Month: November 2016

What kids are learning from the election

 

A presidential election can be a teaching object for young kids, offering a civics lesson in simple terms. Students at the Austin elementary school with which I am most familiar had an election night assignment to color the states on a U.S. map red or blue as returns were reported and the electoral scorecard was tabulated.

Few, if any, of those kids were awake when the election was finally settled, but for a couple of hours some of them felt engaged in a crucial civics exercise. Others were simply bored. One thing they were not supposed to be was afraid of the results.

But across the country many children were fearful as they went to school the next day, according to reports on social media from parents and teachers. Hispanic students of immigrant parents, Muslims, gay kids, even a boy with Autism expressed fear of what a Donald Trump presidency might mean.

Educators — including at least one principal, probably more, in Austin — took extra care to try to assure students that they and their families were safe.

Trump obviously had a strong appeal to Texas and American voters, but his campaign was a horrible example for school children, mocking, defaming or ridiculing, as he did, virtually every minority group in America. Even before Election Day, there were reports of increased bullying and racist comments among school kids mimicking his style.

Trump’s victory speech was conciliatory, much more gracious than his campaign, as he began the transition, we hope, to becoming presidential.

It remains to be seen what he will do about his campaign pledges to build a wall on the southern border, round up undocumented immigrants and crack down on Muslim refugees trying to enter the country.

Texas school kids and their parents will be waiting, and many will be apprehensive. More than half of Texas’ 5.2 million public school children are Hispanic, and many are legal citizens but the children and grandchildren of undocumented immigrants. Many other Texas children are Muslims. Who can blame them if they are wondering who they will find at home at the end of the school day?

I am not sure I believe in anyone’s poll anymore. But according to exit polling conducted for the Associated Press, more than 7 in 10 Texas voters, including many who voted for Trump, believe that immigrants working in the United States illegally should be given the chance to apply for legal status and not be deported.

Trump should consider that a civics lesson and take it to heart.

 

 

 

 

TEA’s excuses on special education not convincing

 

The Texas Education Agency tried to cover its bureaucratic posterior and transfer the blame to school districts for leaving tens of thousands of special education students without the required services to which they are entitled under federal law. But all the rhetoric in TEA’s “don’t blame us” letter to the federal government doesn’t change the fact that the agency was in the very middle of the mess.

TEA denied that its “Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis System” for special education was a cap on enrollment, but the fact remains that it resulted in districts limiting special education enrollment to 8.5 percent of students, a significant drop from the 12 percent of students receiving such services when the monitoring system was started in 2004.

The agency also said that the policy was not designed to save money, even though 2004, not so incidentally, was one year after the legislative majority had imposed budget cuts to deal with a budgetary shortfall. The legislative majority followed those cuts with $5.4 billion in additional education cuts in 2011, and millions of school children – including special education kids – continue to suffer the consequences.

TEA told the U.S. Department of Education that it “does not have any specific evidence indicating there has been a systematic denial of special education services to eligible students with disabilities.”

Yet, an investigation by the Houston Chronicle, which broke the story about the shameful policy, determined that as many as 250,000 children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, blindness and deafness have been denied needed services.

The agency’s explanation doesn’t look like it will change the resolve of House Speaker Joe Straus and other legislators to address the issue. State Sen. Jose Menendez of San Antonio, for one, still plans to file legislation to force an end to the policy.

“I think it’s preposterous that they refuse to own up to this arbitrary cap,” Menendez told the Chronicle. “And if they can’t own up to it, how can I trust them when they say they’re going to eliminate it. If they can’t admit that it was wrong, how can I trust that they’ll fix it?”

Ending the policy is a good step. Lawmakers also need to increase education funding to discourage similar bureaucratic moves in the future.