What You Don’t Know

As the Pennsylvania Legislators continue to examine bills related to funding PA’s Public Cyber Charter Schools, many families like ours sit on pins and needles waiting to find out the fate our children’s education. Much of the public likely has little opinion on the matter other than – save us taxpayers money. So it’s not exactly front page newsworthy to the media. But there are some really important things that families who rely on these schools, need you to know. Our children will have no schools to attend should these bills pass.

Cyber Schools do not cost taxpayers any additional money. In fact, it works like this. Only a portion of school taxes that are collected through property tax is passed along to the cyber schools. The tax money you pay now (whether you have a child enrolled or not) is sent to the local district who then takes a portion of that and gives it to a cyber school. That is, if a district student transfers to a cyber school, the school district takes a portion of the per pupil funds it’s collected and pays the cyber school for that one student. No additional tax revenues are collected from the public. Noteworthy is that the districts still keep a good portion of the per student tax revenue. Only a portion is sent to the cyber school who has to supply all that student’s educational needs.

Most, if not all, cyber schools in Pennsylvania are non-profit organizations. They are not for profit. Cybers, like districts, however, purchase curriculum from other companies. These curriculum companies, like Pearson Education Inc., Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, and K12 are typically for-profit. Though cybers may have fewer options than districts because of the instruction model, the companies that sell the curriculum are not reflective of the school’s administrative business model. There is little to no difference between a district buying Pearson’s curriculum and a Cyber buying K12’s curriculum.

Cybers are not failing to make AYP (annual yearly progress) any more than many districts are. In fact, it is not feasible to compare districts scores and progress with large multi county cyber schools. A school district is measured on a scale that uses grade spans: 3-5 for elementary schools; 6-8 for middle schools and 9-12 for high schools. Only one of the three grade spans needs to hit the testing targets for a district to make AYP. Cyber schools do not get to span grades. Therefore, all scores are tallied for the cyber and it’s pass or fail – no in between. The other problem is this. Small districts do not have the diverse demographics that larger schools, such as cyber schools have. When a district only has a few students under a certain demographic, they do not have to report those students scores under a performance target. Cybers and large districts inevitably always have enough enrollment that they must report all scores for all demographics. So while District X and Cyber Y may both have low scores for a special education population, only Cyber Y gets it counted against their AYP.

Children do not sit in front of a computer all day. That is a myth. These kids are doing hands on education. Especially at the early elementary level, students  are provided with a multitude of books, math manipulatives, art supplies, science tools and more. Until they are older, very little is done on the computer by the student. Rather, the parent uses the computer as a teaching guide. As they get older, students attend live classes in a virtual classroom. Though not in the same room, these children get to know each other through the virtual class. They interact with each other and the teaching staff. These students are required to read novels, write essays and research reports, and do hands on science experiments.

Families who choose cyber schools typically do so as a last resort. Face it. Bringing your child home to learn is a huge commitment. Many have to quit jobs so they can stay home for their child. We are not typical home schoolers. Typical home schoolers don’t want the rigidity of a public education. Cyber schools are public charter schools and must follow all the same laws and more as the local districts. Our children are in cybers for a variety of reasons, but almost all of those reasons point to deficiencies in our local districts. Many of these children have special healthcare needs and/or are academically gifted. These kids were not getting what they needed to be successful in the district program. Many families try with blood, sweat, and tears to work with their local districts before making such an immense decision – to bring their child home.

Passing bills that reduce cyber school funding will ensure that the cyber schools shut down. As you have already read, these are non-profit public schools. They are not money making machines. The proposed bills all point to speculation about how much it “should” cost to provide distance education. There has not been one cost study done, however, to see what the actual costs are. So since they are pulling numbers out of the air, the legislators added verbiage that encourages districts and intermediate units to set up their own cyber schools. If districts do this (some of them already have them – though I have yet to hear if anyone is enrolled because they limit who can enroll), the districts don’t have to pay tuition to another cyber school. Well, at least not most of it. The bills call for massive reduction to cyber school tuition plus a 50% reduction after the massive cuts. No school can survive on less than half tuition. And most families cannot financially afford to pay that 50% tuition. Thousands of Pennsylvania’s children will lose their schools.

If we want to talk about reform, the public needs to know that what is going on in the public education brick and mortar sector, is far from on the up and up. Just in the last month two Pennsylvania Intermediate Units have been caught up in financial scandals. One North East former administrator is going to jail. The other Northwest IU was caught  using $11.7 million in funds marked for special education for buying multiple company cars. More recently, another IU administrator is on leave for breaching the Right to Know law. The point is this. If we want reform, it has to be fair and it has to be across the board. Picking on cybers makes little sense when brick and mortar charter tuition costs far more. And what of the corrupt use of funds by the intermediate units? Where is the public outrage there? And when was the last time a full audit was done to the local districts to make sure they weren’t using funds earmarked for instruction as ways to buy the administrative staff a new Lexus? Other districts have been caught cheating on the PSSAs, the tests that determine if they make AYP.

I challenge the legislators to take on the problems that have driven families to chose a cyber school. If you want to shut these schools down, you must first fix the problems that brought us here. Enforce the laws and hold all public schools accountable. Everyone should question why only one type of public school is being attacked. It is nothing more than a money game.

Cyber schools are not for everyone. It takes a very patient and dedicated family team for this model to work. But for some families, cyber schools are our only choice when our children are “left behind” by a lackluster and even sometimes, corrupt district. Please don’t take away our children’s only opportunity for a public education.

Are you a cyber schooling family? 
Share your story with PA Families for Public Cyber Schools!
Cyber schools are helping our children.  Now here is your chance to tell the story of how cyber schools are working for your family. Please go to http://www.pacyberfamilies.org/sharestory and help us tell your story!

Links:
http://scrantonpoliticaltimes.activeboard.com/t47932005/fred-rosetti-former-director-of-neiu-indicted-maybe-there-is/ 

http://www.goerie.com/iu-hires-new-leader 

http://sharonherald.com/local/x2015912914/Unit-IV-director-placed-on-leave 

http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local//philadelphia/43024-evidence-shows-state-test-cheating-in-philadelphia-schools-likely-far-worse-than-previously-revealed

My April Vow

This April, I vow not to make Autism Awareness about me. I vow instead to make Autism Acceptance about Autistics, like my son. 

I am allistic, a parent, an observer, a bystander. 

I will not “light it up blue.”
I will not promote “puzzle pieces.”

I will let the people who wear the autistic label define their disability. Nothing about them without them.

Let April be about truly supporting people with disabilities instead of advocating for the families – the parents. 

This has never really been about me. 

Join me and take the pledge to only attend, speak at or otherwise participate in autism panels, conferences and events that meaningfully involve Autistic people. 
http://www.autismacceptancemonth.com/pledge/

It’s Your Fault and My Fault – We All Share Responsibility

The recent influx in gun violence is our fault. We are the true problems – a culture so lost, so self absorbed we cannot see the trees through the forest. It’s not just the guns. It’s not just the mental health system. It’s not just bad luck. It’s us.

Science has known for years that guns are the leading cause of death among children and youth. Having a gun in a home increases the likelihood that someone will unintentionally die by that gun. Science has also know for years that violence in the media, including video games, increases the likelihood that someone will become violent. Exposure to pretend and real violence desensitizes us.

But science is lost on our culture. We have regressed into a nation that prefers to watch toddlers prance around in evening gowns and tiaras instead of learning. Then, we blame school systems for educational failures. We believe each of us is the center of our own universe. We falsely claim immunity to nature.We have regressed to a time when society blamed bad luck on witchcraft and where demonic possession is what caused people to behave poorly.

Today, when something awful does happen, it must be someone or something else’s fault. We wield our religious values as a shield of immunity. We scapegoat in order to relieve us of our individual responsibility. We find answers that absolve us and incriminate others. And this, is indeed, the reason things do not change in our society. Our culture has been soiled by extreme egoism.

If we truly want to end the senseless violence like that in Newtown, Connecticut, we must look within ourselves. We must question our belief systems. We must accept that humans are part of a natural order and not exempt. We must understand that no one is an island and our individual behaviors affect many others on this planet. We must understand that our religious beliefs are values to live by – not shields of exemption.

Finally, we must be willing to make self-sacrifice for the greater good. We must be willing to alter our thirst for violence in our entertainment, concede our unlimited access to to weapons of war, and we must demand better health care options from those who control access.

Until we are willing to make self-sacrifices, this sad history will continue to repeat.

Return of the Salem Witch Hunt

Mass Hysteria: Anyone with Mental
Health Issues is a Dangerous Killer

I couldn’t help this week but to draw a parallel to the witch trials with the mass hysteria caused by the irresponsible and unethical media. The people are now shouting from their social media rooftops – “hang them – they are killers!” If that were not enough, hate mongers posing as religious zealots are lighting other’s torches preparing for the hunt.

Much like the days of the Salem witch trials, people want a solution to end the wickedness (violence) society has brought upon itself. And our sensationalized media has been delivering by offering a scapegoat – people with developmental disabilities and mental health disorders. Let the burning and hanging begin.

No amount of real data can deter these convinced witch hunters. No, anecdotes and speculation are all the proof they need. “My friend’s sister’s cousin works with these people and she says they are just dangerous.” So it must be true. And then of course, some Bloggers also chime in with their pained stories of how hard it is to parent these awful children – “don’t you feel sorry for MEEEEEEEEEE?” I mean, if it’s on the internet, it must be true, right?

(The answer would be no. No, it’s not true. Data doesn’t lie – but people do.)

Ironically, those with mental health and other developmental disabilities are less likely to commit violent crimes than typical folks. But you’ve heard this before. Yeah, I know – your BFF’s dogsitter’s sister-in-law said….

Some statistics from the American Psychological Association regarding the mental health of the United States:

  • Published studies report that about 25 percent of all U.S. adults have a mental illness and that nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime. (CDC)

That’s a lot of people who are potential killers. And well, 50% pretty much means either you or someone in your home will eventually have a diagnosable mental health disorder if not already. That number doesn’t account for the developmental disabilities also being accused. Better take cover or warn your spouse – you might be living with the Devil’s Spawn!!!

In all seriousness, this hysteria must stop. Remember what happened to a society who bought into the witch trials? It is happening again for people with disabilities. Real people are being targeted this week. They are being told they are killers, and worse – that they should be killed. Children are shouting horrible things to their disabled peers in school. People in store check out lines are viciously discussing how we need to lock them all up.

Each one of us is susceptible to being labeled with a mental health disorder in our lifetime. That does not make us more likely to commit premeditated murder. In fact, it makes us all the more likely to become victims by the hand of an otherwise sane individual.

This is not to say that mental health should be ignored. Far from it. Our society is less likely to seek help for mental health issues because of the stigma associated with a diagnosis. That needs to change. People should not fear seeking help from a psychologist anymore than they fear obtaining an eyeglass prescription from an optometrist. As the statistics show, half of us will need to seek help for our mental health at some point in our lives. HALF. Though I’d guess more than half need eye correction, that’s still a lot of people.

Take a deep breath. Clear your mind. We don’t need to figure out why this happened. We do, however, need to take active measures to stop it from happening again. But that doesn’t start with creating mental health concentration camps or institutionalizing people based on labels. It starts by changing the way we as a society tolerate violence for entertainment. It starts by rethinking weapons laws and accessibility. It starts by realizing we are all human and not infallible. And it starts by letting the families in Connecticut grieve without fear that their loss started the biggest witch hunt since 1692.

Using Tragedy for Personal Gain

What a few days of utter hell! Advocates all over the country have been attempting to extinguish fires set by the media. It seems the media’s mission has been to out-sensationalize tabloid journalism. Highly emotional, the public is outraged and rightly so – too many innocent people are dying by the hands of gun owners with deadly assault weapons (people kill people, right?). The media knows that the public wants immediate answers and solutions that point the blame away from gun restrictions. And so they deliver.

While there was some talk about gun control, the new focus has become mental health. The headlines began to read the “Killer may have had [insert mental health diagnosis].” Thanks to this media hype, the dismayed public is now asking, why aren’t these “dangerous” people with mental health issues being helped? Adding more mental health stigma to an already terrible situation, enter the opportunistic vultures.

Over the weekend, a blogger (whom I refuse to name in effort to prevent feeding her more media attention) created a blog post under her real name (no pseudonyms for this one). This blog openly discussed her child’s dangerous mental health issues. Most disturbingly, the headline compared her thirteen-year-old child to a murderer. The blog post went viral. People all over applauded her bravery for sharing her story – a story that led the public to believe she was in danger and that her son might be the next mass murderer -a Michael Myers meets Jason of Friday the 13th waiting to happen. She used fear and panic to add more stigma about people with mental health disabilities. And the public was buying it.

One only had to dive deeper into this woman’s blog to see that there was indeed a very troubling history. Her child was allegedly sexually abused by her x-husband – a story in which she tells of a court hearing where alleged-molester-daddy-dearest gives the boy the cold shoulder causing the kiddo to break down. Later we read Daddy has joint custody. But that’s not all, no. Daddy has supposedly had this same 13-year-old child “incarcerated” four times!!!  Is it any wonder this child might have mental health issues? Mom also claims her boy threatened suicide to police and was hospitalized in a mental health facility on at least one occasion (we presume during jail time).These grandiose stories were starting to be over the top.

Did I mention Mom is a writer? She’s been interviewed by several local media outlets in the past – never discussing this crazed life she lives.  She has, however, given interviews on a local radio station about using Facebook as a tool to build an audience as a writer. She also worked for a time as a magazine editor. She even tells us on her personal blog about using Facebook to create a persona – someone she “wanted to become.” Hmmmmmm.

There are some very troubling parents who think they are helping their children by posting personal information. I won’t deny that I have seen it. But typically, these parents are “green” when it comes to social media. They don’t realize what they post on Facebook today ends up in Google’s search engine tomorrow. This mother, however, is not green. She’s a college art instructor who writes professional articles and erotica novels in her spare time. She expertly blogs, tweets, and Facebooks til the cows come home and advises others on utilizing these tools for self promotion.This mother did not inadvertently give out personal information that could harm her child without knowing she did so. No, this was contrived. Which leads me to my main point.

I don’t believe her story. Her child may indeed exist – she has his and the family photos on the blog for all to see. He may even have an un-diagnosed mental health disorder. But I am unconvinced that this educated and savvy writer would willingly expose her child risking adolescent bullies and public retaliation. After all, she did not hide her identity (though supposedly changing the child’s first name). No rational parent throws their kid under the bus like that. Mom has seemed to find a lot of time to blog, write books, and tweet. I would think she’d be able to find time to get her child some appropriate help, should he really need it. Our mental health system is far from perfect. But there is help for those who have means. One would think a college instructor has the means. Are we to believe that rather than privately seeking help for him, she blogged about it?

No, I don’t believe that this woman has a child who is dangerous and has driven her to the brink as she’d have you believe. She is someone who saw an opportunity to get her name known. Perhaps this was her chance to get a real publisher to look at her work. Whatever the motive, I firmly believe that this was all about her and never about a social mental health crisis. Because all this woman did was make it worse. She helped link people with mental health issues to violent murderous behavior. I anxiously await the publication of her autobiography.

My Broken Back

After a week of illness I informally deemed “the new black plague” and end of semester finals, I thought Friday’s tragedy was the straw that would break this camel’s back. You see, I loathe guns. I will not have them in my home, regardless of their purpose. I’m not exactly sure when I formed this strong opinion, but know it began at least by my adolescence as I remember having this debate in civics class. Ironically, I grew up in a home with handguns and hunting rifles. I have no traumatic stories to tell that explain my great dislike of guns. Yet I do, very strongly, dislike weapons and see no sign of changing this perspective.
So when I finally came out of my cave of academic study and heard the news, I thought I would crumble. More senseless death, of children no less, in the name of someone’s barbarous argument that it is their “Constitutional Right” to carry and stockpile these killing machines. I have grown weary from the argument. Little did I know, however, that this story would become personal and downright paralyzing.
The media, in effort to sell the story, figured it had better give us the big answer: Why? Why would this young man have done such an unspeakable thing? In reality, because the shooter is also dead we will never know. But let the speculation begin. The media was going to give us that BIG answer, though completely unfounded.
ABC was the first news network to start the rumor. An anonymous relative supposedly said the killer was autistic and had a personality disorder. Within moments, that misinformation went viral. ABC had “dirt” it so desperately needed to stand out from its competing networks. Soon after, ABC removed that information from their website – presumably it was misinformation. But it was way too late. Other news media, bloggers, commentators, you-name-it stumbled on that misinformation and had begun to spread it like wildfire. There would be counters to this misinformation, but it would fall on deaf ears. You see, saying “we don’t know why” doesn’t sell papers or increase sponsorship. People want answers. And they are ready to accept those answers regardless of who gets hurt in the process. They are especially ready to point blame at something other than “the gun.”
Today, I continue to read the horror stories. Not the shooting details. I simply refuse to patronize the sensationalist news media with their nonstop speculative commentary. The families deserve much better. No, I am reading about the “witch hunt” demonizing autistics – the ongoing pleas to stop autistics from hurting others – to limit autistic rights – the nonsense connections from someone who knows someone who knows someone with an autistic family member who was “just like” the shooter. The well-meaning bloggers who plead for better “mental health” for people “suffering from autism.”
Autism, though still in the DSM, is considered a neurobiological disorder by the specialists and researchers who are forefront. It is a different wiring system in the brain that causes the individual to process differently than what is typical. Symptoms of autism do not include premeditated violent behavior.
Autistics and individuals with other disabilities are no more likely to commit violent crime than non-disabled people. In fact, people with disabilities of all kinds, including autism, are much more likely to be the victims of violent crime. Attributing autism as a motive to this heinous crime is no more valid than attributing Adam Lanza’s maleness, human-ess, or the fact that he lived in Connecticut. Though all of these things are true, they do not motivate one to murder.
Today I live in fear because of a rhetorical interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. I fear that I cannot safely go Christmas shopping without the possibility that a “legal” gun owner might go on a killing spree. Leaving our home increases the likely-hood my family will die by gunfire. I fear my family may end up collateral damage so that gun enthusiasts can continue to stockpile assault weapons.
But I mostly live in fear for my autistic child. A victim of abuse by the hands of “typical” people, my child, who values life above all, is now the target of a media frenzy.
Today my back is broken and it is difficult to have hope.

ASAN Statement on Media Reports Regarding Newtown, CT Shooting

Media outlets were quick to disseminate misinformation in regards to today’s tragic shootings. ABC originally reported speculation that the gunman was “autistic, or has Asperger syndrome and a personality disorder.” but has since removed that story. Sadly, other media outlets picked it up and within minutes, this potential misinformation went viral.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network released this statement.

In response to recent media reports that the perpetrator of today’s shooting in Newton, Connecticut may have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum or with a psychiatric disability, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) issued the following statement today:
“Our hearts go out to the victims of today’s shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut and their families. Recent media reports have suggested that the perpetrator of this violence, Adam Lanza, may have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, or with another psychiatric disability. In either event, it is imperative that as we mourn the victims of this horrific tragedy that commentators and the media avoid drawing inappropriate and unfounded links between autism or other disabilities and violence. Autistic Americans and individuals with other disabilities are no more likely to commit violent crime than non-disabled people. In fact, people with disabilities of all kinds, including autism, are vastly more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. Should the shooter in today’s shooting prove to in fact be diagnosed on the autism spectrum or with another disability, the millions of Americans with disabilities should be no more implicated in his actions than the non-disabled population is responsible for those of non-disabled shooters.
Today’s violence was the act of an individual. We urge media, government and community leaders to speak out against any effort to spuriously link the Autistic or broader disability community with violent crime. Autistic Americans and other groups of people with disabilities persist in facing discrimination and segregation in school, the workplace and the general community. In this terrible time, our society should not further stigmatize our community. As our great nation has so many times in the past, let us come together to both mourn those killed by acts of heinous murder and defend all parts of our country from the scourge of stigma and prejudice.”
Media inquiries regarding this shooting may be directed to ASAN at info@autisticadvocacy.org.

http://autisticadvocacy.org/2012/12/asan-statement-on-media-reports-regarding-newton-ct-shooting/