Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Education News Roundup

A great story from Huffington Post on the "Buddy Bench."  
Second-grader Christian Bucks, of York, Pa., knew that some of his classmates felt lonely during recess, and he decided to do something about it. His simple, utterly heartwarming solution was to install a playground "buddy bench." 

As reported by the York Daily Record, a buddy bench is a designated seating area where students feeling lonely or upset can seek camaraderie. The area is customarily painted in bright, inviting colors.

Christian told the Record that he hopes the bench will help "grow our dream circle of friends."

Next up in what's coming up in the next Legislative session.  For education, it'll be more of the same from Senator Tom & Company.  From the Times:

The state Senate majority caucus congratulated itself Tuesday for surviving a year and vowed to pursue legislation that did not pass last session, including changes to K-12 education and workers compensation.

When asked about meeting a state Supreme Court mandate to increase funding for education, Tom, the Senate majority leader, said during a news conference it’s all about prioritizing spending within existing resources.

“We should never have a conversation that we need new revenue for education,” he said.
 Clearly, he doesn't believe in McCleary (or else I don't get that "new revenue" part).

And I will ask, as I do every time I hear someone from the right say this, what would YOU change in how the current funding is spent?  What would change that you believe would bring better academic outcomes?  What would YOU eliminate?  Somehow that question never gets a full and complete answer.

From KUOW, a story about charter schools and how they can legally be selective.  No big surprise to those of us following this issue but I hope it reached many others.  (Apparently the applications are available to read; I haven't gone through them yet myself.) 

Proposals for Washington state's first-ever charter schools include a wide range of educational models, from a focus on team sports to a military school.

But a KUOW review of the 22 lengthy applications released over the past week found a common theme: high expectations for parent volunteerism.

If Sunnyside Charter Academy in Yakima County gets state approval, board chair Brittany Weaver said, parents who want to enroll their children in the grades K-8 school will be expected to do volunteer work, from helping in classrooms to groundskeeping.

One school apparently "requires" 60 volunteer hours a year (and that's not legal). I think the idea is to make prospective parents think about what they might need to do and wave off any who won't commit to it.  

Charter schools are aware of those impediments when setting up their volunteer expectations, said Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University who studies how charters operate.

Miron said although charter schools are not legally allowed to discriminate among students, "charter schools are schools of choice, which means parents are choosing, but there are a number of mechanisms that charter schools can use to structure or steer which students and families are attracted to the school."

UPDATE:  new story from the Network for Public Education about a charter in Florida that sent out a cheery notice to parents whose students were in danger of not passing their state test.  "If your child does not receive a passing score on the FCAT exam, their continued enrollment for the 2014-2015 school year may be in jeopardy."  Can't do that in a real public school.  

Remember China as one of the top performing countries on the PISA tests.  Guess what is the number one cause of death in China for young people 15-34?  Suicide.  From the Network for Public Education:

Amid growing competition for university places and rising graduate unemployment, suicide is now the leading cause of death for Chinese people aged between 15 and 34, official media reported this week.

According to figures from the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO), 30 percent of the world’s suicides take place in China, where 250,000 people take their own lives annually.

We learned this week that "Britian's Got Talent" winner, Susan Boyle, has been diagnosed as having an above average IQ and that she also has Asperger's.  

In an interview in the Observer this weekend, Boyle, who’s currently promoting her fourth album, acknowledges that “Some articles have said I have brain damage,” and says, “I have always known that I have had an unfair label put upon me.” 

For a smart woman once mocked as “Susie Simple,” one who has also battled depression and “got laughed at because people didn’t think I’d do well … It’s a condition that I have to live with and work through, but I feel more relaxed about myself.” Boyle says she hopes that now “People will have a greater understanding of who I am and why I do the things I do.”

(I also want to state - nearly on the one-year anniversary of Newtown - that while the killer in Newtown did have Asperger's, from all the reports of his behavior and actions, he was likely also mentally ill.  Aspies are almost to a person gentle and have no desire to hurt others.  They can get very frustrated and act out but almost never in violence to others.  It is very worrying to think that people might believe Asperger's had anything to do with Newtown.  I do not believe it did.)

On a similar note, the NY Times had a good article on a school in Los Angeles for twice-gifted children.  It sounds wonderful and it's a model that needs to be duplicated.    I had trouble figuring out what kind of school it is - it's private - but they have parents pay tuition and many of them then have that reimbursed by their school district (on the idea that the school is providing a service the district cannot).  They have a wonderful campaign for the school called Bridges Academy.

The campaign presents famous achievers from history — like Jane Austen, Charles Darwin, Leonardo da Vinci, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Abraham Lincoln, Michelangelo, Wolfgang Mozart and George Washington — who are identified as “believed to have been twice exceptional, or 2e.” 

“At Bridges Academy, we are completely devoted to the social, emotional, intellectual, academic and creative growth of our 2e students,” the ads declare. “After all, we could be teaching this generation’s Leonardo da Vinci” (or Darwin, or Emerson, and so forth). 

This  story is not about education unless you want to think about what goes on at home and what those effects are at school.  Imagine this kid in your child's high school. 

It's a horrible and outrageous story about a 16-year old from a wealthy family who went with friends to Walmart and stole alcohol, got into this car and hit four pedestrians, killing them all.   Others were hurt as well.

He got probation because he (and his lawyer) claimed that his parents allowed their wealth and privilege to shield him his entire life.  The judge bought it (apparently missing that if HE made the boy pay it would break that cycle).

He's now in a counseling center.  Luckily, many of his victims understand that if you can't get someone on criminal charges, you can go after them (and, in this case, their wealthy family) with wrongful death suits.

We often talk about the effects of poverty in education.  It appears the reverse may be true as well.  


Anonymous said...

umm, is it ok for you to refer to people with Asperger's as "aspies" in this article?


Anonymous said...

Though Seattleites don't live in Rodney Tom's district I will happily be donating money to his opposition. I hope others will join me, once a credible challenger arises.

Getting Tom out of state legislature is an achievable step to getting education fully funded.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Wondering, thanks for asking. Yes, it is. It's a term widely used in the Asperger community.

mirmac1 said...

I just want to get the word out there that the Special Education PTSA will meet at John Stanford Center on Monday, December 16th 7-9pm.

We are pleased to present Dr. Virginia Berninger with University of Washington Center for Oral and Written Language Learners which is housed in the NICHD_funded University of Washington Multidisciplinary Learning Disabilities Center.

The presentation will cover research on the Specific Learning Disabilities of Dysgraphia and Dyslexia (subjects of interest to MANY parents). She will also share proactive ways to support your student and teachers.

Hope to see you there!

Anonymous said...

Sorry if I am being a stickler...

If you are not an aspie, is it ok to refer to that community in that way, when speaking to a large group of people who are also not members of that community?

I get that the term is used within the community - but would it be appropriate, for example, to use that term in school, with students? To refer to someone as an aspie?

Not a lot of shorthand names for disabilities are used in this way, and it strikes me a little funny, but then maybe that is my neurotypical bias coming out sideways...


Anonymous said...

Dr. Berninger is the foremost expert in OWL, not only in Washington, but nationwide. Well worth your time to attend, if you can.

My kid was fortunate to participate in her dysgraphia study last year. She has a lot to say on the topic and has some good tips and tricks. We learned a lot from the 18 weeks of interventions. She will be recruiting study participants again this year--I think 4th and 5th graders.


Melissa Westbrook said...

It is my experience that it is okay to call people "aspies" (and I've met a lot of people). They call themselves that and I've heard counselors call them that, parents.

I get the vibe you think I did something wrong and as someone who has dealt with this for years and years, I don't believe so.

Anonymous said...

I really was wondering at first, but I guess I am coming to my own conclusions the more I ponder it.
When I apply your reassurances to the school setting, as this is a blog about schools, I just can't see imagine a teacher referring to a student in any kind of public or semi-public way as an "aspie." I don't think the term is necessarily inappropriate or negative, but I think we have to be careful when we start to refer to people as "a/an (insert disability shorthand here)."


mirmac1 said...


That's a fair question. Knowing Melissa, I feel sure that the term is not used in a derogatory sense. Perhaps someday "aspie" will be used along with nerds, jocks and geeks (which many kids are fine to call themselves, yay!)

Right on NE APP. I didn't put down OWL because not many are familiar with the acronym: oral and written language learning disability. Here is a some additional info from the great website Wrightslaw.

Anonymous said...

Wondering: For us, Aspie is a term of understanding and acceptance. I've never heard it used in a negative way, unlike other words that have long been turned against people with developmental differences. I'm comfortable with Melissa's usage because it tells me she is aware and accepting.


Anonymous said...

Can you use the term "twice exceptional" instead of "twice gifted", please? And the abbreviation for that, 2e.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Wondering, this is a blog, not a classroom or school. Of course, a teacher shouldn't use the word UNLESS the student has said they want to reveal this AND if the student says it's okay.

No teacher has the right to disclose anything about a student unless the parents/student says they can.

Sidneyd, sure but I still don't think gifted is a bad word.

Eric B said...

What Rodney Tom is saying with the "no new revenue" schtick is that they will comply with McCleary by cutting everything else to make room for education funding. Frankly, that's not possible without gutting the entire social safety net, but don't expect Tom and his crew to realize that and/or care.

Mary Griffin said...

The New York Times is reporting on a new study from Fordham University's center on Law and Information Policy The Fordham study reports that many schools are signing contracts with on-line software vendors that do not comply with FERPA, and that do not adequately protecgt student data privacy.

What really is shocking is the defense launched by the software industry which criticizes the Fordham Study "for examining school contracts and policies, but not actual industry practices. The group said the law had created a business culture that respected student privacy."

School boards, parents, parent groups need to pay more attention to this growing area and make sure that student privacy is adequately protected. One of the suggestions in this article is that school boards require auditing of vendors to make sure that data is adequately safeguarded. I think such a suggestion would be prudent at SPS and would help allay fears about misuse of student data.