Thoughts About “Education Nation”…

The groundswell is happening although I’m not surprised.   Issues surrounding the state of education have plagued us for years although not until recently — with issues of achievement, teacher accountability, and bullying coming to the fore — have people started to really take notice.  And it’s about time.

During this evening’s NBC Nightly News (and after this afternoon’s MSNBC “Education Nation” programming), a statistic totally stopped me in my tracks — 68% of 8th Grade students cannot read at grade level.  That’s 68%.  But wait.  I wondered just how many of these students are classified as special education.  And if few are, there is a much larger issue at hand.

Given that special education equates to the delivery of services and supports that address areas of deficit, wouldn’t it seem as though *all* of these students would qualify?  Regardless of the reason behind the fact that they are lagging behind, would it not be safe to state that an 8th Grader — any 8th Grader — who is reading at a 5th Grade level would have deficits?  Would require remediation?  May need a tutor or alternate teaching methods?

Seems to me that special education needs a clean slate in terms of determining what qualifies a child for these additional services.  If 68% of our 8th Grade students cannot read at grade level and if they need tutors, differentiated instruction, or any of the other ideas being discussed, they should most certainly qualify as “special education”.  Perhaps we need to change the phrase “special education” and recognize that many children require *more than* the median in order to read, write, do math, and behave according to determined grade-level standards.

It’s time for us to evaluate far more foundational issues regarding the state of public education.  Let’s lose the labels and categories and begin addressing the education of our students as they are — as unique individuals who each possess strengths and needs, the latter of which affects far more students than currently *fit* within the special education confines.

Would love to hear what you think…

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Enough already…

NBC news tonight reported about a father from Florida who had enough with the bullying directed at his daughter.  What did he do?  Walked onto the school bus and basically said “enough” to the students.  How many of us would have either liked to have done the same or would like to do the same (or more) today?

The report also raised some sobering statistics — 85% of children with special needs report being bullied and over 150,000 children do not attend school for fear of the same.  When do we say enough already?  When do we do more than state that a school is an “anti-bullying” environment or simply provide a program addressing the issue.

When do we truly begin to focus on what is creating children who find the need to bully…to make other children feel “less than”…to physically and emotionally torture peers for fun.  What needs to happen beyond what we have already either witnessed from our homes on TV or have experienced with our own children to say “enough already.”

The risks are increasing and the interventions — while they appear to be on the rise — are not getting at the root of the problem.  Something is terribly wrong and we need to figure out new solutions.  We have a responsibility to our children both individually and collectively to intervene on a new level and to end this madness once and for all.

Goals are the goal…

The main focus of your child’s IEP should be the goals.  Without goals that meet specific criteria, you cannot measure progress.  And isn’t that the entire purpose of the IEP … to ensure that your child is making progress whether in reading, social skills development, or behavior?  Parents are always saying that their child’s IEP goals are vague and make no sense.  That has to stop.

Along with an upcoming workgroup session (for those in the Philadelphia/Delaware/NJ areas) on October 2nd, I’m holding two web chats (9/22 and 9/28) to discuss issues related to IEP goals and virtually anything else related to your child’s IEP.  If you’re interested in participating, please visit my website for more details.

IEP Check-Up

Parents often tell me that over the summer, they want nothing to do with IEPs, behavior charts, and home/school communication notebooks.  I get it — truly I do.   It’s a full-time job to be your child’s “case manager” and to be responsible for overseeing, facilitating, generating, and coordinating virtually everything related to your child’s educational needs.

Now the reality check.  If you have not carefully reviewed your child’s IEP while sitting on the beach or relaxing at the mountains, now’s the time to do it.  School is underway…your child is adjusting to a new teacher, new class, new peers, and likely a new routine.  It’s time to review the IEP from last year if being carried over to this year *or* to review the IEP that was developed at the end of last school year *for* this year to be sure it meets your child’s needs today.

Your child has changed over the past few months and things that may have been needed in April may not be needed any longer.  Or visa versa.  The IEP is a “living document” and as you know, living things require attention.

So…look at your child’s present levels in reading and math particularly if he/she received ESY services and see if progress was made over the summer (or if regression is an issue) and make certain the goals meet current needs.

Review your child’s behavior plan (if one existed) to ensure that current behavioral needs are addressed.  Review your child’s therapies and ensure that you have an opportunity — no, *make* an opportunity — to meet with the speech therapist, OT, PT or any other therapist to introduce your child (from your perspective) and to ensure that you are receiving ongoing communication from them (make sure this is also written into the IEP) about their work with your child this year.

Just as you do a checkup annually for your health, the same applies to the health of your child’s IEP.  Current and relevant…this is what’s important.

Navigation means…

Determining a course…

Plotting a route…

Heading a movement.

I suppose heading a movement is precisely what I’m doing — the movement to educate and empower parents to be informed and skilled parent advocates for their children.

For some, it’s navigating the route into and through special education.   Perhaps you have a 7-year-old who was just diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome or a 13-year-old who has had an IEP for years yet things simply are not working and progress is not being made.

For others, it’s determining the course for transitioning between middle and high school or high school into college.   Perhaps your child just entered the middle school “madness” and is already struggling or you and your 11th Grader are trying to figure out whether college is a real option and if so, how.

Whether you find yourself in the early phases of the process (i.e. a “novice”) or have been working to maneuver for some time (i.e. a “veteran”) … whether you regard yourself as a “full-time, stay-at-home” parent (a term I truly dislike) or are working to balance your job and home responsibilities, I’ll be sharing information, resources, and yes … thoughts (some you’ll like and others you may not) to help you navigate through the most important job your child has … education.  Your child needs your voice and my role is to be sure it’s strong, clear, and expert-level.

I hope you will share your thoughts as well.  Looking forward to this new dialogue…

Debra