Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 11
March 16, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
Why can't learning disabled students read?
By Jim Williams
International lessons for the gulf coast
By Martin A. Davis, Jr.
The art of the possible
Honk if you see me
Jim Williams / March 16, 2006
Americans are generally supportive of "special education." Educating disabled children so they can live independent, satisfying lives appeals to our sense of fairness and shared responsibility.
But too often, special education inflicts harm by keeping children from reaching their potential. Instead of giving these students an extra hand, the special education bureaucracy unnecessarily segregates them while passing them from one grade level to the next, irrespective of how well they've mastered material. The result is a system that creates in these students a crippling sense of helplessness and entitlement. This is certainly the case for the least well-defined subgroup of special ed students, learning disabled (LD).
Though the LD label is used for a wide array of learning problems, there is a thread that ties these diagnoses together: students whose "basic psychological processes," which are required for spoken or written language, are flawed. In other words, students who don't listen, think, speak, or read on grade level are often labeled LD. Any number of disorders can cause a breakdown in listening, reading, or writing. Some, such as acute brain injury, are legitimate medical conditions that require special attention. Too frequently, however, the only problem a child has is that he or she never learned to read and write effectively in the lower grades. (The primary culprit here is trendy, "progressive" teaching methods. See Louisa Moats's Fordham report.) A child with poor reading skills finds learning increasingly difficult beginning
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / March 16, 2006
The Harvard Educational Review hit upon a novel idea recently when its editors proposed that America should look to the international community for guidance in delivering education to the roughly 370,000 students displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In particular, the journal says we should learn from international relief agencies that routinely deal with educating refugee children displaced by war, famine, and other disasters.
A close reading of the five lessons-to-be-learned, however, finds several not-very-novel thoughts, such as securing high-quality teachers and ensuring that minority and poor children are not marginalized and forgotten. No arguments there. But why look to the Third World, when ed reformers in this country, such as KIPP, Aspire, and Teach for America, have for years been testing and refining successful models that address these problems?
The recommendation that caught my eye, however, is that officials "integrate displaced students within community schools, and not in schools erected specifically for them." Don't be duped by this well-meaning sentiment-it's a shot at charter schools.
Most students displaced by the hurricane have been integrated into their adopted communities and schools, so there's no reason to believe, as the editors hint, that America is creating refugee camp schools. In fact, the editors can cite only one example of a school, New Orleans West College Prep in Houston, established solely for educating hurricane victims. NOW College Prep, a KIPP school, came about not as government policy, but the
March 16, 2006
In many respects, the Charter School of Wilmington should make the charter school movement proud. It is considered the "flagship" of the Delaware public education system, and it posts the state's highest SAT scores and a nearly perfect college matriculation rate. An independent study found that the school is making greater test score gains than comparison schools, even controlling for demographics and prior student achievement. It's such a great school that U.S. Senator Tom Carper-one of the nation's leading Democratic proponents of charter schools-sends his sons there. There's just one catch: the school uses a selective admissions policy, complete with an entrance exam. That policy cuts against a central tenet of charter schools-that they are public schools open to all. As the excellent News Journal article points out, none of the nation's selective high schools (think Stuyvesant) are charter schools, except this one. The school's supporters argue that high-achieving students have special needs too; a math teacher eloquently explains, "Bush's mantra is no child left behind. My mantra is no child held back." Good mantra, bad politics. We say keep the school, but remove the "charter" label. Plenty of states have created schools for the gifted, such as the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics; Delaware can do the same, while keeping the notion that "charter" equals "public."
"Selective admission makes Charter too elite, critics say," by Cecilia Le, Wilmington News Journal, March 3, 2006
March 16, 2006
While some unimaginative sorts still argue that national standards and tests are politically infeasible, former John Kerry campaign aide Robert Gordon makes the case that a bipartisan coalition could turn the idea into reality. We currently have a form of education federalism that is the worst of both worlds, he argues: the feds are mucking things up, while the states are playing games and lowering standards. A grand consensus is possible if Washington sticks to setting goals and measuring progress, and communities are empowered to run their schools. Or as the New America Foundation's Michael Dannenberg put it in an Education Sector forum last week (the transcript is forthcoming, we hear), "civil rights trumps everything on the left, and competitiveness trumps everything on the right." National tests in return for local control; civil rights combined with economic competitiveness-this idea might not just be politically palatable, but powerful too.
"Why the Idea of National Education Standards is Crossing Party Lines," by Robert Gordon, Education Week, March 15, 2006 (subscription required)
March 16, 2006
Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Oregon just aren't what they used to be-at least in the eyes of the Oregon Education Association. The teachers union spent Saturday auditioning six likely contenders for the Governor's Mansion, but decided to delay its endorsement because none of the six made a match as the union's candidate. The editorial board of The Oregonian offers an explanation: "In our view, no responsible, electable candidate for governor could fully satisfy the teachers union...and still win office in November.... Not if the teachers union holds to its general position that nothing ails Oregon schools that more money would not solve." The editorial then issues a call to "change the school debate." It's a start, and The Oregonian now joins a growing number of editorial boards (see here) that question union orthodoxy and rightly wonder whether simply handing out more money will improve public schools (it won't). As for the OEA, it can always endorse a green party candidate, or maybe a communist?
"Speaking truth to the teachers union," The Oregonian, March 14, 2006
March 16, 2006
Chicagoans love their car horns, and it's not just because the city's drivers are among the rudest in the nation. It's because they're scared to death of blind drivers. That's right-blind drivers. Chicago Public Schools requires that all sophomores, even those who can't find their way to a car without a seeing-eye dog, take and pass driver's education. To be fair, as far as we know the visually impaired have no intention of climbing behind the wheel. But try telling that to the district bureaucrats, who require them to sit through ten weeks of instruction nonetheless. There are a few officials who understand the absurdity of the situation. But interest group politics being what they are, it will take a fight to remove the requirement. The chairman of the Illinois High School/College Driver Education Association (we're not making that up) argues that "you can never get enough traffic safety." That's right, and rule number-one is that friends don't let friends drive blind. Hoohah!
"Driver's ed for blind kids?" by Tracy Dell'Angela, Chicago Tribune, March 10, 2006
Michael J. Petrilli / March 16, 2006
A Special Report from the Chronicle of Higher Education
March 10, 2006
This might be the most important treatise on high school reform in years-no small thing for a field clouded with reports and bursting at the seams with Gates Foundation largesse. Yet it's gone mostly unnoticed by education bloggers and reporters. That's a shame. In 56 broadsheet pages, this compilation makes the case that "the revolution in the nation's elementary and secondary schools has finally reached academe's ivory towers." Throughout its eight articles and ten opinion pieces (including Chester E. Finn, Jr.'s, featured last week in Gadfly), you can hear the steady drumbeat of a simple message: we need to align our high school graduation expectations with college entrance requirements. Making K-12 educators and the professoriate agree on what "college ready" means, however, isn't getting any easier. According to a fascinating Chronicle survey presented in the report, high school teachers' assessments of their students' abilities are consistently more positive than those of college professors. For instance, only 6 percent of professors say their students are very well prepared in writing, compared to 36 percent of teachers; the numbers for math are 4 percent and 37 percent respectively. Overall, 84 percent of professors say that high school graduates are unprepared or only somewhat prepared for college, compared to 65 percent of teachers. The Chronicle reports on a number of initiatives underway to close this expectations gap, especially the growth of
March 16, 2006
The book Small Victories: The Real World of a Teacher, Her Students, and Their High School, which examines Seward Park High School on the Lower East Side of Manhattan,was written almost 20 years ago. The Gotham Gazette recently sat down with the book's author (now New York Times education writer) Samuel Freedman, and with Jessica Siegel, one of the teachers profiled in Small Victories, to find out how the education landscape has changed and why Seward Park has since been closed and split into smaller schools. During the long interview, Freedman and Siegel discuss varied topics, from Joel Klein's reforms to the merits of teaching The Great Gatsby in high-poverty schools. An interesting tidbit: both veterans agree that author Jonathan Kozol-who has built his career writing books about squalid and segregated school environments-consistently overlooks the real problems that face urban public education. Freedman actually calls Kozol's views "a high-minded excuse for paralysis." This interview transcript does a fine job presenting information through two important perspectives-that of an experienced education writer and that of an experienced public school teacher-and is worth a look. Read it, here.