Hump Day Open Thread

What’s up?

I am still digging myself out of e-mails from the long weekend. In the meantime, I did spot this piece of education news. Kindergarteners who barely make the cut-off age for school are five times more likely to be held back than peers who are older, according to a study by the University of Missouri.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Tuesday Open Thread

It’s Tuesday, y’all!

And I’m starting to think Rick Santorum is just punking us. Did you hear about how he called President Obama a “snob” for daring to . . . suggest that all students should attain some form of higher education? We’ve reached the point where college is bad. Srsly.

President Obama fired back during a speech to the nation’s governors:

“When I speak about higher education we’re not just talking about a four-year degree,” the president said. “We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained … for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door handling a million-dollar piece of equipment.”

I’ve had enough of this Santorum nonsense. I wonder how much longer he’s going to hang around and pollute my beautiful mind, as Barbara Bush would say.

And just in case you missed it, here’s an amazing Saturday Night Live skit: The Obamas as The Cosbys. This child of the 80s was ROFLMAO. Enjoy!

What’s on your mind today? Chat away!


DS’s school project

My DS has a school project in which he has to construct and summarize an interview.  He’s interested in how technology is being used in schools, specifically with kids with disabilities.  If you have a few minutes, please answer his questions and then email back to him at

scienceboy at  mindspring dot com

Your name_____________You are a _ teacher or _parent?

  1. What types of technology do you (or your child’s teacher) use to help a kid with disabilities?
  1. How does this technology help the child with disabilities?
  1. What are some drawbacks of using this technology?
  1. What do you think should be changed in the technology?
  1. Do you think that it is helpful to have technology in the classroom? Do you think more teachers should use it?

school, testing, anxiety

DH and I have been discussing for the past year whether to pull the plug on Spanish Immersion for DS9.  School is just not working for him; he’s doing fine, gets along well with the other kids, behaves well, does his work, the teachers like him, but he’s not catching fire.  ”On fire” really ought to be this kid’s natural default state.  As much as we love the school and the program, something has felt wrong since 1st grade.  He’s drifting.

His inability to read at grade level – in either language – has been the largest ongoing source of frustration.  He struggles with verbal skills, despite being talkative and articulate.  And he doesn’t value Spanish the way his brother does.  Recently he burst out with an exasperated, “Mom, I should practice my English reading way more than my Spanish.  I don’t need to learn Spanish.  This whole country is in English.  Plus I can learn more Spanish in high school.”  He’s not wrong.  I could hear in his voice that he is ready and able to make this decision for himself.  The question we’ve been debating is whether we could find an alternative that would suit him better.

All third graders take the OLSAT-8, the main test our district uses for GATE identification.  My son was tapped afterward for secondary testing, but though I know he’s bright I was not optimistic others would agree.  We got the results from both tests yesterday and I was pleasantly surprised to see he easily qualifies based on his ranking on the secondary test, the Test of Nonverbal Intelligence.  That test ranked him pretty much where I would have guessed.

But I’ll admit to being blindsided by his OLSAT results.  Below average overall.  Eighth percentile in the verbal section.  Eighth?  Even adjusting for the bilingual ed that’s pretty abysmal, but I seriously doubt he’d have done much better if he’d had English from the start.  Non concordance between tests isn’t surprising with such a quirky kid, and I’m not usually one to put much faith in tests, but this is a startlingly huge disparity to explain away.

I realize that GATE is designed for kids who will benefit from an alternative to the traditional curriculum, which is of course why I’m interested in it for him.  But is it really fair to send him to a gifted program if he’s by some measures so far down into the remedial range?  Most of the other kids will be the classroom stars.  Or should I assume there will be other bright kids who develop erratically, some of whom perhaps also can’t read, so they know how to handle this?

We have a lot to think about. We’re not mentioning any of this to him, since we’re undecided and it’s not clear that qualifying is the same as getting a slot anyway.  I don’t know how he’d react to the scary prospect of changing schools (or even which school he’d be reassigned to).   But if not GATE, then what?  


What is “normal”?

In order not to hijack a thread, I decided to make a diary out of our recent experiences with Gus being tested to try to solve some of his challenges in school. I think several of us may be struggling with children who are difficult to parent, so hopefully anyone with experience, expertise, and sympathy can help us sort some of this out.

We had a meeting this week with four specialists, Gus’s teacher, the school director, and the general specialist (GS) who’s on staff. Over the last six weeks, Gus was tested for a variety of things. His teacher and the GS felt early in the school year that he was having more trouble than usual sitting still, focusing, following rules, and settling into the routine.

I was not surprised by some of this. Gus is impulsive and often noncompliant. He was observed last year in preschool for this, and it was concluded there wasn’t a need for intervention (observing him the first half hour of school vs. the last half hour showed a marked difference).

Some background: Gus was born at 28 weeks, but had no known developmental delays. Part of the problem with saying this is that even 15 years ago, the odds of a baby born this early surviving with no problems was extremely rare. There simple isn’t a large body of data to study, so we often feel now that Gus is past toddler stage, we’re flying on our own. He has a late July birthday and attended two years of part-time preschool at our public school. He has never been in daycare. We thought very long about starting him in kindergarten this year or holding him back, but he’s so smart that we didn’t feel right holding him back academically. His preschool teachers agreed we should send him.

He attends a German immersion charter school full-time. There are 22 in his class, and he has a marvelous teacher. He is nearly a year younger than some of the kids in his class. Overall, we feel he enjoys school. His interest in art has totally spiked, he talks frequently about other friends in his class, likes to play with first graders at recess, and loves his teachers.

The meeting ended up being two hours long as we went through a 33-page report. They were very thorough! And they were helpful & kind as well. But after thinking about it a while, I still don’t know what to make of much of it, and worse, what to do. We and his teacher were also interviewed, and our answers were incorporated into the report.

He was evaluated by a speech pathologist, an occupational therapist, a child psychologist, and an autism consultant. If any of you know or are interested in the particular tests, I can tell you. The speech pathologist reported that he was average to above average in her tests (expressive, receptive, & pragmatic language), even in a test that’s usually not done until age six, so his results were mixed in there.

The psychologist basically said he is scary smart, mostly in reading, but also testing above average in math. Both her tests & the teacher’s report put him way down on social skills, much further down than we reported. The psychologist was very clear though that it was her opinion we couldn’t discount his prematurity, or the fact that he is quite a bit younger than his peers. But she felt that since so much of his intellect was in the superior range, the fact that he was average in some areas was concerning because the gap was so wide.

The OT reported major deficiencies in her motor coordination, much more than we would’ve ever thought. One test had him at the age equivalent of less than three years old. He’s definitely not the sportiest kid in the world, but it’s not something we’ve encouraged, and he loves to move (possibly another problem). He had nine months of physical therapy and six months in braces around age three for tippy-toe walking that was starting to affect his foot movement, but was declared cured. We’ve seen huge improvements in his drawing & writing ability since school started, but even his fine motor skills tested low.

The autism one was hard. His teacher reported behaviors with far more frequency than we did, almost across the board. So did the consultant. As an example, let’s say a score of 80 means the likelihood of being on the spectrum is high. We scored him around 55; they scored him at 78 or 79.

At the end, the recommendation was that he did not score “bad” enough in any area to qualify for school intervention. The psychologist was not ready to look at ADHD (Gus’s ped agrees), although the OT & autism consultant seemed like they wanted to go that way. They all mentioned frustration that Gus didn’t seem to fit into any strong category where they could recommend a solid course of action. One thing they did agree on was the possiblity of a sensory integration (SI) disorder rather than the autism spectrum. The OT suggested getting him evaluated again by his ped, showing her the test results, & seeing if she would recommend outside SI therapy as a medical necessity so our insurance might possibly pay for it. The consultant commented that SI problems often are misdiagnosed as autism, so she felt that was the right way to go as well.

I’m sorry this is getting long, but it’s helping me process to write it out, and I feel so out of my element here. A big part of me wonders if I even know my own kid. Am I in denial about his behaviors? If anything can be done to put him on a good path, we’re going to do it. But maybe I’m just old-school enough to be wondering can’t we leave the kid alone to grow up a bit? Or do I not know enough about how kids are supposed to operate to make a judgement?

Here are some points that were made, for example, that leave me wondering:
-He was asked “What would if your teacher was sick?” He first answered “She won’t be able to come to school.” That was good. Then he added, “They might cancel school for a week.” That was inappropriate. I thought, is that so bad? He doesn’t really know. Older kids would know it wouldn’t happen, but he has a very vivid imagination. He might have been talking about what he wish would happen.

-He crawls around a lot while listening to a story. I understand why that would be distracting and the teacher would like that behavior to stop. But I think often he is still listening to the story. Moving may help him process it (which is chalked up to SI problems). He can still answer questions about somethign that was being said or done while he was moving.

-He doesn’t know when he’s being ridiculed or made fun of. First off, he doesn’t exactly have a lot of experience with this. Also, just this week, he told me he’d been filling his water bottle and a big kid told him Backyardigans are for babies. I asked “What did you say then?” He shrugged and said, “I didn’t say anything.” It didn’t bother him. Isn’t that good…not being upset if someone says something you know is kind of ridiculous. He brought it up, so I’m thinking he knew the kid was saying something unkind. But it didn’t upset him.

And this is actually the short version of what happened! I feel sorry for his teacher; she was probably hoping she’d get some extra support but all she got was sorry, the guidelines don’t let us fit him in. But as I said, she is wonderful & we’re fully committed to working with her to reinforce whatever she’s doing in school. But other than exploring the SI therapy, we really don’t know whre to go. I’m not necessarily a fan of normal, but I think I’d like my kid to be just normal enough that it’s not so concerning. Thanks so much for your attention & thoughts.


Monday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

My latest columns at the Moms Clean Air Force is on what the movement for clean air could learn from the Cubans in Florida. I also wrote about the Catholic Franciscan view on environmental stewardship and economic justice for the poor. Please do check those out, tweet and/or leave a comment! :)

In other Hispanic news: President Obama just appointed Colombian pop star Shakira as part of an advisory commission on educational excellence for Hispanics. Now that more than one in five public school students in this country is Latino, it is time to tackle the abysmally high high school dropout rate among Hispanics.

I received a tip that the National Summit on Education Reform is happening in my backyard in San Francisco. After reading the agenda and who would grace us with their presence, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that education “reformers” really are anti-public school teacher. None of the panelists will include any life-long teachers or anyone in the classroom of our toughest schools. Instead, in attendance will be a lot of superintendents, conservative think tanks and Republican politicians to offer advice: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, FOX News head honcho Rupert Murdoch, the Heritage Foundation and others. There is going to be so much money in that room, and not a dime will go to California schools, which due to budget constraints are cutting art classes and extracurricular activities left and right. Sad.  

Here is a news story about the power of advertising on children. That’s why I love PBS Kids…

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Where Teacher-Bashing Has Led Us… ran a disturbing story on how many teachers are new, and even then, they are likely to drop out of the field within five years.

Over two decades, the odds that a child will be taught by a new teacher in the nation’s 3 million K-12 public school teachers have increased dramatically. In 1987–88, the median teacher had 14 years of experience, and the mode of teacher experience — or the most common level — was a teacher with 15 years on the job. By 2007–08, the median had dropped to 11, and the mode had plunged to one.

Experts attribute the experiential decline to numerous factors, including the widespread retirement of Baby Boomer teachers, added demands due to programs like “No Child Left Behind” and teachers leaving to pursue better-paying opportunities in other fields.

The national commission on teaching estimates that 300,000 veteran teachers retired between 2004 and 2008 alone.

No matter where one stands on education reform, there appears to be consensus that the quality of the teacher is important. But what happens when that teacher does not stick with the profession? Is this good for our kids? Chat away!


Monday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Happy 4th of July all! We went to the Great America Water Park and Amusement Park in Santa Clara, California, on Saturday and caught the fireworks on our way out. Despite being up until almost 10 — God, Eli was cranky! — the kids begged us to stay until the bitter end. They caught the fireworks from the car, and then crashed hard. :)

We may brave the crowds tonight to see fireworks in Berkeley or Oakland, but at least during the day we are going to chill at home. What are you up to today?

In celebration of Independence Day, I am titling this diary “Let’s Keep America Beautiful.”

Good news all: next year’s Netroots Nation in Providence is gauging interest from parents to offer childcare. I will be there with both kids in tow. If you do plan on coming and bringing your kids, could you register and let the NN folks know? Thanks!

From our brother site Daily Kos: a diarist took on (false) claims by Gov. Chris Christie on the state of public schools in New Jersey. In related news: the Milwaukee public school district has announced that it will lay off 519 employees, including 354 teachers, according to Slate. How is this good for our kids or the economy?

In other education news: Sen. Carlos Uresti of Texas reminded voters that “cutting big government means failing education” in an editorial for the Houston Chronicle. Are we willing to sacrifice public education to cut the budget? I pray not!

A friend of mine, Ana Flores, over at the Spanglish Baby blog is hosting a contest to give away money to the winner’s favorite charity. To win, all you have to do is sign up at Moms Clean Air Force, and let Ana know that you did either at her blog or her e-mail: ana at spanglishbaby dot com. Then your name will be entered at random dot org for the chance to win money on behalf of your favorite charity. Thanks!

In related news, Dr. Oz — yes, that doctor on Oprah — had this to say about air pollution:

“It’s sobering news that one in five people still live in communities with lethal levels of smog and particulate pollution — the toxic soup of chemicals, metals, acids, ash and soot that triggers asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes and early deaths. Makes you want to close the windows, bar the door and stay home.”

So glad to see a high-profile doctor make the connection between pollution and health.

If you have a child of Hispanic descent, here is a resource for scholarships.

Congratulations to Patrick Donohue, who heads the Sarah Jane Brain Project, for gaining bipartisan support for a bill that would promote a seamless, standardized and evidence-based system of care for children and young adults with brain injury. Donohue’s organization is named after his 5-year-old daughter who was shaken by a nanny when she was a baby.

Here is one of those amusing yuppy parenting New York Times story, this one about the theft of high-end strollers between $400 and $1,000. In this case, a mom with a $400 stroller left it outside in Brooklyn, and it was taken. This is my question: I know that strollers can be more useful in the city than a car — I walked everywhere with my babies. But it seems to me that it is more stressful to keep tabs on such an expensive piece of baby “furniture”, especially if you don’t want to lock it up. What do you think? Are these high-end strollers really worth the money?

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Why Does Public Education Need To Be Scripted?

A young and popular principal in the DC public school system quit to open a cupcake shop instead.

Bill Kerlina recently opened up to the Washington Post about the frustrations that led to his resignation. He said that there was no support for teachers — “reform” means just firing them — and some parents were racist and entitled.

Considering that the school he worked at is across the street from the prestigious Sidwell Friends private school, he said that it could learn a lesson or two from its neighbor:

One way to lure neighboring families — restricting the number of out-of-boundary seats — would be a “horrible mistake,” Kerlina wrote, as “the diversity at Hearst is what makes it a great school.”

He offered another solution: Move the school toward “inquiry-based learning,” stressing group activities, hands-on projects and student curiosity. It’s standard practice, he said, at the private school across 37th Street NW.

“The reason people spend [more than $30,000] a year to send their children to Sidwell is because they believe in inquiry-based learning,” Kerlina wrote. “DCPS does not — the approach is too scripted and doesn’t allow for students to think outside of the box.”

I know that not all public schools are the same, and there are some pretty damn good ones. But “white flight” — or more like “upper middle class flight” — is something I have noticed in not just DC and New York, but the San Francisco Bay Area.

As someone who visited the local public schools, I was frustrated by not only the way foreign language was implemented, but the “teaching to the test” — which I saw firsthand — was a turnoff, big time. There is no comparison to that and inquiry-based learning, especially if your child has already been learning that way.

Which leads me to the point of this post: President Obama and a lot of members of Congress send their kids to private schools. Why the heck would they think that this scripted testing culture would be good for public school children and not their own? It doesn’t make sense.

I was also struck by the disparity between the DC public schools and its suburbs. Why? Did any of you read this story? What did you think?


Netroots Nation Day 2

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — As I mentioned on Friday, there are panels on top of panels. There are so many sessions and panels that I can’t go to all the ones that I want.

I did get out to six events on Friday. First stop: a one hour and 15 minute session titled “Tiger Moms vs. Mama Grizzlies: Engaging Moms.” The panelists were Joanne Bamberger, who was the panel moderator and publishes the PunditMom blog; Anita Jackson (pictured), the social media director for, who also blogs under the handle “Rolling” here at MotherTalkers; Krystal Ball, a television pundit who ran for Congress in 2010; and Cynthia Liu who publishes the K-12 News Network.

The biggest takeaway from the discussion was that women make up most of the electorate and online presence like flickr, Twitter and Facebook, yet we haven’t translated that to power in either the public or private sectors.

“There are 28 members of Congress who are under the age of 40, and only 3 are women,” said Krystal Ball. Ball ran for office in Virginia two years ago at the age of 27 with a baby in tow. She was actually told by some potential voters that they wouldn’t vote for her because they thought she should stay home with her baby.

“I was inspired by motherhood to take action,” she said. “I had always been an engaged poltical observer and…when I had my daughter, I thought of what kind of country I wanted to pass onto her.”

Ball, who is now a pundit everywhere from MSNBC to FOX News, said she learned a lot about how women, in particular mothers, engage in the political arena. Here were some interesting points:    

-As a mom, she framed all issues as “family issues” and said it was about the world we were passing onto our children.

-The vast majority of her volunteers were women, including many mothers. Her female volunteers were reluctant to phone constituents or meet them face-to-face. They preferred something behind the scenes like stuffing envelopes. “The reason that women don’t run for office, even though they are half the electorate, is that they don’t want to offer their opinions,” Ball said. “Twelve or 13 percent of op-ed writers are women.”

She built on that point saying that the political talk shows are “made for, made by and hosted by men.” Subliminally, women are receiving the message that “politics is a man’s sport.”

Cynthia Liu, who is a contributor to the Momocrats blog and publishes the K-12 News Network, said it’s mostly women who are volunteering in the schools, both in the classroom and in fundraising. She said that the PTA was a “farm system for future legislators.”

Anita Jackson from emphasized the importance of paid sick days and flexible workplaces for families. She started her talk with good news: Connecticut became the first state in the country to offer up to five paid sick days to all workers. For more information on family-friendly, flexible workplaces, she pointed the audience to the website Custom-Fit Workplace. (The book, by co-founder Joan Blades, is a must-read for all employers and their workers!)

Following the “Mama Grizzlies” panel discussion, I caught Congressman Luis Gutierrez at the end of a session he had with Markos regarding immigration. (Yet another session I missed due to a scheduling conflict!) Let me tell you, there is nothing but mad love for Rep. Gutierrez in the Latino community. I, too, was star-struck.

At the end of the session, he was surrounded by members of our community who thanked him for his service — he has been brave and outspoken on the immigration front — he had a good sense of humor and joked with us in “Spanglish.” He took the time to take pictures with us as well:

Speaking of rock stars, in the middle of the day I co-hosted a coffee roundtable discussion with Lily Eskelsen, Vice President of the National Education Association. Can I just say that Lily is one impressive woman? She is not only one of the top labor leaders in the country, but also one of the most influential Hispanic educators in the nation.

She started out as a lunch lady, worked her way up to a kindergarten aide, when a teacher encouraged her to go to school and become a teacher herself. After only 9 years on the job, she was named Utah’s Teacher of the Year.

She personally met with us parents to take questions and also hear from us on how teachers and parents can work together to support public education. I was grateful to have our Shenanigans there since she was able to speak about her experiences as a school board member of a small, rural school district.

This was surprising to me, but Lily favored local versus federal control of schools. She said that the federal government often passes unfunded mandates and “one-size-fits-all” solutions that don’t benefit rural schools. For example, a teacher in a rural school district often has to teach multiple subjects whereas a large urban district has the money and staff to have a teacher for every subject. Rural schools, by the way, make up 20 percent of all public schools.

She also dismissed the notion that teachers unions are dominated by raging liberals. One-third of NEA’s members identify themselves as Republicans. She did say though that NEA’s Republican members in Wisconsin are really regretting who they voted for last year. She is hearing a lot of, (paraphrased) “I voted for the Wisconsin governor because he was against gay marriage. I didn’t think he would go after my pension plan!”

Yes, elections matter.

Lily said this and more in an education session, in which for the first time at Netroots Nation, she shared the floor with the American Federation of Teachers Union President Randi Weingarten. If there is anything I took away from the session it was Weingarten’s suggestion to “follow the money” whenever anyone opposed the teachers unions. Among the billionaire families looking to break up the unions and dismantle public education are the Koch Brothers, the DeVoses and the Walton Family Foundation. I would add another billionaire for reform: Bill Gates.

Lily made a joke about how almost none of her members were billionaires.

Setting joking aside, Weingarten added: “When we and parents are together as one, that is an asset….No amount of money is going to pierce that trust.”

After the education session, I attended three more events. Yes, there are panels on top of panels and parties to boot, which is why I will continue this diary tomorrow…