Monday, July 21, 2008

Kids play a part too

MSA test score gains are something we can all feel good about, but let's remember everybody chips in. And where the graphite hits the paper is in the students' hands. When you look at extraordinary scores, you can see them travel with the group of students. That shows that individual kids can make a difference.

Certainly individual teachers and principals can make a difference as well, and since they have an impact on many students they can make a big difference. Principals get recognition (and bonuses in some cases I believe) when test scores make AYP for their schools. I think that teachers get recognition for MSA tests results, though I'm not sure. Hopefully, if a teacher consistently has classes with good MSA grades they would be told and would be asked to share what they are doing with other teachers. If I've got that wrong, let me know.

But the students get no recognition. Test results are sent home and parents may or may not make a big deal over the results, but there are no school awards. In my experience, when kids get good grades or have good attendance they get recognized in assemblies and with certificates. When they do well on the MSA, there are no such recognitions. I suppose there are some kids that this recognition could back-fire with (they don't want to be labeled as geeks or something), but for most I would think this would be positive. Maybe there would even be some surprises if MSA scores were acknowledged. I've seen awards for taking the MSA, but nothing for the results. Why?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Being a Special Parent

When you've got a special needs child I think the parenting you need to do, to advocate for that child, makes you pretty special too. So after some heavy-duty stress on that front, I have decided, I'm a special parent. Not necessarily better or worse, or even harder working. My job description is just different from the general population's parents.

So here's my special education rant. I'll work hard to keep it general and refrain from any attacks, but it's been frustrating.

We special parents (and I haven't been elected spokesperson, but I think these are generally held opinions) don't want anything all that different for our kids than what typical parents want. We want happy kids that are in learning environments, reaching towards their potential to become contributing members of society. We don't want our kids isolated from the world, but we want them to be safe and happy. Optimistically, we want our schools to show us that they will care for our kids academically, socially and emotionally in the least restrictive setting we can find.

Here comes the rant...Why when we go to this less restrictive setting are our kids penalized? When a child (and their parents) takes a risk to go to a less restrictive, more challenging setting, the government needs to give them extra support. What I see is an attitude on the order of "if you think you can make it in a less restrictive setting you don't need our support." It's an absolute Catch-22. In a restrictive setting we don't need extra services. The school day is filled with as much of that as can be tolerated. We could have supplemental services, but we didn't need them. In a less restrictive setting there aren't as many services during the day. To be able to make it in that situation we need to supplement services, but now that we need them we can't have them.

Let me try to state this more generally because I'm talking about a mindset and not a specific problem. Growth requires risks and the occasional failure. Special needs kids need to be encouraged to take these risks. If we set it up so that they are punished, by losing supports when they take a risk, the result is going to be stagnation.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

2008 MSA Test Results

The results are in and, whooo-hooo, BCPSS moved up!! Both relative to the state and in an absolute sense BCPSS is moving up. I'm not sure if MSA's are the be-all and end-all that they are made out to be, but the BCPSS's failings on this test have been used to prove how bad we're doing so I say, why not use our success as an excuse to say "uh-huh, in your face!"

You can look at the results here and join in a discussion about them at Inside Ed here.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A question for BCPSS employees

After reading a comment on Inside Ed here (it always seems I start my posts this way...) I'm confused about how things work in the BCPSS. The comment was about many teachers receiving non-renewal letters because they weren't certified when in fact they were certified, but that North Ave. hadn't processed the paperwork in over a year.

My question is about the management responsibilities in BCPSS. The structure seems similar to my corporation's in that there are local leaders (in BCPSS the department heads, assistant principals, principals) and corporate leaders (North Ave. staff). We also have training requirements that come down from corporate. What's different is that our local leadership helps us meet corporate requirements. Let me make up an example to illustrate what I mean. Say we need to have ESD (electro-static discharge) training to continue to test boxes and meet our quality procedures. This training might be done on-line. Let's say the system doesn't record me finishing my training, even though I did it (perhaps a computer glitch). I would talk to my boss (or maybe my boss's boss) and let them deal with it. They've got schedules that count on me being able to test boxes, so they will make sure that any problems get fixed before my certification goes up. Also, if the system didn't work for me, there are probably other people in the same situation. It's more efficient for a local leader to fix the problem once than for each lower level person to individually work on the problem. Wouldn't the school's administration feel the same way about teachers being terminated for not getting certified when in fact they were certified?

Updated 7/15

From the comments being posted, I guess I wasn't being clear. I think that a big part of the problem in the situation of certifications falling through the cracks is that the school administration isn't standing up for their people the way that a good boss should. I'm not saying that HR isn't messed up in this situation, but if your principal values you as a teacher they ought to go to bat for you in this situation. They are higher up the food-chain and they should have more clout. If they're unwilling to use some of their influence standing up for their staff then I would be more angry with them then the faceless bureaucrats of HR.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

You've got to accentuate the positive

After reading an article on Inside Ed about a grant for W.E.B. DuBois high school here, I've got to comment on the idea of rewarding schools (or students, or districts for that matter) for having problems. I understand that when you come from a deficit you need extra help, and I've got no problem with that. What I have a problem with is rewarding those who emphasize and dwell on their problems, or worse, punish those who make progress in spite of starting in a bad situation. I'm not saying that's the case with W.E.B. DuBois, I just wonder about singling them out.

The neighborhood of the first BCPSS school we attended was economically diverse, but they knew they would get money for the school by being Title I. After I complained about a change made to our free lunch form, which moved us from not qualifying to qualifying, it was made pretty clear that our presence at the school wasn't appreciated.

In the Special Ed arena it seems that focusing on and emphasizing a child's needs are the only way to get the services to help them succeed. Then, if they start doing well, you have to downplay those triumphs and talk about failures or those services will get taken away. As a parent of a special needs child, I know that I need to focus on the positive for every-one's mental health. I dread the doom and gloom that descends after these meetings.

I know that W.E.B. DuBois can benefit from this grant. Mentor programs and work opportunities are great, but if the school becomes "safer" will they deserve these programs less? And what about other schools who wish they could have these same programs? It seems that they will have to get more "dangerous"... is that what we should be shooting for?