Sunday, September 13, 2009

Marginalized For Life

Ten years working with students as a DCPS social worker and I can confidently say that David’s situation is not remarkable. Due to concerns about privacy I am not going to discuss specifics about his life but speak about typical circumstances of students like him.

Who shares the blame for David being in the fifth grade and not being able to read? It is a multi-system failure starting with his family. Parents not having the skills to manage their own lives let alone raise a child are disturbingly common among DCPS students. Substance abuse, mental illness, illiteracy, incarceration, medical problems, poverty, joblessness are chronic conditions that plague too many families.

David lives in a city where affordable housing and health care as well as access to adequate mental health and substance abuse services are scarce to non existent. Public schools have been neglected for decades and used as a rallying cry by politicians for everything from scapegoating anything publicly run, to breaking the union, touting change for change sake and shedding mostly crocodile tears.

Yes, DCPS has failed David but promoting year round standardized testing as one of the hallmarks of reform is not going to improve his reading or writing skills. Why make so many children suffer through taking tests where most of the content is completely unfamiliar and if you can’t read, incomprehensible?

Special education in DCPS is a mess and the move towards more inclusion without the proper staffing will only make the chances for David to learn to read, graduate high school and get a decent paying job very remote.

I hate to be so doom and gloom about the future but that is the reality David lives in and I work with every day. I want to participate in a reform effort that brings people (students, parents, teachers and community members) together to discuss these challenges in an honest and open dialogue. While overwhelming David’s challenges are not insurmountable. It will, however, take a collective effort that is not so politically charged.

* This entry is a continuation from "Marginalized Taking the DC BAS" and in response to some of the feedback sent to me.

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