Friday, November 15, 2013

Our Nation is Making this Huge Mistake

A year ago, we learned Ella, then age 5, had a genetic disorder called 22Q11 deletion syndrome.  She had a very rough start to her educational career, but eventually she adjusted, I stopped crying all the time, and we got the support we needed (aids and special ed teachers for Ella; therapist for Holly!) 

Ella’s week is divided into speech classes, OT classes, PT classes, and, of course, learning in her inclusion classroom.  She also takes a dance class once a week and has started piano lessons.  She reads at grade-level.  Writing and expressive communication are difficult for her.  Ella has trouble with abstract concepts.  Math?  Have you seen the way they’re teaching math now?  Ella has trouble with math.

Ben (age 8) has trouble in math as well.  He does not read through word problems carefully, resulting in the right answer to whatever problem he’s imagined in his head.  Unfortunately, that answer rarely matches the intended answer.  When he does understand the question, he often goes about solving the problem in a very unique Ben way, which is not the way he was taught in class, but at least it renders a correct answer. His teacher doesn’t freak out about it.  She says Ben likes to do things his own way.  

“If you look at a deaf child, their language development traditionally lags that of a typical child’s. And you had to adapt. Now, with Common Core, these kids might have to adapt to the standards. Who knows! It’s like a black-hole, and there are no specifics and it’s a huge concern for parents of special-needs kids. How in the world are you going to have common, uniform standards that will address the needs of such a varied population of students.”  Clash Over Common Core

I see Ben struggle with the new and weird way they are teaching math.  And I see his teacher struggle with trying to adapt to the Common Core standards while allowing her students to learn in the way that works for them.  Ben has no learning disabilities.  He is a bright kid: he has a expansive vocabulary, is musically gifted, is very artistic, and is very cute. Unfortunately, he has inherited his mother's complete apathy regarding the subject of math.  He is struggling and comes home with low test scores.  I swear, the government has found the most convoluted way to teach math skills under the pretense of insisting that kids should completely understand WHY sixteen divided by four is four.  Which I understand, to an extent.  Solving a math problem can be a process: giving points for correct procedure while negating points for an ultimate wrong answer seems fair.  It's how I got through those pesky New York State Regents exams.  However, abstract problem solving is a skill that many third graders have not yet developed.  Third grade is the grade where kids are encouraged to move from concrete to abstract thinking.  But the Common Core doesn't include those kids who haven't yet made the leap.

The promo material for Common Core also rubs me the wrong way. A video touts the competitive nature of education and how kids need to learn to the same level so they can go head-to-head with kids across the country and around the world. Gotta beat those whizzes in Shanghai! But kids aren't all members of Team America and they're not factory widgets—they're individuals who learn in different ways and at different paces.  Common Core Leave Out Consideration for the Kids

Parents: Even if your child’s school is following Common Core, reject CCSSI’s approach.  Buy a set of flash cards and drill the times tables into your child’s head over the summer, before she begins the third grade. A Critical Analysis of Common Core Math Standards

I am worried for Ben.  So you can only imagine the anxiety I have for Ella.

The first grade math papers Ella and Daniel bring home are already far more advanced than the ones Caleb brought home just four years ago.  Ella brings home papers that say 100% on them.  These papers are always marked with the words, "with help."  When she does a worksheet on her own, she might get one out of ten answers correct, and it is possible the correct answer was a fluke.  

The Common Core Standards are a set-up for national standardized tests, tests that can’t evaluate complex thought, can’t avoid cultural bias, can’t measure non-verbal learning, can’t predict anything of consequence (and waste boatloads of money).

The word “standards” gets an approving nod from the public (and from most educators) because it means “performance that meets a standard.” However, the word also means “like everybody else,” and standardizing minds is what the Standards try to do. Common Core Standards fans sell the first meaning; the Standards deliver the second meaning. Standardized minds are about as far out of sync with deep-seated American values as it’s possible to get.  Eight Problems with Common Core Standards
Ella has a diverse classroom.  There are children with various learning disabilities, children from low-income homes, and children who are advanced learners.  And yet they're all striving toward the same common standards.  If they don't meet the common standard? It is likely Ella will be pushed into the second grade anyway, without having mastered first grade math.  I am dreading the third grade move from concrete thinking to abstract thinking.  

Yes, her IEP allows her some flexibility.  But most recent books and articles about the Common Core and kids with learning disabilities discuss aligning a student's IEP with the Common Core.  In an article entitled "Implementing the Common Core Standards for Students with Learning Disabilities," the author states that "the challenges lie in ensuring that students with disabilities will have the supports, services, accommodations, and modifications they need to realize the same educational benefit that all other students receive."  As if there's some magical strategy that will help Ella suddenly understand math and expressive communication.  

If the old adage is true—that a society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens—then putting the common standards into practice carries the specter of a judgment about educational opportunity in the United States.  A Common-Core Challenge: Learners With Special Needs

Ella's teachers are wonderful, but they are now subject to a national standard.  Who are we, as parents, supposed to appeal to?  Ella is floundering, and she doesn't even realize it yet.  Because her genetic syndrome varies greatly from case to case, I can't know how she will perform academically in the future. Her speech has greatly improved in just a year.  Will her abstract thinking improve?  Will she succumb to psychological problems, like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, as many with 22Q do?  Will she ever be able to have an actual career?  Get married?  Become a parent?  Live on her own?  Because she has trouble with expressive language, I don't know how much information sinks in when she reads a book or participates in a conversation.  I know that she, currently, cannot meet the standards of the Common Core at this time.  

But that doesn't mean she isn't capable of doing other things really, really well.  She is generous and friendly and sensitive to other people's feelings.  She is creative and artistic, and loves dance and gymnastics.  She has a genuine love of learning: she listens intently as the zookeeper explains why the Rochester zoo penguins don't actually swim in the water they're provided with.  She loves to bake, although she takes a very Amelia Bedelia approach to it.  One cup of flour = any old cup that happens to be around, thank you very much. 

Now I'm not one to run around bragging about my little special snowflakes, but, dammit, my kids are special snowflakes and the government is turning each of them into ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL.

I read a good defense of government-sponsored healthcare.  The individual wrote that Americans have happily partaken in government-sponsored education for decades because we believe so strongly in every child's right to an education.  Why, then, don't we embrace the idea of allowing every child (and adult) access to adequate healthcare?  Life, liberty and happiness, after all.  There's consistency in that logic.

But Obamacare, quite frankly, is this huge disaster.  

I don't have much hope for the Common Core, either.  

There must be a better way.

From around the state and throughout our districts, parents and teachers are raising concerns in regard to the Common Core Standards and children with special needs. In addition to these concerns, some of the requirements of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) also directly impact the ability of teachers to work with children with special needs. These children are often not working at their own grade level, and therefore should be exempted from most testing. A child’s IEP is a plan developed to help them learn outside the standardized methodology and curriculum, consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

In that the IDEA is based upon the rights of a child with disabilities to receive an education appropriate to their disabilities and abilities, the application of Common Core Standards is not compatible with many of the provisions of the IDEA.  Common Core Fight Update