Camouflage: The ability to hide and deflect reality

Please note this specific blog piece is my way of coping with an absolutely horrific IEP meetingI sat through this  past week. The parent was shattered – by the very people (professional educators, school psychologist, administration) who should have reached a hand out.  I tutor the student and although I have sat through a bazillion of these meetings over my career in education and am used to (often amused by) the shenanigans inherent in said meetings, this one took the cake and frosting, plate, fork and napkin. I am still trying to figure it out…..And, I get to go back in two weeks for the second half of the meeting.

IDEA 2004 (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), the federal law that governs special education, emphasizes the importance of parent participation. Model forms are developed by OSPI to assist districts in meeting their regulatory obligations related to special education.

Parents can review these forms to become more informed about a district’s requirements and processes. Please note that school districts are NOT required to use these forms.

The following are a list of basic vocabulary one would need to navigate an IEP meeting and one which if you asked the people present (non-parent or student) could rarely give you a specific, logical explanation AND have it make sense, hence the title of this blog.  This is merely a primer, of sorts. The actual details could drive you to the edge of eating chocolate.

Accommodations – An accommodation allows a student to complete the same assignment or test as other students, but with a change in the timing, formatting, setting, scheduling, response and/or presentation of the material. This accommodation does not alter in any significant way what the test or assignment measures. An accommodation is used  when the student is expected to reach the same level of proficiency as their non-disabled peers.

IEP – Individualized Education Plan

Goals –  Goals are specific sentences which include SPECIFIC information, are MEASUREABLE (qualitative and quantitative), ACHIEVABLE BY STUDENT, RELEVANT TO STUDENT and TIME LIMITED.

Modification –  Modifications are provided when the student is NOT expected to reach the same level of proficiency as their non-disabled peers.A modification is an adjustment to an assignment or a test that changes the standard or what the test or assignment is supposed to measure.

SELPA – Special Education Local Plan Areas

SPED – Special Education in all of it’s manifestations from low end to high end performance, from below basic to highly talented and gifted.  This covers organic/physical disabilities and psychological (which we now know more each day are indeed organic and physical disabilities).

Curriculum -A course/class and the content which is considered included in this course/class over a specific period of time such as grade level and/or age and or school term.

Standards –   A specific list of outcomes based on a specific curriculum.  Ideally, the outcomes would represent highest level thinking skills which generally include  the top reaches of  Dr. Bloom’s Taxonomy.’s_Taxonomy

In a general manner, an IEP meeting is formal – it is scheduled in advance.  Parents, student, school administrator(s),  SPED teachers, regular ed teachers, school psychologist, case manager, social worker, etc. are involved. Some parents bring an advocate and some use an attorney, generally not at this meeting as an attorney is toooo expensive and parents who can afford an attorney can afford private education.  The meeting is designed to take place so each person has input and decisions are made on behalf of student (student can be involved when age appropriate) and the decisions are to be acted upon by each person. In effect, each person leaves the meeting with a to-do list for the next year.  The to-do list includes parents, teachers, student, psychologist, case worker, administrators. It is a team effort.

If it is a first meeting, it can be uncomfortable.  Parents have to, in a very real way, deal with not having the ‘perfect’ child (unless this is a gifted/talented student) and the white picket fence, two cars, dog, cat, etc.  There is a ‘grief’ reaction as parents are indeed grieving the loss of innocence of having a perfect child.  For some parents it is a bit of relief, acknowledgement regarding the idea they have felt something was different, if not ‘wrong’.

If it is a subsequent meeting, it can (and usually does continue) be contentious as we would all like only to hear the best, not the reality of some goals not met with success.  It re-opens the grieving process and causes the parents to reflect once again on ‘how did we get HERE’ and how do we get out – knowing there may never be a ‘get out’.  I have heard this explained as the ‘new normal’.

Since educators sit through these meetings so often, we become the equivalent of ER doctors – inured to the situation. It is not the fact we do not feel, rather, we have to sit through multiple meetings of this nature often and it is the only way we can protect ourselves from emotional hurt as students are very important to us.  Sometimes educators feel sad for a student, despite best efforts, not having achieved a goal. A teacher is truly happy when a student graduates to the next level and/or is mainstreamed. This is high achievement.

Although we deal with students for a limited basis, parents live with them. Parents of SPED students are chronically exhausted and fatigued. It is an incredible challenge to take on one SPED student, even if you have no other children.  Since we have been educated, it should be expected we are able to deal with the situation a bit more professionally.

Normally, when you go into the meeting, everyone introduces themselves. If everyone is there on time, this is done round table style. If people are showing up one at a time, it is a handshake and introduction by name of self and position/title or purpose for being at the meeting. I used to go by teacher/educator. Now I go by advocate.

It is my goal to maintain a cause/proposal and/or promote the interests of the student on behalf of parents who generally have no clue (not by choice) what an IEP meeting should be nor do they understand how school districts would do anything in their power to limit SPED services since they cost the school district so much. My intent is to make sure the student obtains everything they need, nothing less and no ‘just below the radar’ institutional racism and/or other ism is occurring which prevents the student from have an equal and appropriate education.

I am a ‘translator’. I am a reader, editor, discussion creator, persuasion instigator, cheerleader, educator and believer in hopefulness.  I feel empowered to do what is right for the student, in spite of how it may impinge upon an educator or administrator as I have worked with SPED for many years. I have had mainstreaming students, I have worked with SPED teachers and have always been on the student study team.

Knowing all of the above makes this past week all the worse. The SELPA paperwork was created not by Edward Tufte and/or some other graphic designer who had a logical intention to clearly show information…….rather, it was created by some half crazed government entity somewhere who decided cramming as much legalese onto a page and NOT making sure parents understand the information nor can the school district (if this sounds like what banks did with mortgage applications and the most recent financial meltdown, you would be correct!) was an aspiration worthy of pay. This is ‘hide and deflect’, by intimidation. This is the big, dirty secret no one in education wishes to discuss.  Trust me, if some one wanted to fix the problem, it could have been done years ago.

Imagine going into an IEP meeting where the school psychologist gives you a wet fish handshake, states their name and NOT their position.  Imagine being the parent. Add on top one SPED teacher who had so memorized the lines of ‘curriculum and standards based’ yet could not simplify this output for the parent,  arrogantly stated all they ‘did for the student’.  When SPED teacher was asked reasonable questions to help rewrite goals, was horrified by questions and ardently REFUSED anything which might have resembled ‘change’ or different in their world.

No one was able to explain why IEP was not ‘updated’ and in fact at some point in the meeting, the SPED teacher started randomly crossing out information rather than having a discussion with all present regarding each line item. No one in the room was able to explain the actual ‘diagnosis’ and clarified for me it was too broad to define.

By all intents, if it was not institutional racism, there was such a heavy case of STUPID in the room I wanted to scream. I think in this case, stupid brought out the racism. I was frustrated and angry by the lack of professional demeanor, the fact I had to get the SPED teacher re-focused at least five times as she wished to talk about other students in class, etc. and no one else was getting her back on point. Inside I about died laughing when I was told the school would not ‘write a goal’ for reading fluency as that is something done in the elementary school (fluency is apparently not in the middle school curriculum!). I was finally able to resolve issue AND then SPED teacher asked me to write the goal…..which I would gladly do as I know how. The  school psychologist had to help the SPED teacher by reminding her it was the schools job.

By time this portion of the meeting, which should have been accomplished in an hour, was completed, I was exhausted. The parent was in tears for feeling horrible for asking questions. The parent did not legitimately understand many of the issues and no one took the time to explain. The principal practically ‘flinched’ when I stated the second meeting would include getting student into Gr 8 algebra……as in ‘had I done my homework regarding if it is necessary for students to have algebra in Gr 8’ since there were so many schools of thought on this topic.

There was so much more which went on and was included in the IEP inappropriately regarding standardized testing I had to wonder what it was the school and district so desperately needed to hide from.  I doubt I will ever find out – my task is to do a well written IEP AND make sure it is executed. If necessary, I can provide assistance to SPED teacher on how to do something. Perhaps I really do not wish to know.


CA Adopts National Standards and the Crowd Goes Mad Over the Wrong Issue

Until today I was perhaps too naive in what I thought people outside education understood regarding curriculum and standards.   I actually thought with all the news surrounding NCLB over the years and The Race to the Top and test score issues, the public actually understood what is a curriculum, what are standards and how teachers go about their business.   So, I will try to elucidate  items so the general, non education public can indeed have real discourse surrounding the correct topic(s) and not the ancillary pieces.

To begin, I will create a range of computer accessible URL’s for people to read and create a deeper understanding of the vocabulary I will be using.  I do not believe I could do justice to the meaning of curriculum in a couple paragraphs considering I went to graduate school to study only science curriculum in a narrow vein.  It is imperative for people to understand the broad scope of a curriculum and what it means in context.

curriculum , , .

standards , , (this is what I am most familiar with in the context of my education)

text book , ,

A curriculum which is selected in a public school tends to have both breadth and depth.  This means, as an example in math, students learn the meaning of numeracy, can apply the knowledge of how multiplication is short hand for repitive addition and explore the value of understanding exponential form in a curve in calculus.  That sentence is broad  merely in the relationship of numbers and their meaning. The depth depends upon the various uses of the numbers.  Numeracy can be shallow in kindergarden and deep as the Mariana Trench in Graduate School.  It is imperative that there is good understanding of numeracy and its applications across each grade level and in some respects age appropriateness, which varies greatly as all children learn at slightly different rates.

The standards by which students are judged (or more recently teachers) has to do with a students ability to both understand and apply mathematical concepts by grade level/age appropriate tasks (please read about Piaget for more detailed information on the difference of grade versus age issues) as shown in a variety of tools of demonstration – tests, projects, etc.  A minimum standard of proficiency is in a round about way a  qualitative measure of a students ability to move to the next concept/application of knowledge.   Sadly to the public, knowledge and learning are not linear. Students have a-ha moments all the time (even teachers) when we think about an idea/concept in a new way (creativity).  Due to this issue, standards are a quantitative registration of what is generally agreed upon by professional educators as an ability/skill a student can adequately perform at a specific age/grade and move on to something more complex. It is at best an imprecise measure as it is a bit like pulling a carrot out of the soil, stating it is growing but not knowing  how much potential is left and no way to measure how the seed (considering the myriad environmental factors) will grow to full form, if it will grow to an edible food or if  environmental factors will render it something to be plowed under (sorry to be so graphic).

A text book is a TOOL for teaching.  A text book works on the idea of putting specific curricular ideas in an order (which may or may not be palatable to a particular learning style), giving sets of idea explorations which are supposed to be age/grade appropriate and provide tests with a minimum standard of understanding so the student and teacher know when it is time to move on to the next concept.  A text book is NOT A CURRICULUM.   With the aforementioned in mind, only new and/or inexperienced teachers use a text book as the ‘curriculum’.

  Experienced teachers will have either a classroom library with 20 ways until Sunday to explain an idea/concept, know another 10 ways until Sunday to demonstrate the idea/concept (and be willing to learn more – professional development).  Experienced teachers see the text book as one tool among many to assist students in learning to a minimum standard of understanding.   Experienced teachers go to places such as RAFT ( to learn how to get past only 10 ways of demonstrating an idea/concept.  Experienced teachers are perpetually learning (hence, lifelong learners) as they seek to find a new way to assist their students in the development of understanding.

When I read comments, such as those in The San Francisco Chronicle, I am shocked at the mixed up nature of what people are talking about.   This helps me understand how the public does not understand the process and is unable to engage in ways to change the process.  It points out all the misconceptions surrounding what happens in a classroom and why people are so willing to castigate teachers for problems.

I encourage all of you to please read up on the process of education.  When you are better informed, your comments will speak to the point of what needs to be changed.

Measure E in Alameda, California

Over the weeks, I have been reading the pros and cons of peoples beliefs in various newspapers and have entered into many conversations. I say belief system as not one op ed piece, not one letter to the editor or one conversation addressed anything more than a ‘belief’.  When I asked people the following questions in conversation, people did not know and could not discuss due to the lack of knowledge which created even more support for a belief system rather than a system of actual fact in how Measure E money would benefit the school district.

So, with this in mind, I pose the following to the residents of Alameda as they posture in all different directions on Measure E.  I believe Alameda Islanders should be informed before they vote and not merely marketed at/to.

Which school board meeting did you last attend?

What happened with the monies for Measure H?

Do you know who the last three superintendents of AUSD were? Do you know where the most recent pro tem superintendent, after being golden parachuted, is serving?

What is a charter school? How does ACLC, NEA and the ‘new’ version of a charter school at Chipman work and affect the finances of AUSD?

Do you know who is on the board of the ‘new’ charter school which will replace Chipman? If you understand what a charter school is about, you will understand why it is important to know who(m) is on the board.

What is the life span of many curricular programs in AUSD?  I can speak to two of them -(1) A math program including alternative credentialing from CSUEB with Mr. Phil Gonsalves, which many teachers were not ‘inspired’ enough to follow and either intentionally or inadverdantly subverted – 3 years, 4 years at most of existence. (2) Social behavior program from Chipman, so poorly introduced to teachers at Wood that it was disdained by most and only truly followed by those without tenure. Interestingly, teachers at Chipman were ‘forced’ into supporting this belief system which was to be shared/dropped on staff at Wood without staff at Wood even aware. That lasted maybe 1 year at Wood and the principal was gone, the principal from Chipman is the Head of HR for AUSD and Chipman is now becoming a charter school. Maybe 5 -6 years for the character program.  REACH, Math Intervention and all the other programs to raise the scores? At least four years but with rotating teachers as the curriculum was mindless, boring and did not show more than small gains in test scores from Gr 6 and beyond.

Past principal at Wood (there have been so many, but this one was mine) had a staff meeting where teachers were asked to explain what they would do to raise the test scores of black and brown kids in their classrooms.  When I raised my hand and stated this offended me as melanin has never been proven to be related to inteligence, I became the ‘target’ in the shotgun for said principal. This principal did indeed continue to discuss the black and brown kids at Wood (and yes, I am white).

When the census is done, it will be interesting to see the actual numbers of students allocated to housing units on the island versus what is actually in the schools as many students enrolled in the schools use Alameda addresses but live elsewhere, boosting the student populations of our schools.  The only way I know this is students ‘told’ me at various times and what I hear from various people I talk to who use Alameda addresses.  I have no way to give exact numbers but I do know little has been done to track this inflow of outsiders as more student population supports the district via ADA.

The disparity between schools within less than a one mile radiius is overwhelming.  I had the opportunity years ago to see Franklin School and realized their PTA pumped in enormous dollars, alarming in relation to other elementary schools on the island. Instead of the school board setting a cap and asking the additional monies to be shared equitably across other schools so all students could learn, Franklin (and most likely Lincoln Middle and schools on Bayfarm) became the premier institution of education while other schools struggled.  When I brought this up to school board members, it was hush hushed and probably continues to persist.

Do you know who takes care of the school libraries? Do you know how textbooks are ‘controlled’ so that they can be kept track of (or not)? The monies lost each year on textbooks is amazing, especially when they later show up in ‘storage’ – how do I know? I helped re-organize the science and math departments while at Wood. It was unbelieveable what was in ‘storage’ but actually listed as lost in the library.

Wood School has had a revolving door on principals, vice principals and teachers. I feel this is similar at other schools. The costs of having revolving doors on hiring staff is extremely costly which is why most people in HR really struggle to find the right fit.  With the turnover in AUSD, I feel safe in saying money goes out the door just in this regard.  The past three superintendents were found towards the end of their career – finally we have one at mid career and hopefully the issues surrounding AUSD will not create a vortex where she feels compelled to leave.

Many of you may be reading this thinking I am a disgruntled teacher – nothing could be farther from the truth. My first group of  Algebra and Science students  from Wood graduate this year. I bump into them now and then at the library, on the street, at the movies – all over. They are wonderful young women and men and it will be a privilege to see them go off to college and pursue their dreams and change the world.  I am a teacher humbled by seeing them grown up.  I only hope I was able to teach them enough about evaluating the evidence so they can make good decisions in their life.

I have remained a close friend to many of the teachers from Wood who left at the same time I did to pursue teaching in other districts.  In spite of how we were treated professionally, we each found our niche in education. In some ways, AUSD is no different from other school districts lacking the public involvement in what goes on at the schools. In other respects, AUSD is vastly different as the community is so small and secluded, as an island tends to be.

Hopefully, after reading what I wrote, people will reflect upon the various issues surrounding Measure E and rather than vote on beliefs, vote on some information. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, or so the saying goes.  Make a point to attend a school board meeting. Get to know what really goes on at your local school – don’t be such a stranger, volunteer. As a community, we can effect more change than any amount of money.

Needle and Thread and Teaching? How can I…..

This week I started writing my lesson plans for Home Science, of which there is an element of home economics, health/first aid and biology.  The part I will not be doing is the actual, genuine sewing as this is more substantial than quilting.  I need to defer to my friends in the States,  Elizabeth in NYC and Sasha in Oakland, CA about finding some friend of theirs  who wants to visit Kenya, stay with me for a bit and teach things such as seams, textile qualities, etc.   Although I quilt, I would never be bold enough to take on actual sewing with learners for the fear I would mislead them in a very significant way.  Most young women in Kenya are much more proficient with needle and thread than I could ever hope to be.

Without having my teaching “gear” yet, I feel  some what  inept and limited in the quality of my planning. Hopefully all of that great stuff will show up by the end of September.   I did not realize how much I rely on resources beyond books to teach.  This either means I am comfortable without a text book or I don’t know better….

My teachers are quite excited to have their hands on materials to supplement their teaching. I personally cannot wait to see the expression on the science teachers and learners faces when they see the Hoberman Sphere.  I showed an English Teacher a picture of the Hoberman Sphere from my Linked In portfolio, however, it did not seem to make sense about how it relates to crystallography. I am sure the physics teacher will better understand its implications.