Defining “Appropriate Education”

Ever since Congress passed the original law requiring public schools to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPEto students with disabilities in 1975, everyone involved in the special education system has struggled with the definition of “appropriate.” This includes teachers, parents, advocates, attorneys and the court system. The problem, of course, is that the word appropriate defies precise definition. On one hand, the law does not require public schools to provide children with disabilities the best possible education, even though parents should always advocate for that. On the other hand, if a child fails to make any progress and merely gets a de minimis education, that is clearly not appropriate and therefore violates the law. The challenge has been in that huge grey area in between. Some have said the the child is not entitled to a Cadillac type of education, but only a Chevrolet. I like to add that the Chevrolet must have 4 wheels and be in sound operating condition.

Fortunately, earlier this year, in a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court offered updated clarification on this issue and rejected the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals definition of appropriate. The 10th Circuit had ruled that public school merely needed to provide, “merely more than de minimis” education to children with disabilities, but in the case known as Endrew F., the Supreme Court stated that,

a school must offer an IEP [individualized education program] that is reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.

The Court additionally emphasized the requirement that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.”

While this case, especially in light of its unanimous nature in an often divided Supreme Court, is very important, earlier this week, something even more important happened when the U.S. Department of Education issued a Q&A on the Endrew F. decision. This Q&A is very important because:

  • Many advocates feared that Secretary DeVos would eviscerate enforcement of the special education law known as the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act);
  • Public reaction was strong and many were troubled with the U.S. Department of Education rescinded 72 pieces of policy guidance in October; and
  • Most important, as set forth below, the Q&A fully supports both the substance and rationale of the Endrew F. decision and thus the U.S. Dept. of Education appears prepared to enforce the IDEA according to this landmark decision.

USDOE

Due to the importance of both the Endrew F. decision and the administration’s interpretation of it, everyone involved in the education of children with disabilities should be aware of the following key points emphasized by the Q&A:

  • Public schools must offer an IEP that is “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances” to all students with disabilities, including those performing at grade level and those unable to perform at grade level.
  • “[A] student offered an educational program providing merely more than de minimis progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all…The IDEA demands more.”
  • Each child’s educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his or her circumstances, and every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.
  • In determining whether an IEP is reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress, the IEP Team should consider the child’s previous rate of academic growth, whether the child is on track to achieve or exceed grade-level proficiency, and any behaviors interfering with the child’s progress.
  • The IEP Team, which must include the child’s parents, must give “careful consideration to the child’s present levels of achievement, disability, and potential for growth.”
  • The IEP must include annual goals that aim to improve educational results and functional performance for each child with a disability. This inherently includes a meaningful opportunity for the child to meet challenging objectives.
  • Annual IEP goals for children with the most significant cognitive disabilities should be appropriately ambitious and “reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”

The Q&A concludes by stating that,

IEP Teams must implement policies, procedures, and practices relating to: (1) identifying present levels of academic achievement and functional performance; (2) the setting of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals; and; (3) how a child’s progress toward meeting annual goals will be measured and reported, so that the Endrew F. standard is met for each individual child with a disability.

In sum, with both a typically divided Supreme Court and the U.S. Department of Education which advocates feared would take special education backwards, making strong statements in favor of a meaningful definition of appropriate education, parents and advocates now have important tools to insist that children with disabilities receive the kind of education that will allow them to make meaningful progress every year.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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Vague Goals Produce Vague Results

Three years ago, I wrote with concern that the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) Behavior Education Plan (BEP), while laudable in its purpose to reduce suspensions and expulsions and improve in school behavior, would be challenged to make genuine progress without specific goals. While I would be glad to admit that my prediction was wrong, the recently released Quarter 1 Review of the BEP confirms my fears.

school to prison pipeline

To be clear, due to some criticism of the BEP, including my own concern that it had vague goals, and insufficient staff training and support, a new implementation plan was adopted along with the following goals:

1) to promote and increase positive student behavior and social emotional growth, 2) to reduce use of out-of-school suspension and 3) to decrease disproportionate use of out-of-school suspension practices for African American students and students with disabilities.

Yet, these laudable goals are not specific, i.e., how much should positive student behavior and social emotional growth increase, how much should out-of-school suspensions decrease, and how much should disproportionate use of out-of-school suspensions for African American students and students with disabilities decrease? Moreover, if even these vague goals are not achieved, who should be held accountable for the failure to achieve these goals, and in what manner?

Remarkably, three years after the BEP was passed by the school board, without explanation or justification, the report concedes that:

A small number of schools, however, are working on establishing stable response systems, and achieving a basic level of positive student behavior and support for social emotional growth. These schools experienced, in first quarter, a disproportionate increase in level 2-5 behavior due in part to a lack of robust systems to support positive student behavior.

To be sure, there is good news in the report. For example:

  • Compared to first quarter of 2016-2017, the out-of-school suspension risk ratio for African American students in middle school has decreased significantly from 20:1 to 8:1.
  • The district-wide out-of-school suspension risk ratio for African American students and students with disabilities in Quarter 1 of this year is the lowest (10:1 for African American students and 6:1 for students with disabilities) it has ever been when comparing data from the past three first quarters of school.

However, these improvements are in stark contrast with the following bad news:

  • an overall increase in behavior events by 18% this year compared to 2016- 2017;
  • Elementary schools account for 61% of all level 2-5 incidents in Quarter 1 this year. Three of those schools had 28% of all elementary level 2-5 incidents;
  • Out-of-school suspension rates overall have increased by 15%, as compared to first quarter last year; despite reduced risk ratios, the increase is driven largely by middle school (24% increase) with students of all ethnicities accounting for some portion of the increase;
  • At the high school level, out-of-school suspensions and level 2-5 incidents are slightly up this year compared to last year, and the increase mostly impacts African American students; and
  • Most schools are below the expected baseline of implementation in the intervention category and have strategies “off track” to address the need.

Remarkably, the report’s Next Steps contain absolutely no focus on problem schools, specific goals to achieve or accountability for failure to achieve the many goals that remain out of reach.

What remains unexplained is how the behavior incidents dropped from 17,015 involving 3,841 students in the 2015-16 school year to 14,929 incidents involving 3,344 students, but then rose to exceed the already high 2015-16 numbers to 17,678 incidents involving 4,112 students. Without evidence, the report attributes this over 16% jump to, “more cohesive and comprehensive school implementation of practices foundational to behavior education.” Yet, such a statement is clearly counter-intuitive since the primary goal of the BEP is reduce behavior incidents, a dramatic rise in behavior incidents the 3rd year of implementation simply cannot be the result of better implementation that is counter to the goal.

Regarding the disproportionality goal, the report states that:

Disproportionality, particularly for our African American students, students with disabilities, and male students persists. With a disproportionality increase of 2%, in behavior incidents for African American students supporting schools, particularly addressing the implementation area that focuses on decision making. While we have not yet moved the needle for our African American students, we have experienced a 2% decrease in disproportionality for male students and 7% decrease for students with disabilities.

Since it is well documented that the school to prison pipeline is fueled by out of school suspensions and expulsions, one must wonder why MMSD has failed to reduce out of school suspensions. Yet, the report reveals that:

Out-of-school suspension rates overall have increased by 15%, as compared to first quarter last year, an increase (24%) driven largely by middle schools.

Worse than that and perhaps revealing the complete failure of accountability in implementing the BEP, the report honestly concedes that:

this data is not surprising. A key reflection, following the evaluation, was that continuing to do more of the same will not move the needle.

While the report praises the fact that out of school suspension disproportionality for African American students has decreased, such a decrease hardly matters when the overall suspension rate continues to rise.

The report fails to comment on the deeply troubling data that out of school suspension disproportionately for students with disabilities increased significantly. While 15% of MMSD’s students have disabilities, 55% of out of school suspensions involve students with disabilities, up from 50% in the prior 2 years. Sadly, the report fails to mention a single recommendation about how to improve supports for special education staff and students to mitigate this problem.

To its credit, the report is candid about the many ways in which the school district is off track in implementing the BEP. What it does not explain is why such failure is allowed to persist. Towards the end of the report, all schools are listed by where they are in implementing the BEP divided by 3 phases. This shows that elementary schools are making vastly more progress in implementing the BEP with a majority of those schools already at phase 3. But, without explanation, this chart also shows that no middle schools are at phase 3 and only half are at phase 2 of implementation, and even  worse, no high schools are in phase 3 and only 1 (Memorial) is at phase 2.

As I have said since I praised the adoption of the BEP, the plan is a good one, the failures then as now continue to be that it has:

  • vague goals;
  • lack of accountability; and
  • insufficient staff training and support.

Until the MMSD school board addresses these problems, we can expect to see a continuation of mixed results from an otherwise laudable plan, which is a wasted opportunity to improve the lives of our students and keep them out of the school to prison pipeline.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact  him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Small Class Sizes=Big Results

As the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Board of Education considers its budget for the coming year, some school board members are supporting an initiative to reduce class sizes in high poverty elementary schools in kindergarten-third grade classrooms. This initiative is supported by at least 4 board members (Anna Moffit, TJ Mertz, Nicki VanderMeulen and Dean Loumos), but 2 board members (Mary Burke and Kate Toews) appear to need more research to demonstrate the benefits of small class sizes.

The STAR (Students-Teacher Achievement Ratio) project is a well-known study of a class size reduction program in Tennessee. The study was conducted with a controlled group of 10,000 students. Classes of 22 through 26 were reduced to 13 through 17 students. In addition, the schools in the study had an adequate number of quality teachers and adequate classroom space. The project found that smaller classes resulted in substantial increases in academic performance of children in primary grades, particularly for poor and minority children.

In the second phase of the Tennessee study, known as the Lasting Benefits Study, it was demonstrated that,

year after year, the students who were originally in smaller classes con- tinued to perform better than the students from regular-sized classes with or without a teacher’s aide.

This graphic shows that the lasting benefits of small class sizes for low income children extend all the way through significantly improved high school graduation rates.

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These results should not be surprising given the benefits of fewer students in a classroom such as:
  • Students receive more individualized attention and interact more with the teacher.
  • Teachers have more flexibility to use different instructional approaches.
  • Fewer students distract teach other than a large group of children.
  • Teachers have more time to teach due to fewer discipline problems.
  • Students are more likely to participate in class and become more involved.
  • Teachers have more time to cover additional material and use more supplementary texts and enrichment activities.

Improved high school graduation rates for low income students, students of color, and students with disabilities should be among MMSD’s top goals. A review of the district’s most recent report card shows that although the district on average meets state expectations, one of the district’s four main high schools (LaFollette) fails to meet state expectations and another (East) meets few expectations. Equally disturbing is the overall graduation rate disparity for children of color, low income children and children with disabilities as follows:

  • 93% of white students graduated compared to just under 58% of Black/African-American students, just under 70% of Hispanic/Latino students;
  • 94% of students who are not economically disadvantaged graduated, while only 62% of those who are economically disadvantaged did so;
  • Just under 92% of students without disabilities graduated, while just under 57% of students with disabilities did so.

Although MMSD has made some progress in closing these gaps, the remaining gaps are cavernous. The school board should consider closing these gaps of the utmost importance and the best evidence is that the most effective way to close these gaps is to reduce class sizes in high poverty elementary schools just as some board members have proposed. Hopefully, this important initiative will pass when it comes to a vote.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Education Progress? A Deeper Look

Recently, I received a copy of the Madison Metropolitan School District’s 1st Quarterly Review of its Strategic Framework. It is addressed to the Madison Community and opens as follows:

We are pleased to present our 1st quarterly review of progress for the 2015-16 school year. Our school district is on a mission to close the gaps in opportunity that lead to disparities in achievement and to ensure that every child graduates ready for college, career, and community.

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However, as I read the review, I noted that it focused exclusively on African-American students and contained very little data, none of which appeared to be from the 2015-16 school year. While I fully support the need for Madison to close the educational achievement gaps for its African-American students, this cannot be done successfully by touting limited and misleading data. Moreover, my long career in educational advocacy has taught me that educational progress for one group of students cannot be achieved in isolation from the rest of the school district. Rather, educational progress must be premised in articulating clear achievable goals, providing necessary support and training to staff and students to achieve those goals and holding administrators accountable when goals are not met.

Thus, when I examined MMSD’s progress in its Strategic Framework from the 2013-14 to this 2014-15 school year, I was troubled to discover that the progress is not nearly as rosy as the district’s 1st Quarter Review suggests.

Here are some key pieces of data that the district does not reveal in its 1st Quarter Review.

District-wide Progress

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 45% (up 2% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 37% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 48% (up 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 44% (up 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 42% (up 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 39% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 20% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 48% (down 2% from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 79% (up 1% from the prior year)

African-American Students (click on link and manually change group)

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 16% (up 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 13% (up 5% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 12% (up 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 15% (up 5% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 7% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 9% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 47% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 13% (no change from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 56% (up 2% from the prior year)

Hispanic Students (click on link and manually change group)

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 26% (up 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 20% (up 5% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 25% (up 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 18% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 21% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 18% (up 2% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 30% (down 8% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 35% (up 9% from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 70% (no change from the prior year)

Students in Special Education (click on link and manually change group)

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 20% (up 2% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 13% (up 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 13% (down 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 11% (down 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 12% (no change from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 10% (down 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 38% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 18% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 50% (up 3% from the prior year)

As you can see, the results are mixed and though there is some progress from some students, in many ways the results are very troubling. To be clear, I am a strong supporter of our public schools and will continue my many years of advocacy to make sure they receive the support and funding they need to provide a high quality education to all of our children.

However, it does not help to provide limited data to the public to create a perception that more progress is being made than is actually the case. That is why I have provided this deeper look.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Motivation: the Key to Success

Whether you are a parent, a teacher, an employer, or in any other position where your goal includes getting others to achieve success, an often elusive key is discovering the motivation that will create an environment for success.

In school, how students’ teachers provide feedback to students can make a huge difference in their students’ success. Sometimes it does not take a huge change in behavior. For example, in a recent study, 7th grade students were asked to write an essay about a hero. In addition to providing typical feedback, researchers added one of two sticky notes to the students’ papers. One note blandly stated, “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper.” The other note said, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them” Then the students were given the option to revise their essays.

As reported in the Atlantic,

The results were striking. Among white students, 87 percent of those who received the encouraging teacher message turned in new essays, compared to 62 percent of those who got the bland note. Among African American students, the effect was even greater, with 72 percent in the encouraged group doing the revision, compared to only 17 percent of those randomly chosen to get the bland message. And the revised essays received higher scores from both the students’ teachers and outside graders hired for the study.

The researchers

concluded that students were more motivated to take an extra step academically when they perceived their teachers’ critical feedback as a genuine desire to help rather than as an expression of indifference or disdain toward their racial group. To further test that hypothesis, Yeager and Cohen surveyed students’ trust of their teachers going into the study and found that the encouraging note had the largest effect on a subgroup of African American students who had previously reported trusting their teachers the least (as measured by survey questions such as, “My teachers … have a fair and valid opinion of me”).

Parents, teachers and employers often find that procrastination is a huge barrier to success. Once again, finding methods to motivate people to move out of a state of procrastination is the key to their success. We must account for emotions in order to motivate people to achieve success. This often means that simply providing someone who is stuck with a rational explanation for why it is better to move forward will often not succeed. Motivation requires finding what will improve the person’s mood. It is not the same for everyone and is often elusive, but if found, the likely result will be improved performance.

Motivation_and_Emotion_Scrabble

Sometimes, providing a reward will help to reinforce the positive motivation that is necessary to accomplish one’s goal. Once again, however, the reward required to motivate someone will vary with the individual and the task to be accomplished.  What is clear, however, is that simply punishing someone for failing to accomplish a goal is unlikely to provide the motivation necessary for success.

Finally, positive peer pressure is often essential to motivate success. It is often the case that the last person someone who is stuck wants to hear from is their parent, teacher or boss. Even if the parent, teacher or boss tries to convey a positive message, it is often perceived negatively. That dynamic changes if the person who needs motivation is encouraged by peers to move forward.

Of course, this all sounds easier to accomplish than genuine motivation often is, but one thing I have learned in 18 years of parenting, and over 30 years of teaching and managing employees, is that sometimes even showing your child, student or employee that you are searching for a way to motivate them, will help the 2 of you find that elusive key to their motivation.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Staff Appreciation: Improving Education in ways that cannot be measured

My son has competed in 3 high school sports throughout his 4 years of high school.  Since I may be his biggest fan, I have attended countless soccer & hockey games as well as track meets.  However, it is only his hockey team that holds an annual Staff Appreciation Night.  Indeed, I have not observed any other high school team host such an event.  Last night, the Madison Eastside Lakers (comprised of students who attend East, La Follette and Shabazz High Schools) hosted this wonderful event one more time.

Last year, this event inspired me to write about how student athletics helps improve grades and graduation rates.  Studies prove this and my observations of my son and his teammates verify this improvement in many cases. However, this year’s event, likely my last, gives me pause to reflect on the intangible ways in which appreciating staff enhances education in many ways.

We organize Staff Appreciation Night by asking the players and managers to invite any school staff member who means something special to them.  This can range from a school custodian to a principal and every type of staff person in between.  Thus, the appreciation begins before the actual event as the students must put some thought into whom they wish to invite, and actually ask the staff person (and perhaps more than one if the desired first choice is unavailable that evening).  The athletes then give their chosen staff person their away jersey to wear to the game.

Parents provide potluck treats for staff (and the players after the game), as their own way of saying thanks to these special staff.  We invite them to come early to enjoy these treats, and their early arrival also provides them a chance to meet parents, in many cases for the first time.

Every time we have held this remarkable event, staff enthusiastically participate and have a chance to provide unsolicited feedback to the athletes’ parents.  Indeed, as I sat in the stands watching the game, teachers who had not yet connected with parents asked me to help them find them so they could talk to them.  In our case, my son invited his Chemistry teacher, whom we had yet to meet.  She had high praise for our son, which was greatly appreciated and I overheard similar conversations throughout the stands.

I also heard many teachers remarking at how impressed they were at how hard the  boys worked at playing hockey.  So, this event provides the opportunity to allow staff, students and parents to get to know each other more holistically, rather than solely through the lens of the classroom, school assignments and tests.

While no student athlete will be graded for his or her performance in a given sport, the benefits to both students and staff of showing genuine appreciation can be seen in the unrehearsed smiles from both.

IMG_2288Of course, there was also a hockey game, and having so many school staff attend always gives the team a boost. IMG_2285

On behalf of the Madison Eastside Laker parents, I extend my thanks to the dedicated staff from East, La Follette and Shabazz high schools, who gladly came to last night’s game, without monetary compensation, to cheer on their students who, in turn, extended their appreciation to  their much beloved teachers.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change  contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Madison School Improvement Plan: Insufficient Accountability

Earlier this week, Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham held a press conference touting the progress which the district has made after one year under her leadership.  The basis for her claim was the progress made by many schools as set forth under her First Annual Report.  To make sure that MMSD parents were aware of how each school is doing under what she has dubbed the Strategic Frameworkshe e-mailed MMSD parents with links to the Annual Report, and encouraged them to examine the results of the children’s schools.

FrameworkImage

To that end, I have examined the results at Madison East High School, and despite the fact that my son gets a good education there, the results reveal significant academic problems, huge racial disparities, and simply no information about school discipline issues.

First, it is worth examining the demographics of East High, which interestingly are found in the accountability link.  In the 2013-14 school year, East High had:

  • 55.4% low-income students;
  • 24.7% English Language Learners;
  • 21.5% Special education students; and
  • a minority white student, with 59.3% of its students being non-white.

Next, the academic achievement results as shown in the School Improvement Plan which provides no data for any minority groups other than African-Americans and students in special education reveals that:

  • While there was some improvement with 33% of 9th graders having 2 or more course failures compared to 38% the prior year, this is still a very high rate of failure and is magnified by significant racial and disability disparities with 49% of African-American 9th graders having 2 or more course failures, and 45% of students in special education having 2 or more course failures;
  • Once again, there was some improvement with 36% of 11th graders having a 3.0 grade point average or higher (compared to 31% the prior year), these rates plummet to 11% for African-American students, and 10% for students in special education;
  • Reading and math scores show similar improvement, but once again striking racial and disability disparities with 45% of students at a college ready reading level, but only 22% of African-American students and 18% of students in special education reading at that level; and 40% of students at college ready math level, but only 12% of both African-American and students in special education reading at that level;
  • Finally, the 4 year graduation rate has improved overall to 83%, but it is only 70% for African-American students and a mere 49% for students in special education, which unfortunately suggests that many students are graduating without college ready reading or math abilities.

Sadly, given all the attention paid to the school district’s significant modification of its Behavior Education Plan earlier this year, there is no school discipline data provided to parents or the public, which means there are no goals, nor any accountability for this area which is so critical to improving student achievement and shutting down the school to prison pipeline.

In sum, while some improvement is worth bragging about, the high level of racial and disability disparities which remain, and complete lack of data and goals around improved behavior mean that MMSD has a long way to go if it School Improvement Plan will result in a quality education for all of its students, preparing them to be productive adults upon graduation.

_________________________________________________________________________________________ For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Urge Congress to Pass Keeping All Students Safe Act

About two years ago, Wisconsin’s legislature joined 18 states which have a meaningful law protecting its children from inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint in school.  Known as Act 125, this law went into effect on September 1, 2012, and although it has not eliminated the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint in Wisconsin schools, anecdotally, its use has dropped, and parents are generally notified when it happens so better planning for the child’s safety and needs can take place.  From my vantage point, I note that this law continues to draw great interest, as my post describing its features back in November, 2012, is my second most popular post, receiving views on a regular basis to this day.

However, as the National Autism Committee reports, the need for federal legislation is great, as most states continue to have little or no meaningful regulation of this traumatizing, dangerous, and sometimes deadly practice.

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Fortunately, Sen. Tom Harkin, has introduced S. 2036, known as the Keeping All Students Safe Act, to remedy this problem.  The key features of this important bill are that it:

  • Requires each state educational agency and local educational agency (LEA) that receives federal funds to prohibit school personnel, contractors, and resource officers from subjecting students to: (1) seclusion, (2) mechanical or chemical restraint, (3) aversive behavioral intervention that compromises student health and safety, or (4) physical restraint that is life-threatening or contraindicated based on the student’s health or disability status.
  • Excludes from the definition of “seclusion” time outs that involve the separation of a student from the group, in a non-locked setting, for the purpose of calming.
  • Allows physical restraint only when: (1) the student’s behavior poses an immediate danger of serious physical harm to the student or others; (2) the restraint does not interfere with the student’s ability to communicate; and (3) the restraint occurs after less restrictive interventions have proven ineffective in stopping the danger, except in certain emergencies when immediate restraint is necessary.
  • Requires school personnel imposing physical restraint to: (1) be trained and certified by a state-approved crisis intervention training program, though others may impose such restraint in certain instances when trained personnel are not immediately available; and (2) engage in continuous face-to-face monitoring of the restrained student.
  • Requires: (1) the parents of a physically restrained student to be notified on the day such restraint occurs; (2) a debriefing session to be held as soon as practicable in which the person who imposed the restraint, the immediate adult witnesses, a school administrator, a school mental health professional, and at least one of the student’s family members participate; (3) the affected student to be given an opportunity to discuss the event with a trusted adult who will communicate the student’s perspective to the debriefing session group; and (4) the state educational agency, the LEA, local law enforcement, and any protection and advocacy system serving an affected student to be notified within 24 hours of any death or bodily injury that occurs in conjunction with efforts to control a student’s behavior.
  • Authorizes a student to file a civil action seeking relief from the use of seclusion or restraint on the student in violation of this Act; and
  • Authorizes the Secretary of Education to award grants to states and, through them, competitive subgrants to LEAs to: (1) establish, implement, and enforce policies and procedures to meet this Act’s requirements; (2) improve their capacity to collect and analyze data related to physical restraint; and (3) implement school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports.

As this current Congress is well known for its dysfunctional inability to pass meaningful legislation of any kind, the only way this bill stands a chance of passing is with a groundswell of grassroots support.  To that end, a Stop Hurting Kids Campaign has been established to make it easy to contact your members of Congress urging passage of this important bill.  You can do so on-line by going to this link.  There is also a Facebook page you can like to get regular updates on the progress of the bill.

Currently, S. 2036 only has 4 co-sponsors (Sens. Murphy (CT); Hirono (HI); Baldwin (WI); and Shaheen (NH).  Contact your Senators TODAY to broaden this group of co-sponsors which will enhance the possibility that the bill will pass the Senate and move on to the House of Representatives.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Replicate this: The Kalamazoo Promise Works

The sound and fury of school reform proponents is deafening as they decry public school failures and urge privatization, charters and high stakes testing.  Equally furious public school supporters seek to cast blame for public school failures on the twin devils of inadequate school funding and student poverty.  Remarkably, neither camp spends a lot of time focusing on innovative programs with proven success and encouraging successful replication.

While successful systems change requires genuine root cause analysis of the problems which require change, real change is far easier and more likely to succeed when a successful model exists which is worthy of replication.  When it comes to increasing high school graduation rates, improving grades, and lowering behavior problems, the Kalamazoo Promise is a program which succeeds in all these measures, and clearly deserves emulation nationwide.

The Kalamazoo Promise started 8 years ago, and has nearly 4000 eligible students. Through sufficient donations, it promises to provide public college scholarships to Kalamazoo High School graduates, with at least a 2.0 grade point average, so unlike many other scholarship programs, it is not designed to serve only academically oriented students.  Of course, students must perform well enough in high school to gain entry into a Michigan college or university, which encourages students who want to obtain the Promise scholarships to work harder.  However, scholarships are available to every Michigan public post-secondary institution from local community colleges to flagship institutions such as the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, thereby fitting the needs of any student who seeks a post-secondary education.

The scholarships provide 65% of public college tuition and mandatory fees for Kalamazoo students who enrolled in high school in 9th grade, sliding up to 100% for those who attend Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) from Kindergarten through 12th grade.  This feature has actually served to increase public school enrollment in Kalamazoo, stemming what had been an 18 year trend of declining enrollment and white flight.  Between 80-90% of KPS graduates have been eligible for college scholarships and between 82-85% have received scholarships ranging from $5,000-55,000.

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This chart also reveals that KPS is a mid-size urban school district with significant poverty (13.6% in the 2000 census), and a racially diverse make-up, which makes it all the more appropriate for replication in the myriad of other similar districts throughout the country. This enrollment rise reflects both new students coming into KPS because of the Promise as well as fewer students leaving (through drop out or moving) than prior to the Promise.

In addition to the clear benefit from enrollment rising in KPS, a recent study shows important academic and behavioral results from the Promise:

  • Increased credits obtained by KPS high school students;
  • Increased grades earned by all KPS students with a more dramatic increase for African-American students; and a
  • Decrease in days of suspension for all students, with a more dramatic decrease for African-American students.

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The researchers appropriately deem these results striking and further find that:

The decrease in the number of days spent in suspension might have shifted past some “tipping point” beyond which more presence in the classroom leads to higher grades, while leaving the white students less affected.

With results like these, school advocates of all stripes should push private foundations as well as state and federal governments to put their energy and funding into replicating the Kalamazoo Promise nationwide.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Transformative Justice & the Broken Chair

Perhaps it is fitting that one of the areas about which I am most passionate in my work, is the area of school discipline since I suffered under its yoke quite a bit, particularly in junior high school, when I received dozens of detentions (often for foul language) and was once suspended for “gross disrespect.”  Having experienced a lot of school discipline first hand, I learned quite intimately how poorly applied school discipline only served to make me angry and taught me to disrespect those applying inane punishments (e.g., 1000x of writing “I will call my gym teacher Mr. Dressler.”).  Fortunately, I also learned when appropriate discipline served to teach me an important lesson, allowing the teacher the regain control of the classroom, assure safety, and earn my respect.

When I was in 4th grade, attending Dewey Elementary school, in Oak Park, Michigan, a lower-middle class predominantly Jewish suburb bordering Detroit, I had my first African-American teacher, Mrs. Blackmun.  She was an excellent teacher and I have many fond memories of that year.  However, I had one unfortunate habit which was leaning back on my chair. Despite Mrs. Blackmun’s repeated admonitions to stop doing that for fear that I might fall and hurt myself, I simply could not break my habit of leaning back, which of course resulted in periodic falls, thereby disrupting the class, with new warnings from Mrs. Blackmun.

Towards the end of that year, I fell backwards in my chair one last time.  On this occasion, the back of the wooden chair broke and left a rough wooden edge.  I knew that I was in trouble and meekly awaited my punishment.  At that moment, Mrs. Blackmun showed her utter brilliance by announcing that my punishment was simply that I would continue to sit in the broken chair for the rest of the year.  No suspension, no trip to the office to be scolded by the principal, no parent meeting to shame me, and no requirement to pay for a new chair, which obviously at that age, I could not afford.  Her punishment not only fit the crime, but it was truly transformative because due to the jagged edge, I simply could no longer lean back in my chair and potentially fall backwards, hurt myself and disrupt the class.  To Mrs. Blackmun, I owe my undying gratitude as her brilliant punishment taught me that it is possible to transform a misdeed into a life long lesson that I have carried with me ever since for nearly 45 years.

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A recent article discussing both restorative and transformative justice defined transformative justice as follows:

With the term transformative justice, it is more blatantly clear that we wish to not only provide restitution to the victim, but that we want to improve the overall situation for the victim, the offender, and the community.

With the schools to prison pipeline continuing to explode, more educators should heed Mrs. Blackmun’s lesson and seek to apply transformative justice in their schools and classrooms.  The chairs may not get repaired, but the students’ lives will be transformed in a positive manner.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.