Arne Duncan's, former head of Chicago Public Schools and now U.S. Secretary of Education, strategy in Chicago was to move children out of underperforming schools to other schools. The only problem is that the "other schools" were also underperfoming. No surprise that this variant on NCLB of moving children around has not been effective for students. It did however make for good press allowing Mr. Duncan to become Secretary of Education Duncan.
I am a President Obama supporter on most issues, but picking Arne Duncan was not a smart move. Chicago's schools are and have been systematically broken and lot of that responsibility lies with Mr. Duncan's lack of effective leadership (see e.g. Download AccessLiving_Ren_2010) [Click for background information on Renaissance 2010 a Duncan lead proposal]. Now we are getting the same on the national level:
"A Chicago-style strategy is a feature of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s push for the nation to turn around its lowest-performing schools. Mr. Duncan was the chief executive officer of the Chicago public schools from 2001 until December 2008, when President Barack Obama nominated him as education secretary. School closings are one element of the so-called “turnaround” plans Mr. Duncan has promoted as secretary, which also include measures that would replace principals and teachers in persistently failing schools."
I have very low expectations of anything effective coming from Mr. Duncan's leadership on a national level. We need to move him out and someone with real ability into this role.
IDEIA requires schools to implement Universal Design in the classroom. Nevertheless, Universal Design is not well defined or widely implemented. CAST, a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to promoting Universal Design for Learning ["UDL"] defines it as "[e]mbedded features that help those with disabilities eventually benefit everyone. UDL uses technology's power and flexibility to make education more inclusive and effective for all." Some obvious examples are curb cuts (usable for baby strollers and wheelchairs) and closed captioning which can support literacy and those with hearing impairments.
In some schools around the Washington D.C. area teachers are using signed letters and words to better manage their classes. Students flash a signed letter to the teacher such as "B" for bathroom or "L" for library and the teacher responds with a sign or other gesture, which allows him or her to go on with the lesson without interruption.
Perhaps without even realizing it, these teachers are using UDL for more effective classroom management. Special education methods when used creatively in the classroom can benefit all students and the teacher. Similarly, I have effectively advocated for a visual behavior system that was aimed at a student with autism, also proved highly effective for the entire the class without stigmatizing the "target student." It is nice to see a school that views all students as part of one common community of learners, where methods from special education seamlessly cross-over to the entire class. It might even be fun to see teachers flashing signs like a third base coach down the road, so long as they do not flash the universal sign to throw a student out of the class (game).
As some of you might remember, I have always found Halloween to be a particularly difficult holiday. Whether it’s having neurotypical kids ring my bell, or just seeing groups of neurotypical peers in the distance, it’s enough to make me cry or padlock my door. Either way I’m left to deal with it the best I can; with humor to distract me, or eating candy to numb the pain. Hope this funsize bit of humor does the trick for you.
In the news today are two stories that spotlight the need for better and more comprehensive services for students and training for staff. In one case a special education student with autism was shot 5 times and killed by the on-campus officer after the student stabbed him with a knife. The article does not present all of the facts of the case but it raises issues as to how well did the police officer understand the student: how he processed verbal directions, his motivations and his mind-set. There is no doubt a larger context to this story than the article reveals.
Would better police training have resulted in a different non-lethal outcome. The NAACP commented:
"'There are many dedicated law enforcement officials who serve selflessly every day but may need better training on how to handle confrontations safely,'the NAACP stated. "The unfortunate incident in South Carolina underscores the urgency of implementing national standards on the use of force, training and monitoring practices so that law enforcement officers do not cause the unnecessary loss of life.'"
I went to see Where the Wild Things this past weekend. The movie is an adaptation of the classic children's book. The director Spike Jonze in an interview on NPR discussed that the main character Max was selected for the role in part because his vivid facial expressions that show the emotions the character is experiencing during the movie. The movie explores how Max and the monsters have to deal with strong and sometimes out of control emotions.
For some students who have autism, the movie could be a movie-social story about emotions: recognizing the facial expressions of different emotions and understanding how strong emotions can be overwhelming and have consequences. Although I am not an "autism expert," I have represented a lot of students on the autism spectrum, and have seen first hand how misunderstandings about emotions and how to cope with various emotions can lead to real life unwanted consequences. The movie is very spare and the emotions expressed are clear and unambiguous making it more useful for students with autism. Perhaps viewing the movie on DVD (when available) allowing for stopping and starting and freeze-frame might be the way to go. While there is more to curriculum than watching videos, and I normally think that movies are used as giant time-wasters in school, the movie Where the Wild Things Are should be considered an exception.