Tuesday, November 26, 2019

So, What About the N word

So, What about the N Word?

Two kids are jostling in the hall.   One is calling the other kid the N word.    Does your reaction matter if both kids are white?   How about black?   How about one or two of several races?   For some reason the racial mix of the group will make a difference to how people will react.   How do families, school people and folks in the community treat the word?
Is it profane and always unacceptable as a racist slur?   If so then the make-up of the group of kids in the above example does not matter.
Should schools have absolute policies where the use of the word is just not allowed, period, end of sentence.
The Madison Wisconsin school district made an absolute rule.    The word was not to be used, no way, no how.   If staff used the word that staff member would be fired.   A school security guard who had been with the system for 17 years, was called the N word by a student.   The guard, who is African American, responded by saying to the student, “Do not call me a ‘nigger’.   That is not who I am.”   The guard was terminated!    Within in days, there were demonstrations, complaints, letter campaigns.  He was rehired.   Prior to the word being forbidden to be used by anyone, that event would have been followed up by a meeting in the principal’s office where the seriousness of the situation would be explained to the student, there would be a mediation and end with a handshake or a hug, and hopefully some education.
Managing the use of the N word is just one instance in which schools (and families) have shown their unwillingness to wade into the difficult discussions of bigotry around racist words.   While it may be true that this current political atmosphere has given license to the use of bigoted language and behavior, these problems have been beneath the surface for as long as we have had a country.   Outlawing the use of any profane word doesn’t solve the problem of why it is being used.  We just drive folks back into their hole in the ground.
We need to teach our kids empathy.   As the Native American proverb, do not criticize until you have walked a mile in someone else’s shoes.    Our students need to be taught the reasons why bigoted words are bad, and about the psychic damage they can do to the recipient of these words.  Then we can move on to conversations about how much alike we are and stop emphasizing how different we are.
Banning the N word, or any other bigoted racist word is really easy.   What is hard is trying to figure out why people want to use that word at all!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

They Don't Notice Me When I'm Sad

They Don’t Notice Me When I’m Sad

Why do we have kids killing other kids by opening fire in a cafeteria or classroom?  Why is teen suicide one of the highest causes of student deaths in our country?   Why are students in our schools using profanity for everyday chats, posting sexual videos on SnapChat or texting sexually explicit photos and videos.   Maybe it is because “They don’t notice me when I’m sad”.
The high school student who wrote this sentence as part of a plea for his public school IEP committee to send him back to The Harbour School, a non-public special school for children with disabilities was desperate and accurate in his concerns about the public school.   The high school in question is widely considered one of the 2-3 best in the school district.   Its students are “good kids” from “good families”.   The student parking lot is filled with late model nice vehicles.  Yet here is the critique from a student.
“When the teachers are teaching, I can’t understand what they are saying because they are going too fast.  Whenever I tell the teachers that something is bothering me they rarely solve the problem or do nothing at all.”   Unfortunately, the teachers have a schedule to keep.  They cannot slow down or postpone progress.   The school pacing guides are designed so that all of the material will be covered by the time the school schedule dictates the state tests will be held.  “They don’t notice me when I’m sad”.
“The students are disruptive and I think they aren’t following the school rules.  They are swearing a lot and I don’t like the way the girls are dressed.  They wear clothes that expose body parts, it makes me feel disgusted.”  I am sure that swearing and dressing inappropriately are contrary to the school behavior code and to the dress code.   The problem is neither of these guides has any meaning at all unless school personnel enforce them.   So why don’t they?  There are multiple reasons.   People just don’t want the aggravation that goes with enforcing school discipline.  Parents will show up and support the misbehavior of the student and blame the teacher.  Teachers will be accused of being culturally insensitive, so why bother.  It used to be if a teacher had to call out a student for any behavior, the student knew that there would be another price to pay once he or she got home.   Not anymore.  Now the family is as likely to take the student’s side as not, because frankly, enforcing discipline is hard and there is going to be push back and, well, families just don’t have the time.  “They don’t notice me when I’m sad.”
“The kids make me feel like they are all above me.   I don’t feel safe and I feel like I don’t belong here.   I feel bad for the kid from my media production class, the kid who committed suicide.  I think he felt what I am feeling here overwhelmed, disappointed and frightened”
Violence is becoming endemic in our schools.    Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among adolescents in the U.S.  Maybe it is time we noticed when our kids feel sad.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Get the Lead Out

Get the Lead Out

Most of us have read about the lead in Flint Michigan schools when the city decided to save money by switching its water source from one of the Great Lakes to a local source that allowed lead to leach into the city’s water supply.   The full extent of the damage to Flint children is still not known.
Here is what is known.   Four years after the crisis was discovered, one in five students in Flint public schools is eligible for special education. The Superintendent has stated that 28% of Flint students have disabilities that warrant an IEP.   That is more than double the national average.  The school system is buckling under the cost of providing services and meeting federal requirements for children with disabilities.
While Flint may be best known of cities with lead in the drinking water, it is not alone.  Many other urban areas are using water facilities with lead pipes that are old and leaching into drinking water.   The situation may foreshadow issues that will be showing up in other older urban areas.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the Education Law Center and the New York-based firm of Case & White have joined to represent Flint families suing the school system, the Michigan State Department of Education and the Genesee County Intermediate School District alleging failure to meet the needs of special education students.  Families with the resources to do so, have moved out of town. Leaving behind people who are disproportionately poor and in need of support services.  The district is unable to recruit and retain special education teachers.   It has resorted to using long term substitutes just to put a body in the classroom.  As many as 25% of the classrooms are staffed with temporary people.  It is going to take a great deal more money to provide these children with an appropriate education but the fact remains, all of the education in the world isn’t going to fix the cognitive damage to these children who will become cognitively damaged adults, more dependent on taxpayer support. 
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 98,000 public schools and half-million child care facilities are NOT regulated as to the amount of lead in the water.  In fact, there is no federal policy that mandates lead testing in schools.   Maryland has recently required all public-funded schools to submit water samples from multiple drinking fountains and faucets throughout the school.  The state health department is evaluating the samples for lead levels shutting down those water supply areas that don’t pass the test.  In Baltimore City, multiple schools provide bottled water to students because the fountains are unsafe.  Get the lead out means more than get moving.  We need to get moving before more kids are brain damaged by our neglect.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Let's DO something with all that money

Let's DO something with all that money

Lots of chatter about the Kirwan Commission and how much money it will cost, how much good it will do and whether or not we can afford it.  Let’s get rid of the first bug-a-boo, whether or not we can afford it.   Maryland is one of the richest states in the country with, by some surveys, the highest per capita income in the country.   The more relevant question is should we afford it.  Is this the best use of billions!, yes with a B, of dollars.   Just because we can afford it does not mean we should afford it.
The results are in for the national testing of reading and math.  Once again Maryland’s results are down.    Of course, the advocates for Kirwan were all over it, proving without a doubt the necessity of funding Kirwan.  What is odd about this conclusion is that the test scores used to be higher and the funding was much lower.  Seems to me that could be an argument for lowering funding LOL.
I am not advocating for that, but I do not think the expenditure of the money Kirwan is recommending is going to improve education, yet alone test scores.
Kirwan recommends spending more money on teachers’ salaries, bringing starting salaries to 60K.   Maryland already has one of the largest median salaries for teachers in the nation.    There has never been any evidence that paying a bad teacher or a mediocre teacher more money will make her an excellent teacher.   Yet we keep insisting on doing that.    The elephant in the room is the union.  No one wants to admit in this union addicted state that it is the union which assures that weak teachers get to stay on the job.    And it also assures that there can be no differentiation of staffing so everyone is a teacher or an administrator.
If we are going to spend this kind of money on education then let’s do something dramatic and bold.   Let's dramatically re-align and re-assign what the people in school buildings do.   Let's raise the salaries of the stars, lower the salaries of the bottom of the barrel and use any money we save to hire social workers and community workers.  Let's help teenage and lower socio-economic mothers learn how to parent.  Let's have school libraries open into the evening for family activities and food.  Let's put school employed community action workers into the community to help parents enrich the experiences of kids and teach everyone the value of an education.   A parent cannot read to his/her child if he or she can't read or if he or she is working two or three jobs just to survive.  Schools do not exist in a bubble.
The so-called “Independent Oversight Board” is just another expensive way to layer bureaucracy on top of bureaucracy.   If the Board is needed because MSDE and the State Board of Education are not doing their jobs, then fix that.   Don’t just add another layer so no one knows who is in charge and the dance of the lemons can just dance to a faster beat.  A chunk of money will be paid to the members of the Board, plus, of course, they will need physical facilities and support staff that take more money.  
The education system is limping along.   Throwing money at it will not fix the problems.   Nor will the contradictory approaches of paying teachers more (supposedly to increase the attractiveness of the profession) and making it more difficult to get into the profession so there will be better teachers. 
With the kind of money Kirwan wants the citizens of Maryland to spend, Maryland could actually create a new and exciting system instead of throwing money at trying to patch this one.