Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Happy Anniversary Special Education

My first year teaching, in 1974, I had 42 sixth graders in one self-contained sixth-grade classroom.  I’m sure some of them would’ve been special education, but no such programs existed.  In fact, I took a night class that year that introduced me to such things as learning disabilities and emotional/behavior disorders.  I did the best I could for my kids.
Most educators today can’t remember a time like that when special education didn’t exist.  The rules for special education came from the enactment of Public Law 94-142 by the United States Congress 40 years ago.  That law became known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA.   It provided that all school aged youngsters would receive a free and appropriate education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

Now, 40 years after creation, special education is an accepted part of every school district’s responsibility.  We do everything we can to educate each child in his/her home school (LRE) so that they may interact and learn with with their non-special education peers to every degree possible.  Each child who meets the requirements for special education receives help under the guidance of his/her Individual Education Program, known as the IEP.
The vast majority – around 98% - of students with IEPs are capable or learning the regular curriculum and are on track for a high school diploma.

Some student IEP’s call for little if any special treatment or intervention.  The students are in a regular classroom.  They may need more time than others on a test.  They may need a special space to work or specially designed materials.

Some who need a little more help may be assigned to what we call a co-taught classroom.  That is a room with two teachers - a content area teacher and a special education teacher working together for the benefit of the whole class, some who have IEPs.  
Some students leave their classroom for various periods of time for special instruction.  They may meet with the Speech teacher a few days a week.  They may get extra help on one particular subject.  They may see a specialist to work on behavioral issues or physical therapy.

Students who are the lowest functioning or who have severe emotional/behavioral challenges may spend all or most of their time in a special class in their home school or in a regional or county program.

A handful of students are found to be best served by unique programs that are outside of Calvert County Public Schools.  Most get to their school by bus each day and travel as far as Baltimore.  A very few may attend private, residential schools. 

Special student needs have evolved over the years as new challenges become better understood.  Today we are seeing a huge increase in students with autism as well as emotional/behavior disorders.  These new challenges are met each day by a dedicated group of special educators with a variety of special skills.
In my career I’ve learned to appreciate the benefits of educating children in their home school.  I’ve seen some marvelous partnerships between regular and special education teachers.  I’ve also seen some marvelous partnerships and friendships between regular and special education students.  It’s a beautiful thing. 

Here’s to all our special education students and IDEA.  Our lives are richer knowing them.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

30 Years Ago

On November 4, 1985 -30 years ago today - I worked as the Curriculum Director in Marlinton, Pocahontas County, WV.  The town of Marlinton was built on the flood plain between the Greenbrier River and Knapp’s Creek.  Heavy tropical rains in the mountains to our north called for the rivers to rise significantly and we sent the students home early.  The Marlinton campus included the elementary school, middle school and district office.    I assisted in moving buses to high ground and other prep for high water. 
I returned to see one of our maintenance men wading out with a female custodian on his back along with the superintendent and the last of the crew on-site.  Superintendent Carl Holland and others agreed there was nothing more we could do. Everyone headed home to the west.  Head Custodian Tim Wade and I needed to go east, through the water that was already roaring down 10th avenue. 
In the dark, Tim (he’s built like a bean pole)  and I held on to each other as we waded water to our waists to get home.  Firewood, tires and gasoline floated by us from the gas station up the road.  The water did not reach my home that night, but some not so lucky neighbors moved in with us and slept on the couch.  My wife and I had two little ones.  The river crested at 10 feet above flood.
The next morning, the skies cleared and the waters started to recede.  I put on my hip wader fishing boots and walked/waded back down to the school and district office.  First on the scene, I found the older buildings had taken in 8 ft of water and the new elementary school, built on fill to put it above the 100 year flood plain, took in 4 feet.  My friend Arch, retired teacher and coach, whose home was next to the school, spent the night with his wife in their attic.  The water stopped one foot from their ceiling. 
It is amazing what even 4 feet of muddy water can do when it enters a classroom.  Everything that floats does so.  Books swell up to double their original size.  Every classroom looks like it was stirred with a ladle and when the water leaked out, a 5 inch layer of peanut butter mud covers everything.
Three people in that community died that night.  Several houses washed down the river and broke up against the main bridge.  We spent the next week mucking out classrooms and disinfecting with the help of volunteers from all over the country.  It was a great testament to how a community can pull together.  FEMA brought us trailers for the middle school which was unsalvageable.  We missed 5 days of school and actually did quite well as a district with insurance and federal assistance. 
Many well-meaning people sent us junk we couldn’t use – old furniture, 20 year old text books, junk appliances.
That little community is not much different today.  Many businesses have moved out of town to higher ground.  We built a new middle school out of town.  The Core of Engineers has studied flood control for the last 30 years.  Still no dam and no flood walls. 

Thanks for indulging my little stroll down memory lane.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Maryland's College and Career Ready Standards - Common Core

On a rainy Tuesday night in late September, the Calvert County League of Women Voters sponsored a forum on the Common Core Standards, which you may know are included in Maryland’s College and Career Ready Standards.  Thanks to the LoWV for sponsoring such an effort.

The information was presented by a panel sharing perspectives on the standards.  Panel members represented students, teachers, parents and administration.  The mic was opened to the audience members who asked some good questions.

I encourage folks who have questions or concerns to first familiarize themselves with the standards as written.  They are internationally bench marked and challenging.  They are not curriculum.  We decide the curriculum locally around the broader standards.    See them directly at:

Sometimes I fear that those who oppose the standards wouldn’t know one if it bit them on the bottom.  Opponents seem to be upset about where they come from and who is behind them.  In fact, one questioner at the forum implied that Saudi Arabia was behind Common Core.  That was a new one to me.  Other opponents generally blame President Obama, the Democrats or Washington in general.  

The Common Core Standards were developed under the leadership of the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers (not the U.S. Department of Education).  An interesting little side note: the new head of the College Board, David Coleman, responsible for SAT college placement exam and Advanced Placement programs, is viewed by some as the architect of the Common Core.

Some who oppose the common core standards, do so because they see them as too much federal intrusion into local control.   That ship sailed with the passage in 2001 of federal, bi-partisan legislation known as No Child Left Behind.  The goal, as touted when President Bush signed it in January 2002, was “to advance American competitiveness and close the achievement gap for poor and minority students.”  

Under the threat of lost federal dollars, each state began to dance to the tune played by the NCLB fiddler.  Every new initiative from the state level was aimed at compliance with NCLB.

Then along came Race to the Top in 2009.  When the states lined up for the hundreds of millions of dollars available through RTTT, they agreed to implement Common Core Standards.  

It’s hard to read the standards and come up with reasons to oppose any one of them.  They represent an effort to raise the bar.  They require a greater depth of understanding and practice that shows application of skills and knowledge - more writing, more critical thinking, more problem solving, more effective communication.  I welcome anyone who, after reviewing them, wants to discuss their merits.  I’d be glad to meet and chat. 

What makes the biggest difference in a child’s future is not the broad statements of standards, but the relationship between student and the teacher.  Each child who finds at least one teacher who cares and pushes and supports will be successful.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

How do we honor Harriet Elizabeth Brown?

The Harriet Elizabeth Brown Commemoration Task Force invites community members to provide input and recommendations for how best to honor a remarkable Calvert County woman.  In 1937, Harriet Elizabeth Brown, then 30 years old, successfully challenged Calvert County Public Schools for paying African-American teachers about half of what equally qualified white teachers received.  

 Hearings will be held on September 14, October 5, and October 20. 

According to Task Force Chair, Margaret Dunkle:  “We welcome recommendations and personal stories about Harriet Elizabeth Brown and salary equity for African-American teachers in 1937.  This will help the Task Force make the best recommendations to the County Commissioners, the Governor, and the General Assembly.” 

Dates and Times of the Hearings
Two short – half-hour – public hearings will be held at Calvert Library in Prince Frederick (850 Costley Way), immediately before regular Task Force meetings:
Monday, September 14 – 3:00 to 3:30 p.m. 
Monday, October 5 – 12 noon to 12:30 p.m.

In addition, a third – and longer – hearing will be held the evening of Tuesday, October 20 – from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m.  at the College of Southern Maryland in Prince Frederick (115 J.W. Williams Road, just off Route 231).  From 6:00 to 6:30 p.m., there with be sign-in and networking, with the formal hearings beginning at 6:30 p.m. The College will also videotape hearings for the historical record.

The Task Force Wants Your Ideas and Participation!   
Each hearing speaker will have three minutes to provide input and make recommendations – with up to five minutes for organizations.  There will be some time flexibility:  for example, for presenters who personally knew Ms. Brown.  The Task Force also encourages electronic submission of information and recommendations. 

To make a request to speak at a hearing, send an email to at least five days before the event.  Please include:  (1) your name, (2) organization, if any, (3) phone number, (4) email address, and (5) the date you wish to speak (September 14, October 5, or October 20).  Anyone who does not sign up in advance will be allowed to speak if time permits, or invited to participate in a future hearing or to submit recommendations in writing. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Future Ready for Over 40 Years

I remember when being skilled with educational technology meant you could operate a film strip projector and thread a film into a 16mm movie projector.   I was one of those people.  As a young principal I video-taped my teachers using a monster reel-to-reel video tape deck that had to be rolled into the classroom on a cart.  That was cutting edge stuff - advanced technology in its day. 

My son’s first steps were recorded on 8mm sound movie film that had to be sent off to be developed. When my daughter came along, we splurged for a video cassette recorder.  As big as professional TV station cameras are today, it cost $1200 in 1985. 

In the school, the computers started to arrive in the early 80s (Atari and Commodore and Apple) and I jumped in, taking classes, learning programming, then teaching graduate classes to teachers on how to use computers in the classroom.

In the office I remember our first Desktop Publishing package complete with IBM computer, special software and a real laser printer.  I bought a Palm Pilot to keep my calendar and notes.  My first cell phone came in a bag and plugged into the dashboard of the car. 

Every school district worked hard to stay ahead of the curve but found technology changing so fast that you never really had the most current stuff.

Fast forward to today where Calvert County Public Schools has almost 11,000 computers in operation in schools and offices.  Our high schools are open to BYOD (bring your own device).  This year a couple of elementary schools are launching 1:1 programs – one for 4th grade and another for 5th.   Almost every student and every employee has hands on a computer every day to do real world work.  
The digital age is upon us.  There is no escape.  We recognize that we will never be all set with the use of technology in the classroom.  We need to keep moving, keep developing new methods and supporting our staff as they stretch their plans to stretch our students and light up a bright future.
Our Future Ready team has identified the following vision for Calvert County Public Schools:
  •  Teachers will use digital learning tools and resources and serve as facilitators of student learning.
  • Students will have access to meaningful, engaging and individualized learning environments and opportunities 24 hours a day/7days a week.
  • Students will achieve their fullest potential through access to a robust wireless network, use of a variety of digital learning mediums and devices, rich instructional experiences driven by their skills and interest and support for learning that extends beyond the classroom.

This vision depends not only upon CCPS, it depends upon a community that finds ways to embrace it as well.  We may be able to put a device in the hands of every student, but if they can’t use it to access their work in the evenings and the weekends, it might as well be a spiral notebook.  We’ll need to find ways to help low income families access internet services for their children.  We’ll need local internet providers to extend their cable systems down every rural road and lane.  We’ll need more businesses to provide access to free wifi and perhaps even expanded free public wifi in more densely populated communities.