Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Wherein this Mom takes on the Illinois State Board of Ed.

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This will be crossposted over at the Chicago Moms Blog, where tomorrow is education day across our sites: Silicon Valley, DC Metro and NYC Moms Blogs.

For my latest attempt at playing citizen-journalist, I attended FY2009 budget hearing sponsored by the Illinois State Board of Education. About two dozen other parents and school administrators gathered for the hearing in a small high school auditorium in Des Plaines this past Monday evening. I whipped out my notebook- the kind with a wire binding and lined pages. *sigh* I searched my purse for a good pen, but all I found were ones that dragged on the paper. *ugh* And I brought my camera with me, but forgot to take any pictures. *oops* Plus I didn't get all the names, and many facts and figures flew by me before I could record them.

Clearly, I am a much better citizen than a journalist. And that's okay. I spoke from the heart about the need for increased state funding for gifted education. And by spoke from the heart, I mean spoke extemporaneously, which is typically a bad thing, especially for me. But I think I did okay. Here's how the night went.

Joyce Karon, Dean Clark Linda Riley Mitchell, whose bio I have searched for and not found, presided over the hearing. Which seemed more like a meeting. I expected a gavel pounding here or there. "Order! Order! Stop these moms from whining about their precocious, under-served children!" No such thing. Although there were several moms and one dad who spoke up about the need for increased funding for gifted education in Illinois.

Janet requested money for the blind and dyslexic of our state and how they can be helped with assistive technology. She talked about a planned rollout using MP3 technology to assist such students. I only joined the MP3 party about two weeks ago and find it to be a very helpful way to separate myself from the world. But I can see how MP3s help these populations be a part of a larger world. And they make sooo much more sense than clunky old books on CD/tape.

Jane represented the School Library Media Association. They'd like all the children of Illinois to have access to "authoritative, trustworthy, search able, safe online databases." This would allow them to use sources other than Google or Yahoo! Search to increase their knowledge. She practically tasered the board and audience alike with this stunning fact: Alabama provides their students with better database access than we do. Ouch!

Then Daniel's mom spoke about the challenges of raising and finding a school for her gifted child. She said that as a family that is not independently wealthy, it was hard to fund a private education, but at a private school for gifted school her son, who is a bit different than many of his age mates, found friends and acceptance for the first time. He was also, for the most part, happily challenged. She spoke of the need for teacher training as well as programs for children at the far end of the bell curve.

Next up. Dr. Dan from District 59 spoke on behalf of the Illinois Association of Superintendents Anonymous (See? I'm not a journalist. All I know think is that he said he was representing the IASA). He advocated for funding for a superintendent mentoring program that would pair retired supers with new ones. My take: Okay by me as long as it's a volunteer program. Our retired school teachers and officials have generous pension packages that would leave most of us drooling and, by the way are draining state coffers.

Lori, another mom for gifted education followed. She gave a lovely prepared speech about her gifted children. Even with some accommodations at public school she noted, "The majority of the day my boys are working at a depth and pace that is far inadequate to challenge them -- the majority of the day! We have had to make a conscious effort not to follow their natural intellectual curiosities at home – because they’re getting way too far ahead! How sad! Picture the analogy of a classroom with all severely learning disabled children except for one child of average intelligence. Would we ever see that as an appropriate, fair, right education for that child?

Julie followed on her heels representing the Illinois Association of Gifted Children and talked about gifted kids from low-income homes and how likely these children are to fall through the proverbial cracks in our system. (Hello? NCLB!) She noted the need for increased funding for teacher training and to better identify and serve the gifted children of our state.

Have I put you to sleep yet? In reality, the meeting was pretty interesting. Others spoke about the need for equity in school funding, preschool for all, reading improvement programs, and there was much talk about the changing demographics of the state- increasing number of low-income and immigrant families. Some women from the Organization of the NorthEast (NE Chicago) spoke about some really interesting programs they are running. (Just click.)

Finally, I signed up at the last possible moment to share my two cents. "With all these compelling needs," I said (I'm paraphrasing; I couldn't take notes from my soapbox!), I can see how it's hard to find sympathy for my white, middle-class boys who've benefited from a variety of enrichment activities and a house full of books. But my boys are not simply enriched. They are wired differently." I spoke of the challenges of educating my boys, who currently attend a private school for gifted kids. And the challenge of saving for their college educations or my own retirement while funding their elementary educations. I talked about how their quick, quirky brains are more often sources of stress and anxiety (because of limited education options) than a source of pride.

I also mentioned that I know when we do send the boys back to public school, I'll be able to quit one of the many part-time jobs I currently hold, but will surely need to take on another- advocate for my kids. And while people assure me I'm doing right by my gifted kids, what about the students whose parents have limited resources (transportation, English language skills, or other barriers that make it difficult for them to speak up for their special children)?

Indeed, I was followed by V., a highly educated immigrant mother, who is desperately trying to figure out the US education system to find a place for her gifted child. In a private discussion later, another immigrant mom said that she came from a country with a standardized national curriculum and finds the US system very confusing. So do I.

I was glad I attended the hearing; glad I spoke up, but moving to Nevada looks more attractive than ever. Except for that whole moving part.

I also blog at Scrambled CAKE.

1 comment:

jerseygirl said...

We were one of those families that moved to the north suburbs of Chicago after extensive research of the "great" schools in the area. Of course, they had a gifted program that would be up to par for my first born who at 2 years old that knew all of his states. It couldn't come close to meeting his needs. Son #2 starts kindergarten the following year. He was even more bored. Thank goodness it was only a half day of boredom. By first grade, son #2 was eating his clothing. He would go to school with a nice shirt and come home with the collar and sleeves gone! Something just wasn't right. He said the only thing he liked about school was the 1 hour/3 days a week he could see the "enrichment teacher". She was no longer allowed to be called a "gifted" teacher because according to our district you can't identify gifted children until 3rd grade. Son #2's teacher was sure he would one day cure cancer, but at the end of 2nd grade he was no longer allowed to see the "enrichment" teacher. The teacher told me no other student in the school belonged there more than my son, but not all the children above average had been able to go this year. We switched sons #1 and #2 to a private school for gifted children. That nervous energy seemed to vanish. My boys could use their brain instead of eat their clothes out of boredom, nervous energy, or whatever it was. We just weren't quite ready to spend over $10K for our daughter in kindergarten. I thought we wouldn't see these bills until college. Well, my daughter is now in first grade and she's at the gifted school. There is no comparison. We'd like to move to a place where the taxes aren't so high, but my kids have neighborhood friends. Changing schools was a big adjustment. I can't take the neighborhood friends away. I see so many of my children's gifted friends still at the public school suffering because of No Child Left Behind. Their parents can't fathom paying the price and making the drive every day, but are genuinely unhappy with the situation. Can we keep 3 children in private school much longer? I don't know. There are so many states that do more for gifted children. Illinois has to help these children and their families get the education they deserve.