Letter from an IDEA Mother

Posted on January 22, 2012

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Below are two e-mails I received from a mother whose child attends an IDEA elementary school. I am using her letter with permission. I have changed the gender of the child to neutral language and redacted certain information to protect her identity. Also, I typically do not use unsolicited, unverifiable emails. However, this person provided her name and place of employment which I was able to verify independently. Now, this person may be using someone’s name other than her own, but given the length and the repeated e-mails, that is a whole lot of trouble. So, I believe the letters to be true. I could be wrong.

I put both emails into this post. The first one sounds like any parent with a child struggling in any school. I have been in a similar situation myself. The second one is more alarming. I’ll share more thoughts after the emails.

My name is [redacted], I am an educator in the Rio Grande Valley. [Sentence redacted]. My [child] attends IDEA Public Schools in [redacted], Texas. My [child] is a second grader at IDEA and [s/he] has been attending for three years. One of the first disappointments that I have had is the bullying problem and the lack of student control that there is in school. My [child] was bullied for a while and after [s/he] reacted negatively against those who were bullying [my child], [s/he] got in trouble. That was my first issue with them. I kept [my child] there because of the IDEA reputation and also because it advertised college readiness. I have visited the classrooms, and it is somewhat chaotic. The IDEA website mentions that the teacher student ratio is always 15:1. This is not true. My [child] is in a class with 29 other students, the teacher at times has some students doing independent work while she reads to another group. That leaves the other students unsupervised. There was little supervision during recess (which they claim they are trying to solve this issue). This is where my [child] would get in trouble in school. The lessons are boring, consisting of worksheets after worksheets. My [child] looks forward to two classes, [her/his] computer math class, and the reading renaissance class. However, these classes are packed with 40 students. [My child] especially dreads math class. I am in constant contact with the principal and all of my [child]’s teachers. The principal and assistant principals have assisted me with my [child], and I think they are trying their best with the situation that they have. For the past three years that my [child] has been there, there have been different principals for each year. The teacher turnover rate is high. The teachers often call me to let me know about my [child]’s negative behavior, every once in a while they will let me know if [s/he] has improved, but usually it is at my inquiring. The teachers seem overwhelmed, they want to keep control of the class, but the kids do not listen. I have shadowed my [child] as well as my mother, and she agrees with all the observations I have made. My [child], I have to admit, is not perfect, but [s/he] is not a behavior problem at home. [S/he] complies with everything I ask [her/him] to do, including homework. It seems to me that [my child’s] misbehavior only happens at school. However, they have turned it around on me asking me what is happening at home that might be altering [my child’s] behavior.

[My child] feels so stressed out that two days prior to returning for the second semester, [s/he] started crying because [s/he] was dreading going back saying that [s/he] was afraid [s/he] might not behave. For the week that I have been [away from home for training for my job], and my mother has been taking [my child] to school, [my child] complains of stomach aches. I felt I was doing something good for my [child by placing her/him at IDEA], but I feel like I am making [my child] miserable. The teachers and the principals say that [my child’s] temperament is what gets [her/him] in trouble. I told [IDEA personnel] I was going to pull [my child] out and put [her/him] in public schools, they suggested I stay and develop a SAC. One of the teachers said, that if [s/he] was going to misbehave in IDEA, [s/he] would misbehave in public school. She was implying that [my child] would be a problem child everywhere. At this point I don’t know if it’s the IDEA public schools environment, or there is something wrong with my [child]. [My child] is not failing, [s/he] knows [her/his] math, [s/he] knows how to read at [her/his] level, and [s/he] is extremely knowledgeable in science. It is [my child’s] favorite subject. When [s/he] is at school [s/he] says school is boring, especially math. Because of the complaints that teachers make about [her/his] behavior, I put more pressure on [her/him]. I am making [my child] more anxious and frustrated. I am also anxious and frustrated. At this point I do not know what to do. I want the best for my [child], but I don’t know if I should pull [my child] out in the middle of this semester, what if [s/he] continues to misbehave in public schools. I would love for you to visit this school so that you could see first-hand. A [school] counselor [who is a friend of mine] pulled her kindergarten child because she was having similar issues as my [child]. I feel I am ranting, but I really would like to hear from you and ask you for your input. I am at a loss, I want the best for my [child], I feel like I am failing [my child] and I can’t give him the best education despite my best intentions.

Email Two

My mother spent another day with my [my child], the teachers complained again about [my child] not “finishing work”. [My child’s} work consisted of worksheets again. My mother counted the number of students in math class, and she counted 35. The groups are homogeneous by ability. There are kids from different grades together. Their Better Idea curriculum is based on direct instruction. (the [teachers] often don’t give students the opportunity to provide feedback to the teacher verbally, at least that’s what my mother observed in math class). I understand that public schools at the elementary level cannot have more than 22 students. Why is it that IDEA can get away from having these restrictions? The week he returned to school for the second semester, we had a SAC (that’s what IDEA calls it) –other schools call it RTI. I have not seen any improvement. There is only one special ed teacher/diagnostician for the several IDEA Campuses (I’m not sure how many campuses); that’s my understanding at least. The principal emailed her the info, but I have never met her. When we had the SAC, she was not present. It was only the principal, teachers, the school counselors, and myself. Was this done right? When my son started at IDEA three years ago, they asked if my son had a learning disability or was diagnosed as special ed., and if so, they would not be able to give him accommodations because they did not have that set in place. I guess over these past three years, they have developed this.

So, what do you think? If true, very disconcerting for a number of reasons. Most importantly, the denial of special education services of the development of a response to intervention plan without a special education educator does not seem ethical and may, in fact, be illegal.

And the use of direct instruction, worksheets, and teaching to the test (communicated by some who visited IDEA as well as by a TFA teacher in an IDEA school who emailed me) is disconcerting as well and may explain why IDEA students tend to do well on TAKS, but not on other tests such as the SAT or in college classrooms (see my previous posts).

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