Community College May Be the New High School

In a recent NPR show, several experts discussed the future of job growth and how community colleges might prepare new generations of workers for jobs in manufacturing. It turns out, most Americans don’t have the skills necessary for these new, low skill, high tech jobs. (These new jobs have replaced low skill jobs because repetitive jobs have been replaced by technology.) Enter community colleges. President Obama hopes community colleges will bridge the gap between job supply and demand.

Since technology has replaced the repetitive parts of jobs, workers must be able to do the critical thinking part, and know how to run (very expensive) machines. To be a machine operator, employees need “math, a lot of math.” They need math they don’t learn in high school anymore. The burden on high schools from No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top has been too much. Schools have successfully prepared students to answer multiple choice questions, but there are no jobs that require that skill.

But college, even community college, isn’t for everyone. Some of my former students are taking very expensive classes in order to get jobs, classes that could have been taught in high school. One of my former students is going to Career Colleges of America to become a surgical technician. (He did not attend a community college because the classes were full, and they require more money up front.) The career college will cost him $30,000. He’s desperate for a career, something that a high school diploma did not prepare him for.

Super? Bowl

I rarely watch football. I didn’t even watch the Super Bowl today. I did, however, watch a football game a few Sundays ago. I was amazed, but mostly disturbed, at the head injuries sustained by many of the players. I began to think about how frequently high school football players experience similar trauma. Clearly, this will have a negative effect on their physical and mental health, and eventually on their educational attainment. I wonder if it is worth it.

Jonah Lehrer does not seem to think so. In a recent blog, The Fragile Teenage Brain, he explains how insidious and common head injuries from high school football actually are. He writes:

Although estimates vary, several studies suggest that up to 15 percent of football players suffer a mild traumatic brain injury during the season. (The odds are significantly worse for student athletes – The Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 2 million brain injuries are suffered by teenage players every year.) In fact, the chances of getting a concussion while playing high school football are approximately three times higher than the second most dangerous sport, which is girls soccer. While such head injuries have long been ignored – until recently, players were resuscitated with smelling salts so they could re-enter the game – it’s now clear that these blows have lasting consequences.

Definitions and Diagnoses in the DSM-5

The definition of autism is changing. The new definition, in the D.S.M.-5, is more strict. When it changes, many people who were previously considered autistic will no longer be eligible for the educational services that were available with their old diagnosis. This change seems like, in part, a reaction to the massive increase of cases of autism—and the financial burden on school districts with those students:

I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer at a great place in Los Angeles—The Help Group. They work with a variety of students on the autism spectrum. I am concerned that this new definition may prevent many of their students from receiving their, research based, educational benefits.

I found several good articles about how this new definition may affect students on the autism spectrum in The LA Times, New York Times and at abc news.

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Teaching Introverts

Recently I’ve read several thought-provoking book reviews of Quiet: the Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. Although I don’t necessarily agree that there is an “extroversion bias” in America, I do agree that schools give much more positive reinforcement to extroverted students, and even teachers. And I think her criticism of group work (that introverts produce better work on their own) is right on.

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I am an introvert. To be exact, I am an INTJ. Perhaps this hindered me as a teacher. According to the Myers-Briggs, extroverts, particularly ENFJs, make excellent teachers. Whether or not I was a good teacher is debatable, but one positive thing I did (that I would recommend to any teacher) was require my high school students to take the Myers-Briggs test. (The test can be found here.) Their results, which included whether the student was an introvert or extrovert, helped inform my teaching and lesson planning. For example, I knew that, for the most part, introverts would gain more from lectures and direct teaching, and extroverts enjoyed group work and making presentations.

In my teacher credentialing classes, we were constantly working in groups and encouraged to run our classrooms the same way. Several of my introverted students strongly objected to group work. Initially, I gave those students no other option, but eventually, I began to allow some students to work alone. In my experience, introverts produced better, more creative work outside of a group. Although I see the value of group work, at some point teachers and school administrators should stop overvaluing group projects and give introverted students the autonomy to choose to work alone, or in a group.

Warrior Parents

In this LA Times article, the term warrior parents refers specifically to parents of students diagnosed with autism and attending a Los Angeles Unified School District school. These parents must be “warriors” because “getting a wide array of help for an autistic child can require waging a small war with the gatekeepers of state and school district services.” And parents, many of them white and armed with lawyers, are ready to fight.

 

The article included this disturbing chart:

Racial disparities

The level of autism services also varies by race and ethnicity. Here are figures on average spending per autistic child across the developmental services system.

Source: California Dept. of Developmental Services. Graphics reporting by Alan Zarembo
Data analysis by Sandra Poindexter

 

For several years, I taught in an urban public school. (All my students were either African American or Latino/a). Most parents were kind, but timid when it came to their education concerns. This was especially true for parents whose first language was not English. Last year, I sat in on a variety of IEP meetings. (These meetings determined services for students with disabilities like autism.)  Some of these meetings were awful. Either the parent took what they were offered, typically the bare minimum of services, or they had a lawyer and were given whatever the lawyer requested. It felt horribly unfair. If I advocated for a student without an advocate (warrior parent or attorney) to get more services, I would be waging war on my school’s already fragile budget. I was, and still am, conflicted about how to deal with this process.

 

Thus, the services are doled out disproportionately. According to the article, “L.A. Unified expects to spend more than $50 million this school year to provide 1,182 autistic students with aides from private companies. Those students represent 11% of the district’s autism cases.” With school budgets already stretched thin, I wonder where the money for a new service comes from? More importantly, I wonder how LAUSD can provide its students appropriate educational services so parents don’t need to resort to attorneys, or aggressive, warrior like, behavior.  

First Post

My old blog, from 2009 and 2010, can be found here. I stopped blogging there mostly because I got overwhelmed with teaching at a charter school and earning my master’s—at the same time. After graduating, and more reflection, I’ve decided to blog again, and still focus on education. I hope to post a few times a month. My perspective has changed quite a bit since my old blog. It’s interesting to read my old blog posts, particularly because I wrote those prior to reading Paulo Freire and other social justice writers.