Sunday, August 19, 2007

Politicians and education

Another law has been passed by another legislature and signed by another governor making it easier for parents to litigate against schools.

A new law will make it easier for parents of disabled children to challenge school districts' decisions regarding their child's education, Gov. Eliot Spitzer's office announced Thursday.

The law signed this week makes the school district responsible for proving it is satisfying legal obligations to provide an appropriate individualized education program for a student with a disability, according to Spitzer's office.

"This bill rightly places the burden of proof on school districts that have the expertise needed to assess options and the responsibilities for implementing individual educational plans," said Spitzer in a release.

I guess one can argue about the particulars of this case, but I find it interesting that this law was passed because the Supreme Court--not exactly the most pro-public education bunch in the world--ruled that the burden of proof should be on the parents if they are the ones challenging the way the schools have done something. I also find it interesting that the Bush administration, "after 'a careful review' of administrative law and of the changes to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act approved by Congress," also came down on the side of the schools. And we all know how friendly the Bush administration tends to be to public schools. Nevertheless, the Democratically controlled New York state legislature couldn't wait to pass a law to circumvent that decision, and the Democratic governor couldn't wait to sign it. And Democrats are supposedly friendly to public education.

The fact of the matter is that over the last 40 years or so, politicians of both parties have supported law after law restricting schools in their ability to deal with students and making it easier for parents to challenge them. Have all these laws made public schools better? I don't think so.

Perhaps all of this has happened because when it comes to education, politicians haven't got a clue. Here are statements recently made by former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney:

"I'm really concerned that schools in inner cities are failing our inner city kids—largely minorities—and those kids won't have the kinds of skills to be able to be successful and competitive in the new market economy," he said. "The failure of inner city schools in my view is the great civil rights issue of our time." Romney said he would work hard to improve schools but did not elaborate beyond that.

"I'd like to have local school boards recognize that they need to be concentrating of course on English, math and science, but also some of the cultural elements that make us a society of creative individuals."

Wow! How insightful. It really looks like he's put a lot of thought into education, doesn't it? And he's running for president!

8 Comments:

Blogger Lorne said...

Dennis, I think you are correct when you say that politicians haven't a clue when it comes to education, but I would also say the same is true of the general public, which often is quite keen to pontificate on the shortcomings of education. They all went to school; ergo they are experts.

Despite all of the information available, most non-teachers still seem to think it is only a matter of finding the right materials for the students, and inspired teaching and learning will follow. Had it been that simple, I doubt that I would have retired.

Do you think some of the blame has to be placed at our feet? I have often thought that over the years, we should not have been so willing to perpetuate the myth that public education could assume more and more responsibility for dealing with societal ills that go far beyound the classroom's capacity to remediate.

8/19/2007 7:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lorne,

I couldn't agree more with your last statement, and I too blame the profession for consistently overselling what it can do. Although it's definite oversimplification, I used say that instead of one of those "Teachers Change Live" bumper stickers, I'd like to get one that says "Teachers Moderately Impact the Lives of Most Students". I spend at most about 1 hour a day about 175 times with a kid--I am not even close to being in a life changing position for the vast majority of them. Those who are in AP, and for whom I have a bigger intellectual influence, or especially those that I coach in academic team and thus see for many hours after school--I do have an impact. I am not someone who runs down the profession--I think highly of it--but I am always a realist about what can be done. We are teachers, not magicians.

And as far as this law goes--it further confirms my belief that it'll be the government that runs me out of teaching, not the kids.

8/19/2007 4:56 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

"...the same is true of the general public, which often is quite keen to pontificate on the shortcomings of education. They all went to school; ergo they are experts.

Despite all of the information available, most non-teachers still seem to think it is only a matter of finding the right materials for the students, and inspired teaching and learning will follow."

A big "Amen" to that!

"I have often thought that over the years, we should not have been so willing to perpetuate the myth that public education could assume more and more responsibility for dealing with societal ills that go far beyound the classroom's capacity to remediate."

Lorne, I can't argue with you, but I'm not sure how much this was a matter of the workers in public schools doing things to perpetuate that myth, and how much of it was having this stuff thrust upon us by "experts" on the outside.

Thanks for a great comment!

8/19/2007 5:00 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Anonymous, you snuck that one in there while I was typing up a response to Lorne's. But where can I get one of your bumper stickers?

8/19/2007 5:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The more laws like this remove authority from teachers, the more the "empowered" students will be able to run roughshod over us with no disciplinary consequences ("you're not supporting Billy's documented IEP for his B.R.A.T. disorder"), and the worse the state of students' education will become.

8/20/2007 4:17 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

I agree, Anonymous. The court case dealing with this issue involved parents of a kid who had been diagnosed with ADHD. They were unhappy with the public school's IEP, so they wanted the public school to pay for his special education at a private school. Whether or not this kid was truly ADHD, I can't say, but ADHD may well be the most over-diagnosed disorder in the history of mankind. And let's face it; some parents of so-called ADHD kids want to use the IEP to make sure their kids are never held accountable for their behavior.

8/20/2007 7:02 AM  
Anonymous joycemocha said...

Amen, Dennis!

But you run into a similar phenomenon with kids with LD--parents want special ed teachers like myself to wave a magic wand and make their kids get straight As, while allowing the kids the option to skip school for family vacations, not do homework, not take the sped classes that would *help* their kids because "it traumatizes their egos."

Sigh.

Wonder how this is going to impact my job here on the west coast?

8/20/2007 7:55 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Joyce, the Supreme Court decision said that the burden of proof would be on the parents UNLESS a state had passed a law directing that the burden of proof be put on it's schools. Obviously, New York's law only affects New York, but I have no idea if states on the West Coast have passed similar laws.

8/20/2007 11:47 AM  

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