Head Start falls behind

Head Start is having trouble competing with other day care options: Depending on the counting method used, 7 to 57 percent of centers have unfilled slots, according to a General Accounting Office report. Declining poverty rates, more working mothers who need full-time care and competition from state-funded pre-kindergarten programs has cut into Head Start’s market, the report found. Head Start was designed for the children of welfare mothers, not for the children of the working poor.

Via Education Weak.

About Joanne


  1. dave'swife says:

    Dear Faithful Joanne Jacobs Readers:
    Please help. We are trying to find a school for our boys. The final straw landed yesterday. Peter’s 6th grade teacher says that he can read any book he chooses during independent reading time. However, he must remain with the class in reading Banner In The Sky and doing all of the assignments. She is aware that P’s reading comprehension level is at 12.9+ but he will still have to stay on track with the other students anyway.

    Peter is the third of our 5 gifted boys. We’re not vain, we’re just disgusted. Is there a school anywhere that teaches the basics? That teaches a child on their own level? That does not discriminate due to age, but looks instead at ability? Academically Gifted classes in the schools we have tried have been nothing short of jokes. A student is only allowed to be acad gifted to a certain point and that’s it.

    We are searching for a small school, one that time forgot. We are looking for a school that will teach our boys. No more 6th grade poster projects about how numbers are a part of our daily lives. No more 4th grade AG spelling homework that requires the student to make two lists of his spelling words and circle the vowels in one and the consonants in the other.

    We are desperate. Any help at all will be sincerely appreciated. We will move most anywhere. We are currently in Winston-Salem, NC. We prefer to stay on the Atlantic coast as we have family here but – hey – education is the priority so we will look seriously at any suggestion.

    Thank you so much,
    The Sauls Family

  2. Steve LaBonne says:

    I can’t really help, only sympathize. I had almost exactly the same problem with my daughter (whose reading is on a similar level to your son’s) in 5th grade last year, and talking to the idiot teacher and principal had as little effect as in your case. I dealt with it by moving to a better district in which 6th grade is in the middle school, where accelerated language arts (and math) courses are available. The language arts class is not bad and she’s much happier. If this hadn’t worked out, or if ultimately doesn’t in the future, I would have had to(or will have to) dig deep in my pocket and look at private schools (actually I got her admitted to one but couldn’t get enough financial aid to swing it as I was buying a house at the same time.) I don’t make that much money, but at least I only have one kid- I realize it would be really tough for you with 5. Nonetheless, I doubt you’ll find a public school system anywhere that will really satisfy you (or me either). My compromise solution is to at least have my daughther in a situation where she’s not _intolerably_ bored, and then extensively supplement her education myself.

    One more thought- if it’s financially possible for you to move anywhere, is it financially possible for you to homeschool? If won the lottery and could quit my job, I’d homeschool my daughter. (For a variety of reasons I won’t go into, it’s not feasible for my wife to do so.)

  3. More sympathy but not options to offer. My second-grader is reading at 7th grade level and who is bugging me to teach her more math, like long division, negative numbers, and beginning algebra, so I have a similar problem. As you noted, most of the ‘gifted’ programs for younger children are a joke. I’m seriously thinking about homeschooling when she goes into 5th grade. (Here, elementary is K-4, our small city just consolidated grades 5-6 in a ‘middle’ school, and ‘intermediate’ school is 7-8. Separating the kids has helped reduce bullying and school violence somewhat.) We have one of the premier schools in the state of Texas. But it can’t or won’t handle kids who are too far ahead of the curve.

    Will our kids stay ahead of the curve for the rest of their lives? I don’t know the answer to that one, either. I expect the other kids will catch up somewhat by high school, but she’ll probably also be ahead and out of step with her age-peers for most of her life. I don’t see that as a particularly bad thing.

  4. This is more of a response to Steve than the Sauls.

    A public school can’t possibly meet all of the needs of all of the students. Most public schools have high classes for those who are more advanced than the other students but many may not have the resources. I’m glad you found another district.

    May I remind you that it is the parents responsibility to educate their children. Not the neighbors, or the school, or the president of the United States. It is our responsibility and ours alone.

    Good luck.

  5. Steve LaBonne says:

    roux, Of course it’s my responsibility- did I say otherwise?

    The school district forcibly takes mucho tax dollars out of my pocket on the pretence that it will meet the needs of the students who live in the district, yet can’t live up to its side of the bargain. Your argument is an argument for school choice- _of course_ a one-size-fits-all bureaucracy can’t properly serve everyone, that’s precisely why I should have options as to where I direct those tax dollars in ordeto provide for eductional services to _assist_ me in educating my child.

    Moreover, the worst problems, as in both the Sauls’ case and mine, are _not_ caused by lack of resources, but by lack of common sense and goodwill. It would have taken the teacher of Mrs. Sauls’ son very little time and no money at all to give him something challenging to work on while the rest of the class was doing the regular reading lesson. The laziness, stupidity, and sheer bloody-mindeness behind her refusal to do so are inexcusable.

  6. I remember meeting a couple whose son was in special ed, designated “severely gifted.” That is, he was so damn smart the school couldn’t offer an appropriate class and had to do an Individual Education Plan.

    There are private schools for gifted students, and a few states have public boarding schools for highly gifted math/science students. I think North Carolina has one. But that’s high school. I do have a friend who’s raised two ultra-smart kids in the Research Triangle. I know they went to private schools. I’ll ask him which ones.

  7. Although I know of private schools (many with scholarships), I’m unaware of any public resources for “severely gifted” kids. Homeschooling with a private tutor may be an option, or you might be able to arrange for your kids to attend one of the local colleges part-time.

    I know that I’m on the verge of throttling my daughter’s 1st grade teacher, who insists that she do all the regular work before she gets “enrichment”, yet wonders why my daughter is bored and having behavior issues.


  8. dave'swife says:

    Throttle the teacher now. It won’t get any better, I promise. Also, if the pressure builds up, there is an awful tendency to just skip the teacher and go straight for the nearest administrator.
    Good luck!

  9. You’re misunderstanding the school’s responsibility. According to law, a school’s responsiblity is to provide an adequate education, not a “Cadillac education.” Your school is not obligated to provide what you’re asking for — an entirely separate education for your children. Now, a good teacher can do it (although it requires quite a bit more effort and coordination than you think it does — not the smallest being the ability to have one child doing different activities while the other children wail “that’s not fair!” and maintaining classroom peace). If you are forced to stay in the public school system, I suggest trying to get a teacher that practices differentiated learning. Differentiated learning can provide a structure for lots of alternate assignments/enrichment. It’s a relatively new “fad” in education, but it works well for classrooms with a wide disparity of abilities.

  10. Also, you could look for a school system with a good magnet program. These pull out kids with certain characteristics, for example, test scores above 85th percentile, and put them in separate classes or even a separate school. We have an excellent magnet program here, if we don’t lose it due to shakeups in the administration. One more year … one more year.

  11. I was guilty of being severely gifted, and suffered for it all thru school. My first day of first grade I read thru Fun With Dick and Jane in the time it took to hand the book out to the rest of the class. End result? Utter boredom made me a total failure from then until I’d been an adult in the real world for a few years. The only reason my high school let me graduate was that I was a National Merit finalist and they would have been embarrased not to.

    Better to home educate them, even if you cannot participate and just turn them loose. I know one young man whose parents took that approach. He took no interest in math until he needed it for scoring his Dungeons and Dragons at age thirteen, at which point he sat down and learned multiplication in one day. He is now a geometer by trade.

  12. Steve LaBonne says:

    Rita, I love how simple common sense has to get edu-buzzword labels like “differentiated learning” in order for anyone to consider practicing it. That’s a symptom of what’s very wrong with the system.

    To repeat, a teacher has _no business_ forcing a 5th grader who reads on a grade 12+ level to sit through Mickey Mouse reading lessons with the rest of the class. If you can’t understand that without needing an education professor to invent a jargon term for it, you’re in the wrong profession.

  13. Steve, are you or have you ever been a classroom teacher? Don’t, btw, jump to a conclusion about why I asked that question.

  14. I would have to “ditto” the home school advice previously made. Your child will be free to work at her own pace. Depending on how comfortable you feel with it all, you can either plan a curriculum appropriate to her ability levels, purchase pre-packaged components from the many home school suppliers out there, but tailored to her level(i.e. the 12th grade reading from company x, the 7th grade math from company y, 5th grade science, etc. as appropriate) or just let her loose in the public library… 🙂 I home schooled mine for a few years, and the “work at your own pace” thing worked really well for us. Last year my third grade daughter was working through fifth grade reading, but slogging along rather “behind schedule” on the third grade math. Her fourth grade brother was on grade level reading, but cruising along through his math books as fast as he could.

  15. As an educator of gifted students and a gifted advocate, I empathize with the Sauls. The truth is, many gifted students are terrifically bored in public schools, and the unfortunate fallout is burnout, squelched interests, and frustrated families.

    I was also labeled gifted, and spent many years in a numb, inarticulate school-borne stupor.

    That said, what many people don’t want to hear – and I will say this until I’m blue in the face, because you all need to hear it – is that public school teachers are hugely overwhelmed. When you have over 180 students in a given day, over a dozen IEPS and special needs kids whose paper load alone is enough to make you dizzy, when test scores and exit exams and standards and No Child Left Behind and attendance rosters and assemblies and essays and textbooks and field trip permission slips are piling high upon your desk and the only comments you ever get are complaints, a highly talented, gifted student’s needs are a tiny cry in the wild. This is not to say it’s not important. I’m in line here to say it is. But people, it is too easy for you to talk about throttling, hitting, slapping, killing (yes, that was on this site not long ago) teachers without understanding the Sisyphusian load we are asked to carry. And I’ll say this for Rita and the other teachers who post here: you won’t see us talk about you in kind.

    So what’s the solution for frustrated parents?
    * Talk to the teacher.
    * Take initiative. Say, “This is what I’d like my child to be able to do in your class.” And consider all the possible scenarios, such as the claims from other kids of special priveleges, timing issues, state standards, schedules, etc.
    * Talk to the administrator about independent study contracts, or partial-day schooling. Some kids at my school take morning classes at the local community college.

    I’m aware that not all of these will work. Some teachers really are dolts and shouldn’t be teaching. But there are also a lot of parents out there who too easily participate in the most convenient syllogism:
    a) my child is struggling
    b) my child has a teacher
    c) the teacher is wrong.

  16. I don’t think I learned about differentiated learning from a professor, actually. I may have picked it up from an in-service. From your comments, I suspect you may not know what it actually is. Certainly, there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to education and new buzz words come and go (just as they do in many professions), but I don’t see how I’m being a moron for teaching a parent one that may help her get what she needs for her child.

    SuzyQ has a point: sometimes the best teachers get overwhelmed by their teaching loads. I don’t have 180 students, but I do have over 50 IEP’s. And I lost every plan period this week to various meetings about students with issues.

  17. To the Sauls family: have you looked into the programs offered by Johns Hopkins? The URL is http://cty.jhu.edu/. The university offers distance learning courses, and the page of links to Gifted and Talented resources seems very helpful. If you’re in Winston-Salem NC, have you investigated Duke University’s TIP program? (www.tip.duke.edu).

    On a practical level, I do not know if you will be able to find any school which is flexible enough to satisfy your kids’ needs. Many of the exceedingly bright people I know as adults relate stories of individual teachers who recognized their potential, and were able to challenge the advanced students. In addition, how would your other children react to a move?

  18. Steve LaBonne says:

    A teacher in a well-off suburban district is so “overwhelmed” that she can’t give one kid something else to work on while the rest of the class does a reading lesson that’s completely inappropriate for that kid? Give me a break. This kind of whining is unbecoming from people who want to be treated as professionals. I have news for teachers- the rest of us have to work hard at our jobs, too. If you feel so overwhelmed, find another job- if you can find one that pays as much, which in many cases is highly doubtful.

  19. Steve LaBonne says:

    Michael- I’ve only taught at the college level. I haven’t been a plumber either, but somehow that doesn’t prevent me from knowing when my plumber hasn’t done a job correctly or has tried to overcharge me.

  20. “A teacher in a well-off suburban district is so “overwhelmed” that she can’t give one kid something else to work on while the rest of the class does a reading lesson that’s completely inappropriate for that kid? Give me a break.”
    There it is the knee jerk reaction to the load a teacher takes. I don’t teach in N.C. but I suspect that the teacher has probably 30 students to mind, and in that count there are some “main-steamed” students, some students who don’t know how to behave, some students who don’t give a you know what, some students who are just ok and the one or two who are super.
    Out of our compassion, (and as a reaction to parent activists) our government has decreed what we are to teach the “special needs” child and a LOT of resources go that direction, to the loss of the gifted child.
    My son entered our districts gifted program for about 1/2 year,but due to funding, he was removed–was he no longer gifted? No. and they class only met ONCE a week.
    These students will produce our next technology, heart drug, play, or song. These students do have needs, and they are not just academic. Our society penalizes them for being smart (sorry, gifted, I slipped) and talented. If her child could dunk the ball or score touchdowns (gifted in that sense) her plea would have never made to this post. Her son’s needs would have met, and very soon.
    If her child couldn’t read, write, count, spell, sit still, then he would have all that resource at his touch.
    But he is gifted, he can do it on his own. Don’t bother me. Let’s face it, we don’t want to know people who are smarter than us.
    Look at the sterotypes of smart people and the labels, nerd, geek, egg head, Enstein.
    Here is a question for you: Who quarterbacks your favorite team? Who won the noble prize in physics this year?
    Believe it or not, it is harder to teach a gifted child–I have. He ended teaching me things I didn’t know.
    Good luck, follow the suggestions, home school now.

  21. SuzieQ wrote: That said, what many people don’t want to hear – and I will say this until I’m blue in the face, because you all need to hear it – is that public school teachers are hugely overwhelmed. […] But people, it is too easy for you to talk about throttling, hitting, slapping, killing (yes, that was on this site not long ago) teachers without understanding the Sisyphusian load we are asked to carry.

    If public school teachers are really so “hugely overwhelmed” and the load is really so Sisyphean, then you should be first in line to support charter schools, private schools, home schools….anything that reduces your burden has to be a good thing. And, everybody wins: “gifted” students get what they need; your burdens are lightened; and the loot from property taxes keeps rolling in to the state’s coffers. What’s not to like? 😉

  22. dave'swife says:

    In Dec of Peter’s first grade year, he was tsted and produced an IQ score of 157. Further testing would probably put him well over 160. We declined further testing; we needed the score to show to the school admin and felt 157 should be more than sufficient. It wasn’t. He would get nothing more than had already been provided. The teacher assigned him the same cat-rat-bat worksheets as the class but she sent him home with twice as many. The principal bowed to the AG teacher who decided he could have AG work in 3rd grade like the state law says. No, they would not skip him. He would do a full 2nd grade regardless.
    Granted Peter’s ‘numbers’ are a bit higher than our other four sons’ but they are all in the same park. None have ever skipped a grade. Schools, or at least the many that we have experienced, do not want to harm the child’s social development. The general excuse is that ‘he needs to be with his peers’. It is entirely lost on the majority of teachers and admin professionals that we have talked with thru the years that a child of that intellectual capactiy has absolutely no peers in a first grade class. We have heard the argument made with each of our sons and we got so that we could see the words forming in the teachers’ mouths before they even knew they were going to speak, I think.
    We are an ADD/HD family. Only one of us takes medicine and the rst of us are heavily armed with coping strategies. We have dogs, a cat, guinea pigs, birds and usually at least one aquarium. we have an old, ugly motorhome and we cram ourselves into it and travel all over the east coast. We’re up at 2 a.m. to see the meteor showers. We have 6 different learning styles and we cater to all of them. We have a dreadful old piano that we really don’t have room for but two of the boys are musically inclined and one of them, the 8 yr old, is halfway to teaching himself to play. We lead a very interesting life. We embrace our right-brainedness.
    And that may just well be the root of the problem. Most of the admin we have met have been linear, left-brained folks. Anyone who is familiar with these concepts will know what I’m talking about. It’s not even apples and oranges. It’s closer to apples and hula skirts. Linear people just can’t seem to ‘get’ us. They can’t understand how we function. The second grade teacher said over and over at the conference that he just needed to sit still and look at her. If he looked straight at her, she knew he was paying attention. She was certain that, if he was playing with an eraser and not looking ahead that he couldn’t possibly be learning. She kept on him so much that he finally glued his hands together thinking that it would help him keep still.
    We’ve had 1st grade teachers that circled with bold red marker the letters that were printed backwards while at the same time, ignoring the complexity of the sentence. On the other hand, we had a kindergarten teacher who allowed one son to sit under the craft table for the first 2 weeks of school. She knew her stuff. She knew our son was incredibly shy. Gradually, other students wanted to sit under the table too untilone day, the whole class did their reading time under tables. Why the differnece between one teacher and the other? They were both of similar age. Both young, single ladies. Comparable educations. The second teacher told me later, that, when she was young, she like to read in her closet where she felt comfortable.
    The private churchschool 2 blocks from our home is $7000 a year per child. Yes, we can afford it if we cut some corners. Yes, if we felt it was needed, we’d happily cut corners. But our boys won’t be going there. Why should I pay $28k for the four younger sons to go to a private school when there are over 20 public elementary schools in this county? Even more, they won’t go there because no one reads under the tables in that school.
    How many times must a child glue his hands together before hte teacher ‘gets it’?

  23. dave'swife says:

    The above comment was posted in an un-edited state.
    Thank you.

  24. dave'swife says:

    and by the way, a big Thank You to Steve LaBonne. You say so well what I can’t. There are wonderful teachers out there- I know because we’ve met them. If they can see how to teach all the children in their class, what gives with the rest of them?
    Maybe it’s some inborn trait or intuition….. They are simply able to actually feel what a child needs and teach them in that manner. THAT’S what we’re looking for.

  25. Pointing out the reality of teaching isn’t whining. It’s an attempt to offer context as to why some teachers can’t/won’t be flexible. Anyone who can’t see the difference has a comprehension problem.

    That said, I wish the Sauls the best of luck in finding a good school.

  26. Steve LaBonne says:

    Suzie, that’s baloney. If they “can’t” be flexible to the rather minimal extent under discussion here, they have no business teaching. My job (forensic science) also critically affects people’s lives, and if I screwed up a case it would be no defense to complain that I was “overwhelmed” with other cases- I’d be fired. A lot of us- taxpayers, who pay your salaries- are sick and tired of whiny teachers who think they should be exempt from the lot of the rest of the human race. As I said, any teacher too “overwhelmed” to do his/her job properly can always look for another job- assuming they can find another employer that values education-school degrees.

  27. Steve, teachers who go into other professions generally do very well. They tend to be intelligent, organized, and very good at networking. BTW, the best teachers you had (you did have some, didn’t you?) might well have earned education degrees. It depends on the school, the state, and the grade level taught.

  28. I almost feel nauseated after reading through this thread–too many memories of growing up in California public schools in the 60’s and early 70’s. I think the entire system can be summed up in two words: Wasted Potential.

    I was considered gifted, albeit probably not as severely as the Sauls. The few gifted programs that were available were mainly make-work “enrichment” programs that had no bearing on my ability to advance through the system. Instead they appeared to be designed to entertain and distract the students, to reduce their potential to be disruptive when in regular classes. That is, when they appeared to have any point at all. In hindsight, I think the districts received a certain amount of money which had to be spent on gifted programs, with the restriction that these programs not reduce the amount of time which any student spent in regular classes.

    Logically, of course, the very concept of a “gifted program” makes no sense unless it is specifically targeted toward advancing the student more quickly. I’m not aware of any gifted programs that do this.

    As for refusing to skip students ahead in order to preserve their social development, I suppose I did learn to some extent how to cope with being “the brain” or “different”. My social connections were generally with the other class clowns, most of whom were D and F students (but now that I think about it, maybe they were really gifted students who had already learned to game the system). Of course, the fact that I was a bit of a discipline problem was another reason given for not advancing more rapidly.

    No, I don’t have much sympathy for educators who can only cope with a one-size-fits-all policy. I think charter schools are a partial solution, but not on a large enough scale. That is why I’m a strong advocate of private schools and vouchers (and would like to see them available for home-school and distance learning programs as well).
    I don’t have much time for advocacy, but I do support the Friedman Foundation (http://friedmanfoundation.org).

    Good luck to Dave’s wife in finding a public school able to accomodate her children, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. But with five children, at least you have some economy of scale if you choose to home school, possibly using a resource like the following:

    Too bad about the tax dollars you have already paid, and will continue to pay, toward education, but in my experience it’s better to just write off things like that than to let them influence your future.

  29. Bart,
    Glad to see K12 mentioned. Bennett’s got a good thing going there. We have looked into that one extensively. It may be of some help for Matt, the youngest Sauls Boy. We like that you can download the tests that give you an accurate (in our view) account of where your child is and where he needs to start in the K12 program.
    Only downer, it just goes to 7th right now- BUT it’s still the best option we can find. we’re checking out Friedman on another window as I write.
    There are many programs out there and homeschooling does look like the way to go. Most guidebooks about educating gifted children tell parents how to keep other siblings from distracting the ‘gifted one’ while he is attempting to work. None of them are much help for families that have more than one gifted child – is there a writer out there searching for a book idea?
    we very much appreciate all the good thoughts that you all sent. We recognize that teachers are, indeed, overworked – at least the ones that take their committment to teaching children seriously. we recognize that the school systems evrywhere are overloaded and probably, in our opinion, over burdened w/ paper work, reports, red tape, blue tape, multi-colored tape, you name it. We recognize that some kids are just biding their time until they can get out of the classroom and so they do not care whether or not they disrupt class for others. We recognize the desperate need for mental health programs in schools. We have 3 teachers in our family and several wonderful friends that choose to devote their lives to teaching. we are very aware of the problems faced everyday by teachers in our schools. we appreciate all of those souls that put so much of their lives into their classrooms b/c we know that so much good comes out of them in the form of nurtured, well-educated children. we understand all too well that parents need to partner w/ teachers, to show their children that education is a priority in their family and we have seen firsthand how this attitude can infect a school and cause it to become dynamic and its students to be excited about learning.
    In short, we have seen much bad in our schools but we have seen much good also. There is potential out there, sometimes it’s funnelled into good things and sometimes it is wasted on Western-thinking administrators and teachers and school board members who see only test scores and funding as the definitive bottom line.
    we wish we knew how to fix the problems but we don’t. Until we do, we’ll do the best we can with what we have and that will just have to be enough b/c the alternatives are unthinkable.
    Thank you all again-
    and many, many to Joanne for letting me vent-
    The Sauls Family