Posted in Article Medleys, Choice, DeVos, Franklin, Segregation, special education, US DOE

2017 Medley #16: Privatization – Leaving Some Students Behind

Special Needs Students, Segregation,
U.S. DOE and DeVos,
The “Free Market,” Ben Franklin

SOME STUDENTS LEFT BEHIND

Indiana’s School Choice Program Often Underserves Special Needs Students

Last week NPR posted, The Promise and Peril of School Vouchers, an article about the success of the privatization movement in Indiana. The quote below is taken from the radio broadcast on the same topic and focuses specifically on the impact that privatization in Indiana has had on students with special needs.

I would have liked to see a further breakdown of the specific categories of special needs services handled by public and private schools. For example, students with Language or speech impairments who need speech therapy, are much less expensive to teach than students who have traumatic brain injuries or cognitive disorders. General education students who need speech and language services and don’t qualify for other categories of eligibility for special services, don’t need special equipment or extra classroom personnel other than a Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP). In addition, SLPs from the public schools – at least in the district I taught in – provide services for students in parochial schools (paid for with federal dollars). [NOTE: This is not to say that students who need speech and language services don’t deserve extra help. The point is that certain categories of special education services are more expensive than others.] Who exactly are the 6.5 percent of students in the Fort Wayne district who are using vouchers and qualify for special services?

Private and parochial schools are not covered under the special education law and do not have to provide services, and students with special needs give up their rights when they enroll in a private school.

…NPR did look at the records. More than 15 percent of Fort Wayne’s public school students are considered special education. The average special ed rate at private voucher schools used by Fort Wayne kids is just 6.5 percent. In fact, NPR ran the numbers for every district in the state, and Fort Wayne is the rule, not the exception.

Seventeen percent of public students in Indianapolis received special education. In voucher schools used by Indianapolis students, it’s just 7 percent. It’s the same story in Evansville and Gary and just about everywhere else. This phenomenon came up earlier this year in a heated Senate hearing. Here’s Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, whose son has cerebral palsy.

Many of us see this as the potential for turning our public schools into warehouses for the most challenging kids with disabilities or other kinds of particular issues.

CHOICE – THE NEW SEGREGATION

School Choice: Designed To Fail

How do we define “good” schools? What does a “failing” school mean? These definitions, which can be traced to the economic status of the parents of children within a school, are being used to sort and segregate students. When “choice” advocates tell parents that they should have the right to “choose the best school for their children” they rarely tell the parents that private schools get to choose who they will accept and some charter schools manipulate entrance systems to favor the most motivated, the highest scoring, and the best behaved students.

With more and more tax money being diverted from public schools to vouchers and charters we’re witnessing the return to the “separate and unequal” schools of the last century. The idea of universal education as a “public good” is being lost in a competitive battle for tax dollars.

By rigging the system, by cruel attrition, by statistical sleight of hand, the choice movement is simply sifting kids through a similar sorter, leaving the false impression that the plutocrat-funded, heavily-hyped charter schools are “good,” and the increasingly deprived district schools are “less good.”

CONTINUED DAMAGE FROM THE U.S. DOE

Trump’s first full education budget: Deep cuts to public school programs in pursuit of school choice

For the last several decades the destruction of public education has been a bipartisan effort with Democrats – at least at the federal level – working to divert money from public schools into the corporate maw of the charter school industry. Republicans have supported the expansion of the charter industry as well, but have as their real goal, the total privatization of education across the nation through vouchers and “educational savings accounts.”

The premise behind school privatization is competition, and the idea that “the market” will eventually eliminate “bad” or “failing” schools because patrons will “shop with their feet.” According to the “market-based” orthodoxy, only good schools will survive.

An erroneous assumption is that schools with low test scores are “failing” and schools with high test scores are “good.” As I wrote earlier this year in The Myth of America’s Failing Public Schools, America’s schools aren’t failing. Instead, it is American society which has failed the more than 1/5th of our children who live in poverty.

A new crisis is looming for public education in the U.S. The Trump-DeVos budget will further decimate needed funding for the students who need it the most.

Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under a Trump administration plan to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post.

School Privatization in the Age of Betsy DeVos: Where Are We in Mid-May?

…this year with DeVos as their cheerleader, far right legislators across the states have been aggressively promoting school privatization with bills for new vouchers, tax credits or education savings accounts or bills to expand existing privatization schemes. As usual, legislators are being assisted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a membership organization that pairs member state legislators with corporate and think tank lobbyists to write model bills that can be adapted to any state and introduced across the statehouses by ALEC members.

The Network for Public Education has made available short explanations of all three school privatization schemes: vouchers, tutition tax credits here and here, and education savings accounts.

EDUCATION IS NOT A BUSINESS

The Free Market Does Not Work for Education

In this post from 2016, Peter Greene explains why the supporters of “market-based” education are wrong. The free market will not be able to provide universal education – not to students with expensive needs…not to students who live in rural areas…not to students who live in low population areas.

The free market will never work for a national education system. Never. Never ever.

A business operating in a free market will only stay in business as long as it is economically viable to do so. And it will never be economically viable to provide a service to every single customer in the country.

All business models, either explicitly or implicitly, include decisions about which customers will not be served, which customers will be rejected, because in that model, those customers will be detrimental to the economic viability of the business. McDonald’s could decide to court people who like upscale filet mignons, but the kitchen equipment and training would cost a whole bunch of money that would not bring a corresponding increase in revenue, so they don’t do it…

…Special ed students are too expensive for their business model. When we see across the nation that charters largely avoid students with severe special needs, or English language learners, this is not because the operators of those charters are evil racist SWSN haters. It’s because it’s harder to come up with a viable business model that includes those high-cost students. Likewise, you find fewer charters in rural and small town areas for the same reason you find fewer McDonald’s in the desert– the business model is commonly to set up shop where you have the largest customer pool to fish in.

Of course, you can game this system a little by creating government incentives. Uncle Sugar can say, “We’ll give you a tax break or a subsidy if you will go serve this customer base that it ordinarily wouldn’t make economic/business sense for you to serve.” But now it’s not a free market any more, is it?

BEN FRANKLIN ON PUBLIC FUNDING FOR RELIGION

Ben Franklin in a letter to Richard Price on Oct. 9, 1780

Most voucher accepting schools in Indiana are religious. The church-state entanglement which ought to be obvious to nearly everyone, has been ignored by the Indiana Supreme Court. Besides the entanglement, Indiana requires very little accountability from private schools for their acceptance of public dollars in the form of vouchers. Accountability, apparently, is only for public schools.

In 1780, Ben Franklin, writing to his friend Richard Price, suggested that a church which couldn’t support itself without government support didn’t deserve to survive. The same could be said of church sponsored schools. According to Franklin, God should support the church, not the “civil power.” Substitute “parochial school” for the word “Religion” in the following quote. Let God support religious schools, not the taxpayers.

“When a Religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and, when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support, so that its Professors are oblig’d to call for the help of the Civil Power, ’tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”

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Posted in CriticalThinking, Curmudgucation, Quotes, SchoolFunding, special education, Testing

Random Quotes – May 2015

TESTING

No need to test every student

From Stephen Krashen

There is no need to test every student every year. We can get the same information from low-pressure testing of small samples of students, each student taking only a part of the test, and extrapolating the results to larger groups, as is now done with the NAEP test. This will save money, reduce anxiety, and give teachers more time to teach.

When you go to the doctor, they don’t take all your blood. They only take a sample. 

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Standardized Testing (HBO)

Learning isn’t supposed to make you sick. Stress is not always negative…except when it is…and the stress associated with high stakes tests for children beginning at about age 8 is bad. Why do we do this to our children?

From John Oliver

“Something is wrong with our system when we just assume a certain number of students will vomit.”

SCHOOL FUNDING

News of Stephen Colbert’s generosity goes viral, spurs more donations nationwide

Thank you to Stephen Colbert for helping the children of South Carolina. But why should he have to? Why isn’t the education of our children a big enough priority for us to fully fund?

From Daily Show writer Daniel Radosh

It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and Stephen Colbert has to buy the Air Force a bomber.

IMAGINE…

We need to invest in our public schools…not private charter schools operating without public oversight.

From Gail Cosby (IPS School Board Member)

Imagine if this board and administration were willing to invest in our own schools, our own students, our own leaders, and our own teachers in the same manner in which we keep investing IN OUTSIDE ENTITIES.

(Phalen Academy will be receiving at least 1.2 million dollars more than school 103 received to educate the same children.)

TEACHING

Testing: Who is Advocating for the Students?

Many good, dedicated, inspirational teachers are leaving the profession in large numbers. We’re driving the best out of the profession.

From an Indiana Teacher

“I still love teaching and working with young children, but the testing and culture are killing the profession…”

Stephen Colbert throws Peter Cunningham under the bus.

Take a look around: Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, George W. Bush, Margaret Spellings, Bill Gates, the Walton Family, Michael Bloomberg, Jeb Bush…these “reformers” don’t know anything about the day to day business of public education. Yet they have, over the last couple of decades, tried to buy  expertise and tell teachers what they are doing wrong.

From Fred Klonsky

…there is something very wrong when billion dollar philanthropies run by people who know nothing about teaching give all that money to people who know nothing about teaching to tell teachers that they are wrong about what they know about teaching.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON

Two appropriate quotes from Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson Graduation Speech, Western New England University

From Neil deGrasse Tyson

…when you know how to think it empowers you far beyond those who know only what to think.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Has Super Stellar Reply To Girl’s Question About Learning Disabilities

From Neil deGrasse Tyson

At a recent talk, a girl walks up to the microphone and asks the astrophysicist if there are people with dyslexia in his field. Tyson explains that yes, there are, as well as colleagues with a number of other types of learning disabilities. Citing autism, dyscalculia and ADD as examples, Tyson explains that rather than seeing these conditions and disorders as a hindrance, they are empowering.

“The answer is yes, but it’s a hurdle,” Tyson says. “But in the Olympics, what do you do when you come up to a hurdle? You jump over it.”

DO SOMETHING

We Have To Do Something

My Random Quotes pages wouldn’t be complete lately without something from blogger extraordinaire, Peter Greene. Here he reminds us that the object is not just “to do something.” We have to do something that makes sense. If something is harmful, doesn’t work, or wastes time and money — like our national high stakes testing obsession — then we ought to stop doing it.

From Peter Greene

Even if we accept “We have to do something” as a Real Thing (which it isn’t, because the “crisis” is manufactured, but even if), it does not follow that an urgent Need To Do Something means that we must urgently Do Something Stupid.

If the treatment is damaging, don’t use it. If the food is harmful, don’t eat it. And if the test is a bad test that wastes time and money, makes the students miserable, damages the credibility of the school, and returns no useful data– then don’t give it!!

What can retired teachers do? Help win a Supreme Court decision.

Retired teachers, public school activists, supporters of public education…have helped turn around anti-educator legislation in Illinois by winning at the state supreme court. While giving economic breaks to the wealthy, the political forces in Illinois blamed teacher pensions for making “Illinois broke.”

Who kept track of this injustice as they formed grassroots groups of people in addition to alerting, networking, goading, and educating while contacting unions and government agencies and media sources and legislators and social networking organizations?

Among others…five retirees.

The important quote from this blog post by Ken Previti…

“A hero is a man who does what he can.” – Romain Rolland

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The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Posted in Duncan, special education, Testing

High Expectations are Magical

Arne Duncan, the nation’s most ignorant education policy maker who’s not Bill Gates, has outdone himself. The stupidity pouring out of Duncan’s office shows why “reformers,” and Duncan in particular, have no business making education policy. For example…

THE MAGIC OF HIGH EXPECTATIONS

According to the U.S. DOE, if we would only have high expectations then even children with learning disabilities can learn to read or cypher at “grade level.”

Michael “I’m-an-attorney-not-a-teacher” Yudin wrote the blog post describing the U.S. DOE’s position on the achievement of students with disabilities. In it he claims that

…fewer than 10 percent of eighth graders with disabilities are proficient in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Too often, students’ educational opportunities are limited by low expectations.

Just think about Yudin’s statement for a moment.

Fewer than ten percent of students with learning disabilities can’t overcome those disabilities and become proficient in reading or math. Pardon me for stating the obvious, but doesn’t the first part of that statement encompass the definition of “disability?” High expectations are important…and most educators working with students with disabilities have high expectations for their students…but high expectations alone aren’t enough.

Peter Greene explains the DOE’s thinking…

This certainly fits in with the philosophy that the way to get all students to read at grade level is to just, you know, make them do it. Insist real hard. If we believe that we can get a student with a second grade reading skill read at the fifth grade level by just somehow making him do it, why can’t we make a dyslexic student or student with other processing difficulties read at level by just expecting her to? “Stop pretending you’re blind, Jimmy, and read this book right now!”

THE MYSTERY OF “SUPPORT”

To be fair, the U.S. Department of Education seems to give lip-service to the belief that “high expectations” aren’t enough to bring students up to “grade level.” They need “support,” too.

Yudin continued…

We must do everything we can to support states, school districts, and educators to improve results for students with disabilities.

Problem solved. With sufficient support and high expectations children with disabilities can become “undisabled.”

But what defines “doing everything we can to support?” Does the DOE know how to magically eliminate dyslexia, for example? If so, why haven’t they shared that with the rest us?

Does “doing everything we can to support” mean providing extra funds just to states which promise to evaluate teachers on test scores and build more charter schools…or does it mean providing funds where it is needed most?

If the U.S. DOE doesn’t fund “support” and states keep cutting back on public education (in favor of privately run charter schools and vouchers for private and parochial schools), then who is responsible for “support?”

SHARE THE BLAME

In the end, is “support” limited to blasting away at teachers until they have “high expectations” and if students with disabilities can’t “pass the test” do we continue to just blame teachers?

Arne Duncan doesn’t think so. He wants the blame to be shared by teachers and the colleges and universities that prepare them (more on that at a later date).

In the meantime, teachers, it’s up to you to make sure all your students are at “grade level” through the magic of “high expectations.”

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Posted in Article Medleys, Charters, Election, Politics, Privatization, Public Ed, special education, Stephen Krashen, Testing, vouchers

2014 Medley #25

Testing, Public Schools, Privatization,
Charters, Vouchers, Special Education, Democrats, Elections

THE ABUSE AND MISUSE OF STANDARDIZED TESTS

I apologize for not having the link for the following quote. Someone named oakspar77777 left this comment at the end of an article. In it, the commenter discusses detrimental changes to America’s public education system. 1) the loss of community schools and 2) the misuse of standardized tests to evaluate teachers and schools. This is an excellent description of the damage that obsessive testing has done to our nation’s schools. (If anyone knows where this is from, please leave the link in the comments)

The tests and the resulting testing industry, however, are only the symptom of the problem.

The problem is two fold. First, it is the movement from community schools to state schools and now (with things like NCLB/RTTT and Common Core) to national schools.

The bigger the “system” the less personal it becomes. Like a business, at the family level it is personable and about relationships but at the corporate level it is about margins. Testing is a means for identifying margins and produce “profit/loss reports” for the CEOs to spin to the stockholders (the citizens of the US).

Second, it is the movement from testing being used to measure student ability and mastery to testing being used to measure teachers and schools.

Test scores used to tell us which kids needed advanced classes and which needed remedial. Now they are used by parents to know which school to put their kids in.

Test scores also used to tell us which kids mastered the material or not, holding those who did not accountable to try again until they did master it. Now they are used to measure teachers, so that teachers are the ones actually being graded.

So, this lack of trust in the teaching profession, lack of willingness to realize that students are not identical and do have variance in both aptitude and motivation, and desire to make the family/community relationship of teaching a national political concern ALL have led to standardized testing being worthless as anything other than a political football.


THE SELLING OF OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Investors Ready to Liquidate Public Schools

Here is how investors plan on cashing in on public schools…schools purchased and supported for years by public funds.

It goes like this:

  1. Compliant legislatures reduce funding for public education.
  2. Weakened by fewer funds, the schools who serve the poor and have more social problems to address begin to struggle the most, first.
  3. Use compliant, big corporate media to convince the public that the underfunded schools that serve the poor are wild, dangerous places. Editors love “teacher knocked out by student” stories.
  4. Once the public is convinced that those scary urban “jungle” schools are hopeless, pass legislation that allows corporate charters to take over and convert public property to their profitable use.
  5. Pass laws that allow charters to be black boxes where the public has no idea how their tax money is being used.
  6. Charters regiment children of the poor in ways that prepare them to be compliant service workers who don’t expect to have a voice.
  7. Use big corporate media to convince the public that charters are doing better even though they are not.

How can we stop it?

The big “if” in all of this is the question of whether or not educators, concerned parents, and concerned community members can rally to maintain local, democratic control of public schools. Any degree of standardization that comes from beyond the state only serves large, nation-wide investor interests.

IF educators can successfully counter the investor propaganda that parents are the only true stakeholders in a child’s education, then raiders can be opposed successfully. The oldest to the youngest and richest to poorest members of every community are the true stakeholders in public schools and public education.

IF local, democratically elected school boards can stay empowered to make decisions for the local public schools, then this raider process can be resisted.

IF all stakeholders can successfully press legislators to listen to them instead of paid, professional lobbyists hired by large, investor-owned charter corporations, then we can resist the raider attempts.

CHARTERS

Charters’ grades fall, spurring concerns

Research shows that when the demographics of students are comparable, privately run schools do no better than public schools.

Charters are not public schools. They are private schools which get public money. When push comes to shove and charters are forced to provide complete transparency of operation they claim that they are private businesses. They shouldn’t be allowed to have it both ways.

The main idea behind charter schools was that giving them greater freedom to innovate while also making it possible to close them for poor performance would lead to better education for students.

But, at least by one measure, that doesn’t appear to be happening.

The percentage of Marion County charter schools receiving a D or an F from state regulators has spiked from 30 percent two years ago to 54 percent this year.

The percentage is slightly lower statewide, but has also increased the past two years.

VOUCHER HYPOCRISY

28 private schools go ungraded by state

Indiana grades its schools using a simplistic A-F rating, with a complicated formula. Tony Bennett lost his job over the fact that he changed the grade of one of the favored charter schools — owned by someone who just happened to donate thousands to Republican campaigns.

Now, some private schools have escaped the grading. What do you think would happen if a public school escaped its grade designation? The privatizers would scream “accountability” so loud the state’s borders would rattle. Meanwhile, a leader of a pro-voucher group, the Institute for Quality Education, is just so pleased that the selectivity of their schools allowed them to choose students whose test scores yielded A’s and B’s for the ones which were graded.

Twenty-eight private schools that have educated hundreds of Hoosier students and received at least $10.6 million in taxpayer dollars did not receive a grade this year.

That means about 10 percent of the schools accepting state-paid vouchers skated through without public accountability because of a statistical anomaly.

“I don’t think that’s good practice for taxpayers or parents. If we look at the whole landscape of letter grades and accountability every school that receives those dollars should have to be held accountable,” said Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis. “No one should be exempt. We need to be truthful and forthright about schools.”

DISABILITIES AREN’T REAL

Washington: Disabilities Aren’t Real

Peter Greene called it “quite possibly the stupidest thing to come out of the US DOE” which is saying quite a bit, considering all the stupid things coming from that Federal department. Arne Duncan’s office has announced that the test scores of students with disabilities are too low. Students with disabilities, the secretary’s spokesperson says, “do not have significant cognitive impairments that prohibit them from learning rigorous academic content.”

The posting for the US DOE was written by Michael Yudin, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. He is not, and never has been, an educator.

Peter Greene discusses the State of Washington’s decision to follow the U.S. DOE…

Following in the footsteps of one of the dumbest initiatives to come out of the US Department of Education, Washington state has arrived at some destructive fact-free findings regarding the education of students with special needs.

The Governor’s Office of the Education Ombuds has created and released a report that…well, I will let the conclusion speak for itself:

The evidence is clear that disabilities do not cause disparate outcomes, but that the system itself perpetuates limitations in expectations and false belief systems about who children with disabilities can be and how much they can achieve in their lifetime.

So there you have it– as previously suggested by the federal Department of Education, the disabilities that students claim to possess do not actually exist in any meaningful way. Any limitations that they appear to have are simply the result of the system’s (i.e. teachers) low expectations:

But the vast majority of children in special education do not have disabilities that prevent them from tackling the same rigorous academic subjects as general education students if they get the proper support, so those low numbers reflect shortcomings in the system, not the students.

The State of Washington agrees with Arne Duncan that students’ disabilities aren’t real. According to the report, it comes from low teacher expectations and students not receiving “proper” support.

THE MYTH OF “FAILING SCHOOLS”

Commentary: Texas textbooks need to get the facts straight

The myth of America’s “failing schools” persists. The truth is that the bold-faced sentence in the below quote is incorrect in its implication. Our overall scores on international tests are lowered because of the high rate of child poverty in the U.S. American students, when poverty is taken into account, score at the top in international tests.

The following is a quote from an editorial which denounces the anti-science members of the Texas State Board of Education.

Scientific know-how has been responsible for half of all U.S. economic progress since World War II. Texas — as the wellspring of many great advances in agricultural science, electronics, aeronautics and much more — knows this well. Sadly, children in other parts of the world now outperform U.S. students in mathematics and science. [emphasis added]

DEMOCRATS ARE PRIVATIZERS TOO

The next two links should be taken together. The President talks a good game…promoting teachers, and support for schools, but the appointments to the U.S. Department of Education tell a different story. This president, like his Republican predecessor, is a privatizer, plain and simple.

Presidential Proclamation — American Education Week, 2014

Great educators and administrators deserve all the tools and resources they need to do their job, including chances for professional development and pay that reflects the contributions they make to our country. They are the most critical ingredients in any school, and my Administration is working hard to support them as they empower our Nation’s youth.

Obama’s USDOE: Appointed to Privatize. Period.

President Barack Obama pretends to be a friend of public education, but it just is not so. Sure, the White House offers a decorative promotional on K12 education; however, if one reads it closely, one sees that the Obama administration believes education (and, by extension, those educated) should serve the economy; that “higher standards and better assessments” and “turning around our lowest achieving schools” is No Child Left Behind (NCLB) leftover casserole, and that “keeping teachers in the classroom” can only elicit prolonged stares from those of us who know better.

All of these anti-public-education truths noted, the deeper story in what the Obama administration values regarding American education lay in its selection of US Department of Education (USDOE) appointees. Their backgrounds tell the story, and it isn’t a good one for the public school student, the community school and the career K12 teacher.

VOTING

A dishonorable distinction for Hoosiers

Election day registration would help increase the voter turnout, but, as Bernie Sanders suggested, making election day a national holiday would do a better job of it.

“It’s impossible to say for certain, but it’s likely that the single biggest change … to increase turnout would be to adopt election-day registration,” he wrote in an email. “Research has generally demonstrated that one of the biggest obstacles to turnout is a requirement that registration occur about 30 days prior to the election.”

While he noted that same-day registration might present slightly higher potential for fraud, Pitts said there are ways to reduce it, including requiring a photo ID. “Again, like all election laws, there are typically upsides as well as downsides, and one’s views of each tends to correspond with underlying philosophies about how easy and convenient it should be to vote,” he wrote.

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Posted in Personal History, special education, Tenure, Uncategorized

Tenure – Speaking Up for Students

There’s more to being a teacher than just getting kids to pass “the test.”

Tenure=DueProcess

Due process rights are important because they allow us to stand up for our students, through giving voice in supporting and protecting them. With due process, teachers can stand up for the student who we think may be unfairly suspended, especially when a parent is not available to defend the child. We can fight against rescinding support services of a special needs child because those services are too costly. Many times, parents may not be able attend their child’s CSE/IEP meeting. The only one in the room advocating for that child may well be the teacher.

PERMANENT STATUS

My 8th year of teaching was the 1983-84 school year. I taught “Reading Readiness.” For those who don’t remember it, “Reading Readiness” was a class for students who finished kindergarten but were not ready for first grade. It was, in essence, a second year of kindergarten. Let me be clear…I don’t believe that grade retention, in any form, has been shown to be an effective remediation technique. Studies have shown that retention, even in the earliest elementary grades, usually doesn’t work and often harmful. However, in 1983 I didn’t know what I know now.

In any case, I taught a modified first grade curriculum, and tried to fill in the gaps of learning the students missed the previous year.

With the recent national discussions over teacher tenure an incident that happened during this year came back to me.

When I began my career it took 5 years of positive evaluations before a teacher was granted “permanent status.” That meant that I had to be evaluated in each of my first 5 years. At any time during those years I could have been fired…for any reason. At the beginning of my 6th year I was given permanent status. This meant that, if an administrator wanted to fire me I was entitled to a hearing. It didn’t mean that I couldn’t be fired. It just meant (the same as it means today) that there had to be a legitimate reason for my firing…a reason supported by data presented by the administration. And I had the right to respond. That’s what tenure meant then. That’s what it means now for K-12 teachers.

BOBBY

One of my students during the 1983-84 school year was Bobby (not his real name). Bobby was a special education student. He had been identified in preschool as being a student with special needs and for the previous 2 or 3 years had been in the classroom designated for special needs preschoolers at our school system’s special education center.

At this time in our history, the school system did not have fully mainstreamed special education. We had two elementary special education classrooms for a system with 11 elementary schools. The “primary class” was for students in grades Kindergarten through 3, and the “intermediate class” was for students in grades 4 through 6. The year that Bobby entered my class the system had about a dozen identified elementary aged special education students. The youngest of those, aside from Bobby, was a fourth grader. My classroom was chosen as an alternative because I taught a flexible curriculum and the children in my class were Bobby’s age-peers. Alternatively he would have had to have been either alone in a classroom, returned to the preschool with much younger students, or in the designated special education classrooms with much older students. At least, that was my understanding at the time.

Our school system had too few special education teachers. We didn’t identify many special education students instead allowing them to sit in general education classrooms and fail. We didn’t have building level special education teachers who could collaborate with general education teachers and their identified students. Getting a student tested was difficult and identifying a student for special education was almost impossible.

In short, we were understaffed and our special needs students were underserved.

During the IEP meeting for Bobby at the beginning of the year, our Director of Special Education, Mrs. Jones (not her real name), indicated that my class was the best place for Bobby’s placement. Under the circumstances, this was likely true, though with an important qualification which I spoke aloud.

I was a young teacher. I had only taught for 7 and a half years (counting the half a year I spent in another school system). I had had very little (if any) training in special education. When Mrs. Jones said that my class was the “best place for Bobby” I interrupted and said,

“My classroom is the best place that we have available for Bobby.”

After the parent left, Mrs. Jones got in my face and scolded me. She growled,

“You could have gotten us sued!”

I was surprised and backed away. She could see that I didn’t know what she was talking about.

“What you said about your class not being the best place for him! They could sue us for that!”

My first thought, though I didn’t say it, was that “maybe we ought to be sued.” Bobby was not in the best placement for him…if only for the fact that the “teacher of record,” the special education teacher who was in charge of his education, never appeared in my classroom that year. We had no contact, no collaboration, and I was given absolutely no help or direction…but I didn’t know all that yet. At the very least, what I said was true. My class was the best place we had available. That it wasn’t the best possible place for him, and therefore just the best place we had available, was, in my opinion, obvious.

She continued her scolding,

“You need to be an advocate for our school system!”

This incident took place over 30 years ago, so I’m not sure how I really responded. I might have just wished I had said what follows…in any case, in real life, or in my mind, I said,

“No, I don’t. I need to be an advocate for my students.”

Looking back 31 years later, I understand why Bobby was placed in my classroom. Back then special education was still struggling to move into general education classrooms. The “least restrictive environment” concept was interpreted as “a separate classroom.” Learning disabled students weren’t identified because we didn’t have enough money to hire qualified staff. Mrs. Jones, I ought to add, was instrumental in bringing our school system’s special education program into federal compliance. She cared about the students she advocated for. Notwithstanding this incident, she worked hard to get them into appropriate placements, and she pushed for, and got, increased funding for special education.

However, those improvements were still years away. I knew at the time that I wasn’t prepared professionally to be responsible for the education of a 6 year old special education student. In my opinion, the school system, instead of providing an “appropriate” education for Bobby, used my classroom as a “dumping ground” because the alternative was worse. As a classroom teacher, focused on what was best for my students, I knew that Bobby’s placement in my classroom was not in his best interest, even though it might have been the best that we had.

But I had no power within the school system with just a short, seven year history at only one school. I was arguing with the Director of Special Education, someone who had years of experience and who had a significant amount of power within the school system.

In the final analysis Mrs. Jones was correct that we could have been sued because of what I said. But whether I was right or wrong, if this incident had taken place within my first 5 years I could have been fired on the spot…told to gather my belongings and leave. If there had been no union/school system contract, no legal protection of due process, I likely would have been fired. I doubt that my principal that year would have stood up for me. This was, as it turned out, not the only noise I made that year advocating for my students…

However, since I was a teacher with permanent status, I was free to speak openly about what I thought was best for my students. I was free to defend them…to be their voice. 

Indiana doesn’t offer its teachers that protection any longer. School “reform” helped along by the legislature, has removed the legal right to due process for teachers. Now, if a teacher speaks up on behalf of what she feels is best for her students, the school system is free to fire her.

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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