Autonomy is NOT for the weak of spirit.

In the final months of 2015 and beginning 2016, I learned how the word autonomy is often carelessly substituted for it’s  more distant cousin, tenure.  In the State of Iowa, educators at the K-12 level determined the use of the word autonomy  was a great way to cover many aspects of teacher professionalism, including stagnation.  I am sure autonomy was meant to reward teachers for persistent professional development and changes in their professional practice in much the way tenure is handed out. The problem is tenure and autonomy do not mean the same thing, do not convey the same entitlements and both are not a singular, crowning achievement. Both words are based upon concepts of good judgement,  efficacy and use of prudent thought- especially in the realm of education.  Autonomy does not mean ‘right to self govern’ by caveat and it is not an excuse for poor teaching practices.

Autonomy has now been bandied about in a number of  meetings I have attended at the bequest of parents for students who fall in the category of being entitled to a 504 ( ) or IEP (   It is the practice of misusing the term autonomy which has become an anathema to the education process. I have reason to believe administrators at the school, district, county and state levels inherently know the mis-appropriation of the word and yet have nothing else to use to cover what does not happen in the classroom.

Although I understood the context of how autonomy was being used, it took multiple school districts and situations for me to determine the consistency of the application of the word to get around students with different needs. The common practice  in Iowa seems to be identifying a behavioral problem instead of the learning issue/disability preventing the student from succeeding.  While it is disturbing to see so many students not receive appropriate services and disheartening to see it covered up by selective use of vocabulary, it does not change the fact – Iowa can and should do better.

In my brief experience(s) with local schools and districts, I have witnessed a pretty firm degree of  intractability and disengagement from teachers and administration. I can not help but wonder how things could be different if these self same people decided to work with students and parents.  I need to introduce the word fulcrum . Fulcrum is much more useful and seems to actually change situations.



This disease of COALG and the unfolding on college campuses everywhere.

 Idylls of the King

I found Him in the shining of the stars,
I marked Him in the flowering of His fields,
But in His ways with men I find Him not.
I waged His wars, and now I pass and die.
O me! for why is all around us here
As if some lesser god had made the world,
But had not force to shape it as he would,
Till the High God behold it from beyond,
And enter it, and make it beautiful?
Or else as if the world were wholly fair,
But that these eyes of men are dense and dim,
And have not power to see it as it is:
Perchance, because we see not to the close;—
For I, being simple, thought to work His will,
And have but stricken with the sword in vain;
And all whereon I leaned in wife and friend
Is traitor to my peace, and all my realm
Reels back into the beast, and is no more.
My God, thou hast forgotten me in my death;
Nay—God my Christ—I pass but shall not die.

-Alfred Lord Tennyson

During my childhood and into my adult years,  I was fortunate enough to know a woman named Yvonne Oshiro. She was no ordinary woman. Not by a long shot. She was the mother everyone should have, most especially if you were a child with special needs. Yvonne had a love larger than the sun and hopefulness beyond the rays of said sun. If belief could make something into being, Yvonne would have been the most important and significant alchemist.

What I learned from Yvonne is too large to put into a blog, journal or book. It was the experience of a lifetime in small bites over a long period of time. I learned there are no Children of a Lesser God, there are only children who become adults. Don’t get me wrong, Yvonne did not think every born child was functional. She knew better. Yvonne grew up in Italy bordering on France in a time when surviving winter was an endeavor. Yvonne knew some children were not able to live. She loved them anyways. For the children who did live, Yvonne waged a campaign on ‘the system’ to make sure those children had access, education and human rights/dignity. Each child had a purpose and was going to live a life worthy of dignity.

Throughout my life I have worked with students at various levels. At times I am hopeful a child has  some possibility at living a meaningful life and I know when I wish we had better euthanasia laws in this country. I do not say this with cruelty or any sense of mean spirit. I say it from the point of view of the oath doctors take – do no harm. We can and often do things which are beyond reason in the name of keeping some one alive and we rob them of their dignity while providing them with something we call being alive. I also say this about cancer patients as many people seem to think being alive is the same as living a life.

In the case of children with special needs, they have a purpose beyond the medical establishment and studies surrounding what and how something happened. These children can often learn productive skills and have a life beyond a vegetative state. Many of these children would pass for Children of a Regular God if we understood what we, as a society, needed to do.

Unfortunately, even teachers in Grade K-12 have limited exposure to students with differentiated needs. There is generally a requirement of one or two courses to obtain your credential and the rest of your ‘learning’ is on the fly, in the classroom.  Since my background is speech pathology, I took years of classes in development both pre and post-partum. My learning continued on the fly, in the classroom – it was a different experience. I also had years of Yvonne ‘experience’ and wisdom under my belt.

I now work as a tutor and my students span K-12 and college. Until last year, I only had collegiate students which were ‘normal’ and needed to learn how to study. Supposedly they had the ‘capacity’.

Over the course of Fall of 2013 and Spring 2014, I was contacted by a family to tutor a student at a local private college. The conversation went in fits and bursts. A parent letting me know what the student’s needs were and being frustrated and angry, a phone call regarding navigating the behemoth of the registration department at the private college,  etc. and so forth. In the Spring of 2014, I was asked to tutor the student as things had headed south and the family was hoping there was some way to turn things around. This was a turning point for me. I so wish Yvonne had been alive to give me guidance for what I faced and ways to think about navigating the ‘system’.

All the rules and ways in which ADA works are  upended on college campuses. Colleges and universities have limits on the amount of support/assistance/help they can provide to students who are not ‘normal’. Since college professors outside the education department are not required to know about how students learn and differentiated instruction, I was left trying to explain to various PhD professors what should be done differently for this particular student so they could succeed. None of what I suggested was challenging or difficult and all of it would benefit any other student. It was definitely not ‘routine’ lecturing and assigning essays. Furthermore, who the hell was I (I do not have a PhD) to tell a professor how to do their job. In the process of advocating for a student, I saw the unabashed ugliness of professors  and heads of departments who may be top in their field yet lacking in expertise of sharing the power of their knowledge. It was horrifying to be condescended to by professors as a tutor when both of us should have the goal of helping students learn. The hands of the director in student services (students with special needs) were also tied and the registrars office made things much more complicated and less streamlined than necessary. By time all was said and done, the student was severely penalized on a number of fronts. I was penalized by not being able to help the student. I was brought on to late to unravel a mess  even the best knitter would call something worse than frogging.

Whether the student did or did not succeed, whether the student could have succeeded without a tutor and support is a discussion for a different day. What is at hand is the very elemental idea of providing a student with the pieces in place to succeed.  A college education at a private university should not be cobbled together from duct tape and baling wire not even provided by the registrar or dean of the school.

When a college or university looks to accept a student, one of the elements under consideration is whether this student has the capacity to persist and finish their studies so they may obtain a degree. At this particular university, the student was not allowed to enroll in the fall as they had to prove they could handle 3 + classes at a time (full-time status) instead of the one or two the student had been taking at community college previously to meet undergraduate requirements. Since this had not been explained until ‘after the fact’ to the student or parents or me, it was an unfortunate delay. The student was then ‘registered’ into classes by the registrar and put in classes with professors least likely to be willing to work with the student to help them succeed. In point of fact, some of the professors pointed out the student ‘seemed’ normal and did not understand why they might need an extension on a due date or why sentences may not be perfectly written but actually made sense or why doing oral/aural Socratic method would have told the professor everything they needed to know as the student had a challenge writing. I do not actually think there were more things this university could have done to make the student uncomfortable and to feel hopeless.

Instead of doing the task at hand of educating a student, this university did everything as obstructive and not conducive to learning as was possible. This was not the end.

I was subsequently referred to another parent and student new at the university for Fall 2014. The student was not given the help and support on day one to meet their needs. They actually changed classes the second week of school which created a large obstacle which has not been entirely overcome at this time. The professor(s) from the same department as last year’s grief, did not learn a thing so they have made things entirely difficult.  One of the issues is the professors need to go off on tangents during lecture which is incredibly challenging for this student who has processing issues. I have seen the notes from the note taker SELECTED by the professor……they are an outline. This particular student needs more than an outline.

It is unclear what the professor (HOD) is trying to prove – they can make  a student so miserable they will leave the campus, they will make the student rue the day they ever thought this subject was important (it is, trust me), they can prove they have a PhD yet lack the substance of actually being an educator……I could go on and on. I have no clue what motivates this person to think they way they do about education.

What I do know and what I think is important would be classes on college campuses for students who need more TIME.

Some students would actually benefit from one class stretching two terms. It may be a student who is a parent, going back to college and they work full-time. They can not commit 20 hours a week and do well and have the information matter in their education. If they had two terms, they could succeed, do well and actually learn something.  It might be a student with needs for differentiated instruction. We have different high schools around the country which have block scheduling and students can have two hours a day of Algebra for one term or they can have one hour a day for two terms. Both situations fit different students. Selecting one over the other is a fancy way of selecting which students succeed…..I don’t think I need to elaborate.

No, college is not high school. Yes, we should figure out how to educate more students. What is wrong with helping students succeed if they need more time, better notes, oral/aural discourse instead of writing a paper, books on tape, etc.? What is it I am missing which makes educating the ‘not normal’ students so wrong? Would we deny a returning service member the assistance to succeed? Yes – we do that all around the country. College campuses should be beyond needing to ‘see the disability’ to serve it and yet we do it to those who would benefit so much from an education and in turn benefit our community and country.  What is it we fear so much we can not actually do what is right/correct?

Somehow something seems fishy if students are accepted to a private university and actually set up to fail. It reeks of…….making money. Children of a lesser God  seems to be the way I would describe people who see money as more important than education.

The proportion of time ‘AT’ school Is NOT the same as being ‘IN’ School and other measurement issues

This article was difficult to digest on many levels – some of the comments were hilarious, some were so to the point honest it was like a gunshot going through and out the other side and some demonstrated the absolute magnitude to which people are finally understanding TEACHERS can not control the education of a student when parents are not parenting.

As a tutor, I get to cherry pick the jobs I wish to take on. This is a luxury for me.  I also try to, within reason, keep my fees low so I am available to a wide range of students as there are many students/parents who know the value of an education and the cost of tutoring is beyond their grasp.  Clearly the students who can ‘afford’ me most likely don’t need me.   I interview the student and the parents informally to make sure it is a good fit all the way around and ask some important questions that often stymie parents:  (1) What are your childs goals? (2) What are your goals in 1 week, 1 month, 6 months? (3) Is this tutoring to ‘pass the class’ or is this tutoring to learn, most especially when I am discussing algebra (4) Are you willing to commit to assisting your child schedule their time such that there may be less TV and/or computer time in order to get through the studying? (5) Are you willing to commit to a consistent schedule?  (6) What type of feedback do you wish to have from me? (7) In certain situations I need to ask if the parents want me to meet with the teacher (this is fee intensive although it can have outstanding outcomes with the right family).

If parents seem to not understand questions 3-5, I have to think long and hard if this is a job I wish to take on because at the end of the day, no matter how hard I work, it is not going to be enough to benefit a student I see for two hours a week and so change and improvement is inherent on other factors.  This is shared with parents.  I tell parents my being at their house is not the same as the child being focused in and doing more than the one or two hours of tutoring each week. I explain that tutoring works best when everyone is on board.  Amazingly, only a small amount – say 35-50% of parents get it and so I have the opportunity to work with the cream of the crop of students who (1) want to learn (2) often have learning differences or are differently abled – autism spectrum, ADHD, cochlear implants, ESL, auditory processing, etc. and (3) parents who value education.  At the end of the day, I have a great deal of satisfaction that I did something wonderful to help a child learn.

Believe it or not, most of the parents who hire me are not relatively well to do, relatively uneducated themselves and live modestly  and are not all white or Asian as the stereotype goes.  The difference is these parents WANT their child to succeed and put forth  the effort to work  with me and their child for success to happen.  Am I perfect? No….are there times when things take longer than anyone expected? yes…..Do the students improve? I would say 95% do and when I or the parents do not see success we part ways early enough in the game for the parents to find a different tutor.

All of the above three paragraphs is very different from what happens in a public school classroom where I would be lucky if 35% of the parents are on board in any reasonable way (this means both parents who don’t care and parents who care too much are not in the 35%).  I would be exhilirated if 50% of my students came to school with the intention of learning (both mentally and physically, such as having a good breakfast with protein in it).  Over the top would be if there was a situation where the kid was not ‘kept’ at school and warehoused somehow for part of the day so the school could get the ADA……..this is where the differenc of AT and IN play a huge role and being on board is not always so transparent. So, in the public school system, getting the child to school is only a very minute part of the issue. Engagement is a huge effort and there are some kids, and all teachers know what I mean, that we are thankful don’t show up to school.

None of this is a free pass for parents not to parent, however, it does point a magnifying glass at the large problem of willingness to put in effort and willingness to follow through – this comes from the home.  If OUSD thinks for one minute having the student AT school solves the problem, they are sorely mistaken.  This is not even the real problem.  Until OUSD and every other school district gets to the point of addressing the problem – education is a mind set, there is going to be a chronic lack of success at all schools.  Sometimes having a student AT school merely means they are off the street and being looked after – it does not mean they are learning. It is of great importance that our state superintendent look at the issue at hand, not the issue that merely generates ADA.

Zagat Type Ratings At Schools….All For It!

Laura Vanderkam wrote in the online forum at USA Today (6/16) that “some new data coming out amid this June graduation season suggests that…low expectations for good students are widespread,” and “they have a real cost.” A Phi Beta Kappa poll showed that, “72 percent gave their eldest child’s school an ‘A’ or ‘B,'” yet the OECD reports that “international test scores for the top 10 percent of American 15-year-olds are far below those of the top 10 percent in other rich countries.” McKinsey & Co. “found that if US children did as well as students from nations such as Finland, our economy would be 9 percent-16 percent larger.” And, “this international gap is larger than America’s black-white achievement gap.” Vanderkam argues that “America needs to focus more on challenging its brightest children” by abandoning state tests in favor of “tests that can be compared internationally. Then don’t just put state results on a website. Paste individual school results to every school house door.”

This blurb caught my attention as if some one had added bright titanium to the neon lights!  What if schools ‘marketed’ themselves in a manner much like the Zagat Guide…….now education would be on to something.  While I know there are other school reports which are posted each year and the public can view if they know where to look online or at city offices, they are incredibly difficult to decipher (part of hoodwinking the public) and in the case of charter schools which pop up every year, incredibly lacking in detail.

I am not sure what the school Zagat would look like – I of the eating at divey, little known restaurants with great ethnic food…..However, I would like to make a proposal. Research began by finding out exactly what Zagat does……

What do your ratings mean? Where is your key to ratings?
  • ZAGAT rates establishments on a scale of 0 to 30.26 – 30 …………………………….. extraordinary to perfection20 – 25 …………………………….. very good to excellent16 – 19 …………………………….. good to very good10 – 15 …………………………….. fair to good0 – 9     …………………………….. poor to fairFor places listed without ratings, such as newcomers or survey write-ins, the price range is indicated as follow:VE ………………………………….. Very ExpensiveE    ………………………………….. ExpensiveM  ………………………………….. Moderate

    I    ………………………………….. Inexpensive

    Low Response icon indicates a low response/less reliable ratings.

    Preview reviews represent our surveyors’ early verdict on notable places that havent’ been open long enough to be included in an active survey. The ratings and comments are drawn from customer feedback, but because these places are relatively new, the results generally reflect a limited number of responses. Check back on for full survey results in the future.


    Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 30.
    Cost reflects our surveyors’ estimate of the price of dinner with one drink and tip.


    Appeal, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 30.
    Cost reflects our surveyors’ estimate of the price of a single drink.


    Rooms, Service, Dining and Facilities are each rated on a scale of 0 to 30.

    Cost reflects the hotel’s high-season rack rate, i.e. its asking price, for a standard double room. It should be used as a benchmark only, since it does not reflect frequent price changes and special rates.


    Appeal, Facilities and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 30.

    Cost reflects the high-season price for one adult


And so my suggestion(s)/thought(s) are as follows:

Keep the 0-30 point rating scale the same.  Where/how the points are distributed is in some manner of school site Decor and Service, money spent per student /ADA is VE, E, M, Ifood would be breakfast and lunch and quality of it as well as do students (who are the ones it is meant for) eat the food or toss it – which in a real restaurant would have significant implications, Appeal would be based on  student and parent and teacher opinion, Facilities would be based on issues such as library, computer lab, gym with showers, teachers lounge which does not double as some other room for school use, adequate bathrooms/plumbing,pool, condition of school, Attractions would be items such as field trips, on campus extras – band, art, languages, etc., Amenities would include RSP, Special Ed, etc.  I am unsure where test scores would go, however they do have a place as well as any special awards (much like Michelin Stars) the school would have received and when.  In addition, the principal (chef), vice-principal/dean (sommelier) and teachers (sous chefs) as well as ancillary staff, would have categories. From what I can tell at the website, the various people at restaurants are also interviewed.  I can only imagine seeing real bio’s of all staff, professionally written and including when staff members went from school A to B, how long they served at A or B and what their professional backgrounds/experience may be…..This would also mean showing how many staff and students RETURNED each year or found a different establishment to meet their education needs.  This would also allow schools to track how many students go to college and how many achieve a degree from AA to PhD.

This my friends, would be somewhat more honest/truthful and by far more an accurate marketing of our schools.

Clearly some one would need to put some more effort into defining the parameters and making it clear to all who would read the Zagat, however, I can’t help but feel that much in the way restaurants strive to get patronage, schools should be doing the same.  It should be part and parcel of the materials a  school  (especially charters) or private school hands out collateral – not just the test scores each year, one of the poorest parameters of measuring success.

I can only imagine the possibilities; Thank you/Kudos to Laura Vanderkam for the idea!