Education issues as seen from a father's eyes.
By Carl J. Petersen
My neighborhood school holds a “Summer Transition Academy” for all incoming Freshmen to help them “understand the school’s expectations both academically and behaviorally.” This two week program is mandatory to the point where anyone who misses more than four hours “will earn a grade of FAIL and will have to repeat STA next year…[and] THERE ARE NO PERMISSIBLE/EXCUSED TARDIES OR ABSENCES.” Students who are late for school are punished with detention. It is a program that establishes itself on paper as very serious and important one for setting the proper tone for a successful high school education.
Imagine my surprise when AFTER the academy was completed I received an email informing me that all ninth grade students completed “a computer based, adaptive test that helps identify a student’s individual learning level” with questions that “are aligned to the Common Core State Standards.” Instead of receiving her first experience in front of a high school teacher, my daughter was being tested by a computer that was classifying her and providing research material for the Northwest Evaluation Association. Welcome to the new world of “reformed” education.
It has been my experience that my children are unduly stressed by the administration of high stakes tests and I, therefore, signed the appropriate “opt-out” forms last year. Had I known that testing would also be part of the summer program I would have sent my daughter with a new form. This exposes a flaw in the system. Instead of parents having to work to exempt their children from a battery of tests that they consider to be harmful, they should have to give their permission for the tests to be administered.Read more
Too many of us with children enrolled in LAUSD’s special education programs are familiar with Rosanne Walden’s experience. As a parent, she knows what services her son, Adam, needs in order to unlock his full potential. The experts at the school Adam attends agree with her assessment. Unfortunately, some faceless bureaucrat with an office in the Beaudry headquarters has formulated a policy that prevents Adam from getting these services. That person has never met Adam or witnessed the progress that he has made, but that has not prevented him from enforcing a policy that stands in the way of unlocking Adam’s full potential.
At the last LAUSD board meeting, Ms. Walden testified about her experiences with the district’s bureaucracy. She explained that Adam is on the moderate to severe range of the autism spectrum and has severe communication issues. Despite these challenges, he is on an academic track to receive a high school diploma. In fact, in middle school he was even included on the honor roll. Adam’s mother gives a lot of credit to his Inclusion Specialist, Adrienne Johnston, for helping him to achieve this success.Read more
We are taught from the time we are young that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and this is backed up by science. For example one study found that “the impact of breakfast was evidenced by the increase in positive mood and alertness, and a decrease in negative feelings.” Certainly the goal of making sure that every student has a nutritious breakfast every morning so that they “start the school day ready to learn” is a good one.
Unfortunately far too many children are growing up in poverty and may not have access to the nutritious breakfast that they require. Even in families where money is not an issue, mounting responsibilities outside the home have created a scarcity of time to prepare a nutritious breakfast. To compensate for both deficits, subsidized breakfast programs have been created to make sure that students have a chance to eat before they go to class. The LAUSD has decided that this is not enough and is rolling out a program to force all schools to serve breakfast in the classrooms.Read more
With a national push to increase the amount of time that children spend in the classroom, it would have been understandable if the LAUSD had pushed back the start of the school year into August so that they could extend the school calendar. Unfortunately, the school year now also ends earlier. All they did was shift students into the classroom at a time of the year when temperatures are soaring and increased the costs for air conditioning.Read more
Students returned to school on August 12, under the promise of a new year. While summer vacation always seemed like it was ending too soon, I do remember the excitement of a fresh start afforded by new school supplies, new teachers and new classes. Unfortunately, parents were confronted by the same old district policies and the LAUSD’s habit of ignoring laws that they find inconvenient.
In 2012, Governor Brown signed AB 1575 which reinforced “the Free School Guarantee which has been in our California constitution since 1879.” This law specifically prohibits schools from selling “gym clothing with school logo, if the specific uniform with logo is required in order to be considered properly dressed for class.” Despite the straightforward wording of this law, both of the district supervised schools that my children attend are still trying to sell gym uniforms and are taking advantage of parents who are not aware of the rules under this legislation.Read more
Nicole eased me into the challenges of her family during our first online conversation. First she casually worked in the fact that she had triplets. When that did not chase me away she mentioned in passing that two of them were on the autism spectrum and waited to see if I would find a way to end the conversation. It did not end and six years ago I married the woman of my dreams. I was now a father of five.
Prior to meeting my daughters one child had been introduced to me as being on the autism spectrum. According to the Center for Disease Control autism now affects 1 in 68 children. With such a high rate of occurrence, how is it possible that I had only previously met one child with this disability? Part of the answer is ignorance, without knowledge of what autism is, I probably met a lot more people with this disability and did not realize it. Some is probably explained by the fact that included in the 1 in 68 statistic are highly functioning individuals who do not present their symptoms in a casual encounter. Unfortunately, the final part of the answer is that many of these children are simply hidden from view.Read more
When I was in the Boy Scouts, the organization introduced a Handicap Awareness Merit Badge. To promote this new badge, they gave campers at the National Jamboree a chance to try sports that had been modified so that they could be played by people with physical challenges. This included playing wheelchair basketball and trying to catch a beeping baseball while blindfolded. Participating campers, by temporarily stepping into another’s shoes, were given the opportunity to gain some empathy for those who deal with these challenges on a full time basis.
Unfortunately for those on the autism spectrum, it is not as easy to replicate their experiences for those who are neurotypical. The communication difficulties that people on the spectrum experience often prevents the most severely affected from even describing how they experience the world. However, advances in technology and understanding are helping to close the gap. One result is The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida and translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell.Read more
In The Reason I Jump, Naoki Higashida invites the reader to “a nice trip through our world.” However, the only reason that he was able to explain autism through his point of view is that he had a parent and an educator who had the perseverance to get him the tools that he needed to tell his story. Unfortunately, my experience with the LAUSD has shown that the district is not always willing to provide special education students or their teachers with the tools that they need to allow students to achieve their full potential.Read more
In George Carlin’s routine, he says that a house is just a place to keep your “Stuff.” “If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time.” Then you go vacation and have to come up with a smaller version of your house that fits into a couple of suitcases. Last weekend my family did just that. We packed enough of our stuff to fit into two cars and headed towards Lake Tahoe.
When you travel with seven people spanning three generations, some of the stuff you inadvertently pack is the baggage of interpersonal conflicts. No one knows how to push your buttons like family and there is little room for escape when you are together for a week straight. As a kid, the time was three times as long as we took marathon driving trips across the country. It is against all odds that someone was not left purposefully behind somewhere around North Dakota.Read more
My father was given the opportunity of a free college education and used it to rise from some of the toughest neighborhoods in the South Bronx. He appreciated the ability to raise his family in the middle-class environment of the suburbs and made a point of donating to his public college throughout his life. “They helped me become who I am,” he told me in a very proud voice.
I am also appreciative of my public school background. As a member of the “baby bust” generation, my schools faced budgeting difficulties that came with a suddenly dwindling school-age population. Programs that were available to my older peers were cut but I still had access to enough AP and other college-level classes to skip almost a full year of college. Music and art were considered part of a well-rounded education as they encourage the creative thinking needed to be successful in business. Administrators were smart enough to recognize the upcoming computer revolution and found the funds to equip our schools with their first computer labs. This encouraged me to teach myself to code, study computer science in college and later take on the project of transferring an entire business from a manual based system to one that ran more efficiently with computers.Read more