Recent news has focused on the educational choices that those on both sides of the education reform debate have made with their own kids. My first discomfort with this is the disclosure of the actual schools these children are attending. Given the high profile of both these ladies, and the animus they generate, as a teacher I worry about having information that specific (the actual schools) out there. I’m a firm believer that one should not bear the burden of ones parents, most especially if one is under 18.
I’ve also been trying to work out how to discuss the choices I’ve made for schooling my own child since last summer, but I hadn’t figured out the proper tone, or approach. Complicating matters, I have tried to include less and less about my son in my blog as time has gone, and he has gotten older, since its his privacy. Most of it has been in posts about being a special education parent, because I feel I have useful information to impart in my dual role as both a parent and an educator.
I haven’t talked about the school my son goes to, which is a local independent charter. I’m going to talk about my experience, not just to get it out there (or worse, “expiate my sins”), but because there is a lesson in this experience. How did my kid end up there? Through a combination of the economic downturn (leading to a financial implosion at the district we live in), the shelving of plans to expand his elementary (a Title-1 school that was racially/ethnically pretty much equal) to a K-8, murmurings about trouble at the feeder middle-school that he would be sent to, and all of us settling into what my sons diagnosis was going to mean for his education, we were living in “interesting times”.
The district had long been “charter” friendly, having a number of campus, and seemed to be adding more at the time. I took a tour of his prospective district middle-school, which was not at-all scary, but had some pretty huge classes (33-1, the state max), and the campus was large (~1,000 students). They had a self-contained autism class, but when I asked the special education program specialist about other mainstreamed kids with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in the district, she said (at that time) they didn’t have many. I felt we were taking a shot in the dark, but I preferred having him in a smaller school with smaller classes, and the charter we chose had that. The public middle school I toured was shutdown the following year which made my choice seem wise, but it has not been without its own set of troubles.
The school he goes to is an academically-oriented charter, that emphasizes preparing students for college by working on study skills. Since ASD comes with poor “executive function” skills, this was a plus. It’s not a “no-excuses” school. Since my son started, they have gained a number of ASD students. I suspect this is not because they are being inclusive, but because of all the SpEd students you can get, the high-functioning ASD ones are the best test-scorers (another ASD parent at a local support group shared the liking her son’s charter had for ASD students, and how mad they were that she wanted to opt him out of testing).
The special education services are done by the school district, and his RSP (resource pull-out) teachers are in the teacher union bargaining unit. His other teachers are not. Middle school was a revolving door of teachers (surprise) even among his Special Education teachers. He had long periods (months) of not having a proper RSP teacher, which did not make me happy. That was when I began to regret having a “choice”. Last year, my son finished middle school. With a child of that age (14 years old), it’s not really possible to dictate a change in schooling (like moving him out to a comprehensive high school — which I would have preferred). This was complicated by my son’s statement, that he wanted to go onto the high school that is located on the same campus as his middle school because, “he wanted to stay with his friends.” For an ASD parent, this is not a statement to be taken lightly. I will not even go into the difficulties we’d had on the issue of “socializing” services, etc. While it would have been “politically” more desirable to have him in a public school, I couldn’t argue with his desire to maintain these friendships.
What can be learned from this? I think it makes the point for Leonie Hamison’s support of small class-size. I would like all kids to have it, and we need to pony up the bucks to make it happen in all schools. Most parents making the charter choice are doing so when their public school options start to feel like musical chairs. When you’re raising a “special needs” child, your choices take on an additional layer of complication. I’ve always said that “choice” is not an answer to all problems, and this certainly illustrates that. This post on not opting out outlines how we are falling into the trap of becoming consumers, rather than citizens.
What I was looking for was either a small school, or smaller classes. I would have been happy with one OR the other. Unfortunately I couldn’t have either. While I chose a charter for my child, I would have been much happier if either class sizes had stayed smaller in district schools, or his elementary had converted to a K-8 in time for him to attend (he missed it by two years). I wanted this not just for my son, but for my neighbors kids, my own students, etc. That’s a lot different than sending your kid to Chicago Lab school, and championing a “no-excuses”, racially segregated charter at the other end of town for poor kids (FYI, son’s charter has a very diverse student body).
The district I work in is trying to do “full-inclusion” on the cheap. While class-sizes have gone up to the state max-level (30+ in K-3), they are pushing special education students (like my son) into these industrial-size classes, and dropping an aide or teacher in for one-hour a day of assistance and instruction. This inclusion would look a lot more reasonable with a 20-1 (or 25-1 in upper elementary) class-size. These are students (ASD, ED – Emotionally Disturbed, etc.) who were lost or overwhelmed in classrooms this large. If you really want to do inclusion to help the kids (and not just save money), and you want them to learn you need to make the “regular” classroom a more humane environment for all the kids. Otherwise, they are just bundles of “ADA” dollars, and an IEP is just a piece of tissue paper to use and throw out.