Revisiting the Gifted & Talented Debate

Mayor DeBlasio recently proposed getting rid of the special gifted and talented schools in New York City. There’s scrutiny on the IQ test given to 4-year olds. Those schools basically caused us to leave New York City, so I have written a lot about them in the past.

In a nutshell, I had my kid tested when he was FOUR YEARS OLD (ugh!) to see if he was gifted and talented, like all of my friends. Because nobody wanted to send their kid to the underfunded local school. He did well enough to get into the lower level gifted schools, but it would have involved lots of subway riding with Ian who was still a toddler who needed naps. I couldn’t figure out how to make it work, so we left.

In a rant on Twitter this morning, I listed my reasons for hating G & T programs:

  • There is no scientific way of sorting out a bunch of hyper 4 and 5 year olds into two camps of gifted and not gifted. None. Just looking at my son’s cohort at school, his kindergarten teacher sorted extremely badly. The kid who is on track to be an aerospace engineer at NASA? Dissed.
  • The process of sorting kids into two piles — gifted v. forgettable — is awful. Full stop.
  • Why should one group of kids get more challenging, fun instruction with higher paid teachers than another group? Equal education for all.
  • The literature on G & T verges on science fiction. Attributing supernatural powers of empathy and reason to mysterious kids. It’s laughable.
  • There’s a place for specialized programs in high school, where sorting is based on mature test taking ability and years of evidence of solid work. But earlier than that, it’s silly, unfair, and pointless.

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In the “Crazy, Complicated” World of Special Education, Parents Turn to One Another for Help — On the Internet

In this article, I look at online groups that special ed parents form to help each with the crazy, complicated world of special education.

When Stasi Webber decided it was time to uproot her family from their Michigan home to find a better school for her 11-year-old son with autism, she turned to the internet for answers.

The public schools in her state don’t provide the specialized behavioral and life skills training, known as ABA therapy, that her son needs; he skips school every Tuesday and Thursday to receive these essential services. But recently, Webber learned from parents on social media that her son could get both academics and ABA training in schools in New Jersey, where she grew up.

With a tentative plan of returning to her childhood home in Mahwah, she found three or four local social media sites run by special education parents and asked about ABA services at the local district, its willingness to send students to specialized schools and comparisons with nearby towns. She put her house on the market.

“I knew I had to reach out to the internet, because moms are willing to help other moms,” Webber said. “You find out the most information that way.”

More here.

When Suburbanites Start Questioning College

I live in one of those high-achieving school districts that is well known to every selective-college admissions director in the country. With average SAT scores above 1250, a 98 percent graduation rate and 95 percent of graduates attending four-year colleges, my northern New Jersey district boasts excellence.

Parents boast, too. College stickers on the back windshields of BMWs are brag sheets for winning families. Everybody seems to have a kid on the fast track to success, with internships, semesters abroad and academic honors. My husband likes to say that we live in “Magic Town,” because every kid seems perfect.

But on a recent evening in the aging administrative building, the guidance counselors and administrators leading a presentation on “Alternatives to College” took one look at the parents packing the room and ran out to make extra copies of their handouts.

More here.

School-Whipped

Schools dominate my life.

It’s been decades since I’ve been in a classroom as a student and many years since I’ve been in the classroom as a teacher. But I have never been able to detach from education institutions, because of my kids. Classrooms, homework, grades, the school calendar command my time and brain space. Writing about schools is an effortless task, because they are on my mind all day long.

Ian’s school turned Memorial Day into a five day holiday. Which is fine. But it meant that I couldn’t quite get into the writing zone and get my crap done. I got some minor e-mail tasks done yesterday, but after three hours of him playing Plants v. Zombies, I felt guilty and took him to the mall. My work day was finished. On Monday, he had to be at the school at 8:00am to perform with the school marching band in the town parade.

Other chores for Ian today include a phone call to his case manager to discuss how we would go about bumping him a year ahead for math. I have to figure out what I’m going to do with him for a two week gap between camps in August. Is there enough money in the Ian slush fund for extra tutoring in the summer?

Even though Jonah is a college kid, he’s not quite baked. His sloppy work habits and poor “soft skills” came back to bite him in the ass last semester. Distracted by the demands of pledging for a frat, he did stupid things like not making sure that his assignments in an online class were properly submitted and was generally disorganized. So, I’m making him take classes on organization at his college over the summer. We’re talking through various lifestyle changes and basically scaring the shit out of him.

I don’t think there’s another government institution that has a bigger impact on me on a daily basis. There’s definitely more brain space in my personal life for non-school stuff that there used to be. I joined a running group this spring and ran a 5K on Monday. I have a couple of harmless hobbies. I read a lot and see friends on the weekends. But school issues, which are so integral to my kids’ lives, still dominate.

Other parents are even more driven by schools. Ian doesn’t spend over twenty hours per week doing a varsity sport, like Jonah did. He’s not in honors classes, so he comes home with no homework. And Jonah’s missteps only become known when the semester ends, so we can spend months in la-la land thinking that he’s taking care of his shit.

Last week, a neighbor told me about her weekend schedule driving her two young boys around the state for various sporting activities. One kid had to be an hour away for a full day Lacrosse tournament. The next day, the other kid had a full day of swim meets. Between reading tutors and school dances, her schedule was packed. She couldn’t grasp what we did with our lives without a kid in sports. Because I couldn’t gossip with her about teachers for next year or the school play, we quickly ran out of conversation topics.

Walking through Storm King with the family

Ian’s life is a lot more simple, so we drag him around to do our various interests, rather than living our lives on the soccer sidelines. We took the boys to an art park over the weekend. It feels somewhat rebellious to craft our own schedule, rather than have one dominated by sporting activities and schools. We could be even more whipped by schools than we are.

Being whipped by schools is both a privilege and a burden. Parents in towns like ours demand these services and are able to pay for it with high taxes. Three quarters of our local property taxes go to schools. The superintendent is more powerful than the mayor.

But it also means that schools oversee our lives. They control our children’s destiny. They structure our social lives. The school panopticon’s oversight is totalitarian in communities like ours. While schools are broken elsewhere, the system is still rigid in its own ways making it difficult for individuals to take alternative paths.

I think when my kids move onto the work-world and schools are a thing of the past, I’m going to stop writing about education. I fantasize about reinventing myself as a travel writer. Maybe I might write about my weird hobby of selling used books. Who knows? But I would love to break the school chains someday.

What To Do With Kids With High Functioning Autism?

I first wrote this blog post back in October 2013. Due to the mysterious magic of google searches, it is my most popular blog post. I thought I would update it this morning, five years later. 

Ian at age 2, when he first started speech therapy.
Ian at age 2, when he first started speech therapy.

My son has high functioning autism or Level 1 autism or whatever they’re calling it these days. Because researchers now think that there are many different kinds of autism, my kid’s variety is characterized by speech and social deficits, average to superior IQ, hyperlexia, some anxiety and sensory issues, no obsessions, no stimming.

He’s only a sophomore in small public high school right now. His story isn’t over yet. He still has two more years before graduation, and we face major decisions about his future. Sill, in those five years, he has made so much progress. He’s now completely out of special ed for math, and he participates in after school activities with the typical kids. Even in the past year, he has made stunning changes. We’re now considering future plans for him that were inconceivable when I first wrote this blog post.

Because this blog post brings in so many random parents desperate for answers, I thought I would spend the next thirty minutes writing up what worked for us. Now, I’m not a hundred percent sure that our methods for dealing with my kid’s autism are responsible for these changes. Maybe simple brain maturity would have gotten us to the same point. Maybe these methods only work for my particular kid. I can’t be certain, but just the same, I’ll share. 

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Boosting Social Skills in Autistic Kids With Drama

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How do you join a conversation at a middle-school lunch table? What do you say when someone says hi to you in the hallway and you don’t know her name? How do you delicately correct a member of your lab group in science without calling him stupid? Is it appropriate to tell your English teacher all about your deep and abiding interest in Pokémon characters?

A set of subtle and complicated social skills is embedded into the entire school experience, from the lunchroom to the classroom. While most children naturally learn how to take turns talking with their friends and stay on topic during classroom discussions, these skills do not come easily to kids on the autism spectrum. Social and communication deficits are one of the hallmarks of this condition.

More here.

Summertime with ASD and OCD

Summer is never simple with a kid with special needs. With Jonah, there were sports camps and town camps and science camps and music enrichment. All sorts of opportunities for him to grow and prosper and keep out of my hair. With Ian, there are very, very, very few options. Almost none of those places take kids with special needs. If they do, it’s with a grimace and raised eyebrows and nose holding.

After I dropped off Jonah at the local YMCA this morning, I drove past the town recreation camp. All the little kids gathered in the shade with matching t-shirts. They were getting ready for swim lessons at the town pool. There were no kids in wheel chairs. No spacy kids being trailed by aides.

After a couple of seconds of anger and bitterness where I contemplated discrimination lawsuits and imagined firy speeches before the town council, I moved on. At least, I have a place for him this year. In the past, he went to extremely lame special education summer schools. Schools are obligated to provide special ed kids with programming in July, but they do a crappy job of it. This year, they wanted to shut Ian up in a classroom for half a day with two lower functioning kids where they would do math worksheets all morning. He would be stuck with me for the rest of the day. Other kids get to have fun, why doesn’t my kid get that?

I went back and forth with the school district about the inappropriate-ness of their summer program. I was fighting with them about it up until the last day of school. We were fighting it out on my cell phone, while I was at the doctor’s office getting Jonah’s wrist bone set in a cast.

For the first time in his life, Ian is at a regular camp. He has a shadow that helps him out as he makes art projects and takes swimming classes. He is around typical kids. He’s active and busy between 9 and 4, every day for four weeks. It’s a pain in the ass to get him to this camp. 4 hours per day of driving. But this was the closest place that I found.

And it’s worth it. Not only is Ian getting his fair share of fun, but he’s growing so much more than if he was shut up in a sad classroom. All that physical exercise is good for his brain. He has to deal with change. He is surrounded by people who are chatting with him. He’s a little stressed out with the heavy demands (he keeps biting holes in his t-shirts), but he’s doing it.