Stop Pathologizing Children and Start Helping Them

1:10 pm

We need to stop pathologizing the development of children and start concentrating on where they are as opposed to where we think they should be with regard to norm-based benchmarks. The fact that a disproportionate percentage of low-income minorities are not “at grade level” means they are not achieving on norm-based standardized tests at the level of their affluent white peers. Is that really so surprising? We need to give them more of the advantages that their white peers take for granted, not fewer.

Here in PPS, starting in pre-K, kids engage in a curriculum and a school experience that has doing well on the 3rd grade tests as its primary objective. Teachers are focused on regularly measuring kids’ progress through a set of norm-based benchmarks; those kids that are not “at benchmark” are flagged and given additional assistance.

The rationale is that focusing on their measurable skills and providing remediation when necessary will help these kids and will serve as the primary means through which the achievement gap will be closed. But what is not considered is that additional assistance takes more time for both the teacher and the student.

This is time away from other things (e.g., art, music, etc.). The underlying rationale is that low-income minority kids are too far behind and don’t have time to do anything else. So, to “save” them, they are denied art, music, recess, PE, etc., and given a heavy dose of skills-based exercises, most of which are to practice for the test and to close the measurable gap.

In PPS, you hear folks like Jonah Edelman from Stand for Children say that things are not as bad as they are in D.C., “where they do 51 days of test prep.”

But I make the distinction between explicit test prep (a la D.C.) and implicit test prep (a la PPS).

Implicit test prep = a curriculum and a school experience designed to raise the measurable achievement of all students.

Under this test-centric regime, it’s logical that non-tested subjects are given short shrift. But it overlooks the fact that kids, esp. very young kids, need a broad base of experience including art, music, and free, unstructured play (i.e., recess) to develop to their full potential.

Ironically, it’s low-income minority kids that need this broad-based experience even more than their affluent white peers because they are less likely to have these experience outside of school, whereas affluent white kids are more likely to be exposed to art, music, etc.

We also need to take into account that standardized tests are an extremely poor measure of what kids know and can do, and they — at best — only measure a very narrow band of who are they are and what they are becoming. What about attitudes towards learning? What about curiosity? What about tenacity? What about inter and intra-personal communication skills? Creativity? Critical thinking? None of these things are measured, and therefore none of these things count.

Sure, there’s a lot of lip service paid to these things, as well as “teaching to the whole child” and “differentiating instruction” to accommodate their various levels of development. But the fact is that all kids are expected to be at the same place at the same time. If they’re not, then something is said to be wrong with them. We don’t take into consideration the fact that all kids — all people — develop differently and at their own pace.

But we also don’t take into account that not all kids are good at the same things. To hold academic skills up as the holy grail automatically guarantees that a large number of kids are doomed to fail. They are good at other things, but they are never allowed to show they are good at these things or develop their capacity in these other things because these other things simply don’t exist as possible options. Not good at math and not a quick, accurate, fluent reader? Then you’re f*&#$’ed. It’s as simple as that.

If we stopped pathologizing kids’ development and instead focused on where they were, not where we demanded they be via some arbitrary set of standards, we’d go a long way in acknowledging the broad continuum of development that characterizes all people as they learn anything. We’d also be more likely to acknowledge the need to focus on developing the full potential of kids, not just enlarging their craniums and improving their test scores.

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Peter Campbell is a parent, educator, and activist, who served in a volunteer role for four years as the Missouri State Coordinator for FairTest before moving to Portland. He has taught multiple subjects and grade levels for over 20 years. He blogs at Transform Education.

filed under: Assessment, Curriculum, Equity, No Child Left Behind, Reform, Standardized Testing

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105 Responses

  1. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Follow up – this past Saturday, I talked to a Kindergarten teacher from Rosa Parks Elementary at a district-sponsored Kindergarten Readiness Fair. Get this: the Kindergartners have 3 “specials” (her word) at Rosa Parks: drama, PE, and library.

    It gets better.

    They are all 30 minutes each.

    But wait: here’s the ringer — they are all offered back-to-back on Wednesdays. So for an hour and a half, the kids go from one to the other.

    Then, on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, they do nothing but the academic curriculum. No art, no music, no PE, no library, no nuthin’ for 4 out of 5 days.

    They have a single lunch/recess period that lasts about 40 minutes. The kids eat lunch first and then go to recess. The teacher estimated that recess was about 20 to 25 minutes long, depending on when the kids finish lunch. School starts at 8:30 and goes until 2:45. So that means for those 4 out of 5 days, they have 25 minutes to be goofy and run around and be little kids in a span of 6 hours. The rest is all business.

    I also spoke to a district official (can’t remember her name). She and the K teacher were careful to describe their “goals” for Kindergarten. They each said it was the “expectation” that kids would be able to read by the end of Kindergarten, but they also said that about half don’t. Of course, what “being able to read” means is open to debate. I would argue that they know how to decode words and are “phonemically aware” — not exactly what I’d call reading.

    So you wonder how many parents at Rosa Parks are up in arms about this? Acc. to the teacher, none. Zero. Her rationale? “We find it hard to get parents involved here.”

    It’s heart-breaking and nauseating. 91% of the kids there are eligible for free and reduced lunches. The school is right smack dab in the heart of the New Columbia housing project.

    I asked the K teacher if she felt there should be more art, music, free time, more recess, more time for kids to be kids. She said yes, she did. But she was expected to have the kids be at a certain place by the end of the year as far as achievement data were concerned. Ironically, if you look at the achievement trends, they are significantly down from 2004 — see here.

    Finally, I said I was concerned that we focused so much on these kids’ heads that we’re neglecting the rest of their bodies. We’re measuring only what they can do cognitively and not allowing them to develop in any other ways. She agreed. But what could she do? And since no parents are taking notice of any of this, it’s not going to change.

  2. Comment from Zarwen:

    For what it’s worth, my next-door neighbor, who is a school librarian, recently had a conversation with me about how different schooling is in northern Europe. She told me they don’t even START literacy instruction until age 8—BECAUSE of the widely varying levels of “readiness.”

    So what do they do from ages 4-8? Art projects, singing, drama, both physical and mental play, social skills—all the things I remember about attending preschool and kindergarten back in the ’60′s.

    From where I’m sitting, it doesn’t look like much has improved since then.

  3. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Zarwen – it’s important to note that this concentration on kids being able to read at the end of Kindergarten is a relatively recent historical phenomenon; it’s also important to note that countries like Finland, which have extremely high levels of literacy, do not START teaching reading until kids are in the second grade; see my blog on this point.

  4. Comment from anon:

    I started school in England and we were definitely reading and writing in school by the end of Kindergarten age.

  5. Comment from PPSexpatriate:

    Yes, I’ve heard the “we can’t get parents involved” story. As a after-school program coordinator in another life, it was my challenge to get parents involved. What I found and what trainings taught is that people don’t come where there don’t feel welcome, where no effort is made to engage them, to respect their culture and/or values. I had many parents who would volunteer for trips, meetings and cultural events as long as they didn’t have to deal with the teachers or administrators at that particular school. It was a high school and by that point parents had been so traumatized throughout their children’s education that they were done.

    As a parent, I have been discouraged from participating. Teachers refusing to return phone calls or emails. Some schools the only parent participation that is welcome is fundraising and office help. I’ve seen schools yes even in Portland that have good parent involvement in majority poor schools.

    I really continue to regret how easy it is for some to pathologize poor families and children. “See, I told they were flawed and don’t care what happens to their kids!!!!! Why should we integrate our precious well-cared for children with theirs???”

    It’s sickening. Or maybe that’s the stomach flu. . . . .

    It renders me nearly inarticulate. Just ew.

  6. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    I just visited Ockley Green. They have a comparatively much better offering than Rosa Parks. Students get music, dance, technology, and art 5 days a week for about 40 minutes per day with a specialist. They offer these “specials” in 3-week cycles, so music for 3 weeks, then dance for 3 weeks, etc. They keep rotating these offerings through the year.

    One down side: still only one recess period, which is combined with lunch. The kids get a total of about 20 minutes of play time in a day that starts at 8:45 and ends at 3. But at least it’s broken up during the day with other activities that emphasize other parts of their brains/bodies. I wonder if Rosa Parks is anomalous in how they structure their days. If only the district would make such information publicly available . . .

  7. Comment from PPSexpatriate:

    what about the parent involvement at Ockley Green? does better offerings create more involvement or does more involvement creates better offerings?

    I seem to remember standing room only crowds at school showcases, tons of parents at Family Night, the School Carnival, etc.

  8. Comment from Zarwen:

    A pertinent point about Ockley Green vs. Rosa Parks is that Ockley was a middle school before it became K-8. As with Roseway Hts., the middle schools that added lower grades have somehow been able to retain more to offer the kids than elementaries that added middle grades.

    Incidentally, Rosa Parks was originally intended as a K-8. But so many kids showed up that they couldn’t fit them all. The school board committee discussed going K-6, but ultimately yielded to the pleading of the principal to stop at K-5, as she testified to “many strollers around the neighborhood.”

    In the past, children would have gone from Rosa Parks to Portsmouth. But they can’t do that now, because Portsmouth went K-8 and had to take all the Clarendon kids. The solution? The Rosa Parks kids get bussed to George, which is on the far side of Portsmouth from Rosa Parks. But they probably will get some electives at George, so maybe they are better off with the bussing.

  9. Comment from Rose:

    I think the Ockley staff is very good at encouraging parent involvement.

    The showcases are usually packed. Why? The staff offer a free dinner following the program. They know rushing your kids to a show at 6pm without dinner is no fun, and many parents can’t afford to pay.

    We just had a lovely African American celebration night and it was followed with great food donated by Fire on the Mountain.

    Another aspect is that no one at Ockley judges you for being too busy or too poor to help. There’s no sense that you have to have a college degree to help. The office staff treats every parent with respect. Oddly enough this probably encourages more parent involvement than heavy-duty recruiting.

    Peter, the older kids at Ockley get even more electives and choices, from yearbook journalism to science.

  10. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    I have to say that I was impressed with what I saw at Ockley. However, the recess policy needs to be changed. It needs to be addressed at the district level.

    As I said in my post, at Rosa Parks, kids have one 40-minute lunch/recess period per day. About 20 minutes of that time is actual recess time.

    Meanwhile, at Ainsworth, kids have three (3) recess periods per day: morning recess, lunch/recess, and afternoon recess.

    91% of the kids at Rosa Parks are eligible for free and reduced lunch.

    5.9% of the kids at Ainsworth are eligible for free and reduced lunch.

    Something stinks here.

  11. Comment from Rose:

    I wonder how much staffing and volunteering have to do with the recess issue?

    At Ockley the reason recess is crowded into lunch is staffing logistics. The school had even more cuts this year. They don’t have the staff to supervise two lunches and recesses. As it is the teachers volunteer their lunches to do playground duty.

    A wealthier school no doubt has more staff and parent volunteers.

    On the testing and time spent on core issues, are Title One schools subject to even more requirements?

  12. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Rose – you asked, “On the testing and time spent on core issues, are Title One schools subject to even more requirements?”

    Yes and no.

    No because all schools are held to the same numerical goals in order to make AYP.

    Yes because Title 1 schools typically serve not just low-income folks but also minority and English Language Learner (ELL) populations. These demographic groups typically have had a more difficult time making AYP. So the schools are more challenged in making AYP. Thus I’d argue they are definitely subject to more requirements.

    Worth noting: the 2007-08 academic targets were ten points higher than the previous year, and look at the huge increase in the number of “failing” schools. There’s another huge bump of ten points in 2010-11, when 70% of all kids have to be proficient in reading and math. Then, the very next year, it goes up to 80%. Then, the next year (2012) to 90%. So from now to 2010, with the threat of even more schools being labeled as “failing,” the district will have no option but to focus on raising test scores. And raising test scores means test prep, in whatever form the district spins it. The curricula — esp. at the elementary level — are driven by skills that are tested on the state tests. Skills mastery over the year is measured in regular skills-based assessments. These assessments inform instruction. Ergo, curriculum = test prep.

  13. Comment from Rose:

    Thank you Peter.

    More naive questions:

    1) Are charter schools exempt from meeting the requirements? If so, why, if they are tax funded?

    2) What is the worst end case scenerio for a school with repeated low test scores? I know about NCLB and the ability to transfer, but we already have supposed “choice” in Portland. I also remember when the district blew up Jeff. But what is the worst, worst thing that can happen to a school that never raises test scores?

    3) Have there been any legal challenges to the standards on the part of local schools? Has anyone stood up and challenged this on a legal issue? I am thinking on equity lines, or perhaps IEP or ELL students. (ie, you can’t require this if you won’t fund equitably)

    I want to thank you for the information. It is appreciated.

  14. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    1) charters are not exempt from state/federal AYP requirements; they are public schools that receive public funds, so they are subject to the same testing regime

    2) worst case scenario is when schools enter what is referred to as “restructuring”; the architects of NCLB did not envision what would happen if schools consistently failed to make AYP; the law provided the means by which so-called “failing” schools could be turned into charters, given over to educational management organizations like Edison Schools, Inc., and be served up on a plate to a whole raft of private, for-profit tutoring companies; the law also provided the means by which an entire school staff could be fired and replaced; however, as the Center on Education Policy has been reporting, many schools have remained in restructuring for multiple years, with little guidance from the federal government on what to do about persistently struggling schools. In the five states the CEP studied last year, only 19 percent of the schools implementing restructuring made
    adequate yearly progress based on 2006-07 tests. But here’s the surprising piece: CEP has found that schools have not been rushing to convert to charter status, fire their staff, and open their doors to profiteers. Instead, according to last year’s report, “Most restructuring schools in the five states (86 to 96 percent) used the ‘any-other’ restructuring option in the NCLB law, which allows schools and districts to take any major action, aside from the four more specific options, to change school governance.” I can’t link directly to the report, but go to the CEP site and scroll down to the 4th report on the page.

    3) Yes, there have been a variety of legal challenges, the most famous of which were the NEA’s suit and the state of Connecticut’s suit. Here’s a related story from my blog. Also, here’s a post about my involvement in challenging the testing requirements in the state of Missouri when I lived in St. Louis.

  15. Comment from marcia:

    Peter, the reason the specials are offered back to back is the district decided the time should be used by the classroom teachers to do Professional Development (embedded_) with their cohorts. Now, I don’t think this is a stipulation in some schools, but it is in the K-8′s, and I guess at Rosa Parks also. And the principals are asked to provide evidence that this professional development is taking place. In most schools with specials, the teachers would use this time for prep, but this is not allowed according to the district in the schools where we were “given” the “extra” FTE for art, P.E. etc. in the last year or two…NOPE> We had no P.E. or art or music or librarian at our school for years, and when we finally got it, lo and behold, our north portland school was told that time was to be used in a specific manner. Hmmm….this has seemed unusual to me..

  16. Comment from howard:

    Peter: I would not argue with requiring a more even distribution of school foundation funds among affluent and less-affluent schools in PPS. Practically speaking, however, I believe in a common equitable source of funds for all public schools in the state. The more we deviate from Common schools as envisioned by Horace Mann and others the more inequitable the public education delivery system grows among affluent, middle class and low income neighborhoods and communities. This would result in more students from affluent families ( along with a number of “scholarship students” from middle and lower income families) attending better funded private schools; leaving middle and lower income students along with students from truly idealistic affluent families to be educated in the more equitable public schools. I see this as less inequitable than the status quo in public education and the government would be subsidizing much less of the inequality.

  17. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Howard – agreed. The Schools Foundation was built to try and address this inequity but instead contributes to it. I’m suggesting we try to re-focus its mission back on equity to solve the problems you mention.

  18. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Marcia – always great to hear your take on these issues. Can you clarify this part? You wrote: “We had no P.E. or art or music or librarian at our school for years, and when we finally got it, lo and behold, our north portland school was told that time was to be used in a specific manner.”

    So you’re not doing prep or professional development (PD) in that time? What are you being told to do? And why is the district telling some schools to do PD at certain times and not telling others? Your post implies this affects the lower-income schools exclusively. True?

  19. Comment from marcia:

    Yes, we are supposed to NOT be doing prep…but are supposed to be doing professional development…and providing evidence that this is taking place…I imagine if you asked a teacher at …let’s say..Ainsworth..if they have been ordered to do PD during specials time the answer would be NO…..(and I also imagine they have a lot more specials than a north portland school..) But in the K-8′s this time is set aside for only Professional Development… And the district will be checking to make sure this is happening..Leaves a big question mark in my mind. As do most of the K-8 decisions.

  20. Comment from marcia:

    as for the charters…aren’t they also allowed to hire teachers who are not certified.? And also..what happens when the grant money runs out at Ockley?

  21. Comment from marcia:

    AND ONE MORE ISSUE!!!!!!TEACHERS DO NOT VOLUNTEER YOUR TIME TO DO RECESS DUTY! make the district figure it out and adhere to your contract.

  22. Comment from marcia:

    One more thing, Peter…an issue that has been raised at our school this week over ongoing issue…since numbers are bigger and people to cover the “event” are limited…our P.E. teacher made the point that recess is a “non-sanctioned event.” PPS does not sanction recess…Maybe it should be brought up with the superintendent.

  23. Comment from mary:

    The reality seems to be that if you attend a less affluent school or work at a less affluent school you are subject to more control by the district, state, and the feds. This social injustice is just apalling. This is a major reason why families look at focus options and out of neighborhood schools. The autonomy of those programs is appealing.

  24. Comment from pdxmomto2:

    “non-sanctioned event.” What does this mean? I’ve not heard that term before. I know there is a PPS Board Policy that addresses recess. I’ve read it before I’ll go look it up and come back here to post.

  25. Comment from pdxmomto2:

    Here it is check out Board Policy 3.60.062-AD. On Student Wellness.

  26. Comment from Jacquelynn:

    Any person employed as a teacher in a public charter school shall be licensed or registered to teach by the commission.

  27. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Only half of the teachers in a charter school need to be licensed, per ORS 338.135 paragraph (c) (linked above):

    “Notwithstanding paragraph (a) or (b) of this subsection, at least one-half of the total full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching and administrative staff at the public charter school shall be licensed by the commission pursuant to ORS 342.135, 342.136, 342.138 or 342.140.”

  28. Comment from me:

    Mary’s comment is spot on. The other day, we visited our “local” neighborhood school’s roundup. (I say “local” because it’s not the closest school, nevermind the actual neighborhood school which the district shut down on us a few years ago)

    I felt bad for the staff there, as they probably felt like they were about to have a parental riot on their hands from the group of us over issues like recess and addressing other inequalties that perpetuate their below-average neighborhood capture rate.

    To the principal’s credit, he is in a tough spot, and he did promise us to again bring up our concerns to the district to hopefully bring the message that *this* is what parents want, and they are obviously willing to vote with their feet if necessary.

    I look around at the *many* young families around us in this neighborhood, and I see the poor capture rate of the Jefferson cluster in action. The sad truth is that “school chance” is one of the things keeping these neighborhoods from spiraling into the abyss. I can speak for ourselves that we have had to take a hard look at moving out of this neighborhood that we love if we cannot otherwise get our children into a school that offers possibilities and potential, rather than just “seat time”. I promise you we aren’t the only ones.

    Transfers are not the root of the problem. The inequalities in the district are the problem. Until the state can find the resources, and until the district can address those issues and show commitment to those underperforming neighborhoods, young families with continue to look elsewhere. If not by transfer, then by charter, private school, or leaving town altogether.

    It won’t happen overnight. Even if tomorrow transfers were outlawed, and schools were given uniform resources, parents are still going to want to see results. They are still going to want to see commitment, and not be fearful of schools being arbitrarily shuttered and kids flung out to distant neighborhoods again.

  29. Comment from anon:

    We are in the same situation. From your description it sounds like we may even be in the same neighborhood.

    We desperately want to support the public schools, but the district currently isn’t committed to providing the same educational opportunities in Title I schools. And with the transfer system in place the Title I schools can’t get a critical mass of parents with time and resources to make those changes happen. The distance to our neighborhood school is also a factor for us, now that PPS closed our two closest schools and converted the other to a magnet school.

    We’ll continue to pressure the district for quality schools across the district, but until they deliver on that promise we’re opting out of the inequitable PPS system.

    Instead of transferring to a school in another neighborhood we’re planning to enroll in an online charter school next year and also take classes at the Village Home Education Resource Center, which is opening a new location in NE Portland in April.

  30. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    I’d be interested in why you chose the online charter school. I’d also love to know what your experience is like once your kid starts there.

    I’m interested in seeing more hybrid models of teaching and learning. Kids being at school all the time may not work for all kids. The sad fact is that whether schools work for our kids or not, most of us have no other options: it’s the public schools or nothing. We can’t afford private schools, not interested in parochial, and we work full-time and therefore can’t homeschool our kids. So the public schools are, for a lot of people, nothing more than daycare.
    I’m not indicting anyone for this sad fact. It’s just worth pointing out the obvious sometimes.
    That said, if it were possible to think beyond our logistical constraints — “have to get junior to school early cuz I’ve got to meet my boss at 9″ — and our financial constraints, I wonder what we’d dream of with regard to the educational and experiential context in which we’d like to raise our children. For starters, I’d love for my kids to roam in the neighborhood and play, but kids don’t do this sort of thing anymore. I’d love for my kids to learn by doing things, to experience things first-hand. I’d love for them to interact regularly with people from every kind of socio-economic background, to have regular experiences communing with wild natural places, and to develop a sense of responsibility to the larger community, both local and global. I wonder if others yearn for these things? If so, how might we work to make these visions a reality, keeping in mind that we do have to go to work and pay the mortgage? (Sorry if this feels way off topic, but I did start the thread, so maybe I have license?)


  31. Comment from me:

    Peter -

    This “hybrid” teaching model you’re looking for is already happening to a limited extent in some schools around PPS. In some charters and some focus programs there is already an emphasis on a more holistic or experiental approach to teaching with having kids going out to utilize the city as their “laboratory”, or having people from all walks of life come into the school to bring their experiences into the classroom.

    In some of the neighborhood schools, that happens to a limited extent, largely driven by PTA sponsored before/after school programs or volunteer elective offerings.

    Unfortunately, that means it happens only at schools viewed as “alternative” by the district, or at neighborhood schools with the resources/demographics to support partnerships with the community resources (private, or parents) to dedicate that kind of time during the school day.

    Which means in order to bring that kind of opportunity to other schools would take money. Money for FTE’s, and to support field trips again.

    A return to comprehensive schools with larger cohort populations would help that to some degree. It’s easier to justify dedicating the resources to provide a diverse curriculum when you have the student population base to support it. With 300 primary age kids in one building, you can put the resources to both focus on core curriculum to the kids who need help, and provide electives for the kids who are moving ahead.

    With only 100, you have to make a choice to do one or the other. Smaller programs are more specialized, which is exactly what we’re seeing now, with the schools on the lower end of the specialization scale suffering for it.

  32. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Me – great points. Agreed that a return to comprehensive schools with larger cohort populations would help to some degree.

    But larger populations of kids usually means larger class sizes. Of course, you could hire more teachers to reduce class sizes, but that would mean sacrificing some of the “specials” you might otherwise be able to offer.

    I’m going to write a new post on this idea of “hybrid” models and see what ya’ll think.

  33. Comment from Maika:

    One of my concerns for schools that aren’t meeting AYP is the narrowing of the content being taught. PPS is pushing Data Teams at these schools to teach skills that can be measured in two week increments. These are tiny skills–not concepts that require deep thinking–because teachers are expected to show student growth after spending two weeks of instructional focus. So students attending schools that aren’t meeting AYP are getting different–and less stimulating–instruction.

    One question: How much freedom do building administrators have to decide where to put their money? The Title One school my children attend has music, technology, library, and drama. I worry about principals losing the freedoms they have . . . but there should be some basic similarities between schools.

  34. Comment from Terry:

    Do have a source for the existence of such “Data Teams”, Maika?

    If that’s district policy, it’s outrageous. If true, PPS is truly teaching to the test. It should be widely publicized.

    And it should become an issue in the school board campaigns even if only one seat is actually being contested.

  35. Comment from me:

    I can’t say for sure if there are “data teams” or not. However, there is certainly the *impression* that there is a lot of pressure from the district for at least some schools in this direction. We were literally told that our school was instructed by the district to give the kids “more seat time” – this was the reasoning given to us behind the reduction in recess time.

    You would feel the overwhelming pressure the staff was feeling to jam “core concepts” into the childrens’ heads in a bid to keep test scores from falling into the toilet. A bid at the expense of all other peripheral curriculum.

  36. Comment from Stephanie:

    I am jumping into a comment from earlier in the conversation. I am a Kindergarten parent at Ockley Green and have been very impressed with the school so far. What I like about the school is that they are very honest about what they have and what they do not. When I toured the school last year the assistant principal (her position was cut soon after) told us that we could make the school what we wanted it to be. As a parent I have been welcomed and encouraged to participate by the teacher and staff. The Kindergarten parents have started a yahoogroup to communicate with each other and the teacher. Our group of K parents realized that many of our kids may be together for the next 8 years and we should unite. Ockley has an interim principal right now and we have been attending meetings to define what qualities we would like to see in a new principal. One of the teachers who has been at the school for 20 years said at our last meeting that she looks around Ockley and can see Dr. King’s dream. My daughter is a student with a disability in general education and I am additionally appreciative of the spirit of acceptance at Ockley.

    Peter I agree with you about the dilemma of school as daycare and kids not being able to roam. I feel like attention difficulties and learning disabilities might have some roots in lack of exploration. I have no data on this and just feel it in my gut but kids are just not experiencing the range of senses, emotions, motor skills, and curiosity they need to develop appropriately.

    Identifying and overcoming barriers for parents and teachers to become more involved is something I am working on with the membership committee for the newly formed special education PTA. I will share if we achieve any breakthroughs.

  37. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Stephanie – Here’s a passage from Thomas Armstrong, “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children: One Consequence of the Rise of Technologies and the Demise of Play,” in Sharna Olfman (ed.) All Work and No Play…How Educational Reforms Are Harming Our Preschoolers. Westport Ct.: Praeger, 2003, pp. 161-176. . Online at:

    Research studies have demonstrated that children’s ADHD symptoms decrease under a variety of environmental conditions, including when they are engaged in one-on-one learning experiences, when they’re being paid to do tasks, when they have access to novel or highly stimulating activities, when they’re in control of the pace of learning experiences, and when they’re interacting with male authority figures (Barkley, 1990; McGuinness, 1985; Zentall, 1980; Sykes, Douglas, & Morgenstern, 1973; Sleator & Ullman, 1981). From this we can infer that symptoms of ADHD in children might increase when the opposite environmental conditions pertain, such as when they’re performing in boring or low-stimulation environments, when they’re not receiving a meaningful reward for their efforts, and when they’re powerless to control the pace of learning tasks. Indeed, if these conditions are present in a child’s home environment from birth, it is reasonable to suspect that they could lay the groundwork for the disorder itself.
    And one more excerpt:
    In a survey of ADHD-diagnosed and “normal” children aged six to seventeen, the odds of a child being diagnosed with ADHD increased in proportion to the extent that they came from a family characterized by adversity, including severe marital discord, low social class, large family size, paternal criminality, maternal mental disorder, and foster care placement (Biederman et al., 1995). Other studies have demonstrated that the quality of caregiving in early childhood predicts distractibility (a key symptom of ADHD) better than early biological markers or temperament, and that a strong overlap exists between symptoms of ADHD and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in children, suggesting that early sexual, physical, and/ or emotional abuse may play an important role in the origin of ADHD symptoms for some children (Carlson, Jacobvitz, & Sroufe, 1995; Weinstein, Staffelbach, & Biaggio, 2000).

  38. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Commenting on the above excerpts: so there’s evidence that suggests a correlation between adverse living conditions and the diagnosis of ADHD. Similar to the data on the impact of poverty on the development of kids’ brains. Obama, the Business Roundtable, and all the others that claim that “poverty is no excuse” completely overlook the tangible effect that poverty has. And, most perversely, advocate for classroom practices that exacerbate the symptoms.

    Did anyone happen to see the article in the Oregonian on PE? Excerpt:

    “The typical elementary student in Oregon gets just 12 minutes a day of physical education, less than half the daily 30 minutes that the Legislature set as a target, the state reported Wednesday. . . . Portland elementaries offered their students an average of just 12 minutes of PE class per day, Beaverton’s 15 minutes, North Clackamas 13 minutes and Hillsboro just 11. Parkrose school district offered the least elementary PE, just seven and a half minutes a day on average, the state reported.”

  39. Comment from Rita:

    Thanks for those article citations, Peter. They certainly correspond with my experience working with kids in foster care. Many of the kids we advocate for have spent their early childhood in chaotic homes

    I would like to inject a cautionary note, however. I can’t help but wonder whether the high rate of ADD/ADHD diagnoses reflect real dysfunction or are artifacts of class/racial/ethnic biases.

    I think I’ve previously mentioned my personal anecdote of my son’s teacher noting that in the teacher’s former school (in N. Portland) my son probably would have had some sort of hyper label, but in our white, middle class school he was a “kinesthetic learner.”

    I have a strong suspicion that poor kids and kids of color are often given negative labels (and medications) for behavior that would otherwise be tolerated and the parents are persuaded by the “experts” or unable to fight against the overwhelming power of a society that routinely pathologizes kids. (There was a wonderful “South Park episode on this a couple of years ago.)

    That being said, I’m pretty sure I’d be a basket case if I had only 12 minutes of free time a day.

  40. Comment from PPSexpatriate:

    YES! YES! YES!

    I noticed when we lived in another state and my kid left her fancy preschool for the District’s preschool program.

    Kids stayed inside a larger portion of the day. At her old prechool, kids could be inside or outside a they chose with multiple interest areas. Kids would get squirrley and would be placed on time out for 20 minutes at a time. Usually the boys were almost exclusively of color.

    I wrote letters, etc. got lip service and the “fish eye” from staff. And they altered their behavior when I did observations. They were called visits at the fancy school.

  41. Comment from Oh me:

    A basic question arises: What do parents want for their children’s education? Another: Why is the public school system not providing it? Parents flee to charter schools, focus option, “alternative” programs. If this is what parents want, what are these programs provided that is not in the public school? Time to explore? Make choices? Have recess? Learn hands on and in context? Have teachers who see the whole learner, not just a test score? Be open to parent involvement?
    WHY ARE THESE THINGS NOT DONE IN ALL SCHOOLS? If these things are important to the parents of children who have the education and time to seek them out, then they are important and worthwhile to all children, no matter their ethnic or monetary background.
    This is where inequity exists. What is good for the child at Duniway is good for the child at King. Where is the fight to give recess, hands-on learning, freedom to explore, and a voice to all of the students in this district? This blog is a good start, but how do we create real change in an entrenched system? The sad thing is that when a teacher stands up and stands out and says, “No, this is not what is best for children,” they are silenced as well. Creativity and ‘thinking outside the box’ for the purpose of helping children is not rewarded or acknowledged. Following the establishment’s “rules” is. It would seem as though the established district idea of what a “good education” is no longer fits what parents feel is a good education. That is where the Board and District leadership is failing. Failing parents, failing teachers, and most importantly, failing our children.

  42. Comment from marcia:

    Come spend a day in a classroom, take over for the teacher while she or he takes a break, and that will probably answer all your questions.

  43. Comment from Stephanie:

    Rita you really hit the nail on the head as far as what I see every day in the family homes I work in. I agree that generally the labels a child receives depends on the philosophy of the professionals in their life and the child’s life experiences up till that point. I heard a speaker once who gave a good example of this at work. She said that in any cafeteria in America you are going to find some kid shoving raisins up there nose and blowing them across the room for laughs. If this child is on an IEP they get a behavior plan, if they have a mental health diagnosis they get sent to day treatment, if they are neither they get a finger wag and a wink.
    It really does come full circle and add insult to injury. Kids that already have to work a lot harder due to a world full of adults and circumstances that are out of their control now also have to be labeled for their behavior. Chances are this behavior is also actually normal and developmentally appropriate.

  44. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Rita – you wrote: “I can’t help but wonder whether the high rate of ADD/ADHD diagnoses reflect real dysfunction or are artifacts of class/racial/ethnic biases.”

    PPSExpatriate and Stephanie echo your concerns. I take your warning seriously. In the wrong hands, the studies on the physiological effects of poverty could be used as justification for racist and classist policies. The implicit argument here is, “See? There is something wrong with these kids. We told you so.”

    Of course, this would be yet another example of an oppressive system blaming the victim. If poverty really does produce tangible, measurable, physiological damage, then it makes no sense to blame those who are at the effect of poverty. And yet this is precisely what Bush, Obama, et al, are doing. They say, “No more excuses.” They say that poverty is an excuse.

    So I want to challenge them on this. I don’t think poverty is an excuse. I think it’s very real and very damaging. Amazingly, and against the odds, some low-income families are able to make it. But the odds are still against them. So why not increase their odds? Why not do whatever we can to truly leave no child behind?

  45. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Want to know what can be done to mitigate the effects of poverty on school achievement? Here’s a must-read from researcher David Berliner.

    “Berliner reviews a half-dozen out-of-school factors that have been clearly linked to lower achievement among poor and minority-group students: birth weight and non-genetic parental influences; medical care; food insecurity; environmental pollution; family breakdown and stress; and neighborhood norms and conditions. Additionally, he notes a seventh factor: extended learning opportunities in the form of summer programs, after-school programs, and pre-school programs. Access to these resources by poor and minority students could help mitigate the effects of the other six factors.”

  46. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Oh me – To some extent, for better or for worse, families trust the schools to do their jobs and to do no harm to their kids. I think the district has violated that trust at a school like Rosa Parks, even if the families disagree with me.

    My big picture argument is always this: if we want to keep kids in school, then we have to make school a place where kids want to be. If kids are forced to do lots of tasks without meaningful breaks, and they are not given opportunities to stretch other parts of their brains and bodies while at school, then they will come to resent school and will likely want to leave it as soon as they can.

    But here’s the rub. I’m increasingly aware of the vast number of interpretations that families have for a “good” school. Some look at recess as an unnecessary distraction from the work of school. Others view music and art the same way. Are they wrong? Of course I disagree with them, but I would no more want to tell them they have to have these things than I would want them to tell me I have to do without them. It falls along race and class lines, but there are also lots of middle-class whites who seem — socioeconomically speaking — to be very similar to me, but they want lots of drills, tons of homework, and want kids to do “more than just play.” I’m never going to convince them of anything because, ultimately, we’re each standing in judgment of the other’s values as parents. I can’t convince people their values are wrong. Nor do I think I should.

    So, in a way, I’m glad that we have choices in our schools. The pro-recess folks can go to one place, while the “training my kid to be a 21st century knowledge worker” types can go to another.

    But I’m also aware of the good old days, when the only choice parents had was the neighborhood school. They somehow made it work, warts and all. They didn’t participate in this elaborate process of shopping for a school. Their energy was directed towards making the only “choice” they were offered work, not towards elaborate comparisons between the competing products.

  47. Comment from Stephanie:

    I agree Peter that it is important to look closely at how environmental/emotional factors can have an impact on the child as well as unneccesary labeling. I have a lot of reading to do from all of these links! You are so right that the whole idea of the American Dream is that you don’t make excuses for where you come from and work hard to achieve success. However any psychologist worth a damn will tell you that resiliency is rare. It is more common to succumb to your environment unless there is intervention and support. I can speak from experience as someone that was raised by parents with developmental disabilities and significant mental health issues and did my time in foster care and poverty eventually becoming my own guardian at 16. When asked why I am “OK” I credit my early teachers who saw my potential and let me stay afterschool for hours helping them clean and set up for the next day and then giving me a ride home. I recently wrote my 2nd grade teacher thanking her for this and acknowledging her contribution to me being who I am today. Despite these saving graces I still dropped out of high school because I was bussed to the wealthy neighborhood and the hour bus ride and being ignored by teachers that had prejudged me did not seem worth it. Without turning into an afterschool special I did end up going back and graduating in time but to my neighborhood school instead where I felt part of the community and the teachers noticed me. I may have digressed a bit but overall I wanted to thank you for all the good reading and agree that we should challenge the “poverty as an excuse” mentality because it is real and very damaging for children.

  48. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Stephanie – thank you for this very eloquent testimonial. I appreciate your supportive words.

    You might be interested in something I wrote about Bill Cosby after he made his famous/infamous comments to the 2004 NAACP national convention. The gist of it is based on a critique of Cosby by Michael Eric Dyson, one of today’s more famous black leftist intellectuals. I highly recommend Dyson’s book Is Bill Cosby Right, Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?”

    What concerns me in this is the extent to which the black middle class has started to gather around this idea that “poverty is just an excuse,” as seen in Cosby, Obama, and in the conservative black critic John McWhorter. All 3 of them place a large amount of blame on the shoulders of young black men and say little to nothing about the poisonous effects of poverty. Dyson, on the other hand, offers a different perspective of the suffering caused by poverty.

  49. Comment from Rose:

    Stephanie, thank you for your comments. As you know, I have a similar background. When people ask how I got from there to here, I think of the teachers who helped in my life…and books.

    One thing that your comments made me think about was how much I learned in neighborhood public schools. At Woodlawn I learned a lot about the lives of local African-American families. I learned to like fried fish and hot sauce and respect both whist and storefront churches. When I was bussed to Sellwood I had Mormon and Jehovah friends. I was quite impressed with the food the Mormons had stored for Armageddon!

    I think this is one of the saddest losses incurred by school choice. The more we marginalize the more we limit. We may be thinking they gain from extra recess when really they would gain a lot more from learning about other cultures.

    Since when did we become such know-it-alls that we know what our kids need by the time they are six?

    I don’t think we can dismiss the way poverty intersects with culture. The way black culture has intersected with poverty is much different, for example, than recent immigrant cultures like Mexican natives or Russians. Different cultures do bring different strengths and challenges to the table. I think it is okay to acknowledge that, in a respectful, openminded way, of course.

    I was raised in a mixed race family (my siblings are black) and I vividly remember my sister being called an Oreo and a porch monkey because she valued education. It is okay to say this is a remnant and to ask how we are fighting it. Frankly I see a lot of changes. At Ockley the hallway has a big display about Obama. If any kid calls someone an Oreo (which I have not heard) I am sure someone will set them straight!

    Here’s my daily nitpick: when SUN school is closed my kids have no place to go. I got home at 4:15 today and within minutes had six or seven extra kids in my home. All were waiting until their parents got home from work. Extended school years and hours would do so much for a lot of kids.

  50. Comment from lakeithae:

    What I think we are failing to discuss is the reality of the Poverty As An Excuse Phenomenon. The reality is most kids in Poverty (as defined by free and reduced lunch guidelines) don’t even know they are in Poverty. I have never heard a kid say, I can’t learn to read because I am poor or I don’t want to be successful because my mom works full time at a job that pays her $10 an hour but,I have heard the teachers and administrators and after-school staff use Poverty as an excuse base their decisions and programs on the number of kids in poverty instead of on teaching and nurturing these children and discounting heir parents. When these people start their discussions with “THE POVERTY EXCUSE”, my kids aren’t achieving because 80% of our kids are on Free and Reduced lunch. I don’t encourage them to apply to TAG because they are in Poverty, I don’t offer this program because those poor kids in poverty can’t afford .
    The question I often ask is, if none of your children were in poverty, what would you do differently and why aren’t you doing it? Most of them don’t know because they have been so used to using the Poverty excuse to continue their mediocrity. So, here is the lesson for the adults stop making excuses and teach the damn kids!

  51. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Lakeithae – thanks for pushing back on this. I completely get your argument.

    Gloria Ladson-Billings, in a 2006 presentation to the North Dakota Study Group, cited several myths that go along with teaching low-income minority children. One of these myths she labeled “Oh, you poor dear.” Here’s how it goes:

    A low-income minority student doesn’t want to do something the teacher asks her to do. “Oh, you poor dear,” says the teacher. “Maybe you’ll feel like doing it tomorrow.”

    Ladson-Billings points out that this response, ostensibly a caring, empathetic gesture on the part of the teacher, serves only to create a self-fulfilling prophecy for the student. She argued that an affluent white student in the same position would be challenged by her teacher and encouraged — maybe even pushed — to do as she was told.

    Or maybe not.

    I’m a middle-class white male. I know that with my middle-class, white 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, I allow space in my parenting. I don’t make them do everything I want them to do because I believe it’s important to allow her voice to develop.

    In some democratic, progressive classrooms, students are often allowed to develop their voices, too. In such an environment, saying “Maybe you’ll feel like doing it tomorrow” is not such a bad thing. In fact, saying “Maybe you’ll feel like doing it tomorrow” is quite a radical thing to say, especially compared to classrooms where students are thoroughly disempowered and silenced into passive submission.

    So when does “Maybe you’ll feel like doing it tomorrow” make sense? And when does it serve, as Ladson-Billings noted, as a way to reproduce the status quo? Does it suggest that “tough love” or “cruel to be kind” pedagogy is effective, maybe even necessary, with low-income minority students? I hope not. But it may help to contextualize why such pedagogical approaches seem to be so popular these days, from Edison to KIPP and their ilk, and why so many “liberals” endorse such approaches.

    The implicit message seems to be, “We have to push these kids.” And while there might be truth in this, I worry what pushing them looks like — and what happens when a push becomes a shove. Of course, a good teacher would be able to tell the difference between the two. But if the teacher’s judgment is taken away and replaced with the kind of institutionalized forms of “pushing” we see at KIPP and Edison, perhaps we see a different kind of reproduction of the status quo, one that punishes “miscreants,” rewards the compliant, and encourages those that do not make it to blame themselves for their shortcomings.

  52. Comment from PPSexpatriate:

    I don’t buy the it’s white to value education. I got called Oreo, my friends got called Bananas and coconuts and it had little to nothing to do with our value of education. I think that is one of the most harmful myths out there, that blacks organically devalue education. Pre-Obama it wasn’t true and it’s not true now. There are always folks on a minority group that will sell out others of that groupos to please the majority. Log Cabin Republicans, anyone?

    Lakeitha: on point as always.

    Peter: I think that these concepts are hard for you to grasp because they are so outside of your experience. I remember a charter school parent telling me not to worry because my 1st grader had decided she was a non-reader, after reading voraciously in kindergarten. She said a bunch of stuff about bodies not being ready to read etc. As a white middle class woman in an alternative school setting, she has that luxury. No one will assume that HER child is developmentally delayed, no one will track her child into “less performing” classes as a result of that delay. No one will assume the DeJuan or LaTasha or Javier or Vladmir are listening to their bodies. They will be tracked quick, fast and in a hurry regardless of whether they are at Kennedy Elementary, or We are the Sun cooperative/charter/magnet school.

    The world will make certain assumptions and allowances for your white middle class children that it will not make for mine, or Rose’s or Lakeitha’s. Thusly, this informs how we parent and our choices.

  53. Comment from me:

    Alfred Lubrano touches on this in part in his book “Limbo” with regards to how differences in socio-economic class gets applied in attitudes towards education. It’s not just an excuse, it’s a way of life that gets reflected in how we treat our kids.

    Peter – you’re right, we’re all going to have differences in opinion (even here, we have a wide range ;) ) on how we all think our kids should be educated. And in theory, having this “choice” should benefit us in being able to cater to what works for our kids.

    The problem is it doesn’t work, because so often it feels like we’re not really given a “choice” at all. Some through lack of educating parents on the options presented to us, but also primarily due to the death-spiral of policies and funding that strangles our ability to provide a quality education at all levels. “Good” and “bad” schools alike. The big difference is some schools can generate enough private motivation (through foundations, or active fundraising, or volunteerism) to sustain themselves with dwindling budgets, while others struggle to survive.

  54. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    PPSExpatriate – for what it’s worth, you’re completely off base here. My daughter was flagged as a 3-year-old for being developmentally delayed. Of course, it was horse shit and I fought against it. But the powers that be wanted her to get tested and get an IEP. And I’m white, and so is my daughter.
    Standing up for kids is always hard, and middle-class folks and affluent folks have it easier due to the social capital they are imbued with. But don’t tell me these concepts are hard to grasp because they’re outside my experience. In fact, because they are directly part of my experience, they motivate me to fight for kids whose parents lack the social capital I enjoy.

  55. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    One other thought on this issue of my daughter being flagged as delayed. Had I not fought this, my daughter would have been tested and would have been given an IEP as a 3-year-old. This despite the fact that most testing experts consider the use of norm-based tests to be inappropriate at best and damaging at worst for kids this young. (Please note that I’m not talking about major cognitive dysfunction or severe impairment, just today’s ubiquitous garden variety of “behind.”) So my daughter would have been labeled “behind,” and that label would have stayed with her into pre-K and into Kindergarten and into the rest of her school experience.
    Kids — in fact, everyone — develop according to their own timelines. Some are faster at learning some things than others. In school, if you take more time to learn certain things, esp. how to read and write, then you are labeled as “developmentally delayed.” I think it’s important not to look at delays in development as signs that kids are broken and need to be fixed. If you look at people as though they are broken and need fixing, a profound disconnection emerges between you and them. This is disturbing in any context, but it’s especially disturbing in a school setting, much less the very first school setting that children have, i.e., pre-school.

    Monty Neill, the co-director of FairTest, said, “The long history of tracking in the US suggests that students who enter pre-K or K “behind” will be assumed to be less capable of learning and thus put in “slower” classes through which the gap in learning outcomes will expand. “Intelligence” tests have long played that pernicious role, complemented by “achievement” tests. Through these instruments, race and class effects are instrumentalized as “scientific” or “objective.”
    I think of all the kids that have their fates decided for them through these tests and I am literally sick to my stomach. The fact that a disproportionate percentage of low-income kids are subjected to these tests, do not have the supports and the social capital to fight them, and then are given a virtual death sentence as far as their academic futures are concerned makes me really, really angry.

  56. Comment from Stephanie:

    Peter thank you so much for this statement in particular below:

    I think it’s important not to look at delays in development as signs that kids are broken and need to be fixed. If you look at people as though they are broken and need fixing, a profound disconnection emerges between you and them. This is disturbing in any context, but it’s especially disturbing in a school setting, much less the very first school setting that children have, i.e., pre-school.

    I could fill up pages about this and will try not to get to soapboxy but this sums up my mission in life and why I am an advocate for inclusion in schools.

    This goes beyond just delays and has huge impact on not only students with disabilities but also their typically developing peers. We need to give our kids more credit and allow for learning differences but also stop inflicting our limited views on our kids. When I went to school kids with disabilities were at least in the building but they were not in my classroom, they rode a different bus, and even had lunch/recess at a different time. The US and THEM mentality became fixed and I started to see them as “broken” because of what the adults were doing to these kids. Fast forward and I am a parent of a child with a disability and I see how her best friend accepts her for who she is and teaches the other kindergarteners how to interact with her. The kids are learning her language and how to comfort her when she melts down over things that might seem unusual.

    Currently, kids are identified early which is good in my opinion and many of those kids actually do not even qualify for an IEP when they enter kindergarten. There is however a percentage of children that have significant disabilities and they are still whisked away into these segregated placements, ride the “short bus”, and have to earn the right to be included. It is ridiculous to me that they make these children prove themselves in segregation away from their peer models. If you want someone to act normal then immerse them in normal for crying out loud. Instead these kids are put into life skills classrooms or communication and behavior rooms where they learn new behaviors and develop learned helplessness and then never get out of segregation. Did you know there are entire schools in PPS devoted to kids with significant disabilities? This is 2009 and we are still institutionalizing children!

    OK soapbox coming on, better close. Thank you Peter for your comment. Our children are not something broken that needs to be fixed and what message are we sending them when we put them in these places that scream to them “You need to be fixed”. What message are we giving their peers that then becomes their value as they get older that broken people need to be hidden away and earn the right to be with the normal people.

  57. Comment from PPSexpatriate:


    Thank you for sharing your personal experience with your daughter. It sounds like it was frustrating. Was your daughter in a pre-K program? Why was the District testing such a yyoung child? My kid was tested for early entry into K at age 4in CA, and they fought me to not test her but it was clear that she needed more stimulation than the District preschool could offer.

    I still stand by my statement that many of your solutions do not factor in differences in class and race. And that many of us have had to spend much time and energy explaining and re-explaining things that I would consider to be common knowledge about income differences, societal stereotypes,etc.

    I have a child that has tested “well” throughout her educational career, yet was consistently prevented from being tested for TAG, put in advanced math classes, etc. until she had a black principal and vice principal. I brought test scores, report cards from private school, etc. to these schools both of which are highly prized among white middle class Portlanders as encouraging different learning styles, etc. No one gave a damn, she was still a black kid form a low-income single parent home. Who was treated the same as high income black kid,or the middle income black kid. If I think about it too long about the patronizing treatment I experienced it makes the bile rise in my throat. Their cavalier attitude towards the education of my child and others who didn’t “fit” was sickening.

  58. Comment from enoughsugarcoatingalready:

    Has anyone read the book ” What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated?”, by Alfie Kohn? If you haven’t, it fits right in with this discussion about achievement tests and “standards”, which, even though doing more harm than good for all of our students in this country, it is especially harmful for low-income students.

  59. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Alfie Kohn is one of my heroes. The book you mention is a collection of essays, and is a good Kohn primer. I recommend The Schools Our Children Deserve, which I think is his masterwork.

  60. Comment from Stephanie:

    I actually just picked up his book Punished by Rewards recently but haven’t started it yet. Good to know he is recommended.

  61. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    For a less adulatory view of Kohn see the following and Kohn’s response …

  62. Comment from Rose:

    PPS, I wanted to clarify that when my sibs were called Oreos, none of us thought this was organic to blacks.

    What I thought is that Portland does not have a strong black middle class. Blacks here have been historically poor, shat-upon and segregated. The way PPS has treated minorities is truly shameful.

    For me the tension is between both:

    1) There is nothing wrong with recognizing delays and addressing them, because this can mean success.

    2) Realizing also that identifying these delays, especially in minority youth, will be the death of their later educational career.

    My daughter just received a letter from a well-respected high school. We had sent in glowing letters of recommendation from her teachers, applications, and essays. On the basis of her IEP they rejected her. They didn’t say this, actually. They just flat-out rejected her.

    You know what? Under school choice they can. All they have to do is utter those damning words: that she will get the “necessary and appropriate services” at her community school. Which is Jefferson.

    I have to wonder, if she was white, would it all have been different? I know white parents of kids in IEPs who have been accepted into the same school. It is all very confusing.

    I disagree with the Kohn concept that minority students are fawned with too much praise. Any lack of expectations is the result of poor funding and overstressed schools. The Kohn-style thinking wants to avoid this simple fact. More money equals more success. Trust me, the teachers of my kids are not over-praising them.

  63. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Rose – can you clarify? You participated in the transfer process to get your daughter enrolled at which high school? The high school then said that they could not serve your daughter because of her IEP? This sounds just east of illegal.

  64. Comment from Rose:


    This is how it works:

    1) Said public schools receives the child from either the lottery or because they live in the boundaries.

    2) Said school reviews the IEP. They get to decide whether or not they can serve the child.

    3) At this point they are free to send the child to any school willing to take them. IEP students ARE NOT required to be served in their neighborhoods. This is why you see that little “short bus” traveling around. As long as they are served anywhere in the district it is legal.

    4) So…say you decide to be a foster parent. Your first placement is an adorable elementary kid labeled emotionally disturbed. Your neighborhood school is Chief Joseph. You visit Chief Jo, they tell you they cannot serve the IEP, so your child will be bused to deep SE for an hour long ride. There is nothing you can do because this is completely legal under PPS. This happened to me with a short term placement.

    More details: only some schools have B (behavior) or A (academic) classrooms. As we have branched into charters we have seen an ever-more shrinking circle of such schools, because charters never, ever, have such classrooms.

    This is important because a child on a Academic IEP like my daughter may only require limited time in the resource room, however, a school can reject her precisely because they have no such room.

    Now, Jefferson still has a special ed department, as does Ockley, so kids are still bused and driven from far away to these schools. The natural effect, of course, is the schools then test lower on standards. They become special education ghettos.

    Both Ockley and Jeff have about one in four kids on IEPs. This is not because one in four kids in the area are disabled. It is because the district deliberately funnels certain kids into certain schools, abetted by the charters and school choice, who then use these numbers to encourage white flight and a “choice” for those parents who don’t want their kids to be in so-called low performing schools.

    In short: there is nothing illegal about any public school denying services to an IEP student as long as they can refer to another school.

  65. Comment from Stephanie:


    A million thank you’s for your last post. Do you mind if I use some of your words in a project I am a part of? I am trying to gather transfer stories from families in the district with children on IEP’s. I have learned in the last month that a lot of people just have no idea what the district is doing to our families.

    Do you know about Disability Rights Oregon? They have a wait list but they will bump up cases that have a high rate of precedent setting.

  66. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Rose – thank you for this information. This is appalling. I had no idea this policy was in place.

    Stephanie – please include me in your list of contacts about your organization efforts. I want to be part of raising awareness on this.

    What would you both recommend as a way to solve or at least address the issue of kids with IEP’s? From what I understand about charters, they are compelled to offer services to kids with IEPs, and these services are delivered to the kids at the charter school.

  67. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Federal guidance for charter schools says,

    “The charter school must recruit in a manner that does not discriminate against students of a particular race, color, national origin, religion, or sex, or against students with disabilities …”

    Note that this does not specify exactly what services the charter school must make available to children with disabilities or specify how the district and charter schools must work together for the benefit of kids with IEPs in charter schools.

    I believe there is confusion around these issues.

  68. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    I am still learning the fine details of advocacy for my daughter and all children in PPS with IEP’s.
    I believe it is roughly 90% of students on IEP’s are in general education classrooms and the limitations there are touched on in Rose’s post. The rest of the population of PPS students are those that are placed in what are called life skills classrooms and communication and behavior classrooms; segregated placements all but some children actually do well in these classrooms and do not do well in general education. Some parents actually fight for segregated placements and special schools for their children. Often these are the parents of students with autism that want the school to provide ABA therapy for their children. I really should get some kind of flow chart going because there are a lot of divisions in our community. The group of parents that I align myself with believe that disability is a natural part of being a human and that our children belong with other children and not hidden away in special schools, portables on the playground, basements, closets (YES closets), and converted locker rooms. We believe that if typically developing children are exposed to children with disabilities that they will grow into well-rounded caring adults that will create a world with us where our kids belong. We believe that our children should also be asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” even if they can’t walk or even answer our question with words. As angry as we are we feel the best way to fight for our kids is to give the educators the benefit of the doubt and continue to smile even if we have to hire a lawyer to make sure our kids are getting what they need. A special education PTA for PPS just formed this year and these are the values we are rallying behind.

    Peter you asked for recommendations and I think communication and awareness are a big part of it. Until I started posting here and had a conversation with some parents from the creative science school curious about the new PTA I really thought it was both the community and the district that were obstacles. The questions, curiosity, and support of late have made me aware that people generally just don’t know what we go through. The possible solution to a lot of issues is going to be coalition building. We are here discussing civil rights issues and if we heal the divisions within our own groups and show up in masses at each and every school board meeting, open forum, and city council meeting maybe these changes can happen.
    Do the school board or superintendent ever drop in to schools or classrooms unannounced to see what is happening day to day? I would guess the superintendent would actually be horrified to see an IEP where there are 7 “specialists” sitting around a table with the parent all alone telling this parent exactly WHY their student does not belong and rolling out their deficits with no mention of their strengths or who they are as a person. I wonder if she knows she is paying these 7 specialists to bully this parent in a 2 hour meeting just to avoid having to pay for some extra staff support for this single student in their classroom? I do not understand why decisions are made but there has got to be another way to save money than to shame parents and segregate children.

  69. Comment from pdxmomto2:

    Stephanie -

    I have a question for you out of total ignorance that has come to my mind as I attend Kindergarten Open houses. What happens to kids in PPS that have physical disabilities only but academically would be fine in a “regular” classroom, except for PPS’s appalling lack of ADA accessibility?

  70. Comment from Stephanie:

    pdxmomto2 – that is a really good question and I only know the answer definitively from the perspective of students with both physical and developmental disabilities. I will research this and find out. I know a parent that tried to get a list of wheelchair accessible schools and schools that have special education classrooms and this was not a request that was apparently appreciated. The location of special education classrooms in the district is still a mystery and they move around a lot. This same mom had her son in a wheelchair transferred by PPS 3 times before 2nd grade. He has not been able to build relationships with students or teachers or have any consistency. Another parent I spoke with just last night has her daughter at Roseway Heights and because there are stairs to the cafeteria she cannot eat lunch with her friends and has to stay in the classroom. Not even her highly paid lawyer could do anything about it. I have seen kids who have physical disabilities but have the sportier wheelchairs and good upper body strength transfer themselves and then someone moves the wheelchair for them. Kids who have powerchairs probably can only go to the schools that are accessible on all floors but still cannot access all levels as with the example of Roseway Heights. Sometimes doorways to bathrooms are not even wide enough for the student to get through or the corners are too tight to maneuver comfortably. A parent of a kindergartener I know showed up for the first day of school and had all of her child’s medical needs clearly listed in the IEP written before the school year began. When she showed up the first day not only had his classroom been moved to a different school without her being told but the teacher did not have any of the equipment he needed to be safe. My own daughter’s teacher had not even seen her IEP before the first day of school and I had specifically asked for assurances from PPS that this happen prior to day one. I had written a person centered plan for her which I shared with the teacher and this helped her.
    A teacher I think it was told me about children with wheelchairs having to use the outside freight elevator to get into the upper floors at Cleveland High School.

    I will learn more about how this affects students with physical disabilities.

  71. Comment from Susan:

    Roseway Heights doesn’t have stairs at any cafeteria entrance and has an elevator for access to the second floor (where the library is located). The first floor is entirely accessible and it has both A and B special ed classrooms, along with mainstreaming many sped ed students into regular classrooms.

  72. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Stephanie – thank you for your advocacy efforts. Please continue to share information with us here on this blog. Perhaps Steve R. would be open to you posting updates in your own posts as a guest contributor? I fully admit ignorance on the issue of kids with IEP’s and disabilities. We need to expand our conversation of “equity” with these kids and families in mind.

  73. Comment from Stephanie:

    Susan – I have never been to the school so I will ask this parent again to make sure I understood the issue. I do want to be sure I am representing issues accurately so thank you for that. She did say the school her daughter was at is fully accessible except for the cafeteria.

  74. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    I got the scoop on Roseway Heights and it is exactly as Susan said and unfortunately the clarification is worse than what I misunderstood. Roseway Heights was this kindergartener in a wheelchair’s neighborhood school. She was denied her neighborhood school that has two special education classrooms and an elevator because they said her needs would be better served at Harvey Scott in a life skills classroom. Harvey Scott is the school that is accessible with the exception of the cafeteria. She was actually accepted originally at Winterhaven where her siblings go but apparently this school has never had a student with a wheelchair and is not accessible. This mother assumed the wheelchair accessible neighborhood school would be the natural next choice but she was told that there were no teachers qualified to teach her daughter at Roseway Heights?!? If there are two special education classrooms how are there not teachers qualified? This mother happens to know for a fact this is not true because another child with the exact same developmental disability attends this school. PPS would not accept this rationale as a reason to allow her daughter to go to her neighborhood school and stuck with their assertion that there were no teachers qualified to teach her daughter and would not let her daughter attend her neighborhood school despite fierce advocacy and a lawyer.

  75. Comment from Susan:


    First of all, thank you for posting about MECP in the Early Intervention Changes Proposed article on ppsequity. We’re another family with a student that started out in MECP’s early intervention (he’s now in 4th grade and his favorite teacher remains “Teacher Lara” from the old Holiday Center site—and he’s had great, smart, dedicated and funny teachers since then, but his heart remains true).

    I am deeply confused from your last post re a special ed student denied access to her neighborhood school because of lack of adequate teachers. I believe that Roseway has four self-contained special ed classrooms and I thought that one was specifically for K-2 adaptive disabilities. I do know that Roseway has several students that are in mainstream classrooms with 1/1 aides because of physical challenges. Special ed staff seems amazingly dedicated and capable. A typical morning routine has about 10 short and a few regular size buses dropping off kids of all ages and abilities. Really, just come and watch from 7:20-7:50. What is going on?

  76. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    We had Teacher Lara too but at Woodmere. PPS turned Holladay into a behavior school. Lara is wonderful teacher and had so much to do with my great experience as well. She was the one that suggested my daughter had reached an academic ceiling and that we should move her services into an inclusive setting in her community preschool.

    I wish I knew what was going on myself. I hate to make any assumptions without facts. I also believe that these teachers and administrators did not spend all of that time in college accruing debt just to stick it to kids with disabilities and their parents. My thoughts are that it has to do with budget and space. If you have a special classroom somewhere you need to fill it and if there are no spaces at the neighborhood school then you get put somewhere else and excuses are made to justify it. The enrollment and transfer policy states that all children have a right to go to their neighborhood school and the implied exception is students with disabilities and behaviors. Again, to be fair, I do need to research PPS special education policies on enrollment and transfer still but in the policy at large it states all children have the right to their neighborhood school as a first choice. A special education PTA just formed this year for PPS ( and these are some of the issues we hope to target.

  77. Comment from Rose:

    Peter, you asked if charters are mandated to serve IEPs. The short answer is no.

    Along with other PPS schools they can decline an IEP student as long as 1) they say they can’t serve that student and 2) there is a school that can, no matter how far away.

    This is a case of “don’t build it and they won’t come.” I am not aware of a single charter in Portland with on-site special education services.

    Take Trillium. It is my understanding they do not have a special ed department. Because of this they can and do refuse students with profound disabilities, those with MR, or those with SED. Probably my daughter would be rejected there because her IEP requires counseling supports on-site as well as academic pull-out time in a resource room with a specialist.

    The impact on a neighborhood like North when you have multiple charters then becomes obvious.

    In North, Trillium and Village take only the highest functioning kids, leaving Ockley with one in four students on an IEP, and some of them significantly impaired.

    It should be noted that because NCLB special ed students are not exempted from the tests. Those one in four kids at Ockley probably do really lower the general scores. It becomes a no-win situation for the schools: as long as they serve special education students they are bound to fail NCLB.

    The school then gets punished for serving special needs children, and the charters are rewarded for turning them away.

  78. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Rose – I’m going to pursue this issue in more detail. Thank you for bringing it up and articulating the inequities so clearly.

    But I’d like to clarify the information you provided on Trillium. I was told by the principal at Trillium that a significant percentage of the students there have IEP’s. I just checked the latest data: 13.9% of the students enrolled there are classified as “special education.” The principal told me that in years past, close to 25% of the students there had IEP’s. The principal also told me that, in serving kids with IEP’s, they are able to bring district folks to the school to help these kids. Vickie Frick is one such person.

    As Stephanie is showing us, we need to be clear on what the actual issues and inequities are. We have to get our facts straight so we can challenge district policy. Otherwise, we are too easily dismissed.

    I ask for your support in this as we work together to get to the bottom of this mess.

  79. Comment from pdxmomto2:

    Just to add to the pool of info they do have a part time PPS special education teacher and resource room at The Emerson School (a K-5 charter in NW)

  80. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Peter, when you clarify with Trillium on the IEP issue it might be interesting/enlightening to ask what the IEP eligibilities are. I have been told anecdotally that there is a large percentage of students with Aspergers syndrome at Trillium which would end up being an autism eligibility. If this anecdote is true then I bet that most of those IEP’s are autism and other health impaired (ADHD or medical issues) which could mean that students with intellectual disabilities are underepresented there.

  81. Comment from Rose:

    Stephanie, that is exactly what I have been told about Trillium as well.

    In fact I know a parent of a very high-functioning, super bright Aspergers kid there right now. He theoretically would be considered IEP eligible but he does not need services.

    That is not the same as serving kids with MR, cognitive impairments or behavioral IEPs.

    Also, Peter, I am sure visiting specialists like Vicki are great, but that is not the same as having on-site positions.

    I can tell you that it took over 8 months before I could get a visiting OT to come to a school for an eval.

    Having visiting specialists is simply not a viable option for children who need DAILY supports.

    I think when you talk to the principal again ask how many kids in wheelchairs, how many MR, how many SED, how many FAS. Also, if they are serving SED do they have a behavior class and do they have a full time behavior specialist in that class?

  82. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Rose and Stephanie – thank you for the clarifications and guiding questions. I’ll be sure to pose these questions and share what I find.

    Full disclosure: my daughter attends Trillium right now. There are lot of great things about the school that address the issues I posed in the original post, e.g., not holding kids to artificial benchmarks, integrating art and music across the curriculum, theme-based education that ties in different learning styles, project-based learning, and allowing kids to choose things they are interested in learning and then giving them time and support to pursue these things. As an educator and parent, I appreciate these forms of pedagogy.

    But as an activist, I question the role of charters and worry about their draining effect. Now this information about serving kids with IEP’s and kids with disabilities concerns me even more.

    I think we as a community need to look carefully at the charter movement here in PPS. I’m going to start a new thread on this and bring up the recent audit. Is there a way that charters can become community partners, or will they always serve a niche? And why?

  83. Comment from Terry:

    Speaking of recess, read this article from the Christian Science Monitor. It opens:

    After each 45-minute class, students at the Vaajakumpu Primary School in Finland suit up in their snow gear, and for 15 minutes, they frolic on ice skates, sleds, and skis.”

    That’s 15 minutes of outside activity after every class. Sounds good, eh?

  84. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    After a few hours in the office, I like to take an hour on ice skates chasing a puck.

    Maybe I should move to Finland.

    Or Canada.

  85. Comment from Charter parent:

    My daughter goes to Trillium Charter school. Overall, I think Trillium is a great school. I appreciate the flexibility in curriculum, the personalized attention my daughter receives, the school’s approach to project-based learning, exploration, catering to what individual children are interested in, the mixed age classes, the personal responsibility for the students, field trips, general intellectual stimulation, the teaching of real-life skills, and the abundance of drama, art, music, free time, and the supportive community. Trillium is a relatively new school, and they get better and better with every passing year. I do not expect them to be in a position to do everything that they ‘should’ be doing immediately. My relationship with Trillium has not always been all roses. I work and go to school, and, particularly in the past, felt judged that I could not volunteer or participate how other parents could. I also felt like there were incidents in which my kid was treated unfairly because, well, as a family, we don’t always have it together as well as a lot of other families seem to (again, working and single-mom-ness come into play here, and the vulnerability to subtle judgments that can come with this. I understand these concerns). These incidents took place years ago, and as Trillium has grown and figured things out, there is less stress, more professionalism, and more inclusiveness. The staff don’t seem as stretched thin. They are, after all, just people. I stuck it out at Trillium because I looked at the mainstream alternatives and realized my daughter could get a better ‘whole child’ overall education at Trillium. I am glad that my daughter is still at Trillium. I am very grateful that the Alternative that is Trillium exists. I also see the disparity that exists among Portland schools (and across the country…I’ve lived in a few different cities in my life), however I think that the problem lies in the overarching system, and that any potential bad feelings to charter schools would be better directed at the general lack of funds across the board. All education is underfunded. Many charters, including Trillium, are doing their best to create and form the alternatives that many people wish for their children. Of course, it is always good to think about how things could be better, and how all kids can be better served in the community, and how the charters should reach for those goals, too. But I think it would be a shame to point fingers at a group of people who have tried so hard to do so much good and largely succeeded. I did not want life to feel like a grind to my daughter. I grew up in an AWFUL public school system in a different state…no one noticed I didn’t know how to read until I was 10, there was asbestos falling from the ceiling, many of my teachers were outright bigots, I got told to take a nap when I was vomiting with a concussion, my high school math teacher told us we were all lazy pieces of **** and he didn’t want to ever see any of us again so he’d leave the room during tests so that we’d cheat and at least get D’s, etc. The list goes on. Here in Portland, I know of nothing this bad, but still I do not want daily life to feel institutional, monotonous, or confining for my daughter. I do not think my daughter would do well in a more ‘mainstream’ school, and am so glad that I don’t have to feel perpetually guilty for my daughter feeling miserable while she is at school, and that she is instead in a stimulating, supportive environment. I love Trillium.

  86. Comment from lilly:

    I go to trillium, and I don’t agree that we do not except people with disabilities. There are students who do have disabilities at the school. For an example, I have a friend who had trauma to her head, and needs special help during school. Another example is someone I met in art class. He has a fair amount of trouble talking. There are also people who are in wheelchairs. Since there are a handful of people with walking disabilities, the school decided to make an elevator to help them get up the stairs into middle and high school. for people who still think there sons or daughters wont get excepted because of there disabilities, or because their disabilities sometimes causes them not to have passing grades, I am posting this to let you know, that there are people with disabilities, and your children do have a chance to get into trillium.

  87. Comment from PPSexpatriate:

    I must say that I am so encouraged that there are students “taking up for their school”. As a mom it makes me happy than students feel empowered and strong enough to speak passionately in favor of their school. That is just awesone.

  88. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Thanks Lilly!
    Your commentary helps a lot and it does sound like Trillium has a lot of great qualities and is including students with disabilities. I hope other schools in PPS take note and build elevators instead of just transferring kids without their say in the matter. My daughter goes to Ockley Green down the way and I have a lot of pride in what our school is capable of and the atmosphere there is also one of acceptance.

  89. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    I don’t know how long it has been since PPS built a new school – 50 years, longer maybe? But the point is that when PPS schools were built, builders did not anticipate the issues around including kids that we have today. (Says something about the times, doesn’t it?)

    Adding elevators to these old buildings would be enormously expensive at best and architecturally impossible at worst

  90. Comment from Steve Buel:

    The responses to this post have been fabulous. Here are some thoughts which are less specific but I believe are worth thinking about.

    1) PPS should have an advocate to help parents of children who are within the special education categrories. This is so clear from these stories and others I have heard for years and my own direct experience of working within school systems for over 40 years. School district, state and federal laws and regulations are beyond the expertise of the average parent as is the shared experiences within the district. There needs to be a person or persons who help parents in their efforts to procure the most desirable education for their children and make sure it continues.

    2) It doesn’t help much to have an IEP for a kid if the child is placed in a classroom that is consistently disrupted. The teacher doesn’t have the time required to really follow through anyway. Anyone that tells you different has not been there. And the most disrupted classrooms are usually in lower income neighborhoods. This is possibly the most critical problem facing the education of poor children in Portland. (Don’t bother giving me grief about stereotyping poor kids until you have researched my background.) Orderly classrooms are critical to education — I am not talking about sitting in your seat and being quiet; I am talking about the ability to teach in a manner that fits the children you have. And it is usually not the teacher or the way children are taught — it is most often the structure of the school (what is acceptable, how misbehavior is dealt with, what types of steps are taken with children who are disruptive, what type of curriculum is taught, trust between teachers and administrators as well as between the community and the school, whether children’s needs are being met, etc.). This is the great unaddressed problem in PPS. It is the crux of the poor education outside of the more well-to-do neighborhoods, particularly with middle grade kids. Of course, teachers won’t admit their classes are disrupted, principals won’t admit their schools are disrupted, and central administrators don’t know because when they visit a school the principals put the best light on their school and basically every kid knows that you don’t misbehave when an outside adult is in the room — the teacher will kill you. So the administrators never see it and therefore don’t treat it with the urgency it should demand. A couple of years ago I visited a middle school in Portland and the first 17 kids I saw in the halls I would have taken to the office in my school for their misbehavior.

    3) The school board won’t address these problems because their constituency is from higher-income schools which don’t have such a huge number of special education students nor the classroom and school disruptions so prevalent in the lower-income neighborhoods. When I first went to a Portland lower-income neighborhood school years ago I had more disruptions in any one day in my own classroom than I had had the previous total year altogether in my suburban classroom. It is no wonder parents in the know don’t want their children in these environments.

    And PPS sits on their hands.

  91. Comment from Oh me:

    Yes, PPS sits on its hands. While configuring Binnsmead into a k-8 (closing a successful neighborhood school to make way for a focus option in the process), the district leadership decided that leaving a behavior classroom for 6-8 graders in a building with k-2 kids would be just fine. Never mind that the building is already overcrowded (730 students). Never mind that Mt. Tabor Middle School is minutes away, and has plenty of space for such a program. Never mind that little children are now exposed to 13-14 year old students having “breakdowns” in the halls that include blatant disrespect to teachers and the nastiest cursing you could possibly hear (but, these are in their IEP, so just let it go). I wonder if there is a behavior class for middle school students at Roseway Heights and Beverly Cleary that ships in kids from all over SE Portland. Would those parents have been ok with their school housing such a program? No surprise that many parents are now taking a look at the focus option…if I was a parent and knew the situation, I might as well. The parents who are talking about moving their children are not the minority or non-English speaking parents.
    It makes me crazy because it is almost as if the district planned for this to happen, judging by a board member’s comment at the time “A focus option is the best thing that can happen to THAT neighborhood”. Clark k-8 doesn’t have to worry about over-enrollment or a boundary change. Just set up a situation that is impossible to deal with, and suddenly the focus option has higher enrollment, and the neighborhood school has less. And once again, PPS creates inequity for the students and parents who have no voice, no money, no friends at KGW. The parents who are trusting their school district to do what is best for kids…and I believe that the school board is doing what they think is best…for THOSE kids…the ones who live in the neighborhood that just improved because now they have a focus option program…with no middle school behavior room.

  92. Comment from Stephanie:

    Steve – PPS would likely say those advocates exist in the form of case managers and specialists. The problem is that expectations are low from the professionals and the parents as well. Teachers (some not all of course) are teaching these kids to be janitors and landscapers at best (not saying that these are not jobs people would not want necessarily but not something you are primarily taught in school) or doing useless sorting tasks. Teachers know the magic words to get kids dumped in behavior rooms and special schools. Even better when there is a parent of a child without an IEP to back them up to say I don’t want “those kids” in my school.

    An IEP is not a ticket to swearing at teachers in front of small children. If this is happening then the IEP is not being followed, the staff have not been trained, and the behavior plan is probably not worth the paper it is written on. Trust me. I have seen a lot of them and I rarely see ones that impress me.

    At Ockley I have heard the teachers say that having little kids around has actually mellowed the older kids out a bit. I don’t know if other schools feel this way.

    Another note on behavior classrooms. If I am a kid that has an IEP and I have attention issues that cause me to be off task in the classroom I might get placed in a behavior room. Behavior rooms are like jail. You go in with one bad habit and you come out with ten new ones. These classrooms are concentrated criminal factories. I hate to “love the bully” here but these kids need help not immersion in new behaviors.

  93. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Stephanie – can you explain a bit more about “behavior classrooms”? How many exist in the district? Does every school have one? At what age do these classrooms start? How many kids are placed in them? How do kids get placed in them (what are the criteria)? How do they get out?

  94. Comment from Rose:

    Steve, a quick rundown from what I know:

    1. Only some schools have behavior rooms. The only ones I know are in poor schools like Ockley.

    2. Behavior rooms start at elementary grades and go up through high school.

    3. Kids are placed either full time or part time for supports in behavior rooms (with a goal to mainstreaming) just like academic resource rooms.

    4. To be placed in a behavior room full or part time a child must be on a behavior IEP. This typically happens for diagnosis like SED (severely emotionally disturbed). Many of these kids are transitioning from facilities like Perry Center or the Christie School. Many are foster children with histories of being victimized by rape, abuse, molestation or severe neglect. They exhibit behaviors which are too difficult to manage in a regular classroom. For instance, I knew a first grader who had been sexually abused. As a result she behaved inappropriately. This behavior was successfully addressed in a behavior room before she was mainstreamed.

    Behavior rooms are intended to work with children on issues like safety, boundaries, anger control, and, well, behavior.

    I briefly foster parented two kids with behavior IEPs. Both were placed in behavior rooms. In both cases I felt it was appropriate to teach normal boundaries. The problem is these rooms do seem concentrated in poor schools.

    I’m going to respectfully disagree a bit with Stephanie about behavior classrooms. In my opinion they depend greatly on the specialist. Ockley has a FANTASTIC behavior specialist who seems to run an exemplary program. I know foster parents who have had children in his room and say he works wonders.

    That said, I have also heard the horror stories about bad specialists and kids being sent to behavior rooms when their disabilities are rooted in neurological differences.

  95. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    I was at an IEP for a student who had finally been “released for good behavior” into a general education science class. As everyone was talking the science teacher looked confused and finally said…I know I am at the right meeting but this kid does NONE of these things in my class. I cannot even imagine him being capable of this.
    In the behavior room you have to prove how hard you are and peer pressure is strong if getting beat up is the consequence. I went to the park with this same kid and two boys from gen ed picked a fight with him and called him “short bus”. They did not even care that he was with an adult! As we walked away I had to keep telling him that someday when he was hitting home runs they would still be hanging out at the park making fun of people.

    Peter I have seen some barbaric things (kids belted into chairs they cannot release from) and some teachers that make it work somehow and understand that the behavior room is a pit stop and not a final resting place. A behavior classroom is just a name and some schools might call them C&B rooms or something inert. I am sure there are parents that would line up to tell me I am wrong and the behavior room made it possible for their child to be included. We are both right; it depends on the philosophy of the school, principal, teacher, and staff whether this is an apprenticeship to become a criminal or a pit stop as I said above. The assistant principals are supposed to be in charge of student behavior management and this position is one that gets cut when enrollment falls in neighborhood schools.

    I don’t know the numbers but not all schools have them and those kids get transferred without choice. These classrooms start in pre-K. A 5 year old I know is in a pre-K behavior room and his newest words that he learned from the new kid is “f***ing f***ers. This little one is a sponge for bad behavior and does much better around positive models where he has to compete with being the best behaved and not worst. The numbers in these rooms are anywhere from 3 to under 20 depending on the placement. The criteria is anybody’s guess. It ranges from outright physical harm to self and others to making fart noises in class. The way to get out is luck or a lawyer. I have even had a lawyer say to me that it is really hard to get kids out once they get in because as soon as possible they will find a way to route them right back to the behavior room.

  96. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Rose – I do need some balance on this issue so respectfully disagree anytime :)

    I think both of us have seen the dark side of what adults will do to children that causes an automatic disadvantage and it adds insult to injury when we expect them to be more behaved than the kids that have not been abused and neglected.

    I really struggle with the necessity of excluding children sometimes and as a disability advocate I have to respectfully disagree with my colleagues who have never seen how violent these abused children can be. It makes me crazy what people will do to children.

  97. Comment from Rose:

    How about we compile a list of schools with behavior rooms?

    In North I am aware of Ockley and Jeff.

    I am not aware of any in charters. I have never heard of one in a wealthier school, either, but I think a list would be helpful.

    I am aware some advocates want to do away with all behavior and academic rooms. The problem I see is the effect is much like when we deinstitutionalized mental health: these children will not simply be sent into regular classrooms.

    Chief Jo, for instance, got rid of their behavior classroom years ago. To my knowledge kids that would go there are now simply referred elsewhere, even if it is a long bus ride. This is what happened to the foster child I mentioned.

    If we get rid of enough of these rooms then some students will never be in a regular school at all, they will be at Christie or Morrison or Perry.

    Stephanie, you are right that unless you have worked with this population it is easy to dismiss how violent or inappropriate a child can be. A child who rages, bites, self-harms or attempts to act out prior episodes of molestation needs a great deal of help.

    On the other hand, as you say, children in these rooms can learn even worse behaviors from their peers. It really is a difficult issue.

    To bring it back to the equity issue, these children exist and will continue to exist. It seems wrong to me that it falls to the burden of poor schools to take these children while wealthier and charter schools don’t seem to be under any pressure at all.

    In fact, I have never seen this population addressed in any charter proposals or debates.

    Poor schools then have the double whammy of a significant number of students who might represent poorly in the cafeteria or in the halls, and then parents will use this as a reason to abandon their school.

  98. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    Peninsula has two behavior classrooms (up to second-third grade only); King has two, I believe?, Alameda??

  99. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    This whole “behavior classroom” phenomenon is extremely disturbing to me. I would also like to confirm their existence throughout PPS. This all goes back to the thread I started recently, “Is Poverty Just An Excuse?”

    As a middle-class white parent, I find parenting to be unbelievably difficult and incredibly draining. But I have a stable income, a house, I can pay my bills, and I have someone to share household duties with — my wife. My life — and esp. my experience as a parent — would be exponentially more difficult if these conditions were not in place. As it is now, I have to exercise an enormous amount of self-control when my kids are misbehaving. How would I act if I was unemployed, couldn’t pay my bills, and was single? Quite honestly, I don’t know how low-income people do it. Really. What surprises me — and this might sound really awful — is that there aren’t more incidents of domestic violence.

    For those low-income families that experience domestic violence, it’s not terribly difficult for me to see the relationship between having the shit beat out of you at home and them coming to school and acting out in class.

    It’s also not hard for me to understand that if you get the shit beaten out of you as a kid, then you’re more likely to do the same to your own kids. Lots of studies have been done that show precisely this.

    It’s also not hard for me to understand that if you’re beaten as a kid, you are more likely to be violent and engage in crime.

    And this goes on and on for generations. How do you break the cycle of violence and poverty and deprivation? There are many ways we can approach it, but the one way we MUST NOT approach it is to blame low-income people and low-income minorities for acting this way and blame them for their own fates. Doing so is immoral.

    Of course everyone has the capacity to make better choices in life. But we have to increase the likelihood that more kids in low-income schools and neighborhoods can make good choices. We can’t just leave them to rot in squalid conditions, get angry with them for making bad decisions, and then say “I told you so” when so many are not able to turn things around.

  100. Comment from ohme:

    I would like the district to acknowledge that lower SES schools are helping a higher percentage of children with these needs on a daily basis. The one way to help with is to keep class sizes quite low. It is easier to give children the nurturing they do not get at home when there are fewer children in the room. Teachers at these schools have the double duty of teaching content while teaching behavior. Low class size it critical to success in both areas with high needs population.

  101. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    ohme – would you offer your perspective on the issue of behavior and low-income schools? PPS_Expatriate, Rose, and Stephanie have presented one side of the argument, while Steve Buel has offered another side in a different thread on this blog.

  102. Comment from ohme:

    I would love to give my perspective.
    Working in a low income high needs school has given me a first hand view of things. First, I would agree that a teacher with strong management skills and a well organized classroom can lower the impact of behavior problems in the classroom. Overall, I do see a high percentage of children for whom behavior interferes with learning. Children who have parents in crisis, have lived with multiple relatives, are more likely to be left in the care of older cousins or siblings are more likely to be the victims of or have witnessed inappropriate actions. These children tend to be children in poverty, as you have mentioned.
    The difficulty lies in that one very disturbed child (through no fault of their own) can completely disrupt the learning in the classroom. Children with this level of need tend to be in high poverty schools. When one child can disrupt learning, when do the needs of the other 25 students outweigh the needs of the one disturbed child? It takes years of documentation to get them the help they need, while the children around them and the teachers who have little to no training to help them, are left frustrated and not learning.
    Another component of this is language use. A more affluent child is more likely to have appropriate coping strategies when they are upset, like using words, like their parents have taught them. I see at least 25% of children who have none of these strategies to deal with stress and anger, and so are more likely to act inappropriately. Children learn from their parents, so when I see a 5-6 year old cursing, yelling, hitting, and blaming everyone else for their actions, I know where that behavior is coming from. It takes time to reteach behavior when the expected behavior is so far removed from what is expected and seen at home. For example, I had a student once who stole from me. The item stolen was valued under $20. The parent said “Why is he in so much trouble? That costs less than $20!” There was no support from the home.
    There is a medical/financial component as well. If a parent with resources notices their infant is not making appropriate milestones, they are more likely to check up with a physician. If the doctor says the child has a problem, they are more likely to find interventions, medication, etc.
    One year, we had 5 undiagnosed autistic children come to the first day of kindergarten. No interventions, no help. Needless to say, those first few days of kindergarten were quite an experience in those rooms.
    Another difficulty is newcomer ELL students. We have gotten children from refugee camps who speak languages that nobody speaks in the building. They become (through no fault of their own) a huge management/behavior issue.
    Add to all that the reality that district behavior rooms are more likely to be housed in poverty schools, which means more children will witness “breakdowns” in the halls or cafeteria.
    It is quite the “perfect storm” of factors contributing to behavior issues in a low SES…all of which I have experienced and/or witnessed. I wonder if these factors are experienced as much in higher SES or charter, or focus option schools?

    I hope this helps the understanding of the impact behavior has on learning and school climate.

  103. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Oh me – This is great information from your firsthand experience. One thing I want to add from my years of working in family homes through disability services and child welfare is that there is a responsibility the county and state have to these families. I have seen families begging for help that receive none. I have gone to bat for parents that are doing a great job but their kid still has mental health issues that cause problems and the poor parents are blamed for bad parenting and DHS steps in because the school calls in abuse simply based on the child’s school behavior. Seemingly affluent parents have to deal with stereotyping as well when it comes to mental health and disabilities. I know parents that have mortgaged themselves into serious debt and they “look like” they can afford the sun and moon and the county worker will berate them for asking for help purchasing medical equipment. So much more to say but have to get back to work. How can we get all of this information into more of a structure to look at this stuff more closely and be solution-oriented?

  104. Comment from Rose:

    Ohme, thank you for your comments and expertise.

  105. Comment from mneloa:

    On the subject of ‘behavior rooms’, I wonder If Buckman has one. It certainly never was mentioned, but about 5 years ago a kid did something in that room that caused the police to taser him and the school to go into a brief lockdown. It was hushed up like you wouldn’t believe.