Sunday, October 18, 2015

Event Monday: Want to Know More About How Kids Qualify for Special Ed and What That Means?

Have you been wondering if your child would qualify for special education services? Does your child already qualify, but you are wondering if the right things are written into his or her IEP? What is an IEP, anyway?

This should be a great program at the Pittsfield Branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, 2359 Oak Valley Dr, Ann Arbor, MI 48103--and you don't have to be an Ann Arbor schools parent to come!

An Overview of Special Education and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) - NEW LOCATIONMonday October 19, 2015: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Pittsfield Branch, 2359 Oak Valley Dr: Program Room 
This discussion, presented by the Washtenaw Association for Community Advocacy (Washtenaw ACA) and Michigan Alliance for Families (MAF), is designed for parents of children who have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or who may be eligible for special education, as well as interested community members including school staff, college students studying education or related programs, and anyone who works with or cares about children who have disabilities.

This session will be presented by Kristen Columbus, M.S. and Sandee Koski, M.A. There will be plenty of time for questions and answers.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

State Legislation: Thank You, Local School Boards, Superintendents, Representatives

I think I would be remiss if I didn't thank the school board and superintendent (and, in fact, not just of Ann Arbor, but of Lincoln schools and maybe some other local ones as well), for taking policy issues to the legislators.

1. Ann Arbor Superintendent Jeanice Swift testified at a Senate Committee hearing against the idea of having guns, whether open carry or concealed carry, in schools. 

Here is an excerpt of her statement:
My remarks today are directed specifically toward the question of allowing concealed carry in pre K-12 schools.  
We recognize the proposed legislation is considered by some as a ‘fix,’ a compromise, an effective way to close the ‘open carry loophole’ that currently exists in Michigan law. Clearly, some consider ‘concealed carry’ as an improvement over ‘open carry.’ 
We understand that the stated intent of the legislation may in part be designed to remove the concerns with weapons that are visibly displayed in school and so prove a disruption to ensuring a safe, secure, learning environment. However, it is overwhelmingly clear that guns, visible or concealed, pose a significant risk to the safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and families at school.
You should read the rest, because Dr. Swift gives some shocking examples that happened in real life, that explain why guns in schools are a bad idea.

2. On the "third grade retention bill," which would provide interventions for struggling readers but also would require kids to be retained, the bill has passed out of the House more or less on party lines. My representative, Adam Zemke, originally was a co-sponsor but withdrew his support. According to this article,

The proposal was approved in a 57-48 vote, mostly along party lines, and now heads to the Senate. Democratic Rep. Adam Zemke of Ann Arbor, an original co-sponsor of the bill and key player in negotiations, withdrew support on the floor and removed his name from the measure.
Zemke had proposed an amendment to allow struggling readers to advance to fourth grade if they were working to improve under an individualized reading plan and had support from school administrators and parents. The amendment was rejected.
"This bill, without that amendment, then tells Johnny none of that (work) matters," Zemke said. "We're going to hold you back regardless. I am not going to remove the hope of a 9-year-old, period."

Thank you Lincoln Consolidated Schools Board for opposing this bill!
Thank you, Representative Zemke! The bill now goes to the Senate.

The bills go to the Senate next. The Capitol is
pretty. What's going on inside? Not so much.

3. The Teacher Evaluation bill passed the House. It's better than it was, but it's still (in  my opinion) bad, and I appreciate Rep. Jeff Irwin's opposition to this bill. He wrote on facebook:

I also have concerns about SB 103, the educator evaluation policy. My opposition stems in part from my opposition to the changes made to the tenure act in 2011. But, my opposition is deeper than my desire to stunt the effect of those changes. Mainly, I'm opposed to the bill because it accepts the toxic notion that education will be improved by more testing and more motivation for the teachers. This bill accelerates the problem we have with teaching to the test. If we want educators to teach to the test, the best way is to approve legislation like this that bases their employment and promotion on testing.
Also, I don't think the tests we're mandating produce consistent and reliable results. In other states that have adopted similar policies relying on testing growth (or value added), teachers are rated highly effective one year and then ineffective the next. The assessments bounce all over and this legislation will provide unreliable information to parents and school leaders. Our students and educators d
eserve better. 
(Emphasis added.)
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Monday, October 12, 2015

Lesson Learned? Pb, H2O, EAA & Investigative Reporting

Have you been reading about the scandal with lead [Pb] in the drinking water [H2O] in Flint? 

Maybe you have been wondering who is responsible for this mess. [Hint: start by looking at the emergency manager situation.]

Lead, in the periodic table.
Maybe you have have been wondering about the side effects of lead, and how they might affect a child's learning throughout life. In adults, lead can cause stillbirth, miscarriage, infertility. In kids?
  • decreased bone and muscle growth
  • poor muscle coordination
  • damage to the nervous system, kidneys, and/or hearing
  • speech and language problems
  • developmental delay
  • seizures and unconsciousness (in cases of extremely high lead levels
You know, there is a reason that kids are tested for lead when they go to WIC

(Side note: So yes, those kids with problems related to high lead levels could end up with being retained in third grade, if HB 4822 is passed with mandatory retention still in it, and if their learning delays are not diagnosed before then.)

Did you spend last year reading about the EAA, Detroit's "Education Achievement Authority?"

Maybe you wondered who was responsible for the EAA. Maybe you wondered about its staffing, its pay, what kids were getting taught... where the money was coming from, where it was going to...

How did we find out?

Eventually, our standard news outlets started doing a better job covering these stories (see, for example, this story). But in the the beginning it was just some activists (education activists in the case of the EAA, and community activists in the case of the Flint water scandal), and a couple of people who were willing and able to investigate these issues. 

Worth noting: These "investigators" were not found where you would normally expect them to be found (by which I mean, the traditional press.)

In the case of the EAA, a state representative, Ellen Cogen Lipton, spent time and money FOIA'ing important documents.

In the case of the Flint water catastrophe, the decision of the ACLU of Michigan to hire an investigative reporter, Curt Guyette, a couple of years ago, made the difference.

In both cases, the links between state-directed emergency management and problems that directly injure kids and their families are inescapable. 

But what's also inescapable is that non-traditional investigations, using tools like the Freedom of Information Act, and with the person or people driving the investigation not being traditional reporters, made these stories see the light of day. 

Lessons learned:

We need more investigative reporters.
If we don't get them from our traditional news sources (and sometimes we do), we need to turn ourselves into citizen investigators.
I am grateful--very, very grateful--for the individuals and organizations that have invested time, effort, and energy into uncovering these stories.

What stories do you think need investigating, that haven't been investigated yet?

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