Jan 31, 2011

High expectations for teachers

This discussion stems from this article.

In the United States we strive for high quality education. However, we seem to believe that high quality education can come from any quality teacher. For example, in Utah, you can get a professional teaching job if you have a GED and are currently doing an alternative licensure program. Granted, you are more likely to get the job if you have a Bachelor's degree (in anything) and even more likely to get the job with additional credentials and experience. (For Doug, and other nitpickers: I do believe that you can be an innately good teacher without training, but I think you will be a better teacher with training.)

The No Child Left Behind Act (2001) (NCLB) increased accountability for teachers, and required schools to inform parents if their children did not have a "highly qualified" teacher. (I think that is good.) NCLB will undergo many changes this year. First, it will be changed [back] to Elementary and Secondary Education Act (don't be fooled by the name change). Second, it will lower standards for teachers required in NCLB.

As you might deduce, wealthy school districts would more readily hire a more qualified teacher over another because they can afford to pay them. Hoping to get the most bang for their buck, poor school districts hire those they can pay the least--the less qualified teacher. So, because urban school districts are generally poor and a higher proportion of students living in urban areas are "high-risk" students, under-qualified teachers' classes, will have a higher proportion of high-risk students.

The big question is: should under-qualified teachers be teaching the most needy students (this includes students in special education as well as)? If not, should they be teaching our least needy students? or the students in the middle? or no students at all?

This picture is of NJ teens at a two-week workshop training to be special needs and urban teachers.

What I think:
Ideally, under-qualified teachers should not teach in schools at all. I realize this is a fairly extreme position. What about moms who home-school their kids? Interns? etc. If they are not qualified, they should not teach. An underlying question throughout this whole discussion is: what qualifications make someone "qualified." That's a whole nother issue. (Apparently that phrase doesn't translate to written English.)

If we allow under-qualified teachers to teach our most needy students, I think that those students will fall farther and farther behind. It's even scarier if a lot of these teachers work in "needy" schools and dramatically increase the ratio of "not yet qualified" teachers to qualified teachers. We need to maintain a high standard of education for our teachers so that our children will receive a high standard of education in return.

Jan 25, 2011

!!!!!!! is all I have to say

Oh europe, here we come.
like I said: !!!!!!!!!

A break


= a relaxing night

Doug always seems to know when I need a break :), even if it is super simple. Thanks, Doug!

Jan 19, 2011

Eliminating childhood diseases? or playing God?

As an educator of students with severe disabilities, I found this article interesting: Gene test finds disease risk in parents; A new test for genetic mutations in parents might help prevent conception of babies with deadly inherited diseases.

Background: Craig and Charlotte Benson have daughter, Christiane, with Batten disease. Craig is the CEO of Rules-Based Medicine Inc., he founded a charity (www.beyondbatten.org) to fund research to develop a test that could detect diseases like Batten disease prior to conception. As stated on the website, the foundation's goal is: "to make the test a standard of care for all young men and women as part of their routine health screening, and to ensure that it is available to anyone who wants it without the barrier of cost."

Issue: The idea is, "If both parents turn out to be carriers, they can use lab techniques to conceive and test embryos, choose adoption or other methods to avoid having an affected child." Their vision is to eliminate "dangerous" childhood diseases--a worthy ideal. But, in doing so, are we "playing God?"

(Picture) John (11) and Bridie (9) Philpott are diagnosed with Batten disease.

What I think: I think attempting to eliminate childhood diseases and disabilities will be as effective as we have been at eradicating poverty. However, some say that educating children with these diseases is just as ineffective and since I emphatically disagree, it would be hypocritical to use that argument. It is more their tone that I take issue with. My impressions after reading that article are that children with severe disabilities are undesirable (i.e. "prevent conception;" "affected child") . The front page of Benson's charity website explains that Batten disease "takes away the childhood, and then takes away the child." I concede that these children will never be "normal" children, and that no one would wish a disease or disability upon their own children, but that does not mean that we should regret that they were born. Granted, I do not have any children so I can't entirely empathize.
Personally, I love working with children with disabilities. They have their own personalities and they have a perpetual innocent view of life. Of course, like any child, they can be difficult, but overcoming that is particularly rewarding. I also think it is much easier to remember the eternal potential that these children have because their limitations on this earth are so obvious. I recognize that this can be an extremely sensitive issue and that each couple's decision is between them and the Lord. I am grateful that Heavenly Father is in control. I also am grateful for this technology that opens up options for people making this decision. I hope this technology brings us closer to God, who gives life.

Watch Christiane's story:

Jan 13, 2011

Funding Special Education in Rochester

So one of my new years resolutions is to read at least one current article about Special Education weekly. Accessing the articles is really easy, I get emails with about 10 articles every day. The trick is finding one that I'm interested in. Also, these generally aren't studies or experiments, it's mostly just news about what's happening in the education of exceptional students (on both ends) across the nation.

This article (Jan 9, 2011) is about a current debate over funding in SpEd preschool in Rochester, NY. Doug and I usually disagree about funding policies (at least, he's really good at playing devil's advocate) which makes this issue that much more interesting and thought-provoking.

Let me break the issue down (mostly for my sake).

Background: Wikipedia tells us that most preschools in the US are tuition based though it is common for counties to provide some preschool services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) declares that children with disabilities have a right to early intervention (preschool is one option). An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is written for these children as early as 3 years old (obviously the parents can refuse services). This means that once the child turns 3, goals are written for the child's progress AND related services are provided to meet those goals. The IEP is a legally binding document; therefore, there are legal consequences if the services are not provided.

Issue: New York has offered (and the counties have paid for) preschool for children (3-5yrs) with disabilities for over two decades (). Monroe county (in Rochester) wants to discontinue funding this service because it is getting too expensive--14 million annually. According to the article, this financial responsibility was supposed to be shared with school the school districts; this obviously did not happen. They also say that the program is inefficient, there are few options for parents, and that the county does not have the power to make any changes.

What I think: Discontinuing Special Education preschool is not an option. Disregarding that it would go against IDEA, removing SpEd preschool would be a great detriment to students with disabilities. These children are already at a disadvantage in the education world because learning does not come naturally to them. Preschool is meant to teach kids how to learn, expose them to the routine of school, and ease them into elementary school. In fact, in Monroe county, about 60% of SpEd preschool students will not need services once they reach elementary school (that's a red flag to me - if that's the case, they must be accepting students who do not need intensive intervention and probably would qualify for regular preschool anyway. Despite that, I do believe that preschool programs do much for children with disabilities).

With that conclusion, if Monroe county is not going to pay for it, who should? I think parents should pay a subsidized cost (about equal to the cost of paying for regular preschool). Unfortunately, that cost is still really high (averaging around $6500/year/child - varying on length of day, quality of care, teacher:student ratio, etc). So, one solution is to provide parents with more options (not just public preschools). Namely: less expensive private schools; essentially, charter preschools. I really like the Parent Co-Op preschool alternative addressed in this article. This is where parents often volunteer in the preschool, decreasing the need for more teachers but increasing the demand on parents' time and involvement. The Co-Ops cost about $120/month or $1080/year. This would obviously require that Rochester set up a Co-Op which initially might be expensive, but I think in the long run, it would reduce the costs on Monroe county because parents would take their children to other preschools.

What do you think?