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Happy New Year, everyone!

I'm taking a reporting trip this week that will have me posting lightly until Jan. 12 (teaser: it involves RTI!) But you won't have to go without special education reading. Here's some blog posts I have picked up in the past few days:

Jay P. Greene, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, slices and dices numbers in a blog post that rebuts the idea that special education costs are to blame for rising per-pupil costs.

School officials — people who should know better — play upon this popular prejudice to rationalize their failures. They would never dare blame the programs that have been created or expanded in the last three decades for the education of poor and minority students. Those programs also cost quite a lot of money. No, school officials choose to blame special ed because it seems like blaming fate.

Andrea Hermitt, a blogger for the Examiner New York (part of a group of city-based news portals, suggests that family affluence may play a role in how parents see special education. An excerpt:

As I see it, affluent people want more services for children labeled Special Ed. Meanwhile, lower income, and minorities who feel that children are being unfairly labeled don’t want to end up in the system at all where they won’t get the help even if they need it.

Interesting thought, and worth reading the whole post, as well as an early one by the same writer on "the rush to label children." I noted that Ms. Hermitt makes an assumption that I have also made, which is thinking of special education as a "place" and not a set of services that are designed to, as Harvard prof Thomas Hehir puts it, "minimize the impact of disability and maximize the opportunities for participation." Sometimes that may mean taking students out of mainstream education. But special education should not be synonymous with separate placement.

Disability Scoop, a new blog, has a Q&A with a parent attorney about individualized education programs. Marcy Tiffany, the attorney, offers her top three tips for parents:

Try to avoid becoming adversarial. You want to focus on what the child’s needs are, not simply complain about what’s not happening. Once an IEP meeting becomes adversarial, it’s usually not going to be very productive. Many parents bring food, which helps to relax the environment.


Another mistake is lack of preparation. You must know what it is that you want to focus on and don’t rely on the school district to set the agenda.


For the third tip, read the entire entry on the Disability Scoop website. Funny -- this is the second time I've heard about bringing food to IEP meetings. Is this really the key to friendly meetings? Could due process hearings be warded off with freshly-baked cookies? Someone needs to get to the bottom of this.

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We bring freshly-baked bread to every meeting, even in the worst days. As the hearing process progresses, fewer people actually eat the bread. Yet we continue to bring it, hoping that at least the aroma will help break the tension at least a little. (Wrightslaw, by the way, also advises this and says that a) it should smell good to relax people, and b) even if no one eats it you should leave it in the teachers' lounge afterward so the teachers can say nice things about you (good luck with that). Tomorrow, as our case heads toward hearing and we try to resolve the apparently unresolvable, there will be no homemade bread. A turning point, and not for the good! I'm all in favor of data collection on the effectiveness of this particular intervention...

I recall one of our earliest meetings. The teachers huddled together somewhere for a preconference (I knew so little!) and all came in with coffee and donuts. I just sat there salivating. I learned to bring my own coffee. We recently had a facilitated IEP meeting (facilitator provided by the State) who looked around the room, and asked if the pitcher on the table had water in it (it didn't). He called breaks (this has never, ever happened before--teachers just disappear at will and are never seen again) so he could go find some bottled water. I was emboldened to ask if there was somewhere I could refill my coffee (there WAS!).

At the next two meetings (this was a marathon) I brought bagels and cream cheese (partly to appease the counselor from outside the district who was coming in ag 7:30 AM to help us). It was wonderful. At the final meeting the Director of Special Education brought donuts. It's a small thing, but small things often have an impact.

Well, clearly there is a story here. I love cookies as much as the next person -- perhaps more than the next person, because reporters are notorious scavengers -- but doesn't this seem kind of crazy? "Please be nice to me, I have food?"

It's one thing to bring food because you're just a nice person. But as an actual strategy, it seems as though it shouldn't be necessary. Maybe I'm the crazy one, though.

Christina:

I agree that bringing food to meetings is NOT a good 'tip' for parents. And there is certainly no objective data to show that the food results in different (better) services and outcomes for kids with disabilities.

What I would like to see is parents spending MORE time putting together a compelling case for the services their student needs -- using objective data, comparable year-to-year measures, results on state assessments, etc.

We have just posted a new Advocacy in Action article that summarizes a study about factors that escalate or deescalate parent-school conflicts in special education. The research didn't find any evidence (from parents, school administrators, or mediators) that nourishment (whether supplied by parents or schools) played any role in conflict. (See http://www.advocacyinstitute.org/advocacyinaction/Parent_School_Conflict.shtml for more info)

So, if bringing food is a 'feel good' thing for parents, continue to bake. Otherwise, use the time more wisely....bone up on your child's performance, progress and specific needs...

Candace Cortiella
Director
The Advocacy Instititute
http://www.AdvocacyInstitute.org

"It's one thing to bring food because you're just a nice person. But as an actual strategy, it seems as though it shouldn't be necessary. Maybe I'm the crazy one, though. "

No you are not the crazy one...I totally agree with you!

Gestures are powerful communicators. Think about the amount of time that went into deciding the shape of the table for the negotiating the end of the Vietnam war.

What was communicated to me in that long ago meeting when the teachers all entered with their personal coffee and donuts (following the pre-meeting that did not include me), was that I was just a bit less than they were--not deserving of ordinary consideration or courtesy. In short, it was all right to eat in front of me (and anyone that I had invited to the meeting--I can't recall if I went alone or not) and offer nothing. Likewise the ongoing lack of preparation for meetings (not once has anyone brought flip chart paper to write on--which is a valuable tool in arriving at common understandings, particularly since the "official" copy of the IEP won't be constructed until after the meeting, and then sent out for signature), which in most circumstances requires thought about where people will sit, how long the meeting will last, who needs to be there, whether there should be breaks (or water), setting an agenda. After these many years, the state provided a "facilitator" who apparently had some training in doing these things (although they seem common sense enough to most people I know).

Bringing food is one small thing that a parent can do to 1)establish that they are, in fact, a nice person; 2) help to establish a "group" sense through eating together; and acknowledge that sitting in a meeting for an hour or two is a difficult task, lightened by the opportunity to nosh on something.

I would say that any SPEDmom who spends even five minutes in the trenches learns to stop thinking about what "shouldn't be necessary." It shouldn't be necessary to file for a hearing to get your school district to provide restraint safety training to the staff who have been restraining your child. It shouldn't be necessary to pay $4,000 for a parent evaluation in order to get an obviously-needed 1:1 aide assigned. It shouldn't be necessary to call a Team meeting to make sure the 1:1 aide actually gets a lunch break and isn't the only adult in the lunchroom along with your kid whose major issues are in unstructured settings. It shouldn't be necessary to wait over a year for an FBA that was requested in writing to be conducted when the child in question is regularly subjected to school discipline. A lot of things shouldn't be necessary, and spending too much time getting mad about that fact (and the fact that enforcement of and compliance with IDEA is almost completely missing) doesn't do much but foster outrage (which many of us have plenty of already). Bringing some cookies doesn't even hit the "shouldn't be necessary" radar.

I'm sorry, mamacate and Margo/Mom. I was being clueless and naive. Of course I understand food as a gesture (and to eat in front of someone else and not offer anything is quite rude.) Just the fact that the "bring food" notion comes up as a routine piece of advice for parents threw me a little bit. Maybe the school officials should bring some food too.


Hi Christina:
I posted a comment to this thread early today and my comment didn't appear...what up?

Candace

Sorry Candace -- an overzealous spam catcher sent it to the junk file. I "unjunked" it.

Sorry, bad day in the settlement negotiation trenches. But seriously, I thought the food "tip" comment was a joke! My response was a joke too--sort of--my spouse and I had just been talking about the fact that there's no way we're bringing bread this time, and it seemed like a funny coincidence. People aren't really considering collecting data on this, are they? I can think of a few other areas that might be more effective uses of educational research funding, just saying. And, erm, I don't think anyone has advocated diverting time or energy that could go toward building a case toward bringing food. The problem with building a case for many parents is that it costs an enormous amount of money out of pocket to both develop and mount a case. We are very lucky to be able to do so. I don't think that most parents think "gosh, multi-thousand-dollar parent eval, or, hey, cookies!" We parents advocate on many fronts simultaneously. Cookies are just one of them. And dudes, the idea that cookies are advocacy? That was a joke.

I knew you were joking, mamacate. I was joking in my original post. Though I do think that the advice to bring food is real.

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