Monday, January 31, 2005

Reality meets NCLB - News - Official: No Child test contradicts disability act 01/30/05
Seven districts in LaSalle and Bureau counties were notified they did not make AYP, which eventually could hurt funding. Allen is now exploring the best approach to take in appealing because of the late notice and contradiction of approaches with the state law.

Each of the seven districts have been contacted by Ottawa High School about joining a federal lawsuit to change the way special education progress is measured. The Streator district board has not decided whether it will join that lawsuit

'Many of these students will never meet or exceed the standards,' said Allen. Among the problems that can't be addressed is that No Child requires students be tested at their age-appropriate level.

If they were able to perform at that level 'they wouldn't be in special education in the first place,' said Allen.

Of the 1,900 students in Streator grade school, 450 are in special education. Of those, 76 percent have severe reading or comprehension problems and cannot adequately be tested under No Child guidelines. State law requires in a special education student's plan that they be instructed at their functional level.
I see this as yet another example of Right wing's "problem of the weak". NCLB seems to have as its foundation the idea that every child can "perform" at a required level. On the face of it, that's absurd. It's akin to assuming a blind person with sufficient testing and remediation will learn to match color swatches.

On a practical level, however, NCLB has some advantages. It's easy for educators to push special education students into a twilight zone of vague and unment IEP goals. NCLB may become a major driver for the implementation of evidence-based reading programs that work for all comers -- including children with learning disabilities.

If we were a "better" species, I'd say that NCLB is stupid and pointless. It's degrading and hurtful to force a child to take a completely inappropriate and pointless exam. But humans are not a "better" species -- we are what we are. Given our many failings, maybe NCLB isn't hopelessly absurd. We may find a way to use it to our advantage -- even as we fight its absurdities.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Teaching Reading: Scientific American March 2002

how_to_teach_reading.pdf (application/pdf Object)

This important article was published in Scientific American in March of 2002. It's essential reading for any parent who's child is struggling to read. The SciAm web site charges for a copy of the article, but a PDF is distributed on Lexia Learning web site. Once you toss out some irrelevant pictures it's barely six pages long.

The article is a popular version of an analysis done in 2001/2002 for the American Psychological Society. It recapitulates the conclusions from the year 2000 NIH report, but it also delves into the politics of how reading is taught. In brief the scientific evidence for a phonics approach is quite strong, but progressive educators strongly believed in the 80s and 90s that a holistic creative approach with an ad hoc use of phonics was superior. A part of this belief seems to have been a deconstructionist approach to evidence; a belief that some things could not be tested or evaluated but rather had to be managed experientially.

Right wing conservatives were enraged by the "whole-word/whole-language" approach. Phonics, often associated with religious schooling, became their rallying cry. I don't know why they were angy, but, sadly for a leftie like me, the social conservatives were right about Phonics. Whole-language instruction is not the best way to teach reading for most children.

This is an article I'd like to distribute quite widely.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Lexia: software package for reading instruction w/ "phonemic awareness"

Lexia Library

Phonemic awareness is the PC term for phonics (ok, some say phonics follows "phonemic awareness", but I think practically speaking it's understood to mean "phonics"). Lexia is one of a myriad of pre-packaged commercial producst sold to schools to teach education. They're sold for a high price to school systems; typically a lower cost version is sold for family/home use.

Our schools system (Ramsey) is experimenting with Lexia, Earobics and the "Sunday system" (sp?). It looks like we'll get family exposure to Lexia; including buying a copy for our home. I'll provide a review here later. (They provide both Mac and Windows version. I assume the Mac version requires Classic. Buyers of the newest Macs have to install Classic separately.)

This web page provides some of the background and marketing material for the Lexia methodology. It looks like it's a good overall orientation to this class of reading instruction methodology.

Another page describes the program designers. There's a strong Orton-Gillingham (phonics) influence and a fairly strong Massachusett's General Hospital reading clinic influence. They seem to be on board the "No Child Left Behind Train", which is pretty good for a group from sin city (Boston). I wonder if they have friends in Kennedy's office. In any case, it looks like a promising team for a reading instruction package.

Measuring Progress - Tests and Measurements for the Parent, Teacher, Advocate and Attorney

Measuring Progress - Tests and Measurements for the Parent, Teacher, Advocate and Attorney by Pete and Pam Wright (Wrightslaw)

Wrightslaw publishes books on legal aspects of special education. This web page was linked to from the Lexia sight. It provides advice on how to measure progress. This is vital material to write into an IEP. I wonder if the IEP can also include a "Plan B" -- what do do if the benchmarks aren't being met.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Tutoring: the false solution

Propaganda won't fix No Child Left Behind
... And as The Post reported last week, Palm Beach County and other districts have not done well setting up free tutoring programs, which could be NCLB's most promising feature. Only 27 percent of eligible students in Palm Beach plan to enroll. Nationally, the figure is 10 percent, a dismally low rate for which parents share responsibility.
Ok, so how exactly does tutoring happen? At night when children struggling at school are totally exhausted, and when any ADHD meds are no longer effective? On weekends instead of other activities a child needs?

Tutoring has its place, but it's a poor alternative to providing appropriate educational interventions when children have supportive groups, have meds on board (if needed), and are in an optimal physical state to learn. Tutoring is very much second best to child specific appropriate educational interventions and child-appropriate goals.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Retention: repeating history

The New York Times > Education > Education Life > A Child Held Behind

Retention is popular again.
... The wisdom of retention, the policy of holding a child back to repeat the same grade, has long been debated. The battle -- between those who believe retention is damaging to children's psyches, social lives and attitudes about school, particularly in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and those who believe it is the best way to improve skills over the long haul -- has played out in waves over decades past. Periods in which retention grew popular are followed by times when it is not.
In the sciences, when we don't know what's right, we make testable predictions. Then we test them.

In the world of education, the habit is instead to repeat history. Retention one year, social advancement the next, make them disappear the next. Repeat.

Sigh. Equally bad is the approach to failing children. Just repeat again and again what didn't work before.

This is a truly discouraging article. The Chicago public school systems sounds like a real disaster. Children who repeat too often are dumped them into the "special education" program. Many of these kids should probably have been in a good special ed program to begin with, but what they get sounds like a desperate off ramp.

Meanwhile in Minnesota we're cutting state funding for special education, with no honest discussion of what funding should actually be.

There is some educational science out there. Not much, but it exists. Let's begin to use it. Let's not repeat failure ad nauseum.

Oh, and Chicago? Heck, do a trial of vouchers. It doesn't sound like they can get much worse. Just be sure to fund a bit of science as long as you're trying the vouchers.

Homework: two approaches

Yesterday I spent about four hours of mortal combat fighting through about 2/3 of my son's homework.

This morning we spent 15 peaceful minutes doing the rest.

What was the difference? Well, maybe it was mostly the variability of his neurotransmitters -- today they were in better shape. But maybe my latest innovation helped.

I divided his homework into subsections. Correct completion (meaning he accepts my guidance and allows corrections) of each subsection earned him 5 minutes of computer game time (Backyard Baseball -- no educational value. This was valuable because he probably gets about 50 minutes hour every two weeks of computer time and it's usually educational software). After each section he could decide whether to continue his homework or to take a break and use up his game credits.

Tracking the five minute sums was also a useful 'real world' arithmetic experience for him.

We'll see how this method holds up. It's similar to what I do for myself when I face a large and daunting project. I break it down to portions, and get the "reward" of completing each step. In my case the rewards are more abstract, in my son's case they are more concrete.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Pawlenty's educational plan -- killing the american dream

Pawlenty unveils education funding plan

This was buried away in the typically lousy coverage of Governor Pawlenty's plan for Minnesota education:
Other features of the 2005 Pawlenty education plan include allowing local school boards to raise taxes for such things as teacher performance pay, special education costs and overdue maintenance, and allowing school districts to raise more money through referendums.
In other words, back to local funding of education. Back to wealthy districts having good quality education, and poor districts making do with recycled texts and decaying classrooms. Back to making special education funding (note how it's carved out) something to be left to slowly disappear.

A powerful move away from the american dream, a dream of a decent educational opportunity for every american. A move to giving more to those who have, and less to those who lack.

Of all the sins of America, the one that most bothers me is local funding of public education. Nothing is a better guarantee of enduring poverty.

Monday, January 10, 2005

PACER Minnesota: workshops 2005


PACER has a lot of workshops in Feb, March and April. I don't remember such a large collection on this web page, they're covering conferences from other local groups as well. The layout doesn't organize them by date, but rather by sponsor or audience and then by date.

Monday, January 03, 2005 | Read 180 - reading intervention program | Read 180

This is the high-tech "cadillac" entry in the Seminole county trials. The author divides the intervention into a "90 minute model"; of which 60 minutes is spent in small groups with the software, 20 minutes whole class and 10 minute summation.

I like the idea of the extensive small group sessions. Otherwise it would be interesting to know how well the software matches up with Sally Shaywitz's writings.

Florida school district tries to sort out commercial reading intervention programs News - Best path sought for teens who can't read

This fits my emerging impression -- there's a large knowledge gap around interventions for children who have difficulty reading. Every classroom has its own idiosyncratic practices. It reminds me of medicine in 1890. Sadly, I doubt the Seminole County study will have enough funding or expertise to provide high quality answers. These are terribly difficult studies to do well.

These teens probably needed effective interventions 10 years ago, but I suppose better late than never. Credit to Stacy Weiss for this link.

Note this activity appears to have been motivated by the sanctions in the NCLB act. Points to that legislation, it is not entirely malign. Emphases mine.
By Dave Weber | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted January 1, 2005

SANFORD -- Thousands of high-school students in Florida can't read, and educators are scrambling to help them catch up by using a hodgepodge of methods that vary from district to district, school to school and even classroom to classroom.

No one knows exactly what works.

But Seminole County school officials hope to find out. This month, they will begin a three-year classroom research project, partially funded by the state, that they hope will tell them where to put their effort and their money.

... Working with Dr. Laura Hassler, a reading researcher at Florida State University, Seminole officials hope to develop a reading program that can be duplicated in other districts. Seminole will spend about $2 million on the experiment, including hiring 14 new teachers.

... By next fall, about 2,000 of Seminole's poor readers, mostly freshmen and sophomores, will be split among three approaches to reading instruction, with educators watching intently to see which produce the best results.

... Classes will be limited to 20 students, so teachers can give them more attention. Students will spend 90 minutes each day in reading class.

.... The reading approaches include two costly commercial strategies and another that pulls together several methods at less expense.

Read 180 by the Scholastic company relies heavily on students using computers, and is the most expensive at $439,000. Teachers use a script of carefully drawn activities in SRA Corrective Reading by McGraw Hill, which will cost the district about $130,000.

A third approach, called Strategically Oriented Intensive Reading Instruction, was developed by Evan Lefsky, a reading specialist for the state, and relies on teachers using a certain set of instructional activities. It has a price tag of $84,400.

The district also will train teachers of high-school language arts, science and social studies to gear their classes toward poor readers while at the same time helping students to become better readers.

.... For years the schools passed students along, despite their inability to read. Education reforms including the FCAT, mandatory retention for third-graders who can't read and the state's tough school grading system are sharply reducing social promotions.

... School officials are panicking because while poor FCAT reading scores for the past few years were hurting individual students, now they are giving entire schools bad names.

... now the low reading scores of struggling students affect the letter grade that the state hands out to schools each spring. In 2004, Lake Brantley High got a C and Seminole High earned a D under a provision in the state grading system that drops schools an entire letter if poor performers don't improve two years in a row.

Vogel and superintendents around the state worry that dozens of high schools could be hit with the penalty in June, when new grades come out, because poor readers will drag them down.
The journalist implies we know what to do in the elementary schools. That's certainly not true in my school district. I'll have to learn more about the programs they're trying.

The greatest fallacy in special education: using IQ vs. focal disability to allocate educational interventions

Learning Disabilities OnLine: LD In-Depth: NCLD Summit 1999

From a 1999 lecture by the director of an NIH agency:
Distinguishing between disabled readers with an IQ-reading achievement discrepancy and those without a discrepancy reflects an invalid practice at the beginning stages of reading. Specifically, children with and without a discrepancy do not differ in the information processing skills (phonological and orthographic coding) that are necessary for the accurate and rapid reading of single words. Likewise, genetic and neurophysiological (functional MRI) studies have not indicated differential etiologies for reading disabled children with and without discrepancies. Converging data from several NICHD sites also indicates that the presence and magnitude of IQ-reading achievement discrepancies are not related significantly to a child's response to intervention.

One of the most hideous (I use the word deliberately) policy errors in public education is the baseless conceit that resources should not distributed on the basis of a disability, but rather focally on the discrepancy between "global IQ" and "measured outcome". One presumes this is based on a belief that:

1. Low IQ makes intervention futile.
2. There is something special about a focal deficit that makes this the preferrred tartget of intervention.
3. Children with low IQ results are best locked in a dark room, preferably without a key.

This is a perverse belief; the more one examines it the more it is seen a particularly repulsive combination of belief contradicted by evidence, and a condemnation by IQ test. And yet, it remains the fundamental basis of assigning resources for educational intervention in most school systems.

NICHD (NIH) director lecture on helping children to read (1999)

Learning Disabilities OnLine: LD In-Depth: NCLD Summit 1999

A 1999 lecture by Duane Alexander Director, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health:
Learning to read is critical to a child's (and an adult's) well-being. The child and adult who cannot read at a comfortable level experience significant difficulties mastering many types of academic content, are at substantial risk for failure in school, and are frequently unable to reach their potential in the vocational and occupational arena....

The page has a like to a RealAudio file and the text of the speech. The date and location of the speech does not appear on the page content, but it can be found in the browser title (sigh).

We're finding a large gap between reading researchers and school knowledge. It makes the gap between clinical research and clinical practice seem modest by comparison. I have to guess there's just not enough money in education to support effective dissemination of knowledge.

BTW, this appears to have been a limited late 90s initiative of this branch of the NIH. The current NICHD web site has no material on reading education or the science of teaching reading.

National Center for Learning Disabilities: A private foundation

National Center for Learning Disabilities: Resources on learning disabilities

They have some good foundation sponsors (Ford, Emily Hall, ExxonMobil. Seem to sponsor some conferences. Worth exploring further.