Friday, December 31, 2010


We all know what it is, work assigned to be done at home. But what is the purpose? That varies per teacher. Some teachers assign homework because it is the thing to do but never bother to check it. Some may walk around the classroom and mark in their books whether it was completed or not, thus giving the student a grade. Others collect it, check for accuracy, and then provide the student a grade based on correctness.

However, there is little to no research that supports homework as a way to improve academic achievement. In fact, there is research that shows that too much time spent on homework is actually detrimental to learning!

So what is the answer? Do you think your child should have homework? And if so, how much? What should be the purpose of that homework? How should it be graded?

I want to know your feelings about homework as we prepare to launch our own school based on a model of reinforcing and correcting work immediately in the classroom, rather than sending home homework.

We value your feedback! Please share your opinions and be entered into a drawing to win a $50 gift card from Dave and Buster's! This contest is now closed.

Volunteer - What does it mean?

What do you think of when you hear the word volunteer? For me, it is a person who is dedicated to a cause in such a way that they give freely of their time and energy to an organization in helping to sustain it. Volunteers make the world go round, in my opinion, and are in high demand for many organizations, including our public schools.

Just this past fall the local schools found themselves in a budget shortfall that had them out asking for more parent volunteers to help out in a variety of ways from secretarial work to the library and health room, and even as teacher aides. However, to work within the schools as a volunteer, you need to undergo a background check. The district has paid for these up until tomorrow. Starting January 1st, 2011, all volunteers that are required to undergo a background check will have to pay the $20 fee themselves.

But it gets even more interesting because the list of those required to background checks aren't the parents who volunteer to come into the classroom to assist with parties, go on field trips, or even chaperone school dances, having direct access to students. The ones required for background checks are those that have a regular schedule in the schools but may not even have direct contact with the kids. (Don't get me wrong here, I think it is important to check backgrounds and make sure those working around kids don't have a criminal history abusing kids, I am just questioning which ones get the check and who gets a pass.)

If the school needs help that badly, ie volunteers to put library books away and make photocopies in the office, then why can't they cover this one time, very nominal fee for those volunteers? How else do you thank volunteers for all their hard work and the FREE labor they provide? It all comes down to one Boy, BVSD sure has had its share of money issues this year and I have mentioned money quite a few times in my posts. So what is their end game in having volunteers pay for their own background checks? Perhaps it is their way to try to get the voters to approve more taxes for the sake of the schools. Yet, I still come back to the fact that most schools have too many administrators and if they need to cut back, why not do it there. Instead, the parent volunteers, those who are willing to give freely of their time, are now asked to pay a $20 fee to come help out at the school. So how do you feel about paying to volunteer?

Has This Happened to You?

Granted, this was made by some attorneys as an advertisement, as noted by their names said several times at the end of the movie, but I think it is makes a valid point.

Most recently I have been helping a family with a school problem, and actually the doctors now. This has been going on for over 6 months. The school says they can't do anything about the child's potential disability because it would be considered AD/HD which has to be diagnosed by a doctor. The doctor said that the school was doing whatever they could for the student, so they aren't going to give the child the label of AD/HD because it wouldn't really help the child. So in the end....who loses? The child in this case. Now many of you know I don't always advocate labeling, but in this case, I believe it necessary to get the child the help needed to succeed in the school setting.

This is just one of many things I encounter on a regular basis in the local schools in our area, although it was the first time I dealt with a family doctor who was unwilling to help the family out. Without money, it is difficult to get an outside assessment because these can cost anywhere from $700 to $1500 or more. So what is a family to do? Keep on fighting the good fight and make a stand for your child that lets the school know that they are responsible and you are not going away.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Study Tips

As finals will be here in less than 2 weeks, here is some advice for those who need to prepare:
  • Review/ copy your notes. Take 15 minutes each day to review or copy your notes for each class. If you have 4 core classes, it will take you 1 hour each day. If you start today, you will get almost 3 hours of studying per class done before the first exam date, December 13th. This is much better than trying to cram in a study session of 3 hours the night before the exam.
  • Make note of questions. While you are reviewing your notes, write down questions you have about anything that is unclear to you. Try to schedule a time to meet with your teacher before review day in class. If you can't, have those questions ready for review day when the teacher asks if anyone has any questions. If you wait until the night before to study, you may not have a chance to get those questions answered by the teacher.
  • Try different places to study. There have been numerous studies done that show conflicting research on where a student should study. However, just as each student learns differently, I believe we all study differently too. Find the place that you feel works best for each subject area or type of studying you are doing. Keep in mind that this may not be the same place for each class.
  • Limit distractions. Try to limit your distractions while studying. That most likely means turning off the television and the radio. However, some people need auditory stimulation while they study, so choose noise that serves as a background like favorite songs you have heard a million times or something without lyrics. Likewise for visual and tactile stimulation. Gum is a great tactile stimulant, but if you find yourself focusing on the gum rather than your notes, give it up and try something else like a squish ball or a piece of sand paper.
  • Take a break. If you find yourself doing long study sessions, take a break. The average attention span for humans is 45 minutes. Don't get discouraged if you can't study that long in one sitting. Get up, stretch your legs, drink water, or get a healthy snack.
  • Don't study right after dinner! Most parents expect students to do their homework if not before, then right after dinner. But think about this, your brain requires oxygenated blood to think and so does your stomach to digest food. If you are dividing your resources up you could end up with a headache, upset stomach, poor focus, or any other number of issues from the lack of oxygen needed to perform those functions. Just like they used to say about swimming, wait 30 minutes before diving in!

Good luck on your finals and study well!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Magician's Trick

On Thursday this week, Arne Duncan praised the progress made by IDEA law as the 35th anniversary of the passage of this legislation approaches. He went on to say that although there has been progress, the dream hasn't been fully realized yet. However, the law is a victory in the civil rights movement as disabled children as included more and more in schools with their non-disabled peers. And it goes on from there.

But here is the magic trick......while you are distracted by the speech and lines like this one, "Those students with disabilities who did attend public schools often were bused long distances to schools where they had little chance to interact with the full range of their peers," in the background something else is at work at the Department of Education.

Just last week the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education ruled against families who want to keep preschool children in their local preschools rather than attending a special preschool for kids with disabilities. The ruling states that there is not enough evidence to find that this violates the law. Since there are peer models of non-disabled students and they are providing services as required by law, the court felt that these students were receiving special education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). However, 85% of the children attending this preschool are identified as disabled and only 15% are non-disabled.

Why does this matter? Currently in the US there is an estimated rate of only 10-11% of students with disabilities being served in public education. That is a very small proportion of disabled to non-disabled peers. This new preschool, while providing peer interaction, does not provide enough non-disabled peer interactions when compared to the true ratio in the general population. Last time I looked, it was more common to follow what the majority of your peers are doing. So how is shipping these students off to a special school where the vast majority of your peers are also disabled actually providing an adequate educational setting for these students?

I don't know about you, but the magic trick didn't work on me. Flowery speeches don't change the fact that the current education system is not meeting the needs of the disabled as originally intended by IDEA law. I see this ruling by Mr. Duncan's own department for what it is, dead wrong and a step backwards in time that will not help our students with disabilities to integrate as part of society.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Issues for Adults with Developmental Disabilities

This week I had the opportunity to interview someone at a local organization that serves adults with developmental disabilities. I am excited to share it here, because I feel that even as adults, we are all continually learning. Therefore this is very relevant to what I do and how I feel about education. Keep on learning.... Michelle

The Arc for Boulder and Broomfield counties is called The Association for Community Living in Boulder County. Nicole Newsom is the Director of Activities for this organization and also serves on committees for several organizations that focus their services for people with developmental disabilities.

Michelle: What types of services does your organization offer?

Nicole: Our organization provides advocacy services for both adults and children. We are also involved in public policy, informing the public the implication of the laws made at state and federal level for families and individuals with developmental disabilities. Finally, we also provide classes to the community in order to promote a sense of community between those with and those without developmental disabilities.

M: Why is this important to adults with intellectual disabilities?

N: Some of these adults are unable to advocate for themselves. Often they are unaware of their rights and therefore need a voice to speak for them to ensure they receive services and have a positive quality of life. Also, our facility offers them a safe place to learn and meet people.

M: What social issues do you see in your outreach to adults with intellectual disabilities?

N: There are many social issues including isolation, sex education and parenting. These issues are all things we try to address through our social and educational opportunities. Another issue is the quality of care in those providers that serve people with developmental disabilities. Unfortunately there is little supervision or follow through from the state to ensure these providers are providing quality services. Finally, the biggest issue I see is the lack of funding. Here in Colorado there is a long wait list just to get the services that these people need to survive.

M: What perceptions do you think society has with regards to adults with disabilities?

N: I think most people get a picture of the smiling Down syndrome child in their mind when they think of developmental disabilities. However, the diversity is expanse and this picture does not encompass the entire population by any stretch. Another perception is that these are not normal adults and therefore, must be treated differently. Sometimes, I find myself attending doctor’s appointments with an adult with developmental disability as a friend, to support them. It is frustrating for me and the adult with developmental disability when the doctor starts talking to me rather than addressing them directly. It is as if the doctor doesn’t believe that adult can understand anything he is saying.

M: How do you feel that your organization can change those perceptions?

N: Modeling is one of the best ways to do this. We try to model appropriate interactions with these adults in the community, at meetings, in classes, and at the doctor’s office. We hope that by modeling these things others will learn that the interaction with these adults is not much different than what they are used to with their friends, families, and co-workers. Another way we change perceptions is through public policy.

M: What ethical issues do you deal with in your work, with regards to adults with intellectual disabilities?

N: Monitoring care is a big issue. Another issue is guardianship and knowing what level of assistance the individual needs. The final issue is human rights, because sometimes you have to suspend an adult’s rights in order to ensure they are safe and healthy.

M: How do you feel those issues impede the process of assisting them?

N: Without monitoring care, there is no way to be sure that abuses are not occurring within organizations that serve these people. Guardianship is important as a layer of protection to prevent these abuses and to ensure that the individual’s needs are met. As for human rights, it is important to ensure that when rights are taken away that a clear path is provided to the individual on how to obtain those rights again.

M: What ways do you suggest to overcome these obstacles in order to provide the best service to meet the needs of adults with intellectual disabilities?

N: More funding is needed. Many people who work with organizations that serve adults with developmental disabilities are over worked and under paid and it is common for turnover to be high. Also, it is very important to teach self-advocacy skills to these adults. The more they know the more power they will have to protect themselves from others and to navigate the system to make sure they access all the services that are available to them.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Silly Ban on Silly Bandz

It's 9am morning announcements and what did they just say? Silly Bandz are now banned in school? (picture of silly bands on right comes from their website)

This is the trend. As children get excited about the cute rubber bracelets made into shapes, the schools are suddenly banning them. Why?

From the Denver Post : "What was happening is in the classroom itself, kids were more preoccupied with who they were going to trade with, and what they were going to trade, than the teacher teaching," said Jonathan Wolfer, principal of Douglass Elementary School in Boulder. Read more: Despite school bans, the Silly Bandz fad plays on - The Denver Post

So let me get this straight, teachers are having difficulty getting students to focus on their work because of a bracelet. Now that we have banned the bracelets, the students are suddenly more focused on their school work, right? WRONG! Despite the ban, those classrooms aren't going to be any better for it. If a teacher has an effective management style, that should transcend any fad or general student misbehavior.

Recently in my course work I read a statistic that really bothered me: praise of students occurred only once every 15 to 30 minutes while reprimands occurred once every 2 minutes (Yell, Meadoes, Drasgo, & Shriner, 2009). Talk about negativity in the classroom. However, everything I have been taught about being a teacher in my undergrad and my graduate work so far indicates that positive interaction in the classroom is the way to prevent behavior issues. Unfortunately, I think this is a societal tendency, in that we are quicker to complain about something than to praise.

By the way....for those of you who are clients of ours, Bolder Tutor will continue to use Silly Bandz as an incentive for student engagement and achievement.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Lighter Side of Things

School has started and with that, my schedule has gotten crazy. Not really an excuse not to post, but it is my reason why. But in these last 2 weeks many good things have happened....

- Near the end of summer I began working with a student who was resistant to writing or doing homework last school year. Friday we sat down and made a plan for his weekly homework packet. He was so excited to get it done, that he completed it last night and turned it in to his teacher today. Mom reports that he didn't even ask for help on the writing part but just persevered through it on his own without a single complaint!

- The student who completed her summer homework before school started, was ready to turn in when it was collected yesterday. Still "very few" others turned it in according to her and her teacher's did recognize that she did her part.

- IEP meeting date set for a student whose school admitted the IEP was inadequate and they weren't even following it last year.

- I set my schedule for classes this fall and will be officially graduating BEFORE Christmas!

- An adult student who some said would never learn her numbers was reading numbers from 1-50.

- A new student is getting comfortable with the remediation program and is already making progress.

- First tests are already being taken and the resounding sound of "I got an A" is ringing in my ears.

Share your good experiences these last few weeks as we all want to congratulate your child on their accomplishments!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Summer Controversy

Summer is over here. The kids went back to school earlier this week. Everyone is excited to meet new teachers and friends and get going with a fresh start to a new year. But yet, already I see some of the disappointment in some of my students, after only 2 or 3 days back. The reality of school work sets in and their self-esteem is already suffering.

For instance, a student who worked hard with me all summer to complete her summer homework on time is not praised for doing so, but rather told that the work will be collected next week because too many other students hadn't completed theirs yet. Another student who is excited to do geometry loses his excitement when he finds out that they will be reviewing algebra for the first two weeks, a class in which he battled with for most of last school year, unsuccessfully. Not all the stories are bad, but enough to frustrate me when I hear, yet again, the push for longer school days or school years.

I am sure some of you will be surprised to hear that I am a proponent of year round school, if it is done effectively with breaks between units or quarters that would still entail the same number of days off the students currently receive. I think it would be beneficial to not have such a large number of consecutive weeks off for students. There is regression for down instructional time and I can't ignore that. Your brain needs to be used continually and when you take time away from practicing something like multiplication or writing, it becomes a bit rusty and difficult to get moving again.

However, I also know that summer is a time for a student to recharge, especially those with learning disabilities that struggle in the classroom. It is a time for them to do things in which they excel like summer camps for their interests, watching neighbor dogs, baby sitting, or even just exploring the neighborhood pond looking for bugs and frogs. All of these are learning experiences of their own and I believe of great value to our kids who spend 6-7 hours a day sitting in a classroom without much real world interaction. (I seem to remember taking many more field trips as a child than the students of today are afforded.)

So, when Time Magazine prints a cover article such as "The Case Against Summer Vacation" I shudder. Especially when the print version of the article includes graphs that don't necessary support their case. In fact, it showed that the number of hours our students spend in school was very high when compared to other countries in the world with higher achievement rates. So what does that tell us? According to this research brief put out by ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), "Changes in instructional time do not generally increase or decrease student achievement, unless such changes go beyond unusually low, or high, amounts of time. Curriculum and instructional quality appear to have a much greater effect on achievement than do total hours of instructional time." (ASCD, 2005).

Wow, from 2005? So this research has been around for 5 years and we are still talking about increasing instructional time? Yes, and I would again suggest that it has more to do with money for the teachers, administrators, and the unions than it has to do with educating students effectively. But it seems that no one is listening, so the controversy will continue on and those who want longer school days/years seem to have the loudest voices and the highest positions to affect change, even if it isn't in the best interest of our children.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

More Inclusion

Once again Boulder Valley School District is in the news discussing changes to their special education policy. Boulder public schools work to provide more special-ed in regular classrooms - via the Denver Post

BVSD held a special training session for all their general education teachers. This was to train them to keep special education students in their classrooms. According to the post "hundreds" of teachers were in attendance. I don't know about you, but the last time I was taught or trained in a room of hundreds of people, I came away with very little knowledge that I found applicable for my own personal situation. Secondly, having done my undergrad in teaching and currently working on my master's in special education, it will take more than just a few hours to train teachers how to work with kids with special needs.

Furthermore, I might remind my readers who are unfamiliar with the law, but there is already inclusion or mainstreaming, as some call it, in our schools. It was required by IDEA law, long ago, that school's provide the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for student learning. However, the regular classroom is not appropriate for all students all the time and I would contend that even for some student's, ever. It is a relief that BVSD does recognize that LRE does not mean only the regular classroom , yet in the article a representative from the district mentions that special instruction can be done in the regular classroom. I agree that some special education can take place in the regular classroom, however that takes additional resources. The last time I checked, BVSD was "firing" teachers and aids, not hiring more. BVSD is reducing the special education budget for 2010-2011 by over $1 million dollars, according to page 34 of the proposed budget, including the reduction of 5.815 special education teachers and 4.5 paras.

Finally, I wonder how much money BVSD spent to have these specialists come in to train regular classroom teachers. Could that money have been spent to hire additional aids or paras for the classrooms themselves? Will it all be worth the expense or just another thing we tried in the name of reform? The new system will be tested this year and I hope that parents, teachers and others concerned about the state of education will hold these schools accountable to providing the best education choices possible for each student and not just create a system of inclusion for the sake of saying that they do it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Common Core Standards - Good Idea or Bad Idea

In the effort to reform (for the sake of reform in my opinion), the current government administration is pushing for Common Core Standards for the entire country. Sounds like a good idea? That is what many of the top educational research organizations are saying, including the Fordham Institute.

But don't jump to conclusions based on the Fordham Institute rating scale. According to William J. Mathis, the research doesn't add up to being more economically competitive in the international community, which is one of the core arguments for those who support the standards.

With the conflicting research, why are we jumping ahead with creating national standards in education? Because we aren't doing as well as some think we should be, which therefore means we must need to make our standards more rigorous. Yet, the difference in schools in low income neighborhoods to more affluent areas is striking according to many who have taught in both places. Does creating a common standard necessarily provide a better education for all those students? While they claim that these standards prepare students for college and work expectations, I wonder if they only focus on the academics and not the practical experience of working. It seems that today the focus on education is all about everyone must go to college and locally the vo-tech opportunities seem to be diminishing (according to inside sources). But is college right for everyone?

I often hear complaints often about how we no longer make anything in the U.S. and that we live off the backs of poorer countries. I feel that this is due to the "college for everyone" attitude that seems to be more than just an "if you want to go you can" attitude and has become an "everyone must go to college to make something of themselves" attitude. Is this more detrimental to our children's psyche if they aren't good at the academics but perhaps have a talent working with their hands or in an area of art such as music or photography? Which leads us back to Common Core Standards and how they will influence education.

One final thought on common standards is that we live in a very large and diverse country. Everything I have learned in my educational courses as well as in my personal experiences, leads to the benfits of individualized education rather than a "one size fits all" mentality. When we take away control of standards from the individual school which understands their student population and put it in the hands of a higher group whether that is the district, the state, or a national board, aren't we disempowering the teachers? If they have little control over what must be taught to meet these standards, what choice do they have but to teach to the test? Why are we so keen on removing local control of educational decisions from the people who know and understand our children the most, us?

While Colorado is still considering the standards, 26 states have already adopted them. Visit to read more about the Common Core Standards. To read more opinions on the subject, check out this site.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Teachers of the Future

Is it possible? Could we really be looking at the future of education to be handled by robots? According to this article, there are already countries experimenting with classrooms taught by robots and here in the US, we are already testing them on preschoolers.

The story opens with the example of a young autistic boy who successfully mimics the robot's actions. They even mention that when the boy begins to retreat from the learning session, the robot doesn't give up and soon is able to get the boy active again. A good thing, I think most of us can agree. Furthermore, "Researchers say the pace of innovation is such that these machines should begin to learn as they teach, becoming the sort of infinitely patient, highly informed instructors that would be effective in subjects like foreign language or in repetitive therapies used to treat developmental problems like autism." I wonder why we aren't spending more money on creating highly effective teachers? Wouldn't that mean that robots would become unnecessary?

Now, the funny thing is that one of the executives who is helping to create these robots made a comment that not only made me laugh, but was also one of those "Here's Your Sign" type comments. “The problem with autonomous machines is that people are so unpredictable, especially children...” Do you think so? Apparently some kids ripped the arms off one of the robots. The solution? Make the robot cry, at least a noise that sounds like crying.

They are also teaching the robots to think for themselves. After all, they need to be able to interpret when a student is learning or when a specific teaching method is not working for them.
This all makes me wonder about the possibility of such movies as Terminator or the Matrix. Of course, that could be my sci-fi freak nature coming out because we just started watching the new version of Battle Star Galactica, another "humans create robots that take over the world" story line.

But is all this necessary? They don't give much data of information, just that it is working and positive. I personally want to see the data and I want to see comparisons of adequately trained professional teachers using the same methods, in the same environment, with the same number of students. It is great if the robot works for small groups, but it has also been proven that teachers are more successful when they have smaller groups as well. The question remains, how do they compare when given the same learning situation as a real flesh and blood teacher. (Perhaps that doesn't matter, rather the fact that the robot teacher may be expensive upfront to purchase, but you don't have to worry about them calling in sick, taking vacation, or even paying them.)

Furthermore, going back to the child with Autism, one of the things important to teach children on the autistic spectrum and others with non-verbal disabilities is to focus on social relationships. These types of things involve real-world interactions that I find difficult to believe can be taught by a non-emotional machine. Facial expression, body language, and tone of voice are all important pieces of social interaction. Do you really think a robot can replace a teacher in that capacity?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Evaluating Teachers

Between the Race to the Top (RttT) fund in full swing, stage 2 now, and reforms being made in many states, including Colorado (in hopes of winning RttT), the way in which we evaluate teachers is big news lately.

Diane Ravitch, a professor at New York University had this to say about the way we evaluate teachers. Basically, because so many different things influence the performance on testing, it is not an effective way to evaluate a teacher's effectiveness in the classroom. Furthermore, she says that teachers should be judged by "professional standards," but does little to explain exactly what this means.

Some of the others who responded to this question made suggestions such as the outcomes of the education process, but most admit there is not a fool-proof method for evaluating this.

So what is the answer? A while back either someone told me this or I read it somewhere. (It isn't my idea, but I am unsure who I need to contribute it to. However, if you know, please let me know so that I can reference your idea in my blog.) The idea was with regards to having departmental review committees from that school.

It stems from the poor practice of having an administrator evaluate teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. This is not a valuable evaluation in my mind because those administrators are no long dealing with the day to day needs of the individual classrooms. Furthermore, for some administrators it may have been years or possibly they have never even taught in a classroom. However, having departmental reviews done by peers who are currently working in classrooms and with the curriculum appears to me to be a more sound method for evaluation. After all, in business, the CEO or President is not the one who evaluates the office personnel. Rather it is their immediate boss or peers who work alongside them in the trenches that provide the most accurate assessment of their performance.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Friendship 911

Last week this story came to my attention and at first I couldn't believe what I saw. I thought perhaps it was a passing thing, but now, a week later, it is being talked about by newspapers and bloggers around the country. So I couldn't let it slip by without saying my two cents on the subject.

"A Best Friend? You Must Be Kidding" is a title that sounds innocent enough, but what does that really mean? It means that schools and camps are now advocating that children focus on groups of friends rather than a single best friend. It means that the days of the paired up children who can always be found together is over. It means that these adults think they know better than the kids about who their friends should be and are interfering with the normal social dynamics of growing up. They say they have good reasoning for doing this; such as preventing bullying and cliques.

Now I agree that bullying is not a good thing. I have seen some of my own students become victims of bullying because of their delayed social development or physical disabilities. Bullying has always been an issue at schools where a student is singled out for some reason or another. I was bullied as a child myself. In fact, I remember a girl one time got mad at me when we were playing and told me that the only reason she was being nice to me was because the teacher had told the class to be nice because my brother had died. I look back at that now and see this intentional manipulation of friendships as its own type of bullying that will do more harm than good, in my opinion.

You can't possibly be friends with everyone in the world. Why? Not everyone has the same interests, values and experiences from which to build a friendship. That doesn't mean that we throw common courtesy out the window however. Shouldn't acceptance and inclusion be taught rather than going to the extreme of trying to interrupt the natural tendency for people who share commonalities from being together? I wonder how this will play into the continued erosion of the family and marriage in this country? I have to agree with the psychologists on this one, "
If children’s friendships are choreographed and sanitized by adults, the argument goes, how is a child to prepare emotionally for both the affection and rejection likely to come later in life?"

With that in mind, who is your best friend? Why do you consider them to be your best friend? Mine is my husband and it is because we share everything. That doesn't mean we always get along perfectly. However, through the ups and downs I had with best friends growing up, both betrayal and bonding from the time I was a child that continue into my adult life, I have learned how to deal with the emotional fall out and truly share my triumphs with someone who also shares in my beliefs but can add perspective to my life. I don't believe that this would be possible if most of my childhood friendships were staged and yes, I am glad that the girl who told me she was only being nice because she was told to was honest with me. Perhaps I was a spoiled child who was selfish and needed to be ostracized by my peers in order to learn a lesson that has helped develop me into the compassionate, loving adult I am today.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

School Reform

School reform is a tired phrase that we hear over and over again. Reform the curriculum, change the name of "special education" to "student success," or even update the building, hire a new position, etc. all in the name of school reform. Where has all this school reform gotten us? Back to where we started.

Today a good friend and retired special education teacher brought this article to my attention, "End Them, Don't Mend Them." She was unsure if they went a little too far in the article, but then realized that we had been talking about this exact thing for the last 4 weeks.

P.J. O'Rourke makes a good case and his use of humor through use of wild exaggerations gets his point across while still evoking a chuckle at the expense of the reality of the situation. Humor aside, he does have a good point with regards to our current state of education and the whole reform movement.

Look at how much money the school spends per pupil; U.S. Average of $9,683 per pupil according to National Center for Education Statistics. If you are like me, you think "Wow, there is plenty of money going to education." Yet, our students are still not performing as well as we feel they should. That leads to the question of where is all the money going? I direct you once again to the article "End Them, Don't Mend Them," because he shows you that the money going to administration is draining away the money that should be going to our kids in the classroom. How do I know this to be true? Check out this website put together by teachers in the Boulder Vally School District, They found that the local school district is increasing administration pay while student enrollment increases and the number of teachers is staying flat. When it hits you locally, the truth hurts.

Now what do we do? How do we really reform the schools? Honestly, I don't know that we can reform the system we currently have and I am of like mind with Mr. O'Rourke and Sharron Angle of Nevada that perhaps it is time to eliminate the current system of a "one size fits all" attitude and get back to community based education instead.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Special Education Parties Eliminated

Boulder Valley School District is planning to eliminate special parties for special education students, district wide. Read this article to get all the details.

Kim Bane from the district cites 2 reasons in the article for eliminating the program. Her first reasoning is the time of the events, often during the school day which takes away instructional time. Her second reason deals with inclusion.

Let's start with the second reason, inclusion. While it is important to include all students in activities at the school, this is already common practice. The special education students are always encouraged to attend and participate in all school activities. They haven't changed a policy to suddenly allow these students at activities they weren't permitted to attend before. Meanwhile, the schools are already part of the national trend of inclusion at the school on all levels, so these students are interacting with their peers in the traditional classroom daily. In fact, this past year I witnessed an honor student who worked in the resource room with special education students and was talking to one girl about whether she would be attending the basketball game later that night. This special education student who is in a wheelchair was planning to go. Plenty of inclusion going on at this school and bonding between peer groups. So in my opinion, the inclusion argument is moot.

Going back to the first reason, missed instructional time, the article notes that these students are pulled out during the school day for 2 hours, 4 times a year for these activities. Not a huge loss in instruction time, especially if you know that in special education courses it is taught that recreation and leisure activities are something that need to be taught to special education students. Therefore these could be considered additional parts to the curriculum in providing opportunities for these students to meet new students from across the district. Furthermore, let's add up the number of hours that sports students miss from instructional time to drive to a game or meet. Do you think it would exceed 8 hours in a school year? What about that missed instruction time?

In my opinion, this isn't about instruction time or inclusion. So what is it all about? Money. Plain and simple. Special Education students often require special transportation because of their needs. The article does mention this, but it seems to get lost in the controversy and focus of the issue. Students with special needs have exactly that, special needs. They need to be taught special life skills to help them assimilate into society. Transportation is one of these life skills. So why can't the district use this as a teaching opportunity for these students? Why not teach them how to use the public transit system to get to these events? I still know of special education adults who "hate the bus" and won't make it to classes just for this reason. Why do they hate the bus? I don't know, but perhaps if the school taught them this skill to attend a special event where they would meet new students, they would be more likely to participate in events on their own as adults by using the public transportation system.