Thursday, March 03, 2016

Special Needs, Special Waits

I'm not at all surprised to read that NYC is failing to serve kids with special needs. It's a tough process getting kids evaluated, and it's even tougher to help the kids that I serve. I don't lightly refer kids for services, but I'm sometimes assigned kids who've missed school for years in their first languages, and just lack the connections to function in my classes, let alone others.

It's really amazing to me when I find out a kid missed five years of school. I had a father tell me once that in his country, if you didn't sign the kid up by a certain deadline, you couldn't sign the kid up until the following year. I listened to his story and marveled he had the audacity to tell it. I mean, if I missed signing my kid up for one year, I'd surely not miss the next one. But this guy, according to his own story, had missed five years in a row.

Of course he could've been lying. I've been in countries where I saw children selling Chiclets on the street. The child labor laws in some countries are a little lax. And it's possible the family was so poor they put the kids to work. That's a sad truth, but a lot better than the story he was telling me. It's also possible the guy was just as uneducated as his kid, but the fact was he'd somehow found the wherewithal to get his family over here.

In any case, the end result was a child who had few or no reading and writing skills in his first language. What I do is try to trick kids into loving English, and then once they do that their first language skills kind of move on over. This is usually not a very hard sell, as the entire world around my kids almost revolves around English. Of course there are exceptions. There are kids who really don't want to be here, and there are kids who are frustrated by the demands of writing a new language when they haven't got the benefit of an old one.

Kids like that need special programs. There was a program like that in my school a few years back, but we don't run it anymore. Citywide, I don't know of any initiative for kids who are illiterate, whether born here or elsewhere. Rather, we rely on Common Core stuff which ordinary kids hate, and hope that somehow special needs kids magically overcome not only their own illiteracy, but also learn the well-hidden pleasure of reading a short piece of fiction and dissecting every aspect of it over several months. Since that doesn't work at all for anyone, it's kind of an uphill battle.

As if that weren't enough, when you refer an ELL for special services they need someone who speaks the language to do the interview. Even though you may have dozens of people who speak the language right in your building, and hundreds more walking up and down the streets of your nieghborhood, you need a special DOE-approved person. The DOE has incredibly high standards and every single person they hire is an absolute jewel. Everyone who reads the local papers knows that, because they never have a cross word to say about any DOE employee, ever.

So you sit and wait months for the interview, because there are so few people who speak foreign languages in New York City. Maybe the DOE imports them. Maybe they have to take super-duper special tests. Maybe they have a secret decoder ring approved personally by Carmen Fariña. Maybe they have to sleep with someone very important. It's really tough to say.

Anyway, while you wait months and months, the kids sit in classes that are developmentally inappropriate for them. They watch the kids around them do things they can't. They fail tests in every subject without exception. Surely this makes them feel fabulous about themselves.

Of course, even in a world where absolutely everyone takes the same tests no matter what, it's entirely the fault of their teachers for failing to sufficiently differentiate.
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