When schools close or go online, what happens to students with disabilities? (Plague, Day 19, March 22, 2020)

I’m a parent of a high school student with high functioning autism and epilepsy. As schools all around the country announce shutdowns and move towards online education, kids like mine are going to suffer the most.

The move to online education, which has been largely driven by the imperative to maintain the 180-day minimum without taxing already stretched budgets or running afoul of teachers’ contracts, will be difficult to manage. To date, nearly 42 million students. have already been impacted. Will teachers and administrators manage to create an entire system of online K-12 education from scratch in a handful of days? Do teachers have the technological skills, equipment, or experience to implement those plans? Do families have enough computers for themselves and all their children? The questions are endless.

We’re in the midst of a huge educational experiment and really have no way of knowing how it will work out.  There are even more problems and questions around online special education.  

More here.

Excerpt From Newsletter, It's The End of Public Education As We Know It, But I Feel Fine!, (Plague, Day 18, March 21, 2020)

From the latest newsletter. Sign up, please!

It’s The End of Public Education As We Know It, But I Feel Fine! 
Apt. 11D, 3/20/20

Hi all!

What I’ve witnessed in the past week is the absolute implosion of public education. Who knew that this 100-year old institution would falter so severely? I suppose that at this moment in time, schools are the least of our problems, but I’m still going to talk about them anyway. 

In the past week, more than half of all school districts in the country shut their doors. Some shut down entirely. Some are doing some sort of online education. But nobody knows for sure, because only one online education journal is keeping track. And this journal doesn’t even know which schools are shutting down entirely and which ones are attempting some sort online education. Nobody knows. Isn’t that weird? 

Or maybe it’s not weird. We have a system of hyper-local schools in this country, which is hopelessly inefficient and expensive. This is just one of the many problems with public education that is being exposed by this pandemic. 

Perhaps even more important than its job in the provision of learning and wisdom, our schools feed the nation’s poor. And as we’re discovering, it is also a system of childcare for just about everyone, regardless of income. When the school system collapses, children go hungry, and parents get fired from work. 

The other problem with our education system is that nobody is in charge of this mess. It’s all up to each town. So, each town is handling this crisis differently. A thousand different superintendents are coming up with a thousand different plans. And some of these plans royally suck. Some closed the schools for two weeks and formed a coherent plan. Others shut the schools for an afternoon — just a couple of hours really — to figure out how to put together an education plan for thousands of children. 

Some schools are having their teachers do online classes using programs like Zoom during the old classroom hours. Other schools are just putting up some worksheets on Google classrooms. None of them have a proper plan for how to deal with special education. And guess which school districts have the worst plans? Yes, the poor ones of course. So, by the end of this crisis, the kids in the richer schools will be just fine, and the kids in the poorer districts will be further behind. Surprised? Yeah, of course not. 

Some school districts are trying to pretend that parents are partners in all of this. Ha. Partners are usually consulted and paid for their time. Parents are pissed. I would be surprised if any school district is still maintaining this illusion of online education by the end of March.  

And the states seem to agree. Some, like Michigan, have said that none of this online stuff will count towards graduation or their 180-day requirements. Schools will have to educate kids during the summer to make up for lost time. In other states, the teachers’ unions will presumably have a meltdown about plans to teach in the summer, but we haven’t heard from the unions yet, so who knows? 

My guess is that summer school will happen for sure, because there’s no way that these inconsistent, half-baked online classes can be considered a proper education. The programs that rely on parents are especially problematic, because parents aren’t certified teachers, and the unions have made all sorts of laws about certification that can’t be undone easily. Between state constitutions and federal special education laws, schools will be in a bind. They will have to figure out how to make up these hours at a later date. 

The one hope with all this mess is that we are getting a better understanding of all the problems in society and government. The pandemic will shine like a black light on a crime scene and show us what we need to do better.  Maybe we should have a Universal Basic Income. Maybe workers in a gig economy need more protections. In terms of education, we are definitely going to need a much higher level of centralization and leadership than we have now. We are also going to have to separate schools from other social services; schools can’t wear too many hats. 

Here at Apt. 11D, my family is doing fine. We’re a little stir crazy. All this togetherness isn’t easy, especially with a semi-independent college kid in the mix. But we’re healthy, most importantly. 

This newsletter was always supposed to be a bi-monthly enterprise, but with the crisis, I’ll be here more often. I’ve got an op-ed coming out in the am tomorrow in USA Today. Look for it! 

Be well! Laura

Plague, Part 14, 3/17/20

I either have a sinus infection or coronavirus. Probably sinus infection, but I’m super grumpy just the same.

Yesterday was the first day of all of us working and learning at home, and it didn’t go so great. Steve and I had too much work to do, so poor Ian had to muddle through a million worksheets on his own. The math ones were easy, but all the rest involved lots of reading comprehension, which isn’t his strong suit. He sat at the computer from 8 until 5 yesterday.

Unused to working like this in a full house, I was snappy and less than productive.

Today, I have to try to finish an op-ed, a newsletter, and write 50 tweets before noon, because I promised Ian that I would help him with all his work today. I really want to be here, documenting events and chatting with y’all, but I have to be a mom, too.

This massive homeschooling experiment has me very steamed up, but that’s the topic for the op-ed.

***

Our entire area is under a state of emergency now. Schools, churches, bars, restaurants, sports fields are all closed. Only 50 people at a time are allowed in a supermarket, but we’ll be fine until Friday when the milk runs out.

We’re trying to keep ourselves amused and healthy. I went out for two walks yesterday. We did a Group FaceTime with my sibling and their families and my parents. FaceTime an oldie today. It’s super important for them.

Jonah finished off his last midterm yesterday, so he’ll spend his spring break with us and not his buddies. He isn’t so happy about that. We have told him to use this time for self exploration to think about long term goals and for self improvement in some way. We asked for a plan today. He isn’t so happy about that, either.

****

Links:

more to come…. updated throughout the day…

***

Had to go to Urgent Care for antibiotics for a sinus infection (really. no fever) and then the pharmacy to get the meds. The meds are in the local supermarket, so I stocked up on the stuff we’re low on — milk, cheese, jalapeños.

It’s the first time that I’ve been in a public place in four days. Shocked at how many health violations I noticed with my new germ glasses. I had to take a shower when I came back.

The supermarket was shockingly crowded with people who didn’t give a fuck. Amazing. They had restocked their shelves, but were still low on eggs, disinfectant, and potatoes.

***

More shopping is happening online now. This time on Amazon:

The Plague is Here, Part Eleven – Working From Home Edition

Tomorrow, we will have two adults, one college punk, and a high school kid all working from home. AT THE SAME TIME. It’s going to be interesting.

Steve has serious concerns about how all the system will handle all those millions students using programs like Zoom and Google Classroom at the same time, while parents are using their own massive programs.

Our wifi crashed yesterday. What’s going to happen tomorrow?

Since people aren’t used to working from home, and I’m a wfh (work from home, in the new lingo) pro, so I’ll share some tips.

We redid the office a few weeks ago. I’ll do a before and after post later. In the meantime, here’s one picture:

Here are my work-from-home tips:

  • Treat every day like a typical work day and follow your typical morning routine – shower, clothes, coffee, regular wake up time.
  • Since you don’t have a commute, you have time for a morning work out. It might be a simple 20 minute walk. But do something. It’s an opportunity for extra exercise, but you’re also missing out on the exercise with a commute. It’s easiest, if you immediately put on your workout clothes when you get out of bed.
  • Clothes. Do NOT wear sweats and yoga pants. Dress for productivity.
  • Do NOT snacks. Eat regular meals, but if you need a break, make a cup of tea.
  • With multiple people in the house at the same time, everybody needs their own space. Everybody has to know the rules. My major rule is that nobody can talk to me when I’m writing. I will destroy you, if you break my train of thought as I get ideas from brain to computer screen.

I’m about to go for a walk with Ian, so I’ll write a bit on this topic and then come back in an hour or two. BTW, you all should do that. Go for a walk or a hike. Keep the immune system and mental health strong!

Apt. 11D Gift Guides 2019 – Tech

I’m going to start with tech products, because there are so many cyber deals today.

We’re an Apple family. So, I have an iPhone, an iPad, and an iMac. Jonah has an iBook for college. I need to upgrade my iPhone this year. My old iPhone 5S still works, but I need a better cell camera. I think I’m requesting the iPhone 11 this year. With the new phone, I’ll need a new case, too.

Because we use these products for years and years, I don’t mind spending big bucks on this items. Also, they are cross-over items, meaning I use them for work and for fun.

Good headphones are a must for the boys. Steve and I use wireless earbuds for running.

Ian is a Nintendo Switch kid, while Jonah uses Xbox. I’ll do game recommendations later.

Accessories like multi-port plugs and wifi extenders are frequently used.

I use my Nikon 5100 nearly every day to take pictures of the kids or books for my Etsy Shop. I leave the camera in the kitchen, so it’s always ready to record an especially good dinner. The camera is ten years old and still works too well to replace yet, but if I was going to upgrade, I would go for a camera with wifi, so I could more easily post pictures to Instagram and the blog. A former photography teacher told me that he leaves his good camera at home for typical evenings and slides a smaller camera in his pocket for quick, spontaneous shots. I haven’t done that yet, but would consider it.

Girlie Friday

Who needs a girlie Friday? I do! I do! What am I digging lately?

Drinks in hotel lobbies. We had fabulous cocktails at the Fairmont Hotel in Toronto. I love that you can surround yourself by luxury for the price of a glass of wine and not even stay for the night.

Farro. It’s the alternative carb of choice here at Apt. 11D. It’s easy to make, but it does require a deft touch. My method of cooking: 2 cups of water, 1 cube of chicken bouillon, 1 cup of farro. Bring to a boil. Then cover and keep on simmer for about twenty minutes. Then turn off the heat and just let it hang out in the remaining liquid for a while, when finishing off the rest of dinner. Drain, if necessary.

Newsletters. Newsletters are the new podcasts. I subscribe to a bunch that range from ones that focus on education to conservative and liberal politics, to home decor. I have to work on mine after I finish this blog post. Please subscribe to Apt. 11D, the newsletter.

Black jeans. They can go from the school pickup line to the home office to an airplane to a conference. With a nice pair of healed booties and an oversized blouse, they are the most versatile item in a closet right now.

The Crown. OMG, this show is so good. Yes, Olivia Coleman is adorable. If you watched Outlander, you know how Tobias Menzies rocks the long monologue thing. But Helena Bonham Carter, as the eye rolling, chain smoking Prince Margaret, steals every scene. And the cinematography is so awesome that you want to pause the show and take pictures of certain frames. With Prince Andrew in the news, you can’t help seeing how so many tensions with the English royalty in a democracy still are present today.

Dr. Fiona Hill.

That’s it for now. I have to pump out a newsletter and clean the house for the housecleaner. If I get everything on my to-do list polished off, I’ll be back later in the afternoon.

Disruptive Technology: Can the computer and tech crowd disrupt higher education?

ABCs in ordinary objects in a school

Last summer, I got a desperate email from the guidance counselor at Ian’s high school. The elective that he signed up for was cancelled, so she needed to find another elective for him pronto. The only opening was an Advanced Photography class.

I wasn’t totally pleased. He had never shown an interest in photography and hadn’t taken the Beginning Photography class. But I wanted to be a good sport, so I said okay.

And then I totally forgot about that class. I would ask him about it from time to time and he would say great, but I didn’t hear anything more, and I didn’t ask anymore questions.

Then a couple of weeks ago, we visited the school to see his percussion ensemble and was surprised to see his artwork pasted up on the hallway to the band room. There was one project where he combined three faces into one composite fictional face. And another one where he made a mock-up of a magazine cover. It looked fabulous.

And then on Wednesday, his photography teacher sent us an email saying that Ian was spectacular at Photoshop, the best in the class. He suggested that he take a video effects class next where he would learn to do Game of Thrones types of special effects. Burning castles in the background and dragons in the sky. He wants to write Ian’s college recommendation. Nice, right?

Ian can spend 18 hours a day working on his projects at home. And has endless patience for manipulating pixels and music notes. Some of his electronic songs on YouTube have gotten tens of thousands of hits, but he hasn’t posted anything online in years, because of weirdos on the Internet.

I know nothing about special effects and art technology, so I spent hours googling information over the past few days. What local colleges offer degrees in that program? What skills do employers look for? Are there jobs on the East Coast? Are there places that employ people with poor social skills? (Yes.)

The gossip on places like Reddit is that these skills are so new that colleges haven’t really set up degree programs yet. And the geeks that run these companies don’t trust college classes anyway. They said that portfolios that come from college programs are often group projects, so it’s unclear which students really completed the work. They prefer self-taught workers who have a solid portfolio of projects that they create themselves. They will even hire people who have taught themselves these skills through YouTube videos.

We were talking about alternatives to college a few days ago in the comment section. Has credentialism gone too far? Do people have to get degrees in fields that are totally unnecessary, which end up filtering out people with irrelevant learning disabilities or financial difficulties? Well, it seems that at least in computer/tech fields, at this moment in time, a college degree is unnecessary.

I wonder if that ethos will carry over into other fields. Do accountants really need a full liberal arts education with Introduction to Sociology and Philosophy 101? Don’t they really just need to add up columns of numbers and manipulate formulas on Excel? Does a stock broker need those classes? I mean it’s probably a good thing for all people to take those classes and broaden their horizons, but should it be mandatory?

The computer and tech crowd has tried to disrupt higher education before (hello MOOCs!) and hasn’t gotten anywhere, so some doubt is warranted. But, still, it’s interesting.