New Mission

New Mission


My idea is to explore how other countries around the world are dealing with education and special education issues. I’d like to see different successful schools, wherever they may be, up close. I’d like to sit down with directors and administrators. I’d like to speak with government officials who keep a pulse on the education affairs of their communities. I want to learn more about education around the globe through speaking with locals, seeing the schools, and shaking hands with the people responsible for implementing the systems. If you know of any outstanding (public or private) special needs schools in other parts of the world, I’d love to hear about them. If you know any education experts from around the world, I’d love to be introduced to them. Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts or ideas. Read more about my mission.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Infant / Toddler Development Through The Lens of Reggio Emilia

There is a phenomenon we have all experienced when we hear a new word, phrase, or concept for the first time and then start to notice it everywhere…and I’ve been experiencing that phenomenon with regard to the Reggio Emilia schools.  I learned about Reggio Emilia a few weeks ago when I attended Brooklyn College’s Universal Preschool In Sweden event.  I quickly learned that the Reggio Emilia model is well-known throughout the education world.  A few days later, I learned about an upcoming event about infant and toddler development through the lens of Reggio Emilia, presented by Explore + Discover and My Learning Springboard.

I attended the event on Thursday and truly enjoyed the evening.  The event was hosted in a beautiful space in Tribeca.  Arriving guests were greeted warmly with music playing in the background and snacks and drinks awaiting consumption.  The crowd was intimate and diverse, with various professionals from different backgrounds in the audience.  Although a power point presentation and video clip guided the presentation, the conversation was informal and interactive, with audience members sharing their perspectives and personal experiences.

The presentation consisted of many of the same points as were presented at the Brooklyn College event: child-centered approach (letting the child’s interests guide instruction, rather than following a predetermined agenda set by the teacher), teacher/parent as researcher (understanding the child’s interests through observation of the child’s individual movements and patterns), and materials conducive to learning (easily accessible, natural, etc.). The overall message, to put it succinctly: encourage the child to explore and discover!

A point I hadn’t considered prior to this evening was the importance of recording children’s thoughts and comments as they explore and discover, which can help to track and understand the development of a child’s interests and his/her overall personal growth.  I developed an appreciation for the importance of exposing children to sensory stimuli early on.  Children also need to learn the consequences of their actions through guided exploration, rather than to fear the unknown because of overprotective teachers.  To conclude the evening, we explored the similarities and difference among the Reggio Emilia model, the Montessori approach, and Dr. Stanley Greenspan’s DIR/Floortime methodology.

Workforce Bill To Help Students Leaving Special Education

I read this week that the federal government is trying to renew a workforce bill (“Workforce Investment Act”) that would address the issue of individuals with special needs transitioning out of school settings and into the workforce.  The bill recognizes that some individuals with special needs are relegated to isolated jobs involving menial tasks, when they should instead be working side by side with nondisabled peers in as typical a work setting as possible.  The idea behind the bill is right on point.  For a long time I’ve been wondering about, and for the last several months I’ve been vigorously advocating for, assisting individuals with disabilities to transition into a workplace setting.  We spend all this money on resources to provide disabled students with an education that is individually tailored to meet their needs, but then abruptly terminate those supports when that individual ages out of school.  We have the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, but where is the Individuals with Disabilities Supportive Employment Act?  If supportive employment can be implemented by a small private school in Peru (see http://blog.dayanlawfirm.com/2013/12/reflections-on-peru.html), where the government cares little about funding the needs of children with special needs, why can’t we in the U.S., where the government, rightly or wrongly, plays such a significant role in education, implement it as well?

It’s unclear to me, however, whether this Workforce Bill is the right approach for addressing this issue.  According to Education Week (see http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2014/05/bipartisan_bicameral_workforce.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CampaignK-12+(Education+Week+Blog%3A+Politics+K-12), the primary purpose of the bill is not K-12 education but rather workforce training issues, including adult education.  But the bill continues to fund a number of K-12 programs, which I imagine would leave less money for supportive employment for individuals with special needs.  If the part of the bill that focuses on youths concerns itself not only with individuals with special needs but also high-school dropouts and disadvantaged youth who are pursuing GED’s or vocational training, which seems to be the case, how much of the funds would be applied toward special needs individuals?

I haven’t read the existing version of the bill, but I’d be curious to know if it addresses the following points.  What kinds of supports would these individuals receive to assist with transitioning to the workforce?  For instance, would there be daily support in the form of an on-site job coach or shadow, or perhaps a once a month group training session with some tips on how to act around the office?  What kinds of jobs would these individuals be transitioned to?  Who would qualify for this program?  That is, would more intensive supports be provided for individuals with more severe needs, or would those with more severe impairments be excluded?  What employers are participating or will participate in this program, and what training do they/will they receive?  How will compensation for disabled individuals compare to the compensation of their nondisabled peers performing the same job?

While this approach to legislation may be politically convenient for the reasons that Education Week identifies, I’m not convinced it represents the kind of broad reform that I think we need to help individuals with disabilities become independent and productive adults.  I’d be curious to hear others’ thoughts on this, and would be interested in learning more about what other efforts are being made to address this important issue.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

New Civil Rights Guidance for Charter Schools

I received the following announcement from the Council Of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA). The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has provided new guidance concerning charter schools' obligations to admit, and accommodate the needs of, students with disabilities. A link to the full memorandum is included below.

Dear Colleague:

The U.S. Department of Education supports charter schools’ efforts to provide students, including those in some of the nation’s highest-need communities, with additional meaningful opportunities to receive a high-quality public education. Today, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights has released new guidance (versión en español) providing a reminder that our federal civil rights laws apply to charter schools just as they apply to other public schools.

The guidance explains that the federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in education on the basis of race, color, and national origin; sex; and disability extend to all operations of a charter school, including recruiting, admissions, academics, educational services and testing, school climate (including prevention of harassment), disciplinary measures (including suspensions and expulsions), athletics and other nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, and accessible buildings and technology.

We hope that the guidance issued today will help enhance the role charter schools can play in advancing equal opportunity for all students. Our office stands ready to provide technical assistance should you or your colleagues need it.

Thank you,

The Office for Civil Rights

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Recap of Universal Preschool In Sweden Event

Monday night's Universal Preschool In Sweden event at Brooklyn College was a standing room only affair, with lots of wallflowers along the back wall of the room for lack of a place to sit.  The focus of the evening's discussion was EDUCARE, Sweden's version of universal preschool.  Educare combines the two words which are the underpinnings of the program - education and care - in order to emphasize the importance of providing a caring and nurturing environment for preschoolers to promote learning (contrast with an accountability- and results-driven approach).  Educare serves students aged 1-7 years old, which was remarkable because in New York we are still trying to figure out how to scale pre-K just for 4 years olds.  Sweden starts from infancy.

Attendance is not compulsory but almost everyone attends.  The cost to families is reasonable: while the program is not entirely funded at public expense, parents pay, on average, approximately $2,000-3,000 per child per year...but that can vary depending on income.  Student-teacher ratio is approximately 5 kids per teacher, with approximately 17 children in a group.  Most Educare schools are publicly funded, but there are some that are privately funded as well.

Because Educare deemphasizes a rigid adherence to goals and outcomes, there are no formal goals that must be met at the end of the year.  There are only informal guidelines that can be utilized to inform the curriculum.  There does seem to be a national curriculum, however, and the extent to which individual schools feel compelled to follow that curriculum was not entirely clear to me.  When the Swedish presenters emphasized "evaluating the quality of the preschool program," I wondered to what extent that might be at odds with the notion of "no accountability."

Another point I found interesting was that Educare came about as a result of the work force expansion in Sweden in the 1970's.  When more women started working, someone had to look after their children.  For a while the program was run under the auspices of the social welfare system.  In 1998, Educare officially became part of the educational system.  

Educare takes a child-centered approach, letting the child's interests and curiosities guide the teacher's instruction.  Those who are familiar with the DIR Model of instructing children with autism may be familiar with this approach.  Those who know of the Reggio Emilia schools in Italy may be familiar with it as well.  The Swedish panelists cited Reggio Emilia as one of the inspirations behind Educare.  This was the first time I had heard of Reggio Emilia.  But I quickly learned that it is well-known within the education field for being a child-centered, creative approach with an emphasis on natural materials and documentation.   

Other thought-provoking points that were mentioned

Trusting the children and viewing them as competent individuals 

Structuring tasks in a way that relies on the children to figure out what's necessary to complete a task (rather than simply depositing pre-determined information into the children's minds). 

Some issues that were not adequately addressed

Diversity - no discussion about how to transport the Swedish model to a more diverse demographic such as in the U.S.  There was a brief discussion about "segregated areas" in Sweden where immigrant children can be educated in their native tongue.  However there is an ongoing debate about whether to educate them in a segregated manner, or in an integrated manner with Swedish children to promote mastery of the Swedish language.  

Poverty - no discussion at all.

Special needs children - not mentioned at all.    

Federal government's role - not clear what is the federal government's role and how Sweden establishes consistency among its various Educare schools and programs.  

Assessing quality of preschool program and student progress - there was some discussion about the "pedagogical documentation" that is maintained and analyzed to assess the quality of a preschool program, but it was vague.

Overall an interesting event that got the wheels in my mind turning!    

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Universal Preschool In Sweden: Inspiration For Progressive Early Childhood Education

With all of the current hype surrounding universal preschool lately, particularly in New York City, what lessons can we learn from Sweden? That question will be the focus of an interesting event called Universal Preschool In Sweden: Inspiration For Progressive Early Childhood Education, which will be happening this Monday night at Brooklyn College. If you are interested in education on an international level (like I am), or just want to be part of a novel discussion about our early childhood educational system, check out the information below:

Sweden is internationally lauded for its public, comprehensive, accessible and affordable Educare system, which provides all Swedish young children with some of the very best care and education. New York City is embarking on a massive expansion of pre-K programs. What can we learn from Sweden's experience?

What: Discussion: "Universal Preschool in Sweden: Inspiration for Progressive Early Childhood Education"
Who: The Brooklyn College Department of Early Childhood and Art Education and the Brooklyn College School of Education
Where: Gold Room, 6th Floor, Brooklyn College Student Center, Campus Road and East 27th Street
When: Monday, May 5th at 6pm
For Information: Contact bferholt@brooklyn.cuny.edu