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June 06, 2008


Brian Herman

Every so often in life you get a Shockabuku (A swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever.). This post was one of those moments for me.

I've read it 3 times fully before trying to reply, and in the end I mostly have to say that you've changed my way of thinking about fairness in education.

I've often been frustrated at how resources are allocated and that high performing students don't seem to receive as much attention as the lower performing ones. But after reading this the question becomes am I in this just for the betterment of my own children, the rest be damned, or is the point of public education to raise the condition of all, thereby improving society? I'm sure John Nash's equilibrium theory would have something to say about all this. The idea that advanced students pose a burden on the system just as lagging students do is a real eye-opener.

We have tough problems to face with eduction in this country, and I still believe that "no child left behind" is bad idea... sometimes children need to be left behind to try things again, and move ahead only when they are ready, without holding the rest of the group back. But this post has made me consider that perhaps some of my other views on fairness in education are skewed too much for my own children's gain and not enough on the big picture.

Would I let my sickly child stay home and suffer while taking my healthy ones to Disneyland? Nope. And if I was the parent of a lagging student, wouldn't I want every advantage I could find and take every opportunity I could get to keep my child moving forward? Of course!

So John, thanks for the Shockabuku - I have much to think about.

Annette Higgins

I went to this conference and this eloquent speaker, lawyer, mother of a child with “special needs” commented that in your journey you will often be told that you have given society a burden. If you dwell on this you will not be able to successfully advocate for your child. I had times when I struggled because I did have this thought and I was ashamed, not of my child, but that I had this thought, about my amazing gift. I have always been taught that as we accept and absorb all members into our community. In turn we have a rich and robust and amazing community. So… since I have learned to tune out the conversations about your child versus my child, because they only take away from my child being able to accomplish and succeeded in life, because I have allowed others to tell me that my child does not have the same value as other in the community.

We had a friend Ray Bassett when asked about his children he would respond. “ I feel like a turkey that hatched peacocks.”

What parent does not feel like that about ALL their children?

Thanks for the post John!

kent willmann

John your most recent blog entry has made an appearence on our blog: cybercamp.edublogs.com

Here is my comment posted there:

John is a great advocate to have on the school board. In 28 years of teaching he is the first board member who came to our lunch room and listened to what we had to say.

His children analogy is right on, but a tough sell in an admosphere where the most vocal and active parents are organized to get what they can for their kids–and who can blame them. The Poudre approach is designed to help alleviate that and to serve students who are school dependent for their advocacy. Not a bad idea schools competing to bring in tough to educate kids in order to get more funding. It sure beats what is happending now—school trying to import their test scores (by competing for the best performing students) instead of improving them.

I do have one argument with John, while the bell curve is a natural state, it is not the given outcome. Our task as teachers as John suggests is to prepare all kids to be productive citizens–good teacher do just that. “A bell curve is nature lots of kids succeeding is nurture.”

Bud Hunt

John - Quick correction - the blog Kent's referring to is this one:


Your post here is a thoughtful one. I thank you for it.


A very insightful look at the challenges of distribution of resources, rational and thought provoking. A great basis for a dialog toward implementing curriculum allowing all students to reach their potential.

Annette Higgins

I would like to reply on Mr. Willman's comment that "...where the most vocal and active parents are organized to get what they can for their kids–"...

So in advocating for our children we are hurting the children that do not have advocates?

As an example when I advocate for literacy instruction, I ask for researched based curriculum based on recommendation by the National Reading Panel, (i.e. phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, fluency vocabulary....) I am simply pushing to get my son what the district acknowledges that ALL children need in order to learn to read.

I can not tell you how many times the teachers have caught me in the hall or emailed me and told me that what I am asking for is going to not just help my son but help others.
That is my goal, nothing less!

I feel that I am also advocating for the teachers. I get it your job is hard and you have very limited resources.

It continually confounds me how often I am told that I am hurting others by advocating for me son.

Brad Jolly

It appears that two concepts have gotten munged together here. The first is whether "special needs" students deserve additional funding, similar to what Mr. Creighton's friends (and nearly all other rational parents) do for their child with unusual health challenges. Everybody agrees this is reasonable to a point.

The second issue is whether parents of "typical" children who fail to instill the "habits of learning" in said children should expect the district to take funding from other "typical" children to make up for their own parenting deficiencies. The district has been doing this for many years, but the children in the underfunded schools still blow the doors off the children in the overfunded schools (see chart and explanation at http://denver.yourhub.com/Longmont/Blogs/Education/Education-General/Blog~477836.aspx .)

I disagree with Ms. Higgins that the district has "very limited resources." Thanks to Amendment 23, per-pupil operating revenue has outpaced inflation every year for the lion's share of a decade now.

Finally, I thank and admire Ms. Higgins for contributing ideas "that ALL children need in order to learn to read." Public education is one of the few areas where laypeople can easily contribute ideas that are vastly superior to current practice.

As examples, Ms. Higgins mentions "phonemic awareness" and "alphabetic principle." "Phonemic awareness" is the 50¢ phrase for the 1¢ concept that children can learn words better if they think about and work with the way words sound. "Alphabetic principle" is the unremarkable concept (nearly 5,000 years old) that letters have sounds and that you can often use these sounds to figure out what a printed word is.

Both of these ideas were considered too obvious to mention several decades ago, but now they are considered novel and innovative.


Annette Higgins

Hey, Brad.

In the past a person with Down Syndrome that could read was the exception. Today that is note the case. Why is that?

Maybe because these obvious ideas were incorporated in to some of these kids day? And what happened? They started to read!

Maybe because astute educators and parents acknowledged that these were not trivial points, and took great pain to incorporate them into the lessons.

I agree we have known for a long time how to teach people to read. Now we must look at the populations that we support and make sure that cultural barriers, cognitive barriers are not in place that keep the students from reaching their potential.

Brad Jolly

Annette, you are 100% right on in wanting all children to reach their potential. If we as a society are getting better at educating students with Down Syndrome, that is a very good thing.

My concern is around the fact that the educationists have drifted so far off course over the years. As a result, we now have to give fancy names to what used to be self-evident observations in order to give the illusion that something new has been discovered.

In my lifetime, we will see somebody invent a term for the idea that children should realize that the number 3 stands for this many objects: XXX and the number 4 stands for this many: XXXX.

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