Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Opportunity from the College Admissions Scandal

As a parent this makes me really angry. As a teacher I'm sure it infuriates you. 
My friends definitely know me! Ironically, the day before I received this text, I had administered the PSAT 9 with accommodations to a group of students. Ding goes the email: LDA Condemns Fraud in College Admissions Testing Accommodations (March 12, 2019). So glad to be part of an organization which could, and did, respond immediately. Thus began chatter and conversation about the recent college admissions scandal in my world. Chatter and conversations which ended up touching most of my "brains": parent; teacher; administrator; learning disabilities specialist; human being with integrity.

As I processed the actions being reported, I grew beyond infuriated. I became motivated and inspired. I realized it was an opportunity that we should not let pass by.

An Opportunity?

As I processed the emotions of outrage, frustration, anxiety and disgust, I settled on the thought that this situation also creates an opportunity. The concept of disabilities is not well understood so it is no wonder that testing accommodations are also not well understood. They are seen as some kind of "add on" and shrouded in some type of mystery or seen as an option that only the "lucky" qualify for. No, they are not. They are designed for specific situations. This scandal provides some opportunities to help people better understand this.

I have worked with students with disabilities who prepare for and take these types of high-stakes tests with accommodations for over a couple decades now. When I hear comments from others such as "well, who wouldn't do well with more time" or "they just want a higher score", I usually cringe, but sometimes I laugh. Really? Who in their right mind wants to sit to take a test any longer than needed? What teenager would prefer to take a big test in a different room that his or her peers? Not many! I tend to shrug off their comments and we all move on.

This scandal became an opportunity for me to reflect on these comments as well as my response to them. I shrug off the individual comments because I don't want to start an argument; I don't blame folks for not really knowing what they're talking about since it's such a specific and complex issue; I know that those individuals' comments or attitudes won't really change anything in the world of disabilities or accommodations so I figure I'll save my energies to argue when it "matters". This scandal made me take myself to task. It always matters.

Ethics and Accommodations

As a learning disabilities specialist and advocate, I am more angry with the consultant in these cases than with the parents. The parents were following advice from an "expert". Advice which was completely unethical. An expert who took advantage of a system that is not understood. He played on the fact that people do not understand disabilities or accommodations well. The fact that these are topics are not frequently talked about worked to his advantage. There is a stigma and mystique attached to learning disabilities that worked to his advantage. We should take this opportunity to speak up, to educate others, and to expand our conversations about equity and acceptance to include those with disabilities.

College board and other testing agencies require documentation that the disability is accommodated in the school setting. A student does not have to be eligible for special education (have an IEP) to qualify for accommodations on a standardized test, but they do need to have some verification that the same accommodations are used in the classroom, have been over time, and are utilized on other assessments, such as state assessments.  This raises significant questions about the documentation process at the schools the students attended for high school. We should take this opportunity to learn more about how we can do better.

Advocates, teachers and parents are often frustrated because testing accommodation requests are turned down and seen as hard to get. I disagree. Testing accommodations are not hard to "get"; they require the appropriate documentation. The fact that someone who needs these accommodations is not receiving appropriate documentation but some people who have paid for it did only highlights a huge issue within our documentation practices. We should use this opportunity to improve these practices to make it less hard for those who should have accommodations to access them.

Being a proctor of these tests with accommodations adds a whole other level of disgust and anxiety for me. To be the person administering the test in these situations requires a high level of integrity. It is necessary to complete specific training and sign specific agreements, etc... The proctors who accepted money to provide this environment and then even provided answers to the test could bring the integrity of every proctor of testing accommodations into question. We should use this opportunity to send a big thank you to those who are proctors and have not abused this position.

An evaluation for a learning disability or ADHD should always include multiple data sources. That is to ensure that the strengths and challenges are pervasive and not situational. An evaluation is also never the only source used to justify testing accommodations. For an advisor to tell someone to pretend to be slow for an evaluation is not only unethical, it is offensive. People with learning disabilities or ADHD are not slow. They are not stupid. Cognitive or achievement functions such as attention, processing, reading, writing and/or math require neurological interactions and inconsistencies are not a choice. Asking someone to fake those inconsistencies is similar to asking someone to hide one of their legs or limp a lot so they could qualify for a wheelchair or crutches. We should take this opportunity to change beliefs and conversations about the dis- part of disability.


As a parent, I love my children unconditionally and with all my heart. I want to do everything I can to help them be successful but I also realize that they will be the ones with the responsibility for the actual "doing". A standardized test is not supposed to be a one-and-done experience. It is supposed to be a measure of what someone knows and what that person may need to know more about. It can be taken more than once. I love my kids too much to send them the message that they are not enough on their own. I took this scandal as an opportunity to tell my girls I love and respect them too much to ever pay someone to fake their success.

I have a child with learning disability and ADHD. I have a child who took the PSAT and SAT with accommodations. She is not stupid. She is not slow. She is not "broken" in any way. She has had opportunities. Some are certainly because my husband and I were able to afford them but I take this opportunity to say again that access to an appropriate evaluation and support services should not be a matter of privilege; it should be a right. I take this opportunity to give a shout out to her counselor and those at her high school who took the time and consideration needed to ensure the appropriate documentation of the reasonable accommodations she utilized in her classes. I also take this opportunity to give my daughter a big shout out for being a strong, intelligent young woman who has worked hard for all of her successes, including being accepted to Michigan State University (and okaying me to share these pieces of her specific story).

Parents invested a lot of money into ensuring their children were accepted into specific colleges. Not really a new practice and not necessarily a bad thing. Parents invest money in tutors, study aides, extra-curricular activities and other tools to help their children develop the skills or talents needed to stand out in some way for college admissions. Socio-economic status is a barrier for accessing many of these types of resources. This is one example of the disparity between the "haves" and the "have-nots" and many have taken this scandal as an opportunity to continue those discussions.

Parents were caught using this money to create documentation of needs or accomplishments that were false to get those children accepted at a specific college. That is not privilege or disparity; that is bad parenting. It is also criminal.

I suggest that we could all take this scandal as an opportunity to reflect on how we communicate our beliefs about success and disabilities to all children.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Concert to Benefit Lake Michigan Academy

I am excited to share an upcoming concert: 

Lake Michigan Academy's 2018 Scholarship Benefit Concert features the Midwest's Premier Funk/R&B Horn Band, The Hip Pocket along with special guest Kelly Carey, as they present "Funkytown: the Best of the 70s!", a celebration of the music of: Earth, Wind & Fire, The Commodores, KC and the Sunshine Band, Tower of Power, Chicago, and more! 
The purpose of this event is to raise money that will be used to provide scholarships to families who wish to send their children to Lake Michigan Academy (LMA) and Turning Pages. The goal is to provide financial support to families and remove any barriers to accessing the needed instruction.

Why I Care About this Event

Lake Michigan Academy is a private school which I know is a fairly hot topic right now.  I also know that LMA is nothing like a typical private school. LMA is not a parochial school, it is a non-public school for students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD in grades 1-12. Families do not choose to send their students to LMA because they are against public schools or they have any type of political or religious preference; they choose LMA because their children need more direct interaction than traditional classroom teachers and schools can provide. Traditional schools, particularly public schools, cannot operate with class sizes of 4-10 students, but LMA students need that type of environment to be successful. 

Special education and the supports that come through special education are not intended, nor funded, for all students with special needs. Many families are told that their child is doing "well enough" or that their child does not have "enough strengths" or "enough weaknesses" to qualify for support services. Not because teachers and administrators don't care, but because the educational system has to be selective to maximize it's impact with the dollars available. 

Parents and families have a commitment to providing the additional supports when they have a child who needs them, supports like therapies, tutoring, assistive technology, medications and/or finding resources to help them know what supports their child needs. Lake Michigan Academy families make that commitment. Lake Michigan Academy teachers and administrators make the commitment to be part of those solutions for families. [disclaimer: I am back at LMA this year as a consultant, so I suppose I am giving myself a little pat on the back here too!]

All students at LMA are learners with a learning disability in reading, math or writing and/or a learner with ADHD. (LMA is never boring and one of my favorite places to be!) Students come from 21 different school districts in West Michigan from 8 different counties.  Students (and their parents) travel an average of 2,606 miles per semester to attend Lake Michigan Academy and some students can spend up to 2-2/12 hours in the car each day to get to and from school. This is not your typical non-public school! 

LMA families commit to tuition, supplies and the costs of transportation. They often have other children as well, so they balance this commitment with those of other school buildings and districts. LMA has no access to federal or public dollars so all operating funds come from tuition and donations/fundraising. Even so, their staff and Board of Directors work each year to raise funds to provide scholarship to as many families as possible. 

Tuition at LMA is currently $11,000-$13,000 per year per child which is one reason I am so passionate about this event. Tuition is prohibitive to many families whose students would be more successful if they could attend; it also much lower than other schools with the same mission. LMA must have community support to keep tuition as low as possible without sacrificing the quality of staff and materials needed to provide the services and supports these learners need.

Our communities are better places when all individuals can access the supports they need. This concert will help make that happen in West Michigan. I hope to see you there!

To learn more about the event or purchase tickets, visit the LMA Event Site or follow the event on Facebook

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Lack of Precedent but Lots of Poise

Viewing the Chairman's Welcome and the opening remarks of the Ranking Member of the confirmation hearing of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education is a slight misnomer since it was really viewing the cameras focused on Mrs. DeVos sitting in the "hot seat" during their remarks. I did however admire the amount of poise and self-control Mrs. DeVos showed as she sat under that scrutiny (even more so when Senator Murray started speaking). 


Chairman Alexander pointed out that they would be following the patterns of previous hearings for the nominees of other administrations including when he was a nominee in 1991. He overviewed that Mrs. DeVos has completed the required Senate committee forms, an FBI background check had been completed, and that she had submitted her financial records to the committee on ethics to review for any potential conflict of interest. He also outlined that Mrs. DeVos had completed the earlier step of meeting with each Committee Member privately and that this hearing would be follow-up to those individual meetings consisting of 5 min rounds of questions from each member. After the hearing, the members could submit additional questions in writing for follow-up and the Executive Meeting for determinations would be next Tuesday, the 24th, if the ethics report was completed by Fri, Jan. 20 and submitted to the committee members. 

Chairman Alexander was admittedly a strong proponent of Mrs. DeVos as a candidate for Secretary of Education which came out clearly in his pacing, tone of voice, and his statements. I already expected and understood that there would be definite opposition to Mrs. DeVos's nomination but I was quite surprised at just how strongly that came through in just the tone of the room through the video. I cannot even imagine what it must have been like to have been in that room; and the only person I had actually heard speak so far was someone squarely in favor of her in that position. I was reminded that this was not really a job "interview", it was a hearing. Mrs. DeVos's statements were not a conversation, they were testimony in front of a Senate Committee as to why she should be selected as the highest ranking official in education for the United States. 


After the Chairman outlined the expectations and guidelines of the session, he explained they would be applying the Golden Rule. He then spoke to some of the points Mrs. DeVos's critics have made. He was not unfair in her defense but I caught myself wondering how much she may have contributed to any of his previous campaigns. The fact that the hearing was held prior to her being cleared with the ethics report (stating no conflict of interest or financial entanglements) is unprecendented. Deviating from precedent in this manner is a significant negative that will need to be overcome not only if Betsy DeVos is to be approved but if she is to be taken seriously. Even if her report comes back "clear", it will be some time before the question of "did the ends justify the means" is answered.

The question of precedent came up again later. At the end of her remarks, Ranking Member Murray included that there were significant questions and concerns regarding the qualifications of Mrs. DeVos for this position, so much so that she hoped the Chairman would reconsider the five minute guideline to allow time to explore the answers. Chairman Alexander again cited the Golden Rule and stated they would not deviate from the same rules they have followed with previous nominees. There was a brief discussion about whether or not it was rule or precedent and how they would know those rules and some minutia; since the camera was on Mrs. DeVos the whole time it was impossible to see those speaking. It was hard to know if they were really discussing or if they were bickering. Either way, it definitely continued to set a tone of contention in the room.  


Once Ranking Member Murray got going with her remarks, I admired Mrs. DeVos's poise even more. Senator Murray opened with the directives of the committee, which were to ensure that the nominee: 

  1. is qualified;
  2. is free of conflict of interest;
  3. puts workers and families first not corporations. 

She went on to complain about President Trump not releasing tax returns to explaining that the committee needed to ensure that the highest ethical standards were maintained. [definitely a statement for the record rather than specific to the hearing] She thanked Mrs. DeVos for her position on transparency and ethical openness which they discussed in their private meeting and then went right on to share her list of significant concerns related to Mrs. DeVos being able to meet their standards for the position. 

Senator Murray was specific and unyielding in stating her categorical concerns. The whole time she was speaking, the camera was directly on Betsy DeVos who did not flinch, wince or even display an extra blinking of the eyes or wrinkle of the brow in disagreement; she did not once lose her poise or composure. Impressive. 

Points Made

There were some educational points made during this opening segment as well. Chairman Alexander provided a brief historical outline of the development of charter schools movement in the U.S.. He made a point that Mrs. DeVos is one in a long line of political figures who have supported charter schools. He pointed out that concept that vouchers are in place in the form of the G.I. Bill and college vouchers which have promoted competition among college and he posited that it could do the same for K-12 education. He pointed out that critics have been concerned about how Mrs. DeVos has used her wealth to influence educational options. I did appreciate his point that she could use her wealth to deny opportunities to low-income students rather than expand them. He may have lost a point though when he worked to make a case that Mrs. DeVos is more in the mainstream than her critics. That one was a hard sell. 

Ranking Member Murray stressed the term "unaccountable private schools" in her concern about vouchers and shared that she had concerns directly related to "gutting investments" in public schools through privatization. She was not impressed with Mrs. DeVos's understanding of Title IX funds in their private meeting and hoped DeVos had been able to get up to speed since they had met. She had specific concerns related to potential financial entanglements which could be conflict of interest and put on the record that those could have been laid to rest if the hearing had been held after the report was final. Senator Murrary could be criticized for bringing up that point quite a few times but it was a valid point. Her group was trying to push the five minute limit for questions but were told it would not change because it was precedent; at the same time, it was completely out of precedent to be holding the hearing prior to receiving the ethics report. It felt a little like a case of do as I say, not as I do. 


This segment of the hearing was the opening remarks, but I felt like it should have been called "Round One". The bell rang and everyone appeared to retreat to their neutral corners for the moment as the cameras shifted to the Senators who would be introducing the nominee. I think you could say that Round One went to Mrs. DeVos for her poise, but it was a draw between the Chairman and the Ranking Member - both whined a little, both postured well and both made solid points without going over the top; it was politics at work. On to Round Two. 

Getting Information Not Sound Bites

On January 17, 2017 the Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education Nominee Betsy DeVos were held. Mrs. DeVos's hearing was over three hours long and had distinct portions. Following the hearing, there were numerous related conversations, posts and memes throughout my Facebook feed. There were sound bites galore. I was not looking for sound bites; I was looking for information. 

The Senate hearing is a piece of the nominee's “job interview” with the Senate committee that handles education. The part that is held in the public eye. It includes an audience of guests and the media. It is televised and recorded. It was live-streamed and still available online and as a researcher, I greatly appreciate this aspect and imagine my nerd-joy when I discovered that I could download the entire testimony! You can watch the hearing and/or download the testimony here:

Memory is impacted by experience and emotion. I did not watch the hearing live. I intentionally avoided the full emotional experience. I have chosen to watch it after the fact so I can watch with a pause button and a notepad. I can definitely read it faster than I can watch it but I have given myself the task of watching it and taking notes before reading the transcript sections related to what I've watched. My commentary is based on my notes while viewing. I will also be interested to see how those observations may change after reading the transcript segments. 

Observing People in Action

When we are watching people, it is easy to have reactions to what we think they might be saying other than just the words they are using. It makes sense to assume that there underlying statements really being made when the speakers at an event such as these hearings read their prepared statements because this is a group process. The people speaking are not only speaking to Mrs. DeVos, they are speaking to the other committee members and guests as well as their constituents who are watching on television or reading the transcript later; they are speaking in response to previous conversations, just they are speaking in anticipation of future ones; they are speaking for history as well as for the moment.

There are many things to be mindful of as an observer. What is our purpose of observing? Are we looking for the hidden agenda? Are we watching to find the elements which match our expectations or our pre-conceived notions? Are we listening with open ears or slanted ones? Are we asking questions or assuming answers? As we continue through the hearings of President Trump's nominees and the many changes anticipated in the days to come, I propose to you to be a mindful observer as I am working to model in my experience with the hearing for the Secretary of Education.

Authorities of the U.S. Secretary of Education

Nominee for Secretary of Education to President Trump: Mrs. Betsy DeVos, a billionaire from Grand Rapids who is a 30 year veteran of philanthropy and advocacy in education. An extremely controversial nominee. Since Mrs. DeVos is a Michigan native and hails from Grand Rapids, the controversy seemed to hit much closer to home than I have ever experienced. Because of that “connection” I know I would have sat up and taken notice; I would have been more aware of and engaged in some of the conversations. Since it will impact the field of education, I would have taken notice anyway and would have broadened my conversations. Add to that the fact that the nominee is not an educator and it was like a trifecta for me: I had to know more!
"What cannot be understood cannot be managed intelligently".
I return to this quote from John Dewey. I enjoy reading educational commentary. I could not really understand how Mrs. DeVos was even on the short list. That did not make sense. It would have been quite easy to file it in the file of “She’s a billionaire who paid for the nomination”; or “The dude has no idea what he’s doing and is throwing all kinds of crazy names on his Cabinet list”; or even “He’s thinking outside the box and being innovative”. 

Because we are in a time of such significant change, I am working mindfully to be diligent in managing my words and actions intelligently. I am conscious of my position as an educational leader just as I am aware of being a strong woman, a mother and a role model to many young girls and boys/men in our community. In this vein, I am committed to putting my thoughts and understandings out in print. As I started doing so, I realized that I needed to start with the fundamental question of what the heck does the Secretary of Education really do? Was I even correct in my understanding of what the job actually entails? There was much chatter in my social media feeds generalizing how horrible a candidate she is; there was also much about what an innovative and great idea it was to nominate her. But why? I posted this question/challenge on Facebook:

Without a doubt, a current hot topic is the nominee for Secretary of Education. I am an inquiring mind. In the spirit of inquiry, not debate or rhetoric, I ask you to share what you believe the job duty/duties of the Secretary of Education are. Not what you think they should be or what you believe other people think they should be; not who you think would do well or not well; not critique what someone else thinks the job is; post what you believe the person in that position actually has the responsibility to do based on the current job description.

Additionally, I challenge you to not actually Google or look up the job description before posting!

What We Think the Secretary of Education Does

My Facebook account is intentionally a closed one. I choose carefully who I am connected to in the sense of I only connect with people I know or have known and/or are relations since I also share pictures and random pieces of our family life, etc... Still, I am connected to 699 people so I figured that was a fair number even though I know a little about Facebook algorithms and can pretty much guarantee myself that not all of those connections would have even seen my question. I had seven folks take me up on my question/challenge. So, in my teeny sample of my teeny world, the general understanding of the job of Secretary of State included:
  • no idea
  • no idea
  • set standards for what students should learn before they graduate and ensure schools are achieving those standards
  • oversee money distribution including federal monies to the states for elementary and high schools, pell grant distribution including setting standards universities must meet to receive federal money
  • one personal pondering of whether or not a secretary of education is necessary - the federal office of education seems to mostly distribute block grants

I was not quite in the boat of “no idea” but I do not think I would have remembered or thought of all of these other points if I were to have typed a one or two sentence answer myself. Even with all of my experience, knowledge and background, I realized I did not understand enough to write intelligently on the topic.  I needed to do some research.  

A Job Description for the Secretary of Education

I no longer have a government textbook at my house and I didn’t really want to go to the library. For such a pivotal responsibility in our nation’s government, I was confident that I would be able to access adequate information using only internet resources so away to Google I went…
The tradition of the Cabinet dates back to the beginnings of the Presidency itself. Established in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, the Cabinet's role is to advise the President on any subject he may require relating to the duties of each member's respective office.

The Cabinet includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Attorney General. (from

Not enough information. Next “stop”, Department of Education. The overview of Functions is:

The Secretary is responsible for the overall direction, supervision, and coordination of all activities of the Department and is the principal adviser to the President on Federal policies, programs and activities related to education in the United States. The Secretary serves as Chief Operating Officer for the Department under the President's Memorandum of July 11, 2001.

The Deputy Secretary focuses on the development and implementation of policies, programs, and activities relating to elementary and secondary education matters. This mission addresses a wide spectrum of interests ranging from safe and drug free schools, special education and rehabilitative services to education of linguistically and culturally diverse students, and promotion of educational interventions, and reforms.

The Under Secretary focuses on higher and adult education policy, postsecondary policy, college aid, and the President's financial aid reforms for the Pell Grant program.

In each of those three positions were sections detailing the Functions and Responsibilities of each which were fairly lengthy but, for the most part, covered well in the overviews. 

In Other Words

The Deputy Secretary does the work of developing and implementing all policies, programs and activities for K-12 schooling - under the direction of the Secretary of course. Interesting to me was the fact that the Deputy Secretary is responsible for all K-12 education including non-general education programs and services, oversees intergovernmental relations and oversees The Office of Innovation and Improvement, the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, and the Risk Management Service. All seem to be a function of the Education Department, though some pieces were quite new to me. 

Then there is also an Under Secretary who does the work of policies and activities related to higher education, adult education the reforms for Pell Grants and other forms of college aid - under the direction of the Secretary. Further descriptions included that the Under Secretary is responsible for the administration of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Programs, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities, the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. With the use of "White House Initiative" in most of these titles, I would infer that all of those programs would be dependent on the White House continuing them and/or replacing them with other initiatives. A general question this raises for me would be what portion of the budget these programs might entail. A specific question this raises for me is if these are White House initiatives and not ongoing programs or governed by Congress than what would this portion of the Department, and budget, look like under President Trump and his Secretary of Education? 

Based on the description of duties, the Secretary of Education (SOE) is the chief administrator. She would be the COO, coordinate everyone else in the Department of Education (DOE) and directly advise the President in all things education. Like all chief administrators, the SOE would be directing all things related to education but not necessarily doing the compilation work herself. An understanding of all aspects of education would be vital to being able to direct, supervise and coordinate all those working in the DOE. So, the next research question became, just what is the responsibility of the Department of Education? What does the Secretary of Education actually oversee? 

Department of Education

Again, straight to the source (Dept of Ed):

Education is primarily a State and local responsibility in the United States. It is States and communities, as well as public and private organizations of all kinds, that establish schools and colleges, develop curricula, and determine requirements for enrollment and graduation. The structure of education finance in America reflects this predominant State and local role. Of an estimated $1.15 trillion being spent nationwide on education at all levels for school year 2012-2013, a substantial majority will come from State, local, and private sources. This is especially true at the elementary and secondary level, where about 92 percent of the funds will come from non-Federal sources.

That means the Federal contribution to elementary and secondary education is about 8 percent, which includes funds not only from the Department of Education (ED) but also from other Federal agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services' Head Start program and the Department of Agriculture's School Lunch program.

Although ED's share of total education funding in the U.S. is relatively small, ED works hard to get a big bang for its taxpayer-provided bucks by targeting its funds where they can do the most good. This targeting reflects the historical development of the Federal role in education as a kind of "emergency response system," a means of filling gaps in State and local support for education when critical national needs arise.

[Yes, the dollar amount included is 2012-2013, but generally in Education documentation facts reflect a few years back. It's often not feasible to fully compile, analyze and edit a nation's worth of information much more quickly.] 

Additional information included:
The Department carries out its mission in two major ways. First, the Secretary and the Department play a leadership role in the ongoing national dialogue over how to improve the results of our education system for all students. This involves such activities as raising national and community awareness of the education challenges confronting the Nation, disseminating the latest discoveries on what works in teaching and learning, and helping communities work out solutions to difficult educational issues.

Second, the Department pursues its twin goals of access and excellence through the administration of programs that cover every area of education and range from preschool education through postdoctoral research. For more information on the Department's programs see the President's FY 2017 Budget Request for Education.

New to me was thinking about the role of Deputy Secretary or Under Secretary. As I dove back into the DOE site to see more about how those positions were selected, I discovered a section V of what I had been reading. It was not included on the initial page of information and when I had finished reading the page there was not a little prompt link for "next page" or "read more". Since I had had my initial question answered, I had not ensured I read all available sections. I will most certainly not be so slack the next time I research! The section I almost missed was Reservations of Authority:

In general, unless provided by law, the Secretary has reserved the following authorities:
  • Authority to promulgate regulations.
  • The authority to appoint members of advisory councils and fix compensation.
  • The authority to submit reports to the Congress or the President.
In some instances, the Secretary has departed from these general principles. The Executive Office, Office of Management, can provide information regarding specific reservations.

An "Aha" moment! The Secretary is most certainly a bit more than a COO. 

  1. The Secretary of Education would have the authority to promulgate, or proclaim a doctrine or put a law into action. NOTE: that does not mean create the law or doctrine; that is done by Congress. 
  2. The Secretary of Education has the authority to appoint members of advisory councils and fix their compensations. So, she would have the authority to not only appoint people to advisory councils, but determine what the government will pay them. Mrs. DeVos is a business person rather than an educator. She is not part of the Education System and has a definite bias to not only non-traditional schooling but those which are faith-based. I recognize why this would be, and should be, a significant concern to critics of her appointment. 
  3. Finally, the Secretary of Education has the authority to submit reports to Congress or the President. She should not only have the authority to do so but should be expected to do so regularly.  

In Summary

The Secretary of Education is a COO of the Department of Education, overseeing the personnel who develop, implement and promote interventions and reforms. She would be the head administrator and oversee the budgets and personnel. She would work to raise awareness of the education challenges confronting our Nation, disseminating latest discoveries on what works and work with helping communities work out solutions to "difficult educational issues". She would also have some governance of direct funds/compensation for advisory council appointees and, potentially, for White House Initiatives under the Under Secretary. 

It makes total sense that the SOE would have to have a certain level of foundational knowledge of both theory and practice in order to effectively oversee such personnel and drive such conversations. I can also see where the level of such knowledge could be open to quite a bit of interpretation. 

When I read the Reservations of Authority, I felt that "aha"; I also felt slightly stupid. How could I have missed that? No, I do not believe it was some conspiracy or intentional design of the site to keep people from seeing the important bits. I know I did not see it because I did not go one extra step. Being informed - fully informed - requires diligence. It is also easy to feel that we have found all there is to find or we have all the information we need to make a decision or form a full opinion. I would caution that it is just important to realize that just because we have an informed opinion does not mean that there is not more information available. 

We must continue to learn in order to remain educated. We must be educated to participate fully in our democracy and in our society. Just one more reason, this Cabinet posting is so important to people throughout our great country. 

Next Up: The Senate Hearing

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Pondering and Politics

At TED-X in Grand Rapids a few years ago, I had a conversation with a woman I admire. We were chatting about the experience of the day, mutual experiences and the sharing of knowledge and information. She was involved with the GRPS school board and many leadership groups in GR. At that time, I had started to be involved at some small levels and she encouraged me to do more. I was slightly hesitant, under-confident even.  No really.  I know I’m smart in some ways, but definitely not in others. I talk a lot and have a passionate drive to work for the betterment of other, but I am definitely not the only one who has those attributes.  I am aware that I often operate in that gray area between effective and obnoxious. She very gently suggested that that might be needed. Then, not quite as gently, she suggested that I have things to say that people should hear. At the time, I did consciously become more active in our community in schools as well as leadership groups;  but I still prefer to work more under the radar which I have recently realized is not really meeting her challenge. 

I know that I cannot speak for all those without a voice, but I will now work to pick up her gauntlet in my area of LD and speak out more directly in our community about education. I will speak up more directly for individuals with learning disabilities and their families. I can’t guarantee that she is 100% correct and that everything I would choose to say is information people should hear, but I can guarantee that I will give it my best shot. 

My First Shot: Citizenship and Advocacy

I am an educated person and have a background in teaching social studies. I am engaged in my community and advocate strongly in areas related to education and equity. While I do engage in conversations and work related to public policy, again generally in areas of disabilities and/or education, I am not directly involved with what I have defined as politics. 

Following our latest Presidential election, just a few short months ago, I find that I have been unexpectedly pondering my definition of politics. I believe I have always mentally separated politics from policy a bit since, in my rationalization, politics was more the action of campaigning, making deals, and following a “party line” than it was the actual policy in print. Policy, to me, was what have the different parties and leaders finally been able to agree to enough which drives the rest of the work in the nation, state, city, etc… so basically, I have thought of policy more as the laws and politics more of the background action. 

After a period of pondering, I came to the conclusion that I needed to expand my understanding even further:  laws are actually procedures; policies frame how those procedures are carried out; and politics is how individuals and/or groups communicate their perspectives.  I tend to be a definition person, so I know I will look each of those up later, but I find that regardless of Webster’s version, there are some things that I must commit to within my own lexicon in order to be the best citizen I know how to be.

"What cannot be understood cannot be managed intelligently" - John Dewey. 
Our nation is currently in the middle of a tumultuous dialogue on what it means to be a good citizen. People are venting their frustrations and disgust with politicians and establishments. I have seen early commentary using the phrase "The Divided States of America". There is much to be fearful of; but that is not necessarily new. Fear tends to follow all significant change. Even so, the level of division and the dialogue surrounding this time of change deserves conscious attention. It is important to be vigilant as we work to understand the changes around us. This is likely to require many of us to change our habits; habits which organize our thinking, our speaking and our actions. 
"Habit is energy organized in certain channels. When interfered with, it swells as resentment and as an avenging force." - John Dewey
During this election cycle, habits were certainly interfered with; it was not a full cycle of "business as usual". I have no doubt that those changes where what kick started this particular round of pondering.  As a social studies teacher who is not involved directly in politics, I have followed a philosophy of biding the time through a presidency or a significant change in administration. We have a strong system of checks and balances so that no one person or entity can have total control over another, at least not for too long. What's four years right?  I believed the system of checks and balances to be in place and effective. It also takes a long time to see change at the federal level - usually.

There can be no question that this new administration is a historic one; in which ways has yet to be seen, but there will definitely be historic changes which have already begun. People across the nation and across party lines have been frustrated with status quo and have voiced that they want significant change. Significant change will quickly interfere with people's habits. We are already seeing the rise of the resentment and force. We now need to determine what we are going to do with it.

I cannot pretend to be knowledgeable in all areas in which we will see great change but I can step up and take responsibility for being knowledgeable in education. Not all aspects of education, but I do love to research and love a challenge, and can combine that with my knowledge and expertise in the field of learning differences. I will step up and take up the gauntlet as a champion for educational access and a voice to help develop a more educated populace. And, while I can't guarantee that everything I will choose to say is information people should hear (or even want to hear) I do guarantee that I will give it my best shot!

First Up: A Series on the Hearings related to President Trump's Nominee for Secretary of Education

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Happy Vocab

After spending the last year or two developing marketing and design skills and having to focus quite a bit of time immersed in tasks of rebranding, website design, content formatting and a whole slew of things which required expanding my skill set, I am excited that I finally have time to begin working directly with students again!

I am 145% passionate about helping students discover their true brain power and unlock the puzzles related to our English language. I also thoroughly enjoy the somewhat unpredictable nature of how my students see the world and apply (or almost apply) the strategies and knowledge from our explorations. I strive to help them find humor as well as pride in all they do and I am rarely disappointed.

Brief Background for Context

I think it's safe to describe one of my current co-researchers (we are always research partners working to find what works and doesn't work for their brain to read, spell, communicate and remember well) as having a good sense of humor, someone who is witty, creative and coming into his own as an individual with dyslexia - not to mention an adolescent. One of our goals has been developing stronger executive functions as far as planning and strategies for organizing information. We've also been on a journey of exploring the layers of the English language and are just delving into the forests of Latin and Greek Morphemes after an amazingly quick jaunt through the realm of the Anglo-Saxon layer. So, keep in mind that using spelling and written language to organize information or as a memory support is a fairly new tool in his default moves.

I am a trainer for teachers in the areas of English Language Arts, in particular working with students with learning disabilities, strategy based in instruction, Orton-Gillingham based literacy instruction and teaching vocabulary through morphology and multisensory methods. I frequently ask students I work with what types of strategies and concepts I should be sure to teach teachers to help kids in their classes.

Humor with a Side of Delight

This week, my co-researcher and I chatted about some recent professional development conferences and research sessions I've attended related to vocabulary instruction; in particular, the research behind the task we had just completed.

I was transitioning materials from one activity to another and he, as usual, was enjoying the slight break his brain got to take while I worked (I am a firm believer that the students should always work harder than me when we are together, so he truly enjoys those brief pauses!). While we chatted, he flipped open his planner and began jotting a string of letters in a note box. It was obvious he had thought of something he didn't want to forget so he was trying to get it down, but not out in the open enough to be asked about it. If you work with adolescents, you know that type of move I'm talking about... I'm listening, but writing this down - wait, did I write that right? uh-oh, what did she say? yeah, got it.... quick slide the paper away so I can look like I'm paying attention and didn't break stride...... 

As I concluded, I told him I was hoping to develop some decent session names that could describe how working with vocabulary, morphology, etc.. is important but doesn't have to be super boring; I wanted to come up with some names that would work for teacher sessions as well as some that might work for junior high or high school and thought that just saying "You Can Teach Vocabulary Well Without Wanting to Bash Your Head in from Boredom" was probably too long.  He looked up sharply and I thought I had finally crossed the threshold into "crazy lady". I was pleasantly surprised when he said, "I have one for you". He thumbed open his planner to the page he had been writing on. That string of letters was actually a mneumonic he thought of for me: HTTVSYDWTBYBO. 

"Or", he said, "you could try Happy Vocab". 

More than a Trifecta

  1. He created a mneumonic and all the letters were in the right sequence.
  2. He had his planner (the first session after we got back from Spring Break) and used it make a note to himself.
  3. He used the note he made from himself in his planner.
  4. He thought I could teach vocab in a not-so-boring way!
Happy Vocab indeed.....