Where Is Public Education Going?


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I started writing this blog a little over a year and a half ago when my daughter, Lilah, was in first grade.  I had a sort of epiphany one afternoon as I sat across the kitchen table from her, playing the role of Homework Enforcer; I wrote about it in my first post here.

Since then, nothing has really changed at school – at least not for the better.  I got nowhere at the District level with my concerns about the homework policy, and nowhere at the school level either.  So, over the last year and a half, it’s been a matter of confronting homework issues on a teacher-by-teacher basis.  Some teachers are receptive to my concerns, and some are not.  Some teachers are so committed to policy and making sure kids and parents alike comply with policy that I have to wonder what ever happened to giving a crap about kids as individuals, as human beings.  So much of school these days seems to revolve around compliance, conformity, obedience, consequences, and rewards.  Oh yeah, and testing.

What has changed is that now we have Common Core – and lots and lots has been written about that.  Here are two astute pieces written by a teacher/parent:

How Common Core is Slowly Changing My Child

Common Core: The Good, the Bad, and the Reality

We now also have technology being crammed down our throats.  Our district has decided to make our kids – fourth grade and up – totally reliant on technology.  Our junior high schools don’t even have math books anymore, nor do they use pencil and paper – it’s all required to be done online.

We have classrooms with too many kids.  Almost every classroom at my kids’ elementary school has at least 30 kids – 35 is not unusual.  And nobody is talking about it anymore – nobody is talking about reducing class sizes.  We’ve just accepted it; it’s just the way it is now.  What we do hear over and over is that it’s just unrealistic and impractical to expect teachers to know where each student in the sea of his or her classroom is at academically, or what they may or may not need.  We just have to accept that, too – that teachers are overburdened, and our kids are getting screwed.

Meanwhile, my daughter who was in first grade when I started this blog finished up first grade, went through second grade, and is now in third grade.  She’s falling through the cracks at school, and nobody seems to care or even notice.  Her dislike of school (except for the social part of it), which I believe was set in motion in first grade, has continued.  She’s unmotivated, uninspired.  There is no joy in learning.  And again, nobody seems to care or even notice.

So we’ve made the decision to pull her out of school and homeschool her.  Today is actually her last day at school, and we will begin homeschooling on Monday.  I wrote about our decision to pull her and take this new path here and here.

It’s been rather anticlimactic, pulling her from school.  It really kind of makes me sad.  I’ve had kids attending this school for the last nine years; Lilah is my fifth child to attend this school.  And while the principal made a personal phone call to me to tell me a week into the school year that Lilah’s class was being converted into a combo class, and another call a while back to discuss my homework concerns, I haven’t heard a peep from either the principal or Lilah’s teacher about her pending departure from the school.  It’s not that I expected anyone to beg us to keep her there, but I guess I did expect some sort of acknowledgment.  Which, I guess, was too much to expect.  What do they care?  Lilah is just one of several hundred.  Her spot will be filled soon enough.

What is interesting to me is this movement that seems to be taking place with parents pulling their kids from public school and finding alternative ways to educate them.  It used to be a pretty small fringe population that homeschooled – people with relatively radical ideas about raising kids, people who believed that their children belonged at home and that there was nobody better qualified to educated their children than them, the parents.  That’s just not so anymore.  While there are still plenty of those parents, more and more very mainstream families are making the decision to homeschool their kids.  People who, like me, have always believed in public school as an institution.  People who have believed that sending their kids outside the home to be educated by other adults was healthy.  People who have believed that school would provide opportunities for their kids to forge relationships that aren’t orchestrated by the parents.  People who have always believed in the community of school.

But now, more and more of those parents feel that their kids are being failed by the institution they have always believed so strongly in.  People who never dreamed they would consider alternative schooling for their kids are now pulling their kids and finding alternative ways to school them.

It makes me sad.  And mad.

Where is public education going?




Homework: the Battle Continues



My revolt against homework was busted wide open again this week when, at one of my kids’ parent-teacher conferences, the subject of homework came up and I stated, “Yes, well, we’re not fans of homework as a policy.”  The teacher smiled and said, “Well, we have our requirements,” as she slid this across the table to me.


This actually is the same district homework policy that’s been in place for quite a while (I believe it was adopted in 2010).  There were two things about this that especially interested me: first, the teacher’s use of the word “requirement,” which indicates to me that she is operating under the belief that she is required to assign 10 – 30 minutes of homework every night to her students, and that every student is thus required to do that much homework every night.  The other thing is these words on the district handout: “based on a number of research studies.”

Not wanting to have a confrontation at the conference with my child sitting right there, I kept my mouth shut, but decided to take these questions to the Superintendent, which is pretty easy to do seeing that he has a Facebook page set up.  I explained that I had received a copy of the district’s Homework Guidelines and would he be so kind as to share with me and all the other parents in the district what exact research studies the district’s guidelines are based on?

This was his response:

“These are the same guidelines that we have had. However, we have added in a piece that empowers a parent to sign off when your child has reached the guideline amount so that your child isn’t penalized if the homework is beyond the guideline amount. We have also added a sign off for parents in case their child truly doesn’t understand a concept. The parent is now able to sign off and their child’s grade won’t be penalized for this as well. This form is on the district website and your school’s website. We don’t want kids staying up late doing homework and now parents have a way to formerly communicate this to their child’s teacher. As to the studies, I did post a study to Facebook earlier about homework.”

I searched his Facebook page and was unable to find the studies he mentioned, so I asked again if he would kindly repost them.  He responded with this:

 “I just wanted to share a summary of research on homework. While any comments are appreciated, Please keep any comments more general in nature. Concerns should be addressed through other avenues. This is a topic we all have an opinion. Page 1, Note (Yellow): Robert Marzano is one of the leading researchers in education and has done a meta analysis of the research on homework. (A meta analysis is a summary of the results of many other studies.) While he cites some books that make a case against homework because of its impact on home life and the impact of too much homework, the research overwhelmingly suggest that the right kind of homework in the proper amount can have academic benefits. The benefits range from about 6 percentile points on a test to 31 percentile points. On a test that could be the difference between an A or B or even C. Page 2, Note (Yellow): This chart of several research studies show that the impact of homework on student achievement is between 8 and 31 percentile gains. If you were taking an exam an extra 31 percentile points on your test could be huge. However, research suggest those gains only come with teacher feedback such as comments or grading. Page 3, Note (Yellow): The case against homework is based on a few arguments such as that students from low- socioeconomic families may not have the proper supports at home to do the work. Additionally, if homework is not properly aligned to what students know, the impact on student engagement in learning can be detrimentally Affected. Homework that can’t be done independently is too difficult. Also, the authors against homework often cite the impact on family activities. Too much homework can impact family time. Page 6, Note (Yellow): What is too much time on homework? While each family might have a different answer, research suggests that homework is optimal at about 10 – 15 minutes multiplied by the student’s grade level as it relates to student achievement. In junior high that may mean from one hour to two hours a night. Page 6, Note (Yellow): While homework policies are important at a district level, research suggests that homework given strictly to meet a policy guideline does not positively impact student achievement. Rather student homework that is carefully crafted by the teacher to meet a specific learning goal will have the best result. A teacher should have discretion about when homework makes sense and not simply bound by policy- at least that is what research suggests. — http://www.marzanoresearch.com/documents/GSASR_HomeworkArticle.pdf”

I should note that the link at the end of his response doesn’t work, but as it seems that this guy, Marzano, seems to be behind the district’s position on homework, it was easy enough to Google him, and I’ll come back to that in a minute.

This part stood out to me: “A teacher should have discretion about when homework makes sense and not simply bound by policy . . .”  And yet, so very many teachers at my kids’ school operate under a very different belief – a belief that they are mandated to assign homework (in a one-size fits all manner), and that students are therefore mandated to do said homework – as a matter of policy.

Back to Robert Marzano.  I had never heard of him.  So I Googled him, and apparently he’s a really big name in the education industry.  Yes, I say industry, because this guy has apparently made his fortune (and still is) by selling his professional development products and services to educators and school districts around the country.  If our district is hanging its hat on what this guy says and sells, I hope they are aware that Marzano has plenty of critics.  All you have to do is Google “Robert Marzano criticism” and you come up with numerous articles that take apart Marzano’s methods and conclusions, piece by piece, and some call him a downright fraud.
I also sent an email to the person who heads up “Educational Services” in our district; I was told that her committee actually came up with the district’s Homework Guidelines.  I wanted to find out from this person what the “research studies” were on which the Guidelines are based.  I received this response:

Dear Ms. Morguess,

Thank you for your email and request.  The committee met in 2010 and read many pieces of research about the pros and cons of Homework.  This district is not prepared to do away with all homework across the board, at this point in time.  Rather, homework guidelines were produced to better define what types of homework are value-added to student learning, based on the readings.  The common thread amongst the pros of homework is that it is meaningful to the student and relates to current class learning as well as can be practiced independently within a reasonable amount of time.  The main research articles, which support the guidelines are (and Superintendent Pletka also sent a more recent article from the Marzano Research Laboratory):

“Homework Research and Policy: A Review of Literature.” (March 2000)

Harris Cooper


“How Important Is Homework,” a summary of the

U.S. Department of Education’s stance on the issue


Educational Leadership March 2007

Special Topic / The Case For and Against Homework

Robert J. Marzano and Debra J. Pickering


For any student, if homework becomes excessive or a struggle, contact the teacher to discuss the appropriateness of assignments given.  There is a new homework parent communication form posted on school or teacher webpages that can be attached to the assignment, finished or unfinished, to explain the problematic situation and to request a phone or in-person conference with the teacher for further discussion and resolution.

I noted that nothing she sent me was an actual “research study,” but rather, a few articles which discussed studies.  Further, nothing in any of the articles she sent me support the time guidelines for homework that our district has adopted.  They all reference the “10-minute rule” which suggests a limit of ten minutes of homework daily per grade level – which is a far cry from the “120 minutes” the district seems to think is okay for middle-schoolers (keep in mind, these are twelve- and thirteen-year olds we’re talking about, and in our district they are in school for a solid seven hours every day, and they’re then expected to go home and do up to two hours of homework; that’s a nine-hour day – more than a typical adult work day.  Why is this okay?).  Dr. Harris Cooper, probably the most prominent homework researchers out there, and one she references, clearly states that after ninety minutes of homework for a middle schooler, the effects become negative.  Dr. Cooper has also said that there is little to no value in homework for elementary school students.
I think the Superintendent got tired of my bothering him on his Facebook page, so he asked the principal of my kids’ elementary school to give me a call and have a little chat with me.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered two voice-mail messages from the principal (one on our home phone, and one on my cell phone – this must be serious!).  I actually had butterflies in my stomach as I dialed the school back, not knowing what he wanted to talk to me about.
We ended up having a nice chat, the principal and me.  He said he was calling at the Superintendent’s suggestion, as he understood I had “some concerns about homework.”  I laughed.  “This is nothing new,” I told him.  “I’ve been fighting this battle for two years, as you well know.”  He chuckled.  So I explained to him my concerns about the fact that while the Superintendent says that homework is not supposed to be assigned just for the sake of assigning homework, as a matter of policy, that that is exactly what most teachers continue to do.  I relayed to him the exchange with the teacher at my daughter’s conference about the homework “requirements.”  I rehashed all the concerns and doubts about homework that I’ve been expressing vocally and openly for two years now.  He said he agreed with a lot of what I said.  He asked me what it is I want to see – doing away with homework altogether? Well . . . yes, ideally.  Yes!  Why is this seen as such a crazy idea?  I mean, it’s not a given that every employee will have to bring work home.  Why is it a given that every student will – needs to – bring work home?  Why is that the default, and anything different is seen as wildly unrealistic?  I told him, that yes, ideally, I would like to see homework done away with, but if we’re going to keep homework around as a matter of policy, then what I’d like to see is homework on an as-needed basis, and in reasonable, realistically manageable amounts.  He agreed that in an ideal world, every teacher would be able to gauge where each student is and which might benefit from extra review or practice at home, and which really don’t need that, or need something different, like more specialized instruction in the classroom.  But, he said, that’s just not realistic in today’s landscape of classrooms with 35 students.So, classes are overcrowded (but our district has had a commercial produced and which runs on local cable channels trying to attract families), and teachers are just unable to meet students where they are (even though said commercial produced by the district says that our district meets students where they are), so a one-size fits all manner of teaching is employed, and everyone is expected to go along with it, and parents are expected to pick up the slack.Sigh.But hey!  Our district has created a form that parents can now utilize to sign their kids off on homework after they’ve put in the required time, so that the kids aren’t penalized if they were unable to complete their homework!  The Superintendent told me that this is a way that the district is now “empowering” parents.  Yes, he said “empowering.”  Of course, the form is buried on the district website – nobody will ever find it unless someone tells them about it (teachers certainly aren’t mentioning it to parents), and then you have to hunt for it.  But, gosh.  I guess we should just be thankful that the district is “empowering” us to have a tiny bit of say over what goes on in our own homes.


Listen to the Parents


If there is to be a true “partnership” between schools and families, between teachers and parents, if there is to be a genuine spirit of teamwork and cooperation for the good of the students, then parents need to be valued as team members, as partners in education.

Too often what I have seen and experienced is being shut down by administrators and teachers if I rock the boat by raising questions and concerns about policies that impact my children.  Too often, parents who express valid concerns and questions – and, yes, even anger at unjust policies or policies that are just plain bad for kids – are quickly written off as “haters” and as problem parents.  Too often, parents are told, “This is the way it is.  These are the rules,” and no dialogue is welcomed.  Too often, the teacher’s or the school’s word is gospel, and to question it is considered blasphemous.  Too often, when parents express frustration with the educational system, it is chalked up to their problem, and not any problem with the way things are done.

If parents are shut down, shut up, and written off – or just as bad, paid lip service that has no follow-through – because they make waves with their input into their children’s educational process, the relationships between families and schools will continue to break down, and this serves nobody.

Tech at School, Tech at Home



This will be a rehashing of this issue to those of you who are friends with me on Facebook, but I wanted to write about here on my blog.

So, technology is here to stay.  Classrooms across the nation are instituting 1:1 laptop or iPad programs (where does the money come from?  Am I correct to assume it’s all Race to the Top funds?).

My kids’ elementary school now has a 1:1 iPad program beginning in fourth grade.  I have two fifth-graders (twins) this year.  They came home with a sheaf of paperwork we were expected to fill out and sign in order for our children to receive their school-issued iPads.  That was the first problem I had.  We objected to some of the terms of the “contract” – so we redlined it and made a lot of handwritten notes in the margins.  Frankly, I resent being required to sign a contract for anything in order for my child to access the curriculum.  Something isn’t right about that.  We’ve never had to sign contracts in order for our kids to use school-issued textbooks, have we?  Ah, but iPads are different!  They are expensive, somewhat fragile pieces of equipment.  Exactly.  So, here’s a great idea:  let’s put them in the hands of young, immature children and foist the responsibility onto the parents!  In any case, I truly do wonder what happens when a parent just plain objects and refuses to sign the paperwork?  I mean, no child can legally be denied an education or access to the curriculum, right?  So, what happens if a parent just refuses to sign the paperwork?

I’m a fairly strict parent.  My husband and I have always tried to limit our kids’ access to technology.  Our two oldest kids didn’t get cell phones until junior high, and then there were (are) a lot of restrictions placed on their freedom with those phones.  Our kids are expected to ask us for permission before opening a home computer to use, for schoolwork or play.  We try to limit the amount of time they spend on our home laptop or old iPhones we have lying around.  When they break certain rules pertaining to their use of technology, we ground them from electronics.

But now technology is being forced into our house by the school district, and there doesn’t seem to be a damn thing we can do about it.  The fifth graders are REQUIRED to bring their iPads home every night to do homework.  Ah, but the difference between iPads and textbooks is that textbooks are solely for learning, while iPads are also a Candyland of entertainment.  I am losing my authority as a parent.  I am losing my ability to limit my children’s access to technology.

I told the twins when they brought their school-issued iPads home that they were to use them to do their homework, and that’s it.  “Turn them off and put them away when you’re done with your homework,” I said.  “That’s the rule.”  So yesterday evening, I found one of the twins hiding up in her top bunk bed, playing on her iPad under the covers.  “What are you doing?” I asked.  Guiltily, she pulled the iPad out from under the covers.

“Are you doing homework?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

“So, already you’re breaking the rule about playing on the iPad?” I asked.

“My teacher said I could use it!” she said.  I swear, she really said that!

“Well, I’m in charge at home, not your teacher!” I said.  I was fuming now.  When did this happen, that kids got this idea that teachers’ authority trumps parents’ authority?  “Hand it over,” I told her.

“It’s not yours!” she shouted at me.

So this is what I now have to deal with.  I absolutely realize that this is a parenting issue, but I can’t help but feel that school is encroaching on my ability to parent more and more, that whatever boundary there might be between home and school is growing ever more blurred.  I don’t like it.

I think there are a lot of problems with having technology in the classroom – a reliance on systems that often fail, time wasted waiting and waiting for glitches to resolve, apps to load, etc., too much time for young eyes to be glued to glowing screens.  But I understand that it’s here to stay.  I don’t want it in my home, though.  Keep the iPads at school.  It’s infringing too much on families to make them responsible for the equipment, and it’s just set up a whole new battleground between kids and parents.  And because devices like iPads and laptops are also used for entertainment, forcing them into the home is completely changing the dynamic of doing schoolwork at home.

What are your thoughts?

The Value of Homework, Revisited


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We’re already into week three of the new school year here in our neck of the woods.  I know it’s been quite a while since I’ve written anything here; last school year ended with little fanfare, and our family had a busy, busy summer break that went by way too quickly.

So now I have: a high school senior, a seventh-grader, two fifth-graders, a third-grader, a kindergartener, and a toddler at home.  Last week my husband and I attended Back to School Night at our kids’ elementary school and listened to the teachers talk about the merits of Common Core, which has officially been rolled out.  I can’t help but wonder how many of them truly are on board with it, and how many are just following the script they’ve been given by the Powers That Be.  In any case, that’s a topic for a whole other post.

What I want to talk about now – again – is homework.  At Back to School Night, each teacher, of course, handed out their classroom Homework Policy.  Here’s the Homework Policy from my third-grader’s teacher:


I was also chagrined to be given by my third-grade daughter her weekly reading/homework log, which requires MY signature, verifying that I have reviewed my child’s homework.

Ahhh, reading logs!  My fifth-grade twins are also (still) being required to fill out reading logs.  Why?!?  Why does any teacher believe that mandating daily reading of a pre-determined duration of time and mandating that such reading be tracked and documented instills a love of reading?  Why?  If this practice is actually based on a distrust of parents, on a belief that if reading and providing documentation of said reading is not mandated by the school then parents will miserably fail in their “duty” to encourage their children to read, then it is sorely out of line and misguided.

Also, I will not sign anything verifying that I have reviewed my child’s homework.  The teacher states right here in her written policy that she reviews the homework – so why am I being required to review it and declare that I’ve reviewed it?

Some may read this and decide that I am a slacker parent who doesn’t care about her children’s education, who refuses to support the schools.  This is the farthest thing from the truth.  The truth is that I’m weary of doing battle – with my kids, with teachers – over an institution that I do not believe in because the evidence does not support it.  The institution I am talking about is the institution of homework.

There is no intrinsic value in homework.  Homework is not an evidence-based practice.  In and of itself, homework is merely schoolwork done in an environment different from the classroom environment.  One of the claims often touted is that homework reinforces what is learned in the classroom.  So, it’s practice, then.  But that practice, that reinforcement, can and should be taking place in the classroom directly following the lessons, no?  To be sure, practically applying those lessons outside of school is valuable – but there are plenty of organic opportunities for actual, real life reinforcement and practice that do not involve forcing a kid to sit at the kitchen table with worksheets and reading logs.

Another claim is that homework teaches good study skills, self-discipline, organizational skills, and responsibility.  Kids should be learning good study skills in class.  Self-discipline, organizational skills, and responsibility can and should all be taught in ways that do not involve schoolwork being done at home.  This is another example of parents not being trusted to be decent parents, and a perceived necessity of intervention by school.

If homework consists of assignments that cannot be completed at school because of time constraints, then, yes, that homework carries the value of that particular assignment, whatever it may be.  But that’s placing an unfair burden on family time.

Homework has the exact value it’s given by the teacher: if it’s worth a grade, then that is its value.  But that’s extrinsic value, not intrinsic.

The fact is – and study after study backs this up – homework has no correlation to academic achievement in elementary school.  Sadly, the very idea of homework as a given is so deeply ingrained in our culture that it’s nearly impossible to convince teachers and even many parents that homework doesn’t make kids learn more or better, and they can be just as successful – arguable more so! – if homework was not a given.

The fact is, the school has my kids for six and a half hours a day, five days a week.  If that’s not enough time to cover what needs to be covered, then something’s got to give – and sending schoolwork home is NOT the answer.  Dictating how any of our time at home outside of the school day is spent is just not okay.

A friend of mine who lives in another state (Mississippi) shared this with me:

10589875_10204608935249178_1479647968_nThis was sent home by her child’s fourth-grade teacher.  Can you imagine?  Not a one-size-fits-all homework policy that assumes daily homework for everyone is necessary?  Kudos to this teacher!

I’m still trying to decide how to handle my own kids’ homework this year.  So far none of them are complaining about it, so I probably should leave well enough alone.  I will not sign any logs, though, that’s for certain.  And if their homework starts becoming an impediment to peace, harmony, or other pursuits we may have, well, their teachers will be hearing from me.

Meeting With District Superintendent to Talk Common Core


The superintendent of our school district was gracious enough to meet with a small group of parents over coffee yesterday afternoon to address questions and concerns about Common Core, which is being rolled out in our district and is expected to be fully implemented this upcoming 2014/15 school year.  There was one mom there who is also a college professor and she had nothing but praise to offer for Common Core (which hasn’t even been fully implemented yet), so I’m really not even sure why she was there.

The concerns I raised were as follows:

  • Everything I’ve read about Common Core emphasizes that the standards were not written by educators, anyone with a background in education, nor anyone even knowledgeable about child development.
  • Probably because of that, one of the main criticisms of the Common Core standards is that they are developmentally inappropriate and will set many children up for failure.
  • How will it impact students on IEPs?
  • The one-size-fits-all learning model will also set many kids up for failure.  Kids learn differently and at different rates.  Demanding that every kid master the same standards in the same exact timeline is completely unrealistic.
  • Standardized testing will now start in kindergarten – how is that appropriate?
  • The fact that Common Core is brand new means that we have no idea if it will be good or bad for schools and students, so to insist that it’s this great thing is inappropriate.  Our kids are the guinea pigs.
  • It’s also going to radically change the curriculum mid-stream for any kid who is already a few years into their school career.

Well, our superintendent is a very nice man, but he’s also, to some extent, a politician.  He has to be.  This means that he gives the carefully worded responses.  His district is implementing Common Core; therefore, he must talk up Common Core.  He can’t very well sit there and say, “Yeah, it might be a really bad thing.  What happened in New York?  Could happen here.”

For the most part, each of the concerns raised was met with something along the lines of, “That’s not true,” or “That’s not the case.”  He insists that educators were involved in drafting the standards (when I asked who these educators were, he couldn’t give me any names, but just said, “A lot of educators, including college professors, helped draft the standards.”).  He said that our district will be using the same text books it’s used for the last several years, and “eighty percent of the curriculum will be the same as it has been.”  Huh.  This is so different from everything I’ve been reading about Common Core.  He also said that the concern about the standards being developmentally inappropriate is unfounded, and that Common Core will actually allow for more individualized learning.  Again, huh.  Very, very different from what I’ve been reading.  He further said that it is simply not true that standardized testing will begin in kindergarten with Common Core, but rather, that it won’t begin until third grade as opposed to second grade as it’s been for the last several years.  He said that what happened in New York was unfortunate, but that it was the result of the standardized testing not being “calibrated” properly.  Again, huh.

So, as a parent of (currently) five grade school children and one high-schooler, I am left scratching my head.  If Common Core is so great, what is the basis for all the criticism?  Is Diane Ravitch delusional?  What about Kris Nielsen?  Or Tom Hobson?  Is it all just propaganda?  How is a concerned parent to know?

Common Core – Share Your Thoughts and Experiences


My school district is in the process of rolling out Common Core, and it is expected to be fully implemented in the upcoming 2014/15 school year.  I’ve read enough about Common Core to have some serious concerns about it.  I have an opportunity to meet with our Superintendent in a couple of weeks to talk about Common Core, and I would like to bring some questions to the table that will foster meaningful discussion.  So I am asking for your thoughts and experiences with Common Core.  If you are a parent or educator who has already dealt with Common Core in your schools, please share your thoughts and experiences here in the comments section.  Good, bad, neutral – I want to hear it all.  If your district has not yet implemented Common Core but plans to, what are your concerns and questions?

I look forward to lots of feedback.  Thank you!

School Districts Should Not Be Judged Only By How Well They Treat Their Best and Brightest Students . . .


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. . . but also by how well they treat their students with disabilities.

I have a five-year old son who has Down syndrome.  In honor of World Down Syndrome Day today, I want to talk about inclusion.

Inclusion is the practice of educating children with disabilities in general ed classrooms, alongside their non-disabled peers, with appropriate accommodations.  Inclusion is a federally sanctified right of children with disabilities through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  Study after study has shown the benefits of inclusion: that children with disabilities fare better academically, socially, emotionally, and developmentally when they are educated in inclusive settings.  Non-disabled students benefit, as well.

Despite all of this, many school districts across the nation still segregate students with disabilities from their non-disabled peers as a matter of course.  My own school district practices segregation.  Our son is only five and in transitional kindergarten (TK) and we have had to fight our district at every turn concerning our son’s educational placement since he turned three years old.  We were told that he didn’t belong in a general ed classroom; that he would do better in a segregated special ed classroom; that the inclusive setting we were after just wasn’t possible.  We finally had to hire an attorney and spend thousands of dollars we couldn’t really afford in order to have our son’s basic legal rights honored.  As it turns out, the inclusive setting we were after IS possible, and he has done very well there.  We have an IEP meeting coming up again next month to discuss his kindergarten placement for the next school year, and unfortunately, we still do not feel that we can attend without an attorney.

This isn’t the way it should be.  Inclusion should be a given for every child; placement in a separate special ed classroom setting should be the exception, not the rule.  No matter what fancy names schools and districts give their special ed programs, if it involves segregation of students with disabilities from non-disabled students, it’s discrimination, and it’s not upholding basic rights provided by law.  Too often, we accept the idea of “special education” as a place – a separate classroom where the disabled kids go.  Special education, however, is how students with disabilities are educated, not where.  Special education can and should coexist with inclusion.

Pointless Projects: The Dreaded Pig Project


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The Pig Project has been a staple of second grade at my kids’ school for several years, and like the Turkey Project, it is one I have come to despise and dread.

The Pig Project centers around a foam rubber pig, roughly the size of a baseball, which the second graders are instructed to dress as a notable historical person, place in a diorama of their own creation using a shoe box, and research/write a report about that notable historical person.

Who came up with this project, and why?  Well, all I know is that it came about because somehow or other, the school acquired hundreds of pig-shaped stress balls from a bank that closed its doors.  I kid you not.  I have no idea why the school would want hundreds of pig-shaped stress balls, but in so acquiring them, somebody came up with this project as something to do with all those damn pigs.

IMG_3635What is it with my kids’ school and their propensity for making the kids dress up fake animals as people?

And of course this is a take-home project, not one that is done in class.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to dress a spherical object as a person?

I have no beef with learning about notable historical people.  What I do have a beef with is the dressing an animal figure as a person (what is the educational value of that?), the diorama that is to be created at home (the time and expense involved, as well as the age-inappropriateness), and the fact that here we have once again a research project when no research skills have been taught.

I would be perfectly comfortable raising my concerns with the teacher and bowing out of this project like we did the Turkey Project, but my second grader is more concerned about fitting in, doing what her classmates are doing, and pleasing her teacher (that’s a whole other beef I have – when did it happen that kids see their teachers as higher authorities than their parents?).  So, she’s doing the project, with a great deal of help from her older sister (because I refuse to get involved on principle, beyond buying the materials needed for her to make her diorama based on Jane Goodall).  I know very well from past years that the vast, vast majority of these projects which will be on display in the classroom for Open House, will have been very obviously completed by parents.  What is the point of that?