respect

Ain’t Got No Respect

Salaries keep going up; respect keeps going down.   Teachers are responding with their feet, leaving classrooms after just a few years.  What is going on?
Fifty years ago teachers were paid only $3,500 a year.  Yes, that was a year!  Some school systems did not spread the money out over twelve months so teachers had to budget carefully to cover the two summer months.  And most took a second job during that time.  
But they took the job and they STAYED.   Common wisdom was, it doesn’t pay much, the benefits and retirement plan are good, the kids are fun and what we do is important.
It is that last item, what we do is important, that kept teachers coming back year after year sometimes teaching several generations of children in the same family.   So what has happened to change all that especially now that salaries are quite respectable, and the benefits are still pretty good.
Well, in the olden days you didn’t make all that much money but when a teacher spoke, even B.F. Hutton listened.  Parents told kids, “I better not hear you got into trouble at school because you will get into double trouble when you get home.”   Kids knew that.  They also knew, “don’t make me call your mother” was a threat to be reckoned with.
Not so any more.   Now students are openly disrespectful to teachers.   Parents challenge school staff for on any disciplinary consequence.  Every issue becomes a legal one with both sides contacting lawyers.    Principals tell teachers do NOT send children to the office.  School systems tell teachers do NOT suspend a student unless they do something that is really egregious- like setting a fire, bringing a weapon to school, selling drugs.
If that weren’t bad enough a teacher’s professional ability to run a classroom has been taken away.  It started when elementary teachers were told what teaching method to use to teach reading. Didn’t matter how the kids learned, this is how we are teaching reading.   Used to be a teacher closed her classroom door and taught her class.  If needed she took time off to talk about a dying pet, a pending divorce or a lost love.   Now there are pacing guides that leave no room for humanity nor for teacher decision making. How quickly or slowly teachers move through the content is decided some place far from a teacher's classroom. Sort of like the Ford assembly line. And then there is the content.  In its infinite wisdom, schools used a curricula that was appropriate to the sphere in which the kids lived.  Curriculum has now been homogenized to align with those God-awful standardized tests that are setting the standard for education nationwide.
With kids revolting, school administrators dictating, is it any wonder there isn’t enough money to put up with all that.   Maybe when teaching becomes a profession again, teachers will come back and stay.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

It's a serious shortage

It’s a serious shortage


School districts in the Washington/Baltimore metropolitan area are extremely short of teachers.   In fact, as the beginning of the school year approaches school districts are reporting deficits of hundreds of teachers.   One of the reasons for the shortages being offered is low salary. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the U.S. reports that the average high school teacher in Maryland is earning $69,070 and the average elementary teacher in Maryland is earning $67,340 and that is for 200 days a year.  Benefits are pretty good as well.  The Kirwan Commission is recommending increases over the next 5-10 years that will raise those salaries even more.
So the answer to why there are not enough teachers is not money.  It is probably the working conditions in our schools today.   In order to fight this problem, districts are taking an alternative approach rather than trying to look at the conditions that are driving teachers out of their jobs within a few years of starting.   The solution now is to increase the speed at which teachers are coming through the teacher preparation pipeline.  It would appear the approach is to put as many or more new teachers in the backdoor of classrooms to replace those who are walking out the front door.
Two plans seem to be gaining prominence.  The first plan gets kids to commit to a teaching profession in high school. As a reward the district will pay for some of the student’s education.   If after making the commitment, the student changes his/her mind then the student or the family has to repay the district.  This plan is being used in Virginia but is not paying off that well.   Districts are seeing net gains of about 20 graduates a year.  Hardly enough to solve the problem.
The second approach will definitely fill classrooms, but I am not sure it will give us teachers.  With this plan, young people can go into classrooms after two years in college. They can learn on the job and eventually get their degree that way.  When they are interning during the junior and senior years of college, they will be mentored by an experienced teacher.  Here is what I can never understand.  Why is it that we think people can become teachers without proper training?  What other profession would consider letting someone “practice” on the job with NO professional training and get that training while they learn.   Being a teacher is not an industrial trade.  It is a professional job that requires a great deal of academic training that forms the basis of the practical on-the-job work that comes later.  Physicians intern AFTER their medical training not before, so do all of the other professions.
Our kids deserve better.   Everyone is correct there is a serious shortage.  It is a shortage of people who are thinking strategically to build a trained and talented teacher pool.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

What a wonderful idea- Full Inclusion

What a Wonderful Idea- Full Inclusion

We have brainwashed ourselves into believing that the full inclusion of children with disabilities is a great idea for the kids and not just because it saves the school districts money.   It is supposed to teach children better social skills and make greater academic demands.   More than half of the children with disabilities spend 80% of their day in general education environments, according to federal data.  Now a recent study by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) is showing that those general educators and paraprofessionals are not prepared to do the tasks we are asking of them.

CEC surveyed 1,500 special educators from around the country.  These special education teachers work with those general educators to serve children with disabilities.  Only 8% of the people surveyed believe that the general educators they work beside are prepared to serve children with exceptionalities.   They felt slightly better about the paraprofessionals, but they still only had confidence in 12% of them.  And that may be because there were lower expectations for paraprofessionals.    Of the people surveyed, 70% believed that they and the related service personnel were well-prepared.  However, it should be noted that only 38% of beginning special educators felt that way about themselves.  What is most frightening is that while all educators say they look at a child’s IEP several times a week, they were almost unanimous in saying that they were too busy to use them in the development of daily lesson plans!   One cannot help but wonder what they were used for!

We have a situation where the most vulnerable learners are being taught by people with the most limited training and skill set to address those learning challenges.   Yet we continue to mark progress by the percentage of children with learning challenges who are being served in the general ed classroom.  It seems like this wonderful idea of full inclusion only looks good on the outside of the apple, but when we slice the fruit there may be a rotten core.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Restraint is a Good thing- Wait, no it's a Bad thing

Restraint is a Good Thing- No It’s a Bad Thing

Well which is it?  Is restraint a good thing or is it a bad thing?  Maybe it is both.  There is no question in my mind that restraint is over used as a behavior management technique. I was stunned to learn not long ago that the Montgomery County MD school system was the second largest user of restraint in the country. That is a school system generally considered to be one of the best! There is also no doubt that sometimes (though not as often as used), restraint is necessary for the safety of the child and others.  So how do you differentiate?
One of the excuses that I don’t buy, is that because of the child’s disability, “they can’t help it”.  All behavior serves a purpose for the person exhibiting the behavior.  We may not be able to immediately discern that purpose but it exists and serves a purpose for the child.  To suggest that the child (or adult) cannot help the behavior diminishes the humanity of the child. Some behavioral approaches treat the child as if he/she were an animal needing to be trained.  All of our children have feelings that need to be recognized.  The very first effort in changing behavior is to try to figure out from the child’s point of view, the purpose the behavior is serving.  Sometimes a child can tell you and sometimes the child doesn’t have the verbal facility or insight.  Until the adults can figure that out, there needs to be logical consequences for the behavior.  Children with (and without) disabilities will be living in the broader society which does not care if a person has a disability.  There are certain behavioral expectations for living in the larger world and those charged with that preparation, parents and professionals need to take on that responsibility .   Consequences should be immediate and logical.
When is restraint acceptable?   People who are responsible for children with disabilities cannot allow children to hurt others.  Nor should children with disabilities be allowed to hurt themselves.  If a child (any child) is hurting someone else that behavior needs to stop.  If the only way you can get that behavior to stop is a VERY short-term basket hold, then that needs to happen. Just be aware that holding child sends a contradictory message.  On the one hand you are holding the child because you are telling the child he/she cannot be aggressive toward others.  But at the same time you are being aggressive toward the child by holding him/her.  That is one reason the basket hold or any other restraint should be used only as an absolute last resort. The same thing  is true if a child is hurting him or herself.  Most often once the behavior has been stopped the child is grateful for the restraint.  Kids don’t want to hurt others and they don’t want to hurt themselves.
So the answer to the question is restraint is a bad thing- except when it is a good thing necessary to provide safety for someone.


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Too many, too few

Too Many, Too Few


One of the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is that significant disproportionality of minorities in special education programs needs to be reported and addressed.   Truthfully, that requirement always troubled me because it took away from what is supposed to be an individual program.  So why not increase the requirement that assessments be culture free to ensure that all children are appropriately identified and provided with the individual education program that the law requires.  
Instead, enforcement has taken a very simplistic approach.  If there are 13% minority children in a district then there should be no more than 13% minority kids receiving special ed services. As usual simple solutions are just that simple.  As a consequence trending data are showing a dramatic decrease in African American and Hispanic children receiving service and a growing increase in the disability rate of white children.  Since these are just data figures, we don't know if kids are missing out on the service they deserve.
Now there appears to be a growing body of research that is seriously challenging these simple ideas.  Where children attended school seemed to be a prime indicator of who would be diagnosed with a disability.  But the results were sort of counter-intuitive.  Researchers looked at children based on factors OTHER than race. Instead they used birth weight, the educational level of the mother, and/or complications during delivery as some of the factors.  Black and Hispanic children were more likely to be identified with a disability if they attended a school that was majority white.  AND much LESS likely to be identified if they attended a school that was majority minority.  One of the reasons offered for these findings is that mostly white schools were more likely to have services to offer all children.  Whereas mostly minority schools did not have the services and under the law, if a child needs a service it must be provided whether or not the school can afford it.  Another interesting finding was that white children were more often identified as having a disability in schools that were mostly minority and that white families fought for their children to receive service even in schools with limited provision. The most predictive factors for all students were poverty, the school the child attended and scores on standard tests.   Another interesting wrinkle in the studies is that some disabilities are considered to have higher status than others and are often more likely to be diagnosed for children with higher social economic status independent of race or ethnicity.  So autism, speech disorders or other health impaired (usually used for ADHD) were more likely to be applied to higher socio-economic groups; while intellectual disabilities and emotional/behavior disorders were more often applied to lower socio-economic groups.
Asking states to do a better job of sorting out proportionality is not likely to happen any time soon.   Just too much trouble.  So how many are too many and how many are too few- simple question, complicated answer.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Where have all the teachers gone?

Where have all the teachers gone?

Gone to other jobs everyone, when will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?   For those of you of a certain age or a fan of the 60’s folk music, you might recognize the play on the lyrics of “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?”  
Today teachers’ salaries are higher than ever.   In Maryland, they are among the highest in the country.  Carroll County Maryland has just announced new teacher salaries will start at $48,000 this coming fall.  Yet in spite of dramatic salary increases, with even more expected as the Kirwan Commission goes into full operation, school systems are having a very hard time hiring and keeping teachers.
In the olden days, workers on the assembly lines at GM, Ford and Chrysler could earn 85-100,000 dollars a year with minimal education and experience, some limited overtime, and great benefits.   These folks worked the job for the salary, retired when they could.   I had a good friend who worked for GM as an engineer. He told me to never buy a car made on a Monday or any day after a holiday. He said workers often came in hung over and were sloppy in their work.
I doubt that teachers come in hungover today.  But what I don’t doubt is that many of them feel much like the workers on the assembly lines.   They are not getting the emotional return on their jobs that they once did.  In many ways they are working on an assembly line.  Pacing guides tell them when to teach and when to move on.   Tight curriculum plans spell out what materials to use and how to teach each concept. They are cautioned against getting emotionally involved with the students.
But what is the point in being a teacher if you can’t get emotionally invested in your kids?   What is the point in being a teacher if you can’t look to creative ways to teach them better?   What is the point of being a teacher if you can’t stop a lesson to find out how a kid is doing now that her parents are separating?   What is the point to being a teacher if you can’t authentically get to know your kids and change up methodology to meet their needs?  Forty-eight thousand dollars a year for a starting teacher will be one of the highest starting salaries in the state.  But it doesn’t answer any of the foregoing questions.  Answer those questions and you will know why all the teachers are going.  And unlike assembly line workers teachers are well-educated and have options.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Not so Quickly

Not so quickly!

Too many people with disabilities are being rushed into guardianships rather than families exploring less-limiting options.  A report out from the National Council on Disability seems to indicate that this pipeline begins at the schoolhouse door.

The study found that 58% of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities ages 18-22 have guardians.  Once this happens, people sometimes remain under guardianship for decades.  The process starts when students turn 18.   In many states that means the child has reached the age of majority and that parents no longer have jurisdiction over the child’s education.  In Maryland, if the child is receiving special education services the parents retain education guardianship until the child graduates or fulfills his/her entitlement.  Many educators do not know the options and often inform or misinform (depending on state law) that guardianship is the only way the family or friend can still have standing at the child’s IEP meeting.  

There are several different types of guardianship and the process for an individual regaining his/her adult rights is often complicated or unknown to the family. In Maryland there are two major types of guardianship for adults (people over 18).   A guardian may be authorized by the court to make decisions for the disabled person about his/her health, care, shelter, education or other daily needs.   A guardian may also be appointed  by the court to manage the property of a disabled person.  A guardian of property may be a person or agency, including a state agency.

In Maryland, each local jurisdiction has an Adult Public Guardianship Review Board that acts as consultant to the guardian.  Every six months the board reviews the case and makes a recommendation to the court to continue, modify or terminate the guardianship.   The local Board consists of a representative from the local department of social services, one physician, one psychiatrist, a representative a non-profit social services agency, an attorney, two citizen representatives, a public health nurse and a professional in the field of the individual’s disability.   This Board does NOT have oversight of private guardianship cases.

Guardianship is very serious and should be imposed on a person only as a last resort.  Educators need to be trained to explain the multiple options that families have for protecting their children’s safety AND respecting their dignity as adults. There are multiple guardian options and families need to get good advice before making such a serious decision.  That good advice seldom comes from a school person.  Let’s not act so quickly without knowing the full menu that is available.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Too scared to think

Too Scared to Think

A test can be an opportunity for a student to show off just how much she has learned.  Or it can be an opportunity for your course grade to plummet or for your high stakes testing to throw you into the pool of students who need an alternative path.
Test anxiety is a very real condition.   People who are afflicted with it can see the work of an entire semester go down the tube in one two-hour period.   Tests really don’t do a good job of measuring how much we know, and students with test anxiety are set up for failure.
We are living in an era when the common wisdom is that standardized tests raise the teaching/learning standard.  That means there is an increasing number of high stakes testing experiences.
There are things teachers can do to alleviate some of the issues.  First of all, prior to the test experience, give students examples of what the test items are going to be like.  Allow kids to answer questions and to question the questions.   Let them break into groups and work out problems together.   If the test is multiple choice, before the test give the students some multiple-choice items on the topic and lead them through the process of figuring out how to pick the correct answer from the several detractors. Directly teach the strategy for eliminating one or more of the detractors and narrowing the field down to the correct answer.
If the test has true/false items, directly teach the children how to look for “red-alert” words such as “never”, “always” and other always words.  
When the test experience is over, review the test with the class.   Ask students to tell you what they answered and why they did.  For items a student got wrong, walk them through the process to get it right.
Some people will tell you that is cheating.  That attitude always confuses me.   If the point of testing is to discover what the child knows about a topic as opposed to tricking the child, why is it cheating to help the child have the best shot of showing what they know.  I once had a teacher tell me that she knew in advance of any test which students would do well and who would not.  I couldn't figure out what the point was of giving the test. 
Of course, there is one more question to ask.   If we know that there are some humans who have such great test anxiety that they literally can’t think straight on  a test- why are we still giving them tests?   Could it be that we are too scared to think of another option to measure learning besides a written test?   Something to think about.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Birds of a Feather

Birds of a Feather


When I was a kid, my mother regularly reminded me of the old adage “birds of a feather flock together”.    Usually this was issued as a warning sign to be careful of who my friends were because if I chose poorly, I would be judged by their behavior as well as my own.
In the course of human events, we seem to have forgotten that old saw. It is both a warning and a commentary on human nature.   Advocates of full inclusion tell us that when children with disabilities are in the same classrooms as plain kids, the plain kids will embrace the children with disabilities and invite them to parties and to hang at the mall with them.  Somehow, these folks have neglected to look at their own feathered friends.   In doing so they will find that their friends are all “of the same feather”.  So it is not at all unusual for people of deep faith to socialize with others of deep faith.   Ditto political progressives, sports fans, and a multitude of other areas around which people affiliate.   It has also been noted by the recently divorced or widowed, that they are frequently now left out of their previous social set. 
So it is with adults with disabilities.  Cast out into the world, often lacking places of employment where they can make new friends, people with disabilities are deeply missing a social component in their lives.   It is not surprising that when an organization is willing to leap into the breach, many are clamoring to come.  Once a month, an organization in Baltimore transforms its setting into a night club event for adults with disabilities.   Folks come with walkers, support aides and parents.   They also come with enthusiasm, excitement, and an eagerness to make new friends.   They are even looking for love in all the right places.  Refreshments are served (no alcohol), music is played, people are dancing, chatting and just having fun.  Attendance continues to grow every month. Attendees pay a fee, support people for the attendee do not.
 Everyone wants to be some place where they are typical.   As humans we want to be like the other folks in our pack.  That is why there are restaurants and clubs frequented by people of similar ethnic backgrounds, socio economic status, or religious beliefs.   Now we have a once-a-month club for people with disabilities. It is the only one regularly operating in spite of the huge need.   Hopefully there will soon be more.  After all birds of a feather do flock together including those birds who are not your typical flock.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Is it really necessary to attend school

Is it really necessary to attend school?

How often does a student need to attend class to receive credit for that course?   That is not a rhetorical question.   Recent reports show that some students in Montgomery County Maryland high schools have attended class only 60% of the time and yet have earned credit for that course.  How can that be?   Isn’t it necessary to be in class in order for the student to learn the course content?
I think the answer is yes and no.
First of all many high school students miss school because of family responsibilities.  Some kids have jobs to help their families survive day-to-day.   Some kids take care of younger siblings so that both parents can work.  Are these good reasons to miss school?  Well it depends on just how critical that student’s contribution to the family's economy is.
Some kids miss school because they are bored to death.   The required pacing guides mean that teachers can’t stay on a topic longer than needed because they have another topic to do on another day.   That also means, teachers can’t dig deeper into a topic if students are really interested or curious.   Tomorrow is another day in the pacing guide.   Each day’s curriculum is carefully laid out.  Like Goldilocks, teachers can’t go too fast or too slow; they need to get it just right.  Smart kids can miss school, come back later, and as with a soap opera, know just where the story is going.
The issue is not whether it is terrible that some kids are graduating this June after having missed 40% of their classes, the issue is why are these kids missing so much school and why don’t we look to see if there are things we can do about that.
On the other hand, maybe the answer is that kids don’t really need to be in school all that much in order to master the material as it is currently being delivered to them.  One of the students who attends school regularly, complained that it was not fair that the students who missed so much school were going to get the same diploma he was getting and he went to school every day.   That boy is totally missing the point of going to school.  While it is true that both kids might get the same piece of paper, it is also true that each student is getting a totally different education.  Hopefully the boy who attended school every day had learning experiences that far exceeded those of the boy who was absent a great deal.  State regulation says that students need to meet the aggregate time requirement of the local school system necessary to earn the credit.  Some school districts have moved away from a set number of hours and instead use an academic standard.   If one looks at the situation from that perspective, maybe some kids only need to be in school 60% of the time. Then again, that premise presumes that all we learn we learn in school.   Maybe we can learn as much or more without being in school.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Might does not make right

Might Does Not Make Right

We live in a world where people and organizations with more power think they can use that power to assert their will on others.  Simply having the power to do so does not make it right.
For over ten years the District of Columbia public schools and several DC public charter schools have allowed students in non-public special education schools to earn a diploma as a private school student.  This past fall, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) for the District of Columbia has stopped that process. (Don't let it bother you that the "State Superintendent" is without a state)  As a consequence, fourteen students are left to find other placements.
The issue is that OSSE requires that students receiving a high school diploma need to have two years of a foreign language.   The Harbour School does not believe that will benefit these students as they make the transition from high school to the adult world.   As a consequence, OSSE has cancelled its approval of The Harbour School effective June 30, 2109.   They have been unwilling to allow those 14 kids to complete their entitlement to a free and appropriate education at public expense without referring any additional students to the school.   The situation is even more unfortunate since a number of those students are not even earning a diploma.
Where does this decision leave these students and their families?  It leaves them with limited choices. There are two students who are graduating in three weeks and at this time OSSE has yet to make a decision as to what kind of award the students will receive.  Additionally, there are two other students who are scheduled to graduate in June 2020 who can’t possibly earn credit for two years of a foreign language in the one year remaining to them.   Both of these situations have been identified to OSSE and their response is not to respond.   
There is no question but that OSSE has the power to do what they are doing. After all, they have the regulation to fall back on.  They also have the power to modify the implementation of the regulation for those few children who need a few more years to finish their education.  But they are not interested in doing that.  
As a consequence, families have few choices.   They can accept the decision and have their children placed back in the public schools.  (OSSE has forced the closure of two other non-public schools within the District so there are very few non-public options.)   Families can pay privately for the placement but that will also mean figuring out transportation.   Or they can enter into a due process claim in the hopes of either winning or of stringing the process along for enough time for their children to finish.  Under the law, children get to stay in the last approved placement during the pendency of due process.  Or they can file a state complaint with the very wolf who is guarding the chicken house- OSSE.
Does OSSE have the might to do this?   You bet.   Does that make what they are doing right?  Not by a long shot.   And sooner or later the piper will be paid.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Maybe there is another way

Maybe there is another way…

Many families who have tried the due process system set up by federal and state law to get appropriate services for their children know that the road is long, expensive and frequently ends in a dead end.
But there is another way to get there that may be more expedient and is definitely less expensive.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) also allows families to file complaints directly with the state education agency (MSDE) instead of or, in addition to, any due process hearing.   The state has 60 days to investigate and decide and the decision is not appealable by either side.
A nationwide survey has found that parents prevail in about 50% of the complaints; that is quite a bit better than the prevailing rate in Maryland for due process hearings.  The average national rate for parents success is 24%.  In Maryland it is only about 5%.   See why in last week’s blog.
A complaint to the state department of education can be used to remedy systemic issues which often stand in the way of a child getting an individual program as required by law.
Some of the issues to consider are cut-and-paste goals and objectives, removing goals and objectives without parental permission or after the parents have signed the IEP, and holding IEP meetings without the presence of a school administrator or general ed teacher.
Many of the goals listed are copy-cat goals from goal banks that are so generic as to be unmeasurable.   For example, “the student will read and comprehend increasingly complex literary and informational texts.”   Or, “the student will develop and strengthen writing by engaging in a process that includes prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing.”.   These goals appear to have come right out of something that was put into a bank to mimic Common Core objectives.  The problem is they are pretty much not measurable for any specific student.   How does the parent, student or teacher measure “increasingly complex”.   Does it mean the student will move from pre-reading skills to primer reading or from sentences to chapter books.   Similarly, the writing goal describes a process the child will go through at any level but it does not specifically say what this particular child will be doing.   The use of goal banks that are pulled down from a computer based IEP production system are endemic.   Sometimes the same goals appear year after year.  It is not unusual for the wrong pronoun gender to be used when referring to the student.  
Let’s be clear.   The use of these “cookie cutter” goals for students violate both the letter and the spirit of the law.   They are not ok.   Parents need to learn there is another way to get that INDIVIDUAL Education Program for their child that is required by law.  Of course, parents might have to go back to that writing goal and engage their state department of education.   There is another way.

Maybe there is another way

Maybe there is another way…

Many families who have tried the due process system set up by federal and state law to get appropriate services for their children know that the road is long, expensive and frequently ends in a dead end.
But there is another way to get there that may be more expedient and is definitely less expensive.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) also allows families to file complaints directly with the state education agency (MSDE) instead of or, in addition to, any due process hearing.   The state has 60 days to investigate and decide and the decision is not appealable by either side.
A nationwide survey has found that parents prevail in about 50% of the complaints; that is quite a bit better than the prevailing rate in Maryland for due process hearings.  The average national rate for parents success is 24%.  In Maryland it is only about 5%.   See why in last week’s blog.
A complaint to the state department of education can be used to remedy systemic issues which often stand in the way of a child getting an individual program as required by law.
Some of the issues to consider are cut-and-paste goals and objectives, removing goals and objectives without parental permission or after the parents have signed the IEP, and holding IEP meetings without the presence of a school administrator or general ed teacher.
Many of the goals listed are copy-cat goals from goal banks that are so generic as to be unmeasurable.   For example, “the student will read and comprehend increasingly complex literary and informational texts.”   Or, “the student will develop and strengthen writing by engaging in a process that includes prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing.”.   These goals appear to have come right out of something that was put into a bank to mimic Common Core objectives.  The problem is they are pretty much not measurable for any specific student.   How does the parent, student or teacher measure “increasingly complex”.   Does it mean the student will move from pre-reading skills to primer reading or from sentences to chapter books.   Similarly, the writing goal describes a process the child will go through at any level but it does not specifically say what this particular child will be doing.   The use of goal banks that are pulled down from a computer based IEP production system are endemic.   Sometimes the same goals appear year after year.  It is not unusual for the wrong pronoun gender to be used when referring to the student.  
Let’s be clear.   The use of these “cookie cutter” goals for students violate both the letter and the spirit of the law.   They are not ok.   Parents need to learn there is another way to get that INDIVIDUAL Education Program for their child that is required by law.  Of course, parents might have to go back to that writing goal and engage their state department of education.   There is another way.

Maybe there is another way

Maybe there is another way…

Many families who have tried the due process system set up by federal and state law to get appropriate services for their children know that the road is long, expensive and frequently ends in a dead end.
But there is another way to get there that may be more expedient and is definitely less expensive.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) also allows families to file complaints directly with the state education agency (MSDE) instead of or, in addition to, any due process hearing.   The state has 60 days to investigate and decide and the decision is not appealable by either side.
A nationwide survey has found that parents prevail in about 50% of the complaints; that is quite a bit better than the prevailing rate in Maryland for due process hearings.  The average national rate for parents success is 24%.  In Maryland it is only about 5%.   See why in last week’s blog.
A complaint to the state department of education can be used to remedy systemic issues which often stand in the way of a child getting an individual program as required by law.
Some of the issues to consider are cut-and-paste goals and objectives, removing goals and objectives without parental permission or after the parents have signed the IEP, and holding IEP meetings without the presence of a school administrator or general ed teacher.
Many of the goals listed are copy-cat goals from goal banks that are so generic as to be unmeasurable.   For example, “the student will read and comprehend increasingly complex literary and informational texts.”   Or, “the student will develop and strengthen writing by engaging in a process that includes prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing.”.   These goals appear to have come right out of something that was put into a bank to mimic Common Core objectives.  The problem is they are pretty much not measurable for any specific student.   How does the parent, student or teacher measure “increasingly complex”.   Does it mean the student will move from pre-reading skills to primer reading or from sentences to chapter books.   Similarly, the writing goal describes a process the child will go through at any level but it does not specifically say what this particular child will be doing.   The use of goal banks that are pulled down from a computer based IEP production system are endemic.   Sometimes the same goals appear year after year.  It is not unusual for the wrong pronoun gender to be used when referring to the student.  
Let’s be clear.   The use of these “cookie cutter” goals for students violate both the letter and the spirit of the law.   They are not ok.   Parents need to learn there is another way to get that INDIVIDUAL Education Program for their child that is required by law.  Of course, parents might have to go back to that writing goal and engage their state department of education.   There is another way.

Maybe there is another way

Maybe there is another way…

Many families who have tried the due process system set up by federal and state law to get appropriate services for their children know that the road is long, expensive and frequently ends in a dead end.
But there is another way to get there that may be more expedient and is definitely less expensive.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) also allows families to file complaints directly with the state education agency (MSDE) instead of or, in addition to, any due process hearing.   The state has 60 days to investigate and decide and the decision is not appealable by either side.
A nationwide survey has found that parents prevail in about 50% of the complaints; that is quite a bit better than the prevailing rate in Maryland for due process hearings.  The average national rate for parents success is 24%.  In Maryland it is only about 5%.   See why in last week’s blog.
A complaint to the state department of education can be used to remedy systemic issues which often stand in the way of a child getting an individual program as required by law.
Some of the issues to consider are cut-and-paste goals and objectives, removing goals and objectives without parental permission or after the parents have signed the IEP, and holding IEP meetings without the presence of a school administrator or general ed teacher.
Many of the goals listed are copy-cat goals from goal banks that are so generic as to be unmeasurable.   For example, “the student will read and comprehend increasingly complex literary and informational texts.”   Or, “the student will develop and strengthen writing by engaging in a process that includes prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing.”.   These goals appear to have come right out of something that was put into a bank to mimic Common Core objectives.  The problem is they are pretty much not measurable for any specific student.   How does the parent, student or teacher measure “increasingly complex”.   Does it mean the student will move from pre-reading skills to primer reading or from sentences to chapter books.   Similarly, the writing goal describes a process the child will go through at any level but it does not specifically say what this particular child will be doing.   The use of goal banks that are pulled down from a computer based IEP production system are endemic.   Sometimes the same goals appear year after year.  It is not unusual for the wrong pronoun gender to be used when referring to the student.  
Let’s be clear.   The use of these “cookie cutter” goals for students violate both the letter and the spirit of the law.   They are not ok.   Parents need to learn there is another way to get that INDIVIDUAL Education Program for their child that is required by law.  Of course, parents might have to go back to that writing goal and engage their state department of education.   There is another way.

Maybe there is another way

Maybe there is another way…

Many families who have tried the due process system set up by federal and state law to get appropriate services for their children know that the road is long, expensive and frequently ends in a dead end.
But there is another way to get there that may be more expedient and is definitely less expensive.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) also allows families to file complaints directly with the state education agency (MSDE) instead of or, in addition to, any due process hearing.   The state has 60 days to investigate and decide and the decision is not appealable by either side.
A nationwide survey has found that parents prevail in about 50% of the complaints; that is quite a bit better than the prevailing rate in Maryland for due process hearings.  The average national rate for parents success is 24%.  In Maryland it is only about 5%.   See why in last week’s blog.
A complaint to the state department of education can be used to remedy systemic issues which often stand in the way of a child getting an individual program as required by law.
Some of the issues to consider are cut-and-paste goals and objectives, removing goals and objectives without parental permission or after the parents have signed the IEP, and holding IEP meetings without the presence of a school administrator or general ed teacher.
Many of the goals listed are copy-cat goals from goal banks that are so generic as to be unmeasurable.   For example, “the student will read and comprehend increasingly complex literary and informational texts.”   Or, “the student will develop and strengthen writing by engaging in a process that includes prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing.”.   These goals appear to have come right out of something that was put into a bank to mimic Common Core objectives.  The problem is they are pretty much not measurable for any specific student.   How does the parent, student or teacher measure “increasingly complex”.   Does it mean the student will move from pre-reading skills to primer reading or from sentences to chapter books.   Similarly, the writing goal describes a process the child will go through at any level but it does not specifically say what this particular child will be doing.   The use of goal banks that are pulled down from a computer based IEP production system are endemic.   Sometimes the same goals appear year after year.  It is not unusual for the wrong pronoun gender to be used when referring to the student.  
Let’s be clear.   The use of these “cookie cutter” goals for students violate both the letter and the spirit of the law.   They are not ok.   Parents need to learn there is another way to get that INDIVIDUAL Education Program for their child that is required by law.  Of course, parents might have to go back to that writing goal and engage their state department of education.   There is another way.