Friday, November 19, 2010

Waiting For Superman...My View!!

I was recently given the opportunity by K12* to attend the movie "Waiting For Superman". This movie has spurred a public uproar regarding the state of our public schools.

"Waiting for "Superman" is a powerful and courageous film. It shows that great schools come from great teachers. And it exposes the forces that deny children more of both.
Many problems plague our public education system and there is no single solution. But this much is clear: It's not the kids. It's not their parents. It's not their neighborhoods. It's an outdated bureaucratic system, the special interests that benefit from it, and the politicians who protect it. Children’s futures must not depend on the zip code where they live or whether they win the educational lottery."

Having attended public schools in Wisconsin and graduating from high school and college with honors my perception of school was always positive and I felt that I had received a solid and good education. I was surprised to learn:

"Despite spending more than $9 billion on public education every year, less than 40% of Wisconsin students are proficient in core subjects such as reading and math while nearly 20% of students end up dropping out."

I had good teachers, bad teachers and exceptional teachers. I never really thought that much about the curriculum or the administration, or the teacher's union because school was easy for me.

And then...

I was blessed with 3 children, 2 with learning differences. I prefer differences over disabilities because after having worked with my children for many years they have taught me that just because they learn differently it doesn't mean the way they learn is wrong or less, it's just simply different. But by working with my children, working with our school system and working with NACD families throughout our state, my perceptions of school/education have changed. I have the unique experience of having a child very similar to me that just flies through school, no worries, very few issues. I have a child that struggles with reading, writing and spelling and hates school but has gifts/strengths that continue to amaze me. I have a child that challenges me every step of the way to figure him out, work with him and generate that spark or interest that will encourage him to engage and learn.

The job of a teacher...a really great, exceptional one of the hardest jobs in the world. They are to be commended for their devotion to children. Due to Sam's health/medical issues I have had to homeschool him for many years. Sam has taught me alot over these years and I wish I could say it was all positive. He has shown me my weaknesses, my issues and has challenged me each and every day to become better, to listen to him more, to get into his world and try to understand what matters to him, how he learns, what works, what doesn't and to never, ever give up. Having had that experience my perception of teachers has changed. I do what I do because Sam is my child, given to me by God and I love him to the depths of my soul. He is my passion and I will work with him, enjoy him and love and teach him because I believe in him and his potential.

Now how do I expect another individual, a teacher, a stranger to understand what it takes to help Sam learn??? They have 20 other kids in their class and they simply don't have the time it takes to figure Sam out. But, if I stand behind that line of thinking...then I have already given up on our schools and our teachers. If I look at a broader view and not my own little world, most families can't do what I do with Sam. Both parents need to work or they are a single mom/dad, individualized teaching programs cost money and the time commitment to teach a child like Sam is huge.

In the movie "Waiting For Superman" the five children followed were fairly typical and they were fighting for a good education, a chance to can you see my dilemma? What if these children had learning issues or were in need of special education, those parts of our public school system were not discussed. One of the children followed was attending a private school and that is the route we chose to start Ben's education. Smaller classes, more individualized attention, more attention spent on was good but not without it's problems. But then that school closed and Ben joined the ranks of the public school, the only other school in our area that would accept an ADHD, Dyslexic learner. I became the parent liaison for special needs families because I love helping other families but I also needed to enter the system, understand the system and make it work for Ben. Ben is in the regular curriculum with a 504 plan. Each year I send out an introduction of Ben to his new teachers and each year I wonder if this will be a good or bad year. Ben's success depends on many factors, if the 504 plan is followed, if the teacher uses both visual/auditory teaching methods, if the information is presented in a manner that engages Ben's mode of learning, if the teacher's presentation method holds enough intensity to spark Ben's interest, if the teacher can see past Ben's weaknesses and focus on his strengths, if the teacher is open to using different teaching methods. I know that's a lot of "if's" and that's just the start. Learning is a two way street. Ben's success also depends on Ben, if he gets enough sleep, if he decides to reign in his focus/attention issues, if he advocates for himself, if he works with a teacher that is trying to work with him, if he chooses to use his adaptive technology or guided study hall regularly, if he puts stronger interests aside and chooses to focus on his education, if he keeps his behavior in check and if he doesn't get too frustrated and chooses to give up.

If, if, if....and any one of those "if's" getting out of whack can mean a really long year of school. But the Ben's in our schools are the "think out of the box" kids, they are problem solvers, they learn to compensate better than other children, they are inventive and when their intrigue is sparked the sky is the limit. I believe these kids, the ones we say are Learning Disabled are probably the ones if worked with and given the chance to pursue their interests could change this world. Our schools spend a lot of time/effort on the honors, high honors kids and yet these are the kids like me that really didn't need all the was easy. We liked school, we liked getting good grades and many of us have gone on to do great things.

But what about the other kids? The ones that struggle. In the movie they showed the time frame of President Bush signing the "No Child Left Behind" act. One of the scenes that struck me was when he said "You don't like testing, too bad, we have to test". Argh!!! Testing...I understand it's purpose but I often wonder how many kids are held back, challenged less, given up on because of testing. I have 2 children that test terribly. If I based my teaching/work with my children on their test scores they would never be doing the work they are now proficient in. I believe that observing a child is so much more powerful than a standardized test, but again that requires time and individual attention.

Another area that peaked my interest and always has is state spending per pupil for education. According to the site the average spent per pupil in Wisconsin is $12,235. We have had both Ben and Sam on a home program through NACD ( Ben for a few years, Sam since he was 18 months old. This program has been the answer to our prayers. They look at Ben/Sam from head to toe and create a truly individualized complete program for them. Our program for Sam includes academics, physical therapy, occupational therapy, behavior, vision therapy, speech therapy, sound therapy, focus/attention therapy, auditory processing, daily life skills and any needed intervention that will help Sam continue to grow/learn and reach his full potential. I would not have made the gains with my boys without the help and support of NACD.

We were originally told by well meaning medical professionals that with Sam's multiple issues he would have difficulty walking, he would have difficulty being potty trained, eating & swallowing, and the most devastating he would probably have the cognitive ability of a 2-3 year old child. I got angry, I wanted to know where they got their crystal ball. How can you look at a child that has never been worked with, a child that has never been given a chance to show their strengths or abilities and determine what they will be like as an adult? What if that happened to all of us? What if when you were born your parents were told everything you wouldn't be able to do? Would they have given you the same opportunities or experiences you have had in your life or would it have changed the way they treated you? It was through faith, stubbornness and NACD that Sam surpassed his medical expectations. By the age of 3 Sam was fully potty trained, walking, reading and beginning to enjoy the process of learning. This program is working for Sam, we are getting through and Sam is enjoying learning.

And yet...

Our NACD program costs us $210.00 per month, just $2,520 per year in comparison to the school's $12,235. A program individualized to our child that supports and empowers us as parents to work with our children. Our family was fortunate enough to get Family Support and the State Waiver for Sam this year and for a short time they agreed to pick up the cost for Sam's NACD program. Other parents from our state began to pursue the same for their children but were turned down. I could have kept my mouth shut and thought of only my child but that's not right, that's not fair so I decided to rock the boat knowing that Sam's coverage would be jeopardized. I again placed faith and hope that our bureaucracy would choose to do what works, would listen to parents who believe in the program and can demonstrate through their children the success they have seen...I again placed hope that they would think about the child. But...unfortunately they let me down again, they pulled Sam's funding saying that unless NACD can provide peer reviewed research showing the benefit of their programs they could not fund it. How is NACD supposed to fund peer reviewed research on every type of diagnosis their program works with considering each of their programs are truly individualized to the child and get it published in reputable scientific journals?? NACD is spending their time working with kids and teaching parents how to work with their kids not spending that same precious time documenting and pushing paper work. Our government and our state seem to place a higher importance on paper work than working with our children. A well done IEP, Katie Beckett form, Family Support Application is what they seem to want, it’s all about the documentation and we have forgotten about the child. That well written piece of paper is not going to teach Sam or any child to read/write or learn. It is the people that work with them, their parents, their school, their therapists and it is providing those people with the needed support that is going to truly make a difference in Sam and other children's lives.

I do not know how to fix our schools? I have been concentrating on figuring out what will work with my children and sharing that information in the hope that it will benefit another child.

Hmmm...maybe Sam's challenge is his answer to the problem?? What if our politicians and school administration were challenged to do the same thing Sam requires of me...what if they acknowledged their weaknesses, issues and challenged themselves to become better, to listen more, to get into the child's world and try to understand what matters to them, how they learn, what works, what doesn't and to never, ever give up. Sam's answer is better than anything I could come up with. Thanks Sam!!

I do think the suggestions documented at of:

1. Create more high quality schools. Because every kid in every neighborhood deserves access to a high quality school we must expand proven school models, such as high performing charter schools, and failing schools should be reformed or closed. Insist lawmakers back policies that allow for equal treatment of all schools, in terms of facilities and operating funding.
2. Demand an effective teacher in every classroom. Support polices aimed at recruiting, promoting, and retaining the best, most effective teachers based upon student results and treat them like a valued professionals, not widgets.
3. Support the Milwaukee Parental Choice program so that qualifying low-income students can attend any school of their choice as long as the accepting schools agree to accountability for public dollars with the same tests as public schools.
4. Put the needs of kids before the politics of special interests.

These are all a good start and would benefit every child. If we don't figure this out we are only hurting ourselves. We have all heard the phrase, "our children are our future". When will that become more than just a phrase?

*Like the parents in the film, Waiting for Superman, K12 believes that access to a quality education is one of the most important things we can give our children. K12 is the leader in online education for grades K – 12, with tuition-free, public school programs in more than half the States and D.C., as well as a private online school – the K12 International Academy – serving students across America and in more than 40 countries. Students in K12 schools get the best of both worlds: engaging, online curriculum along with award-winning books and hands-on materials, plus one-to-one attention from highly qualified teachers. All students receive an individualized learning plan, creating an educational program that is tailored to their learning style, pace, and needs.

Learn more by visiting or connecting with our community of parents and teacher on K12’s Facebook, Twitter, and Blog. Discover more about K12’s Wisconsin’s online public school option at WIVA.

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