What Will They Do Now?

03/11/2010
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Here we go again.

Congress is about to rewrite education law again.

I shudder every time I think about this.

535 people, whose primary interest is re-election, debating policies that will affect the future of this country for decades to come.

Let me make it a little clearer.

There are 535 people who will create the laws that will govern education for the next generation. Of those, 100 can, at best, think only six years ahead and mostly about their own self-interest. The other 435 can also think mostly about their own self-interest, but their vision is limited to two years ahead.

The starting point for their debate will be the latest iteration of the now 45-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act known as No Child Left Behind.

That law is almost universally regarded as flawed; the only disagreements have to do with what those flaws are, how they rank in importance, and how much teachers should be blamed for the law’s failure to accomplish its aims.

Forgive me my skepticism, but I can’t see any reason to expect any good to come out of this.

Even if conditions were perfect, it is highly unlikely that Congress would write a law that makes sense for special education students, their parents, or their teachers.

Conditions are far from perfect.

Both political parties are damaged and more interested in making the other lose than in creating good policy.

Lawyers or accountants, not educators, head more and more school districts, including most of the biggest districts in the country.

Tight money means great pressure to reduce the cost of special education services to school districts and their taxpayers.

Consider the political implications of this: Some people had teachers they loved but everyone had teachers they hated.

The only people looking out for special education students are their parents and their teachers—the two groups most marginalized in current discussions of education policy.

There have been seven re-authorizations of ESEA since its inception in 1965, creating almost 100 different programs affecting special education, many with contradictory requirements.

There is no reason to expect anything better from the 2010 revision, should one somehow make its way through Congress.

Flock of Pigeons

Image by cypheroz via Flickr

Probably the best that special education can hope for is allowing multiple methods of assessing the learning of special education students.

A crumb tossed to the hungry pigeons pecking wildly.

We should rise into the sky and express our gratitude the same way the pigeons do

Plop. Plop.

_______________

This blog is the first in a series of three I’m writing as part of the Classroom Insiders panel at We Are Teachers. Please visit to meet the two other special  education bloggers  on the panel and read their posts on this same topic. Our other series posts will appear on April 8th and May 6th.

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What I Told the White House

03/03/2010
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Today the White House blog asked “What does 21st century education mean to you?”

I don’t normally read the White House blog, but Michael Josefowicz, one of the regular commenters here pointed me to the post.

The White House asked for responses via Facebook, Linked-in or Twitter. I chose the latter, though I found 140 characters were not enough. I used 1120 characters, give or take a few. This is what I told the White House.

.@whitehouseIt 21st C. education recognizes that all knowledge is connected; art, music, social studies are part of math & science emphasis.

.@whitehouselt 21st C education isn’t about a score on a test, it’s preparing a rounded person to accomplish great things.

Then I pointed them to yesterday’s blog posting.

.@whitehouselt Assessment is essential, but it must be appropriate to the learning desired, to the subject matter, & to student needs.

.@whitehouselt Formalized assessment now takes a huge part of teaching time & school resources for very little benefit to students.

.@whitehouselt Emphasis on standardized testing reveals a lack of imagination in assessment & produces lack of imagination in students.

.@whitehouselt 21st C advances should allow individualized teaching & learning. That will require individualized assessment. <more>

.@whitehouselt Emphasis on standardized exams takes imagination/effort from individualized teaching, resources not available to develop it

.@whitehouselt Race To The Top stifles creativity rather than promoting it. Innovation is directed into narrow channels.

I could have gone on, but I had the sense they weren’t really listening.

Maybe I’m wrong about that.

I hope so.

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When Bad Things Happen to a Good Teacher

10/02/2009
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This is a story about the rubber room.

A teacher in my school got arrested today.

He got arrested after a student slapped him around and then, when he finally raised his hand to defend himself, she bit it and broke the skin.

All the students who witnessed the incident say the girl started it and that my colleague never struck her, pushed her or contacted her at all other than when she bit him.

Not one of his colleagues believes this man is capable of attacking a student. He is thoroughly easy going, relaxed, and non-confrontational.

This is a teacher who has dealt with most of the more violent, combustible, disturbed and/or psychotic students who have passed through the school in the four years he’s been there. He never even yelled at any of them.

While he was in the nurse’s office having his hand treated, the girl was telling the assistant principal that she had been attacked. The AP did what the law says he had to do; take the girl seriously and call the police, even though he was positive the girl was making the story up.

Instead of having a nice weekend my colleague will be waiting to appear before a judge for arraignment.

He will be released on bail, but he won’t be allowed to come back to work on Monday, not even to pick up his things.

Instead of going to work he will be told to report to one of the City’s Temporary Reassignment Centers, usually hot room with low ceilings and few windows. These are the rubber rooms.

On any given day there are about 700 New York City Department of Education employees assigned to rubber rooms. Some are principals, assistant principals or other administrators, but most are teachers.

Each person in a rubber room gets paid his or her full salary. They get their full benefits. They even get the pay increases they’d otherwise get for longevity or advanced degrees. This costs the city about $65 million per year.

People assigned to rubber rooms report there every day and stay there during school hours. That’s their job; they are specifically prohibited from having any duties. Then they go home.

Like all the others, my colleague will stay in the rubber room until the charges against him are resolved. Some people stay in the rubber rooms for more than three years. One has been in a rubber room for more than five years – the charges against him have never been proven or dismissed and he refuses to resign.

Rubber rooms exist because the teacher’s union, the United Federation of Teachers, insists that teachers not be fired without due process or based on unproved allegations.

Sometimes the accused person is guilty and deserves to be punished.

My colleague is innocent and his students are being punished. They are being denied this dedicated teacher.

A lot of people say teachers in the rubber room for more than a year or two should be fired. After all, they wouldn’t be there if they were innocent.

My colleague is innocent and will be there anyway.

Let’s hope it is for a very, very short time.

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Why I Am a Union Man

03/25/2009

Today is the 98th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire in which 146 young women, many of them teenagers, died in a fire on the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of the Asch Building, then a modern factory-loft building thought to be fireproof.

March 25th, 1911 was a typical day at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. located in lower Manhattan. A couple of hundred women, mostly immigrant teenagers, were hard at work as cutters, at sewing machines and as pressers. They were hardworking women who were paid by the piece.

These women felt safe. They were in America, the greatest nation on earth. They had jobs, and while they had to work very hard, they were earning their keep and, some of them, supporting parents and grandparents. They were working in a modern building, built to the highest standards of the day and reported to be fireproof.

Then the fire broke out.

There was really nothing to worry about. The building had fire exits that led to stairwells that led to the street. Everyone could get out safely. That was the plan when the building was erected. Safety first.

There was only one problem. The bosses at the factory made a small alteration. In order to prevent the women from taking breaks or going out to smoke or chat the bosses had done what bosses all over the City did.

They chained the fire exit doors shut. All of them.

Panic. Women were killed as they were pressed against the steel doors by dozens of women trying desperately to escape.

Women were killed by inhaling the smoke generated by a fire attacking a hundred or more bolts of fabric ready to be cut.

Women were killed when they jumped out the windows of the ninth and tenth floors, figuring that gave them a better chance of survival than anything else.

Some did survive. They were lucky enough to not hit the cement sidewalk because they landed on the bodies already there and were not killed by the other bodies landing on them.

One hundred forty-six lives lost because the bosses were greedy and chained the fire doors closed.

There are still greedy bosses. That’s why I’m a union man.

Look at the pictures before you start to argue with me:
fire and its aftermath

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