Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Guest Column in Lafayette Journal & Courier

My guest column, titled, "The Blame Game" was printed in this morning's Lafayette (IN) Journal and Courier. The full, text is below, complete with research links which were largly omitted from the column.

Why do children continue to fail in school despite being repeatedly tested? According to schools, children fail because they do not want to learn or their parents do not care. Typical school culture is to first, blame the child, and then blame the parent.

Dr. Galen Alessi, Psychology Professor at Western Michigan University researched this phenomenon by asking 5,000 school psychologists why children have learning and behavior problems. Not one psychologist mentioned inappropriate curriculum, ineffective teaching, or ineffective school management practices as a factor for student failure. Psychologists blamed parent and home factors 10-20 percent of the time and child factors 100 percent of the time.

Common sense tells us that it cannot always be the fault of the parent and the student.

Most five-year-olds are excited about starting school. We need to find out why that excitement wanes and dies.

Schools always treat parents as outsiders in educational decision-making. It’s okay for parents make copies, file records, and raise funds, but a parent who offers methodology suggestions is labeled a “helicopter” parent at best, a “nutcase” at worst and told to leave this to the experts.

We never hear about parents who spend hours helping their child or who pay expensive tutors, only to see their child fail. Nor do we hear about parents who go to school unsuccessfully begging for help for their child.

Some parents never learn they have a right to have the school test their child for conditions that interfere with learning. Children placed in special education programs may spend their entire school career there without learning to read. They were either identified too late, after the window of opportunity had closed, or, they received “accommodations,” not appropriate reading instruction. Instead of learning to read, their assignments and tests were read to them. They are unprepared for further education, employment, and independent living.

According to the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR), schools can identify children with reading disorders in preschool or kindergarten. Serious reading difficulties are preventable with the right kind of intensive instruction provided early in a child’s development. That window of opportunity closes early. After first grade, a student can still improve. However, those who do not receive early powerful interventions will always perform poorly on phonemic decoding, reading fluency, and spelling. They will never be able to close the gap.

Alessi, Galen. (1988) Diagnosis Diagnosed: A Systemic Reaction. Professional School Psychology, 3: 145-151

Torgesen, J.K., Wagner, R. K., Rashotte, C.A., Rose, E., Lindamood, P., Conway, T. , & Garvin, C. (1999). Preventing reading failure in young children with phonological processing disabilities: Group and individual responses to instruction. Journal of Educational Psycholog, 91, 579-593.

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