Archive for September 2010

Don’t put your faith in man…….or fictitious superheros   1 comment

DISCLAIMER: I usually post a bunch of links to stuff I reference in my blog. Once you start reading you will see that the topic has been beat like a dead horse (Oh wait, can I say that?) so there’s no need to repeat….everything is on the Internet.

For those of you who clicked the link thinking you would read my .02 on that popular mega-church preacher in Atlanta, you are sorely mistaken. But, since you took the time to click the link, you might as well sit a spell and read what I have to say. If nothing else, my words will compel you to think about some of the people whom you admire(d) and examine why you do so in the first place.

The past week we were bombarded with advertising for the much-anticipated (by some people) movie, ‘Waiting for Superman,’ which provides an inside view (for some people) on the state of public education. We saw Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada, and others parading around the media circuit to both promote the movie and their agendas. For those of you wondering: No, I have not seen the movie. And for good reasons:

  1. I am gainfully unemployed and have been so for 3.5 years. I can think of about five others things that are more deserving of my $10-12 dollars than a movie which I could have easily written, if I were in the business of pimping showing how kids and parents are stuck without quality school choice options;
  2. I do not need a movie to show me what I already know. Unlike Gates, Oprah, Guggenheim, and (fill-in-the-blank), I have classroom experience, both as a Special Education Paraprofessional and Teacher. In urban schools. Title I schools. Where kids came to school hungry, sleepy, unclean, without school supplies, etc. for a number of reasons. But no judgement because I, unlike the afore-mentioned people, talked to the students, not at or about them as if they were subjects in some science experiment. Big difference. I knew what they dealt with when they left the building.
  3. I don’t trust too many Hollywood movies, especially when people are portraying us (at least people who look like me) as downtrodden and on the brink of whatever, instead of investing into something more meaningful and immediate. Sure, Guggenheim will win an Oscar/Emmy/Whatever but what else will change? Exactly. Next year it will be a different movie. By some other person privileged enough to send their kids to private school. Whatever.

I have more reasons, but that is not the impetus for this blog…maybe later though. So, as people have bum-rushed theaters to see this move, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and online media outlets have been ablaze with stories of snottin, boo-hooin, and carrying on. Wow. Imagine that? Grown folks crying because they saw a 90 minute movie about the conditions of our public schools. I wonder how many stopped to ask themselves: ‘O.K., what about the other 75,510 minutes (180 days x 7 hours a day x 60 minutes for those who are mathematically challenged) that the kids are in school? Should I cry for those minutes/days/weeks/months too? Are the conditions the same?’ But no, they are not asking those questions because, like millions of other Americans, temporary outrage will suffice.  Yeah, I said it. Your outrage is temporary. Please do not mistake my honesty for cynicism or lack of compassion. I spent many days sitting in my classroom (and driving home) crying because I felt like there was so much more that needed to be done for students, but I just did not have the resources, connections, or pedigree to meet those needs. In fact, I still cry for my students because I wonder if they are: (1) alive; (2) incarcerated; (3) employed; and (4) if they ever went to college, as I stressed on a daily basis. But my kids deserved and got more than 90 minutes of sympathy from me. FACT.

I have never been one to shy away from a debate. And I am sure people will dissect and attack what I have written, anonymously, of course, by way of blog comments. And that’s fine. But I know what I know (and have seen) and no one can take that away from me. Or convince me to see ‘it’ from a different perspective. I have been both teacher and parent, working within crappy systems where Greek and church affiliations, or minstreling/Tomming/Shuckin & Jivin clear the path to administrative jobs, even if you cannot string together a complete sentence (Ex: The words tomorrow, yesterday, next (day of the week) DO NOT need to be preceded with ‘on’), or you lack the most basic people skills. By people skills, I do not mean that everyone has to like you, but if students are calling you ‘Bitch,’ ‘Dumbass,’ and ‘Motherfucker,’ then clearly you lack the ability to command/gain respect. In your attempt to deflect the obvious lack of respect from students, you belittle and disrespect the very people you need to help run the school, even at the most basic level of functionality. Sound familiar? She’s not the only one.

I am putting forth this challenge to those of you who have been ‘enlightened’ by this movie. Here are some things Iwould like you to consider when telling others how they should feel about the movie or playing writer and penning a blog, when you obviously don’t have a damn clue as to how to function in a classroom (Did you catch Tony Danza’s crying spell on Oprah? He played the role of teacher for a year and couldn’t hack it.)

  1. What do you think is the real underlying motivation for these people giving millions of dollars to improve Education for these poor little Black and Brown kids? Don’t be too quick to answer this one because you just may get it wrong. If you studied psychology, then you probably know the real answer. Not so much to do with Education directly though. The bible warns: ‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.’ (Matthew 7:15) Some people’s good intentions may be fueled by their desires to mend their battered public images, or convince the wayward sheep (and school districts) to continue buying their products. Besides, good deeds should not come with stipulations attached, under any circumstances. (I just realized that argument is suitable for merit pay too….)
  2. If the philanthropists are genuinely concerned about addressing the underlying issues affecting Education, then wouldn’t it make more sense to address those issues and not just the schools? If you know that 98% of the kids in a district receive Free and Reduced Lunch, why not start a Farmer’s Market in the school or community so that parents can buy affordable (fresh) fruits and vegetables for their kids? Then, you could offer nutrition classes at the school and within the community so that parents understand the importance of a balanced meal. After all, healthy eating habits are linked to academic achievement. Well, at least that’s what the experts say…
  3. Affordable (free) after-school enrichment and remediation programs. See #2.
  4. Academically rich summer programs. See #2.
  5. Healthcare. See #2.

Do I really need to present more examples? I know the writing is a little harder for some to see than others, but I think I have made my point. For those of you who are quick to say, ‘Well, Rhee has done some great things in D.C. so she really needs to stay on to continue her work,’ I present these questions for you to consider:

  1. Do you, based on everything you have learned as a teacher/parent/whatever, honestly believe that she isthe best person to lead that district? Given everything that has transpired publicly (because many obviously don’t know about the under-handed stuff she’s been able to cover-up), do you honestly, deep down inside, believe that she can move the district forward? Usually leaders that have generated such (warranted) animosity amongst employees and other stakeholders are unsuccessful at implementing change that people can believe in and whole-heartedly support. Yes, those things are important. That does not mean they all have to participate in sleepovers at her house or buy Christmas gifts, but an environment free of fear and distrust is imperative if genuine teaching and learning are to occur. Leadership 101. Just ask any leader who has been successful at leading a school or profitable company….
  2. Are you going along with the status quo in hopes of being recognized (on Twitter, nonetheless) and holding out hope that one day, someone may offer you a key position within their organization? I have been reading Tweets very closely and too many people have far too few facts to be her (or any edreformer’s) biggest cheerleader. Every story has three sides: His/her sides and the truth. Like that New York philosopher Jay-Z says (paraphrases, whatever): ‘Men Lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t lie.’ In this case, congressional reports don’t lie.
  3. Can we really trust a person who falsely accuses teachers of abusing students when she herself admitted to putting masking tape on the mouths of 2nd graders? No, this was not some science experiment. Apparently she had become frustrated with the noise and thought it would be a good idea to turn this into a game. I guess the crying kids with bleeding lips alerted her that it was not fun. At least not for the students. If you do not possess basic classroom management skills, how in the hell are we supposed to trust that you can manage teachers, staff, and students? It’s obvious she can’t manage the parents because they voted her boss (and hopefully her) out of office.

Your answers really aren’t that important (to me) because you do not have to answer to me in the end. But if you had to re-consider your stance on any of the above questions, then I certainly hope you are not a classroom teacher or a parent. More importantly, you do not have enough first-hand experience to interject comments of merit into this debate because you are clearly out of touch with my reality and that of millions of parents and teachers across the country. Before you position yourself over the keyboard to type a tersely written response, consider this: No check, no matter the size, can buy you an experience or a real sense of what people have been/are going through. They call it compensation for a reason. Mocking the Black vernacular to share an experience with new teachers or covering-up for your handsy Black boyfriend will not earn you a ‘homegirl’ card. They call it compensation for a reason. (BTW: I just answered the second #1 for you. You’re welcome)

So in this edreform circus, short men with little feet have been replaced by rich, White (mostly) men with big checkbooks who, undoubtedly, are looking at this with the ‘What’s in it for me?’ angle? There’s always something in it for someone….

Before I conclude today’s sermon I would like to take-up a ‘love offering’ because I do believe I took at least one person to chuuch with this blog post. Thank you and God bless!

An IEP is not a free pass, and other misconceptions about Special Education   5 comments

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in Twitter’s #SpEdChat (READ: I actually remembered it was taking place and added my two cents). I have a special place in my heart for Special Education; I made it through 4.5 years teaching without laying hands (CODE: Channeling Madea) on any students. More importantly, I managed to only mildly inform colleagues and administrators of their ignorance of Special Education’s purpose and when they directly violated any component of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act). But I digress because this post is about something else. It’s about teachers being proactive in gaining knowledge to do what’s in the best interest of their students. And I can always support that!

I noticed a theme during the #SpEdChat: A lot of General Education teachers are genuinely interested in learning about ways to help those students with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), as opposed to ‘passing them’ simply because they have an IEP. My buddy @TheJLV and I were discussing the arrangements at his school: The majority of the kids served by Special Education participate in Inclusion classes, where students are essentially mainstreamed into Regular Education classes. (NOTE: This setting, as with any other, is determined by the child’s IEP team – parents, teachers, psychologist, administrator, etc. and his/her area of disability. This is covered by the FAPE – Free Appropriate Public Education- provision of IDEA.) He shared that the staff attended an IEP training workshop, facilitated/led by the Special Education Department. That’s certainly a good first step, but I am sure some of the people were overwhelmed. Why? Because I was overwhelmed with writing IEPs for the first two years; reading them was much easier! In order to better educate teachers, both General and Special Education, it is absolutely necessary to for school’s to offer ongoing professional development regarding IEPs, IDEA, Inclusion, etc. One-shot workshops don’t usually work well for other education-related topics, so it’s no wonder why they don’t fare well with regard to Special Education.

So a few people asked questions about IEPs, including how do you write them, how do you understand them, etc. As I stated above, writing IEPs is a difficult and sometimes daunting task; however, when done correctly, a well-written one makes delivering quality instruction and assessing student growth a proverbial cakewalk. I cannot, nor will I attempt, to do a drive-by blog on writing IEPs because there is a lot that goes into that, but to start I will give you a quick run-down of what an IEP is/is not, and what it’s supposed to do-when followed.

What the heck is an IEP? (Not to be confused with EIP – Early Intervention Plan/Program)

  1. First and foremost, an IEP is a legal document; it’s contents & directives are protected by IDEA;
  2. An IEP is a confidential document. You should only discuss its contents with people who directly interact with the child;
  3. An IEP is required for any child diagnosed with any disability that impedes/affects (not stops) his or her ability to learn at the same rate or in the same manner as peers;
  4. An IEP is not a free pass for students to ‘skate’ through the system; do not let anyone tell you otherwise. You will do students a great disservice if you don’t hold them accountable;
  5. An IEP does not excuse (the majority of) students from learning the same standards/content. It does, however, provide for accommodations/modifications based upon the IEP team’s recommendations;
  6. A well-written IEP requires input from all stakeholders: Student (if appropriate age-usually 14); parent(s); teachers; psychologist; Lead Special Education Teacher (terminology may differ by state); administrator; school counselor; therapist, SLP, etc. when appropriate. This is a group effort and the child will only be successful if the requisite amount of time and knowledge are applied to writing and following the IEP;
  7. An IEP is integral to the success of any student with a disability. It should not, under any circumstances, be filed in some cabinet and ignored during the school year;
  8. By law, an IEP must be updated every year, on the anniversary date. Err on the side of caution: Schedule the Annual Review 7-10 days prior to the anniversary date. I have seen school districts sued by knowledgeable parents because the district failed to conduct the Annual Review. I have also seen students with 2-3 year old IEPs. Yes, the system is broken but we are still accountable for meeting the needs of our students.

In response to concerns voiced by some teachers and administrators during the chat: IDEA states that teachers who have direct instructional contact with the student are required to attend IEP meetings. Attendance by a building administrator is also required. I would suggest that the Special Education Department Chair collaborate first, with the principal to develop a master calendar of potential IEP Annual Review dates. Then, work with other department chairs and inform all teachers of their responsibilities. I understand that teachers now have 1,001 things on their plates, but I am sure they would much rather make time for meetings than be named in a lawsuit.

When in doubt, follow IDEA. Every state/district/school must use IDEA as a foundation for developing their respective Special Education programs. Anything above and beyond IDEA is up to their discretion, but the federal guidelines cannot be altered as long as federal funds are involved/accepted/spent.

To hell with 'waiting' on Superman, we have Karen Lewis!   Leave a comment

‘I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.’ ~ Maya Angelou

This post is not going to be about hyping some movie that promotes parents as desperate for immediate solutions to the public education crisis. I don’t like to think of minority and low-income families as ‘desperate’ for anything, unless of course they are amongst the millions of un- or underemployed Americans in this country. I think ‘victims’ would be a more accurate characterization because, well, they and their children have been robbed of 40 acres, a mule, and a separate but equal education. Sure, No Child Left Behind was enacted to address the latter, but by now we all know that all it really did was expose the decades-long disparities in the caliber of education between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ Of course, the ‘have nots’ are the kids relegated to dilapidated schools in neighborhoods where the jobs have long gone, hundreds of babies die by the hands of their peers, and people with NO practical experience in education have been bestowed the power to close neighborhood schools (leading to more violence) and create a working environment rife with fear and mistrust. (Examples: Chicago, Detroit, and D.C. Feel free to substitute any of these cities above.) Anyone wonder or even ask why we should ‘wait’ on Superman, much less anyone else to fix problems that our government has known about forever? Probably not.

Yes, those things are disappointing, disheartening, and enough to make anyone with common sense reconsider (several times) entering the teaching profession. But there is hope for parents, students, and teachers….and it ain’t Superman. It’s not Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Joel Klein, or any of the other self-righteous, self-proclaimed education experts with their Ivy League degrees and colonialist complexes. Nope, it’s an educated Black woman, from the South Side of Chicago, with dreads, and a pair big enough to call a spade a spade and expose the truth about the mess Duncan and Daley created with the Renaissance 2010 debacle. Ok, maybe ‘pair’ is an overused cliché, but I couldn’t think of anything else.Well, I could but I don’t know Karen well enough to call her a ‘Bad B*&%$!’

Some people may not understand my excitement about the ‘arrival’ of Lewis onto the education scene as the newly-elected President of the Chicago Teachers Union. My excitement is comprised of equal parts enthusiasm for the fact that:  (1) Lewis is Black; and (2) she holds no punches. Ok, ok..maybe I am more excited about the second one..we have way too many people in education chasing the carrot, shuckin’ & jivin, skinnin & grinnin, and holding their peace for a small piece, of whatever. There are too many people who are cheerleaders for scientific experiments (masked as entrepreneurship) in education for the sake of securing additional blood money, er… funding for continued support. (I guess everyone forgot about the Tuskegee Experiment and it’s lasting effects, but I digress.) There are also people who work/worked under administrations that implement/implemented policies that failed, from the start, yet kept quiet until they made their exit (and nice salaries and built name recognition). I cannot respect such individuals or give weight to anything they have to say because they sold out millions of kids and never said a word. Not.One.Word. Until now, because it’s profitable to bash these doomed-from-the-start policies on the ‘Pimpin’ Education’ circuit. But I guess everyone has their price, I just haven’t found mine yet. God willing, I never will.

I am neither in Chicago or have any direct connection/affiliation with the city, but I am sure the thousands of teachers who work there can perform their jobs without worrying about being fired by some CEO who’s eager to jump through hoops for monetary offers to fire veteran, trained educators in order to make room for other Ivy grads and oops..wrong person. Where was I? Oh yeah, I am confident in the abilities of Lewis as she has not minced words on her stance on Race to the Top, Duncan, or anyone else making ill-informed decisions about education. Karen Lewis is a breath of fresh air, in a tight-knit circle long controlled by clueless windbags only interested in attracting businesses and government grants. Yes, it’s been a long time comin’ but a change has finally come for the teachers of Chicago.

Karen, may the force be with you. Dr. Angelou’s quote provides some good advice for us girls, but in a pinch do what my Granny and Mamma always said: ‘Kick ass and take names later!’

To hell with ‘waiting’ on Superman, we have Karen Lewis!   Leave a comment

‘I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.’ ~ Maya Angelou

This post is not going to be about hyping some movie that promotes parents as desperate for immediate solutions to the public education crisis. I don’t like to think of minority and low-income families as ‘desperate’ for anything, unless of course they are amongst the millions of un- or underemployed Americans in this country. I think ‘victims’ would be a more accurate characterization because, well, they and their children have been robbed of 40 acres, a mule, and a separate but equal education. Sure, No Child Left Behind was enacted to address the latter, but by now we all know that all it really did was expose the decades-long disparities in the caliber of education between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ Of course, the ‘have nots’ are the kids relegated to dilapidated schools in neighborhoods where the jobs have long gone, hundreds of babies die by the hands of their peers, and people with NO practical experience in education have been bestowed the power to close neighborhood schools (leading to more violence) and create a working environment rife with fear and mistrust. (Examples: Chicago, Detroit, and D.C. Feel free to substitute any of these cities above.) Anyone wonder or even ask why we should ‘wait’ on Superman, much less anyone else to fix problems that our government has known about forever? Probably not.

Yes, those things are disappointing, disheartening, and enough to make anyone with common sense reconsider (several times) entering the teaching profession. But there is hope for parents, students, and teachers….and it ain’t Superman. It’s not Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Joel Klein, or any of the other self-righteous, self-proclaimed education experts with their Ivy League degrees and colonialist complexes. Nope, it’s an educated Black woman, from the South Side of Chicago, with dreads, and a pair big enough to call a spade a spade and expose the truth about the mess Duncan and Daley created with the Renaissance 2010 debacle. Ok, maybe ‘pair’ is an overused cliché, but I couldn’t think of anything else.Well, I could but I don’t know Karen well enough to call her a ‘Bad B*&%$!’

Some people may not understand my excitement about the ‘arrival’ of Lewis onto the education scene as the newly-elected President of the Chicago Teachers Union. My excitement is comprised of equal parts enthusiasm for the fact that:  (1) Lewis is Black; and (2) she holds no punches. Ok, ok..maybe I am more excited about the second one..we have way too many people in education chasing the carrot, shuckin’ & jivin, skinnin & grinnin, and holding their peace for a small piece, of whatever. There are too many people who are cheerleaders for scientific experiments (masked as entrepreneurship) in education for the sake of securing additional blood money, er… funding for continued support. (I guess everyone forgot about the Tuskegee Experiment and it’s lasting effects, but I digress.) There are also people who work/worked under administrations that implement/implemented policies that failed, from the start, yet kept quiet until they made their exit (and nice salaries and built name recognition). I cannot respect such individuals or give weight to anything they have to say because they sold out millions of kids and never said a word. Not.One.Word. Until now, because it’s profitable to bash these doomed-from-the-start policies on the ‘Pimpin’ Education’ circuit. But I guess everyone has their price, I just haven’t found mine yet. God willing, I never will.

I am neither in Chicago or have any direct connection/affiliation with the city, but I am sure the thousands of teachers who work there can perform their jobs without worrying about being fired by some CEO who’s eager to jump through hoops for monetary offers to fire veteran, trained educators in order to make room for other Ivy grads and oops..wrong person. Where was I? Oh yeah, I am confident in the abilities of Lewis as she has not minced words on her stance on Race to the Top, Duncan, or anyone else making ill-informed decisions about education. Karen Lewis is a breath of fresh air, in a tight-knit circle long controlled by clueless windbags only interested in attracting businesses and government grants. Yes, it’s been a long time comin’ but a change has finally come for the teachers of Chicago.

Karen, may the force be with you. Dr. Angelou’s quote provides some good advice for us girls, but in a pinch do what my Granny and Mamma always said: ‘Kick ass and take names later!’