What About Special Education in the Age of Corona?

As so many rightfully praise classroom teachers for quickly adapting their instruction for a new, virtual environment, advocates need to be sure that such desperate times do not provide school districts the opportunity to shirk their duties when it comes to IDEA and students with learning disabilities.

Big kudos to Emily Richards and USA Today for placing a spotlight on this important issue, and for speaking with dear illl’ Eduflack about his district’s decision to suspend IEP and 504 meetings for an undetermined period (read until next fall).

For students who already receive accommodations and special services to catch up because of the years their families fought to get them the adequate educations they are guaranteed under the law, lack of leadership by the US Department of Education and adversarial relationships with school districts that have denied special needs learners is a potential recipe for disaster.

“I get that this is the first week. But everything we have fought for in my son’s (individualized education plan) now gets put on hold,” Riccards said.

Read the full article here: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2020/03/19/coronavirus-online-school-closing-special-education-teacher-distance-learning/2863503001/

When It Comes To Reading Test Score Failures, Blame the Adults

We should be furious with the state of student literacy performance, as evidenced by the most recent NAEP scores. But we our anger should be directed at those adults who still aren’t prioritizing evidence-based reading instruction.

We explore the topic on the latest episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen.

When It Comes to Higher Ed, President Trump is Absolutely … Correct

Since the 1960s, we’ve seen college campuses as ground zero for free speech. We expect students to find their voice while at college, taking a major step forward in becoming productive members of our civil society.

So it is disturbing that too many campuses are now looking to shut down free speech, looking to control political rhetoric to keep all calm and to ensure that fringe or dissenting ideas aren’t heard in the public square. Instead of free speech, we are exercising socially acceptable speech, teaching today’s college students that silencing opposing voices is more important than debating and disproving them.

Whether standing for right wing speech or free speech, President Donald Trump is absolutely correct to call out, and use the power of the executive, to encourage debate, not squelch it.

We explore this important topic on the most recent episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen. We won’t be silenced. 😀

Basic Skills for Teachers?

For years (and years and years) now, we have been hearing horror stories about the teacher pipeline and an inability to get good educators in the classroom, particularly in those classrooms that need them the most.

There are almost a many ideas for addressing the pipeline issue as there are Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination. Dear ol’ Eduflack has been involved on several of them, including the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship program, an effort that had transformed teacher preparation in six states and at 31 universities, and the creation of a new, competency-based graduate school of education focused on teaching mastery.

With efforts like these, the focus has been raising standards, hiking expectations, and ensuring aspiring teachers are spending as much time as possible in k-12 classrooms. At no point did we consider eliminating accountability or dropping the bar.

Yet that seems to be what Florida is currently looking at, as the state legislature explores eliminating the basic skills test for teachers to be. <insert shaking head and face palm here>

As Jeffrey Solochek reports in today’s Tampa Times:

Patrick Riccards, chief strategy officer for the New Jersey-based Woodrow Wilson Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers several teaching fellowships, found it ironic that Florida would consider lowering its criteria to become a teacher at the same time it touts its efforts to fill classrooms with the “best and brightest.”

In Texas, he said, some teacher preparation programs have become adept at reducing expectations as a way to find more educators. The problem, Riccards said, is those new teachers don’t always last very long. 

Then schools have to go look again.

Teachers want to be treated as professionals, he added. Not passing a basic skills test doesn’t seem to match up with that goal.

Give the full article a read. And let’s share a collective weep for the future of teacher education in the Sunshine State.

Finally, a Research Requirement?

Earlier this year, President Donald J. Trump signed into a law a new requirement that education policymakers at the federal level needed to use research, data, and evidence when making decisions about all things education.

As someone who has spent decades fighting for evidence-based approaches to instruction, it was somewhat nice to see. But it also raised a huge question for me. What exactly have we been using all these years that we are just now, in 2019, getting around to requiring that evidence and data should be made regarding education decisions?

We explore the topic on the latest episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen. I promise we can prove some value.

For Safer Schools, Let’s Look to Students’ Views, Not Parents’ Fears

Last week, I received notification from my kids’ school district that new security provisions were being put in place. Armed Class III police officers were being assigned to every school in the district, including lower elementary schools, with new patrol cars purchased for each officer. “Eyes on the door” visitor management processes were being enhanced, as the driver’s license of every visitor is to be scanned, run through sex offender databases and against child custody orders. Security “vestibules” are now being built at each of our 10 schools. School common areas, hallways, and identified exterior locations are being equipped with security cameras. Classroom phones are to be installed. Door swipes and strobe lights are receiving upgrades.

All of this is being done in a highly resourced school district. All being done in schools that have had no security issues (that the community has been made aware of). Much of this being done because a $115M schools referendum passed in the name of increased student enrollments and classroom needs now provides the financial means to strengthen security. And all done because school shootings in other parts of the country have local district leaders seeking to do something, anything, to demonstrate they are serious about school safety. It doesn’t matter if there is no direct threat, we will respond with our checkbook, buying peace of mind for those who ask, “but what about the children?”

Setting aside the failures of a school-located armed officer at a high school in Parkland, Florida earlier this year, we like to believe that embedded police are the answer to our school security concerns. But Samuel Sinyangwe, noted data scientist and co-founder of Campaign Zero, recently noted that more than 10,000 school police officers were hired (often with federal dollars) following the Columbine school shooting in 1999. According to Sinyangwe, “Two decades later, they haven’t stopped a single school shooting. Instead, they’ve arrested over 1 million kids, mostly students of color, for routine behavior violations.”

Responding to school shootings with armed officers and enhanced security measures shouldn’t surprise us, whether it is a response in a community directly in the line of fire of such violence or a community far removed from ever experiencing an active shooter. The fear of a worst-case scenario means we need to act, act now, and act in whatever possible way is available to us. We will ensure that Class III officers are well trained and have the temperaments to work in a public school. We will make assurances to the community that this about safety, and not about identifying and suspending students for behavior violations. And we will quietly note that we are successful as long as such officers and such security provisions never have to actually be relied on in an actual event.

Sure, parents like me can bemoan the fact that decisions were made to place armed officers in the schools or spend millions on security improvements without any real community input. Truth be told, it was one of the driving reasons I decided to jump into an ultimately unsuccessful race for school board this year. I quickly learned that most in the community didn’t want to discuss the data or didn’t want to answer the question about proof points demonstrating the efficacy (or lack there of) of guns in the schools. No, we want to trust our leaders will ensure our babies are safe. Do whatever it takes to ensure we aren’t the next school gun headline on the evening news.

The true missing piece in the discussion and the decision, though, is the perceptions of the very students we are trying to protect. In October, students from across the nation gathered to develop a “Students’ Bill of Rights for School Safety.” In that Bill of Rights, young people articulated 15 key provisions they want and need to see from their local schools. They asked that qualified counselors be provided in the schools. They called for cultural competency and de-escalation trainings. They sought federal legislation allowing for firearm restraining orders. They sought to reduce the stigma of mental heath/illness issues. They demanded greater regulation of the gun industry and greater focus on responsible gun ownership. And they called for additional CDC research specifically focused on reducing gun violence.

Nowhere in the Students’ Bill of Rights for School Safety is there a call to place armed officers in school buildings. Nowhere in the Bill of Rights do they seek security vestibules or brighter strobe lights. Nowhere are they seeking reactive actions that assume the worst. Instead, students see the enormous value of proactively addressing the root issues while advocating for a safer, healthier school community.

I was the parent of a Connecticut kindergartner when Sandy Hook happened, and watched as my son engaged in active shooter drills without him knowing why. I sought a seat on my local school board after the district quickly budgeted $1 million annually for Class III officers, and my sixth grade daughter insisted I “had to win to keep guns out of her school.” Now I’m watching as millions of dollars a year are being spent on officers, equipment, facilities, and infrastructure enhancements in our school district of 10,000 kids, money that could have far greater impact if were being spent on guidance counselors, school nurses, community partnerships, and actual instruction.

For the past year, I have pressed far too many people to present the research on the efficacy of armed police officers in the schools. In response, I’ve received decade-old marketing PowerPoints and educated guesses. I’ve had the question deflected, as I was told Class III officers improve student-police relations (which I do agree with) and can be an effective instrument in addressing drug and vaping issues in the schools (which was never the intended goal). But no one can adequately answer the root question.

In my local community, the course has been set and there is no likely diversion from the intended destination. Millions will be spent on armed officers and enhanced security, with proponent and opponent alike hoping beyond hope they will never be needed. It’s a cryin’ shame that my town isn’t using those available resources to address the concerns and reasonable recommendations found in the Student Bill of Rights. But it is my hope that other communities like ours will see the light, and will direct their attentions to what the students need, and not what makes the adults in the room feel a little bit better.