This is NOT ‘accidentally on purpose’ – this is absolutely on purpose.

In the last six months, many aspects of my life have gone through ‘change’. My address (a whole new state), my back office for tutoring, my weight. While those items have changed, my very real beliefs and sense of equity have not changed one bit – they just become stronger in conviction.

I know exactly why I left teaching in the classroom and now, 10 years later, when many more teachers have ‘left’ (fled and not replaced), I realize I was just a bit ahead of the curve. It is a challenge to find anyone these days who wishes to become a teacher due to the insanity of getting the credential and the further insanity of making through the first two years- never mind possibly getting through the first five years  and making it work for them, when they are seasoned and can be great.

As education went to  further extremes of the business model (charter schools, for profit secondary ed, small schools within a school, TFA and so forth, supplementary educational services) approach to education, those in charge continued to intentionally overlook and then ignore the most obvious problems arising from a ridiculous system. It is not that anyone has  forgotten or overlooked what we do in schools, it is most often the people in charge selectively choose to ignore, not address or lower the level of the problem until they  are called out.

Teachers are not by nature a dumb lot so one would have to guess administration, school boards and other community members seem to have a hand in the manipulations of kids getting an education. And this is why teachers become frustrated. We know. We know administrators and businesses (all the non-profit charter schools are BUSINESSES) intentionally on purpose have to overlook things so they meet the bottom line, present some sort of numbers to the people interested in their concept and hope to goodness no one catches them. A perfect example is how charter schools are able to skirt ADA rules for special ed students. You would be amazed at the stories, pack of lies and so forth surrounding this aspect of education.

When an article such as the one written by Jeff Guo at Storyline hits my reading, it is impossible to put down.   It is the embodiment of all the things I know are going on and have never had the ‘evidence’ to prove as we don’t talk about this stuff in polite company. It is too unseemly to discuss all the ways we betray students in this country.

What Mr. Guo wrote about is the basis of work looked at by Malcolm Gladwell, Shankar Vedantam, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.  It is the not so ‘hidden’ mess right in front of our eyes if we would just pay attention.  What is shocking is the fact this information is in no way hidden at all and that is the largest disgrace.

The result was an atlas of inequality.

We blame money as the cause for ignoring the gifted and talented students within a school district. It is not money. It is will. We know these students are out there and it is our job to find them. We have to do a better job. Instead, we do the opposite of what is best practices.

We give minority students and/or students of poverty the worst teachers, the new teachers, the teachers we can not figure out how to help. We give these same students Supplementary Education Services (SES), which is polite terminology for whatever half-rate tutors we can find after some ‘business’ takes a percentage off the top for hooking us up (trust me – I know the system and have seen it as a teacher, as a tutor and having been approached to work for these organizations). We created state tests which were so low in caliber, when the common core came out, most notably the standard for the economically advantaged kids, we flipped out to see the low scores. Reality met head on with the games we played to try to fool ourselves.

We put the socioeconomically disadvantaged students in charter schools which do not (the statistics prove it out repeatedly) which do not do anything more or better than a good, well run public school.  We do everything in our power to disenfranchise this group of students including evaluating them at the same time, at the same rate for gifted and talented programs.

Is it really any wonder at all education is in a shambles?

What can YOU do?


As a parent, you can use the SES money towards a better tutor for your  student.  

Districts must make available to parents a list of State-approved supplemental educational services providers in the area and must let parents choose the provider that will best meet the educational needs of the child.

 The school districts do what is cheapest, NOT best. Find an independent tutor to work with a small group of students. They can be paid by SES funds. Trust me, the threshold to be a tutor for supplemental education services is low. You can find tutors willing to work with students for less than their ‘listed’ costs on a website such as

-Stay away from the sites which promise you tons of tutors as you will find it is a numbers game and the sites with the ‘most’ tutors are not the sites with the BEST tutors. There is a difference.  Sites with the most tutors need to prove to investors they have a business model. 20% of the tutors on the site do 98% of the work. The other tutors are window dressing……I’ve been there. I was the 20%.

-Tutors are generally independent contractors.

-If you go with an SES ‘provider’, some business is making money and the tutor is maybe getting $12-20/hr.  Since an SES tutor has a low threshold to meet to become a tutor, you are not getting your monies worth, you are getting what is cheapest for your school district.

-If you go with an independent tutor, the tutor makes the money they are worth, stick with the job and know what they are doing.


The Price of Tutor A and Tutor B

The more I tutor, the more I confirm some of my worst fears regarding educational practices.

Each time I have a student with a teacher who tries to teach a cute ‘story’ method for doing an actual math procedure I wish to just puke.  The most recent technique I have been ‘learned in’ is the cake method or cupcake method as new terminology for being able to discern factors and use the factors to obtain a product….as in doing multiplication.  I have already been ‘learned in’ the ‘flip it over, flip it over’ song for the word reciprocal as in, “I am dividing one fraction by another and need to use the multiplication sign AND the reciprocal of the fraction”.

It is not clear to me which is worse – the teachers not being comfortable enough with math and the appropriate vocabulary to use in describing a math process, the inability to explain a process via analogy and then use the appropriate verbiage or the idea of teachers dumbing it down.  No matter how you look at the situation, it is unfair to our students.

In light of STEM (M is for math!) and the common core standards rolling out in at least 40 states, it is going to be increasingly important for teachers to step it up. I do not know if this means teachers going back to school to be ‘learned’ in the ways of math or what it will take, I just know it is wrong to short change our students.

In addition to using made up words and phrases to teach math, many teachers do not expect habits of mind from students so they can go to algebra and progress further. Students should have syntax by Grade 6 – this means you solve a problem/equation down the left side of the page and not across.  It means things such as writing neatly, not skipping steps and doing the ‘scratch math’ on the far right side of the page so the actual work of math looks neat, tidy and can be ‘read’.

I had a student upset and angry with me for NOT writing out the equation from the word problem in algebra. I asked the student to pick out the three most important words in the word problem and we would assign the variable and construct how to do the problem.  This was upsetting as the ‘tutor’ at the library read the word problem to them and gave them the equation.  The student was being ‘cheated’ by the tutor as the tutor clearly already knew how to do the math – the student needed to learn. Skipping the ‘thinking’ process for the student did not make them better understand math and it did not make the tutor a better tutor since the student just had to solve the equation.

As a tutor, I have to explain what I do and why my rates are what they are versus the tutor at the library or other tutor who will charge far less.  Tutor B can charge less as they are not actually teaching math.  In fact, sometimes I think teachers are not even teaching math and so tutors don’t feel obligated to do more themselves.

We should not teach misconceptions in science and we should not try to shortcut the thinking process in math. These mistakes, along with multiple choice tests do not benefit our students.  School reform has many trees to clear from the forest of my disbelief.  It would be different if I had this situation once in awhile……I have seen it across the bay area of  N. California and now in S. California. I saw it in New York. Places I have not seen this messiness: Namibia, Kenya, Sweden.  I know this messiness does not happen in many places as the students excel at math.  We need to meet the competition and  in our training, there can be no short cuts.


The proportion of time ‘AT’ school Is NOT the same as being ‘IN’ School and other measurement issues

This article was difficult to digest on many levels – some of the comments were hilarious, some were so to the point honest it was like a gunshot going through and out the other side and some demonstrated the absolute magnitude to which people are finally understanding TEACHERS can not control the education of a student when parents are not parenting.

As a tutor, I get to cherry pick the jobs I wish to take on. This is a luxury for me.  I also try to, within reason, keep my fees low so I am available to a wide range of students as there are many students/parents who know the value of an education and the cost of tutoring is beyond their grasp.  Clearly the students who can ‘afford’ me most likely don’t need me.   I interview the student and the parents informally to make sure it is a good fit all the way around and ask some important questions that often stymie parents:  (1) What are your childs goals? (2) What are your goals in 1 week, 1 month, 6 months? (3) Is this tutoring to ‘pass the class’ or is this tutoring to learn, most especially when I am discussing algebra (4) Are you willing to commit to assisting your child schedule their time such that there may be less TV and/or computer time in order to get through the studying? (5) Are you willing to commit to a consistent schedule?  (6) What type of feedback do you wish to have from me? (7) In certain situations I need to ask if the parents want me to meet with the teacher (this is fee intensive although it can have outstanding outcomes with the right family).

If parents seem to not understand questions 3-5, I have to think long and hard if this is a job I wish to take on because at the end of the day, no matter how hard I work, it is not going to be enough to benefit a student I see for two hours a week and so change and improvement is inherent on other factors.  This is shared with parents.  I tell parents my being at their house is not the same as the child being focused in and doing more than the one or two hours of tutoring each week. I explain that tutoring works best when everyone is on board.  Amazingly, only a small amount – say 35-50% of parents get it and so I have the opportunity to work with the cream of the crop of students who (1) want to learn (2) often have learning differences or are differently abled – autism spectrum, ADHD, cochlear implants, ESL, auditory processing, etc. and (3) parents who value education.  At the end of the day, I have a great deal of satisfaction that I did something wonderful to help a child learn.

Believe it or not, most of the parents who hire me are not relatively well to do, relatively uneducated themselves and live modestly  and are not all white or Asian as the stereotype goes.  The difference is these parents WANT their child to succeed and put forth  the effort to work  with me and their child for success to happen.  Am I perfect? No….are there times when things take longer than anyone expected? yes…..Do the students improve? I would say 95% do and when I or the parents do not see success we part ways early enough in the game for the parents to find a different tutor.

All of the above three paragraphs is very different from what happens in a public school classroom where I would be lucky if 35% of the parents are on board in any reasonable way (this means both parents who don’t care and parents who care too much are not in the 35%).  I would be exhilirated if 50% of my students came to school with the intention of learning (both mentally and physically, such as having a good breakfast with protein in it).  Over the top would be if there was a situation where the kid was not ‘kept’ at school and warehoused somehow for part of the day so the school could get the ADA……..this is where the differenc of AT and IN play a huge role and being on board is not always so transparent. So, in the public school system, getting the child to school is only a very minute part of the issue. Engagement is a huge effort and there are some kids, and all teachers know what I mean, that we are thankful don’t show up to school.

None of this is a free pass for parents not to parent, however, it does point a magnifying glass at the large problem of willingness to put in effort and willingness to follow through – this comes from the home.  If OUSD thinks for one minute having the student AT school solves the problem, they are sorely mistaken.  This is not even the real problem.  Until OUSD and every other school district gets to the point of addressing the problem – education is a mind set, there is going to be a chronic lack of success at all schools.  Sometimes having a student AT school merely means they are off the street and being looked after – it does not mean they are learning. It is of great importance that our state superintendent look at the issue at hand, not the issue that merely generates ADA.

Parents and advocacy for their special education child, family II

The past two weeks have been a further  confirmation of WHY PARENTS MUST BE INVOLVED with their childs delivery of special services and  of all I thought I knew and believed about special education at public schools  and an eye opener as to what passes for special education, even in wealthy school districts, even when the parents are educated……even when the teachers are experienced.  Special education is a nightmare and it is actually a wonder to me how children ever exit these programs, much less why we as a society accept so little for our tax dollars. 

My friend (a teacher colleague of mine) has a  younger sister,  seventeen years old who was diagnosed years ago (as in at least 9-10 years ago) with a variety of issues from dyslexia to auditory processing issues is getting ready to leave high school.  This child has received a variety of special ed services over the years.  Up until this past six months, there was marginal parent involvement as the parents felt that the school (and district) had everything in order for their daughter.  This child turns 18 in June 2010 so there is an imperative to accomplish as much as one can in the three remaining months.

I was asked to ‘consult’ on this students IEP as my friend felt it was too close to home for her to do since it was her sister and I would be more objective. In addition, it would eliminate any parental transgressions and recriminations from the process so I felt comfortable taking on the task.  Although I know the parents, it is indirectly and so this is a more clinical view of the IEP and its execution.

My role in all of this was to be an advocate for the seventeen year old in as she ages out of the public school system and progresses to college.  I am a credentialed teacher with a background in speech pathology.  My goal was to help the parents do everything possible to make the system work for their child within the reasonableness of what public schools are expected to do (or should morally do).   In this particular situation, I needed to follow up on why said student had not been receiving the services noted on the IEP and identify why the school seemed to want to ‘offer’ up a deal that required parents to sign/waive their rights and their childs rights to future recourse for something which had not happened…….

First goal: Review the paperwork the parents gave me which include most recent IEP’s of last two years and services which were supposed to be rendered.

The IEP pages were so incomplete as to border on ‘why bother’.  It is impossible for me to identify where student is at educationally and why services of a specific type were being provided, who provided the services and what the ultimate goals were.  Clearly implementation of this IEP was ad hoc. I am backtracking with no less than 26 questions to the parents to sort out relevant information.

The second goal was to evaluate what goals had been met, which ones had not been met, which ones were of concern to the parents and what the parents felt were the next goals to reach certain landmarks, most notably passing through algebra.    (If you have read my previous blog on special education advocacy, the previous sentence most likely looks identical……it is.)  Essentially an IEP has goals which are to be met and this can be done quantitatively, qualitatively or both.

There are a number of issues at play in this particular situation – most notably the student has not been given homework in at least a couple years.  This in and of itself is not a problem as philosophically not everyone agrees that homework should be given or how much or what kind.  I do not have evidence that the student is using their planner/agenda book and that could be part of the problem(s).  The parents have been some what out of the overall ‘looping’ of this students education other than showing up for IEP meetings, so I am working to reconstruct (with honesty from all involved) what has and has not gone on in the past of the last few years.

Personally, I can understand a lapse of two weeks or a month of not using the agenda book, however, I can not fathom letting it go longer than that nor could I deem it appropriate to allow a child with an IEP  to slip this far. Again, I had parents tell me they believed their excellent school district would look after the best interests of their daughter and so they were not much involved.

After not having answers to many of my questions/concerns, I spoke with the parents and indicated it seemed completely wrong for them to sign away their own and the rights of their daughter for future recourse.  I could not in any type of good faith recommend accepting a ‘deal’ which was nothing different from what the school district was reasonably expected to provide but did not.

This child has managed to obtain a C in Spanish at a local community college. She did not test in to college algebra and is having to now  re-do pre-algebra and then intermediate algebra to get to college algebra – about 6 -8 extra units of study. It is difficult to sort out what might be recourse as this child did pass the high school exit exam which contains basic algebra skills. I am not sure there is recourse as nothing in the IEP indicated a goal of this child passing through algebra to be college ready.

Since I could not understand why some services on the IEP were being given (actually, they had not, which is part of the problem) as there was no diagnosis to indicate the need nor was there any kind of description of services, I suggested the parents meet with the high school counselor and go to the community college with their daughter to get in writing all the courses she would need to transfer to a Cal State or UC campus and to create a list of goals to achieve these courses.  Disabled student services at community colleges have been cut much like services in other places so I am unsure what the community college will be able to do to augment this students learning.

What was also difficult to me was explaining to the mother of this child how she was entitled to take up the issue of what was not done, however, it could be months before anything would be resolved and her daughter would have graduated by then. In this case timeliness was of the highest order and I am not sure what can be accomplished in three months.   It was painful to explain to the mother the problem with not being college algebra ready and now having to pay for tuition and books to meet that goal  – something her other daughter (my friend) had been saying for a number of years but the mother did not want to listen as it was a GOOD school district.

For the second time in two months, my heart was broken. I knew I would never have been allowed to get away with such low delivery of an IEP and yet, some teachers and a principal in another school district were able to work the system.