Sunday, May 31, 2009

A small change in course

As per my last post, you can see I'm missing the information and conversation on the City School front. Typically I only post here about thing that I have a strong opinion about, but I'm going to try to just bring up a topic and see if that might spark some discussion.

Last week, at a meeting I couldn't attend, Dr. Alonso spoke about City Schools. I'm sure he spoke on many topics, but the one that was reported on in The Messenger (on-line here) was the issue of "different constituencies" in schools that have magnet programs as well as in zone students. I'll try to restate the discussion reported on in The Messenger:

Roland Park Elementary Middle School (RPEMS) has moved from having very little in-zone attendance to having above 90% in-zone in the elementary school. The middle school is the only large-scale magnet program for middle school students in the city and as such is larger than the elementary school and is predominated by out-of-zone students. Judging by test scores both the elementary and middle schools are very successful and there is pressure to expand both programs, resulting in class sizes getting larger. At the meeting Claudia Diamond (a former PTA president at RPEMS) asked if Dr. Alonso would consider splitting apart RPEMS (the article didn't detail how this split would be made, elementary/middle or in-zone/magnet come to mind). Dr. Alonso's reported response was not too enthusiastic (and a little obscure) "I'm not a blueprint guy." But the general idea was that there were other more pressing problems on his agenda.

There's another online article from New York magazine here discussing how once racially and economically diverse schools that become successful, start having too many local students that want to attend and end up losing their diversity ("density trumps diversity"). Judging from some of the comments, the idea of transporting kids to achieve diversity is not any better received now then it was 40 years ago when Pimlico students were bused into Roland Park.

Having been a parent in magnet programs (and not attending our zoned school) for the last six years I can say I have often felt the schism that Claudia Diamond was alluding to. And honestly there is often an under-current of racial and/or economic segregation involved.

So - there's the topic for discussion. I think it's a continuation of the Brown vs Board of Education discussion from Inside Ed that had a lot of interesting comments.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

RIP Inside Ed

A letter sent to The Baltimore Sun:

I am writing to express my anger and sadness at the demise of the Inside Ed blog. It is clear that the personnel shifts have de-emphasized coverage of Baltimore City Schools and cut back on the feeding and caring required by this blog.

As your print edition has become smaller, the web edition of the Sun needs to become more engaging and vibrant, but Inside Ed is becoming smaller and less interesting every day. I would like to say that I am a subscriber to wield some amount of clout, but honestly after subscribing for more than 20 years you lost my subscription several years ago with one of the massive and unpleasant redesigns (aka dumbing down). Until I started reading and posting to Inside Ed about a year and a half ago you had totally lost my attention - I had moved to the web and Slate was much more satisfying than what was then called Then because of reading the Inside Ed blog I started reading Sun stories again, starting with the Ed beat and moving on to other local coverage. I was checking the website several times a day, reading and putting a lot of time and effort into contributing to the conversation.

The future path of Inside Ed is fairly obvious (and depressing) at this point - fewer City School posts, slow approval and posting of comments, attention shifting away, summer break with even less posting followed by death by lack of interest. This is a shame because I think Inside Ed as a forum really did help City Schools which used to be a cause that the Sun cared a great deal about. There will also be a lot less educated and thoughtful people looking at your site when Inside Ed stops being relevant.

I am fairly sure that this comment will not change Inside Ed's path, but since I'm not commenting on the blog anymore I've got some spare time right now.

I received the following response from the Sun (maybe because I sent my letter directly to as well as to, so perhaps others should contact him directly)

Thank you for your note and your concern.

We have not, in fact, de-emphasized our coverage of Baltimore City Schools and remain committed to the same high-quality coverage we have provided in the past. With Sara Neufeld's departure we are working quickly to identify the best person who will bring expert reporting skills to that beat.

Additionally, our Inside Ed blog will continue. We expect that it should remain a vital and vibrant home for our coverage of city schools.

We appreciate your patience. We believe your patience will be rewarded with the same type of news and information you came to expect from The Baltimore Sun with relation to its coverage of city schools.

Please don't hesitate to contact me with suggestions or complaints.

Best, Monty

MONTY COOK Senior VP/EditorThe Baltimore Sun 501 N. Calvert St.Baltimore, Md., 21202 (410)-332-6469

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What have I done to deserve this?

Image from -

Puberty - God's way of telling you that he hates parents.

OK - so having gone through this once with the oldest one I had thought (I admit to being in a delusional state) that child number two had made it through the middle school puberty thing fairly painlessly. I was wrong. Oh, how wrong. It's hit and it's much worse this time around. I know there are teachers who are thinking "What a lousy parent! Why are all these homeworks missing? Why is this notebook such a disaster? Why does this child, who had been on the honor role, now not listen to a word I say? Clearly its the fault of BAD PARENTING!"

You know what? I am not in control of this child at this point - tears and lies have replaced all communication. I am told nothing about what's happening, even on total disaster days. You want to blame it all on me? Fine, but I'm blaming it on hormones sucking all the grey matter out of my kid's cranium.

And the totally sad thing? This is just child 2 - one more to go. There's a clear logarithmic trend in the pain of my living through their puberty. You know what that means? I pretty sure that kid #3's puberty will lead to my institutionalization.
At least I won't have to do laundry if I'm in a padded cell.

BAD (That's Blogging Against Disablism)

I really thought that after this post I was done talking about Alex Barton and Morningside Elementary. I had read some rather nasty comments on this news site (there are some particularly nasty comments here if you really want to see them) on the issue, accusing Alex's mom of being self-serving and questioning the concept of inclusive education. It took this post and this one to get me to realize all this attention in a crappy school in a state that clearly has issues with education was going to lead to reprocussions. It's hard to believe how vindictive people can be. Just in case you don't feel like reading the link here's a quick summary: While Alex has been pulled out of Morningside where he was clearly unwanted and unsupported, his 10 y.o. older brother Kyle continues to go to school there. This is the only school with a Gifted program in their zone. A letter from the principal told them to find a different school. The vice principal pushed Kyle. A group of parents picketed the school to show their support for an abusive teacher while yelling at Kyle and driving him to tears. There's a stalking parent and a billigerent teacher. Basically this family's abuse goes on and on.

I might be a little late, but I blog against disablism. This needs to stop. Our schools need to lead the way.

And on a positive note, I know of charter schools in Baltimore that could give lessons on how to be welcoming and inclusive.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Looking for a silver lining

Seems like a lot of doom and gloom lately. Sara Nuefeld is leaving the Sun, which really bums me out. I certainly wouldn't be blogging if it hadn't been for Inside Ed and and my whole sense of connection to City Schools as a whole (as opposed to individual schools and teachers) comes from reading and posting on Inside Ed. Then there's this disaster of trying to figure out ESY that I've already posted about here and here. Combine those things with the flurry of activities and stress of a jam-packed calender. I just want to bury my head under a pillow and ask the world to go away. But, having three kids doesn't give you that option (probably one of the better arguments for why would you want to have kids - you have no choice to stop being self-absorbed). So, the solution? A cheering post that reminds me of the good stuff. So here it is...

I can not believe the growth I've seen in those three kids over the course of this school year. The high school freshman, who seemed so ill-equipped to deal with the independence required of high school students has grown into the task. I won't say it wasn't without a lot of help from some excellent teachers (and maybe some parental engagement), but I think we've turned a corner. There are still final exams to go, which make me pretty nervous, but I'm feeling pretty amazed at the transformation.

The middle one is no longer a kid, and anyone with a hormonal middle school kid knows what I mean. It's a little scary and not too pleasant for anyone involved, but growing up can't be halted. There are moments when I wonder if brain function has slowed in an equal ratio to the speeding of physical maturation, but it's good to be on the far side of this boundary.

But the transformation of the special one, that's incredible. There are milestones that have been hit that I wasn't sure would ever happen. Today I saw a kid that wanted to impress classmates because they were friends - I would have never dared to hope for that, and within a school year? That qualifies as a miracle if I was religious. Staff that really goes to the effort to truly include and care. Blossoming verbal interaction - you might have to ask questions, but the answers aren't just a way to get you to quit talking (as they have been for several years). This kid has a genuine desire to get information across. Another miracle. And I've got to say that classmates and staff have been transformed as well. The idea that people who don't talk much don't have much understanding or intelligence has fallen by the wayside. And I see genuine affection and attachment going in both directions. You might have been told that autistic kids have no attachments (hence the term autism from the Greek autos or self), but I'd argue that it's a two way street - we nuerotypicals can't figure out how to make attachments with someone who doesn't have interactive mirroring as much as auties can't figure out how to navigate the rules of our society. But given time, training and practice and the attachments are real.

So there - the glass is definitely half-full or better.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rant on...

In response to a comment on Inside Ed that stated that having an autistic kid in your class gets you a nomination for Teacher of the Year. Changes/clarifications shown in italics:

- snip (a preamble related to the original post and other comments)

The presence of autistic kids in your class is not a cross to bear that gets you nominated for sainthood. Now, if you actually do something positive with that kid, say differentiate instruction and testing to help them get something out of your class; if you educate yourself and the neurotypical kids in your class about autism and gain some empathy; if you provide a safe social situation for your autistic student and keep other kids from harassing or beating that kid...then you're a successful teacher of an autistic student. But, given the number of autistic students and the goal, one would hope, of having all of them in decent placements, this will not qualify you as exceptional; there should be too many teachers like this. If that's all it takes, I wish I had known and I would have nominated the teacher (and school and IEP team) who's doing all that for my autistic kid.

I am sick to death of the idea that it's a drag to have an autistic kid in your life. I've got one in mine and it's a privilege. I can't tell you all the things I've learned that are useful in dealing with so many other things than my autistic kid. I truly believe in inclusive education, but not in schools or with teachers that see my kid as a burden. With that off my chest maybe I can get back to my job.

Sorry, one more thing - don't assume that Mr. Greer (the Baltimore City Teacher of the Year that the blog post was about) has no autistic/aspergers kids in his class unless you have gone through his last 7 years worth of 503's and IEP's. You might be surprised at the number of smart and academically successful kids who are on the autism spectrum, of course that would mean that you quit making assumptions about autistic kids.