Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

NCLB Strikes Again

(WARNING: This is a long one. A really long one. But, if you have a child who does or will attend public school, I think it's worth a read. Grab a cuppa Joe, crack open a Coke...hell, mix a cocktail. I know I could use one.)

When I was in third grade, I got into an altercation with a classmate. I ended up losing my two adult front teeth when he shoved me face first into a brick wall. All the parents were called into school and a big pow wow was had. We both got into trouble, because I had been antagonizing him by kicking him in the crotch. Frankly, I deserved to be shoved into a brick wall, and worse.

He was not dealt a fair hand in that debacle, because he was one of "those" kids; a bad egg, a discipline problem, a delinquent. But I don't think he was really. I think he was a sad, lonely, heartsick kid.

During the meeting between the parents and principle, he and I waited on a hard wooden bench in the outer office. I saw his Dad, and I saw the look on his face. It scared me. When they left, he grabbed his son's arm and said in a voice that was dripping with menace "You're really going to fucking get it when we get home."

That kid didn't come back to school for three days. When he returned, he walked into the classroom in a slow shuffle, with one arm cradled against his body. There were no bruises showing, but he was obviously broken, inside and out. He wouldn't speak; he wouldn't look anybody in the eye.

I couldn't look at him without feeling sick with guilt. I had nightmares about it for weeks. And I didn't understand why nobody did anything. Now I do. It's because he was one of "those" kids and nobody really cared.

I will remember that kid until the day I die.

So, that said, I do understand why the schools are vigilant about how much school a kid has missed and why they feel the need to investigate excessive absences. I am enormously glad that there is a system of checks and balances in place to address those kinds of potentially abusive situations.

And I understand there are other reasons why excessive absences are problematic, for both the child and the teacher, and why the schools need to take steps when a child misses too much school.

But here's the thing...the system isn't working. Because kids are still falling through the cracks, while time and resources are being wasted on children like mine who are well cared for.

I received the following letter yesterday:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Antagonist,

It has come to my attention that Diminutive One has had at least 13 absences and three tardies this school year. Seven of these absences are listed as unexcused. While I understand that there has been some illness, I am concerned that he has missed so much school, especially since he was absent for 22 days last year.

Attendance plays an important role in the academic success of your child. If students are not present in the classroom, they cannot learn the necessary material. Often, parents do not realize how many absences have accumulated; however, this is your opportunity to make an improvement.

I am including a copy of the Georgia Compulsory School Attendance Law, which explains both your and my responsibilities under the law. As the school social worker, it is my hope to assist you and Diminutive One in addressing problems that prevent regular and punctual attendance. Please know that if excessive unexcused absences continue, a referral to juvenile court may be made for truancy. Court involvement can be avoided if your child attendance improves.

Please contact me at 123-456-7890 is there is anything I can do to assist you in improving this issue or if there are any extenuating circumstances.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Sincerely,

George Bush Lackey


Oh boy.

See, I was already in a pissy mood yesterday and the invitation to call was simply too much to resist. So call I did.

Before I tell how that went down, let me give you some background.

Last year, we were in the process of perusing a diagnosis for Diminutive One. He started seeing his therapist about mid-way through the school year, because I knew something was terribly wrong, but I did not know what. He has always been Spirited, but this was something different.

Every morning was a battle to get him to school. He would cry, beg, and plead. Sometimes he would throw up. His physical symptoms were very, very real. I knew it was anxiety rather than true illness, even though he really did feel ill. But there were some days that I just didn't have the heart to make him go in that state.

And often, if I did make him go, he wound up in the nurse's office only hours later. I felt like a complete shitheel telling the nurse that he needed to stay at school, despite the fact that he was writhing in obvious pain. The judgment was palpable, even over the phone. It was your classic case of damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Also, last year, he just seemed to catch every little thing that came around. He has never, ever been sick as much as he was last year. I suspect that his teacher was not properly disinfecting shared work spaces and community property, or being vigilant about hand washing. Because he aspirated stomach acid as a baby, (severe reflux) he has some scarring in his lungs. For that reason, coughs tend to hang on forever, and he is very prone to bronchitis and pneumonia. So, when he gets a cough, even a mild one, I keep him home in the hopes that it will not progress to the point that he is seriously ill. Several times he has come close to needing hospitalization.

Then of course, there was the whole CRCT saga. The CRCT is the Georgia state benchmark test, mandated by the NCLB act. It's a HUGE deal, and they start preaching to the kids about it in January. There are drill sessions, practice tests...there are even business that have cropped up to maximize your child's chances of passing. The signs are everywhere.

CRCT Prep! Sign up NOW and give your child the best chance at SUCCESS!! Only $150 for a six week session. GROUP RATES AVAILABLE!

It made Diminutive One, who was already a nervous wreck, even more overwrought with worry.

To add insult to injury, the school sent me a notice stating that he WOULD fail it, and so, please fill out this form for summer school.

I saw red. How dare they. How dare they condemn him to failure before he even had a chance to try.

I did not return the form. Because even if he did not pass their stupid test, I would have considered it a failing on their part, not his, and I was not going to subject him to summer school. If ever there was a kid who needed a break from school, it was mine.

Diminutive One's therapist agreed with me that intellectually, there was absolutely no reason he could not pass the test. However, his anxiety, combined with the hyperactivity and attention issues, removed that element of certainty. She suggested that he take the test in a quiet room by himself to give him the best possible environment in which to concentrate.

This made perfect sense to me.

I called the school, explained the situation and was told, in no uncertain terms, that it would not be possible. It's against state mandated policy for test taking protocols. Period. It wasn't even a matter of "Here are the steps you need to follow to make that happen." It was simple, emphatic, categorical refusal.

Well, as we Moms know, there is more than one way to skin a cat. So I kept him out that week. And when he returned, he took the test in a quiet room, by himself. And he passed. He didn't throw up once.

So fast forward to this year. He is taking medication for his ADHD, but not his anxiety. I don't like mixing meds to begin with and in addition, anxiety meds can make kids...foggy. I wanted to see how his anxiety would be affected once he was doing better in school. His therapist agreed. And though he still has days where he is anxious, all in all, his anxiety has improved about 90%, I'd say. He is doing very well and has, in fact, made the honor roll for the first time.

Which is why I did not pursue a 504 for him. I started to, but ultimately decided it would be a waste of time and resources for all involved. This would prove to be a mistake on my part. I never considered the attendance issue. I wasn't looking ahead to benchmark testing. My bad.

So up until a couple of weeks ago, he had missed five days. Two of those days, the clinic called me to come pick him up because he was sick. One of those days, he had a dentist appointment in the morning. If they are not back in school by 11:00 am, they are marked absent. I think he got back to school at 11:10. The other two days, I honestly don't remember. Probably the sniffles or a cough. Whatever the case, I kept him home because I thought it was warranted.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, on a Wednesday, he came down with a horrible hacking cough. I kept him home for three days. We had some meds that we keep on hand for his RAD type symptoms, which I administered. We did not go to the doctor, because we know the drill. He was not feverish, so as far as I knew, it was just a cough. He had a miraculous recovery over the weekend, which led me to believe I might have been the victim of a flim flam job.

Monday I sent him to school. Two hours later, the school nurse called me to say that he was disrupting class with his coughing.

By now, the school nurse is very familiar with Diminutive One and his issues. She's good at managing him. She only calls me when she really feels he needs to go home. Otherwise, she convinces him, gently, to go back to class. So when she says he needs to go home, I trust her judgment. I went to get him, and because he left before 11:00 am, he was counted absent.

The next day, Tuesday, I kept him home to see the doctor. His lungs were clear, but he did have some inflammation. She prescribed antibiotics to clear up the slight bronchitis and keep him from developing pneumonia.

He went back to school the next day. Friday, the school called me at around 10:30 because he was running a low grade fever. The law states that if they are running a fever, they go home. Period. I went to get him.

Saturday, his fever spiked to 104 degrees and we headed to urgent care. Official diagnosis: flu. I was given a prescription for Tamiflu and advised to keep him out of contact with other children for 48 hours. He was one sick kid, and I kept him home Monday and Tuesday.

So let's do a quick tally shall we? That's 9 days right there. Bam. And suddenly, he is considered a "truant".

It might seem as if I am doing a great deal of justifying here, but what I really want to illustrate, is how NCLB is tying our hands as parents. I want you to see how even seemingly conscientious and well meaning parenting decisions can be turned against us under the auspices of NCLB. We are being robbed of our right to make decisions for our children. We are being persecuted for trying to serve their best interests.

And you know what the saddest part is? That kids who really need someone to step in and help, are overlooked.

Recently, I was discussing the issue with a friend of mine, who is a teacher. She knew right away that I was being hassled because of NCLB mandates. She was telling me about one of her students who is almost never there. She thinks his family is essentially homeless. They are often seen walking down the highway with their belongings and she suspects that they stay with whomever has room for them at any given time.

She says,

"But I don't think anything is being done. There is no way he will pass my class, or probably any other class. When I bring it up to the proper people, no one really cares because he is not on our "snapshot". Meaning he was not enrolled on the date in the fall that is the one used for official testing results- in other words, he will not count on our test scores."

And that people, is the bottom line. NCLB has changed the focus of our teachers and administrators and forced them to waste their time and resources catering to scores, benchmarks, percentages. Not kids, not people...numbers.

My kid counts. But some other kid, who is being beaten, starved, or sexually abused, doesn't because they aren't at school enough to matter.

And that is just one reason why NCLB is just. not. working.

So, as I said, I called the social worker to clear some of this stuff up. I will spare you all the details of the conversation, as you are already likely bored to tears.

The long and short of it is that I unloaded on her a bit. Nicely, but still, she knew she was being unloaded on. I explained all that I have just told you. I expressed my outrage. And after I was done, I felt badly, because she is, after all, just doing her job. She is as powerless in the face of all this mindless mandating as I am.

And none of it really did any good, because I have neglected to make sure that his permanent record reflects his diagnoses by providing proper documentation. It isn't something they tell you in the "Parenting kids with a learning disability" crash course. That is something I am now getting remedied with the help of Diminutive One's therapist, who was outraged on our behalf.

The social worker is now aware, and was actually quite sympathetic. But you see, she may not be assigned to our school next year. Any notations she might make, will not carry over to the following school year. So unless I do take steps to make sure his conditions are documented, I will be going through all this again next year.

This. Has. Got. To. Change.

Not for my kid, or for yours, but for legions of kids who are not getting the education they deserve. Who are being drilled and grilled, rather than being able to learn by discovery, manipulation, and experimentation. Who are fighting to be themselves in a system that only recognizes conventional learners. Who are losing ground because they don't get excited about worksheets, flashcards, and fill in the blanks. Whose imaginations are dying be degrees as they struggle to find meaning in things that are devoid of wonder.

Teachers are leaving the profession they once dearly loved; disillusioned, disheartened and disgusted. They are leaving because it's not teaching any more, it's programming.

We've got to make ourselves heard. We've got to be a voice for our children. Don't take this stuff lying down. Don't be cowed by officious people with spurious credentials who tell you that you can't keep your kid home sick anymore unless you have a doctor's note.

That's bullshit.

You know what? CRCT's are coming up in April. And if, once again, they are unwilling to grant my request, I will, once again, keep him out of school.

And then we'll be ready to rumble. Haul me into juvenile court. Please. I'll call the AJC, FoxNews, CNN, MSNBC and anybody else who will listen.

Will it help? Who knows? But somebody has to try. Somebody has to say something.

I can do it if I have to.

Can you?

25 Comments:

  • At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    www.wrightslaw.com

    The single best information source I know about special ed law, including 504s, IEPs, the difference, why you want what you want, and how to get it. By a lawyer who was himself in special ed, and had kids in special ed.

    Best of luck, to you and DO.

     
  • At 9:22 PM, Blogger Angela said…

    What a pain.
    I am not looking forward to public school

     
  • At 5:51 AM, OpenID wheelsonthebus said…

    NCLB is the worst thing that has happened to American education since, well, ever.

     
  • At 7:19 AM, Blogger Avalon said…

    The main reason that my recently graduated daughter chose to teach in a small, private school. No NCLB bullshit for her.

     
  • At 8:13 AM, Blogger Leigh said…

    You have just described one of the main reasons that we homeschool. My best friend is a public school teacher...after listening to her, there is no way my children are going to darken the door of a public school.

     
  • At 8:27 AM, Anonymous jennie said…

    it is just not right. I used to work for a company that sold products to schools and did a lot of research on standardized testing across the country. I believe that because of NCLB there are so many rules on top of rules to make more rules happen that the real goals of educating children have been lost.

    good luck to you and your son - sounds like you're in for a long haul, but luckily you have the tenacity and drive to stay on top of it on your son's behalf.

     
  • At 8:45 AM, Blogger Sober Briquette said…

    Wow, this was a real wake-up call for me. I think I will be turning in our registration paperwork for the small Catholic school our kids go to with a genuine smile this year. The ways in which they don't meet my expectations are completely insignificant compared to what you're describing, not to mention the fact that where we live, public schools are just not that safe. Kids come to elementary school with guns and drugs.

    I think you're a hero.

     
  • At 9:52 AM, Anonymous gurukarm said…

    I agree with sober briquette. You're a hero, BA!

     
  • At 9:57 AM, Blogger jchevais said…

    Wow...

    You know... on reading your post, I started thinking... my brother was diagnosed ADHD but I've never really accepted it as a real syndrome because of how my brother turned out. However, I'm probably wrong and he was just a kid that was misdiagnosed by people who didn't know any better (this was almost 20 years ago... :-0)...

    You are right that kids fall through the cracks. In France, school is all about programming and my daughter just doesn't make the grade because she's got an imagination. It's disheartening.

     
  • At 10:13 AM, Blogger Reticent Writer said…

    For the love of Pete, don't call FOX. They would never tell the story from your side since NCLB is GWB's pet project. I am in the DC area and see how the broken system is failing kids in DC alone (remember the 4 little girls whose bodies were discovered in January after being dead for so long that the autopsies couldn't even determine their cause of death?) but have to deal with this crap at the schools like WE are the bad guys. The system needs to fix itself before it tries to fix us.

     
  • At 11:35 AM, Blogger Mitzi Green said…

    sort of been there, doing that, anticipate doing it for years to come until either the north kansas city school district is sick to death of me or we move, period.

    bob has missed a litany of days in the 3rd quarter because of the uncontrolled mania that started in january, the subsequent hospitalization, and the month which followed when he was on horribly wrong medication. i think the only thing preventing us from getting a similar letter is that the school is well aware of the situation, bob's only in kindergarten, and he's proven that intellectually, he could probably succeed in 2nd grade already. but yes, it has entered my mind that the possibility exists he could be held back based on attendance. if that were even suggested, i'm sure the teachers and principal would back me up in fighting it--but you never know.

    your story about the kid in your class makes me sick. it happens daily. which is why everytime i see that slogan the state of kansas loves to use--"is it good for the children?"--i laugh my ass off. we don't give a damn about the children in this country, unless they're the children who make the adults look good.

     
  • At 12:39 PM, Blogger Chicky Chicky Baby said…

    I'm not there yet, but this is one of the reasons why I don't like standardized testing. It's all about making numbers.

    Very frustrating. But thanks for the heads up. I'll be looking at this closely when my daughter is school aged.

     
  • At 1:45 PM, Blogger kevin said…

    As an ESL teacher for an elementary school, I was once asked to put a low-level reader in my class even though his native language was English. He had a Spanish surname so the administration thought enrolling him in my class would be a convenient way to take him out of the equation when testing day rolled around. On another occasion I was asked to put a Liberian kid in my program for similar reasons. No matter that Liberia is an English-speaking country and this kid was from a family of Americo-Liberians and therefor didn't even speak any languages other than English. It was assumed that he would bring down the numbers, so my program was where they wanted him to go.

    Whether that system would have done the same thing with a lilly-white low-level reader from Canada is quite debatable, but those were just two children I saw being essentially devalued based on that same school system's own failure to serve them.

    I only have so much room to complain though because I, to a certian extent, played a similar game. I purposely sought out gifted certification for the soul purpose of being able to serve that population and bring more federal monies into a school. It made me more marketable to a potential principal, and let me tell you their eyes light up when they see that.

    No Child Left Behind just brings these things to the forefront because a school has to cover its ass.

    When the time comes, I will proudly send my child to a public school, but I will always know from first-hand experience having been a teacher that the education she gets there is only secondary to what my wife and I offer her outside that school.

    As basic as this might seem, what schools typically fail to realize is that outside of their own institution we really don't care how smart someone is or how well they do on a test. We care if they are trustworthy, kind and whether they can play well with others. If book smarts served as a litmus test for hiring, most people would not hold the jobs they do now.

     
  • At 3:03 PM, Blogger margalit said…

    Ditto on the Wrights Law recommendation. It has saved our asses MANY times, and will be again next week when we have our emergency IEP meeting for the Girl.

    In my opinion, screw the 504 and go for the IEP. Write a letter of demand for an IEP meeting. The school has to respond. Get DO's testing done, and then make sure that he's covered by a really good iep. If he has the IEP, he will nt have to take any test in a large setting, including the SAT. Really.

    You need ALL the accomodations you can get. The schools are, unfortunately out to save a buck and the DO NOT want to give out IEPs, but you're entitled to one. You will NOT get the services with a 504 that you will with an iep. If you have to, find an educational advocate to work with the school system, but save this kid the heartache of dealing with asshats in the schools.

    And good luck!

     
  • At 8:22 PM, Blogger Terri said…

    Oh, I absolutely agree with you here though my kids aren't in public school. I homeschool. I believe the system as it is really sucks the life out of learning and you're right--too many kids slip through the crack who shouldn't.

     
  • At 8:49 PM, Blogger anne said…

    I got my El Ed degree back in the early 90's and we were complaining about the lack of worth of standardized test back then. We've come a long way. Not.

     
  • At 7:32 AM, Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said…

    More power to you! The schools' job may be to do well on the test, but it is our job to do what is in the best interest of our kids. Period.

     
  • At 8:11 AM, Blogger Angela said…

    There is so much I could say here, really, from a personal and a professional stand point. But I will simply just say that I am sorry. This is awful. It really is.

     
  • At 1:50 PM, Anonymous Wife Soup said…

    I can sooo relate, but here the testing is called SOL, which just so happens, is also the acronym for s--- out of luck. Basically the same.

     
  • At 9:24 PM, Blogger PunditMom said…

    This country's school system is SO messed up. Even though we are committed to the public school system, this is one major reason we decided in an independent school fo PunditGirl.

     
  • At 12:30 PM, Blogger seventh sister said…

    As a former special ed teacher, I think you are doing the best thingn by not getting a 504 for your son. Don't let anybody label him if you can help it. The label will followo him for a very ong time and will just be something else he will have to deal with. You don'tsay anything about his diet. (Maybe that is in an older post.) Are you giving him mostly unprocessed organic foods? Low sugar and preservatives? Has he been tested for food sensitivities?

     
  • At 1:06 PM, Blogger mamatulip said…

    At no point during this post was I bored to tears.

    I'm not an American, so it took me a minute to figure out what NCLB stands for, and to be honest, I'm not all that familiar with the school systems in the States. This post, though, is so eye-opening, especially to someone like me, and I am glad you wrote it. And I'm glad you're sticking up for your kid when it seems like there's no one else who will.

     
  • At 8:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm printing this out and keeping it for next year, when my DS starts public school.

    I'm also practising my do-not-F-with-me roar... :)

     
  • At 3:47 PM, Blogger Amy Y said…

    I'm proud of you!

    I'm hoping the next election will bring with us some change where NCLB is concerned. But in the mean time, yes, I'm with you Mama.

     
  • At 3:56 PM, Blogger Jennifer said…

    Wow. The part you wrote about getting into a fight with the bully brought back some painful memories. We used to tease a girl who never did anything wrong. She just happened to be different.

    Somehow we got wind that her dad hit her, but didn't think it was true, and even teased her about that. (I know...it still makes me feel sick).

    A teacher found out, checked into it, and the rumor was true. Her father was abusing and molesting her. She was removed from the home.

    I learned a lot from that experience. First of all, bravo to that teacher for being pro-active in the right way. Second, the world is not lollipops and rainbows for everyone - even in the suburban utopia I grew up in.

     

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