Organizing electronic files

Turns out naming electronic files “vision” and “concerns” doesn’t work very well if you have two kids on IEP and they have a new IEP each year, especially if you want to keep the old files intact. Now I’m naming the files as follows “name-year-vision” or “name-year-concerns.” (example: “John-2010-vision”, or “Jane-2010-vision”). That should make it easier to find quickly the file I need. And, of course, these documents are in a folder called “IEP.”

The IEP Process – Special Education Advice for Parents (Part I – The Beginning)

Learning about special education is a daunting journey. I’ve been doing it for over four years now and I’m still learning. I can barely remember the very beginning and how confusing it all was. That’s why when I read a call from Karen Nowicki (an integrative coach) for tips for parents with children on IEPs, I responded, even though it was tough to make my response so brief to meet the 100 words limit.

Karen was gathering responses for an article for Root & Sprout (a site I’ve never heard of until then) and has published her piece on IEPs just recently (update on December 3, 2009 – the site seems to have gone defunct since then).

When the article was posted, Karen wrote to me to let me know she received a lot of responses, and could not possibly include all of them, so I’m more than flattered that she did quote parts of my submission and included a link to this blog, even though I’m not anonymous any more. (I was planning to “go public” soon anyway, although I probably would not have published my name, just give the readers enough information that they would be able to find who I am.)

I’m also happy to be in the company of www.weddingsx3.blogspot.com, by Debbie Yost writing about mothering, family life & Down syndrome awareness; www.motheringautism.blogspot.com, by Pam Walsh, and on the same page that mentions www.wrightslaw.com, by Pete & Pam Wright, William & Mary Law School, Education Law Clinic & Special Ed Advocates, and www.LDpodcast.com, by Whitney Hoffman.

The first tip on how to prepare

Preparing for an IEP will require you to read everything made available to you by the school and everything else you can get your hands on to support your child’s rights to special services.

Is similar to what I wrote to her as well

Read, read, read – You have to know the law, your rights, and what the school is obliged to do for your child. There are several very good books on IEPs out there. My absolute favorite: Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy: The Special Education Survival Guide

The “Top Ten IEP Tips” from Carrie Gilmer and “Parent IEP Tips” from Eileen Mullin, are great too.

All that said, I tried to read this article as if I were a parent just starting out in this journey, and I’m afraid I probably would still not know what IEPs are all about and how to start the whole process, especially if my child was not in school yet and I did not know any staff from the district yet.

Most likely I would not understand the advice “Know and use IDEA 2004 laws and proper IEP procedure,” especially given the fact that the article does not explain what IDEA 2004 laws are. It is, of course, everyday language for parents of children with disabilities and in special education, but typical parents usually have never heard of IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), unless they work in Special Education themselves. And if they go searching for the term, they are most likely to get to the U.S. Department of Education web site, which is not very “beginning parent” friendly. (as I commented on in “IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) U.S. Department of Education Web Site” from December 31, 2008)

The advice “Become an expert on your child’s disabilities” while extremely important, also assumes a parent knows what the child’s disability is. At the beginning of the journey, many parents may not even have a diagnosis yet and don’t know what to search for. In our case, the specialists disagreed on a diagnosis for quite a while. (as I complained in “Personal Introduction“ from September 2007)

So here comes:

Advice for Parents of Preschool-Age Children

When nearly four years ago my son’s private daycare teachers politely told us they won’t be able to “meet his needs” the following year when the number of children in the classroom was going from nine to fifteen and advised us to contact the local school district to see if he qualifies for special education services, I had to call a couple of places in the district before I found the right person to talk to. By the way, at that age “special education services” meant an “integrated” preschool with a comparatively low number of kids and a high number of teachers in the class, who can keep good tabs on everyone.

I know now that the place to start may not necessarily be called “Special Education Office.” In Massachusetts that’s usually called “Pupil Services.” If a district is large, the main office might refer a parent to a local school’s special education coordinator.

Whoever you talk to in that office will probably ask why you think your child should be evaluated and will ask for copies of any paperwork that would support that. They might ask for letters from the pediatrician and/or current teachers. It wouldn’t hurt if you wrote a letter too, listing all of your concerns, with examples. (I like to say things like “I am concerned about my son’s x y and z, because I have observed that …. Because of the concerns mentioned above, I am asking for ….”)

Starting the Binder

The day you first call the “Special Education” department at school is also when you should start a binder to document everything and where you start filing all paperwork, including the logs of phone calls.

I learned about the binder idea in a workshop “Getting Organized” presented to our local Special Education Parent Advisory Council by the Federation of Children with Special Needs. Until then I had been just simply keeping files in my file cabinet. But just about the same time I went to the workshop I found out I routinely ended up taking the files out of my file cabinet and lugging them to various appointments and meetings, where inevitably I was asked if these are originals or copies. I had to say “these are originals,” at which point they’d go and make copies, and sometimes, not often but it did happen once or twice, a page or two from the original would get lost.

Now I still keep the originals in the file cabinet, but as soon as I get any paperwork, I make at least three copies of the originals for the binder, one of which serves as the “pseudo-original” for copying, the other one is an extra copy I can just give out if necessary, and the third one is a “mark-up” copy where I write my comments.

I learned about the phone call log from what I consider one of the best books on special education — Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy: The Special Education Survival Guide, by Pam Wright and Pete Wright, founders of the Wrightslaw web site, which is packed with useful information. Until then it never occurred to me to create a written record of meetings and phone call conversations, but it’s a great idea, because couple months down the road you may not remember the day you called, who initiated the phone call, even if you remember who you talked to, the reason for the meeting or the call, and exactly what was discussed.

What I do now is a bit different than what the Wrights suggest — I write a follow up e-mail to the person I met with starting with “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me (talk to me) on (date) to discuss x, y, and z.” and including all the pertinent information about the conversation, especially if something was decided or agreed to during the conversation. I then print the e-mail and put it in the binder in the “Correspondence” section.

My son’s binder currently has the following sections, separated by labeled tab dividers (like the Avery(R) Write-On Tab Dividers With Erasable Laminated Tabs, 5-Tab, White):

  • Current grade work by date (the work he does at school that is being sent home)
  • Current year’s correspondence by date
  • Current year’s IEP
  • Current year’s progress reports, meeting notes, and data
  • Current year’s report cards
  • Last year’s correspondence by date (for the first couple of months of meetings in a given school year, after that I file it in an “archival” binder)
  • Last year’s IEP
  • Last year’s progress reports, meeting notes, and data
  • Last year’s report cards
  • Extra copies of documents (for photocopying, each in a separate plastic sleeve)

First meeting with the school (pre-IEP)

During the first meeting the school will probably hand you a lot of forms to sign consenting to various testing. The testing is supposed to assess the child “in all areas of suspected disability.” (IDEA Statue, Title I, B, 614, b, 3, B) The typical testing at preschool age usually includes

After all the testing is done, the school will (should) send the parents all results, with raw data and an explanation and recommendations for the future, and schedule a meeting to develop an IEP. At that point the school usually also asks (should ask) the parents to write a “Vision Statement” and “Parent or Student Concerns.”

The thing is – without knowing any information beyond the basic “Procedural Safeguards” and “Special Education Guides” that the school hands out, figuring out what to include in the “Vision Statement” and “Parent Concerns” might turn out to be a tricky homework. But that’s a huge topic, probably deserving a separate blog entry. I’ll try to get to it soon. (I’ve been very busy recently, hence the decline in the number of posts.) But I hope the above, nearly two-thousand word-overview somewhat covers the “What to Expect” part covering the very beginning of the process.

By the way, the tips I narrowed down to 100 words or fewer that I sent to Karen were as follows:

1. Don’t despair. Join a parent networking group if your district has one. In some states a Special Education Parent Advisory Council is mandated by law. It may be very active and working closely with the school administration or it may not. But it’s a great place to meet other parents who understand what you’re dealing with.

2. Read, read, read! You have to know the law, your rights, and what the school is obliged to do for your child. There are several very good books on IEPs out there. My absolute favorite: Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy: The Special Education Survival Guide.

I see networking and knowledge as crucial to the whole process. You need to learn about what you’re dealing with and since you’re not the first person starting on this daunting journey (even though it might feel like it at the beginning), connecting with other parents who’ve been doing it for a couple of years usually turns out to be very helpful for several reasons.

Ethnic background and attitude toward Special Education

While I have known for a while that some parents will look the other way when a child is struggling and will not have the child tested because they’re afraid or ashamed of the “special ed kid” label, I had not realized that minority families seem to be much more wary of that, until I read “Problems with the rush to label children,” by Andrea Hermitt (Education Examiner) posted on December 30, 2008, and the follow up “From Special Ed to gifted to somewhere in between.”

Andrea writes:

I think what appalls me most about labeling of school children is that over all, kids are disproportionately labeled based on race.

In response to that post, another Education Examiner — Caroline Grannan, from San Francisco, writes in the comments:

middle-class white parents are often eager to get their kids who may have some learning difficulty identified as special education. [...] I believe the vast majority of parents who seek special-ed ID are not doing it to get an “unfair” advantage for the child but because they believe the child needs the services, I should clarify.

By contrast, in the African-American community, special-ed identification is (generalizing again) often viewed as a stigma, a brand of shame — and racist. That’s even though special-ed identification does carry those same benefits — extra (free) academic support and testing accommodations.

Our district is plurality Asian (statistically the highest-achieving demographic), and oddly, I don’t have a handle on a consistent attitude toward special ed in that community, nor in the Latino community. The white and black attitudes seem to be the most consistent and evident.

In the follow up post, “From Special Ed to gifted to somewhere in between” Andrea brings up the subject of “special ed labels” again:

As I see it, affluent people want more services for children labeled Special Ed.  Meanwhile, lower income, and minorities who feel that children are being unfairly labeled don’t want to end up in the system at all where they won’t get the help even if they need it.  So as I see it, everyone agrees.  Special Education programs do little to truly advance the children back to mainstream education.

The way I see it, Andrea is lucky she doesn’t have to deal with the “system.” I would much rather not have my son labeled “special ed” but as I wrote in my response to comments in “Engineers, Hips, and Autism,” having him labeled does give him the extra services that he would not get otherwise.

Now, would he be getting those services if we didn’t fight for it and show up for our IEP meetings with a huge folder, books on the subjects highlighted throughout, and our insistence on services? Maybe not. It’s the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” issue.

On the same topic, Lindsay, the blogger on the Autist’s Corner (which I discovered recently and happen to like a lot) quotes Anna Stubblefield in her January 14, 2009 post “Intelligence Is Racialized” as saying:

[B]lack students are both more likely than white students to be labeled as special-needs students and more likely, once labeled, to be relegated to special-education ghettos rather than receiving the least restrictive, inclusive education mandated by federal law.

I live in a small town that’s pretty much all Caucasian, so I can’t talk about minority kids being overlabeled here, but I did notice from talking to parents who have children on IEP that kids of parents who are on the lower end of the socio-economic status, or who do not have the time and the know-how of finding out more information about what their child should be getting out of school, are more likely to not get the right services. So here the divide is not along ethnic background lines but more tied to socio-economic status.

I wonder if anyone studied whether overall minority children from affluent, or middle-class homes are as likely to be diagnosed as minority children from low-income families, and whether there is a difference in how their parents view the diagnosis, specifically whether middle-class and affluent minority parents are just as opposed to “special education” services as minority low-income families, or if they are more”eager” to have their kids identified just like the middle-class white parents that Caroline Grannar mentions.

In the end, I do agree with Andrea when she says

just like in the cases of Special Education, gifted programs are no better at serving gifted students than Special Ed programs are at serving Special Ed students.  So at the end of the day, the only kids really getting an education that meets their needs are those that are truly middle of the road, mainstream children.

but I hope parents of children who struggle with reading, math, or have other problems at school will not listen when she says

I am begging and encouraging parents to question any labels that are being put on your kids.  I am asking teachers to consider if these kids really need labels, or perhaps just time to mature.

The problem is, you can’t mature out of dyslexia, learning disability, or autism. In those cases, the earlier the services start, the better chance there is of catching up.

The issue is not the “label” but getting adequate services, regardless of the child’s ethnic background or socio-economic status. We shouldn’t be fighting against labels and special education, we should be fighting for making sure all children get the right education and the help they need.

(added 1/30/2009 — Being against “special education” because some children get worse services than others is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater and I don’t think that is the real point, anyway.

I think Adrea’s main point really boils down to the sentence

We do see the trend of lumping an inordinate amount of African Americans into Special Ed as a racist activity.

but I worry that was lost in the comments.

So it is not about special education, really… It is — let’s have a courage to say it — about the “good ol’” discrimination and prejudice that the minorities and the unprivileged have been facing for centuries and unfortunately still do some time.

It is about the attitude that children from poor and minority families, tend to be seen as less intelligent, as more likely to have trouble in schools, and are not expected to perform as well as their peers, so at the first sign of “trouble” they are skirted off to “special education.” Add to that the fact that they usually live in districts that have little money not only for quality “special education” but “regular” education as well, and yes, the end result is that they get stuck behind and fall more and more behind every year. It’s not that special education is bad, what’s bad is how these children are treated.)

Change.gov is closed, whitehouse.gov is up(dated)

I slightly panicked when I went to change.gov today and saw only a plain-looking box referring everyone to whitehouse.gov. I was afraid all the links I created to change.gov in my previous posts were broken. (“Citizen’s Briefing Book at change.gov” from January 13, 2009, and “Citizen’s Briefing Book update” from January 20, 2009) But I should have known better — an administration that is so web savvy would never do that to the people — you can click on continue on to change.gov and see all of the previous content. Phew! (June 30, 2010 update — it seems the citizen’s briefing book has been taken down, after all. Too bad.)

I checked out whitehouse.gov as well, while I was at it, especially “The Agenda.”

The Education agenda promises several things that I find interesting (I’m not sure how static those pages are going to be so for future reference, I’m copying the text. June 30, 2010 – good thing I copied the paragraph below, it’s no longer there.)

Obama and Biden will reform NCLB, which starts by funding the law. Obama and Biden believe teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests. They will improve the assessments used to track student progress to measure readiness for college and the workplace and improve student learning in a timely, individualized manner. Obama and Biden will also improve NCLB’s accountability system so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them.

I love the language on filling in bubbles. But I wonder what they mean by improving student learning in an “individualized manner”? differentiation, perhaps? (I wish)

Another item on the Agenda:

Barack Obama and Joe Biden will double funding for the Federal Charter School Program to support the creation of more successful charter schools.

That’s very nice, especially given the fact that a recent report Informing the Debate: Comparing Boston’s Charter, Pilot, and Traditional Schools finds

large positive effects for Charter Schools, at both the middle school and high school levels. For each year of attendance in middle school, we estimate that Charter Schools raise student achievement .09 to .17 standard deviations in English Language Arts and .18 to .54 standard deviations in math relative to those attending traditional schools in the Boston Public Schools.

Unfortunately, the elementary charter schools that are closest to where we live are not that great and they’re two towns away anyway. And I doubt there are enough people in our town with enough drive and determination to create a charter school. What I’d prefer more than charter schools would be a choice to send my child to any good public school, in or beyond the town I live in, not just the option of getting on the lottery list for a charter school. That will never happen, though. The parents in rich towns would be too much against such a measure and will not allow that. That would probably be even worse than desegregation for them.

July 30, 201 update — the language on charger schools has been changed as well, it says now:

The President believes that investment in education must be accompanied by reform and innovation. The President supports the expansion of high-quality charter schools. He has challenged States to lift limits that stifle growth among successful charter schools and has encouraged rigorous accountability for all charter schools.

Going back to the whitehouse.gov Education agenda:

Make Math and Science Education a National Priority: Obama and Biden will recruit math and science degree graduates to the teaching profession and will support efforts to help these teachers learn from professionals in the field. They will also work to ensure that all children have access to a strong science curriculum at all grade levels.

That would be very nice. My son loves math. What I also would like to see is the change of attitude toward math. He keeps hearing from his friends that they hate math and I think he is beginning to think that, in general, loving math is not “cool.”

July 30, 2010 update — the Education agenda page does not mention anything about Math and Science now, but I noticed a link in the right column to a blog post “2010 MATHCOUNTS Winners Visit President Obama,” which mentions Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” Campaign.”

Again, going back to the whitehouse.gov original Education agenda:

Expand High-Quality Afterschool Opportunities: Obama and Biden will double funding for the main federal support for afterschool programs, the 21st Century Learning Centers program, to serve one million more children.

I wonder if that will trickle down to little towns like the one we live in. The town’s after school program doesn’t have enough slots to serve all children. We have to pay extra for a private after school.

July 30, 2010 update — that language is gone too and there’s nothing about afterschools at all.

Last, but hopefully not least, item on the Education agenda:

Obama and Biden will work to ensure the academic success of students with disabilities by increasing funding and effectively enforcing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and by holding schools accountable for providing students with disabilities the services and supports they need to reach their potential. Obama and Biden will also support Early Intervention services for infants and toddlers, and will work to improve college opportunities for high school graduates with disabilities.

Sounds nice. I wonder when we’ll see that happen.

July 30, 2010 update – that language is gone as well, but the new language includes a claim that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

includes $5 billion for early learning programs, including Head Start, Early Head Start, child care, and programs for children with special needs.

By the way, a separate, Disabilities Agenda says:

Provide Americans with disabilities with the educational opportunities they need to succeed by funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, supporting early intervention for children with disabilities and universal screening, improving college opportunities for high school graduates with disabilities, and making college more affordable. Obama and Biden will also authorize a comprehensive study of students with disabilities and issues relating to transition to work and higher education.

June 30, 2010 update — the language seems to have been changed to:

President Obama supports educational opportunities for people with disabilities and will expand funding for programs like the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) that ensure all Americans have access to the tools to succeed. President Obama also supports increased enforcement of IDEA.

And, interestingly, there is a whole, separate, section titled”Autism” on the bottom of that page:

President Obama and Vice President Biden are committed to supporting Americans with Autism Spectrum Disorders ASD), their families, and their communities. There are a few key elements to their support, which are as follows:

  • First, President Obama and Vice President Biden support increased funding for autism research, treatment, screenings, public awareness, and support services. There must be research of the treatments for, and the causes of, ASD.
  • Second, President Obama and Vice President Biden support improving life-long services for people with ASD for treatments, interventions and services for both children and adults with ASD.
  • Third, President Obama and Vice President Biden support funding the Combating Autism Act and working with Congress, parents and ASD experts to determine how to further improve federal and state programs for ASD.
  • Fourth, President Obama and Vice President Biden support universal screening of all infants and re-screening for all two-year-olds, the age at which some conditions, including ASD, begin to appear. These screenings will be safe and secure, and available for every American that wants them. Screening is essential so that disabilities can be identified early enough for those children and families to get the supports and services they need.

On another hand, the search of whitehouse.gov did not bring any results for “ADHD” or “gifted.”

June 30, 2010 update — there’s nothing about autism on the Disabilities page anymore.

Citizen’s Briefing Book update

The Citizen’s Briefing Book, which I mentioned in the post “Citizen’s Briefing Book at change.gov” was closed on Sunday, January 18, 2009 (see “Wrapping up the Citizen’s Briefing Book”  entry on the change.gov blog).

My comment “Revamp the Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program” got only 210 votes overall and two comments. My two other comments got more points — “Education for Gifted Children” got 500 points and “Gifted Education” got 470 points.

The “Begin a discussion about fair public school funding” comment was just a tad more popular — it got 230 points (and two comments). I must say I’m really surprised people put up with the way the schools are funded because it really is not fair to poor kids to have to go to crappy schools just because their parents cannot afford to live in a town where the schools are good.

“Fulfill the promise of the federal IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) funding” got 420 points (and eight comments, some of them quite passionate).

I must say I’m quite surprised that of the four comments I submitted, the “Ban artificial coloring and chemicals in foods” was the most popular — it got 620 points (and 5 comments). Granted, that’s nothing with the most popular entries that got thousands and thousands of votes. But if people care about this topic so much, why isn’t there more of an outcry to do something about artificial coloring in the U.S.? I wonder if the new administration will do anything in that direction.

NTs or the Neurotypical

In her comment to my post “Why are white lies considered ‘politeness’?”, Debra mentions “the NT world.”

Responding to her comment, I wrote in the post scriptum “I doubt that anyone visiting my site would not know what NT, mentioned by Debra, means — but just in case — NT is short for ‘neurotypical’ or, as most people who don’t know any better would probably say — ‘normal.’”

Then I remembered seeing on the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Forums a question about what NT means and wondered whether, even though within the “autistic” community pretty much everyone knows what the acronym stands for, others are not as familiar with this term.

The NTs who have a good sense of humor and are not easily offended might find amusing the “Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical” site, especially the page listing the “diagnostic criteria for 301.666 Normal Personality Disorder.”

That site reminds me of a joke Stephen Shore made during the presentation I saw nearly a year ago (see the entry  “Understanding Autism (for Dummies, by Stephen Shore)” from April 10, 2008) – that his next book will be titled “Understanding Neurotypicals for Dummies.” He even had a slide of a mock book cover with the bullet points saying things like “learn to decode nonspectrum behavior”; “educate children on radical acceptance of differences” (I’m not sure what he meant here, I’m afraid); “successfully communicate without eye contact.”

As I’m still learning and sometimes have trouble navigating American social customs, I could relate to the joke.

Along the similar lines, but much more philosophical is the blog NTs Are Weird written by an adult male who’s autistic.

NTs Are Weird is full of “opinion” entries, as well as plenty of passionate advocacy and “issues” posts. It also includes quite a bit of personal (sometimes very personal) reflections. Overall I found it a fascinating read, and quite philosophical too.

Reading it made me wonder if my son will think and feel like that when he grows up, and I had a bit eerie feeling of reading letters from the future. But it also gave me a desperately sought glimpse into what the world looks like to an autistic adult.

I remember having a somewhat similar feeling when I read posts of adult ADHDers on the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Forums but also remembered how much some of them disagreed with the way the parents on the forum thought the ADHD kids should be handled.

I wonder what the author of NTs Are Weird and other adults with autism think of the parents’ posts and blogs and how much they hate the parents for saying how stressed or upset they are sometimes by their kids’ behavior. I frequently wonder myself how much my son would hate me, if he knew what I wrote about him (especially in the first post).

Yet, we don’t really hate our children, and at least in my case I actually don’t wish my son were a typical child. He’s very interesting the way he is. I just wish I knew how to deal with some of his “moments” and how to keep “cool” at those times. That is still hard.

I do hope my son will be able to express himself in the future as well as the author of NTs Are Weird. He’s not much of a talker, he doesn’t like handwriting, and doesn’t know how to type (yet, I’ll make sure he learns). So I don’t really know what’s going on in this 2e head of his.

Going back to NTs Are Weird, I got very intrigued by the post “Disability Awareness Day” (Sepember 28th, 2008)  and was somewhat surprised by the negative responses to the idea #2, because I like this idea the most. I would add the following exercise to the list — go into a room with strobe lights flashing, music blaring and several TVs turned on, each to a different channel. Have a teacher read a story and then quiz the students on how much they remember from the story and if they do not remember much, have the teacher complain that they should have “tried harder” to concentrate on the story.

I’m also curious though why the author of the NTs Are Weird thinks “ABA is unethical” (“Negative Definitions,” January 10th, 2009) I did not read the entire NTs Are Weird but I did use the search engine and could not find more posts about that. ABA seems to be like a religious doctrine in “correcting” the behaviors of children with autism – everyone seems to be expected to do it and believe in its efficacy.

Labeling kids

Way back in December a Washington Post article “Montgomery Erasing Gifted Label” caught my eye and I’ve been planning to write about that.  (“Montgomery Erasing Gifted Label: Implications Concern Some School Parents” by Daniel de Vise, December 16, 2008)

Of course this is old news by now, and covered widely by various blogs, including, naturally, the Gifted Exchange blog, which asks “Does the ‘Gifted’ label matter?” .

I like Laura Vanderkam’s point that although “what matters is that kids’ needs are met,” yet “when districts do label kids, then that at least creates pressure to do something for those with the label.”

That’s certainly true on the other side of the scale, and as I and many of my friends with kids on IEPs know, even the label doesn’t guarantee that kids’ needs are met.

The Washington Post article reports that

“Officials plan to abandon a decades-old policy that sorts second-grade students, like Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches, into those who are gifted (the Star-Belly sort) and those who are not. […] Montgomery education leaders have decided that the practice is arbitrary and unfair.”

Don’t even get me started on fair… As long as the quality of education a child gets depends on the income of that child’s parents and their ability to buy a house in the best school district, there is no “fair” in American education.

Gifted programs at least promise to give a chance for better education to smart kids from families who are not rich. Whether they deliver on that or not, that’s another matter.

Another reason given for scrapping the label is that

“the approach [sorting kids into gifted and not gifted] slights the rest of the students who are not so labeled. White and Asian American students are twice as likely as blacks and Hispanics to be identified as gifted.”

Interestingly, the officials do admit that “the practice is arbitrary” and their “formula for giftedness is flawed.” Well, then they should look at their identification and eligibility methods and revamp them!

Oh and apparently “A school that tells some students they have gifts risks dashing the academic dreams of everyone else.”

What about the gifted kids’ academic dreams? Why aren’t they allowed to dream of being challenged?

A lot of these kids are very excited to go to Kindergarten because they love learning and think it’s going to be so much fun learning new stuff all the time.

But then, even if they know how to add fractions, they get stuck recognizing patterns for a year or two (you know – circle, circle, square, circle, … what goes next?) And even if they can read chapter books, they are lucky if their “advanced reading group” reads four- to six-page books and when they skip forward while their classmates slowly decode the words on the page, the teacher frowns upon them.

No wonder a lot of these kids have pretty much lost their enthusiasm for learning by third grade and think the school is boring.

But, no need to worry — apparently “losing the label won’t change gifted instruction, because it is open to all students.”

I don’t get it. If gifted instruction is open to all students, then how does it differ from regular instruction? Gifted education is not what the kids are being taught, it is how they are being taught.

The thing about scrapping the label is that even though “educators have become more nimble in deciding who needs accelerated instruction” it doesn’t mean they are actually going to provide accelerated instruction. The fact that “teachers codify children’s math and reading levels with frequency and precision unknown in previous decades” doesn’t really mean anything.

Sure, at my son’s school they can “codify” that his math and reading levels are above grade. So what? There’s no gifted mandate in Massachusetts, so they don’t have to do anything about it. The only thing they care about is that he meets the curriculum requirements, which he does.

I have no doubt that “Principals and teachers say they don’t miss” the gifted identification program. It’s probably easier that way. No more fighting with parents over whether little Johny III will get into the program or not. No more proving to parents that they differentiate.

And as far as the gifted label setting “up a kind of have and have-not atmosphere at your school”… Looking at it from the SPED point of view, are then the kids with IEPs “don’t-even-dream-about-it-have-nots”?Or would the school like to scrap that label too to not make the SPED kids feel bad?

Incidentally, just as some parents fight to get their child labeled “gifted,” some parents don’t want their child labeled “SPED” and will not request or even deny testing. As a result a child is not getting the services she or he needs… But that’s a topic for an entirely different post.

Parenting Special Needs Children and Work

Boston Globe ran recently a two-article series by Maggie Jackson about working parents who have children with special needs. The first article, “A parental juggling job: Workplace stigmas add to struggles of people with disabled children” was published on December 14, 2008. The follow-up, “Bosses responding to special needs”, appeared on December 28, 2008.

Jackson writes

“nearly 14 percent of kids up to age 17, or about 10.2 million children, have special healthcare needs, which is defined as a chronic problem that limits activities or demands extra healthcare, according to 2006 government data”

[...]

“In any given company nationwide, 8.6 percent of employees care for such children, according to Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy.”

According to the publication of the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy titled “Children with Special Needs and the Workplace: A Guide for Employers”:

“As a result of managing family responsibilities, parents of children with special needs bring talents and skills to the workplace including:

  • Determination
  • Resiliency
  • Advocacy
  • Negotiation
  • Multi-tasking
  • Prioritizing” (page 3)

The Guide also cites a 2002 National Study of the Changing Workforce conducted by the Families and Work Institute according to which:

“Employees with access to supportive work-life policies and practices are more:

  • Satisfied with their jobs
  • Committed and loyal to their employers
  • Willing to work hard to help their employers succeed
  • Likely to stay with their employers” (page 4 of the guide)

By the way, when I googled the title of the guide, I also found a very nice one-page brochure from the Boston College Sloan Work and Family Research Network, with links to an overview and briefs, statistics, and readings on  “Parents Caring for Children with Disabilities.” I need some time to go through all the info, but at first glance it looks very interesting and has a lot of useful info.

Jackson’s article mentions Ernst & Young and Raytheon as two companies that have a network of parents who have children with special needs.

The place where I work, a huge employer of over 15, 000, who has been on the 100 Best Companies compiled by the Working Mother Magazine doesn’t have such a group yet. I’m trying to create it but it’s a slow going. I do hope I succeed in the end.

In the meantime, I’m trying to find more information on other employers that might have networking groups like that. I would appreciate any leads.

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) – U.S. Department of Education Web Site

As the U.S. Department of Education web site titled “Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004” (http://idea.ed.gov/) says – “The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation.”

The original law, titled the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed in 1975. Then in 1990 the law was renamed The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and in 2004 IDEA was revised and reauthorized (and also renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (P.L. 108-446), but the acronym is still IDEA).

Going back to the U.S. government home page of IDEA – “IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.”

The IDEA home page is disappointing right off the bat because Part C (ages birth-2) doesn’t work. Even though it says “coming soon” that note has been there for months already.

Part B (ages 3-21) works, and it’s huge. Good luck figuring out where to find the basic information if you’re just starting out learning about Special Education. Sure, you can download the full statute (http://idea.ed.gov/download/statute.html) but unless you’re a lawyer, your eyes will probably glaze over as soon as you start reading it.

Don’t get me wrong, http://idea.ed.gov/ is a goldmine of useful information, but only if you are somewhat familiar with the whole process and are looking for more detailed information. For instance, I like browsing through the “Questions and Answers” sections for major topics. But if you’re a parent just starting out, this site is not very helpful.

Gifted and Special Education in Texas

Going over the news I’ve bookmarked a while ago I found a brief story from FortBendNow.com “FBISD Gifted and Talented Academy Students Connect with Real World,” by John Pope that talked about gifted students “learning about the nutritional perspectives of various cultural food items, including those representative of the Latino, Indian and Asian cultures.”

FBISC is the Fort Bend Independent School District funded by the taxes collected by the Fort Bend County in Texas. The district introduced a gifted program in 1990. According to their Gifted and Talented section of the FBISC’s site, GT program is available for identified GT students at every grade level in every school throughout the district. Kindergartners start getting GT services in February of their Kindergarten year.

Texas has a mandate to identify and serve gifted students, (see the Genius Denied, Gifted Education Policies site), and the programming is partially funded by state.

The mandate “that all school districts must identify and serve gifted students at all grade levels” was passed in 1987. (I found this info on the Texas Education Agency “Gifted/Talented Education” page.)

The “Gifted/Talented Education” page has a lot of interesting links. I especially liked the Texas Performance Standards Project link which led me to the “Texas Performance Standards Project Additional Tasks” page with links to specific projects for various grades.

Other interesting info I found on the “Gifted/Talented Education” page were the “G/T Teacher Toolkit II: Resources for Teachers of G/T, AP and Pre-AP Classes” page; and the “Gifted and Talented Teacher Toolkit,” which interestingly includes a link to a page titled “Seven Essential Instructional Strategies for Powerful Teaching Learning” hosted at the Bellingham (Washington State) Public Schools site.

I wish we lived in a state with a gifted mandate…

But on the other hand, I saw a post on ADD Forums from a parent from Texas whose child has been diagnosed with ADHD impulsive at 3 ½ years old and she did not want to enroll him in a public school because did not want him “labeled as special ed” (post # 7 in the “Came home and just cried tonight” thread) because he’d be “thrown into resource classes or self contained classes.” (post # 27 in the same thread). I guess they don’t do as much inclusion in Texas as they should be. Also, the neuropsych doctor who evaluated my son is from Texas and she said that autistic kids do not get very good services around there.

Yet, the FBISD site includes a page titled “Gifted Students with Disabilities,” which includes a section on Giftedness and ADHD, so I suppose that district does recognize (and possibly serves) gifted students with disabilities.

By the way, in case anyone is interested what (average) kids in Texas are supposed to know at each grade level, here’s the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) page.