Carnival of Homeschooling

The Common Room is hosting this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling.

Victorian family of homeschoolersSensory Processing Disorder is a Deceptive Adversary, writes Christina on SPD and ME.

The Headmistress also has a special-needs child. She recalls a “not really so horrible very bad day.”

No arms, no excuses

Richie Parker gets it done.

Born with no arms, Richie Parker now designs race cars — and drives his own car with his toes. With his parents’ help, he grew up designing ways to feed himself, open the refrigerator, ride a bike, drive a car and operate a computer. A Clemson graduate, he works as an engineer for Hendrick Motorsports.

The promise of iPads for special ed

Technology can free special education students from worksheets, writes Anya Kamenetz in The promise of iPads for special ed on the Hechinger Report.

When Neil Virani walked into his middle school special education classroom at Mulholland Middle School, part of the LA Unified School district, three years ago, he encountered a roomful of students with a range of cognitive, emotional and physical challenges. But the most toxic problem they had to combat was the low expectations from the school system they’d been in since kindergarten. “All they had was coloring books and watercolors. They were not working on any academic aspects of the curriculum,” he says. “When I saw a [previous] teacher had written of  a student, “they don’t require ELA writing instruction because they’re never going to manipulate a writing device,’ I said, before I met him, this kid is going to write.”

Today, not only are most of his students reading and discussing stories, producing sophisticated written essays, and scoring proficient in math, they are drawing mind maps to organize their thoughts, building catapults in class to demonstrate physics principles learned from the game Angry Birds, and shooting and editing video documentaries of their experiences, which they storyboard in advance with cartoons.

The iPad and its wide range of apps has enabled students to meet the “highest possible realistic expectations,”  the teacher says.

A student who has control over only one finger was unable to write with a $15,000 assistive technology chair. One involuntary movement would erase what he’d typed. After an hour with a $500 iPad, he wrote his name for the first time.

The iPad has changed his students’ thinking, says Virani. “They believe in themselves; they can do what anyone else can do.”

CDC: 1 in 5 kids has a mental disorder

Nearly 1 in 5 children in the U.S. suffers from a mental disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression and autism.

Kids who once would have been called antsy, shy, moody or odd are now being diagnosed with mental disorders and disabilities. How many really need mental health care? The bill is up to $247 billion a year, the CDC estimates.

Workforce dropouts rise

Discouraged workers are dropping out of the workforce, masking the true unemployment rate. Only 63.3 percent of working-age adults are in the labor force.  Some enroll in community college — or graduate school. Others apply for disability or take early retirement.

Manufacturers are looking for skilled workers in Minnesota, but technical colleges have a hard time filling all the seats in manufacturing programs, even though pay averages $56,000 a year. Factory work has a stigma.

Teaching physics — and the power of love

As a physics teacher at a Kentucky high school, Jeffrey Wright is known for exploding pumpkins and lying under a nailed board as students use a sledgehammer to break cinderblocks above him. Most of all, he’s known for his annual lecture on raising a severely disabled son who taught him “the meaning of life, love and family,” reports a New York Times blog.

A former student of Wright’s at Louisville Male Traditional High School in Kentucky (it’s been coed for nearly 60 years) made an award-winning video, Wright’s Law.

“When you start talking about physics, you start to wonder, ‘What is the purpose of it all?’ ” he said in an interview. “Kids started coming to me and asking me those ultimate questions. I wanted them to look at their life in a little different way — as opposed to just through the laws of physics — and give themselves more purpose in life.”

One day, Wright realized his son could see, play and think, he tells students. He and his wife, Nancy, began teaching Adam simple sign language. One day, his son signed “I love you.”

In the lecture, Mr. Wright signs it for the class: “Daddy, I love you.” “. . . “There is something a lot greater than energy. There’s something a lot greater than entropy. What’s the greatest thing?”

“Love,” his students whisper.

Students are looking for purpose, “the purpose in your heart,” to answer the question, “who cares?” Wright believes.

He hopes to inspire students to pursue careers in science and genetic research. “We might be able to come up with something we can use to help Adam out one day.”

When illiteracy pays the bills

In the hills of Appalachia, parents pull their children out of literacy classes for fear they’ll lose their “learning disability” label and the federal check that goes with it, writes Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times.

Many people in hillside mobile homes here are poor and desperate, and a $698 monthly check per child from the Supplemental Security Income program goes a long way — and those checks continue until the child turns 18.

“The kids get taken out of the program because the parents are going to lose the check,” said Billie Oaks, who runs a literacy program here in Breathitt County, a poor part of Kentucky. “It’s heartbreaking.”

America’s safety net can entangle the poor by rewarding failure and discouraging marriage, writes Kristof.

When SSI was extended to children 40 years ago, only 1 percent of poor children qualified, writes Kristof. They had severe physical or mental handicaps that required intensive parental care. Now 55 percent of children on SSI have vaguely defined “learning disabilities” that essentially mean they’re not retarded and aren’t doing well in school. Eight  percent of low-income children now receive SSI disability at an annual cost of more than $9 billion.

. . . a 2009 study found that nearly two-thirds of these children make the transition at age 18 into SSI for the adult disabled. They may never hold a job in their entire lives and are condemned to a life of poverty on the dole . . .

Kristof recommends community visitors to help low-income mothers, pre-kindergarten and encouraging marriage. (Marriage! It’s not just for gays!)

I’d suggest eliminating SSI disability for children unless their disability imposes extra costs on the family.

When I reported on welfare reform, I met a teenage mother who supplemented her welfare income with SSI for her son, who’d been born three months early, before the mother’s 15th birthday. When he was two, the pediatrician decided he wasn’t disabled after all. Though happy her son was developing normally, she was distraught at losing the extra money. Still, she got a half-time job at the community college, where she was learning office technology.  She discovered that she loved working.  I don’t know if she worked her way out of poverty. She came from a very messed-up family and her boyfriend had abandoned her. But she had a shot.

NCLB waivers let states set goals by race

Virginia will revise its new goals for student achievement, but will continue to set “different achievement goals for students according to race, family income and disability,” reports the Washington Post.  That’s OK with Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The Obama administration has allowed states to set different goals for different groups of students, as long as the low-performing students are required to make greater rates of progress, so that the gap between struggling students and high-achieving students is cut in half over six years.

The District and 27 of the 33 states that have received waivers from the Obama administration under No Child Left Behind have also set new goals that call for different levels of achievement for different groups of students.

In Maryland, for example, state officials say they want Asian students to progress from 94.5 percent proficient in math in 2011 to 97 percent by 2017. During the same period, the state wants black students to improve from 68 percent to 84 percent. The black students are expected to reach a lower endpoint but they would have to improve at a faster rate.

Virginia’s goals qualified the state for a NCLB waiver. While 89 percent of Asian students and 78 percent of whites are expected pass state math tests in 2017, only 65 percent of Hispanics, 57 percent of blacks and 49 percent of special-education students are expected to pass.

Special ed is a mess

Special education is “a litigious mess,” writes lawyer Chris Borreca in The Atlantic. When IDEA, the disability rights law, is reauthorized, Congress should adopt a dispute resolution system using specialist courts, he suggests.

A threshold requirement of mandatory mediation before a lawsuit may be filed could be added. A reasonable cap on attorney fees should be explored. Clarity of the very legal rights described should be added to the statute itself.

In other words, a degree of common sense added to the entire system — with an emphasis on services received rather than an unending amount of due process provided for every alleged wrongdoing — would go a long way toward serving the original intent of the law.

Miriam K. Freedman, also a lawyer, tackles reforming special ed in the University of Chicago Law Review.

The current system favors wealthy parents, writes Dr. Manhattan, who likes Romney’s plan to make federal disability dollars follow the student.

Mediocrity guaranteed: Do it all in every class

Telling “every school to meet every need for every kid” is a recipe for mediocrity, writes Rick Hess in Ed Week.

New York City Chancellor Dennis Walcott has committed to educating special-needs children in neighborhood schools, especially in elementary school. However, parents are finding their local schools aren’t prepared to serve all special-needs students.

That should be no surprise, Hess writes.

If we told the owners of the terrific local burger joint that they also need to start serving sushi, pizza, enchiladas, and French cuisine, because people have different preferences, and everyone has a right to eat, I suspect it’d have an adverse impact on quality. If I told a first-rate high school math tutor that he had an obligation to also tutor in science, Mandarin, and history, because he’s the only tutor in the neighborhood, the quality of his work might decline. Yet, this “duh”-caliber observation is largely absent when advocates are asking schools to shoulder yet another burden, especially when discussing how to best serve kids with special needs.

. . . the issue is not whether we ought to serve all kids. That was resolved decades ago. We all agree that we should. The question is whether we think every school, or every classroom, ought to be expected to meet every need of every student. And that strikes me as a recipe for mediocrity.

Or worse. In my 11 years of blogging, I think the complaint I’ve seen most often from teachers is that they’re expected to teach children of vastly different achievement levels, abilities and disabilities in the same classroom with little useful support.