Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Inclusion and What It Means From Our Kids' Point of View

It's that time of year. Graduations. So much possibility. For many high school students it means college, for some it means entering the trades or training programs. For a very few, it means entering transition programs, hopefully, pursuing what they love. This time of year also means graduation from college, and for some, from those transition programs. 

I have a guest post today. It's from a dear friend whose daughter is an incredibly talented young woman who also happens to have a disability. She's very lucky in her parents, who have tirelessly fought to provide her with support to pursue her passion for music. As she graduates from Berkshire Hills Music Academy (BHMA), she enters into the "cliff" phase of life for people with disabilities. The next fight is to find a place where her talents are not just appreciated, but celebrated. That is no small task. 

I'll warn you to have a box of tissues handy as you read my friend's post and watch the video of her daughter's speech at graduation. 

What a day yesterday ...so full of possibility.
Today we are back home, still basking in Julia's accomplishments, but also wondering, how to make it all possible. How to help her fulfill her dream.
After listening to the 15 BHMA graduate's speak about, their struggles, fears and now, their accomplishments....you can only see how important it is, to educate, support, give opportunities and include. 
What we were reassured, after hearing them, is that they may be differently abled, but they are surely ABLE.
The Keynote speaker was Dan Habib, photojournalist and documentarian (award-winning film Including Samuel). (See his TEDTalk on inclusion here.)
As father of a disabled child, he spoke from the heart about Inclusion.He relayed how he has seen firsthand how his son's presence has brought out the better in those around him and how at the same time his life has been enriched with the interaction.
As a parent of a special needs child, our learning comes every day, with every moment. Although it's no easy road, it's one full of reward, when accomplishment comes. Yet, it's difficult to do it alone. All we want is for our children to have opportunities and acceptance. Not much to ask, you say?... in reality, difficult to achieve.
As our speaker said (and I'm paraphrasing) having these special individuals participate in our communities fully, will makes us all better for it .As you will hear firsthand from Julia, to some it may come as a surprise, that our "Happy" girl, who is known, for always having a beautiful smile on her face, at times that smile , was not in her heart.
I ask you all to help us and commit to continuing to together build a stronger caring community with INCLUSION.
Here is Julia's speech Now take out the tissue box....#inclusion #differentlyabled #danhabib #bhma

NJ Parents - The Data System You Haven't Heard Of

Dear NJ Parents,

NJ's Education to Earnings Data System (NJEEDS) is here. Never heard of it? Didn't think so. It's a longitudinal database, sometimes referred to as P20W. The aim is to collect data on students, beginning in kindergarten, going through 12th grade. Then tracks through college, if the student stays in-state, and then into the workforce. Once in the workforce, the database keeps track of wages. 

States are creating these databases because the federal government isn't allowed to, although they have been helping fund their creation. At some point, someone will figure out a way to legally link all of the state databases. 

Things to consider and hopefully receive answers to...

Foremost, when are parents going to be formally notified by NJDOE, not only about the existence of the database, but what exactly is being collected and potentially shared, and in what form? Who is going to assure the accuracy of data shared? Is there a mechanism to correct errors?

Who has ultimate responsibility for the protection of the data? How will parents be notified if breaches occur?

This goes hand in hand with what is being collected - protection of data includes not collecting what you don't need. How selective has the process been in deciding what gets collected and who made those decisions?

If discipline data are collected, at what point are that data erased so we don't end up in some dystopian scenario where detentions in middle school somehow interfere with college placement or job attainment?

Can parents choose to not have their kids participate in this?

What is the expiry date on the data - both raw and what are meted out for study?

Will parents, and ultimately the subjects, be notified when their data are released for study? Will they know who is using it and for what purpose? 

With respect for students who don't want to go to college, does NJ workforce development see value in the trades? Are they promoting or supporting them? If some distinguishing factor can be identified in the early grades, will those student be supported in their abilities?

Regarding wage outcomes, will this data ultimately be used to alter courses or degree program options if wages are deemed "too low"? In California, their version of this system, although far less comprehensive, informs decisions to remove courses or degree programs from the state network of schools. 

I understand the value from a workforce development perspective. Obviously, it's a plus to know who is in your potential workforce pipeline. That knowledge can be, and has been, used to entice companies to locate in certain states (MS does this through use of an app. Potential employers can see how many of a particular type of college student, or certified student there are at any given moment.). This may well be of great value to the next governor as they attempt to bring businesses to New Jersey. 

The question is, how do we do this while providing the greatest safeguards to the data and the greatest transparency of its use?

The bigger question is, what is the purpose of education, both in the lower grades and at the university level? Is it for job training based on the workplace needs of the day? Or is it to create well-rounded, thinking, citizens who can adapt to any environment? 

Back in December, I attended a 2-day seminar: Forum on New Jersey's Education, Higher Education, and Workforce P20W Longitudinal Database System. New Jersey Department of Education, High Education, NJ legislators, and a several states were there to discuss the merits and lessons of P20W systems. I'll write more about that experience in another post.