Archive for the ‘Education News & Issues’ Category

New Post at GeekMom Today: The Importance of Braille

I’m proud of my piece at GeekMom today: An interview with my friend Holly Miller, who battled her school district for three years to get necessary Braille instruction for her son, Hank. Hank, like my own Wonderboy, has oculocutaneous albinism—in Hank’s case, the effects on his vision are severe. He is legally blind. But the school district considers him a sighted reader and opposed teaching him Braille. Holly and her husband Jeff took the case to court—and won. I hope you’ll click through and read the article!

In a Digital Age, Braille Is Still Important | GeekMom |

Interesting Indeed

April 16, 2010 @ 6:49 am | Filed under:

At the Study Hacks blog, a post about a girl who won a major scholarship to UVA despite an application that was not fat with extracurriculars—

Want to Get into Harvard? Spend More Time Staring at the Clouds: Rethinking the Role of Extracurricular Activities in College Admissions

In other words, to become more interesting…

  1. Do fewer structured activities.
  2. Spend more time exploring, thinking, and exposing yourself to potentially interesting things.
  3. If something catches your attention, use the abundant free time generated by rule 1 to quickly follow up.

Olivia followed a different path. She didn’t emphasize her activities (which, in isolation, weren’t all that impressive) or the qualities they supposedly signaled, instead she let her natural interestingness come through – and her interviewers were entranced.

I loved how Olivia landed an internship in marine biology simply by emailing a neighbor she knew was doing something with horseshoe crabs. That’s a path that led to terrific opportunities for both Scott and me, when we were in college. In my case, I was approaching the last semester of my senior year, and even though I loved being an English major, studying literature, I was weary of the classroom-and-paper grind. I wanted to be outside. So I called a local wildlife refuge and explained that I had no biology background, but I could write: did they have any brochures or anything that needed to be written? The park ranger on the other end of the phone practically whooped with glee. They had TONS of writing projects, and no writers on staff. “What we could really use,” she gushed, “is someone who can translate our science language into something schoolchildren and laymen can understand.”

So I arranged things with the advisor for English internships, and I spent most of that semester out in the woods, hiking trails and writing guided imagery activities for teachers. At the park ranger’s request, I also went through the park’s lending library of old filmstrips and slide shows whose soundtracks were dry and outdated, and wrote new scripts for them, for teachers to read as they showed the slides to their classes. I also got to help with a bald eagle observation project which had nothing to do with writing but the rangers needed an extra hand, and I was Johnny-on-the-spot. It was a wonderful experience. And it landed me a cool job after graduation, giving tours at yet another local refuge—or would have, if funding hadn’t dried up the day I was supposed to start work. But after that I got hired as the publicist for my college’s drama department, so the writing experience stood me in good stead. But far more important than the job opportunities was the incredible experience of being out on the refuge, working with the rangers, learning about park management and wildlife and history and so many other things. That phone call, made on a whim, was one of the best moves I ever made.

Good News for NY Homeschoolers

In March I reported the distressing news that the NY State Board of Regents had announced public special-education services such as speech therapy and occupational therapy would no longer be available to homeschooled students. Private school students, they ruled, would continue to qualify, but not homeschoolers.

Well, it looks like common sense has prevailed. Today the New York State Senate passed a bill reinstating these services to homeschooled children. The Assembly passed the companion bill on Monday. Now all that remains is the governor’s signature.

This is great news. These are public services available through the public schools which ought to be available to all children, not just those enrolled in the schools. Working with the school district to receive these services is not always an easy task, but for some families, for some children, it’s a vitally important option.

I wrote a fair amount at The Lilting House about my family’s (sometimes rocky) experiences with receiving speech therapy and audiology services from our school district for our hard-of-hearing son. I had to learn a lot about navigating the IEP process, and some of the lessons came at a price. (You may recall the one IEP meeting where I was sandbagged by “the team” and had to fight hard to persuade them to agree to what I knew to be the best course of action for my son.) This past year we’ve been very pleased with the way things have worked, and I couldn’t be happier with our current speech therapist and the district’s awesome audiologist.

And not having to drive up to the children’s hospital for these services (where Wonderboy already sees eleven different specialists on a regular basis, and NEVER on the same day) has made a huge practical difference in my family’s quality of life. I run him over to a local elementary school for speech therapy, hearing tests, new ear molds, and such. All these services and supplies (including hearing aid batteries, which aren’t cheap) are provided free of charge by the school district—just as they are, here in California, for every child in the district, whether public-schooled, private-schooled, or homeschooled. Our tax dollars are helping fund these programs.

One of the potential pitfalls we’ve skirted is that once your kid is in, it can be hard to get him out if you decide the services in question are not a good fit, after all. Here in CA, Wonderboy is stuck in the system until he reaches legal kindergarten age. He misses the cutoff for next fall by one week, and ordinarily I’d have been delighted about that: no need to fool with paperwork for him for an extra year. (Not that there’s much paperwork to fool with, here in sunny Cal.) But if I wanted to back out of district-provided services and seek them through the medical venue instead, I’d have a devilish time doing so until he reaches kindy age. At that point, I can simply “enroll” him in our family’s private school (since that’s the option I homeschool under, the private-school provision) and decline any or all district services I might wish to disengage from.

We’re quite satisfied with our current level and quality of service, and I’m content to maintain the status quo next year. But the libertarian in me (Scott says he notices an increasingly large streak, year after year) bristles at being bound to any status quo where my own child is concerned.

But I bristle even more at the notion of services being denied to some children for arbitary or prejudiced reasons, which seemed for a while to be the direction NY was headed. Bravo to the legislature for letting justice prevail. Now sign that baby, Governor.

Meanwhile, in New York

March 11, 2008 @ 6:43 pm | Filed under:

Recently the NY State Board of Regents announced NY public school districts will no longer provide special services such as speech therapy or occupational therapy to homeschooled students. Mind you, New York’s private school students still qualify for these free public services, but the Board of Regents has decided to deny them to homeschooled children. Never mind that the reason some of these special-needs students are being homeschooled in the first place is because the public schools were unable to meet their academic needs in the classroom.

I just received notice that next Monday and Tuesday, the Board of Regents will revisit this issue at a meeting. Representatives of LEAH, a state homeschooling association, write:

This is our very best, and possibly only chance to make our case for reinstatement of these vital services. While there may not be a definitive resolution coming from this meeting alone, we have been told that the issue would be addressed so that at least the issue can continued to be discussed by them and the home school community. And while a straight forward reversal of the policy is probably not possible because of the legal basis of the ruling, this is our opportunity to get the Regents to start to act to make a new regulation correcting the legal discrepancy, or support a new State law to fix it.

For more information, visit the LEAH website.

Thanks, Andrea, for passing along the information.

Why I’m Glad to Be Homeschooling in California Right Now

I kept wanting to write a real post about this topic, but I got busy. I’ve been fielding a lot of questions offline, though, from concerned friends.By now I think most people have heard the background of the appellate court ruling that addresses the legality of homeschooling in California, but there is a lot of hyperbole and misinformation swirling around out there. There is cause for concern, but not panic. No laws have been changed. This court’s interpretation of state education statutes is dramatically different from the interpretation applied by thousands of homeschooling families for many years, in cooperation with the state Department of Education.

The case involves a family in which the father is accused of abusing the children. In the lower court, the children’s representatives sought a ruling that would require the family to put the children in school. The lower court ruled against this because of, according to the appellate court’s published ruling (link opens a PDF), “its belief that parents have a constitutional right to school their children in their own home.”

The children’s representatives appealed the case. The appellate court disagreed with the trial court’s interpretation of the law.

California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children….It is clear to us that enrollment and attendance in a public full-time day school is required by California law for minor children unless (1) the child is enrolled in a private full-time day school and actually attends that school, (2) the child is tutored by a person holding a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught, or (3) one of the other few statutory exemptions to compulsory public school attendance (Ed. Code 48220 et seq) applies to the child.

Let’s come back in a minute and look in more depth at those “other few statutory exemptions” and the private-school option. But first some general words about the issue. It is the opinion of the appeals court that this family did not meet any of the conditions quoted above. As this court interprets the law (and it is important to note that the court based much of its opinion upon a 1953 court case, which is to say a case that predated the movement for freedom to homeschool by decades), no parents currently homeschooling under the “register as a private school” option are in compliance with state law unless the parent holds a “valid teaching credential for the grade being taught.”

The court’s interpretation of how families can work with Independent Study Programs (ISPs) also differs dramatically from the common understanding held and applied by hundreds (thousands? I don’t know the stats) of families across the state.

That’s why this case has caused such a furor. The appellate court’s ruling speaks not just to the situation of this particular family (and by all accounts it is a bad situation), but it makes a broad statement which would seem to apply to a huge number of families across the state who have been happily homeschooling with a good-faith understanding that we are in compliance with state law.

But there is no need to panic. The HomeSchool Association of California and the other state homeschooling associations (I’ll add links later) are working together with excellent legal representation to make sure the rights of parents to educate their children as they see fit are protected.

The best option appears to be petitioning the court to have the ruling “depublished” so that it is binding only for the family in the specific case but would be removed from public record.

The California Homeschool Network blog reports:

CHN and HSC are in contact with law firms who are interested in helping defend our freedoms in California. Because HSLDA has members in CA, they are also doing the same. Individual briefs will likely be written, and requests to “depublish” the report will be submitted. If the depublish requests are successful, it would be removed from public record, and would not be cited against homeschoolers. We think there’s an excellent chance that it will be successful, but if not, we’ll continue to defend homeschooling in other ways. All groups are opposed to legislation, unless there is no other option.

You may have heard that HSLDA is circulating a petition for people to sign in support of depublishing the ruling. While I hope the depublish request is successful, I do not encourage the signing of this petition, for reasons well articulated by homeschooling advocate and watchdog Larry Kaseman in his letter to Wisconsin parents:

HSLDA has gotten involved and is circulating and strongly urging people to sign a petition addressed to the California Supreme Court. WPA suggests that homeschoolers NOT sign the petition for several reasons, including the following:

– The major California homeschooling organizations, including those that are religiously based, have not called for signing the petition. In fact, there is concern about possible backlash if lots of people contact the court. WPA has consistently argued that homeschooling issues in a given state should be addressed by homeschoolers in that state and has opposed intervention by “outside experts.”

– Because HSLDA is not a party to the case, it does not have the authority to submit the petition and signatures to the California Supreme Court.

– HSLDA has a history of inserting itself into highly visible court cases. When the cases have been decided in favor of homeschoolers, HSLDA has tended to take undue credit. Many more of the cases have led either to a decision that limits or undermines homeschooling freedoms or one that leads to legislation that regulates homeschooling strongly and unnecessarily.

I heartily second the concerns about HSLDA’s involvement. As I said on Maureen Wittman’s blog, I would advise anyone to do a great deal of digging and research about the things HSLDA lobbies for before making a decision whether to give them money and support. This organization’s push for writing homeschooling into federal legislation could, many people believe, wind up having negative ramifications for all homeschoolers down the road.

As for all of us California homeschoolers, life is going on as usual for now. There was a flurry of panic last week, much of it fueled by the alarmist rhetoric of a WorldNetDaily article.

There is no reason to panic, but it is important to stay informed. Read the court documents and follow the updates at CHN.

One thing this case ought to do for all of us in this country, homeschooling parents or not, is provoke serious thought about exactly what compulsory education is and why we, as a nation, have written it into our laws. Do you know the history behind compulsory education? Do you know what your state laws are, and how they are enforced?

I’m glad to be a California homeschooler right now. I don’t think there’s going to be a fight, but if there is—if citizens are faced with defending their rights to make decisions about their children’s education—I want to do my part. For nearly a decade now I have been enjoying the freedom secured by parents who came before me, parents who fought hard to protect their right to educate their children at home.

I have lots more to add here, including links to other coverage and a look at the California Education Code, but my time is up for now. More later.

Good info at

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”

June 17, 2007 @ 11:16 pm | Filed under:

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?”

May 24, 2007 @ 11:47 pm | Filed under:

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

January 14, 2007 @ 12:49 pm | Filed under:

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.