(‘learning styles’ debunked)

As a public schools attorney in matters of special education, I, too, have questioned ‘learning styles.’ I included these concerens in my new book, Fixing Special Education–12 Steps to Transform a Broken System.

But I’m just a lawyer–not an expert in these matters. Now more psychologists have jumped in. That’s great! It’s hard enough to educate kids these days. Saddling teachers and parents with bad science and ideology is not helpful.

If you missed the NY Times editorial on February 5, here it is.

(Improving No Child Left Behind Act).

My two cents?

I agree with those who say that the NCLB has done more good than harm. Its focus on academics, results, and the outcomes for specific groups has been a positive and should continue.

However, the gnawing concern I have is that we get smarter about which gaps to close. For now, our efforts and huge funding are designed to bring students who do not yet have basic skills to a rather basic, mediocre level of ‘proficiency.’ That is OK as far as it goes, but it detracts from efforts and funding for that other gap. We are failing to focus on the top half of the classes–students who can already read, write, and do basic math. What challenges do our laws now provide them? None. There is no focus on them. No new funds. No new sanctions. etc. This is not good for America.

I’m afraid that our laws’ current out-of-balance focus will NOT close gaps for these students, and will leave them behind. Certainly, we are already seeing that international results–comparing top students around the world. Since the law does NOT focus on pushing students who already meet ‘proficient’ standards to higher levels of achievement, I believe that needs a fix. America needs these students to be all that they can become!

Diversity in charter schools?

I assume you saw this new study, on the heals of last week’s UCLA study, reporting on a ‘lack of diversity’ in charter schools.

(lack of diversity in charter schools)

HMMM. What is this about? My view is that diversity in schools should serve education –better teaching and learning for all students–not a civil rights notion that is not teaching/methodology driven. This is the same issue that permeates special education’s push for ‘inclusion’–far too often implemented because it meets people’s belief system than promotes better teaching and learning for all kids.

Here, too, the fact that certain students attend certain schools does not ipso facto mean that there is a problem, that schools are excluding kids, that the schools are not effective, or that lawyers or government agencies need to step in to ‘fix’ it. Your thoughts?

If Michelle Obama can start a sweeping initiative to deal with childhood obsesity–as the New York Times reported yesterday, then surely we can start a Let’s Learn Together initiative–to help parents and teachers work together on behalf of student learning, not at odds, and not by relying on our legal system, as happens far too often in special education. The lack of trust in our schools impedes learning as surely as the amount of fats creates obesity.

(Obesity initiative by our First Lady)

It’s inspiring! Let’s learn together!

Sad. Another program that may be compromised, it looks like. (More students fail AP courses). Are we compromising standards to ‘democratize’ the test? My father used to say, If something is too good to be true, it’s probably not. What may be going on here?

We need to go back to basics: First the WHAT, then the WHO. WHAT is AP level? WHAT is the curriculum? WHAT is the purpose of AP? Then, WHO has the necessary skills to participate? WHO will benefit from AP? WHO can participate meaningfully without compromising those standards? It looks like in some states, our current approach may be backward. First, it seeks to include more students (the WHO) and then it needs to tinker with the standards (the WHAT). That approach doesn’t work well for anyone. As Linda Darling-Hammond is quoted, “The standards don’t teach themselves.” Adding a high-level test does not cure education knowledge and skills deficits.

I’m with everyone who seeks to include more students in AP, so long as we put the WHAT before the WHO. So long as we don’t lower AP standards. So long as we remember what our purpose for AP courses was, in the first place!

This article reminds me of inclusion. Yes, while in some situations it can be excellent for all students, far too often, it does lower standards and expectations in many classes. Let’s be honest here.

If we are serious about raising standards for all students, it’s first the WHAT; then the WHO.

I woke up this morning to this refreshing discussion. Check it out.

(Urban parents don’t care what Gary Orfield thinks)

What do I think? Well, when I was a teacher in the Berkeley schools back in the late 1960’s, we had tracking at the junior high. The highest level course and the lowest level course. I taught both and will never forget the parents of my lowest level students (you can imagine who they might have been in this urban setting). They exhorted me to NOT lower standards, NOT go easy on their kids, NOT demand less than the best. They exhorted me to PUSH their kids to excellence, to PUSH them to learn as much as possible, to PUSH them to work hard.

It taught me that parents are parents–wherever they live–and they want the best for their children. This article lays that out well. Thanks for it.

And from Massachusetts….

The Boston Globe reports that educators and advocates like Pres. Obama’s changes for the No Child Left Behind Act. Maybe they are good. Let’s hope.

My concern is that Massachusetts continues to allow nonstandard accommodations (NSAs) on its state testing program, the MCAS. Thus, some students have the test read to them–and they ‘pass’ reading. Some use computers, and they ‘pass’ math. So long as tests continue to allow invalidating NSAs, it hardly matters what the policy is.

Check it out!

(Massachusetts likes Obama’s NCLB changes)

Let’s hope! I wonder if it’s an overhaul or a reshuffling. If it’s a transformation or a way to move things around. The article’s focus on more inclusion, per se, worrisome. Inclusion is not an educational solution or goal. Like a methodology, inclusion should be encouraged where it works and promotes more learning. Otherwise, other methodologies should be used. Time will tell. Your thoughts?
(NYC to overhaul special education)

I heard David Brook (New York Times columnist) on Meet the Press yesterday, January 31, 2010. He highlighted the fact that the big problem in America is that the public has a distrust of government. Wow. Right on!.

Taking the challenge right down to special education, it strikes me that noone should be surprised by the lack of trust among many parents. Why? Because back in the 1970’s, the law was written for them to do exactly that. They were supposed to be the law’s ‘enforcers,’ by making demands, filing complaints and hearing requests, and in all types of ways, ‘advocating’ for their children against their schools.

I believe it is time to change the paradigm. Change the law. Make it outcome based, not input driven. Let this law join the 21st century!

Let parents be parents, not enforcers.

Let schools provide services and enforce the law.

Let teachers teach, not be bogged down in paperwork and bureaucratic requirements.

Let students learn. Alas. That is what it’s all about.

Keeping special education as is will just continue the distrust of our schools.