Tuesday, April 30, 2013

This Raving Mother from Hell celebrates 1000 Ausome Things #AutismPositivity2013

My thirteen year old ausome son...

  • knows more about plant and animal biology than most college students
  • is more protective of earth's precious plants and animals than most conservationists
  • takes more seriously performing in a play or concert than most adults
  • is more decent to humankind than it often deserves

I hope someday to be half the amazing person he is.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

From Radical Neurodivergence Speaking: Rhapsody is a Kitty & He Needs Help.

From: Radical Neurodivergence Speaking
Rhapsody is a Kitty & He Needs Help.

I hit my wall very suddenly & unexpectedly and was crying about missing my cat & wanting to go home to my cat, & Rhapsody's human, Jim Sinclair brought *a* cat--Rhapsody. And Rhapsody allowed me to cuddle him while kind of crying so hard I was shaking and it's totally not a cat's favorite at all, to be loved on by someone melting down, right? But he cuddled and purred and probably saved my next 12-24 hours.
Well, now Rhapsody needs help. He's been having scary episodes of respiratory distress and has spent time in the kitty ER. 
Read more here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

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!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

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.