Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sad Commentary on the State of GATE in California

Through a link from "The 'More' Child" blog, I discovered an interesting new blog on the EdWeek site by Tamara Fisher called "Unwrapping the Gifted". Ms. Fisher is a Gifted Education Specialist for a school district located on a Native American reservation in Montana and is the President-Elect of the Montana Association of Gifted and Talented.

In a recent post, Ms. Fisher notes that there are now eighty-one colleges and universities that offer coursework on gifted & talented education as part of their teacher preparation programs. You can find the complete list here.

I was disappointed but not surprised to learn that out of the eighty-four state-approved teacher preparation programs in California, only ONE offers any coursework on the educational needs of intellectually gifted students. That is Cal State-Sacramento; it offers a grand total of two courses, both of which are electives. What that means is that extremely few of the teachers in California's government-run schools will have ever received any meaningful amount of preparation for teaching gifted children before setting foot in a classroom. Some may get a bit of in-service training in GATE; a few especially conscientious ones may voluntarily seek out resources to learn about the subject on their own.

A recent report from the Fordham Foundation found that of 3rd-12th grade teachers surveyed nationwide, roughly 2/3 reported that their teacher preparation programs provided little (46%) or no (18%) training on teaching academically advanced students. 58% reported that they have had no professional development over the past few years focusing specifically on teaching advanced students.

This situation is absolutely unacceptable. All of the UC and CSU schools of education should be required to offer coursework on teaching gifted kids. More than 60% of California's newly credentialed teachers completed their preparation programs in the state's public colleges and universities. They should have the opportunity to receive formal training on meeting the special educational needs of gifted children before they start teaching.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

British Sikh Girl Wins Right to Wear Religious Bangle

Last fall, I blogged about the plight of Sarika Singh, who'd been expelled from her government-run school in Wales after breaking the school's "no jewelery" rule for refusing to take off her kara. The kara is a slim metal bangle that is worn at all times to remind Sikhs not to sin and is a central part of that religion. Sarika's bangle could not be seen under long-sleeved blouses and she had agreed to remove it for safety reasons during gym and woodworking classes.

A judge of the Welsh High Court has now ruled that the school's action constituted unlawful discrimination, and that the school had failed in its legal obligation to promote "equality of opportunity and good race relations, and to discourage discrimination."

I applaud the judge's sensible decision in this case, and hope that it paves the way for other students to win exemptions from dress codes for symbols of their faith (such as the case of Christian teen Lydia Playfoot and her purity ring).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Y'all Are Making Me Look Like a Slacker!

One thing about us Catholic homeschoolers- we are a fertile bunch! I had no idea there were so many of us due at the end of '08/beginning of '09 until I saw a post from Melissa Wiley over at "Here from the Bonny Glen" about it. I'm a bit humbled by the fact that most are on their fifth or more child while I'm only on my third, but I'm only 31 so if it's God's plan to bless us with more there ought to be plenty of time :-)

Congrats to all the other expecting mommies!

Expecting #10:
Kim from "Starry Sky Ranch" in the late fall.

Expecting #9:
Martha of "Yes, They're All Ours" in December.
Elizabeth Foss of "In the Heart of my Home" in December.

Expecting #8:
Mary Ellen Barrett from "Tales from the Bonny Blue House" in January.

Expecting #7
Christine from "Memories of a Catholic Wife and Mother" in October.

Expecting #6:
Melissa Wiley of "Here in the Bonny Glen" in January.
Suzanne Temple of "Blessed Among Men" in December.
Alice Cantrell of "A Number of Things" in December.

Expecting #5:
C.J. from "Light and Momentary" in December.
Stephanie from "...and These Thy Gifts" in January (sorry for the initial mix-up!)

Expecting #3:
Carmen L. of "Carmie's Cozy Conifer Cabin" in November.

P.S. Congrats also to Dana Hanley from "Principled Discovery". She's not a Catholic, but she is expecting #5 :-)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What's in a Name?

There has been an announcement from the Homeschool Association of California's legal team that in conjunction with the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, the California Homeschool Network, and the Christian Home Educators Association of California, the term "independent study program" or "ISP" is no longer to be used when describing homeschooling under the umbrella of a private school serving multiple families. Instead, the groups are recommending the use of the term "private school satellite program" or "PSP".

Apparently, the California Department of Education has taken the position that only home study programs of government-run schools that comply with specific regulations in the CA Ed. Code are valid "independent study programs".

That this is even an issue at all just demonstrates the stupidity of government bureaucracy. The term "independent study program" has been around for many, many years. The Calvert School began offering one way back in 1905. There are private school ISP's and government-run ISP's. It seems ridiculous to limit the term to only the latter group just because of some narrow-minded educrats...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Choice is Good, Both in Dining and in Education

The college I attended required all entering freshman to live on-campus with the exception of commuter students residing with their families. The school further required all students living in the dorms to purchase a meal plan. The only students allowed to opt-out of the meal plan were those with special dietary restrictions such those with documented severe food allergies or those Jewish students who enrolled in the kosher dining plan at the campus Hillel center. The plans required by the school were for a given number of all-you-can-eat meals per week at an assigned dining hall. Students had 3 choices for the number of meals per week, but the minimum at the time I was a student was 14.

I was not very happy with my college dining experience. But I really had no choice unless I wanted to move off-campus as an upperclassman, which was something I could not afford given my budget and the sky-high rents in the area (this was Silicon Valley during the height of the dot-com boom).

It struck me the other day that many of the issues I had with the way my alma mater ran its dining halls are analogous to many of the issues I have with the way the government runs its K-12 schools:
  • Just as I was assigned to a dining hall offering mediocre food based on where I lived, my children are assigned to a school offering mediocre education based on where we live.
  • Just as I was not permitted to switch to another of the university's dining halls with better food, my children are not permitted to transfer to a better one of the schools in the district.
  • Just as I had to pay the exact same amount of money for a low-quality dining hall as another student assigned to a higher-quality one, the amount of tax money we now pay towards education would be the same regardless of which particular school our children attend (since the district is one that relies on per-pupil state funding rather than on local property taxes).
  • Just as I was not permitted to purchase an a la carte dining plan where I would only have to pay for the food I actually consumed, we are not permitted to enroll our children in the school on an a la carte basis where they would only attend the course(s) of our choice.
  • Just as I was frustrated by all the waste I saw going on at my dining hall, I am frustrated by all the waste I see going on in my school district.
  • Just as my college dictated when and with whom I was supposed to eat regardless of my own personal preferences, the local school dictates when and with whom my children are supposed to learn regardless of our family's personal preferences.
  • Just as I could not afford a private apartment off-campus, we cannot afford to send our children to private schools.
  • Finally, just as my alma mater touted the alleged "community building" of dorm-based dining halls as the reason for denying students free choice in dining, the government touts the alleged "democracy promotion" of its schools as the reason for denying parents free choice in education (such as vouchers for private schools). Yet there's no reason to think that forcing a diverse bunch of kids with nothing much in common except for geographic proximity to socialize is the best way to build lasting friendships. The people I'm still close to 13 years after graduating from high school and 9 1/2 years after graduating from college are those with whom I had shared interests. It's the same way now as an adult- while most of our neighbors seem pleasant, we aren't particularly close friends with them. We do most of our socializing outside the neighborhood, with folks from our church, one of the homeschool support groups to which we belong, my sorority's alumnae club, those in DH's professional network, friends from college and DH's grad school, etc.
What it all boils down to is the issue of choice- I want the freedom to choose the option that best meets my own individual needs and preferences. I resent when some bureaucratic entity tries to dictate what I have to do, particularly if it creates an unfair "have" vs. "have not" situation and then charges me way too much of my family's hard-earned money to pay for this broken system.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Child Welfare Case Against Longs Dismissed

A positive development for homeschoolers in California- on Thursday, the family court case against Phillip and Mary Long was dismissed and the court terminated its jurisdiction over the youngest two Long children. Attorneys representing homeschooling organizations now plan to petition the Second Appellate Court to dismiss as moot the case currently under its consideration regarding the broader legality of homeschooling without a state teacher's credential.

Hopefully, this means that the whole thing will now just go away and California's homeschoolers can get back to focusing on what's really important- the education of their children!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Yet Another Validation of Our Decision to Homeschool

Okay, I know that it's not a great idea to blog while angry, but I just need to vent! The superintendent of my local school district came to speak at the monthly meeting of the moms' club in my town to try to sell us on their schools.

I went because I was curious to hear what she had to say- particularly since in the most recent round of state report cards, only 1 school in the district scored both in the top 10% of schools with similar demographics and in the top 10% statewide. And that particular school doesn't even have enough room for all the students living in the very expensive neighborhood it serves, let alone any other students in the district. The other 4 schools in the district that scored in the top 10-20% statewide are in the bottom 10-40% when compared to ones with similar demographics (including my neighborhood school). I know standardized test scores aren't the be-all and end-all of school assessment, but such underperformance *is* a real reason for concern.

Anyways, I politely listened to the superintendent's spiel and she kept talking about the district's commitment to parental choice, blah, blah, blah.

After all the other moms had asked their questions, I posed mine: what's the rationale for the district waiting until 4th grade to start their gifted program and what is being done to meet the needs of those children in the earlier grades?

First, she claimed that under California state law gifted children are supposed to be served in the regular classroom. Please pardon my French, but that's a load of total B.S.! The Balboa magnet school for highly gifted kids down in Northridge (near L.A.) starts in 1st grade. If our district chose to start GATE in the primary grades, they totally could do so.

Then she starts talking in an extremely condescending way about there being a difference between regular gifted kids and highly gifted kids (duh!), and how the latter need a qualitatively different curriculum and how they often have social difficulty in regular classrooms (double duh!)

At this point, I stopped her and said that I understand the difference between gifted and highly gifted (to be civil, I didn't add that I'm pretty sure I know way more about the subject than she does given the amount of reading I've done over the past 4 years since it became clear that DD was unusually bright). I then asked again what is being done to meet their needs prior to 4th grade.

She then claimed that gifted kids get differentiated instruction in their regular classes. More B.S. I'm sorry, but when there are 19 other kids in the classroom including those with disabilities and those who aren't yet fluent in English, the gifted kids aren't getting much (if anything) in the way of individualized instruction. Of course, I simply kept my mouth shut and nodded but inside I was fuming.

So I got my answer- the district really doesn't care about the needs of gifted kids in the primary grades. I had suspected as much, which is why we're homeschooling, but now I've got my proof.

The district is more than happy to take the tax money we pay via our rent and on DH's salary. But they don't want to make an effort to provide an appropriate education to our child :-(

Monday, July 7, 2008

Pity the Poor Little Rich Kids of NYC's Prep Schools

Okay, I know it's not terribly Christian of me to gloat over this quote from an unnamed guidance counselor at one of Manhattan's chi-chi prep schools bemoaning this year's poor placement rate at Harvard and other top colleges (emphasis mine) but I just couldn't resist:

"The Ivies are reaching out for a diverse economic background—even home-schooled students are becoming more of a thing."

The fact that there will be former homeschoolers like Chelsea Link attending Harvard next year but no graduates of $31,200/year Dalton just makes me feel a teeny bit better about not being able to afford the astronomical tuition private schools in our area charge!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

So What's A Parent on a Budget Supposed to Do?

Being a blue-eyed blonde of Irish, Scottish, and Norwegian descent living in sunny California, I use a ton of sunscreen. My skin is so fair that it's been charitably described as "porcelain", and less charitably so as "mozzarella". Mix in my DH's Irish, English, and German heritage, and our kids are doomed to also burn rather than tan in the sun without the use of sunblock. I slather it on them any time they'll be outside for longer than a few minutes.

So naturally, I was concerned when I saw an article on that new tests show that 4 out of 5 sunscreens on the market don't adequately protect their users, including almost all of the best-selling brands.

I took a look at the website of the sponsors of the study, the Environmental Working Group to find out more information. So here are the top 10 most effective sunscreens according to the EWG report along with their unit cost according to a quick Google search:

1. Keys Soap Solar RX Therapeutic Sunblock. $7.93/oz. ($26.95 for 3.4 oz.)
2. TruKid Sunny Days Facestick Mineral Sunscreen. $16.67/oz. ($10.00 for 0.6 oz.)
3. California Baby Sunblock Stick No Fragrance. $25.98/oz. ($12.99 for 0.5 oz.)
4. Badger Sunscreen. $5.52/oz. ($16.00 for 2.9 oz.)
5. Marie Veronique Skin Therapy Sun Serum. $99.00/oz. ($99.00 for 1 oz.)
6. Lavera Sunscreen Neutral. $4.99/oz ($32.95 for 6.6 oz.)
7. Vanicream Sunscreen. $3.50/oz. ($13.99 for 4 oz.)
8. UV Natural Sunscreen. $10.59/oz. ($18.00 for 1.7 oz.)
9. Sun Science Sport Formula. $7.32/oz. ($21.95 for 3 oz.)
10. Soleo Organics All Natural Sunscreen. $9.61/oz. ($24.99 for 2.6 oz.)

Compare those prices with what I normally use: No-Ad Baby Sunscreen, which costs about $0.63/oz. ($10 for 16 oz.) This showed up on the EWG's "avoid" list. Wonderful. So just when our family is feeling the pinch from $4.55/gallon gas, skyrocketing grocery bills, and all the co-pays and cost-shares related to this latest pregnancy, now I'm supposed to shell out at least 5 1/2 times as much for sunscreen :-(

I think this is one of those things I'm going to just have to file under the category of "what I'd really like to do if we only had the disposable income to afford it".