My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


File This One Under "No Duh!"

And, surprise of surprises, it comes to us from the world of public education.

Large numbers of students diagnosed with learning disabilities could be helped by better reading instruction, particularly in the lower grades, state education officials believe.

More than 30,000 Colorado students are considered learning disabled - the largest handicap category among the state's 83,000 special education students. Numbers are similar in other states.

But educators now believe most of those students aren't handicapped at all. . . .

Steinberg believes that more than 50 percent of learning disabled students are misclassified.

Of course they are. It's ludicrous to think that the category "learning disabled" has exploded to encompass 38% of all special education students in the state, and that the problem is this brand new handicap that nobody ever heard of before. And, I think what's most infuriating for the public is the amount of money that IS REQUIRED by federal law to be spent on getting interventions to these students who ARE NOT HANDICAPPED.

Let me say that again: if the public knew how much of their tax dollar went to getting special services for kids who, essentially, are either [sorry--non-PC moment coming] dumb or lazy or who were poorly taught in 1st grade, they would never pass a mill levy election again.

Are learning disabilities real? Absolutely. Dyslexia leaps to mind--a neurological condition which impedes the students' ability to absorb, understand, and act upon information.

But there is a vast world of difference between dyslexia and a student who struggles to read in the fourth grade because he wasn't taught well in first grade, was never read to at home as a child, and whose parents never bothered to notice that the kid couldn't read the instructions to the Halo 3 game they bought him, but which keeps him occupied seven hours a day.

Look, I'm not just some guy mouthing off about public education. I'm in the trenches every day. And I see hard working kids with legitimate handicaps who are working their tails off to overcome them; I also see otherwise perfectly normal kids who are either so inattentive (and, NO, that doesn't mean they're ADHD!) or so completely disengaged as to render their output unrecognizable for their age group. One of my best friends in college, and one of the finest musicians and teachers in the state now, had such horrible dyslexia that she could barely read a sixth grade reader, much less the music that was her passion. BUT SHE WORKED TO OVERCOME--and has made quite a nice life and reputation for herself. These misdiagnosed students aren't likely to make such a nice recovery.

But here's the thing: I actually have a solution!!

Education needs to get away from the idea of age-level grouping. And I don't mean the standard conservative line about ending age promotion. I meant ending age-level grouping altogether.

When a child enters school, test them for their abilities. Then place them with students of similar ability, and begin to instruct them. When they achieve whatever benchmarks have been established, move them to the next level.

If they finish twelve years' worth of work, get them enrolled in college classes--if that happens sooner than twelve years, then so be it. They deserve to have the state pay for their college.

Some accountability for students and their families HAS to be restored to the system. It's altogether too easy--and this comes mostly from the Right--to blame schools and teachers for failing the students. And while there is certainly a component of that in play, to place all the blame in that way absolves the family of responsibility in a way that guarantees eventual student failure.

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