Monthly Archives: November 2020

Special Education Home Field Trips – White Water Rafting

Did you know there are white water rafting programs for special education kids, autistic kids, and kids with down-syndrome? Did you know that one ride down the river for these kids will be an event of a lifetime? Think about it. Best of all when kids of this nature experience something so radically different and new, it causes them use parts of their brains that have yet to be used much. Yes, that’s right it helps with brain development, just as if they were learning how to ride a bike, sing a song, or learn how to do a new skill. Okay so, let’s talk.

Some folks involved in providing such trips down the river for special needs kids tell of how it becomes a life changing experience, so to do the parents. Occasionally, it’s almost to the point that there was “little Junior before the white water rafting trip, and little Junior after.” Some parents note the difference is that profound – to which I say; wow. When I first heard about all this, I thought to myself, no, it couldn’t be that good, but the parents swear by it and the kids after doing it, they’ll never stop talking about it.

My question is; why does it work so well? Perhaps, because special kids maybe apprehensive about the water, fearful, and yet excited at the same time, well, that is just about everything you need for strong memory imprintation isn’t it? Okay so, I’ve read research papers on how the simple task of learning how to play a musical instrument, learning how to ride a bike, or interacting with an avatar on a computer helps develop these brains, and the empirical evidence has been show to prove it so. Thus, maybe these white water river rafting trips are akin to those other activities, but even more so, perhaps that’s why only one trip down the river is enough to trigger changes.

It’s not that normal (whatever that is) kids don’t also go away with experiences and memories that they cherish for years to come, they do too when it comes to river rafting, but for the special education kids who may not get the chance to do all those other activities that regular kids do consider it the most fun they’ve ever had in their lives, and it shows on their faces and their excitement every time anyone mentions it for long into the future. Indeed, I hope you will please consider all this and think on it.

Acronyms in English Education

As an English teacher from Canada living overseas I am often asked if I teach ESL. I actually teach EFL and there is a simple explanation in that ESL (which is English as a Second Language) is when English is learned and taught in a country that is an English speaking country. On the other hand EFL, (English as a Foreign Language) is taught and learned in non-English speaking countries. So, learning English in Japan would be EFL and learning English in Canada would be ESL. There have been comments that many students of English in ESL programs already are in possession of a second language, however the “a” in ESL negates that argument. An acronym that has grown in common use, particularly in the UK, New Zealand and Australia, is ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).

When educators are studying to become an English language teacher, there are several options to the student of language pedagogy. An organization named TESOL which means Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, was formed in the mid 1960’s in America and is now designated an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) by the United Nations is dedicated to English language pedagogy. However TESOL also means Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. There are even degrees in TESOL offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels. There is also TEFL, Teaching English as a Foreign Language and TESL Teaching English as a Second Language that may even be offered at the certificate or diploma levels. There is also the CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) and CTEFLA (the Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults) replaced the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) Certificate. In addition to the American based TESOL that is an NGO, many groups also implement the acronym in their organizations where language teachers support them, such as KoTESOL (Korea TESOL) and CamTESOL (Cambodia TESOL).

As for testing the abilities of the students of English, there are several. The biggest that is put on by ETS (Educational Testing Service) is TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) that is the largest English norm-referenced test, and within the TOEFL it has its own acronym within which is the TWE (Test of Written English). And, the TOEFL has several versions, the CBT (Computer Based TOEFL), the iBT (internet Based TOEFL) and the PBT (the Paper Based TOEFL). The other major language test that ETS puts on is the TOEIC (Test Of English for International Communication). There are several other testing options available and they include the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), the YELT (York English Language Test) and MELAB (Michigan English Language Assessment Battery).

The College Education Conspiracy – What They Don’t Want You To Know

Do you believe in conspiracies? Perhaps you don’t think there is a massive UFO cover-up or that Big Foot is secretly being held in an underground bunker however, you do wonder about “the rest of the story”, as Paul Harvey might say. The rising cost of a college education has always been one of those topics where there seems to be more to the story.

Consider this quote from a college financial aid insider. “You go into massive amounts of debt just to get an education that you need as a prerequisite to get a job. Then you spend the rest of your life paying off that educational debt. There has got to be a better way.”

When I heard this statement it made me stop, think and question everything that I had experienced personally as a high school student approaching college admissions, as a student in college and now as a parent preparing to send my daughter to college.

Once Upon A Time…

It reads almost like a fairytale. We are taught form a very early age that if we desire to have a better quality of life than our parents, we must obtain a college degree. Try using Google to search the phrase “value of a college degree”. You would not be surprised to learn that most of the results are filled with charts and graphs that describe the earning “potential” of a college graduate compared with that of someone with only a high school diploma. It makes sense doesn’t it? In fact companies announce that to even qualify to work for them you must have at least an Associate’s Degree and most likely a Bachelor’s Degree.

Reality Sets In…

For those of us that are old enough to have experienced life 5 – 15 years after college we understand that the fairytale was only partly true. We were not told that while in most cases we do enjoy a better than income than our undereducated counterparts, we were not fully informed about the true cost of all of the student loan debt it took to fund that college education. We were also not told that while we did get our dream job, it was only after changing careers or industries multiple times. In fact, I wonder if as you read this now, you are currently employed in the field for which you received your college degree.

It Gets Worse…

What’s worse is if you attended a well-known expensive university only to find your self today, working at the same company, in the same position, with other people who attended less expensive schools. This would be bad enough if the story ends here but unfortunately it doesn’t. After all of this you would think that we would have learned from our mistakes but we have not. Without knowing it we now are preparing our children to make this high school to college transition no better prepared than we were.

The 5 Myths Encompassing American Public Education Reform

For over 30 years America has been trying to “reform” our Public Educational system. Yet, was it ever broken to begin with? It has in fact functioned well wherever possible despite some missing pieces and occasional mission drift. We can back track this terrific sham to 5 main premises never adequately questioned or disputed. Was it, and is it, fair or in our interests to compare this nation to nations such as China, India, Russia or other European countries academically? And, did we ever fully digest the drastic differences in national values, lifestyles, and overall accomplishments between the U.S. and those nations? We did not.

Since the 1980’s to present and in reaction to the Reagan Administration’s, A Nation at Risk commission on “our failing public education system,” education reformers have fully invested in 5 mythical premises:

1. We are to compare our national educational statistics to that of our international economic competitors

2. We are to align our educational standards to meet the needs of a future global workforce

3. We are to rely heavily on standardized test scores to measure student performance for international comparison

4. We are to blame teacher quality, or lack thereof, for this proposed failure of our national education performance output

5. We are to tinker heavily in the privatization of education throughout the nation

First, as mentioned in previous articles, how could we ever compare nations with different governmental structures, differing values, differing statistical integrity standards, and differing societal/class distinctions, etc.? For example, China is a communist country which imposes national educational standards upon its students, ignoring the uniqueness and intricacies of locales. They do this because they embrace communism and “the state” decides what, which, and where their industries are to be established. Their workforce is selected, tracked, and groomed from the elementary stage into adulthood. The absence of individual choice is trumped by a fierce utilitarian function embedded into their political system. This is not an American value and we have learned of the historical dangers of practicing such ideologies.

We are compared to India with its middleclass growing exponentially along with growth in software engineering, manufacturing, and medical industries. Their results at face value, is impressive. However, we overlook their impasse with issues of gender discrimination, class/caste distinctions, and racial barriers. While the US is no stranger to these issues, and certainly not innocent of them, we have put mechanisms in place to confront them, (though steadily losing their potency). Women are more likely to be educated and valued in the US presently. America still professes to value the combination of individuality and equality. Another historical lesson we have already embraced and implemented through our ideal of providing Public Education.

The globalized workforce affecting our educational priorities is a sketchy assertion at best. Why? Because it relies wholly on political agendas and policy decisions made during each US election cycle. Industry travels wherever corporate taxes are lowest and to where labor is cheapest. Since economic policy changes can be made within a single election cycle, does this mean we are to change our educational priorities along with time each time? Are we to focus on mathematics more simply because China and/or India are producing more engineers? Is quantity the issue or quality? And, are those nations producing more because of their quality, or because of their larger populations and more exploitable workforce? There was a time when America took pride in its citizenry and their quality of life, (or we at least professed this). Education rooted firmly materialism cannot thrive. The globalized workforce is a concept embracing the value of production, but ignoring our historical embrace of domestic innovation and citizens’ quality of life.

Standardized test scores may only make sense when attempting to justify funding from an outside source (a legislator) that is not present in the classroom, having no knowledge of a particular locale’s economic engine, and is a stranger to a community’s resources, challenges and cultural makeup. It is a one-size fits all suit, where a tailor made one is obviously best. Just as there may be multiple learning styles, there are multiple assessment tools to demonstrate learning and understanding. In America, we value individuality, individual growth, the uniqueness of community, and the benefits to diversity. Did we sensationalize test standardization to address educational quality, or to justify punishment and prepare for hostile takeover of school districts? This issue is linked to teacher quality. A teacher may only be as good as the resources made available, the support they receive, the development made ready, and the quality of life this professional may enjoy as a result of their commitment.

Lastly, privatization has been the cure all presented to the public at large. However, it subtly eludes the murky question of accountability. There is no guarantee to every citizen in the private domain. The private institution tackles admission as it pleases, administers discipline as it wishes, pays employees however it wants, and the bottom line is its ultimate concern. The private institution runs itself as a monarchy making decisions from the top down, appointing its nobles rather than collectively considering merit, and selling us convenience and speed while ignoring the necessary time to debate, analyze, compromise, and collectively agree. Democratic practices are lost.

These are the values in which we should be proud of and should celebrate: 1) we do not track our students, we facilitate them, 2) we do not compete our students against each other, but rather against their own circumstances, 3) we strive to value ALL of our citizens and their quality of life, 4) we embrace diversity, because we are proudly a diverse nation, and 5) we value our natural environment, our multilingual, multi-racial, multi religious and non-religious differences and recognize that citizenship in our nation requires advanced citizenship. We educate to create societal citizen engineers. America suffers from an education equality problem in distribution, NOT an educational quality problem.

6 Things You Need to Know About State Special Education Laws That Will Empower Your Advocacy!

Are you the parents of a child with Autism or other type of disability who receives special education services? Are you currently having a dispute with your school district related to your child’s education? Would you like to learn about State special education laws and regulations to use in your advocacy? This article is for you and will be discussing these laws,and information that you need to know to empower your advocacy!

1. Every state is required by IDEA 2004 (federal special education law) to have laws and regulations that will show how they will be complying with the law.

2. State regulations cannot “establish provisions that reduce parent’s rights or are otherwise in conflict with the requirements of IDEA and Federal Regulations.” Federal law “trumps” or is stronger than State law. State law can give a parent more rights but cannot take away rights.

3. Many States laws are not consistent with federal laws.

4. Some states have been told that they must change their state regulations to be consistent with federal law. For example: New Jersey stated in their regulations that school districts had the right to test a child in an area that they did not previously test—if a parent asked for an independent educational evaluation at public expense (IEE at public expense). Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) found this inconsistent with IDEA 2004 (300.502). They have required NJ to revise their regulations and until they do so make sure school districts are not evaluating children in an area not previously evaluated before paying for an IEE.

5. Other States regulations are also inconsistent with federal law but have not been told by the U.S. DOE that they must change their regulations. One example is New York who has a regulation that ESY eligibility is only for children with multiple disabilities and/or who show regression and slow recoupment. This is not consistent with federal special education law and may hurt children by denying them needed services. Another example is in my State of Illinois the parent guide states that parents must “request” an IEE before the testing is done. IDEA 2004 states that parents have the right to “obtain” an IEE if they disagree with the schools evaluation. A letter to the Illinois State Board of Education pointing out this inconsistency was answered with this statement “The office plans to review the identified guidance document and initiate any necessary revisions during the summer of 2012. Your information will be considered during the course of that process.” It is now 2014, and I will not be holding my breath for the State of Illinois to revise their parent guide.

6. OSEP policy letters often address inconsistent State laws and regulations! They are great advocacy tools and can be found at: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/index.html#topiclisting. I use them all the time to show special educators how the Office of Special Education Programs (at the U.S. DOE) interpret IDEA 2004 and inconsistent State regulations.

By understanding these 6 things about State Special Education Law, your advocacy will be empowered! Good Luck!

You CAN Further Your Education and Stay Healthy

Whether your car still has your high school graduation tassel hanging from the rearview mirror, or a bumper sticker on the back reading “Soccer Mom,” entering the world of higher education is exciting. In other words, you’re in for a ride regardless of your age or how long it’s been since you sat behind a desk other than the one in your office or cracked open a textbook other than your oldest son’s three-pound pre-calculus tome.

Unfortunately, higher education brings more than just excitement – it can also bring financial stress. Classes at colleges and universities these days are expensive, and an entire semester of them? Plus textbooks and other materials? Well, most students must rely on scholarships, grants, and loans to get by, especially if they plan to go the whole nine yards – the two to four years it takes to get a degree.

As if that weren’t enough, the cost of higher education isn’t the only thing that can bring financial stress. Regardless of your age, you need health insurance, and since many college and university students either work part-time jobs that don’t offer health insurance, or don’t work at all due to school schedules, finding affordable health insurance isn’t an easy task. But, it can be done.

Believe it or not, most colleges and universities care about their students’ health. Many of them offer low cost or free on-campus medical services. Some universities even provide health insurance plans for students working beyond the standard four-year bachelor’s degree.

However, these services may not be the solution if you have a family to insure, as well. One option is to use your school’s health services or insurance for yourself, and purchase health insurance for your family. This is cheaper than the next option, which is to just buy health insurance for the entire family.

Higher education is important to you; so is your health. Luckily, it’s possible to have both.