Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Role of Paraeducators

Important story in today's Seattle Times,
‘Basically I’m their teacher’: Washington has big plans for its 25,500 school paraeducators
More commonly known as teacher’s aides or classroom assistants, paraeducators earn about half the salary of the average teacher in the Evergreen State. And yet, more and more, schools here and across Washington are relying on these workers to help mitigate a chronic teacher shortage.
It’s for that reason the state has eyed paraeducators as potential teacher recruits. Developing that pipeline would not only help stanch a growing number of classroom vacancies — it also would improve diversity, alleviating the problem of a mostly white teaching force that doesn’t look like its students.
The article points out that there are 25,500 paraeducators in Washington state as compared to  66,000 fully certified teachers.

New for Washington state:
As of the 2017-18 school year, paraeducators like Cortez provided nearly two-thirds of the instructional time in special-education classrooms. The same is true for programs that serve English learners and children from low-income households, according to the Public School Employees of Washington, a statewide union that represents paraeducators.

That’s largely the case in schools across the country: Paraeducators typically receive less training directly related to instruction, and yet they often work with the students with the highest needs. But Washington stands alone in its recognition of that mismatch, and for the first time this fall, every school district must offer a new training course that all instructional paraeducators must complete.
By the start of the next school year, all 295 school districts in Washington must provide similar training for their instructional paraeducators. 

An added wrinkle: In 2017, state lawmakers pledged to fully fund a mandatory, four-day training course for all paraeducators. But budget negotiations during this year’s legislative session provided only enough money to pay for half.
And boom! That's our Legislature who believes that districts have spare money to fulfill all the legislature's mandates.  It's nuts to do this to districts but I believe it's one way that the Legislature tries to force districts to spend the dollars they are given in better, more strategic ways.

More diversity in teaching corps?
As for a separate challenge, Washington officials see a solution: turning paraeducators into teachers to bridge a vexing cultural divide between the state’s largely white teachers and their increasingly diverse students. It makes sense: Paraeducators often grew up in the same neighborhood as their students.

To recruit people like him into teacher roles, the state has approved nearly two dozen “grow-your-own” programs in which school districts and colleges help working paraeducators get their teaching licenses. And as of last year, paraeducators can apply for up to $4,000 in conditional loans to cover tuition and other college costs — if they agree to teach for at least two years in Washington.
I note that the chart in the articles shows that in Washington state 11% of teachers are POC while 21% of paraeducators are POC.  While that's good, you'd wish the numbers would be higher, given how many districts have large minority populations of students. 


Anonymous said...

Former para, now cert teacher here. While paras do earn far less than they should [especially since they tend to be injured by students far more often than teachers are], many do not want to be teachers. They do not want to deal with parents or write IEPs [if they become SpEd teachers, which I did not]. They don't want to write tests or assignments or grade them. Many are quite happy with their work. Some become teachers and then go back to being IAs because of the nonsense that so many teachers put up with from admins and parents. Hell, even I consider it at times [though, really, I'm just going to teach at community college instead] and I got my cert just to avoid being injured by children any longer than I had to be [literally had an admin tell me "that's your job" once, re: getting injured by kids].

Most importantly, good paras hare very hard to find. The job kind of sucks, but many really like the work. We cannot afford to lose those people in those roles!!! They need to be treated more as equals, respected for the incredibly hard work they do [which is often more than what the SpEd teachers do, in my experience]. While I can see the point of this idea, I think it is quite problematic in many ways. We need teachers-- and a more diverse group, to be sure, but we cannot lose our paras in the process. It is an even harder position to recruit for than a teacher is. It's low paying, even more thankless than teaching, and in some ways, more difficult [but possibly more rewarding as well]. If the state plans to weaken the para pool, they need plans to replace the paras who become teachers with paras of equal competence. I have really mixed feeling about this idea, honestly.

Former Para

Anonymous said...

Great summary Former Para. I second that. The work is tough, but the toughest part is the utter lack of respect from teachers and administrators. That is, from the adults in the building. On the one hand, they need you badly. On the other hand, they treat you like a complete ignoramus, too dumb to do anything else. Good paras are people motivated by challenging students. But the bigger challenge turns out to be the adults who don’t believe in the mission of educating all students. Or who are pedantically trained in following certain pedagogical practices they were trained in, no matter how ineffective. You are right. Good paras are really hard to find. The totally lack of accountability in special education means that it is essentially a hiding place for for paper pushers. Many teachers defer most of the important their roles to paras and expect paras to create instruction, deliver instruction, assess and grade the student, handle the student, modify materials, and even assign homework... while they write IEPs, conduct iep meetings, talk to the parent etc. No matter how many memos are sent out by the district sped department, teachers across the board defer actual instruction creation, without oversight, to IAs nearly universally. Great Paras don’t really want to do all the things teachers do - IEPs, planning, instructional content. It is indeed a mistake to pilfer the para pool to find teachers. The great paras won’t be great teachers. And they will and have lowered the bar with the IA to cert program so that the really mediocre IAs can become even more mediocre teachers.

Another Former

Mike said...

Former Para has a more realistic, first-hand take than the Times article. It struck me that the focus was on SPED but neither the teacher nor Former Para are noted as coming from the same culture as SPED students. Does that explain why students injure them? Do teachers and paras need to have had the same behavioral problems as students in order to be effective? Can only teachers and paras with ADHD effectively teach ADHD students?

I'm not trying to be facetious in asking this. Nor am I being specific to SPED. Rather, I'd like the blog's thoughts as I think my questions point to mistaken basic assumptions in our current fad of critical pedagogy and multiculturalism. One assumption, with the same rationale we once used to prohibit or stifle "mixed" marriage, is that 'only like can successfully teach like'. But the related (uncited) "research" alluded to in the Times is suspect; most obviously as it largely ignores (in research I could find) Asian-American students who've only had White-American teachers, administrators, and staff at school.

As attempting to teach to the differences in an ever-increasing number of cultures has proven less effective than what we aimed at until the Viet Nam war, it seems time for a national discussion to determine exactly what we mean and intend by multiculturalism in our public education system.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you to the experts weighing in.

Mike, you certainly are brave to make you statements; I'm sure you are going to hear from people. But two things.

One, I am quite to surprised to learn that many people, in terms of public education, don't think Asians are a minority group. It's weird but true. What makes that really amazing is that Asians, like Black students and Native American students, are not a monolithic group.

I do like your last paragraph especially so for "what we intend" for multiculturalism.
I suspect it means doing many things but since that takes time and money, what should come first?

- More teachers and staff of color? If so, how to find and keep them? Does the City have a role to play since housing is so expensive but we want a good public school system?

- Ethnic Studies and Time Immemorial curriculum. That would seem to be urgent because of the less-than-robust teaching of the history of the U.S. as well as allowing students of color to see the many contributions made to the growth and power of this country because of those contributions.

- Other multicultural efforts like translations and more people of color in senior leadership in the district and at City Hall.

- Respecting others' religious holidays

Anonymous said...

Please don't lump all SPED students in to the same basket. The vast majority of SPED students are not violent and it's becoming more obvious that the violent students perhaps do not belong in any general setting were they can injure teachers or other students.

Several parents over the years have raised holy hell over violent SPED students attacking other children and wanting SPS to make changes to insure everyone's safety.

These changes were opposed by various parents who went on a mission to demonize anyone who did not agree with them. No need to name people, these very vocal people seemed to have moved on to other issues or other school districts.

While I'm sure SPED parents appreciate the elevated news coverage of SPED by the Seattle Time, I must point out the accuracy of their stories is not all that good and they are missing many key facts. I've asked several ST reports where the new emphasis on all things SPED is coming from and no one has yet responded.

I'm not saying there is something nefarious going on , but it sure looks that way.

SPED parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

SPED Parent, the Times frequently doesn't fully cover public ed stories; I'm not sure why as they have good reporters right now.

As to why they are covering SPED more, I suspect it's the combination about the money spent and the money allotted by the state to cover those expenses. The Legislature didn't fully fund the amount they should have.

On teaching and multiculturalism, I found this list of resources:


Anonymous said...

SPED Parent, please don't lump all students who receive special education services and are labeled "violent" in the same basket.

Are there some students who need to be in a therapeutic setting to learn how to learn in school? Yes, of course.

However, in my experience, most of these students who get labeled as violent are perfectly capable of attending school and being successful in their school settings -- if their academic and social/emotional needs are being met and if evidence-based positive behavioral supports are implemented by school personnel.

I speak from personal experience. My son was labeled violent in elementary school and the first year of middle school and suffered greatly. But, after suing the district and moving him to a middle school where he could take advanced classes and get appropriate support, he became a model student, earning all As and Bs and not having one single behavioral incident. He is not the only one. I have a circle of friends with kids in SPS who can tell similar stories.

Behavior is one way our children communicate. Unsafe or violent behavior is an indicator of a child who is crying out for help. In many cases, that help is required because the child is bored to tears in school, or is not having his/her disability needs met in appropriate ways. The answer is not to blame the child for the behavior and put labels on the child; the answer is to look behind the behavior at its cause and then address the factors that are causing the unacceptable behavior.

Another parent

Anonymous said...

There's a significant difference between being labeled as being violent and having attacked or injured other people.

SPED parent

Anonymous said...

I'm talking about kids who have injured others out of frustration. That's why they are labeled as violent. But, they aren't inherently violent. Many times, maybe most of the time, these are kids whose needs are not being met and who can't control their frustration. So, aggressive behavior is how they communicate that something is wrong. Instead of focusing on the behavior, we need to focus on what is causing the behavior and address those antecedents.

Another parent

Anonymous said...

@another parent

What school did you move your child to where they were able to make such improvements? What, exactly, was this "appropriate care" that they received? Did this school allow your child to injure others?

Melissa Westbrook said...

So I want to point out that this thread is about paraeducators. Some, not all,of them work with Sped students.

The discussion is good but if anyone else wants to weigh in or has thoughts about whether helping paraeducators become full teachers will increase diversity, that, too, would be interesting to hear about.

Anonymous said...

Science Teacher -- we moved to Jane Addams. There he was able to take advanced classes and not be bored. Boredom was the number reason for his behavioral issues (an argument I made for years to no avail). Also, outside behavioral consultants worked with him on a behavior plan that he helped create and bought into, providing him options when he became frustrated. Finally, the special education teacher and the general education teachers worked together as a team to address his academic challenges by modifying assignments when needed so he could still meet the academic goals.

This is the way that special education services are supposed to work. And, no, the school did not allow him to injure anyone. As I stated before, because all the pieces were put into place, he never had a behavioral problem in the two years he was at Jane Addams. That doesn't mean he didn't have challenges, but every time he was able to work through them with the team without becoming physically aggressive.

We've worked with many paraeducators over the years, and many have been wonderful. I don't have an opinion about whether helping them become full teachers would increase diversity as I haven't studied the data to be able to have an opinion. Some paraeducators are gifted at one on one work with challenging students and those skills are needed in our schools.

Another parent

Arnot said...

In terms of teacher diversity, the district basically said last year that public school teachers are hired from the adult population in the Seattle area and the demographics of the adults who live in and around Seattle (about 65% white?) does not match the demographics of the students in public school in Seattle (about 47% white).

One obvious way to make our teaching staff look more like our students is to make our students look more like our city.

Programs to help interested adults afford teacher certification (and support themselves/their families while they do it) would probably also help, because students who need to be earning an income get weeded out of teacher training programs when they have to leave to support a parent or their own family financially and can't afford to continue to not be paid.

But having the students look like the city would be a big help toward hiring adults that look like the students.

Anonymous said...

Gee. So much misinformation.

No. IAs aren’t some sort of diversity gold mine. It might be slightly more diverse than the teacher pool, but only microscopically. If you discount the IAs who are really football coaches on the dole, passing the day away in sped until it’s time for their sport coaching gig, you might even find no extra diversity. IAs (paras) are mostly white women, just like teachers. By large margins.

No, IAs aren’t hired for something besides sped, at least not many. Ok. There are a very few IAs ELL, and an even smaller number for general ed elementary that are crowded, or language immersion programs, the bulk of IAs are doing sped. Look at the CBA, you’ll see them all over the sped contracts.

No, every act of aggression towards school staff doesn’t have a magic bullet to be solved. No, it isn’t always solvable by an honors class, or even usually solvable that way. There are students with brain injuries or behavioral disabilities that are plain aggressive, walking in the door. The good IA will learn to avoid being injured. It is possible. Students who are repeatedly injurious are going to wind up contracted out. SPS has numerous behavioral contracts for students too aggressive for other schools. That said, it is far more likely that uncaring staff will injure the student than the other way around. I don’t have data, but I’m sure it’s available. Fatalities against students with disabilities is often in the news. I haven’t yet heard of the opposite.

Another Former

2 IAs said...

I'm not seeing the misinformation...

Who's talking about a "diversity gold mine"??? Everyone is looking for ways to foster more diversity, not a gold mine.

IAs are hired for things beside sped. Some of the DLI and option schools hire hordes of them. And maybe wealthy PTAs, too. Who did McGilvra hire with their $300,000? Bet they sprung for some IAs. So, I'm pretty sure your idea that IAs only work in sped is wrong.

And no one said every act of aggression towards school staff can be solved by a magic bullet. What many parents know is that schools are creating problems in children who don't need to be having problems by refusing them basic human rights sorts of things. Access to recess, bathroom, school work that is challenging enough, positive reinforcement. These things don't fix or avoid every act of aggression, but they're the right thing to do. And many schools are falling very, very short on this, which is actually CAUSING some children to act out sometimes. Not all of the children all of the times, but still.

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