Friday, June 20, 2008

BlogBlast For Education: It Starts Here

A big thank you goes out to April for coming up with this idea; education seems to have taken a back seat to other issues in the last years, and I think it is time that we all took a stand to talk about why, in fact, it IS so important. I am honored to be able to participate, and I encourage all of you to go visit April's BlogBlast For Education and read all of the posts linked to hers. Then go write your own.

This is a hard one for me; not because I don't have anything to say, but because there is too much to say. I initially thought that I would write about a teacher who inspired me, and there were more than one, but then I thought I would write about how important education in general is, and then I thought I would bash George W. for his No child Left Behind act...and the truth of it is, all of these things are so intimately linked that I can't write about just one of them without touching on all of them. So this is what I will tell you:

I have three children in school; all three are completely different, not just in temperament but in intelligence and how they learn. All three of them, for different reasons, are at risk for falling through the cracks, which is a terrifying realization at this point in time.

Hannah is the oldest. She was diagnosed with some mild learning disabilities early on-kindergarten, in fact-and has had an IEP in place for her entire educational career. This served us all well until the No Child Left Behind Act went into force, because suddenly, Hannah was passing (barely) the Standardized Tests and therefore was deemed At Grade Level, which meant that she no longer qualified for any special services. Her first year in high school, last year, was her first year without any kind of accommodations for her learning problems, and her last report card was nearly all D's and two F's. She passed; not only did she not have to go to summer school, but she also gets to go on to the 10th grade next year. I have seen the work that Hannah has put forth this last year, and couldn't be prouder of her. She spent at least two hours nightly working on homework, took a Study Skills Class, and also stayed after school every Friday to participate in the tutoring offered. However, these classes were geared toward kids who couldn't pass the ISAT's. and therefore Hannah was pretty much on her own-even though they were supposed to be there to help her achieve success. What we have seen happen is that no matter how hard she works, Hannah needs additional help, and she can't get it because too much time and resources are going in to make sure everyone can at least pass the ISATs. What happens after that is, it seems, not the school's concern. Hannah knows at this point in her life that she is NOT college material; she will never get in to a mainstream school, and worse, no longer cares. No matter what I tell her at home, no matter how much support she gets from other people, her school has said, "You are smart enough to pass the test, you are no longer worth spending time and effort on. You are on your own."

Eli and Sam are falling through the cracks for the exact opposite reason: they are both so far beyond their grade level that it would be funny were it not so sad. Eli has been IQ tested and is in the 140-150 range (the average adult is 100); he took the high school level ISAT last year (in 8th grade) and scored higher than average on all levels. Sam is following in his footsteps, having taken the 8th grade ISAT last year and scoring higher than the average 8th grader. He is 9. You would think that the boys would be better off, school wise, since they are obviously gifted, but in fact the opposite is true. Our district no longer has an elementary school gifted program available due to budget cuts. Eli is in the honor's program and will be taking Advanced Placement classes as well as getting dual credits (high school and college) IF he continues to perform well, so that is a plus, but it isn't enough. Both of my boys have been labeled as behavior problems, because there simply isn't enough for them to do. It is a cliche, and one that until I experienced it first hand thought, "What EVER," but it is true: bored kids get in trouble. Period. The problem is that teachers are so set on getting each child to where they can pass The Test that they don't have any extra time to spend with the kids who might not be getting enough challenge.

It is a struggle to know where to take my stand, because there are no easy answers. We do not have access to private schools here (there is one Catholic school which goes only to Grade 6), and even if there were, that could not be an option due to finances. Also, despite the obvious problems and fears, I have NO DOUBT that the teachers with whom my kids are in contact are quite simply doing the best that they can with the resources they have to work with. My frustration has nothing to do with the School District or even the teachers, but with the educational crisis that is sweeping our nation due to No Child Left Behind. Budgets are being cut right and left, leaving our kids not just without things like Music and PE and Art but also without basic tools to live in everyday life. For example, we have known that Hannah isn't going to do the college thing for some years; last year she had her study skills class, this year she was supposed to take a Strategies for Success class, where it was about balancing a checkbook, budgeting money, etc..which ALL kids should take, but which got cut due to budget restrictions. We have a predominately Hispanic student body, but we also had all of our Jr. High and High School ESL classes cut. And we live in a country where our President is more concerned with spending billions of dollars on a war to help a country that doesn't WANT our help than with opening his eyes to the lack of quality education for everyone, regardless of economic or social status.

Parental involvement is part of it, but that means different things to different people. I refuse to allow my kids to participate in fund-raisers, because what that really means is that I sell things for them, or I take them door to door; I don't have the time or the inclination to do that. I am also not part of the PTA, I don't volunteer in the classrooms, and I don't chaperon field trips. What I DO is go to every parent-teacher conference. I talk to the teachers (high school is not structured the same way, however, so I am not sure the best way to go about this is!), and I try to enlist them in my own campaign to help my kids excel. So far, I have been lucky in that every single year, I have found teachers willing to work with me collaboratively in order to provide my kids the things they need, even if it means not following the designated curriculum. I have found the teachers here be so excited and thrilled about a parent who actually wants their child to succeed that they are also willing to go above and beyond in order to help make that happen. It isn't perfect; we have had issues, personality conflicts, out and out head butting contests, but all in all, I have been able to make the teachers see my children as individuals with different needs and different goals. And I am lucky in that for the most part, we have a great school district with teachers who are willing to see each child as a person, and are also a little more liberal-minded so far as what the term "Parental Involvement" means.

And I think what we parents need to remember is that it isn't JUST the school's job to provide all of the education our children will ever need. We still have to be parents; school is there to teach them the basics so far as education, but what I see a lot of here is that too many parents think school should teach them everything, from how to add two and two to how to behave to how to approach sex; I think it is important that all of those things are addressed, of course, but isn't it our job as parents to teach our kids the basics so that teachers can actually teach?

Beyond the basics like a roof over their heads and food to eat and an abundance of love-be it from a parent or a grandparent or two parents-and security, I believe that education is the single most important thing for our children. I believe that huge changes need to be made to our entire educational system in order to provide the best for every child, regardless of race, religion, gender, or economic status. I believe that we as parents need to take a page out of April's book and stand up and say, "Hey! This is not right!" And I also believe that without us, nothing will ever change, but will instead go from bad to worse. We have been entrusted with these children; it is our job to work with and for and against when necessary the system that our government has put into place that is supposed to ensure each of them the chance at success. And I also believe that it starts here, with us, right now.


FreedomFirst said...

Count me in. I knew that No Child Left Behind was bad, but I didn't know it was THAT bad. Wow! Makes me want to homeschool even more. Hopefully the next president will do at least ONE useful thing and get rid of that stupid legislation. But I'm not holding my breath....

Jen said...

Right ON, Kori! This is SO on the mark. And as a specialist in Gifted Ed. I'll so back you on your comments about your boys.

Also, look into a 504 for Hannah - that may still fly no matter what tests she passes and may provide her with some extras that she needs. Just be extremely specific in what you ask for and try to identify what you and she think she needs MOST.

Don't get me started on how much I hate No Child Left Behind.

And I am so with you on the stupid fundraisers, too. As a teacher, in my mind, parental involvement means giving what you can give to your child's education. It means making sure they have time and space for their homework, and it means letting teachers and/or admins know when something isn't working for your child.

It's nice that some people can practically live in their child's classroom, but anyone who doesn't get the reality of most working parents these days shouldn't be teaching.

Anonymous said...

Bravo to you! 100% in agreement with your statement about the need for greater parental involvement. There should never be an "I'm too busy to get involved" excuse for a parent when it comes to his or her child's education. Teachers are so horribly underfunded that it is impossible for them to actually do what needs to be done. There simply just aren't enough and they good ones that we have are thoroughly under appreciated.

Great post!!!

Tara R. said...

My son has a problem that is sort of a combintion of all your children. He has learning disabilities and scores off the chart on NCLB tests. Teachers just label him a problem child and not in need of any help. Incredibly frustrating.

April said...

I think that what you've described as the relationship between you and your children's teachers is the ideal that we all strive for; involved parents, and involved teachers = involved students who take with them a lifelong love of learning.
Bravo, Kori! And a big thanks for participating.

Martin said...

I can't really comment on the US educational system but I'm totally in agreement about parents being active forces in their children's education, you can't leave it to chance.

You are writing up an absolute storm lately Ms.

Anonymous said...

Here's a little gripe about the damn no child left behind that just pisses me off. Did you know that if an educational institute hosts any for of job or college fair, they are required by that law to invite a branch of the military to present as well? This goes from middle school all the way to colleges and Universities. I know this because I work at a college, and a very liberal one at that, and we take it personally that we are forced to invite the military in every time we host an event to help our students go where they want in the world.
And, I know exactly what you mean about the kids as well. My oldest is beyond gifted, excels in almost everything she does - when she feels like it. She gets bored easily, rarely does homework because it doesn't make sense to do something she already knows, etc. My 2 youngest daughters are struggling so hard with every aspect of learning how to read and in fact my youngest is going to have to repeat 1st grade because she just can't get the words to make sense to her. It's so frustrating to find a school capable of working with your kids and actually helping them when they need it or challenging them to go further.

LunaNik said...

I have heard that No Child Left Behind is horrible...but, honestly, your post is the only one that said why. Thanks for the enlightenment. Now, I'm off do to some more research on this.

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness. I echo Lunanik. I had no idea why No Child Left Behind was so bad. Thank you for your explaining it.

I work with college students so I have not had to confront many of the issues you raise. I admire your perseverance and determination. That is one thing your kids are going to learn from you that they are not going to get in any school.

Mama Smurf said...

Great post!

Things have gotten particularly bad here in Michigan because of the overall crisis with our economy. All the cuts meant that my oldest son (in 5th grade) was in a class of 35. How can ONE teacher teach a class of 35. My oldest also did Begindergarten because of his November birthday...which, btw, was the BEST thing we could have ever done for him.... and now because of cuts that program is no longer available. That doesn't directly effect me any more but it's still sad to see for all the kids who are starting Kindergarten WAY too young. My daughter will be almost 6 when she starts kindergarten in the fall and she will be in class with kids who are still 4. Kids are at very different levels and with class sizes the way they are it's impossible for these teachers to individualize their curriculums.

It's frustrating to say the least.

Laski said...

I would have loved to have had more parents like you . . .

"I have found the teachers here be so excited and thrilled about a parent who actually wants their child to succeed that they are also willing to go above and beyond in order to help make that happen." YES!!!!!!!

BTW, you may have just inspired me to do something with this teaching degree since I won't be in a classroom for the next few years (while staying home with J) . . . I have an idea :) THANKS!!!

Anna-b-bonkers said...

Oh my gosh I have so much to think an=bout my brain hurts!
This was a great post and for me with two little ones not yet in school this really is an eye opener, thanks Kori!

Meg said...

Great Post! I also have kids with different abilities (my son has a 504). As a former teacher, I realize how hard it is to individualize curriculums. Which is why your point about parents teaching their kids is right on the mark.

Yes, gifted programs always seem to get cut leaving those kids short-changed. However, parents can easily 'supplement' their kids' education by exposing them to museums, camps, service-learning opportunities, interesting books, etc.

For the past four years, I've been observing (and documenting) the issues in urban schools and I can't even begin to say how scary the situation is.

Melissa said...

Hi Kori! Nice to meet you!

I meant to do this post last week, but I totally forgot.

I've had the same experiences as you with the GT kids. Both of mine are GT and both have extreme dysgraphia. So while the younger one can't get any help, they were all over the older one this year so that he would pass the freakin' TAKS writing test. Which he did (yeah!). But now that he has, zip. HATE.HATE.HATE.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by! And I'll be back here, too. :)

Linda said...

I too dislike No Child Left Behind. It can put a good school in a bad position just because one student does not pass the test (yup, that can and does actually happen, yet all the public hears is that the school failed).

My kids also had some issues in school. One was LD/ADHD/TAG another just TAG, one not "anything" but very advanced and one had FAE and many health and learning issues (we adopted her at almost 10 years old). While it would be nice to think the school could fix the problems that is just not true.

It is hard at a parent to have kids that don't quite fit in the "system", but the best is if you can get a teacher that can make connections with them and help them along. Mine were lucky that most years that happened.

For Hannah you might think of a Community, or Jr. college training program. She might be successful with that when the time comes.

I also like the 504 idea. What a 504 is when a student needs modifications or adaptations to be successful, but not an actual change in instructions like an IEP.