So here I am, after eleven years, continuing to educate my kids in Baltimore City's public school system. This is not a district known for excellence in education and yet I'm trusting them with my most precious offspring. And especially msk, who has some pretty serious issues due to his autism. What am I thinking?
For a start, I've found that the perceptions from people who don't live in the city and/or who don't have special needs kids have a lot more to do with fear than reality. For this post I'll just focus on special education. We've been able to carve out a pretty decent education for msk here (of course there's always room for improvement). A few things have lead to this situation, that we could only find in Baltimore City's schools:
- The CEO of the school district previously was a special educator and then head of special education in New York City. And because he was hired to turn around a district with entrenched problems he was given a lot of power. I've heard him say some fairly harsh things in the past, but never once has he questioned the need to educate special needs kid nor has he said anything denigrating about them.
- Baltimore City was under a court order because of special education problems. This means there's a lot of grumbling and a lot of extra paperwork, but it also means that they are pretty careful about following the law (with exceptions when kids don't have involved parents, but that's another issue). After many years this is coming to an end, but those years have been educational for teachers and staff.
- Because Baltimore has a lot of troubled schools we lead the state in opening charter schools and if you find a charter school with a principal that values educating special needs kids they have the power and autonomy to make that happen.
Some really awful things have happened lately in special ed. Look over at the Club 166 blog for stories related to bad things in Los Angeles and Georgia, just to name a few. I think if you care about special needs kids, these situations are definitely infuriating. On the other hand it's important to look at your own school district and acknowledge when things are going right.
That's the point of this post.