Sunday, November 27, 2016

What a child doesn't learn

The most recent Parenting for High Potential- December 2016- includes an article "What a Child Doesn't Learn..." by Dr. Tracy F. Inman that briefly discusses some concerns that I have had about not addressing my child's educational needs. The soft skills that she lists include:
  • work ethic
  • responsibility
  • coping with failure
  • self-worth from accomplishment
  • study skills,
  • decision making and problem-solving skills
  • sacrifice.

When I was in high school, I managed to acquire A's with little effort. I paid attention in class quickly completed my homework- only rarely actually reading the assigned readings from textbooks. I had to learn how to learn from reading when was in college. I had a midafternoon class that consistently put me to sleep. I began to read to the book in order to learn the material. When I managed to do , the work became especially easy. I put more time into that class all my other classes combined, and yet it still only amounted to about two hours per week. I am not gifted.

My daughter does not need to put in the effort I did to achieve the A's. Fortunately she has a work ethic from home- she does work that she does not need to do in order to achieve competence. She learned responsibility, decision-making and problem-solving from home and Science Olympiads. Classwork was not involved. In elementary school I would lie about studying because studying without does not teach skills- it wastes time. I do not worry about in high school. She has not ever studied for a final exam or AP exam. I do not know that her undergraduate program will require any study skills for her, but somewhere along the way, she will have to harness discipline and learn something  her own.

Sacrifice and self worth from accomplishment. These are tough ones. Now that she is working 23+ hours a week on top of school she has had to sacrifice some of her reading time, but it is pretty much unrelated to school. As the author points out, it is hard to really feel good about something you achieve without effort.

These soft skills are the skills that will be essential as our children grow up. Without giving our gifted children a chance to develop them, we condemn some to crash and burn when they encounter the challenges of adult life. We need to push our schools to find ways to push our children to learn these skills or at least to offer opportunities to  them. Things like clubs can help- if they are well coached. Parents need to find ways to help develop these skills in spite of school's ease. The CTY program at Hopkins certainly helped, but that level challenge was not available until middle school. We need to find challenge before then. It might mean acceleration beyond grade level while in elementary class. It might mean differentiation in which students are allowed to deeply pursue passions that may seem too old for. The move toward whole group instruction in math and ELA can be devastating to these bright young minds. Let's see what we can do for them.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Research on graduation of students with specific disabilities

We have long known that students with disabilities do not graduate at the same rate as students without disabilities. NCLB's core ideas around subgroup assessment acknowledged this achievement gap and wanted to push programs to better meet the needs of all students. New rules governing how graduation rates are reported has made the reported numbers more compareable. Overall graduation rates are not where we wish they were. Overall graduation rates Rochester, NY, the nearest city to where I live, consistently lie well under the 50% mark. We know that issues that put children at risk of not graduating on time include poverty, single parent households, changing schools/student mobility, parents without a high school diploma, English language leaners and yes- disability. Vanessa Barrat, BethAnn Berliner, Adam Voight, Loan Tran, Chun-Wei Airong Yu, and Min Chen- Gadgini dug deep into Utah's graduation information to identify what difference there were in disability  categories related to graduation outcomes in their report School mobility, dropout, and graduation rates across student
disability categories in Utah.

What they discovered was mostly expected, by me anyway. Here are some of the highlights:
  1. Approximately 1 in 5 general education students dropout whereas 1 in 4 students with disabilities drop out with students with emotional disabilities (ED) leading the pack at twice the rate of nondisabled peers
  2. Students with multiple disabilities (MD), intellectual disabilities (ID), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and (ASD) had lower graduation rates and continuing their education in school past grade 12.
  3. Students with hearing impairments and speech and language impairments (SLI) had graduation rates on par with their nondisabled peers and were more likely than students with other disabilities to be in a grade consistent with their age.
  4. Students with ED had the highest rates of changing schools- approximately 3 times that of the general education population
  5. Students with disabilities were approximately 50% more likely to change schools than the general education population, but students with MD and SLI were significantly less likely to experience school change

Why are these not a surprise?
1. drop out rates: Students who struggle are more likely to decide to quit than to persevere when compared with their peers. This is especially true for students who are facing the knowledge that they cannot graduate with their peers because of credit concerns. It makes sense that ED population has the highest rate of students who run away and are more likely to come from the most challenging home life situations. When you struggle to respond socially-emotionally the way a typical peer will you find school a less appealing place than your peers do. When your ability to control your behavior is challenging- you miss classes, are less likely to pass and are more likely to be suspended. If you hate school or are allowed to be home alone, suspension may be a holiday to these kids.

2. The more complicated your disability the more time it takes for you to learn and consequently the more likely it is that you will need more years to meet the requirements graduation or, if you are functioning significantly grade level, you may just age out of the system. Since school is about compliance and verbal/math skills. People who lack strengths in these areas will not be as successful as their peers.

3. Students with hearing impairments or SLI are more likely to have average cognitive functioning than those with MD, ID, TBI, and ASD. We have good supports for helping these groups.

4 and 5. The more often you change schools the more likely you will not fit . Developing social bonds helps students be successful. When students do not form bonds with peers and adults, they are more likely to learn maladaptive behaviors. When a family is dealing with a child with MD, once they find what they determine to be a good place, they are more likely to stay there because they know the challenges mobility creates for them.

The next question is so what? This study did not go into that idea. For some the information we should not be surprised and probably need no interventions. MD students functioning at levels far below age level will likely never be able to attain a high school diploma and the goal should be as satisfying a life as possible. When you talk about non-mobile, nonverbal, ID individuals, you are not talking about independence, but this is a small piece of the disabled population.

How do we address the students who drop out. What interventions  we put into place to help the students with average cognitive capacity  a diploma- the key to the door of many post school opportunities? Clearly we need to focus on our ED kids. They need support that does not begin in high school.
  • Their families need help dealing with the concerns that are present. Connecting with housing and food aid so that poverty impact is minimized and housing insecurity is addressed. Safe community housing needs to be available. Assistance with job training, job acquisition and maintenance as needed. Help navigating health insurance supports. High quality, affordable day care needs to be available so that parents can work and go to school to support their children. Transportation issues need to be addressed.
  • Mental illnesses need adequate, early intervention. All too often there are inadequate therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists to deal with children. Insurance companies limit treatment protocols. One adolescent I worked with was repeatedly discharged because insurance had run out rather than adequate treatment had been established. His emotional issues continued to spiral out of control. Guess what? It impacted his education. While expensive, inpatient treatment programs need to become more readily available to deal with drug addiction, issues around ting and food, and significant mental health needs must be provided before crisis points. Intense early treatment is far more effective than delayed crisis management.
  • Address the educational gaps formed when students have a history of mobility or poor attendance. This might mean providing summer school services for bringing students up toward grade level rather than maintenance and avoidance of regression.
  • Provide training and support so that teachers have the tools to try and reach these struggling students. We may say that it is great that co-taught classes exist and students are mainstreamed, but if the expectations are not present for the students with disabilities, what is the point? Smaller classes and extra instructional time may be necessary for these kids to learn. I remember one of my early special ed classes in college going over the disability categories. Most included the characteristic of they need longer to learn the same material as their age peers. In part, that is why students with disabilities can attend school through age 21. They need more time. Some may never be able to attain a diploma, but with extra time, many will.
  • Normalize alternative paths to graduation- this could be a five/six year plan, career training, or summer school.
  • Begin early with birth to 5 programing to help children learn language skills, provide adequate nutrition and health care, and housing security.

We know the steps. We have learned the target subgroups. We just need to harness the will to make it happen. It is doable, just not with a four year, high school building target.