I was watching Obama do his Snoopy victory dance for bipartisanship last night. Seems the U.S. Senate has decided to do its bit for bipartisanship with that test vote for extending the Bush tax cuts, and now, the House has plastered a billboard with the word “Surrender” on it. Seems everyone in Washington is falling in love with the sweet smell of bipartisanship.
Cue Pepe Le Pew. Take a sample of his DNA and recombine it with Merlin’s. Shake well and let loose in official Washington circles to remind folks of the stench of one failed bipartisan bill of the past: No Child Left Behind.
I have personal experience with No Child Left Behind. While trying to find some work, I signed up as a tutor for a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) provider in Louisville, KY. The NCLB provider that I worked for believed in one on one sessions with underprivileged kids. The tutoring sessions were free to the kids. NCLB picked up the tab.
In the beginning, the tutoring was fine. My first students problem was that English wasn’t her native language. Unfortunately, I was only given 25 hours to fix her learning difficulties.
Yep. You read that correctly. NCLB kids are allotted 25 hours for one year to get their act together with a tutor. After that the 25 hours are up, you move on.
Next, I was assigned two kids. Both had problems with math. One was a 15 year old, while the other was 12.
I had this lesson plan where I started out teaching the kids the basics on fractions. From fractions, I would move on to proportions, percentages, …etc. All the basic math up to some algebra and geometry was on the agenda.
However, I hit a snag with the 15 year old. At the end of the fractions lesson, he admitted to having a problem with one little math concept – division. I’m thinking, “OK. Maybe it is long division?” So I ask him to explain, and he has a problem with the entire concept of division.
Now, I can be a pretty cynical guy, and I’m thinking to myself, “This kid is messing with my mind on purpose. He’s enjoying watching my eyes pop out of my head.” So I give him a quick division quiz to see how bad his division skills are. The kid bombs. He doesn’t even know that 7 divided by 1 is equal to 7. I also give him a quiz on simple multiplication.You know that 3 times zero is 3, at least according to my student.
Needless to say, I’m floored by this result. This kid, who was held back one year in high school math, can’t do simple multiplication or division. So basic lesson plan goes out the window, and I give the kid a copy of the multiplication tables to memorize for out next few sessions.
Several sessions later, the kid is still bombing simple multiplication and division quizzes. Cynical me thinks the kid is just lazy, and I lecture him that he will never be a mechanic (his professional goal) if he can’t even do simple multiplication or division.
Finally, my younger sister, who is a psychiatrist, suggests that the kid has a learning disability. OK. I go and do some online research, and I stumble upon a math disability called “dyscalculia” or math blindness. Dyscalculics have an inability to learn simple math concepts like multiplication or division. They have trouble with the concept of odds and evens, and they can’t give out correct change. Some can’t even read an analog wall clock. Basically, dyscalculics are stuck at a third grade math level.
I decided to test my 15 year old high school student with a series of quizzes to see if he has any other dyscalculic symptoms. I make up a quizzes based on the above symptoms, and I have them ready for our next tutoring session.
In the meantime, my 12 year old sixth grader, who thinks he does not need my help, seems to be making some progress in our tutoring sessions on fractions, or so I thought. However, he admits to me in the middle of one of our sessions that he has trouble with division.
Oh fucking hell.
I do an impromptu test of the 12 year old for dyscalculia. I go through a series of simple multiplication and division questions, which he bombs. I ask him which of the following numbers is odds or evens, and he bombs that. I ask him, “If the bill for an item is $2.44, and I give you five dollars in payment, how much change to I get back?” His answer: $3.44. He does manage to know how to read an analog wall clock though.
I give both of my students the formal quizzes that I have devised for testing for dyscalculia, and both fail. My 15 year old high school-er can’t even read an analog wall clock. Mind you, these quizzes are not sanctioned, but the actual test for determining dyscalculia is a computer test that runs about $2000. Naturally, I inform the parents of both boys to get their sons tested.
Here is where the shit hits the fan, and Merlin becomes the villain of this post.
My boss tells me that I violated my contract by informing the parents that their kids may have a learning disability. I am not qualified to make that determination, and those quizzes that I gave were a big NO NO. Furthermore, even though I requested to be assigned new students, I had to keep tutoring the two that I had because I was under contract.
I’m not a special education teacher, but I still had to sit there and try to tutor kids that I felt needed special ed. Oh, and the school system decided to fight my recommendations for testing either student. I handed in my resignation after I completed my 25 hours with each student.
In defense of my former boss, I found out that the local school system HATES NCLB providers. They view him and the others like him as vultures. The money NCLB providers get could be better spent, according the local school administrators, and they will use any excuse under the sun to cancel a contract with a NCLB provider. In other words, raising red flags about the state of the local school system is a great way to end a business if you are a NCLB provider.
No one appreciated the fact that I caught the school system cheating kids out of an education. I know that the teachers had to be aware of these two students problems because I figured it out in a few hours, while they have had these students for YEARS. And before you say, “Well, two students fell through the cracks,” keep this little fact in mind. An estimate has that 5% of all students are dyscalculic, which means the Louisville area has several thousand kids who suffer from this learning disability.
So to get around the mandated testing for kids that is required by NCLB and the state, the Louisville public school system must be doctoring grades and test scores.
To recap, my personal experience with this wonderful piece of bipartisan legislation demonstrated that (1) the federal government loves to do things on the cheap, and (2) mandates a system that validates cheating from teachers and administrators on grades and standardized tests.