Archive | June, 2009

A Few Comments on the Supreme’s Ruling

25 Jun

Earlier this week, the SCOTUS made a ruling concerning special education and private tuition reimbursement.  you can get a quick summary from the Washington Post here.  You can also get a summary from the SCOTUS blog and read up on it in a couple of posts from Jim Gerle’s Law blog.  He’s also got a link to the pdf file of the decision slip.

I first want to correct the first line of the washington Post article:

Parents of children with disabilities may seek reimbursement for private school tuition even if they have never sent their children to public schools, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a decision with wide-ranging implications for Washington area school systems.

That is not necessarily the case.  Basically, this case involved a student who was entering high school and his parents were concerned about the student’s lack of academic success.  So they made a referral for services.  The school counselor did some testing and found that the student was not eligible for services.  As such, no IEP was written.  The parents were still concerned during the student’s 10th grade year but the student was still not deemed eligible for services according to school testing.  So the parents eventually obtained a diagnosis for learning disabilities and ADHD.  They withdrew him from his high school and placed him in a private school that specialized in providing services for students with LD and ADHD.  It was during this time that they began filing for due process against the school for failing to provide FAPE, and sought reimbursement for the private school tuition.

The student finished his junior year at the private school and graduated from there the following year in 2004.  Yeah, this case has been dragging on for six years! And for most of that time, the student was pressing the case forward since the parental rights trnasferred to him at 18.

The school argued that the law provides for the reimbursement for students who have already been served in special education for at least one year.  But this student was never served in special education.  The WaPo article leads the reader to believe that the student never attended the public school, but in fact he did for most of his school career.  But he never received special education services and never had an IEP.  One major argument given by the prevailing side in this case was the fact that a school district could easily avoid all special education costs by simply not identifying students, which clearly flies in the face of the intent of the IDEA.

The school district argued that having to reimburse tuition for students who never had received services and whose parents unilaterally put their child in a private school would place an undo burden on the system financially.  Private schools serving special ed. students are not cheap.  This one attended by this student was a residential school, so we could easily be talking over $100,000 for this one student.  So, yeah, the district is going to fight!

Will this result in bankrupting school budgets?  I doubt it.  Remember that by the time this thing settled, the student was probably graduated from college! The time and persistence in getting through all the legal proceedings routinely takes several years.  By the time this case got only to district court level, the student was already done with school.  But the school does have a case that parents might be more aggressive about pursuing their rights.  Given the time it takes to get resolution on a case like this, a parent needs to start early in order to be assured of getting their child needed services.  Unfortunately, it is sometimes necessary to be an attack dog on a school system because the culture of discrimination and prejudice runs so deep and is so pervasive.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the Atlanta Journal Constitution blog on the subject and read the comments.  Students with disabilities are routinely scapegoated in the comments, whether or not that is actually the topic on this blog.  They actually got off kind of light, here.

Another reason why the impact of this is going to be somewhat minimal is the simple matter of there not being very many private schools who are willing to take and cater to students with special needs.  Georgia already has a law that offers a $10,000 voucher/scholarship for any student that wants one and very few ever take advantage of it.  And you can simply forget about any of my students ever being included in anything like that.  The impact on my students and their parents because of this ruling is ZILCH because there is not a private school anywhere that is going to take them, even if parents wanted to take advantage of any scholarship.  And no private school would house a student through their 22nd birthday.

You’ll hear a lot of noise from both sides of this issue, but I think it’s mostly a zero-sum game.  Parents aren’t going to be able to get tuition reimbursements whenever they want.  Even if they did get a favorable decision, it would likely be several years and several thousands of dollars after their child started a private school.  A parent would need the means to afford the tuition well in advance of challenging a school district.  The district still has the upper hand, but with stakes a bit higher they have more of a reason to work with parents instead of blowing them off.

The RTI and POI procedures, if they are followed and implimented correctly will also head-off a lot of these sort of challenges.  These procedures were not widely implimented in 2003, if at all, so there is already a procedural safeguard with documentation that is built-in to the process.  Today, there would be more than just one test and a one-time procedure for getting additional help.  IF it is implimented.  That’s a big “if.”

I encourage anyone interested in special education law to read the case, as it isn’t often a special education case makes it in front of the Supremes.  I’m betting against this being a big decision that changes the game, but I could be wrong.


The End of NCLB!

25 Jun

YES!  You read that right!  No Child Left Behind is officially coming to an end!

The long nightmare is over!

Well, okay.  Not exactly, but it is a start, I suppose.  However, I do not forsee any substantial changes coming along anytime soon.  In fact, the Obama administration has pretty much come out and said that they are just going to be looking to change the name, dispite some of the promises he made while campaigning.  So as far as the feds go, it is still business as usual.  And it is still going to be the same in the state of Georgia, too.  Even when the state legislature tried to make room for some choice within a district, the rules imposed by the DOE pretty much make it impossible to happen, for good or ill.  Basically, the Georgia DOE has proven itself to be more and more of an enemy to public education that anything coming out of Washington!  I’m repeatedly amazed at how they manage to bungle up legislation passed by our elected officials, or block legislation designed to fix their blunders.

And pretty much all of it is hostile towards individuals with disabilities as well as the rest of the student population.  When our students increasingly demand a costumized education, the state and the feds are doing everything they can to homogenize it. When the world cries out for creativity and innovation, the educational system forces conformity and uniformity.

The rebranding of NCLB is simply repainting the same rundown shack and giving it a new name.  According to the WaPo article above, it is almost literally window dressing as the red schoolhouse is replaced by pictures hung in the windows of the building of children doing various activities.

At any rate, it is still lovely seeing the crowning jewel of the GW Bush legacy added to the ash heap of history.  Even so, the stench of its consquences still remains as a sort of toxic haze choking off any meaningful education inovation and reform.

Before moving on to other topics, I do want to elaborate just a bit on my contempt for NCLB.

In 2002, I was actually an advocate for this legislation or at least a large part of it.  I wanted highly qualified teachers and accountability.  I wanted all students to learn and I was all for using research-based instructional methods and materials.  I never believed that more money was the answer, so as a tax payer, I thought it was a good idea to make funding contingent on getting some results.  But I never really dreamed that my SID/PID students would be caught up in this.  And then I started seeing how NCLB was being implimented and it became harder and harder to defend this law.  Basically, it turned our national curriculum into “Test Prep.”  Basic bench marks and minimum requirements suddenly became some sort of gold standard, and mediocrity became the ultimate goal.  I’ve never seen antything wipe out and destroy student creativity and and teacher innovation more effectively than this law.

So while many of the things that I wanted while supporting NCLB were noble, it was a serious error putting such an important task into the hands of the federal government.  I was very wrong, and over time that wrong-ness has been reinforced every single time our own state DOE interprets this terrible law and makes it an even more hideous monstrosity.  The ideals espoused by the people peddling this law and the actual execution of it are very, very far apart.  As a former supporter of this law (and the president who wants to take credit for it) there is a very, very deep sense of betrayal.  When it became obvious that this thing was stripping autonomy away from local school systems and causing a collapse of creative and independent thought in favor of the Test Culture, it should have been scrapped or at least something new developed to take its place.  But we have nothing to show for it, an imminent meltdown in 2013 when every school fails to make the 100% AYP mark, and an entire generation that has been left behind while the rest of the world is learning how to think creatively, independently, competetively, globally and collaboratively.  And there is no plan on what to do next.

Many of you probably saw the light long before I did, and I want to apologize to you for my slowness.  I know there were people who saw much further down the road than I did, and I should have listened more carefully.  I do feel a bit of guilt for starting out on the wrong side of this issue.  But I’m speaking now.  Here’s a few ideas:

1. First, I believe that every single person involved in the architecture of NCLB should be dismuissed, and placed far away from any influence in educational policy.  Put them in a SID/PID classroom.

2. Second, a new strategy should be develped from scratch.  That means we need to start on it right away.  But the conversation should be as inclusive as possible.  The capacity for involvement are much greater today than they were in 2000.  Let’s use those tools.

3. No plan should be set in stone.  We need to be mindful of changing conditions.  NCLB was written and implimented for the 1990’s educational syatem.  The world is changing and the capacity of teachning and learning are also changing.  And they will change again.  Flexibility needs to be built in.

4. Start removing the teeth from NCLB now, so that the damage becomes less and less so that by 2013, the impact will be minimal.

5. Make student motivation part of the converation when discussing student performance.

Those are just a few of my ideas.  Feel free to make up your own, put them in a comment or better yet, send them to your favorite (or least favorite) legislator or governmental entity.

ActivInspire Training pt. 2

12 Jun

For my second day of Activinspire/Activboard training, I was involved in trying to complete a project. Of course this was supposed to be aligned to the state standards, and this is where I had some problems. I’m concentrating on math because those standards are SO far away from anything my students can do. They simply are no where near doing anything with coordinate geometry or algebra. So I downloaded a few flipcharts from Promethean’s extensive library and began to modify an activity with shapes.

My kids need a whole lot more that just some objects/pictures to move around, so the first thing I did was associate some sounds with it so they could do some sound matching along with the shapes. It’s a lot of work and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to use very much of it in whatever setting I happen to be in this fall. One thing that I wanted to mention about the software is that it is platform independent, as there is Linux support for the Activinspire software. Kudos to the Promethean team for making that extraordinary effort toward making this available to a wider audience. It’s exceedingly rare for commercial educational software vendors to support Linux.

And thanks to Mark and Beth for clearing up the over-priced pen controversy in comments to my last post. I did make corrections to reflect the updaterd information. While it does make the price of the hardware upkeep a bit less onerous there’s still a large gulf, and the serious monetary outlay causes some unintended consequences that I’ll outline in a minute.

The best part of the day was probably the end when we got to see what other teachers were doing and ideas they had. I’m a total believer in getting teachers to share and collaborate more,but that might just be me, since I often feel so isolated in my own little space. Seeing what others were doing gave me ideas as to what I might try down the road. It looked to me like every teacher universally liked the Activboard and ActivInspire software. But that may change through no fault of Promethean or our own technology department.

I was talking with an elementary teacher from another county yesterday who has been teaching kindergarten for the last 4 years and taught other elementary grades in previous years. She’s a great and dedicated teacher whose student test scores are consistently higher than many of her peers, as she amazingly seems to get most of her students reading within the 1 year she has them without doing any test prep. She simply teaches her kids, the kids learn and the byproduct is that they pass the test. She is also one of the most technophobic teachers I’ve ever met.

Her school bought Activboards and is requiring every single one of the teachers to integrate the Activboard into every single lesson plan and to put the actual plan on a flipchart. Egad. I can not think of a surer to way kill enthusiasm and motivation than to require teachers (or anyone else) to do something. The Activboard is one tool among many, and is not always the best tool for every job, all the time, for every student. Technology offers a way to customize an educational experience toward individual learner needs, but school systems seem determined to force uniformity, conformity and homogenization upon every person in the building!

In order for technology to be leveraged correctly, it needs to be so transparent, in that it can go unnoticed in favor of the learning that is actually taking place. Chalkboards were the major marvel and innovation of 1801, and the model of one board, one teacher and a roomful of students looking on has been mostly unchanged since then. The technology is less important than actual student engagement. And engagement alone isn’t going to allow for substantial learning as much as an environment that is rich in feedback and reinforcement. This is why kids are so easily hooked by technology (especially video games) because the feedback is immediate and individualized. It allows for learning to take place much faster and more efficiently than raising your hand and waiting for the teacher to come around and look at your work.

This is why I advocate schools using lower cost solutions, because when they invest so heavily in hardware they have to justify the huge expense. By making its use mandatory and universal, they suck the fun out of it, and begin killing innovation and creativity which are exactly what active boards are supposed to inspire!

We also did get a chance to see and try a student response system, ActiVote. Many of our schools are getting a set of these. While they do offer a degree of participation and interactivity, it functions alot like the Buzztime (formerly NTN) system I first saw in various Atlanta pubs around 1990 where you could play trivia synchronously with other players around the country. Basically a multiple choice question is posted and kids vote on on it using their little egg-shaped clicker. Collective results are then shown on the screen. The next step, is the ActivExpression hardware, which allows short answer responses and thus more open-ended questions. This represents a significant improvement, but I’m wondering at what cost.

I like the increased focus on interactivity brought by the Promethean technology, but dislike the large cost to schools and the way schools often decide to implement it. I admit I have a large bias towards open-source software and low cost “off-the-shelf” hardware solutions. But Promethean makes the technology more accessible to technologically-challenged teachers through extensive support and making the hardware fairly easy to use. There is a bit of trade-off between the cost of the material and the amount of training required to use a tool. In my opinion, schools should invest more in the training of teachers than the technology hardware that they will use. In other words, teaching teachers to use lower cost tools often costs more than teaching them to use more expensive tools. But since schools always spend more on recruitment than retention, ease-of-use becomes the more expedient bet.

ActivInspire Class: Is the Promethean Whiteboard Worth it?

8 Jun

This is my staff development of the summer, which is a two day class covering a piece of software by Promethean called ActivInspire. ActivIsnpire is the latest software that is utilized with the Promethean Activboard. I’ll write a bit more about the whiteboard itself in a minute, but the class itself was mostly about using the ActiveInspire software.

The software is a really nifty package, filled with a lot of tools and features that a teacher can use to present content from the front of the class. There are some good drawing tools as well as some good interactive lessons. It is graphically and visually rich which may or may not work with my students. My SID/PID students, that is. Let’s face it: my kids are the ultimate in testing for relevance and flexibility and accessibility. I explored around and there are a variety of activities appropriate for k-12. But it might be difficult to bridge the huge gap between where my kids are (never more than 36 months) to where NCLB is requiring (no less than 14 years) so it might be difficult to actually use it. The good news is that it looks like this would work with my Wimote setup.

But this is also the depressing thing. Our school district is ordering tons of the active whiteboards at no less that $2000 each. I can do the exact same thing for less than $100. So can you, and you can do it easily and painlessly by checking out the folks at Penteractive. The Promethean pens, which don’t even contain a battery, cost over $100! (See Mark’s comment below) My IR pen was about $8.

The Wii setup might be somewhat inferior to the Promethean whiteboard. But how inferior is it? Is it 20 times worse? And I’m not convinced that the Wiimote solution is inferior at all. Consider that the Promethean board can not be used as a dry erase board or anything else whereas the Wiimote can work on any flat surface. So why aren’t more schools using this inexpensive and versatile technology? The only thing I can guess is because it looks too geeky. But it’s really not even as difficult as the Promethean board. In fact, it is actually tons easier because there isn’t anything that needs to be bolted or installed on the wall. Penteractive is actually offering support for their kits and at much less than the other commercial products.

If you are looking for an interactive whiteboard, I highly recommend investing in the Wiimote setup. At the very least, it costs so little that it is worth it just to try it out. What you may discover is that you don’t have a lot of use for a whiteboard or that you need more training or that you need more or better software to take full advantage of it. If the technology changes (and it will) the schools are not out $thousands$ per classroom but only hundreds tops. With the availability of the hardware and software, it just looks irresponsible sinking money into technology that will be obsolete in a short amount of time.

Supposing the whiteboard technology is replaced by 1:1 netbooks or smartphones, or it gets abandoned for some reason. The bluetooth and the wiimote can still be used for other things. What happens to an obsolete or broken Promethean board? Could they be used for something else? How easy will it be to dispose of or recycle them?

We are often so anxious to move the new technology into classrooms we give no thought to what happens when it is time to upgrade, replace and move the stuff out. At the least, the Wiimote offers multitouch for less than a single pen from Promethean $100 and offers more versatility.

Having said all of that, the ActivInspire software is pretty good and worth a look. Promethean offers a lot of good support for it and there is lots of premade materials being generated by other teachers all the time. My advice is to invest in the software, but not the boards which are large, bulky and expensive. For what they are charging you could get a lot more interactivity and interest from the full Wiifit game, laptop plus projector and still have money leftover.


4 Jun

There seems to always be some sort of drama/cliffhanger for at the end of the school year, where there is uncertaintly as to whether or not I’ll be coming back.  It isn’t just because it makes for good blogging, but it really is how things turn out.  During my 3rd year, our program spun off  one of the three teachers to another high school, and I volunteered to go.  but they chose someone else.  During year 5, the other position spun off to yet another high school.  I didn’t volunteer for that, tho.  Year 6, I applied for the behavior specialist position.  Year 7, I applied for co-teaching science.  Year 8 I applied for coteaching science again.  And this past year, year 9, I applied to transfer to another school.

When the department head read off the assignments for this fall, my name was read off and a collective groan went up from the entire department.  They all knew that I really wanted out. But it appears that I will be doing a 10th year in the SID/PID program.  This despite, the words of the supt. of HR back in March.  Yeah.  He lied.

Calling the guy a liar seems like a strong attack, but I don’t see what else I could call it.  I even emailed a follow up a month ago with my resume, certifications and a transcript showing all the things I was qualified to teach.  And it all amounted to zilch.  He never intended to work with me, and neither did the principal.  There was no follow-up and I now believe there was never any intention of follow-up.

I had a long and rather heated discussion with another administrator over this.  apparently the reasoning for me being put back into the spot I’ve been trying to get out of was the fact that there is no one else who can do it who is qualified.  Not that anyone looked very hard, but people who are HQ in the adapted curriculum are few and far between.  And those willing to stay in that field are even fewer.

Gosh, I wonder why THAT is?!?!

Could it be that the administration would rather burn someone out and toss them away rather that try to retain them?  If they spent nearly as much effort on retention as they do on recruitment, they wouldn’t have to fly clear to India to find people to fill spots vacated by people already qualified and experienced!

The predicament is that I’m a victim of my own success.  I didn’t miss a single day of work this past year.  I have never been late to work in all the 9 years I’ve been here.  I did all the right things and did them better than anyone else.  And the reward for my competence is to keep me in a position when I made it absolutely clear that I wanted to try something else.

“We just want to do what is best for the kids.”

So do I, which is why I do give them my best, but my best is getting to be less and less.  But apparently it is still better than anyone else is willing or able to give.  So I’m stuck until I become as incompetent as a certain other fellow I worked with who had to be carried out on a stretcher because he had a nervous breakdown.  Sheesh.

I’ve watched as other good (and some bad) SID/PID teachers in other schools were allowed to transfer and move.  It makes me wonder what I’ve done wrong. Or what I need to do wrong.  After watching the turnover in so many other schools, I never dreamed it would be so difficult to extricate myself from this position at this school. It is like the proverbial tarbaby.  I thought that by working harder I could earn my way out, when instead it has made me more irreplacable!  Now I’m feeling more like Andy Dufresne when he discovers that the warden will never let him out because he knows too much or maybe more like his friend Red who keeps getting rejected by the parole board.

But I think I’m more like Andy, in that I do have hope.

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

And I do have a couple of plans up my sleeve.  One of which involves a bit more schooling to pursue my interests, which mainly involve education and technology.  And then another little thing that I’ve kind of ducked and dodged away over the years.  But I’ll get into that later this fall.  You’ll just have to wait and see.  It’ll be a major thrill ride if it happens.

And finally, in addition to pursuing my interests in technology through classes and attending Classroom 2.0 webinars, I’m thinking about starting some sort of technology or video club.  Part of what gets to me is the isolation of this particular position in regards to the overall improvement plan of the school.  I spend a lot of time thinking about things like 21st century learning and using advanced technology and I can not use any of it in my classroom with my students.  The technology head of the county won’t listen to me because I have no real application of thing like social networks or wikis outside of what I try to do with other faculty members.  And honestly, most of them just don’t get it.  While they’re all on Facebook, they haven’t tried to leverage the technology to reach their students or to collaborate with each other.  And I don’t have students to try out my ideas on.  So a club might provide a sort of venue/sandbox to try some things while supporting the larger mission of the school.  Thing is, I have no experience with starting and running a club like this.  So that will be a major adventure, and perhaps a source of some meaningful change.

So hang on to your butts.  There is a wild ride ahead!  I just need to spend a big part of the summer licking my wounds and recharging.  I’ll still blog things that come up on my mind as they come over the summer, but a whole lot will be spent just learning, thinking and pondering my fate.