Thousands of kids in UK removed from special needs list will avoid negative labels

Graeme Paton of the Telegraph is reporting that changes in the way special needs children are diagnosed in the U.K. is going to have hundreds of thousands of children and youth (estimates are in the 450,000 range) removed from the special needs “extra help in school” lists. (H/T # 10 at JNW)

As the video indicates, the concern of U.K. MP Sarah Teather, Minister for Children and Families, seems two-fold: (1) that there be a single diagnosis process encompassing education, health and social services; and (2) that children, who are simply behind in their school work a bit, or have a few behavioural problems, get help outside of special services.

Which, putting aside politics since I live in Canada, makes a lot of sense to me. When I went to school or taught in the elementary and secondary systems myself, we only referred kids to special services when they had profound learning problems. Everyone else we helped as best we could.

We re-taught or reviewed lessons when necessary. We sent extra work home. And, we worked with children and youth during recess, lunch hours and after school — although when children travelled by school bus, staying after school became impossible.

Which makes me wonder whether teachers’ unions have now forbidden teachers from using any of their break and lunch periods to work with kids.  Yes, teachers deserve breaks and time to eat lunch. But, arrangements can be made. If that is no longer possible, however, how very tragic.

Tragic because labels and negative expectations can have far reaching consequences. And, those consequences come about because of what is now referred to as the Pygmalion Principle or the self-fulfulling prophecy principle (something I wrote about back in July of 2008).

In 1968 Lenore Jacobson and Robert Rosenthal assigned teachers to two separate groups of students — one group with above average IQs and one group with below average IQs. However, they reversed the groups so that the teacher with the children with low IQs thought her students were the ones with the high IQs and vice versa. In other words, it became a study about teacher expectations based on labelling.

The result? By the end of the school year all the students thought to have high IQs (but, unknown to the teacher actually had been assessed as having low scores) excelled far beyond what their initial tests showed they were capable. Meaning, labels can change attitudes and beliefs about people, becoming self-fulfilling prophecies — either negative or positive!

So, given the role of expectations and the Pygmalion Principle, my guess is that most of the thousands of kids in the UK who will ultimately be taken off the special needs list, will do just fine in life, as long as their families and teachers provide them the extra help they need and, perhaps most importantly, they “believe” in them.

“Full-inclusive” proponents ignoring evidence & human rights of severely autistic students

Inclusive education where possible but not always.

It sounds counter-intuitive that “mainstreaming,” or “fully inclusive” education could harm a child or youth with special needs. But it definitely can and that it can is not a new idea.

Back in 1984, I wrote a peer-reviewed article for publication in Education Canada about just that potential problem. At that time, I was teaching university education courses, as well as operating a special education private practice.

Since part of my practice was acting as an advocate for parents trying to navigate the Ontario school system, I knew what problems they were having and those problems were at opposite ends of the issue.

For example, on the one hand, some parents wanted their children, particularly if they had physical, learning or intellectual disabilities without any behavioural problems, put into the regular stream.  So, I would help them get their children placed in the most acceptable regular classroom environment possible.  

But, on the other hand, there was a small number of parents who wanted their child left in or placed in a segregated environment based on specific diagnostic criteria, what is now referred to as a research “evidence-based intervention” approach to determining a school placement.   In the 1980s, that kind of placement was possible but by the 1990s, they were nearly non-existent.

However, in the Niagara Region where I live, there was the Niagara Children’s Centre, which continues to this day. So, while there can be huge waiting lists, an evidence-based environment is possible in our neck of the woods. Others parts of Ontario and Canada may not be so lucky. For example, the Thistletown Regional Centre is about to be closed down by the McGuinty Liberal Government in Ontario –with claims that parents can find similar services in their own communities — which is absolute nonsense.

Suffice to say that over the years, exclusive or segregated classrooms have all but disappeared. Why the one-sized fits all approach? In my opinion, it’s all about money and government priorities.

Just as Thistletown is being closed down in the near future, Ontario is spending huge amounts of money subsidizing private wind developers. And, just like when hospital beds or even hospitals are closed,  provincial governments continue to have the gall to say they are doing it to improve services.  

Anyway, it was with a heavy heart today, that I visited Harold Doherty’s website called “Facing Autism in N.B” and listened to his radio interview about how New Brunswick is trying to go to the “full inclusiveness” model at the expense of the needs of students like his son, Conor, who is at the severe end of the autism spectrum.

So, I recommend readers visit Doherty’s blog to listen for themselves. Simply click on the link and then wait a few seconds and the audio will come up. I have no doubt that Mr. Gordon Porter and the N.B. Association for Community Living have only the most honourable reasons for pushing “full inclusiveness.”

But they need to step outside their philosophical comfort zone and realize what it is like for parents who have children or youth who simply can’t manage in a regular classroom environment, regardless of the number of accommodations, enhancements, social workers or teaching assistants.

As Doherty suggests, insisting on full inclusiveness as opposed to making decisions based on verifiable diagnostic evidence is actually flouting the human rights of severely autistic students — something school boards and school districts across Canada need to consider.

Teacher, Faculty of Ed & union bashing will not improve public education!

Contrary to the opinions of many parents and Canadian taxpayers today, teachers, the teachers’ unions and faculties of education staff are NOT to blame for everything that is wrong in schools today. Yet, if you read the 300+ comments on a thread at EduChatter, it is obvious that there is an intense public anger and disdain against anyone and everyone within the public education system. And, that includes all those dozens of groups that are part of the Education Blob (Big Learning Organization Bureaucracies). Of course, that kind of discussion was not Paul Bennett’s intention given his post was just about how the various teachers’ unions resist reform. [Sentence added after posting.]

Perhaps, the anger and disdain are caused by looking through rose coloured glasses to a time when kids sat in rows and were taught the same traditional curriculum from itemized government documents. In fact, I still have a copy of the Ontario Department of Education’s “Grey Book” from the 1940’s through to the 1960’s where lists of content and skills could be quantified. Now, with the advent of the personal computer, the Internet, E-Books and Smart Phones, that is simply no longer possible!

Yes, I acknowledge that there are an awful lot of things needing improvement within our public education systems today. I also acknowledge that this post is fairly long because I didn’t want to take anything out.

To start with, there are the social promotion and no-fail policies that only seem to encourage and reinforce mediocrity.There is the all-pervasive “teacher/parent wall” when teachers communicate with parents with a “we know what’s best for your child better than you do” attitude rather than working with them as school partners.

Plus, there is the extremely divisive and controversial issue of quality teaching and teacher evaluation. In the United States, for example, they are turning to the results of standardized tests to evaluate and, even, to fire teachers. Here is a link to the Washington Post that claims 200 teachers were recently fired for just that reason — a decision that is just going to lead to a teacher shortage.

The reality is that many kids will admit that they don’t try to do very well on standardized tests. Moreover, teaching is not a passive activity. True, teachers are taught to motivate children but the reality is, politically correctness aside, that children have differing academic abilities. I mean, both my husband and I have taught in different school contexts and our standardized tests results varied from year to year and location to location — depending on the children.

All that said, there obviously needs to be some type of generalized teacher accountability criteria developed. However, it is not going to be the teachers themselves, the teachers’ unions, faculty of education staff or others in the blob – unless they get direction and orders from the politicians who are the governing party.

In other words, classroom teachers do not develop or set generalized board of education policy. Nor do principals or members of the Education Blob. Rather, teachers will implement board of education procedures which are based on government policy. They will do that, for example, a week before school starts at the end of this month. Specifically, they will decorate their bulletin boards, organize desks and tables and learning centres. Plus, they will develop and revise unit plans and day plans, depending on whether their grade level or subject specialty has changed, as well as whether or not there are any new board or government directives.  

In other words, at the end of this month and all through the school year, teachers will not be thinking about reforming anything. Rather, to not put too fine a point on it, they will be doing what they are told!

Faculty of Education staff will also not be setting school board or government policy either. Rather, they will be preparing teachers who will want to be hired by school boards to teach. Yes, there is a teacher surplus but that is not what pre-service students and their instructors think about. They think positively because they have no way of knowing who will be hired and who won’t.

So, at the end of each academic year (usually in late May or early June), faculty meetings are held to determine what curricula and modules will be included for the next group of pre-service students. Do the education faculty themselves decide what they should teach without examining government policies or curriculum guidelines? No, they don’t. 

In fact, having developed and implemented pre-service courses myself, I can confirm that education faculty are very careful to teach the knowledge and skills school boards want new teachers to know and do — because preparing teachers is what a faculty of education does. It does not try to reform the system.  

Put another way, faculties of education do not chose, willy nilly, what studies are going to guide their courses and practicum counselling. Rather, they follow the direction of the provincial government department/ministry involved — which usually sends memoranda to the Deans of such faculties.

So, as with classroom teachers, anyone who blames the faculties of education for all that is wrong with our education system today, is simply involved in scapegoating.

It’s actually similar with teachers’ unions in that they still have to convince the government of the day to make the changes they want. 

A case in point: Dalton McGuinty campaigned in 2003 and again in 2007 as the “Education Premier.” He promised that, if his Liberal Party was given a mandate to govern Ontario, he would implement smaller class sizes, have fewer drop outs and an increase in the number of high school students who would graduate with an Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD).

Well, Ontario now has more split grades to accommodate the smaller class sizes policy and fewer students dropping out and graduating from high school because of “no-fail” and “social promotion” policies. As this “Letter to the Editor” states: “Ontario is one of the ten best education system’s in the world.” Says who? On what basis does the writer make that claim?

Well, to begin with, the letter is written by a McGuinty Liberal MPP by the name of Dave Levac, which only reinforces my opinion that it is politicians who are primarily responsible for education reform. 

Levac claims, for instance that: “It’s clear that we have achieved a great deal since 2003 – taking our public education system from a declining state to one of the best in the world.” Declining state? Again I ask: Says who?     

My opinion is, therefore, that no matter which political party is in government or which province or territory is involved, when Canadians are dissatisfied with public education policy and practices, they should lobby and blame those who really are in a position to bring about change and reform — the elected politicians that represent the governing party, no matter which party that is!

And given the number of provincial elections this fall, that time is NOW — MAN on Oct, 4th, NFLD/Labrador on Oct. 11th, the NWT on Oct. 3rd, Ontario on Oct. 6th, PEI on Oct,. 3rd, SASK on Nov. 7th and the YUKON sometime in 2011.

“Progressive education” is not the problem — it’s what’s missing that is!

In following a lively and stimulating discussion at EduChatter this past week, I noted that many parents and educators today are turned off with what they see as “progressive” education. Now, while progressive and traditional terminology was not used on that thread, its implicit assumptions were there in relation to the international test results and other related issues. In my opinion, however, any misunderstanding about current pedagogy is not with the concept of “progressive” per se, it is the way it has been distorted that is the problem. For instance, take a look at this Wikipedia site.

Progressive ideas have been around for over a hundred years and John Dewey, the father of progressive education, while opening his first laboratory school in the late 19th century, wrote his books on education in the 1940’s and 50’s. Yes, they were radical at the time, but in my view, they were never about getting rid of all traditional methods. Rather, my interpretation is that progressive and the most effective traditional methods were meant to be integrated in an eclectic way.

Yet, interestingly, it took until the late 1960’s before progressive ideas would begin to affect teacher education and what went on in the classrooms of all publicly funded North American schools. In fact, in Ontario, the Hall Dennis Report came out in 1968. But, the “awakening” as it were, happened all over North America at almost the same time.

Today, however, “liberal progressivism” has become a political ideology more than simply an educational  philosophy. On the Wikipedia site, for instance, readers will find “ideas” that have nothing to do with teaching and curriculum approaches, such as: civil liberties, ethical conservation, economic progressivism, economic interventionism, efficiency movement, environmental justice, fair trade, feminism, labor rights, anti-racism, positive liberty, social justice, social progressivism, techno-progressivism, social welfare, women’s rights, and women’s suffrage.  Nothing wrong with those concepts. The problem is just that there is an assumption that traditional or conservative views don’t encompass fair trade, anti-racism policies, social justice and women’s rights — which they certainly do.

However, the problem, according to the progressives,  was that those traditional methods didn’t encourage problem solving and creative thinking. They also didn’t teach kids how to work with other kids and how to think differently and make connections between subject disciplines. However, the baby was not supposed to have been thrown out with the bath water. Meaning, the best of traditional education was supposed to be integrated with the new progressives ideas. But, unfortunately, it wasn’t. Today, the political left ideology has taken over education from top to bottom, starting as early as the mid 1970’s when “whole language” was instituted. I had just started teaching in 1972 and was part of that wave. Yet, many of us resisted and kept on teaching phonics. I mean, how was it “whole” when so many important parts were being left out? Now, it is almost entirely discovery and language experience, which is not “whole” either.

For example, on the Wikipedia entry, at the very top of the article, is the quote: “A progressivist teacher desires to provide not just reading and drill, but also real-world experiences and activities that centre on the real life of the students. ” (My emphasis.) In other words, progressive education was supposed to be “reading and drill,” as well as the other experiences. It was not one type of learning over the other.

So, maybe, just maybe, Canada’s drop from 7th in the world to 10th on the OECD international test scores, has something to do with this issue.

Updated & shortened December 24,2010

Support grows for ON NDP PMB re increasing Ombudsman powers

Here is a column by freelance writer Cathy Cove, published earlier in the Goderich Signal Star (but not available online) and posted here with her permission. It is about the need and support for an Ontario NDP private members bill that would increase the powers of the Ontario Ombudsman to deal with complaints that are currently not allowed, such as those related to school boards — long overdue in my opinion. See also a related article I posted here ten days ago, with the quote Cove uses in her piece.

SWEEPING SUPPORT FOR NDP PRIVATE MEMBER’S BILL…..IT’S ABOUT TIME!
by Cathy Cove

If you were paying attention last Monday you would have heard the roar of approval from parents, educators and anyone who has had a complaint or concern about the services provided by the Ontario government, as Ontario New Democratic education critic Rosario Marchese rose in the house to introduce a private member’s bill (PMB) that proposes to extend the power of the ombudsman.

Typically the role of Ontario’s ombudsman is to investigate complaints on services provided by the provincial government and its organizations.

Marchese’s PMR proposes to extend the scope of the ombudsman to include not just school boards, but also universities, hospitals, long term care facilities, municipalities, and the police.

A special report in the London Free Press by Jennifer O’Brien (November 13) stated that “During the past five years the ombudsman’s office has received 4,000 complaints – which it couldn’t investigate-about those institutions.”

From an education perspective this initiative seems welcomed by educators and parents alike. Parents like it because it gives them an independent review option in cases where the school board or government’s solutions to issues concerning their children are unfair or simply wrong. The loudest cheers are coming from parents who have come up against the school system based on the delivery of special education and from parents of children who have not seen satisfactory action on bullying issues.

Educators like it because it shines a light on those sometimes ridiculous government or school board policies that look great on paper or during an election campaign, but which when translated to real-time classroom teaching leave much to be desired.

Retired educator Dr. Sandy Crux (crux-of-the-matter.com) eagerly offered her support to the extension of the ombudsman’s role. “The Ontario public, be they parents, patients or caregivers, need to be able to ask someone to investigate issues and events that previously have been ignored or disputed, which is why we should all be in favour of the Marchese PMB,” she said.

MPP Marchese’s bill isn’t anything new. As a matter of fact, when the New Democrats under Bob Rae were the provincial government, I recall a recommendation from parents back then, to that government, for the need of an education ombudsman.

Similarly, during my time on the Ontario Parent Council, through annual reports the OPC made recommendations to the Harris/Eves lead government for pretty much the same thing.

Under the McGuinty government’s watch PC MPP (Durham) John O’Toole introduced virtually the same private member’s bill as Rosario Marchese introduced last Monday. Even more amazing of a recollection is the fact that the McGuinty government’s own MPP (Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough, Westdale) Ted McMeekin introduced a bill to create something called a “Children’s Education Advocate” that was essentially an education ombudsman who could advocate the cases for individual students and families mired in educational conflict.

Even with a majority government on his side McMeekin’s attempt failed because some on his caucus and the two oppositions didn’t support the idea. As private member’s bills go, this one clearly crosses all party lines as each party has had their kick at this can at one time or another. I have to wonder of the irony that when the NDP and PCs were in government that they panned the idea of extending the reach of the ombudsman, but when in the role of the opposition they appear to see the light.

It’s also easy to see why a government of the day would reject expanded power because the outcome of an objective, impartial investigation could prove embarrassing to a government if findings by the ombudsman point to failure or weakness of legislation, policy, regulations or the delivery of government services.

Calling attention to its weakness isn’t something a government would willingly do. It would be refreshing to see a government be confident in itself and its policies so as to have no fear of what an independent review by the ombudsman may discover, but I’m not holding my breath. As is the case private member bills like this, often sit on the back burner until the house rises and the PMB dies.

I hope this isn’t the case this time for MPP Marchese and that all parties in the house support it. The mounting evidence and incidents tracked by the ombudsman’s office and by the many parent, patient, and user advocacy organizations out there have proven time and again that there is a definite need for such an initiative.

I’ll be keeping close watch on this as we head into 2011 and a provincial election because those third party eyes and ears represent a very critical piece of the transparency and accountability puzzle that we hear so much about during elections.

Here’s hoping!

Ottawa-Carleton school board to ask if students are gay?

Why on earth is the Ottawa-Carleton Public School Board conducting a census about employment, religious affiliation and sexual orientation? I thought that was why Statistics Canada needed to maintain the mandatory long form census. I mean, can’t Ottawa-Carleton Board officials simply access general demographic data already available at StatsCan?  They certainly don’t need sexual orientation information to develop a health curriculum — given that is what the Ontario Ministry of Education does for them.

There are apparently two separate surveys. For students in JK to Grade 6, parents are being asked to complete the survey — a survey that includes asking whether or not they (the parents) are employed and their level of education. The second survey is for students in Grades 7 to 12 to complete themselves and includes asking them their sexual orientation.  As Matthew Pearson of the Ottawa Citizen writes (H/T Simeon/Sam Drakich):

“Both surveys touch on a wide range of issues, including academic abilities, bullying, extracurricular activities, cultural backgrounds and language, and religious affiliation. They ask respondents to identify the adult caregivers students live with most of the time, and provide a number of possible responses, including two fathers, two mothers and half the time each with mother and father.”

“Not surprisingly, the survey for older students includes questions about plans after high school. But it also asks about gender — and includes “transgender” as one possible response — and sexual orientation. Students are asked to identify their sexual orientation from a range of possible options, one of which is “prefer not to disclose.”

Prefer not to disclose? Might I suggest another possible option? NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!

Was Canada’s high school drop-out rate halved by lowering standards?

Yesterday, the news came out that Statistics Canada had found that the high school drop-out in rate in Canada has been cut in half over the last twenty years.  While print and television news reports were all overflowing with praise (e.g., see this Ottawa Citizen report by Mark Iype), my immediate reaction was “why.”  Why did the drop rate go down so dramatically? Unfortunately, Stats Can numbers don’t tell us anything about why more young people are staying in school long enough to graduate.

Well, as a former university teacher, I can tell you it isn’t because students are being better prepared. In my last few years teaching, for example (early in this decade), I found spelling and grammar in written assignments was worse than it had ever been — and remember, like now, that was the age of computer spell checkers. 

In my opinion, and it is the opinion of an awful lot of people in this country, the reason for the decrease in drop-outs are provincially directed “no-fail and social promotion policies.” In fact, I was on the Dave Rutherford Radio Show last May, talking to Roy Green and his callers about that very subject. For those who are interested, here is my blog’s archive on that topic.

Now, I am all for motivating students to stay in school. But, lowering standards to do it is, in the long run, counter productive to society as a whole. Yet, Andrew Parkin, Director General of the Council of Ministers of Education, doesn’t seem to question why the rate had been reduced by half, just that: “It’s a dramatic change over time, and hopefully that means we can keep it going…I think it shows that the value of education and the recognition of that value has been increasing.”

I wish I could say I think it shows the recognition of the value of a high school graduation diploma, but I rather think it simply shows that: (a) more kids are promoted who shouldn’t be, particularly from elementary school into high school, and (b) academic standards have been reduced in order to accommodate those who would otherwise have dropped out. Is that such a bad thing? I don’t know. I guess only time will tell.

Perhaps parents and today’s employers can leave a comment here and tell me if they think their grown children, or staff, were adequately prepared for working in the real world. Because, it is only with that kind of information that we can know the reason Canada’s high school drop out rate has dropped so dramatically.