Archive for October, 2009

Something Called Help

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Washington, D.C. Free morning lunch in the kindergarten of a Negro school

Photo: “Washington, D.C. Free morning lunch in the kindergarten of a Negro school” (Marjory Collins, 1942)

Please read this heartbreaking Judith Warner post about what we are doing for kids in crisis compared to what was done for them during the Great Depression:

The youth crisis of the 1930s terrified observers and led to a profound shift in American politics. “The Depression toppled the notion that children’s welfare could be left to individual families, private charities, and local and state governments,” Mintz writes. “It created a consensus that the federal government had a responsibility to promote children’s well-being.” Anxious about the emergence of a “lost generation” that could fall into the grip of fascism, the Roosevelt administration started the country’s first free-lunch programs, opened hundreds of free nursery schools, created the first federally-financed work-study programs for teenagers, funneled money to poor states to maintain teachers’ salaries, and created jobs for teenagers. Schools were built. Aid to Dependent Children came into being

What a difference an administration makes:

But if needy children were iconic — and change-inspiring — back then, they now appear to be all but forgotten.

The stimulus package of last spring contained a good deal of additional federal financing for child-care and Head Start programs. But that assistance was a one-shot deal. Ten states have cut back on their financing for pre-kindergarten education; at least nine have growing wait lists for child-care subsidies. Ohio and California have eliminated certain preschool programs altogether; other states are making it harder for families to qualify for state assistance.

Candidate Obama promised to double federal money for afterschool programs — instead that funding has remained flat, even as need has increased. According to a recent national survey carried out by the Afterschool Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group, 26 percent of school-age children are left alone after school each day — an increase of 800,000 kids since 2004. And as many as 100,000 teachers have been laid off this year.

In Obama, children got a symbol of hope.  In FDR, something called help.

Ain’t That a Shame; Charters Get No Love

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

A study just came out that debunks Arne Duncan’s Close the Failing School and Everything will be Hunky-Dory Theory.  According to Education Week:

A majority of Chicago students affected by school closings were sent to schools that were low-performing, just like those they left behind—moves that had no significant impact on performance for most students, a study released todayRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader finds…

“Certainly, when schools were closed for academic reasons, the idea was to try to change their educational prospects and what they might obtain. Unfortunately, we didn’t find that,” said Julia Gwynne, a senior research analyst with the consortium and the report’s co-author. “The main reason why that seems not to have occurred was because most students did not attend schools that were substantially better than the ones that were closed.”

Charter proponents will say that that will change once students are herded into fabulous “no excuse” learning factories.  But what to do about those pesky regulations?  Again from EdWeek:

(LAUSD Superintendent) Mr. Cortines’ (public school giveaway) rules have also sparked concerns from charter operators who say that their autonomy—a hallmark of the publicly financed schools—is threatened, so much so that many may decline to participate.

One of the biggest sticking points is the district’s requirement that outside operators provide slots to children in the neighborhood where the schools are located, essentially enforcing an attendance boundary for charters.

That could imperil eligibility for private and federal charter school grants because rules for securing those monies often require charters to do admissions by lottery, said Jed Wallace, the president of the California Charter Schools Association. Charter operators are also balking at the requirement that they use district-provided custodial and maintenance services, rather than having their usual flexibility to buy those services on the open market.

Damn! You mean our charter heroes will be hamstrung right off the bat? Just imagine: making poor charter operators educate kids from the hood! And forcing them use those low-class district custodial and maintenance services. Does that mean charters would be forced to contend with the likes of Jullisa, the cafeteria supervisor at our school?  Lady stands outside the cafeteria everyday making sure all the kids eat: “Come get your breakfast.” What if they don’t want to get their breakfast.  Did she ever think of that?

And what about these stick-in-the-mud San Fernando Middle School parents?

However, some parents likeAna de Jesus and Laura Baz, who are part of the Parent Community Advisory Committee for District 2, which SFMS is part of, are weary of charter and pilot schools.

“They want to bring a plan they’ve implemented somewhere else, but they’re not paying attention to our specific needs,” said de Jesus, who attended this week’s meeting at SFMS. “We want the schools to continue with the LAUSD and that they give us the opportunity to modify some things.”

“My kids all went to public schools and are now in college.

Public schools do work, you just have to find a way to make them work,” she said.

Sheesh! What sore heads. As said Jed Wallace, the president of the California Charter Schools Association, warns:

“If things stay the way they are now, we will lose the interest of most of the charter applicants, and what a shame that would be…”

You said it, Jed (he agreed with a note of glee in his voice.)  What a shame.

Podcast 30: Day 31 of School

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Talk to You Later-Notes to My Son: Day 31 of School

Damn That Television

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Found A Job / Talking Heads

stash | MySpace Video

“Damn that television … what a bad picture!”
“Don’t get upset, It’s not a major disaster.”
“There’s nothing on tonight,” he said, “I don’t know
what’s the matter!”
“Nothing’s ever on,” she said, “so … I don’t know
why you bother.”

We’ve heard this little scene, we’ve heard it many times.
People fighting over little things and wasting precious time.
They might be better off … I think … the way it seems to me.
Making up their own shows, which might be better than T.V.

AS IF you needed to read another blog post re Balloon Boy… But I just had to point out that we have finally arrived at what these Talking Head lyrics presaged so many years ago: a family trying to survive by “making up their own shows which might be better than TV.”  In this case, their own show was way better than TV, so much better that TV had to have it, journalism be damned. Who can blame them? Not me. In our fight to get our autistic son services, I never considered faking his disappearance in a UFO-shaped mylar balloon.  Maybe I should have. You know that Falcon’s family is going to make some serious coin somewhere down the line.  But as Arianna Huffington points out:

So now that we know that Falcon is safe, how about repurposing some of that concern for, say:
– the over 1.5 million children that are homeless.
– the 42 percent of homeless children that are under the age of 6.
– the one in six homeless children that suffers from an emotional problem.
It doesn’t have to be wall-to-wall coverage, but how about some coverage of the 75 to 100 percent increase in the number of children that are newly homeless because of the foreclosure crisis? Or the 13 million American children living in poverty?

You mean that’s a problem?  I thought it was the status quo. Maybe Enrique, one of my first graders, should weigh in on the subject. When he wouldn’t do his “mental math” today and I asked if he had gotten any sleep the night before, he nodded his head.  ”You eat any dinner?”  ”Uh-uh,” he said.  His mother couldn’t afford to buy any food.

Why doesn’t she just make her own reality show?

But no.  My bad.  She doesn’t own a balloon.

Another Reason to Love (and Save) Our Public Schools

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

A school in New York is taken over a by a charter that gets rid of a school library with a legacy of volunteerism and community TLC. Could your public school be next?

Uncle Albert

Sunday, October 18th, 2009



You rotten worm! You’re a super slob for
doing that to me, or will become a super slob
if you ever do it in the future.
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Matt. 7:1)
“Blessed are the merciful …” (Matt. 5:7)
“Forgive them for they know not what they do.”
(Luke 23:34)
“… But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them
that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray
for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.”
(Matt. 5:43-44)
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a
stone …
I have not condemned you, go and sin no more.”
(John 8:1-11)

I found this on psychologist Albert Ellis’s website and thought I would meditate on these wise words rather than rip into the Los Angeles Times for the umpteenth time for its slanted treatment of teachers and unions.  I don’t like what’s happening in education because it puts my autistic son at risk–period.  If he ends up in the kindergarten class of a teacher who loves autistic children I will be overjoyed.  I will also be amazed by the courage of such a person, because when teacher performance is linked to student achievement, scores of his/her special ed students may be detrimental to his/her career.

Podcast 29: Day 25 of School

Friday, October 16th, 2009

Talk to You Later-Notes to My Son: Day 25 of School

Podcast 28: Day 22 of School

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

Talk to You Later-Notes to My Son: Day 22 of School

Miss X Revisited

Monday, October 5th, 2009

As my friend Mark reminds me people do carefully read and consider these posts. Here is his thoughtful comment about the previous entry (vis-à-vis the big news of the day) as well as my response:

Mark: I couldn’t quite figure out the tone of your blog post, but 1 in 100 does seem really alarming. Are you saying it’s overdiagnosed? Or has it been underdiagnosed for years? I am really curious why we have 1 in 100 kids diagnosed with autism today whereas for decades it was (as I recall) more like 1 in 2,500. Has there really been a profound change in health or genetics in the last 20 years, or do you think the percentage has really stayed the same, it’s just that today it is better diagnosed and/or the spectrum has been defined more broadly? Curious to know your thoughts…

Me: Thank you for reading my post. Truth is I don’t get the tone of it either. This may be because I don’t have any answers to your questions. Before the early forties the word autism didn’t exist. Now more and more kids (including my son) are being diagnosed. Is there an epidemic? That’s what the anti-vaccination people seem to think. Others believe that kids are being over-diagnosed to appease yuppie parents or to put money in the coffers of departments of special ed. As a yuppie parent, I don’t believe that I’m demanding services for my son for the heck of it. If I had my druthers, he wouldn’t need speech, occupational therapy, and all of the other services he gets. But he does and I’m grateful that the school district provides them. As a special ed teacher, I don’t think anyone has a gun to my head to over-identify kids as autistic. If anything, they have a gun to my head to identify far fewer. Only the school psychologist can make that call anyway and the ones I know don’t take that responsibility lightly. They put each kid through a battery of tests and observations, which I, as an RSP teacher, supplement with academic data. Then we all get together with the parent, administrator, school nurse, and classroom teacher to make a determination about what if any disability the student has. Rarely but more often than ten years ago that diagnosis is autism. Now since the schools try to include special ed kids in the general education classroom more and more autistic kids seem to be showing up there. That’s about all I can say. Although I’m skeptical that autism is due to environmental factors and don’t believe that kids are being over-diagnosed, I do wonder what’s going on.

The Sorrows of Miss X

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Some teachers seem to have all the luck. Like Miss X. She has three autistic kids in her class. An accident? I couldn’t really say. Maybe the administration thinks she has a good touch with these kids. She does. Even though she has very little support to see to their needs (and they have many despite their myriad talents), she gives them all she’s got. She’s a very accepting woman and a great teacher. So wouldn’t it be a little unfair to tie her performance as a teacher to the standardized test scores of her students when a big percentage of them are in special ed? Wouldn’t it put her at a disadvantage and teachers who are not as inclusive, who do their best to get rid of special ed kids, at an advantage?

But why does Miss X have so many autistic students? Three’s a lot even by today’s standards. Back when I started teaching autistic kids were exotic. You’d only see them in special classes and in special schools. The first autistic child I worked with was in a special class I taught over the summer. He had long blond hair and liked to spit in his hand. He could keep a tissue afloat by blowing underneath it, and when put in front of my Smith Corona electric typewriter, would type the names of the major credit car companies over and over. I would talk a lot to the boy and though he couldn’t respond verbally we developed a relationship that was strong enough that his father, a single dad, sought me out during the school year for advice. “What can I do to help my son?” he asked me. I didn’t know how to respond.

I still don’t. And now there are more and more autistic students, and they’re not just in special classes; they’re in the general ed class with Miss X. Witnessing my own autistic son in the hands of his truly gifted therapists has helped me to better understand my ASD students, but I still need to learn much, much more. And now that education is under siege (from budget cuts and charter privateers) public schools aren’t the best place for learning. Some even think the help I give my disabled students is part of a pact I’ve signed with the devil to defraud the honest taxpayer in order to make the school districts rich with money earmarked for special ed. Kids with learning disabilities are the most over-identified, these folks claim, but don’t worry; guaranteed they’ll go after autistic kids too. Why are there three autistic kids in Miss X’s class? Because under the pressure of teachers and parents, they are getting over-identified too.

Watch and see if this recent article in the NYT doesn’t give them fodder. It examines what they used to call herd mentality, monkey see monkey do. Why are overweight people overweight? Because an over-eating friend of an over-eating friend has fallen off the Weight Watcher wagon, tipping over the first domino that will make a whole social network overweight. Why are parent’s freaking out about the illegal peanut traffic in schools?

They (the authors) even argue — and this is sure to generate controversy — that the obsessive drive to create “nut free” environments is not the result of any real increase in children’s allergies but rather something akin to an epidemic of adult hysteria, spread via network transmission.

Well if you think those peanut- hating parents are bad, the argument might go, take a look at their autism-loving brethren.  Why are there so many autistic kids at school? Their parents are hysterical, that’s why.  And worst of all, their craziness is spreading.

Yes, I can hear it now: vaccination doesn’t cause autism.  Facebook does.

I guess all you can do is hunker down.  And hope Miss X doesn’t get laid off.