Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Letter to Education Officials

The following is an editorial written by the mother of an autistic student. It points out the absurdity of requiring IEPs for students with disabilities but at the same time expecting them to master the same Common Core requirements as all the other students. It seems that an Individual Education Program is no longer a priority in this new push to have all students master the Common Core. This parent is genuinely worried that her  child will be neglected. I can see why.

Academic Standards and Individualized Education Programs

How are schools supposed to get every student to meet the same academic standards and meet the individualized education programs for children with disabilities (both are required by federal law)?

The following is a letter written from the heart of a mom with a son with autism. It is not meant to expose any teacher or district. On the contrary, both are working hard to support the student. It is simply written to express an opinion of the situation we are all in at this time.

Dear "Is Anybody Listening?,"
Several weeks ago I sat down with my son's teacher and listened to her tell me what her priorities are for him for this year. She revealed that she is largely focused on reading comprehension and, to a lesser extent, writing. It is indisputable that those are areas of high need for him. But what she had forgotten and said very little about, until I mentioned it, was language and social interaction. I could see a light bulb go off in her head. Suddenly she understood. Yes, of course, I must work on those too. Then I saw something else. It was something I can only describe as concern, although an insufficient descriptor. She started talking about all of the third grade standards. She handed me copies of the standards which she had already printed out, tucked safely inside page protectors. The teacher began to ponder, how will I address the core deficits of his disability in the midst of teaching the standards? Oh, maybe there would be a few minutes during group work or perhaps during a pull out session, but there's so much to work on academically...
We are over half way through the first nine weeks and, although every member of his team is working hard, Jackson is so lost. He's lost in a sea of standards and expectations for him to think critically and explain every answer. It takes much more than raising the bar or saying you believe students with disabilities can achieve for them to actually achieve. You see, he has only answered a why question a handful of times in his life. Now he's asked why, how and explain your answer all day long. What do you think is going to happen when you test and assess him? He is going to fail. It will look as though he cannot and has not achieved.
Let me tell you what he has done, though. Jackson had been permitted to isolate himself from all the children on the school playground for the last 2 years. We were less than one week into the school year and Jackson was no longer standing next to the wall, far away from his peers. He was under a tree next to the playground. Fast forward a few more weeks and he has played on the equipment a few times, but more spectacularly, he is engaging and playing a game of "I see you" with a little girl in his class. She enjoys him. She likes him. He likes her. They play together for a few minutes every day. No standardized assessment he will take this year or any year will reflect that progress. No teacher or related service provider will be rewarded for their role in facilitating this achievement. After all, it's not one of the standards. It's not on "the test."
As an advocate, some days are very challenging when both working and living in the disability world. There are no breaks. There is no escape. I sit in rooms with educational leaders who make statements about the 43% (of students with disabilities who passed the tests last year) and then I come home to the sweetest little boy who falls in the 57%. A boy who has an amazing ability to tolerate the world around him, but who no longer wants to go to school. How will it get any better? When will it get any better? It only seems like we're heading in the opposite direction of improving outcomes for kids like Jackson.
Rebecca Ellis
Mandeville, Louisiana

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Building the Plane in Flight

Scott Richard, Executive Director for the Louisiana School Boards Association, pointed out some of the serious problems with the new Common Core State Standards in recent comments to the Press Club. I agree with Richard that the standards are being rushed into full effect without adequate preparation. BESE and the State Department of Education are ramming this additional reform into our public schools in a big hurry based on the assumption that these new standards will magically improve the performance of our students. This so called “reform” may be more like throwing a tired swimmer a huge rock and then telling him to swim with it an extra hundred yards to shore. We may not be pleased with the results.

Unlike some of the more vocal critics of the Common Core, I don't believe the CCSS is a Federal Government takeover of our educational system. That has pretty much already happened in many respects. I don't believe the Common Core is a secret plan to shape the minds of our children to make them into willing robot-like workers for the multinational corporations. And I don't believe it is a scheme by President Obama to indoctrinate our students to love socialism.

My understanding of Common Core is that it started off as a joint effort by the National Governor's Association and leaders of the College Board elites (the producers of the SAT tests) and some of the huge testing companies to create a standard set of criteria for academic achievement for American students for all states that would prepare all students to attend and succeed in college. (Don't believe that part about “College and Careers”) It is also thought that these more rigorous standards which are supposed to require the development of analytical thinking and problem solving skills would better prepare our students to compete for high level jobs with students from all other countries.

My main problem with the CCSS is that the developers assume that all students can and should learn the same college prep material that they (the developers) judge to be appropriate in order for students to receive a high school diploma. The developers of CCSS apparently believe that all children have the same intellectual capacity, the same interests, and the same motivation to tackle a curriculum that was designed by a group of academic elitists who believe in college for everyone. And if any part of those assumptions are not correct, then it is up to the public school educators to do whatever it takes to make it happen and to make sure that all students succeed in mastering the new standards anyway. I believe these are impractical expectations that are not appropriate for many of our students. I believe such standards when added to the previous ill advised reforms initiated in Louisiana by Governor Jindal will lead to a continued crisis in our public education system. Just like the current federal government shutdown, this is a totally unnecessary manufactured crisis that can only lead to harm to many of our students and educators.

My perspective is different from that of Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, David Coleman, and many of the other leaders of this initiative who had never spent a day in a K-12 classroom dealing with real students. Unlike these self appointed experts, I had the good fortune to work as a high school science teacher where I had the opportunity to teach science to a rich cross section of our Louisiana students. I found that while all students were wonderful to work with, they were just as different intellectually, talent wise, and motivation wise as they are in their physical abilities and interests.

Arne Duncan and Bill Gates would never dream of prescribing the same standards in a physical education class for all students of the same age, but they are quite willing to do so for all the academic classes. We would never require that students have the same requirements for the high jump, the hundred meter dash or weight lifting, because the physical differences and athletic potential of our students are visually apparent. It would be considered cruel and unfair to require a 10th grade student who is 5 ft 5 inches tall and weighs 220 lbs to clear a 6 ft high jump bar in order to pass a physical education class. But the same range of differences occur in our students' academic potential and interests. Yet in education it is considered OK to raise the academic bar and to make it exactly the same for all students.

For years now I have been preaching about how our schools have increasingly narrowed their focus to only college prep requirements. More and more we are ignoring the Arts and vocational-technical skills. This is happening while many industries requiring voc-tech skills are booming in Louisiana. Our employers are beginning the process of importing skilled workers from other states and from overseas. With their dead end training, our graduates will be relegated to serving these imported workers in our fast food restaurants. The Common Core will narrow this focus even further. Just because the developers of common core religiously repeat that these standards are designed for “college and careers” does not make it so. I submit to my readers that there was no one, not one person, involved in the development of Common Core that was a voc-tech or an Arts or Music educator. In my opinion there is very little in the Common Core standards that address the need of an educated work force to be familiar with tools, with construction principles, with mechanics, with electrical wiring and plumbing, with practical nursing, and physical therapy, with practical math, and with dexterity and with arts and music. The developers of the Common Core believe that if students are required to spend a certain percentage of their reading assignments reading technical manuals that this will prepare them for the career part of the standards. Bull s_ _ _!

What industry or profession adopts an entirely new set of standards for their workforce without testing of any kind? Diane Ravitch points out that this is what we are doing with the adoption of the Common Core. Even the best engineers, the best designers always test prototypes and do small scale testing before totally overhauling a factory to implement a new manufacturing process. Yet with the implementation of Common Core we are willing to “build the plane while it is in flight”. (The credit for those quotes goes to Dr Lottie Beebe and Scott Richard)

Only in the field of education are the bosses willing to implement a totally experimental approach to all operations without pilot testing. If it fails then it must be the fault of the educators on the ground who just did not implement it correctly. It can never be the fault of the reformers who never have to implement anything. Teachers, get ready to face the music two years down the road when this plane starts to fall apart.