Archive for May, 2009

California’s Budget Deficit = No Summer School?

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Yesterday’s LA Times had a front-page article:  “L.A. cancels most summer school classes.”  We all know California voters resoundingly rejected state ballot measures.  State legislators, left with a a $21.3 billion deficit, are considering the governor’s proposal to cut $5.3 billion from public school districts and community colleges. Los Angeles  Unified will grapple with a $272 million deficit next year.

The impact of this budget deficit is severe and immediate. LAUSD announced it has cancelled the bulk of its summer school classes.  The LA  Times quotes Superintendent O’Connell:  “For kids who want to take challenging courses, for kids who need basic courses in order to graduate, these choices will contribute toward the dropout rate and we will have a less competent workforce.”

No one wants more high school dropouts (already a staggering 30% in California) or a less competent workforce.  We also want our children to take challenging courses that their schedule might not allow during the school year.  We also want them to graduate on time. 

My son would not have graduated with his class had he not taken an American History class in summer school.  This omission was discovered at the eleventh hour.  Had he not graduated with his class,  he would not have been able to participate in a yearlong student exchange program in Costa Rica before college.   He would also have had to delay his entrance to the university at least a semester.  Would the university have agreed?

Summer school also is invaluable in improving the skills of marginal students.  According to Dr. Mitchell Wong of Act4Education,  “Data shows that students lose a lot of ground in terms of learning during  the summer months.” (LA Times)

Students and parents counting on summer school this summer have few options.   California’s budget woes will continue.  What are we doing to prevent this from happening year after year?   Summer school provides all our students opportunities whether to learn or maintain basic skills, catch up or advance.    Our children deserve the opportunties summer school offers.

Education Secretary Urges California Reform Public Schools

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

This morning’s OC Register reports:  “Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged California officials to use the current economic crisis as an opportunity to reform the state’s ailing public schools.”   Duncan is worried California’s staggering budget deficit will affect the public school system which once led the nation but now ranks low in academic performance.   The Register quotes Duncan:  “Honestly, I think California has lost its way, and I think the long-term consequences of that are very troubling.”

What are these “troubling long-term consequences”?

California has a high school dropout rate of 30% which in fact may be substantially higher as reporting norms are not standard and there is pressure to under-report this number.  Also how do you define “dropout”?  Is a student who drops out but receives a GED a dropout? Federal regulations will require states implement standard norms by 2010. 

If roughly one third of our high school students drop out, California has approximately 1.2 million young people destined for nothing more than minimum-wage jobs.  These young people will occupy the bottom rung of our economy, representing $42 billion dollars of lost wages over their lifetimes.   Add to this figure, the $11 billion they will receive in welfare.  Not surprisingly, they are also more likely to have children while young and be  unwed, further perpetuating the cyle of poverty.

Starting adulthood as a high school dropout is a tremendous handicap.  78% of our prisoners are dropouts.   It is cheaper to educate than incarcerate.

Of the 70% of our high school students who do graduate, 84% are Asian, 78% are white, 60% are Hispanic and 57% are African-American.  Hispanic and African-American students are more likely to be attending inner-city schools. This graduation/achievement gap for Hispanics and African-Americans is troubling.  As Bill Gates says,  the U.S. has “one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrialized world.  If we keep the system as it is, millions of children will never get a chance to fulfill their promise because of their zip code, their skin color or their parents’ income.  That is offensive to our values.”

How do we reverse these trends?  

Secretary of Education Duncan urges education officials to compete for more than $10 billion in the $787 billion federal stimulus package set aside for innovation in education, stating the  administration will invest in school districts and non-profit groups “willing to challenge the status quo.”

How do we challenge the status quo?

If we challenge the status quo by ensuring competency at the third grade level (all students know how to read, can add and subtract and have mastered the times tables, the building block of mathematics), we are likely to have competent high school students.  Parents and teachers have great influence on a third grader.  By high school, it may be too late. 

Schools, teachers and parents must focus on ensuring math and reading competency for third graders.  We need smaller classes,  remedial tutoring for non-native speakers and those who have fallen behind.  We also need public service announcements urging PARENTS to supplement their child’s education by reading to them and by tutoring them in basic math.  These are life skills.  Without them, a child’s future is severely compromised.

No more business as usual. Parents must see to it their children attend school, get enough sleep, turn off the television and do their homework.  We can blame schools for failing our children but we must also look to the parents and their responsibility particularly in their child’s early years.  Some children begin failing the system in the first grade!  These first years are critical.  We need intervention early on.  A penny on the dollar spent here will return enormous benefits.

Parents must challenge the status quo.

Parents must examine their attitudes toward education and their belief that their child’s education rests solely with the schools. One way to reduce the gap between white and Asian students and their Hispanic and African-American counterparts is for minority parents to encourage the study of mathematics.  High-paying jobs such as engineering require a knowledge of algebra.  Fewer than half of Hispanic and African-American students take math beyond Algebra II compared to 69% of Asians and 54% of white students.  In addition, only 33% of students from disadvantaged families take math beyond Algebra II compared with 72% of students from affluent families. Do the math.  Considering this statistic alone, children of affluent families are twice as likely to have higher paying careers.  Algebra  is now mandated for all 8th graders in California.  If we do not ensure students have basic math skills to to pass algebra, the unintended consequence will be even more high school dropouts, particularly among our minority students. 

My conclusion: we need innovation in education that challenges the status quo.  We need to challenge bureaucratic inertia in our schools.  We need funds to improve schools by reducing class size and attracting and retaining great teachers by offering competitive salaries.  We also need parental accountability, especially in the child’s elementary school years.  A parent is the child’s first and primary teacher.  All learning starts at home.

Be careful what you teach.  If you believe education holds the key to your child’s future, your child will more likely believe this as well.  Believe in your child’s potential and work hard with your child to ensure that he or she fulfills it.  We can save the world, one child at a time.

Mention by ADD/ADHD specialist, Sandra Rief, in SUMMER issue of ADDitude

Thursday, May 14th, 2009
Sandra Rief

Sandra Rief

Thank you also to Sandra Rief for recommending my workbook in the ASK OUR EXPERTS column in the summer issue of ADDitude.  The question posed was:

“My fourth grader is having a great difficulty learning the multiplication tables .  We’ve tried many approaches along with offering rewards, but nothing helps.”

Sandra Rief’s response:   “If a child has ADHD or an LD, memory and other processing weaknesses — not a lack of motivation — are the reasons his brain can’t hold onto certain information.  Try [this resource]:  Teach Your Child the Multiplication Tables with Dazzling Patterns, Grids and Tricks ( helps kids identify patterns, so they can rely less on memory.”

how-to-reach-children-addSandra Rief is the author of  How to Reach and Teach Children with ADD/ADHD (

TeaCHildMath Mentioned on Jan Norman’s Small Business Blog in the Orange County Register

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Thank you to Jan Norman for featuring my workbook and my Orange County business, TeaCHildMath, on her Small Business blog  on the OC Register.  It means everything to me to have local recognition.

Bringing a product to market is a daunting task. As any entrepreneur can attest, starting and running a business is a hands-on, real-life MBA in creative innovation, product development, strategic innovation, task management and marketing.

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Yet the rewards are immeasurable. It is entrepreneurship that drives our economy by creating new jobs, new services and new ways of doing things. It is the entrepreneurial vision, courage and can-do attitude that will see us through this economy.

Jan Norman’s blog can be found at:

Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Happy Mother’s Day!
Where would we be without our great moms? Remember you are your child’s first and primary teacher. Over the past four years, I have been privileged to hear from you. I have been touched by your courage when faced with near impossible odds, your resilience, energy, patience and your triumphs  —  all that you do for your children. Today is your day to celebrate!  You make a difference. You are saving the world, one child at a time.

Let’s Close the Achievement Gap

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Currently about 1,700 low-income students in Washington, D.C. receive $7,500 vouchers to attend private schools under the Opportunity Scholarship Program.   Of these voucher students, 99% are African-American or Hispanic. These students are reading a half-grade ahead of peers not in this program. After three years, the earliest participants, according to the Education Department’s evaluation of this program,  are 19 months ahead of public school peers in reading.

Not surprisingly the program’s resounding success has made it popular with parents who see in it an opporutnity to give their children the best education possible. Isn’t this the opportunity President and Mrs. Obama and members of Congress seek for their own children?

It is time to offer all families choice in selecting the best schools for their children. Only by offering this opportunity to minority, low-income families will we close the achievement gap.  President Obama and Michelle attribute their success in large part to the excellent educational opportunities they received not only in elite colleges but in the high schools they attended.  Both attended excellent  schools because their parents were driven to give them the best education possible.  Consider the sacrifice President Obama’s mother made in parting with her son and sending him to Hawaii at age 10 to live with his grandparents so he could attend Punahou, an extraordinary school.  Without that experience, would he be our president?  Given his remarkable life story and that of wife Michelle, President Obama is just the president who can remedy this injustice.

As Bill Gates stated, “We have one of the highest high school dropout rates in this industrialized world. If we keep the system as it is, millions of children will never get a chance to fulfill their promise because of their Zip Code, their skin color or their parents’ income. That is offensive to our values.”   By saving the Opportunity Scholarship Program, our leaders can do more than lip service to ensuring equal opportunity to all children in this great country.