Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Anyone who knows me well, knows that I carp a lot about the amount of homework K is assigned from school. It is really kind of insane, the volume of work these kids have to do at home, and I am not really sure what the answer is.

Having had children in both a Minnesota and a California school district, I can honestly say that Minnesota does it better. The Bloomington, MN school district has longer school days (about 5:15 hours more per week than here in Irvine), and far less homework, at least at the elementary school level. Basically all S had to do for homework was read for 30 minutes a day and an occasional worksheet to finish at home. He had the occasional larger project that needed to be mostly completed at home, but other than that, no real homework. In contrast, K has at least 45 minutes to 1 hour of homework (my estimation of how long an average child with no attention deficit should take) every day. She has had that level of homework since Kindergarten. And this is not including the 20-30 minutes of reading she is supposed to do every day. S even commented to me that K has more homework in elementary school than S had in high school (Bloomington school district).

K is an August child, so she is one of the youngest kids in her class. I think she lags less, developmentally now, than she did in Kindergarten. And her abililty (or lack of it) to focus has been an issue from jumpstreet. When we moved to Irvine, three weeks before school started, I had to scramble to get K and S enrolled in school, and although K had been evaluated for Kindergarten readiness in Minnesota, they had to re-evaluate her in California. So I took her to the evaluation and apparently she did well enough to be put in the "Later Gators". At K's school the "Early Birds" are the kids that are not as advanced academically speaking. The "Later Gators" are already starting to read on their own, where the "Early Birds" in some cases, are still learning their letters. So cool, K was a "Later Gator". Periodically throughout the school year, her teacher, Mrs. N. would approach me and tell me that K was not focusing well, but that it was not unusual, since some of the children were almost a year older than her. April conference time came, and I got a note from Mrs. N. that she did not need to have a conference with me, unless I wanted one. So, cool, K was doing well enough that there were not any apparent overwhelming concerns on the part of her teacher. How wrong I was.

About one week after conferences were over, Mrs. N. approached me after school and said, "I am going to move K down to 'Early Birds' because she is not focusing well in class." Mind you, this was 6 weeks before the end of the school year.

I responded as calmly as I could (I was really upset), "No, you are not moving her to 'Early Birds'. Our family has a routine, and you are not going to upset that routine." Again, wishing my brain had been along for the ride that day, it would have been nice for me to mention to her that she was the one that did not seem to need a conference with me, and that if things had been that terrible, she should have requested a conference. I heard later on, from another parent, that she had a list of kids that she had wanted to move down, she went down the list and asked each set of parents to move their kids and none of them budged. I upped my volunteer hours in the classroom, and had Mrs. N. send home the work that K did not finish in school. But I did not allow her to be moved down.

First grade was amazing for K. She had a young, energetic teacher and K absolutely thrived in there. I had an ongoing dialog with Mrs. B. regarding the focus and attention issues, and she assured me that K was doing well academically. After Mrs. N., Mrs. B. was really a breath of fresh air.

Again, anyone who knows me well, knows that last year was a particularly rough one for both K and I regarding the workload. This was second grade, mind you. Last year, K had a teacher that in my humble estimation, should have retired 10 years ago. This particular teacher is also the Gifted Education coordinator for the school. And she also had parent volunteers in her classroom every single day, and worse, parent volunteers were taking home stacks of the entire class' work to correct (against data privacy laws), leading me to wonder what the hell Mrs. F. does in there. But yet, she was still unable to keep certain kids in her class focused enough to finish work in class (K being one of those "certain kids"), and she had the kids take home "catchup work" quite regularly. K would get a "catchup work" bag at least once every two weeks, and this catchup work would take between 5 to 15 hours to complete. This was in addition to the homework which was taking K 10 hours a week to complete. Early in the school year I asked Mrs. F. if I should have K evaluated for ADHD, because the volume of work was overwhelming. She told me not to. She insisted that K did not need any help. (No, maybe not, but her mom does, because if this volume of work was going to keep up all year, which it did, K's mom was likely to commit Hara Kiri). I finally went "over her head" and contacted the school psychologist and arranged for her to observe K.

K had a particularly bad day in school on the day of the psychologist's evaluation. Mrs. F. approached me after school and lamented that K had a rough day, and that she was disappointed about that. I told her I was glad that K had a bad time during the observation, because then the psychologist could get an idea of what things were like at home, and that I may be able to get some help, or at least some strategies. About a week later, my husband and I met with the school psychologist, Mrs. F. and the principal about what was going to happen next. Since this meeting occurred one week before school let out for the summer, it was left with making plans for further evaluation in the fall.

That day after school, Mrs. F. (who must be Catholic - I recognize the whole guilt and shame deal from my own Catholic upbringing) approached me and said, "You better be grateful for what Ms. K (school psychologist) is doing for you. You need to bend over backwards and be grateful because the school district does not do this for just any parent."

I wish I'd had the presence of mind to say that the school district is mandated by law to at the very least do a preliminary evaluation for any parent that has concerns regarding ADHD and other learning problems. I also wish that I had said, "And I have not bent over backwards having K do 10 hours of homework a week and up to 15 hours of catchup work on top of it? Did you really mean to tell me that out loud, after we have sacrificed any chance for K to have any unfettered play time this entire school year?"

Cut to this year, K has Mrs. H. for third grade. I really like Mrs. H., she is another young and energetic teacher. But the homework is still taking longer than I think it should. And we are working on somehow getting it more manageable. About a week ago, we had a SST (Student Study Team - pretty much the Irvine analog to IEP) meeting. K does not have a full IEP, because academically speaking, she is gifted. Present at the meeting were Dr. P. (principal), Ms. K (school psychologist). Mrs. A (special ed. teacher), Ms. M. (speech/language pathologist), Mrs. H. (K's teacher) and I. We talked about K's educational experiences thus far, and I finally got to rant a bit about Mrs. N. I was told at that meeting that I did the exact right thing for K, regarding Mrs. N. wanting to move K down. I was given some strategies for homework, and told that if I needed more pointers to just ask. It was a really good meeting. I was also told that I should have K tested for the Gifted program, because according to her STAR testing (the California standardized tests) she qualifies as gifted. Not sure what the Gifted program entails, but if it is an "in addition" program rather than a standalone program, I think we will pass on it. No point in killing the poor child by burying her in paperwork.

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