Category Archives: Education News & Issues

New York Set to Deny Special Services to Homeschoolers

I meant to blog about this last week but need more time to do some research. I haven’t lived in New York for six years and am not totally up to date on the education regulations there any more. But this recent development shocked me and it most definitely needs to be talked about.

So I was glad to see that my college classmate Andrea has posted a letter to Governor Spitzer addressing her concerns about the NY Board of Regents and Department of Education’s reinterpretation of the federal IDEA law. Their recent ruling, if you haven’t heard, will deny free, public-school-provided special services like speech therapy and OT to homeschooled children in New York State. These services will continue to be available to children enrolled in public and private schools.

These special services are paid for by the taxpayers. In other states, the public schools are required to provide the same special services to homeschooled and private-schooled children as they do to public-school students. Federal law mandates this. It is under this law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, that Wonderboy is able to receive necessary speech therapy and audiology services through our local school district, even though we are officially registered as a private school under California education regulation.

Andrea speaks eloquently to the importance of such services:

I am not a zealot. I am a concerned parent who, at great personal and
financial sacrifice, is trying to provide her two, exceptional children
with the tools needed to become life-long learners and independent,
creative problem-solvers capable of living their lives to the fullest
their capabilities allow…This
act by the NYS Ed. Dept. (revoking services to home schooled IEP kids)
feels like a slap in the face for families whose financial and emotional resources are already spread thin to breaking.

Andrea suspects that the policy change has more to do with funding problems than anything else. No matter what the cause, it is hard to believe that the state would choose to interpret the federal law in a manner that excludes homeschoolers but includes privately schooled children. This is stunningly inconsistent.

“Yes, Yes, I Know She Is Quite Smart, But I Want to Know How Her Soul Is Developing”

This article by a California teacher with 30 years’ experience in the classroom appeared in last week’s San Francisco Chronicle.

"The present emphasis on testing and test scores is sucking the soul out of
the primary school experience for both teachers and children. So much time is
spent on testing and measuring reading speed that the children are losing the
joy that comes but once in their lifetime, the happy messiness of paint, clay,
Tinkertoys and jumping rope, the quiet discovery of a shiny new book of
interest to them, the wonders of a magnifying glass. The teachers around them,
under constant pressure to raise those test scores, radiate urgency and
pressure. Their smiles are grim. They are not enjoying their jobs."

Let children be children
Is your 5-year-old stressed out because so much is expected?

by Penelope H. Bevan

I was watching one of my second-grade girls try unsuccessfully to tie her shoes the other day, and I thought, "This is a person who is supposed to be learning plural possessives?" I think not.

We’ve just finished test time again in the schools of California. The mad
frenzy of testing infects everyone from second grade through high school.
Because of the rigors and threats of No Child Left Behind, schools are
desperate to increase their scores. As the requirements become more stringent,
we have completely lost sight of the children taking these tests.

For 30 years as a teacher of primary kids, I have operated on the Any Fool
Can See principle. And any fool can see that the spread between what is
developmentally appropriate for 7- and 8-year-old children and what is demanded
of them on these tests is widening. A lot of what used to be in the first-grade
curriculum is now taught in kindergarten. Is your 5-year-old stressed out?
Perhaps this is why.

Primary-grade children have only the most tenuous grasp on how the world
works. Having been alive only seven or eight years, they have not figured out
that in California there is a definite wet and dry season. They live in high
expectation that it will snow in the Bay Area in the winter. They reasonably
conclude, based on their limited experience with words, that a thesaurus must
be a dinosaur. When asked to name some of the planets after he heard the word
Earth, one of my boys confidently replied, "Mars, Saturn, Mercury, Jupiter and
Canada!" to which a girl replied, "No, no, no, you gotta go way far outer than

Research has shown that it takes approximately 24 repetitions of a new
concept to imprint on a young brain. The aforementioned plural possessives come
up twice in the curriculum, yet they are supposed to know it when they see it.
This is folly. 

Currently, 2 1/2 uninterrupted hours are supposed to be devoted to
language arts and reading every morning. I ask you, what adult could sustain an
interest in one subject for that long? Yet the two reading series adopted by
the state for elementary education require that much time be devoted to reading
in the expectation that the scores will shoot up eventually. Show me a
7-year-old who has that kind of concentration. Show me a 64-year-old teacher
who has it. Not I.

The result of this has been a decline in math scores at our school,
because the emphasis is on getting them to read and there isn’t enough time to
fit in a proper curriculum. Early math education should rely heavily on messing
about with concrete materials of measurements, mass, volume and length, and
discovering basic principles through play. 

There is no time for this. The teaching of art is all but a subversive
activity. Teachers whisper, "I taught art today!" as if they would be reported
to the Reading Police for stealing time from the reading curriculum, which is
what they did.

It is also First Communion time in second grade. Yes, I teach in a public
school, but First Communion happens in second grade, and it is a big deal, the
subject of much discussion in the classroom. The children are excited. 

A few months back one of my girls exclaimed, "Jeez, I have a lot to do
after school today, Teacher. I gotta do my homework, go to baseball practice
and get baptized." I laughed to myself at the priorities of this little to-do
list, so symbolic of the life of one second-grader. But there was a much larger
issue here. What is happening to their souls? You may ask, what business it is
of the schools what is happening to the souls of these little children?

I will tell you. Any fool can see that those setting the standards for
testing of primary-grade children haven’t been around any actual children in a
long time. The difference between what one can reasonably expect an 8-year-old
to know and what is merely a party trick grows exponentially on these state

Meanwhile, children who know they are bright and can read well are proved
wrong time and again because of the structure of these tests. Teachers spend
inordinate amounts of time trying to teach the children to be careful of the
quirky tricks of the tests when they should be simply teaching how to get on in
the world.

Twenty years ago, I had a conference with a parent, a Sikh, whose child
was brilliant. I was prepared to show him all her academic work, but he brushed
it aside and said, "Yes, yes, I know she is quite smart, but I want to know how
her soul is developing."

The present emphasis on testing and test scores is sucking the soul out of
the primary school experience for both teachers and children. So much time is
spent on testing and measuring reading speed that the children are losing the
joy that comes but once in their lifetime, the happy messiness of paint, clay,
Tinkertoys and jumping rope, the quiet discovery of a shiny new book of
interest to them, the wonders of a magnifying glass. The teachers around them,
under constant pressure to raise those test scores, radiate urgency and
pressure. Their smiles are grim. They are not enjoying their jobs. 

Our children need parents and teachers who, like Hamlet, know a hawk from
a hand saw, who know foolishness when they see it and are strong enough to
defend these small souls from the onslaught of escalating developmentally
inappropriate claptrap. The great unspoken secret of primary school is that a
lot of what is going on is arrant nonsense, and it’s getting worse. Any fool
can see.

(end of article)

“Can We Really Educate Every American Child?”

So asked Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who was a guest on The Daily Show last night.

Her manner was quite charming, but I was really frustrated by her answers to Jon Stewart’s serious (if snarkily delivered) questions.

Jon Stewart: What’s been so controversial? Is the idea of No Child Left Behind that’s so controversial, is they say that everybody now is moving the schools just for the tests, and they’re sort of ignoring the other issues in education?

Margaret Spellings: There’s some of that. People say that we’ve narrowed the curriculum, but I know that if we’re not teaching kids how to read, they can’t do social studies or history, or any of that other stuff, so that’s important.

I had to smile at this, recalling my then-four-year-old Beanie recounting with great animation the so-called conquering of Britain by the Roman emperor Caligula, a year before she could read. I know what Secretary Spellings means, or at least I think I do, when she says kids "can’t do" history if they can’t read, but her statement points to the tremendous difference in how the Department of Education understands education and how, say, Charlotte Mason understood it, or how most of the home educators I know understand it.

Secretary Spellings is working from within a framework that says good reading skills are the first step to becoming educated. I’m coming from the opposite direction: what comes first is not reading, but being read to. I really wanted to jump up and call out to her: Couldn’t you just try it? Try reading the children excellent literature? Lots and lots of it? Put the tests away for a year and just see what happens when you read to them a great deal of fine prose and poetry?

But back to the interview.

MS: The other thing is this notion that, I mean, can we really educate every American child? I mean, we’re so far away from doing that, it’s not even funny. Half of our minority kids aren’t getting out of high school on time. Most of the jobs, the things that are going to make this country and them successful, require a couple years of college these days. So we have to close this gap, because—you talk about haves and have nots—

JS: Why is it so hard to get a handle on? Education—why is it such a bedeviling problem, not just for this administration, but for the administration before—for everybody. What is—is there something inherent in the system? If you’re the—forget about the Secretary of Education. If you’re the Education God. You could change one thing. You could smite the teachers’ union, if you wish—

(Margaret Spellings makes a whimsical "ooh, there’s an idea" face, but says she is kidding, of course.)

JS, continues: You could make it rain frogs, which would just be cool…But what would you do, in a perfect world? What is the most vexing part of this whole situation?

Interesting question. If the Secretary of Education had unlimited power and could change any one thing about public education in this country, what would it be? What does she see as the biggest problem facing our educational system? Any guesses?

MS: Low expectations. What the President calls "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

Jon Stewart seemed as frustrated by this answer as I was.

MS: No, seriously. We have to expect more from our kids. And we have lowered the bar and lowered the bar. Kids can and will rise to the occasion. Kids are bored in high school, they’re not being prepared, and we just have to pick up the—

JS: But who is it that expects less? Is it the parents expect less? Or the teachers expect less? Because in the same way that you said you don’t know a parent yet that would opt their kid out [of No Child Left Behind], I don’t know a parent who would ever say, "Hey, if he gets D’s, he gets D’s, whaddaya gonna do?" You know, everybody really wants the best for their child. Who’s got, who’s got the low expectations?

MS: I think a lot of times the system does. Especially for kids who have been "left behind" before. You know, frankly, poor kids. And that’s what we have to be about. If we’re going to continue to lead the world, we’ve got to educate everybody.

Is it just me, or is this a maddening response? If the U.S. Secretary of Education could make one vast, sweeping change to improve the system, the problem she would tackle would be the system’s low expectations?

What does that even mean? It’s nonsensical!

Here’s the entire clip, if you’d like to watch it:


PBS Show on Homeschooling

This week’s episode of the PBS show Religion and Ethics Newsweekly focuses on homeschooling. If you miss it on the air, you can read a transcript at the link above. Frankly, I found it disappointing. Plays right into the "oh those poor sheltered homeschooled kids being indoctrinated by their parents" stereotype, largely thanks to the talking points of Robert Reich.

Reich: "If parents can
control every aspect of a kid’s education, shield them from exposure to
the things that the parents deem sinful or objectionable, screen in
only the things which accord to their convictions, and not allow them
exposure to the world of a democracy, will the children grow up then
basically in the own image of their parents, servile to their own
parents’ beliefs?"

The answer is no, but I don’t suppose he’ll take my word for it. "Not allow them exposure to the world of democracy"—??? Give me a break. I am so tired of hearing this guy speak as some kind of authority on home education when he clearly doesn’t remotely understand it.

Is the Mainstream Press Finally Starting to Understand Unschooling?

This recent article in The Patriot Ledger presents a positive look at unschooling. Even the obligatory balance-it-out quotes from "experts" pose fairly reasonable questions, though I had to laugh at the patronizing remark from the Boston U School of Ed’s dean. (‘‘It probably doesn’t do the children any harm,’’ says he. What a ringing endorsement!)

I quite liked this quote from a parent of unschoolers (and author of a book on unschooling):

"Unschooling is ideal for all children, but not for all parents,’’ said
Kream, of West Bridgewater. ‘‘Unschooling parents need to be
enthusiastic about life and learning themselves, they need to want to
be very actively involved in their children’s lives and they need to be
caring, supportive and respectful parents. They also need to believe
that the desire to learn is intrinsic to human beings.’’

Rue Kream is right on the mark here; this quote speaks to the difference between unschooling and "unparenting," a brush with which unschooling is often erroneously tarred.

I Am Now Officially an Old Fogey

I guess it’s never too early to teach kids how to use a Visa card. At least, that’s what Parker Brothers thinks: the game manufacturer is apparently going to phase out the "old-fashioned" (humph) version of Monopoly, replacing those lovely colored bills with a Visa card and—I kid you not—a toy scanner. Because, you know, we wouldn’t want our younguns to tax their poor widdle brains trying to make change. Oh wait. We DO want that. That’s right, for a second there I forgot the key role Monopoly money has played in my children’s arithmetic education. I guess the children of tomorrow will have to rely on computer implants to calculate the interest owed on the credit cards they’ve learned how to play with (so to speak) before they lost their baby teeth.

Not that this news makes me grumpy or anything.

(HT: Chris O’Donnell)

Carnival of Education, Week 73

Welcome to the 73rd Carnival of Education! Here at the Lilting House, we are honored to be a part of this grand tradition of idea-sharing. Eleven-year-old Jane has helped me assemble this week’s carnival by supplying quotes about teachers and education.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
—William Arthur Ward

The Portable Princess writes about helping a student surpass his own expectations.

ChemJerk discusses what makes a great science teacher; Blog Around the Clock has his own thoughts on the subject.

NYC Educator believes that nothing short of good teachers and smaller classes makes good schools.

Meanwhile, A History Teacher is wondering what makes a good knowledge management system.

Tamara shares her rewarding experience at a teachers’ retreat. Can’t make it to a retreat? Tim Frederick is building a virtual teacher’s lounge.

Education Matters explores the hidden cost of tenure.

Ed at AFT ponders Pulitzers and pupil-teacher ratios.

“Mr. Brooke, my tutor, doesn’t stay here, you know.”
—from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

A Cranky Taxpayer in Virginia is none too thrilled with the governor’s wife’s statements about Richmond public schools.

At Farm School, Becky reads a recent New York Times article about a new “Gilded Age of Home Schooling” and agrees with F. Scott Fitzgerald that the rich are different.

Mamacita thinks libraries are different, too: different from the library of her childhood, that is.

“Take chances, make mistakes!”
—Miss Frizzle

Casting Out Nines shares a tale of lessons learned in a museum store. The lesson? Educational toys and games make learning fun!

That’s a topic homeschoolers love to talk about, as Sprittibee demonstrates in her sizable collection of links for a unit study on seasons, while Trivium Pursuit’s Laurie Bluedorn shares a link to a fun Classical Astronomy site.

“We sure never started school throwing books out before. We didn’t know what to think.”
—from The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill

Over at Edspresso, Ryan Boots explores how an army of innovative Davids are taking on the giants of the curriculum publishing world. We’re doing a lot of talking about curriculum here at the Lilting House, too, in an ongoing series.

You’re never too young to begin learning, as Trinity Prep School’s Maureen discovers when investigating the connection between infant bubble-blowing and language development.

But that doesn’t mean babies would be better off in school. Matt Johnston contributes his two cents on the universal preschool issue.

Government involvement in education is always a hot topic. Scholar’s Notebook thinks government solutions are not the answer to Minnesota’s education problems. Meanwhile, Spunky is keeping an eye on a touchy situation in Belgium and This Week in Education is keeping an eye on the globe-trottings of U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

The EducationWonks weigh in on the rise of charter schools.

“Latin, Greek, and mathematics were all very well, but in Professor Bhaer’s opinion, self-knowledge, self-help, and self-control were more important, and he tried to teach them carefully. People shook their heads sometimes at his ideas, even while they owned that the boys improved wonderfully in manners and morals. But then, as Mrs. Jo said to Nat, it was an ‘odd school’.”
—from Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

At Aridni, Todd thinks there’s a time for breaking the rules. When it comes to students’ bathroom breaks, Learn Me Good thinks the rules definitely need re-evaluating.

Speaking of evaluating, Dana Huff sees a need to evaluate how well faith-based schools are preparing kids for college. Anonymous Educator looks at how universities are evaluating student service records.

MBAXploits asks, To MBA or not to MBA?

“To teach is to learn twice.”
Joseph Joubert

There’s always something to learn at A Shrewdness of Apes, where this week Ms. Cornelius is following the issue of equal opportunity for boys in cheerleading.

Paul is interested in some scientific proof that we all need love.

Suffering from information overload after all that? Karen Edmisten has some thoughts about decluttering your brain.

Be sure to declutter your own brain in time for next week’s Carnival of Education, which will be hosted by NYC Educator. Submit your posts to nyceducator (at) gmail (dot) com by 6 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday the 4th of July.

Thanks to all who contributed to this week’s carnival, and many thanks to EdWonk for the opportunity to host!

Visit past Education Carnivals at the archive. This carnival is registered at TTLB’s Uber Carnival.

(And don’t forget to visit this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling at The Homeschool Cafe.)

Ed News: This Story Just Keeps Bouncing

Last week the education blogs were abuzz over the suspension of a Pennsylvania sixth-grader for sharing Jolt caffeinated gum with a classmate. Administrators ruled that the gum violated the school’s drug policy, which forbids over-the-counter caffeine stimulants such as NoDoz, and 12-year-old Courtney Rupert was suspended for three days.

A three-day suspension seems rather excessive to me, but I’m all for holding a kid accountable for her actions. Jolt’s main selling point is its extra caffeine. The manufacturers of the gum, however, think Courtney got a raw deal: the company has announced that it is awarding her a thousand-dollar scholarship.

“Basically we’re going to try to reverse the karma of the universe. She got a bad deal. We decided to give her a good deal,” company co-founder Kevin Gass said Friday at a news conference to announce the “Chew More Do More” scholarships.

Of the 10 $1,000 scholarships to be awarded annually, Gass said one will be named for Courtney and will go to “someone unfairly victimized.”

Guess that’ll teach young Courtney a lesson!

HT: Chris O’Donnell.

Weekend Roundup

UPDATED to add: Semicolon’s List of 100 Things to Do This Summer. Not only has she come up with a terrific list, she includes links. It’s both supercalifraglistic and semicolonic.

George Mason University is going to waive the SAT requirement for some applicants—but not homeschoolers. Spunky is covering this and other testing issues.

Farm School’s Becky blogs about fun grammar books.

My hubby’s broken toe didn’t slow down the 4th Carnival of Children’s Literature!

This week’s Carnival of Homeschooling at Principled Discovery sparked a good discussion at BlogHer.

The nation’s education report card is out. Elementary school science scores are up; high school scores are down. The Education Wonks have the story.

Oz and Ends has some paper-saving advice for the publishers of Harry Potter—and some tips on avoiding those pesky pronoun problems as well. (HT: Fuse#8 Productions.)

Karen Edmisten keeps things in perspective.

My pal Mrs. Child gets Mary Ellen thinking about kids doing work.

Willa of Every Waking Hour gathers some posts about classical unschooling.

SquaremelonAnd hello! Square watermelons! (HT: Boing Boing.)