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May 07, 2007




Blame the problems of NCLB (and there are many) on the special education kids that principals "can't control, " because "they come through the door."

Spooky enough, she sounds like my kids' principal.

Liz Ditz

Charles and Daunna,

I subscribe to the Mercury News and live in the Bay Area. I don't know Annette Grasty from Adam's off ox (in the words of my father), nor do I know any parents, or kids, enrolled at Lakewood Elementary School.

My take, on reading the article, was quite a bit different from yours. I thought that Gastry was talking about the frustrations of being a school leader in an environment that ignored the realities of her job; imposed significant new burdens, and had refused to fund any additional resources to meet those burdens.

When I read Gastry's comment:

" Some reformers urge education to follow a business model, noted Lakewood Principal Annette Grasty. But, she said, public schools are different."

I assumed she was referring to, or reacting to, this article:


from US News and World report,

In which a business model is applied to public education, and public education is derided for not producing "a uniform product": high school graduates who have the skills necessary to join the workforce.

I also assumed that the reporter had "cherry-picked" startling quotes from a much larger, more wide-ranging, and nuanced discussion.

As someone with some journalism training, I also noted that the phrase, rotten tomatoes and wilted lettuce, wasn't a direct quote -- the reporter (Sharon Noguchi) was alleging that Grasty said somthing like that...but not exactly those words.

I also noted that while the thrust of the article was SpEd students at Lakewood, Gastry wasn't necessarily being interviewed about SpEd. It's possible that Noguchi didn't even has SpEd specifically in mind when she interviewed Gastry.

Let's look at the facts at Lakewood School:


American Indian or Alaska Native 1%
Asian/Asian American 9%
Black/African American 5%
Filipino/Filipino American 27%
Hispanic or Latino 49%
Pacific Islander 1%
White, not of Hispanic origin 12%
Participants in Free/Reduced Lunch 36%
English Language Learners 48%
Multi-track year-round school? No
School Mobility 21%

So nearly half the school are English Language Learners, and only 80% of the students are present for the entire school year.

That gives me a clue that the parents' education level may also be low: the parents may also have a shaky grasp of English, and may not be fully literate (and numerate) in their first language. If the school is not communicating with these parents in the parents' first language, and/or is only communicating in print--well, how can the parents have the information and/or resources to support their students' learning -- the way middle-class, English speaking families do?

Let me turn your attention to "TMAO", who teaches in a school even less advantaged than


My real issue though, is the lack of support given to English Language Learners (ELLs). Yes, they can write for an unlimited amount of time -- and my boy J. last year wrote until 5:30 to eek out his four paragraphs and then edit them -- but their work is thrown into the same mix, and thrown up against the same rubric as students with full English proficiency. I think ELLs should be held to the highest standards; I think no allowances should be made in terms of basic skills, or analytical process, or high-order thinking or anything else. I do think ELLs should be evaluated separately, on a separate rubric, one that allows for a lack of verbosity, slightly lowered vocabulary, and a lone spelling error. All too often, I've seen quality essays which meet all the expectations set forth on the various STAR web sites, and in fact exceed by accumulation of degree that released exemplars, I've seen these essays receive non-proficient grades. And it's wrong. I can only assume they suffer by comparison in the mind of evaluators -- I've heard rumors that recent grads compose the bulk of the graders -- with the fluent kids, those who can manipulate language, utilize idioms, creatively repeat because of ease of utilization and increased vocabulary.

When you consider how many native speakers are unable to cobble together fluid, ear-pleasing writing, it seems ludicrous in the extreme to punish -- and it is a punishment -- ELLs for the natural limitations brought about, not by their inability to organize thought and express it in written form, but rather for their inability to do so artistically and at a great length.

(TMAO is a particularly passionate teacher and writer, revealing the classroom realities.)

Let me also direct your attention to "Dick Dalton", a special education teacher of children with severe and profound disabilites, and himself a parent of children with disabilities, on the kinds of pressures Ms. Grasty might be referring to:


Larry will be undergoing the alternate assessment next year. He is profoundly intellectually disabled with severe CP. He can not feed himself, speak or do much of anything independently. He does know how to smile when he likes something and cry when he is wet and needs his diaper changed, or to express his displeasure at having to sit in one position for too long. Larry’s last psychological was done over 7 years ago, but his functioning has not improved substantially. His independent functioning according to a recent assessment is at a level of someone 5 months old. His IQ 7 years ago was 3. Now, at the age of 17, I don’t think it would have risen substantially to get out of the single digit range.

You should have seen his mother’s eyes bulge when I showed her Larry’s academic goals for next year:

The student identifies, analyzes, and applies knowledge of the structures and elements of American fiction and provides evidence from the text to support understanding; the student:

a. Locates and analyzes such elements in fiction as language and style, character development, point of view, irony, and structures (i.e., chronological, in medias res, flashback, frame narrative, epistolary narrative) in works of American fiction from different time periods.

This is taken, word-for-word, from the state curriculum standard and it is from a list of required elements that had to be included in the alternate assessment this past year. Remember, he is going to be in 11th grade. He must be assessed according to grade level academic content standards! It is true that I’ll put together some sort of portfolio showing some sort of proficiency instead of him taking the graduation test. It will be watered down and show him accessing the 11th grade curriculum in some way. But tell me: how is this meaningful? In addition to American Literature, I’m going to have to assess Larry’s academic proficiency in American History, Biology or physical science, algebra and geometry.

It is this nightmarish absurdity that makes me absolutely disgusted with pretty much anything inside the beltway or under any dome of any capitol. IDEA was put in place to deal with how school systems discriminated against students with disabilities, but NCLB is counteracting that by pushing for conformity. There is no possible way for the beltway to be able to micromanage what is taking place out in real classrooms.

I'm not defending Gastry -- I haven't a clue if SpEd in her school is exemplary or deficient. I'm just saying, don't jump to conclusions based on a reporter's writing.


wow, unfortunately that's worse than what the principal said in regards to my son when he was in grade 1, during an IEP meeting: 'your son has limitations, he will always have limitations, the sooner you as a parent realize his limitations and except the fact that this child will never learn, the better off we will all be.' He's presently a grade ahead of peers and can read at a grade 10 level. I'd like to know what limitations she's referring too...LOL
excellent read, thanks for sharing!

Mark Davis

Ms. Ditz. Thank you for your detailed response to the "wilted lettuce and rotten tomatoes" issue.Your (in your own words) not having "a clue" as to the state of special education services at the Lakewood School is an important fact, and might significantly alter your views had you first-hand, or even second-hand knowledge of such. Just as one should avoid, as you admonish, jumping to conclusions based on written reports, one should also avoid commenting without well-founded knowledge on a particular that is the focus of a criticism--that is, the state of special education services at Lakewood School.You also wrote that "IDEA was put in place to deal with how school systems discriminated against students with disabilities"; as a parent with a kindergarten-aged child with a federally defined exceptionality, one who has logged thousands of hours in research, attending IEP, MDET, ESY, EC, and other school-based meetings, spent more than $100K in private education and more than $150K in legal expenses, and one who knows IDEA1997, IDEA2004, and NCLB (which is simply a reauthorization of the 1965 ESEA), I have been painfully exposed to the prejudices and biases against special-needs students of some within public education. The "wilted lettuce and rotten tomatoes" comment, either verbatim or paraphrased, comes to no surprise to me. In fact, one local public school principal recently stated, somewhat publicly, upon hearing that a child with autism ran out of his school and into the highway, and could have been run over, was quoted as saying "We couldn't be so lucky." Not sure, however, what your foray into the ELL issue contributed to the discussion about public school employees' biases against special-needs students and their families, but please note that in no peer-reviewed literature or scientifically based research, nor in any federal or state statute or regulatory code, is the lack of ability to speak the English language considered a disability--only the lack of ability, because of developmental or acquired disability, to speak.


The principal was likely referring to "The Blueberry Story" as told by Jamie Vollmer wherein a corporate CEO tried to compare schools to businesses. (It's all over the Internet) The upshot is that manufacturers routinely return raw materials that are not consistent and standard, but schools take all kids, and therefore can not be expected to operate like a business.
It's unfortunate that the accountability indicators in NCLB sort students into subgroups that can be "blamed" for underperforming, which results in discrimination and intolerance. When teachers and schools are deemed to be failing because a subgroup of students, given inappropriate assessments, fail to meet standards we should all feel like wilted lettuce!

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