School ignores advice from learning disability experts
Stacie Brockman is the Prince George’s County mother of lively twin 9-year-old boys. Her sons were born two months premature. She has done everything possible to deal with the disabilities that often impede the progress of such children.
She took them to the developmental pediatricians at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, one of the top U.S. providers of care for children with learning disabilities. They gave the boys many tests. They diagnosed mixed expressive/receptive language disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dysgraphia (a writing disability) and dyslexia (a reading disability).
The doctors told Brockman that her sons need to be in small classes with research-based reading instruction and intensive math and language remediation. As the law requires, administrators at Potomac Landing Elementary School set up an individualized education program (IEP) team, which meets with Brockman.
As sometimes happens, these meetings have not gone well, Brockman said. Learning disability issues appear to be one of the greatest sources of friction between parents and schools. Brockman’s account reveals how clumsy educators can be in communicating to parents what they are doing with their children, and why.Continue reading this post »
Experts’ wrong way to pick best principals
Anyone involved with schools has noticed that many governors, legislators and school boards think business practices can improve education. There is little proof of this. It’s a fad. If we leave it alone, it will go away.
But sometimes the latest business idea is too foolish to ignore. Take, for instance, this recent commentary piece in Education Week, “We Need a New Approach to Principal Selection,” by Ronald J. and Bill J. Bonnstetter.
“Identifying an effective principal requires a clear vision of the job duties, expectations and required personal attributes,” they wrote. “While most selection committees would agree with these criteria, the present selection system ends up being filled with personal biases and status quo mentalities. That’s why we recommend using benchmarking.”
Ronald Bonnstetter is professor emeritus of science education at the University of Nebraska. He now works as senior vice president of research and development for his brother Bill, chairman of Target Training International, a private company that does human behavior and skill assessments for businesses and groups in 90 countries. The Bonnstetters know much about business and education, but they fail in this piece to consider the importance of finding out how well principal candidates have done with students.Continue reading this post »
How to survive our education battles
The latest fashions in the American education system are, as usual, inspiring raucous debate. I try to take sides in these arguments. Isn’t it my job to explain who’s right? But I wonder.
There is much chatter, for instance, over education historian Diane Ravitch’s fiery assault on Ben Austin, founder of the Parent Revolution organization. The California “parent trigger law” Austin sponsored just cost a Los Angeles principal her job. Fifty-three percent of parents at the Weigand Avenue Elementary School in the city’s Watts neighborhood signed a petition to fire Irma Cobian after three years of low scores. The school board obeyed the law and let Cobian go.
But 21 of the 22 teachers at the school said they were so upset at the firing that they would seek transfers to other schools. Ravitch called Austin “loathsome” for ruining “the life and career of a dedicated educator.” Ravitch said “there is a special place in hell” for those who administer and support Austin’s “revolting organization.”
We are also embroiled in a national argument over the new Common Core standards — and associated curricula — being installed in 45 states and the District. It would take at least a semester course to understand the jargon in that fight. But some combatants, among them former George W. Bush administration official Williamson Evers, have been clear. They say the new standards are an intrusion by the federal government into local school decisions.Continue reading this post »
How a special-education student found success
Seven years ago, when I first wrote about Paula Lazor’s teenage son ,John, his future was uncertain. My headline read: “Bright, But Falls Asleep in Class.”
Educators at both public and private schools had helped him for years with his learning disabilities. But homework was still torture and he had trouble following what teachers said. The nodding off in class had begun in eighth grade.
John became interested in welding after watching the Jesse James reality show “Monster Garage.” The Arlington County school system’s career center had an automobile repair course that seemed perfect. Then he bumped into one of those inexplicable rules that special-education families know too well. Students with learning disabilities, he was told, were not eligible for the course.
Out of frustration, John dropped out of Washington-Lee High School, which he discovered made him eligible for the Career Center course since he was no longer a full-time student. He did well in the vocational courses and enrolled at the Universal Technical Institute in Exton, Pa., to learn auto mechanics. At 18, he still had no high school diploma and was no closer to going to college. His life had been full of improvements followed by setbacks. Would this be one more?
Apparently not. I have told many stories of special-education students stumped and sidelined, struggling to find their way. This is different. At age 26, John is a certified master auto technician, specializing in European cars and living in Boulder, Colo. He is enrolled at Front Range Community College. He does not sleep in class. His disabilities are no longer an obstacle.Continue reading this post »
Six ways to survive college search with a smile
Katie Mathews, the youngest of my three children, graduated from law school two weeks ago. That ends for me 22 years of college touring, SAT fretting, application essay reading, rejection angst, acceptance relief and tuition paying. I still worry about the job market, but barring an appointment to the Federal Reserve Board, that is beyond my influence.
My grandson Ben, 4, said he is going to go to college. I wished him luck. By then I will be gone or uncommunicative. While I can still type, perhaps I should take this opportunity to record the six key issues related to the college search, drawing on all that I have learned in my many years of parenting and writing.
1. SAT and ACT exams: They frighten your children and waste your money. They add little to the learning process. But resisting their power will do little more than aggravate family tension. When my daughter was in high school, her PSAT scores were fine. She didn’t need the SAT prep course. But her friends were taking it. She didn’t want to be at a competitive disadvantage. So I wrote the check, and said nothing when her SAT score turned out to be almost the same as her PSAT.
2. College tours: Pretend you are visiting a theme park. Have fun. Don’t take notes. Don’t ask a lot of questions at the admission office information session. You’re on vacation, right? Act like it. If your kid wants to take it seriously, fine. But if the tour guide is too snotty or the dorm rooms too small, she might not even apply. Wait until she has an acceptance letter before visiting with your clipboard and list of vital interrogatories.Continue reading this post »