Saturday, September 24, 2005

FAPE Factor

In an earlier post, I mentioned that my daughter’s mostly middle class high school has forty students to a class. My governor has promised to save public schools by changing tenure for teachers from a two year to a five year process via ballot proposition. There’s also a “live within your means” budget proposition that has some arcane implications for prop 98, the provision that guarantees a set percentage of the state budget for k-12 education. It’s been pointed out that despite the fact that the governor broke his deal on prop 98 that schools actually are getting more money than they did two years ago. The problem though is that there are 45 kids in my daughter’s chemistry class. The teacher told us that he doesn’t have the time to actually grade homework or take questions in class. The next day, there was a story in my local paper that more than thirty schools in my county weren’t meeting No Child Left Behind growth standards. My daughter’s wasn’t one of them.

A week after that I attended an IEP where some fifteen people worked to develop an educational plan for a severely disabled child. The child’s program isn’t working especially well and it runs about thirty thousand dollars a year to educate him. Under the IDEA, any child with a disability is entitled to FAPE, a free and appropriate public education. Any outsider who attended an IEP would likely come away convinced that American society is particularly devoted to the education of its most vulnerable children.
School administrators board members, and teachers too often see the dissonance in the system. They have any number of stories about children who receive hundred thousand dollar per year public educational programs yet no matter how well they do will never live independently. This often happens at the expense of the general fund, meaning that the money to do this comes out of money set asside for all children. Many years ago Congres promised to "fully fund" IDEA and thus make the right both practical and real. They never have.

I even had this idea for a television reality show called FAPE factor where special education teachers and parents compete to see how far they will go to serve a student. The winner manages to avoid hearing. Under IDEA, if the school fails to provide an adequate educational program to a student with a disability, the parent has the right to get a hearing in front of a neutral party. If the hearing determines that the parent prevailed, then the school not only provides what the parent asked for, but it also pays for the parent’s attorney fees at three hundred dollars an hour.

A lot of people are horrified by this. I’m not. I’m horrified by the fact that I live in a society that does not insist on a free and appropriate public education for non-disabled students as well. Instead, we tell the schools that they must bring all students to grade level standards “or else”. The students themselves have no right to insist that they get the resources necessary to get an appropriate education. Under No Child Left Behind, no parents can sue because their child’s chemistry class has 45 students in it and the teacher does not take questions during class. Parents are, however, entitled to find out if their child’s teacher is not highly-qualified in the subject that he or she is teaching. There are, however, no provisions that consider the possibility that non-disabled children are different from one another or learn in unique ways.

The reason for this is simple, Children with Disabilities are guaranteed a right to an education by Federal Law under IDEA. Children without disabilities are not. I was in a restaurant the other day and there was one waiter handling every table in the place. He seemed to be working hard to get all orders taken, everyone served, and all the tables cleaned up in time for the next set of customers. At the same time, it was taking far too long. Clearly, the restaurant needed to have more waiters on shift if they were going to have that many customers. The ratio of diners to waiters was less than twenty to one.

Teachers in my state used to argue that the cost of prison for one year was much higher than the cost of schooling a child appropriately for a year and that prison guards are paid a lot better than teachers. I’m not sure about that. What I do know is that my child should have a right to a free effective public education.

I’ve seen that Jonathan Kozol has a new book. Like Kozol, I spent five years visiting and working with “urban” schools. I learned more than I helped. None of the schools I visited were especially violent. In fact, the kids were notably friendly and cooperative and most of the adults were at a minimum well meaning. I did see a few classes that were unruly and certainly some teachers who didn’t do a lot of teaching. I agree that it’s strange to visit public high schools fifty one years after Brown v. Board of Education where there are no white students. It’s stranger to realize how many people are indifferent to this fact when they find out what you do. The thousands of black faces in the Superdome in New Orleans were not at all unique to New Orleans. In fact, the most segregated school systems according to Gary Orfield, a Harvard professor who studies resegregation, are in the north. By far the saddest situation I saw was in Detroit where school officials were reluctant to even let any outsider visit.

My friend Mr. Pogblog recently urged people to substitute pro-peace for anti-war. This, of course, raises the question of what a “pro-peace” education system would look like. As some of you may know, No Child Left Behind includes a provision that gives military recruiters equal access to high school student names and addresses as any other employer or college might have. In a pro-peace education system, it’s not the employers who have equal access to the students, it’s the students who deserve equal access to college, to employment, or to the military when they make it through high school. Right now, one of those options is easier for students in public urban high schools to access than the other two. We need stop measuring schools based on what the students do on tests and start thinking more about what those students actually get during the course of their educational careers. In a pro-peace society the an effective education is a basic universal right for students who are disabled and those who are non-disabled.


At 9/25/2005 11:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh chancelucky -- I don't think I can stand that your beloved daughter is in a chemistry class with 45 students. Of course you & I know that it is not the fault of the poor teacher that he/she can't take questions.

Can't take questions.

It flays the mind. It is not education without questions.

The job of a teacher is to wrestle with the mind of each student so each kid's mind can become lithe and athletic. We moan & gnash about the physical obesity of the young American -- I am much more concerned aobut the flaccid mental condition of the poor corporate-fodder folk we call our fellow-citizens and our children.

Well-tended students -- I mean education is a GARDEN -- can learn the most explosively delicious amounts of stuff -- but somebody has to specifically notice and specifically care.

You are absolutely right that in pro-peace education every beloved child has the absolute right to a splendid and individually intelligently designed education -- a wonderful education.

I never ever met a teacher in all my years in education who didn't start out longing to share the passion for chemistry or algebra or history or poetry &c with students. They just get ground down and ground down by the Impossible Burden of treating young people like cattle -- where obedience and management are more important than imagination and original thought and inquiry.

I loved your example of the waiter being at his limits in a ratio of 20-1.

In a pro-peace world, we have the funds to do this right & beautiful thing -- indeed we dare not not educate our darling spiritual wards with any less tender respect than we could imagine for young Jesusia or Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed if they re-appear to ask us in a rankled chorus what the heck we are up to.

The hypocrisy of saying we care about "life" and adore our children when we spend a single centavo on military hardware puts our nation's soul in peril indeed.

At 9/29/2005 01:17:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I can see spending some centavos on "defense". I draw the line at spending our children and grandchildren's centavos on defense, particularly when it's not protecdting them.

At 12/14/2005 09:29:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, I just wanted to give a greeting and tell you I like your blog.

At 2/18/2006 02:21:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks Ruben


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