Philip K. Howard’s provocative new book is thought-provoking and excellent. Life without Lawyers: Liberating Americans from Too Much Law. www.lifewithoutlawyers.com.

For those of us interested in reforming education–and specifically, special education, it has great insight. Imagine my delight to see among Mr. Howard’s references my little book of law about grades and report cards! Grades, Report Cards, Etc…. and the Law. Available at www.schoollawpro.com.

Mr. Howard has started a national movement, Common Good, and a national conversation, New Talk–to end our reliance on laws and lawsuits as the means for conducting our lives. For more information, see www.commongood.org and http://newtalk.org.

But back to report cards, those papers we all know and have grown up with for generations–as children, teachers, parents. Mr.Howard on to something when he includes this little book of laws in his analysis: We know we have an issue when teachers need to worry about lawsuits when they grade students’ work in their classrooms. But there it is.

“Why do you want a holiday? First, decided what you want to accomplish. Miriam Freedman, JD, MA,[with colleagues in SPEDCO–the Special Education Day Committee] started Special Education Day to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the signing of the first fedearl special education law in 1975. Freedman writes, ‘Our holiday has been a huge success. It has helped us focus our efforts and gain a community of reformers. We are now launching SpedEx, an alternate dispute resolution model, which the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, is supporting and funding!’ “

Many thanks to the National Speakers Association (NSA) for inspiring people to create their own holiday!

More! It’s about time!

There’s more to add to the last blog! We take inspiration from Bill Cosby, Dr. Alvin Poussaint, and, most notably, our new president, Barack Obama.

These leaders tell us some truths– that it’s time for parents, as well as schools, to work to improve outcomes for children. This week’s Education Gadfly picked up on the President’s inaugural speech in calling for a new “Era of responsibility.” www.edexcellence.net/gadfly.
Our President is certainly on to something many of us have felt and known for a long time–but left unsaid. “A parent’s willingness to nurture a child…decides our fate.” Indeed.

We need to build on this important platform. Besides ideas for parental summits or other ways to partner with families and parents, as discussed in the Gadfly, we also need to review and amend our laws, that, alas, so far, run in the opposite direction. These laws (the NCLB, IDEA, Section 504, etc.) ask of parents that they “advocate” for their children, receive information about the schools, the teachers, etc., “demand” more, if what they receive is not enough, and file complaints or hearing requests. That is not enough. That does not lead us on the path of where we need to be.

In fact, in many ways, that approach misdirects us in defining ” parenting.” These laws should, at last, be more explicit in defining parenting as an active verb. And if we can’t mandate that, so be it, but we can at least provide examples–let these laws tell us what parenting is and can be.

I believe people all over our country are hungry for this information and leadership, including parents we may deem currently not to be “good” parents.

For starters in the “how to” department, use then candidate Barack Obama’s words from last May,

“There is no program and no policy that can substitute for a parent who is involved in their child’s education from day one. There is no substitute for a parent who will make sure their children are in school on time and help them with their homework after dinner and attend those parent-teacher conferences…. And I have no doubt that we will still be talking about these problems in the next century if we do not have parents who are willing to turn of the TV once in a while and put away the video games and read to their child.”

So, what are the “how to’s” for starters?

  • Be sure the child is in school on time
  • Help the child with homework after dinner
  • Have dinner with the child!
  • Attend those parent-teacher conferences
  • Be willing to turn off the TV once in a while
  • Put away the video games
  • Read to the child
  • AND?

A wonderful beginning. Hopefully, our practice–and even our laws–will begin to reflect reality–at last. It is time!

It’s about time!

I loved hearing Bill Cosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint describing their book, Come On, People—On the Path from Victims to Victors on today’s Meet the Press. They are on to something! Parents need to parent.

It’s about time! President- elect Barak Obama told parents the same thing–turn off TVs, be present, not MIA, and support their children’s education. Poussaint suggested a national conference on parenting. It’s about time. Let’s do it.

We know that schools cannot educate children alone—and, we even know, that the vital role of parents has been largely ignored in school reform efforts, to say the least. And, beyond that, I believe the role of parents in school laws, from the No Child Left Behind Act to the IDEA, the special education laws, has led us astray. Too often, these laws tell parents that their job is to be ‘consumers’ of school services, to ‘advocate’ for their children, to argue when they don’t like school programs, to file complaints, and to seek due process (as under the IDEA). Yet, with all of this, these laws don’t tell parents they need to parent their children. They miss the crucial role that parents can have in helping their children learn and succeed! It’s about time!

The laws don’t tell parents to parent—to help children learn, to support teachers and schools, to get them to take their own education seriously, to create a positive learning community. That is where we need to go. Hopefully, Barak Obama, Dr. Poussaint, and Bill Cosby will lead the way! It’s about time!

Do you agree?

Following up on the last blog about advice to the new president, once you get on the site, click on “Listen to it here,” and then “Hear advice.”
The website is: http://www.merrow.org/ed_advice.

There’s some good stuff on it. Altogether, 76 voices. I was happy to be included and hope that changes will be a-coming in special education!

Miriam

Like many of you, I watch and listen to the news with great anxiety… and am aghast at developments on Wall Street. Why did we get no warnings. Real warnings. Why did this come upon us as such a bolt seemingly out of the blue. But did it? Or did people know and not tell.

And that got me thinking–what do we know in education, and specifically, in special education that needs to be told to a wider audience. So we can bring about necessary changes before a jolt hits all of us.

I’m writing some of my ideas on that… and would love to hear yours.

Published online on September 16, 2008
Published in print on September 17, 2008

Education Week

Letter

A Dearth of Standardization in College-Entrance Exams

To the Editor:

As reported in your recent articles “SAT Scores for Class of 2008 Halt Slide of Recent Years” (Sept. 3, 2008) and “ACT Scores Dip Slightly as Participation Soars” (Aug. 27, 2008), scores on the SAT and ACT college-entrance exams remain flat or trend slightly downward, while score gaps between groups of students remain wide. Are these numbers reliable? Unfortunately, no.

We assume that scores reflect a standardized norm, but this is not the case. While attention turns to the ACT’s one-tenth of a point decline (on a 36-point scale), where is the mention of the approximately 2 percent of SAT test-takers who take the exam under nonstandard conditions? The latter is a far more significant number.

In 2002, when the College Board, the owner of the SAT, faced a threatened lawsuit by disability-rights advocates who argued against flagging scores of exams administered with extended time, it blinked. Rather than defend its appropriate and legal reporting, the College Board settled. ACT Inc., the owner of the ACT, followed suit. Since 2003, test scores are no longer marked, and no one knows what scores mean because some (how many?) are not normed, not standardized. In short, there are apples and oranges aplenty. On the SAT, time can be extended by 50 percent or even 100 percent, thus modifying the test.

As an attorney who represents schools and writes and speaks nationally about testing and standards issues, I see the widespread confusion and cynicism this flawed policy causes. Who, if anyone, benefits from results whose very validity is questionable?

Rather than continue down this path, the College Board should consider three better options: (a) Flag scores again; (b) give all students the choice to take tests with nonstandard accommodations that would be flagged; or, (c) if time really does not matter, simply remove the time restriction from everyones tests. These steps could return trust, fairness, and validity.

Public reporting is overdue, even as we ponder flat scores, wide gaps, and slight dips.

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman
Attorney
Stoneman, Chandler & Miller LLP
Boston, Mass.