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Last Updated: 03/18/2018


 Article of Interest - IDEA

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Bridges4Kids LogoCommentary: Signs of the Times

Calvin & Tricia Luker, OurChildrenLeftBehind

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Today’s Detroit News ran an article about the Dearborn, Michigan Public School’s Code of Conduct. The article trumpets the Dearborn School Board’s recent “triumph” in expanding its Student Code of Conduct to 40-pages. Dearborn Schools Director of Student Services, Wageh Saad, is quoted as saying, “the student code of conduct is really a way to have a social contract in the schools -- 'These are things we don't do.' Students need to be aware of these."

Of course, our first thought was to wonder what difference this new, tougher student code of conduct is going to make for students with disabilities whose disabilities manifest themselves in behavior challenges. Are there now going to be more reasons and more rules that will make it more easy for more administrators to kick out more students with disabilities? And in the spirit of No Child Left Behind, will the new, tougher code of conduct also make it easier to kick out low performing general education students so that schools can stave off the inevitable “failing school” another semester or two longer?

We were satisfied with this initial reaction to the article. The Dearborn Schools evidently has problems which it feels it can address by toughening up its code of conduct. In our younger days we heard such conduct referred to as treating the record, rather than treating the patient. But that seems to be exactly what is happening here. The Dearborn Schools doesn't want to delve into the behavior challenges existing in the heart and minds of its culturally diverse population – Dearborn has the largest community of Arab and Arab-Americans in the United States – so rather than understanding challenging behavior and teaching skills that lead to a stronger social contract between students, it chooses just to make more conduct illegal and subject to discipline.

Isn’t that exactly where we are with the IDEA reauthorization? The law has been implemented for less than two years. A clear majority of the anecdotal and research data suggest that IDEA ’97 is doing everything that its drafters and its supporters, including parents, advocacy organizations and teachers, intended and hoped it would do. The positive behavior support provisions within Part B, even though brand new with IDEA ’97, also seem to be making a difference in the school learning opportunities for all students, including those who do not have disabilities.

Enter the school administrators, school boards and their lobbyists. What do they tell Congress? The school administrators and school boards don’t tell Congress that IDEA ’97 is making a difference or that students both with and without disabilities are being afforded greater opportunities for social contact and social skills development. No, they tell Congress they spend too much time on paperwork and not enough time is being spent teaching. What they are focused on is not the outcomes of the students but the condition of the record. Their proposal for IDEA reauthorization is to make it easier to treat the record – their over-stated paperwork concerns – while at the same time removing accountability structures like short-term objectives and benchmarks that would dare hold them accountable for their educational outcome through the students. The school boards and administrators do not know how to measure or acknowledge teacher or student performance and accountability. They only know how to measure their own administrative performance and how to elevate their performance concerns above the outcomes of dedicated teacher and student performance.

Is it any wonder, then, that Congress would hear the lobbyists loud and clear, because after all, what is accountable, in Congressional terms, about excluding parents, students, families and supporting organizations from the Congressional debate over the IDEA reauthorization? Was the House of Representatives vote a ringing endorsement of strong student outcomes, or was it a complacent, even compliant following along with the school board practice of treating the records to make them look good? And won’t the same members of Congress go back home to their districts and tell their school boards that they were with them when it came time to deal with the paperwork issue and to duck accountability for the student performance outcomes?

It seems like every week we have a different theme. This week the theme is accountability. School boards who feel that they will improve school behavior and the learning environment by increasing the number of student code violations soon will discover that even more time will be stolen from students to treat records rather than confronting and solving core behavior challenges. This Congress runs the same risk of diverting accountability efforts from student performance to paperwork performance if either proposed IDEA reauthorization bill passes.

Let us use one of our primary issues, elimination of short-terms objectives and benchmarks, as an example of what we are discussing. School administrators say it’s too much work to chart performance on short-term objectives, presented as a paperwork or record issue. But short-term objectives and benchmarks, properly recorded and measured, demonstrate student achievement, student progress toward goals, the effectiveness of the IEP and the effectiveness of the school in implementing the IEP. So, who is benefiting from eliminating short-term objectives? And where does accountability fit in once they have been eliminated?

It is tragic when school boards, the bodies elected by parents and other members of communities to run schools, find it necessary to resort to creating exploding school codes in order to address what they perceive as exploding school conduct. Is there a reason to be concerned about conduct in school? Absolutely. But does the Dearborn action have any reasonable chance of changing, let alone solving, broad student [and teacher/administrator] conduct issues within school buildings? We think not.

Will gutting IDEA ’97 and eliminating measures placed in IDEA ’97 to measure and ensure student/teacher/school accountability to the IEP, the family and the community improve the quality of education each individual student will receive? We think not.

How tragic it is that we are at this point where in order to improve ourselves we deliberately walk forward into the mud we just walked out of. This is exactly what the Dearborn School District did with the school code of conduct, and this is exactly what the school administrators are determined to persuade Congress to do with IDEA. Let us hope that it is their mistake that they think our measurement is clean faces rather than clean boots. Let them know we see the whole picture.

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