What your zip code says about you and the breadth of your experiences with education

Thank you to M. W. and D. P. , both somewhere in Illinois. I appreciate you weighing in on the subject of relationships between business and education. Your comments helped me to better appreciate how our zip codes affect our thinking AND help me understand why much of what is going on in today’s political miasma truly reflects the haves and have nots.  When you decided you did not like an ‘uncomfortable’ conversation, you immediately decided it was about you, out of guilt, since too many things seemed to describe you and your behavior. You gave yourself away.

I am a tutor with Wyzant and after having done substantial research, kept noticing inconsistencies regarding how tutors have been differentially handled. My questions have arisen from the fact of having read every nook, cranny and bit I could find on the website and there is NO small print, often there is nothing in print.  There are no explanations for many things which happen and often it is days before I actually notice a ‘change’ manifest itself and the effects it will take on students and myself as a tutor.  Since I have a background in education and have a keen interest in knowing why the change in A affects B in manner X, I look, watch, collect data and ask more than an average amount of questions.

The most obvious question to date is how I became a ‘Top 100’ out of 75,000 tutors. By any reasoning ability this is a strange, almost random occurrence. I asked Wyzant how this was achieved  as I would like to know what I did which caused this synchronicity. No answer from Wyzant. There were some folks who did not even know there was a top 100 or top 250…..I am going to go with marketing ploy. Pick some tutors, give them a high rating and see if this brings in more business as you have created ‘selective’ groups of tutors.  I don’t need to be in the Top 100 to know I am good.  My self esteem is not so diminutive where a ‘note’ from Wyzant changes me into a different type of tutor.   http://www.mensjournal.com/adventure/races-sports/how-participation-trophies-are-making-our-kids-soft-20150725

It would help  if my % of dollars paid was increased since it is clear Wyzant needs to spend very little money on marketing me.   Giving a tutor this ranking is the equivalent of giving out stock options, which only work if X happens. Giving someone the money they are worth actually demonstrates their value.

What I found out was there are other tutors who share my concerns and these are tutors who typically make $50/hr or less and live where the average middle and upper middle class folks live.  These tutors are curious as to the inner workings of things as they wish to improve their rankings and probably raise their rates. Of course there is no specific answer to achieving the top since I don’t even know what I did in 2014 which was remarkable and have nothing what-so-ever to share in regards to improving one’s ranking. In this instance people want information which is actionable.

The tutors who charge more per hour and live in wealthy enclaves  share a similar interest although there is a particular characteristic to it.   The tutors at the higher end of the socio- economic range want the ranking, much as one gets for their position in their graduating class and money is not so much of an issue.  They charge enough per hour where the ranking itself will push them onward to more students who can afford them.  The trophy is what is being sought, so the how and the why is not as relevant as the fact it was achieved. There is limited interest into how the ranking was achieved.

These two groups do not  share my concerns equally as they do not have many of the same experiences with  public education. The following is an article which demonstrates  one of many differences between different zip codes. I won’t even fully get into the differences in funding by zip codes.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/racial-disparities-american-schools_55b67572e4b0074ba5a576c1

The issues surrounding these two groups of tutors is so diverse, one can not even have the discussions necessary to start a bridge. The group who ‘does not know’ really does not wish to know and so the discussion is upsetting and unsettling. In a world where there is little equity in the education system, the people who we wish would pay attention to the situation usually can not stomach the discussion so they block it out at every turn. This is what I found with M and D above. They could not stomach the discussion so instead they turned it inward as a criticism about themselves instead of a thinking point.  Instead of being able to argue their points, they decided they did not like the discussion and had it closed in a tutor forum.  This supported Wyzant in not having to divulge any information about their practices and saved the profit margin for yet another day.

The problems faced by these two different sets of tutors are similar in some instances and in others, amazingly different.  To start with, test prep tutors who are great at what they do usually charge accordingly and this denies access to many students who have capacity and not the pocket to benefit from these tutors.  This puts students with a smaller budget into the possibility of not getting into the college of their choice due to test scores not demonstrating their ability in comparison to peers from a more wealthy area where test prep is de rigor.  Yes, I know, test scores are only one aspect of college acceptance and apparently an important one as wealthy families make it happen. The issue I am addressing is called equity.

In an issue I addressed in a previous blog, students who are in a lower income bracket are often in a situation where their parents and/or they them self do not know how to do a better search for a best fit tutor as the possibilities are ‘limited’ to $/hr posted, ratings, and experience in hours.  When these fields are manipulated to improve profit margin ( presenting new tutors at a substantially lower percentage split instead of experienced tutors with a track record willing to make a rate adjustment), it repeats what we already know about experienced teachers fleeing certain classrooms in certain schools. This again is not equity; It is profit margin.

Bringing these discussions into the light of day causes tension and frustration. Most notably to those in zip codes where these discussions are often political and not based on actual experiences with the education system as the education system caters to them as great servants.  While the various and sundry discussions can be shut down by people unwilling to address the issues, the problems remain.

Wyzant benefits from the discussions remaining at the kum-by-ya level and not having to address the details. The tutors in particular zip codes are protected from having discussions which are too unsettling and the students, well, the students continue to be the ones to lose since money and education do not seem to mix well, if at all.

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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.  http://www.k12.wa.us/SpecialEd/Families/IEPs/ModelForms.aspx

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.

http://www.k12.wa.us/SpecialEd/Families/IEPs/Accommodations.aspx

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.   http://specialed.about.com/od/iep/a/iepGoalWriting.htm

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.

http://www.k12.wa.us/SpecialEd/Families/IEPs/Accommodations.aspx

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.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curriculum

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.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloom’s_Taxonomy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standards-based_education_reform_in_the_United_States

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.