A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Friday, March 30, 2012

School Culture

Scenario A (Jonah):

Initial Thoughts:

Mrs. Johnson, Jonah's teacher in Scenario A, reminds me of Mrs. B, a Kindergarten teacher who coached me in 2010, when as a long-term sub I launched a Kindergarte. In the Scenario A, Jonah, a 5 year old, entered Mrs. Johnson’s class so traumatized and hardened by his life experience that he had developed a level of defiance Mrs. Johnson had never previously encountered, leaving her “dumbfounded.” Despite all her years of professional experience and expertise, Mrs. Johnson needed outside help with Jonah, who had become a “one-man wrecking crew.”
The scenario reminded me of what Mrs. B, a highly competent 17 year veteran, was going through in her classroom back in 2010. Mrs. B’s little Johnny would talk about guns and violence during circle time, write about violent themes in his journal, and needed to be constantly monitored for fear he was a danger to himself and others. Mrs. B never gave up on little Johnny, never showed frustration in her body language, and always spoke to him with a tone of acceptance and love. Mrs. B wasted no time reaching out to the school’s support team to get to the root cause of Johnny's behavior. She got the entire community involved in trying to help this child, starting with his parents, the School Psychologist, the Social Worker, and School Administration. The discussion about removing Johnny from the general education setting came up, but was never viewed as a foregone conclusion. Interventions were discussed, tried, and documented, not for the purposes of getting rid of Johnny, but for the purposes of finding ways to help Johnny.
How to address problem behaviors:
            Given the Zero Reject Policy, we accept all who arrive into our classrooms, even children so traumatized and hardened by their life experiences that they have developed a level of defiance that we might not expect from a young child. To maintain safety, given Jonah’s unpredictability, initially, an aide might need to be closely monitoring him at all times, just as Mrs. B had her aide monitor Johnny. For children like Jonah, who can be dangers to themselves and others, even the most experienced teachers like Mrs. Johnson need support from her school community to identify the root cause of difficult behaviors and develop appropriate intervention strategies. The IRIS module identifies key areas of support including district behavior support teams, district behavior specialists, school counselors, family members, and other teachers. Before recommending specific interventions, the support team might start by conducting a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA).
            According to the IRIS Module, the purpose of the FBA is to “identify and define problem and replacement behaviors, collect data, and identify the function of the behavior.” Using interviews, behavioral rating scales, and direct observations, the team would collect and evaluate data to identify and define problem behaviors and their root causes. Behavior specialists, looking at antecedents, behaviors, and consequences of Jonah’s behaviors, would help Mrs. Johnson develop a behavioral intervention plan for Jonah with “reasonable goals for change.”
Facilitating the integration of Jonah into the classroom community
By referring to a completed FBA Matrix, as modeled in the IRIS module, Mrs. Johnson might anticipate what Jonah wants to obtain or avoid, and under which conditions. Mrs. Johnson could more appropriately and more systematically utilize positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, negative punishment, and extinction. She would have a better idea of what sort of things might trigger difficult behaviors, and have in place “pre-correction plans” and strategies for interrupting the acting out cycle.
Scenario B (Tajaney):
Initial thoughts
Tajaney’s teacher, Mrs. Cuthbert, reminds me of a few teachers I have observed who seem to have fallen into the "thin the herd" mentality. Teachers are under pressure from their school administrators to quickly either get control of or remove students like Tajaney, since instructional time is at such a premium. Students like Tajaney, who inadvertently disrupt instruction, and are not keeping up with their peers academically, are run through the data-sorter, categorized, and removed from the general education setting, too often before a full range of interventions have been tried. Given the well-documented over-identification of minorities in Special Education, I often wonder about the long-term effects of legislation like No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which tends to reduce education to a single measure: academic success.
Instead of being open to consultation and methods for teaching self-monitoring and self-regulation strategies, some teachers apparently do not get the idea that the 6 year old brain is a work in progress. Response to Intervention (RTI), which was included in the reauthorization of IDEA (2004), provides an intervention framework that includes three tiers of prevention. RTI strongly encourages schools to have procedures in place requiring teachers to document what they have tried to document before students like Tajaney proceed through the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process. Although RTI is not required, the decision to remove a child from the general education setting for disruptive behavior can be challenged unless reasonable accommodations have been made, as was the case in Scenario B.
How to address problem behaviors:
            In the case of Tajaney, the school culture was such that Mrs. Cuthbert had little incentive to make accommodations or offer a continuum of placement options that might enable Tajaney to enjoy greater success within the general education setting. Under IDEA (2004), to the maximum extent that is appropriate, Tajaney would be legally entitled to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Too often, unfortunately, children like Tajaney lack advocates knowledgeable enough to stand up for the adults who are failing them.
As the Special Education Teacher, if the general education teacher failed to follow through on recommended interventions, as was the case during the scenario, I would be professionally obligated to insist on greater follow with a fuller range of interventions from my team, citing case law. In scenario B, proper procedures, as required by IDEA (2004), do not been followed, as the law requires more than “token efforts” be tried. Thus, before taking on Tajaney’s problem behaviors, I would first need to address placement issues and LRE requirements with the team directly. I might ask, “You say nothing worked with Tajaney. What specifically have you tried, under which conditions? Show me your data.”
Facilitating the integration of Tajaney into the classroom communitity
            Once the decision to conduct a fuller evaluation of Tajaney’s behavior had been made, the team might consider testing a number of the strategies from the IRIS modules with Tajaney. High probability requests might provide Tanjaney with enough opportunities for success to build a little momentum. Offering Tajaney choices might help her pause and develop greater self-control. If the target behavior were that Tajaney would keep her hands and feet to herself, we might use differential reinforcement of the substitute behavior of having Tajaney maintain her “bubble” of space between fellow students.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Zero Reject

In a high school near you, a few just show up enough to stay ahead of the truant officer, some come but lay their head down, because education means nothing to them, or maybe teachers they have had have given up on them and let them fall to the bottom, maybe even thrown a little dirt on top, because they have already given up on themselves. For others, sleepless teaching candidates labor under the hope that some activity they present might spark the tinder of dimming imaginations. How is zero reject working for the many who have come to perceive education as something to be avoided?

The Great Gatsby, for which, I am but a humble guide for a few classes of 11th graders for a few weeks this spring, is about unstated attitudes about social status that exist in America. The conflict is about whether the American dream is attainable without cheating, about whether anyone can ever truly rise from rags to riches if they pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or whether some hurdles are simply too high and unattainable for people who start from humble beginnings, to rise without corrupting themselves and sowing the seeds of their own destruction in the process. Hopefully, the young men and women, who are lending their minds and senses to my little adventure, might make some personal connections with Gatsby and gain a small measure of insight into the corrosive mentalities that lead many to focus on what they can't as opposed to what they can do, i.e, disillusionment, so that it can be avoided.

What do the terms “zero reject” and "over-identification" imply, for these are the guiding questions that are supposed to be guiding my reflection? The implication of zero reject, as it is interpreted under the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA, is that all are entitled to access to the same curriculum, whether or not that curriculum is the most appropriate curriculum for a student's individual needs, and that schools must be held accountable when groups or subgroups fail to show adequate yearly progress (AYP). The implication of "over-identification" of males and minorities is that far too many males and minorities continue to fail to respond to the 3 levels of evidence-based interventions recommended under IDEA 2004, and continue flowing downstream into special education  and self-contained classes.

Ironically, accountability, having been perverted from individual accountability to group and subgroup accountability, has led schools and school systems to attempt to shift the burden. That the Department of Education (DEA) is forcing certain school systems to accept more students with disabilities, suggests that stratification remains an intractable regionalized social condition. (Kolodner, M., 2012) How much is subgroup accountability reinforcing failure, rather than uplifting people?

Kolodner, M. (2012) Top middle schools must take special needs students.http://insideschools.org/blog/item/1000254-top-middle-schools-must-take-special-needs-students

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Highly Quailfied" does not mean better

Teacher quality is a serious matter, and the requirement for highly qualified teachers under NCLB, on the surface, seems like a good idea. Here's the problem: where is the research indicating that a "highly qualified" teacher causes greater increases in student performance than a so-called "non-highly qualified" teacher? Miller and Davison respond to the contrary:

"Not necessarily. What is called for is a determination of those attributes that do enhance student performance. That is, what are the factors that contribute to teacher quality?" (Miller, K. & Davidson, D. , 2006).

Like everything  else with NCLB, a critical factor in education, in this case, teacher quality,  is over-simplified. In elementary school, for example, general education teachers typically teach reading, math, social studies, and science. How many of them have degrees in each of these fields? For the special education teacher, required to support students in more than one subject area, the same principle applies: teachers are often tasked with teaching  children in areas for which they have no specialized degree. While a certain minimum level of content knowledge is probably necessary, i.e., somebody who does not know his multiplication facts should not be teaching multiplication,  and understanding of how students learn, and an ability to implement  effective teaching practices, and an ability to collaborate with other teachers are all essential factors in effective teaching. NCLB "highly qualified" mandates can block candidates who know how to teach and are great collaborators, but who lack the coursework; NCLB can also confer hiring advantages to candidates who have degrees but lack teaching ability.

Having earned a teaching license through a program that had no student teaching requirement, my own "highly qualified" status has had little bearing on how effective I have been in the classroom. Nor has my top 10% performance on the Praxis for Content Knowledge. My decision to attend MU to seek a Master of Education degree was based on a "come to Jesus moment" when I realized that  I needed to improve my knowledge of effective teaching practice and the kinds of experiences that could only come through student teaching. As my year of PDS insanity comes to a close, my classroom skills and knowledge of effective teaching practice are light years ahead of where they were last summer.  Teaching is way more complex than Washington bureaucrats sitting behind a desk can possibly fathom. Learning how to teach is a continuous process that involves commitment (how can that be measured?), years of practice and reflection, and a willingness to take intelligent risks. None of these qualities can be adequately measured by a simple test.

Miller, K. W., & Davison, D. M. (2006). What Makes a Secondary School Science and/or Mathematics Teacher "Highly Qualified?". Science Educator15(1), 56-59 

Why No Child Left Behind is inherently unfair

Despite efforts to align IDEA with NCLB through the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA,  IDEA and NCLB are fundamentally incompatible.  Whereas individual progress towards IEP goals is at the heart of IDEA,  school wide progress, as measured by standardized tests, are at the heart of NCLB. NCLB can use a single measure of progress for students with disabilities, i.e., a standardized test score, because accountability within NCLB  is determined by group and subgroup performance at the school level, not by individual performance. IDEA's accountability, on the other hand,  is student-centered. Developmental factors are evaluated and considered in a nondiscriminatory way  as part of the IEP process:

"In acknowledging that poverty and linguistic diversity can be causes of disability, IDEA also acknowledges the theory called co-morbidity or 'the new morbidity.' That theory holds that one or more of the following factors affect a child, the likelihood that the child will have a disability increases."  (Turnbull, H., Stowe, M., & Huerta,  N., p. 42, 2007)

Individual developmental differences, caused by factors such as poverty, limited English proficiency (LEP status), home environment, and unwed mothers, are in effect whitewashed by NCLB, either through accountability waiver schemes, or through school-wide averaging.

Although evidence-based interventions are required under IDEA (2004) prior to a determination of disability, student readiness factors affect the  effectiveness of Response to Intervention (RTI) interventions. For example, an emergent reader would be at a disadvantage in passing a 3rd grade SOL. Compounding matters, Stanovich concluded,  already disadvantaged readers are further disadvantaged by the  Mathew Effect: "Children who read well have  bigger vocabularies will read more, learn more words, and read better" (Gunning,  p. 543, 2010). No such consideration is given to an individual's developmental factors  under NCLB. Schools are held accountable for school-wide Adequate Yearly Progress performance measures, despite a lack of control over demographic factors.


Gunning, T. (2010). Assessing and correcting reading and writing difficulties, 4th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Turnbull, H., Stowe, M., & Huerta,  N. (2007). Free appropriate education: The law and children with disabilities.  Denver: Love Publishing Company.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Whole Brain Teaching - Chris Biffle

Chris Biffle's Power Teaching methods are designed to maximize student-teacher interaction and responsiveness. Imagine trying to fall asleep in this class!

Monday, March 12, 2012

30 Million Word Gap by Age 3

In the article referenced, Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley demonstrated how low Socio Economic Status results in a rich get richer, poor get poorer model of vocabulary development. Since language development is both a language expectant and language dependent process, the number of language exposures that a child gets in early life matters tremendously. Since a large number of students enter schools lacking automaticity, the idea that every child should be expected to meet the same performance criteria at the same time, or else the school will face sanctions, seems out of touch with reality. A one size fits all mentality is the fatal flaw of No Child Left Behind.