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.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Parents Can't Win

Parents Can’t Win

In the last five years, parents have won less than 15% of cases filed for due process against the various Maryland local school systems. And that represents an improvement up from only 3-5% of wins a few years back.
But it was not always that way.  When the federal law (and Maryland’s law that came later) was first enacted in 1975, there were two levels of hearings, local and state, before any appeal to a state or federal court.   In those days, the hearing officers at the hearings were required to be professionals, “knowledgeable and expert in the fields relevant to the child”.  These were professionals who knew what an appropriate education looked like for a child with learning disabilities, emotional issues or other learning challenges.  Differently trained professionals were picked for the cases based on the issues of the child.   Local hearings had one hearing officer and state level hearings had three officers. AND, when professionals who were knowledgeable and expert about what the students needed, parents WON 90% of the cases.
Fast forward to more current times.  This win rate for parents annoyed local school systems and MSDE.  Consequently, they set out to do something about it.   First, the local hearing was disbanded.  All complaints went directly to the state hearing level.   The major change came when professionals were no longer to preside at hearings.  Instead, administrative law judges were chosen to hear cases.   These administrative law judges are just that, they decide issues of administrative dispute for all of Maryland’s various departments.  They are neither expert nor knowledgeable in special learning challenges.  They may not get a case involving special education for several years.   They have no professional training in the needs and issues surrounding the provision of an appropriate education for a child with disabilities.   They are trained in the rudiments of the special education law by the staff of the Maryland State Department of Education.   Sort of like a union training the hearing officers to settle labor disputes.  Not exactly a level playing field.   After this switch there was a sea change in the decisions coming from the hearings.   Parents went from winning 95% of the cases to losing 95% of the cases.
If that wasn’t enough, the next step was for there to be a shift in the party having the burden of proof.   Initially, since the law mandates that the school system be the provider of an appropriate education, local school systems were required to demonstrate that they had met that burden at a hearing.   Then there was a shift in what, at first, appeared to be innocuous. The burden of proof would now belong to the party proposing the change in placement.  That seemed innocent enough except that in practice it is almost exclusively the parents who are dissatisfied with what the school district is providing and, therefore, they became the party requesting the change and thereby having the burden of proof. With these two changes, the parents win rate went from about 95% to less than 5%!
Did the validity of the cases change?   Nope, not at all.   Did the playing field of justice tip in another direction?  You bet, and now the parents can’t win for losing.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Do we really need to talk about this?

Do we Really Need to talk about this?

There are some really ugly things going on out there in the world.  Hate-fueled acts of violence against African-Americans, Jews and Muslims have been increasing.   These are violent behaviors of Americans against their own countrymen and women. The FBI has released data showing that hate crimes have increased for the 3rdyear in a row.   Good thing we are safe inside our schoolhouse because I really don’t want to talk about these awful things.
 We cannot continue to hide behind reading scores and athletic competitions.  Our students need guidance on how to think through these events and how to form their own opinions.  If we, as educators and family members, do not fill the gap, nature abhors a vacuum and hate will move in to fill the spaces.  The parents of the young man who recently killed a woman and injured 3 others in an attack on a Jewish house of worship cannot understand where he got these hateful ideas.  They are calling him an object of evil.  Yet he is their son, raised in their house with their other children.
Our schools need a vigorous social-emotional curriculum.  This curriculum needs to include self-awareness. Each of us needs to realize who we are and what are our button that others can push.
Social awareness informs us of what is going on around us, how is society changing.   What we think about those changes?   Do we want to foster them or resist them?   
One of the trickiest situations is self-management relationship skills.  Our students with disabilities are often easily manipulated by others.   Girls think sex is the way to get a boy’s attention. Boys think acting out in certain ways is expected of them or else they are not “manly”.   In this era of more open discussion about our individual sexuality, young teens especially may be confused as to who they are.
Ultimately, each of us is responsible for our own behavior.  One person cannot change the world but each of us should be trying to.  Each of us has a personal responsibility to prevent violence and move us to a more peaceful world.
Educators often have to do this work in a world that is filled with injustice and inequity for their students.   We can’t run from this reality.  To do so continues the separation of school from the real world.   If we want our students to believe that what we teach in school has meaning for their “real” lives then we need not to be afraid to wade into the difficult discussions.   Hear and listen to the words our children use.  Teach them to move through the clutter and how to map the controversy and come to a reasonable decision for themselves.  This is a time of great division in our society.  Our kids have to navigate this time through dialogue not violence.  
And yes, we really do need to talk about this.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

False Sense of Security

False Sense of Security

Whenever we hear of a school invasion, or the anniversary of a significant school shooting, people literally get up in arms.   With the 20thanniversary of the Columbine shooting, these events are in the news again.  Of course, there will be calls for more money to be spent on more school resource officers (SRO) and debates over just how armed these people should be.  But does any of it do any good?
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on school security.  A whole industry has been born marketing devices that promise to protect our students and staff.  A new extensive study reports that there is NO evidence that any of this works other than to provide a false sense of security.
Researchers at the University of Toledo and Ball State University reviewed 18 years of reports on school security.  After the review of practices from 2000 through to 2018, the researchers failed to find any program or practice that reduced firearm violence. The Naval Postgraduate School keeps a record of k-12 school shootings.  The record includes every instance a gun is displayed or fired on a campus if a bullet hits school property for any reason.   There were 94 such events in 2018, the worst year since records have been kept. The conclusion of the study is that the most effective way to prevent school firearm violence is to keep guns away from students.  
 Unfortunately, the ability of young people to have access to guns is rising at an alarming rate.
One of the reasons an SRO is not likely to be effective is that the events happen VERY quickly and the likelihood of the SRO being in the right spot at the right time is very low.  The school security provisions include installing video cameras, bulletproof glass, metal detectors, requiring students and staff to wear badges, installing a schoolwide electronic notification system, limiting access to a school, active shooter drills and conducting police patrols.  One of the desperation efforts has been to arm teachers.  Such methods have not been shown to stop any active shooter.  
This is a real example of why these prevention methods do not work.  In the morning of January 3, 2018, a 15-year of white male walked into Marshall County High School in Benton Kentucky. He had a Ruger 9mm semiautomatic pistol. Within 10 seconds of shooting he killed 2 people and wounded 14 schoolmates. Armed school personnel would have had to be in the exact same spot in the school as the shooter to significantly reduce the level of trauma.
Schools are not the place for a shoot-out.  Nor are they penal institutions.  We can go back 20 years to Columbine for the answer.  The shooter then and the shooters now feel disenfranchised and unseen by the school.   Can you imagine what good could be done if all that money went toward counselors and teachers?  Then perhaps our sense of security would be real.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

No, It is NOT ok

No, it is not ok!

I still remember a pivotal moment in my childhood.   My mother was at the sink with her back to me doing the dinner dishes.   I was on my usual perch on a stool chatting about my day as she worked.   At some point I said, “mom, is f… a bad word?”  Only I said the word.  My mom was very good about it; she did not break a single dish.  She calmly asked me where I had heard it.   I explained that the second grade sister of a boy in my 4thgrade class had told me the word on the playground and said it was the “baddest of the bad” words.  My mother did not tell me its meaning.  Instead she said that it was a word that people with very poor vocabularies used and that people who had a good vocabulary should never use it.  She then reminded me that I had a good vocabulary, even my teacher said so.    That was my introduction to profanity and to this day I do not use language meant for people with a limited vocabulary.
Many years later I became the Assistant State Superintendent for Special Education at the Maryland State Department of Education.    One of my very talented staff members routinely used the “f-word” for every part of speech.   The notion that only people with a poor vocabulary used that word had long since been discarded but still I felt a physical blow each time she used it.
Now it seems we are in an era where all restraints are off.  Crude and common language is becoming more and more common and yes, it is still crude.
Entertainers feel it is quite acceptable to use profanity to punctuate songs, jokes, and general expressions.  The language is used on cable TV.   Young children do not begin to know what the words mean but they do know they get a rise out of adults and somehow makes them seem brave in front of peers.   We tell kids they shouldn't use these words, yet they hear adults doing it all the time.   The use of such profane language has become a status symbol into adulthood as much as puberty.
Now it seems the issue has even reached the Supreme Court. Yesterday, the Court heard a case brought by a fashion brand named FUCT.   And yes, it rhymes with duct.   The US Patent Office has refused to patent the brand.  Under the law it is allowed to do so by calling the name scandalous and immoral.  Even the attorney presenting the case before the Court does not pronounce the word, instead saying just the individual letters of the brand name.   The plaintiff’s position is that the decision by the patent office is arbitrary and that the name is really an acronym for “Friends U Can’t Trust”.   The designer believes that a positive verdict from the Supreme Court will help him to pursue counterfeiters.  No one asks who would want to counterfeit such a vulgar name for a company because we already know that lots of people do.
How far are we as a society going to go with our decent into the most vulgar and coarse words?   At some point someone really needs to stop and say, “NO, this is not ok”.   Each of us could do that today. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Budets are tight and stakes are high

Budgets are Tight and the Stakes are High

There are multiple iterations of high stakes testing around the country. Kids who can’t pass the particular test for the area are at risk for not getting a high school diploma unless the school system has come up with a work-around.   Teachers and principals are evaluated by how well their students do on these tests.   Instruction in the various language arts is designed to prepare kids for the tests.
In our headlong rush to prepare students (and staff) to do well in these tests we forget that the real reason for education, besides providing our democracy with an educated electorate, is to prepare students for college and careers.   The PARCC test even stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.  Interestingly, the skills assessed in these test are least related to readiness for post-secondary transition.   In fact, employers cite totally different skills that they look for and cannot find in new hires.
Commonly, we teach children to do book reports.  What exactly is the purpose of the book report?   When was the last time an employer asked a staff member to write a book report?  When students get older we up the digital platform to demand PowerPoint presentations when in fact few folks on the job have to do these.   The skills that kids will need on the job are seldom taught.
Everyone looking for a job needs a 60-second elevator speech that describes who you are.  This tool is useful for a job interview, networking at a professional gathering or even the company cocktail party.   The ability to construct a clear and concise oral message tailored to different audiences is a skill needed by most of us not just politicians.  Interacting with teams, speaking publicly and receiving and using feedback and constructive criticism are also critical.
Where in the curriculum are these skills most often taught- Performing Arts!   What area of the curriculum is first on the chopping block when we work to increase reading and math scores on high stakes tests- Performing Arts.   Budgets are tight and finite.   When money is limited administrators cut what they perceive as “nice but not necessary”.
The fact is when preparing students for the next stage of life, performing arts does more than most academic areas.  In performing arts, students learn to take on different persona. That is a lot like learning how to present to different audiences.
In performing arts, students work within a cast, each person counting on the other to produce the final product.   That is a great deal like a workplace team.   Cast members learn to accept and use constructive feedback about their performances, whether from other cast members or the director.  That process is not unlike what happens in the workplace.    Cast members have to listen respectfully to all points of view so that the final production will bring it all together for a pleasurable performance.
The truth is the stakes are too high to cut performing arts.   Yet we let school systems do it to the peril of the children they profess to be preparing for college and careers.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Just sleep in...

Just sleep in…



Teenagers need more sleep not less.   Educators know this.   Psychologists know this.  Physicians know this.  Parents know this.  We all know this yet we continue to behave as if we do not.   Why is that?
In school districts across the country, high schools open the earliest, followed by middle and elementary schools.   Yet we know that factually, the adolescent brain works differently than the brains of younger children and adult.  Sleep experts say that when kids move into puberty, they experience a sleep phase shift that makes it very difficult for their brains to drift off before 11 p.m.  To make matters worse, those same brains will stay in sleep mode until almost 8 the next morning.  The CDC says that two out of three teens get less than eight hours of sleep a night.  There is research that says teens really need ten hours of sleep a night.  If you go by that standard, only 10% of teens are getting the recommended amount of sleep.  
It isn't just adolescence that makes teens so much fun to be with. Not having enough sleep yields grumpy, grouchy kids, just like the rest of us.  But for teens the stakes are higher.
Sleepy teens experience more depression.   They are also more apt to engage in risky behaviors and more likely to be bullies and get into fights.  They are also more likely to get into car crashes if they are driving alone.
That’s not the half of it.   Teachers of morning classes routinely complain about how hard it is to keep kids engaged.  REM sleep is very important to the full benefits of sleep for anyone.   Teens frequently miss that final REM cycle because they are getting up too early. It does not help that the teen addiction to blue light emitting technology just before bedtime doesn’t relax them but rather suppresses the body’s melatonin which is the sleep/wake hormone.
So with all this common sense, why are high schools almost always the early run for busses.   Busses are the key issue.   Most school systems run busses on shifts.   High schools first, then followed by middle and lower schools. Why not just switch the routes? Some systems say that is too expensive.  Some athletic directors say starting school later means ending school later; hence, practices will start and end in the dark, particularly in the winter months.   Some families say the later ending of the school day will limit the time kids have for after school jobs.   That position is often countered with a later ending to the school day will leave less time for kids to get into trouble.
The Seattle school district recently delayed the starting bell for high schools.  The results were very positive.  Students got extra sleep, grades improved, students were tardy less often and had fewer absences.  Teachers and parents reported that kids had better attitudes and were more pleasant all around.
Sounds like the notion of starting high schools later is a win-win.  Can’t understand why more districts jumping on it.  Well maybe they are sleeping on it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Get Shot or NOT

Earlier this year there was an outbreak of measles in Washington state.  Several children died.  Washington state has allowed parents to refuse to vaccinate their children and still allow those children to enter school.  Most state require that students be vaccinated; however, they allow for an exception for religious considerations.  After the outbreak of measles in Washington, some lawmakers are wondering if this exception should continue to be allowed.

Now there has been another unprecedented measles outbreak on the other side of the country in Rockland County, NY.   There school officials have said that children who have not been vaccinated may not attend public schools.  Forty-four families whose children were excluded from school had sued to insist that their children be allowed to return to school arguing that none of their children had contracted measles and, therefore, were not a risk to the population.   However, a federal judge has recently ruled on the side of the school district and denied the request for the children to return to school.

In the meantime, there is legislation in process in New York that would allow minor children to request and receive vaccination without parental consent.  Pediatric organizations have supported the legislation.

The notion that vaccines cause autism has been debunked routinely.  In Maine, families could refuse to vaccinate their children for non-medical reasons, including just a basic fear of the vaccine.  A Democratic sponsored bill would end all non-medical reasons for forbidding vaccinations.  On the other side, a Republican bill would leave medical exemptions at the “sole discretion” of the health-care provider.   Maine has one of the nation’s highest rates for nonmedical exemptions.

Maryland currently allows for a medical exemption and a religious exemption.  It does not allow for a philosophical exemption.   Some states do allow for that type of exemption.

The issue is, where does the right to decide for one’s own children begin, where does the child’s right to decide for itself or in consultation with another adult- and what are the rights of the other children in the school.

What should Maryland do as more religious organizations begin to weigh in?   Get shot or not?   Whose right is it.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

So much money wasted

So much money wasted!


The news has been full of the scheme to spend millions of dollars to get kids into elite colleges for which they may or may not be qualified.   A great deal of money and a lot of conniving with sports’ coaches, college admission folks, and a crooked college admissions counselor.   Clearly these folks crossed the line, but many millions are spent every year in what is considered legitimate encouragement to enroll an offspring in a premier college or university.   It is okay to donate a building or two, perhaps a scholarship and don’t forget the totally legal test prep programs and advisors- all of which push hard for kids to go to college for their parents’ bragging rights if not their own.

Nationally we have the major academic push to prepare students for college and careers.  Truthfully, the careers part of that equation is a misnomer.   Schools are pushing kids to go to college and have a career after that.  In the meantime, there are very important high-paying jobs that are going unfilled BECAUSE they do not require a college degree.   For some reason we think a college degree opens the golden door to riches.  

We need to prepare students for the skilled trades!   Not only is our population aging but along with the general population are the people who build buildings, drive big trucks, install electric, repair plumbing- all of those things that not only literally build a nation but also repair a nation as homes and other buildings need attention.  If we do not attend to these builders, each of us may be doing a great more DIY or paying very high prices for a limited number of people with those skills.

Most kids starting college today take six years to do what the older generation did in four.  More importantly, 45% of students entering college never graduate.  What becomes of them?  They usually do not have a job skill.  Sometimes they have filled their schedule with light weight courses such as “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame”.   Yes, really, that is a 3-credit course.  And besides being unemployed, they may also still be straddled with student debt.

Why?   Whatever happened to good vocational training for students who are not interested in working behind a desk?  Some people are catching on.  In Massachusetts there is a waiting list for kids to get into the vocational technical high schools.  I wonder how many of those schools were closed or discouraged with the race to get into college.

College is not the best choice for everyone.  Even people who graduate are not necessarily winners. Fifty percent of law school grads do not get jobs practicing law even allowing for our country being the most lawsuit happy on earth.   Not going to college is NOT a consolation prize; nor does it mean the student was too dumb to go to college.   It might mean that the student and her family were not interested in wasting money on ego and decided to use the talent to build a better career.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Throwing Good Money After Bad

Throwing Good Money After Bad


Maryland teachers clogged the streets of Annapolis on March 11, 2019, trying to convince the legislature to throw good money after bad.   They were insisting that the legislature needed to increase funding for schools in Maryland so that the schools would get better.  They insisted on this position in spite of the fact that throwing money at schools has yet to improve them.  
In 2002, an earlier commission, the Thornton Commission, provided a huge boost to school funding in Maryland.  Yet less than 40 percent of Maryland high school graduates can read at a 10thgrade level.  The gap between Hispanic and African American students and their white peers persists.  
An analysis by the Maryland Public Policy Institute found that increased funding encouraged administrative bloat and higher teacher salaries. Neither of which did anything to improve instruction.  The response to these findings by advocates of the latest race for more education funds, the Kirwan Commission, insist that this time there will be a new state bureaucracy that will ensure accountability. Am I confused or does this look like  more administrative bloat that does not impact students.
Maryland is already spending more per student than almost every other state. In fact of the top five highest per pupil school districts in the country, two were in Maryland.  Baltimore City schools come in at #4 nationally and Howard County Schools come in at #5.   Baltimore City is spending $15,818 per typical student and not very many would argue the citizens are getting their money’s worth.
In the headlong rush to implement this “one chance in a century” to fix Maryland schools, we have failed to address the primary cost of an education in Maryland or any other state for that matter-it is salaries. The amount of money is finite unless taxes are dramatically raised.  Giving more money to education, takes it away from other programs that may be just as necessary to the well-being of citizens.   Over 80% of school money goes into salaries.  Of course, there is the very high administrative bloat salaries, where it is not unusual for school administrators to make well over $100,000 a year.  In fact, Maryland has some of the highest school administrative costs in the nation. Still the bulk of the salary money goes towards teachers and other non-administrative school-based staff. Until there is a system in place where quality educators are rewarded and people who are marginal in their jobs are either fired or reduced in salary, nothing will change.  We will continue to throw good money after bad, resulting in more highly paid incompetent teachers.  More money won’t make them better.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

It's Easier to Pass the Bar

It’s Easier to Pass the Bar

It seems to be easier to pass the Bar exam to become an attorney than it is to pass the Praxis licensing exam to become a teacher.   More than half of aspiring teachers fail all or part of the Praxis exam required by eighteen states and optional in five others.
The data show that more than half of aspiring elementary school teachers fail all or part of the exam the first time.  In fact, only 38% of black candidates and 57% of Hispanic candidates ever pass the test at all, compared with 75% of white candidates.
This situation presents multiple problems.
First of all, why are the fail rates so high?  Do the reasons lie in the quality of the test or the quality of the preparation for black and Hispanic candidates?   The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) estimates that over 8,600 candidates of color are excluded from the classroom each year because of test failure.   Yet there is a huge push to increase diversity in the nation’s teaching pool.
There are 4 subtests to the Praxis (reading/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies).   Science and social studies have the highest fail rates.  Over a 3-year period reviewed by the NCTQ, over a quarter of the test takers did not pass.  Only certified public accountants have a lower pass rate on their exam.   Doctors, nuclear engineers and lawyers, all have higher pass rates on their licensing exams.
Let’s start with the test.   Is the Praxis testing what is relevant to being a successful teacher.  In testing terms, is the Praxis test valid, that is does it measure what it says it measures- predicting who will be a successful teacher.   No study has been done to see if high Praxis scores correlate with high quality teacher evaluations.  Additionally, unlike other professional licensing exams, there is nothing in the Praxis that relates to how to teach school.  The Bar exam measures an applicant’s knowledge on court proceedings and legal precedents.   Nothing in the Praxis quizzes applicants on learning theory or education practice.
Then there is the issue of preparation.   A review of the content of an undergraduate elementary school teacher’s course work shows that 3 out of 4 programs do not cover the breadth of knowledge of mathematics content required by the exam.  Two out of 3 programs do not require a single course aligned with any of the science topics on the exam.   Additionally, one-third of the programs do not require history or geography aligned with the exam content.
Given this information, why do states persist in using the Praxis exam as a gatekeeper for the teaching profession?
Advocates of the testing program will tell you that the test ensures that people entering the teaching profession will be of “high quality”.  But high quality in what!   Every other professional testing exam measures the knowledge and skill set for the profession.   None measures basic academic knowledge.  
If we are concerned about the basic knowledge set for elementary teachers why not push that requirement down into the teacher preparation programs.  If candidates need more academic preparation, that is the time to do it.   Once the student has completed his/her professional preparation, we should be measuring knowledge and skill set for the profession.   Otherwise it might be easier to become a lawyer.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

We need to stop lying to our children

We need to stop lying to our children.

Last week a newspaper reported on the outcomes for its vocational training programs.   In the last ten years only 26% of the students enrolled in the programs actually earned trade certifications.   Meaning simply that the four years high school vocational training had not yielded those good paying jobs that were promised.  In some instances, certification requirements for the trade required eighth or ninth grade reading and mathematics levels which the students did not have.  Why did educators lie to the students and their families and lead them to believe that a lucrative career in plumbing, electrical work or as a technician awaited them at the end of four years of schooling?
Similar instances occur with children with disabilities.  A child is good at video games and tells his parents he wants to be a video game designer.  The parents do not want to dash their child’s dreams.  So, they agree with the child that he will be a video game designer.  The fact is that very few people get to do video game design for a living and those people receive a great deal of rejection before they finally succeed.  Just because a child is good compared to other kids with disabilities or even with other typical age mates, it does not mean that child is going to be among the 1 or 2% who make it in the industry.  Yet we continue to lead children down the primrose path allowing to believe that these aspirations have a prayer of coming true.
I am not suggesting that we dash kids’ dreams.  What I am suggesting is that we stop lying to children and encouraging them to chase after job choices that are not going to be there for them.  That isn’t dashing dreams it is building reality.  It is being honest with our children.  They have a right to have us honestly reflect with them about their futures.
Helping children chase after stars that are within reach makes those stars real.   It also allows children to use their time in school wisely learning the skills that they will need for the real world not some fantasy island.
Interviews with the graduates of the vocational programs the newspaper wrote about were very sad.  Graduates thought they were preparing for a real career, only to discover they had been lied to and cheated of their right to a valid vocational training program. It’s way past time for us to stop lying to our children.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Rules & Reason

Rules and Reason

Rules are a good thing.   They give structure to life and keep us all in our proper lanes.   Rules let us know what to expect and give guidance on how to behave.  Rules are fine and make life more predictable, except when they make no sense at all and we insist on keeping them and holding people accountable for them.
Our school is a school for children with learning challenges.   We serve 16 of the 24 school jurisdictions in the State of Maryland.   We also serve the District of Columbia schools which include DC public schools and numerous charter schools that are within the political confines of the District of Columbia.
Our school does a graduate survey ever year.   We check to see how many graduates are working, in post-secondary education or both.  We have been doing this for over 20 years.   We go back to our very first graduating class.  Every single year, well over 90% of our graduates are working, in post-secondary education or both.   These results are quoted not only to show off but to show that we know what we are doing in preparing our students for life after our school.
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) - even though there is no state,  has decided to limit referrals because we refuse to offer a course in the history of the District of Columbia and two-years of a foreign language.  We have never done this because it is the view of the school that the time of a student with disabilities would be better spent on improving English language skills, learning to write a coherent letter or email, deciphering credit applications, understanding the latest and greatest news and other important life skills that we each need to survive.  Our graduate survey supports the notion that our kids are successful post-high school.   We have a solid minority of our grads who have completed 4-year college degrees. Even the rep who came to visit us acknowledged that her two years of high school foreign language had been of no use to her whatsoever.
In past years, the District of Columbia representative has allowed its students to earn a Maryland private school diploma that is accredited by the Maryland State Board of Education and does not require DC history or the foreign language.  
Now there is a new “sheriff “ in town.   He is not willing to take the path less travelled regardless of the benefit to DC students.   He insists, in spite of documentary evidence to the contrary, that DC reps never allowed this work-around in the past.   
Rules are rules, he says; to which I respond, reason is reason and there is no cure for stupid.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Unfair & Uneven

Unfair and Uneven

Local school districts are at the beginning stages of preparing their FY 20 budgets.   So are the non-public Maryland State Board of Education accredited special education centers. The two processes are both unfair and uneven when it comes to the non-public special education sector.  There are similarities and differences between these two processes.
The Maryland accredited non-public special education schools are neither private nor public.  They are private in that they can hire and terminate staff without regard to union rules and regulations.  They are public in that each of those staff members must meet the same certification qualifications as public school personnel, even though they are paid dramatically less.  These schools are also required to follow specific MSDE regulations.
But the public schools have privilege that the non-public schools do not have.   The local school districts can put as much money into the education of their students as the county councils and county executives will allow.  It is not unusual for public school systems to increase an annual budget by 3-5%.   Whereas, the non-public schools are given an annual budget inflator cap each year. For FY 20 that cap is 1.9%, well below increases in public school budgets.   As a result, even though non-public staff need to meet identical certification standards, they are paid as much as 15-20 thousand dollars less after about five years of service.  Add that discrepancy to the fact that children are only sent to non-public schools when the public schools acknowledge they cannot provide an appropriate education to meet the learning challenges of the children they refer.
So staff in non-public schools meet the needs of the most challenging learners at a dramatically reduced salary.  What’s fair about that?
The inflator rate offered to non-public schools is supposed to equal the Cost-of-Living Index for Urban Areas (COL-U).   However the increase in funding offered to local public school districts by the state for the upcoming school year is well above this number.  Definitely an uneven playing field.
There are lots of other inequities.   Public schools may high substitute teachers with only a high school education.  Non-public schools are required to only use people with a college degree.   MSDE monitors non-public schools very closely. Monitoring teams are sent in every 3-5 years and for several days they examine every aspect of the school’s operation.   The sheer size of public school systems prevents that kind of drilled down monitoring.  In many instances public schools monitor themselves.
No one really cares except the people who work in a non-public school and the students in non-public schools and their families; they are getting a first-rate education even if the staff are paying for it with reduced salaries. The playing field is unequal and uneven but we keep playing because we do really care about the kids.