Look closely, and you'll find more and more seemingly typical children going to school with legally-binding Individualized Education Plans that cost both their parents and their school districts significant time and resources to secure and implement. Are today's parents more demanding than they used to be, or might certain trends in education be responsible? Consider the following possibilities:
Saturday, November 6, 2010
1. Instructional Failures:
In particular, the failure to teach phonics intensively and systematically, and the failure to teach penmanship at all. Many children (enough to camouflage the problem) still muddle through, figuring out how to decode words with minimal formal instruction or with parental tutoring, and managing to write fluently and legibly enough for today's classrooms. But many others don't. Some of the people I've talked to who work with children identified as dyslexic or dysgraphic say they suspect that many of these kids are actually victims of dysteachia.
Incidentally, instructional failures in mathematics haven't yielded a similar proliferation of disability labels, but only because the cognitive standards for math disability (dyscalculia) are low enough that most children, however deficient their math instruction is, don't qualify.
2. Holding students back:
First, there's the decline of ability-based groupings and opportunities for students to work independently and at their own rates, and the rise of mixed-ability group-based assignments and the same curriculum for all students at a given grade level. Some teachers have even eliminated the free choice of independent, take-home reading books, requiring advanced readers to read at the same level as their classmates. Second, there's the dumbing down of that one-size-fits-all curriculum, and of those one-size-fits-all books, so that No Child is Left Behind.
More and more parents, seeing their kids held back relative to their academic potentials, are finding that the only way out of this is a legally-binding gifted IEP.
3. Developmentally inappropriate requirements:
For all the dumbing down of the curriculum, the organizational and attentional demands of today's classrooms are much greater than they use to be. Back in my day, what homework we had in grade school was handed directly to us to put in our backpacks, along with all the information and materials (e.g. textbooks) we needed to get it done. The assignments were short and straightforward and required no prompting, directions-explaining, breaking down into subtasks, or assistance looking things up over the Internet because the information isn't in our backpacks, by our parents. It came home with us automatically, and we got it done on our own and our teachers collected it from us the next day. The tests were based on material in our textbooks, not on material covered only in class.
Today's grade schoolers receive large, complex, multi-day assignments, often based on material covered only in class or that must be searched for online, that they are expected to record in their planners and pick up and hand in on their own. And they are often tested on material covered only in class, the absorption of which requires careful attention and note taking. While the more attentive and organizationally mature students can handle these demands independently, many others require constant assistance from their parents. In areas where parents can't assist their children--e.g., in paying attention and taking notes in class (notes that are legible enough to read later), and in remembering to pick things up and hand things in--these children flounder so much that parents often feel they have no choice but to seek legally binding accommodations.
So here's my question: Wouldn't it be more cost effective, less of a waste of everyone's time, and less of a squandering of our country's intellectual capital, if our public schools would teach our children how to read and write, and would give them work that is both academically challenging and developmentally appropriate?