Getting an education--it's about power
We all know that securing a good education for your children is strongly influenced by clout. Do we have it or not? The mayor's kid usually gets more attention than the grocery checker's kid. If you have taken the trouble to make friends with the principal, you are more likely to get your way than if you never appear in the building, or even PTA meetings.
But rarely have I seen a better illustration of this than my colleague Emma Brown's terrific piece leading the Monday Metro section about how much Army and Marine Corps families are gaining from those services' decisions to back their members when they seek help for children with disabilities.
Among other examples, she tells how Karen Driscoll, wife of a Marine Corps officer, was told by officials of a northern San Diego County school district that they could only offer a classroom aide for her son ten hours a week. The child's previous school in Fairfax County had provided 21 hours and told her that was what she deserved under federal law.
Most parents seeking special education services know what that means. They are in for a long period of testy meetings, long emails, expensive private evaluations and maybe even legal action before they get what they need, if they ever do. But because of a new Marine Corps initiative, Driscoll had the services of a caseworker and a special education attorney in her meetings with school officials, and soon got what she was looking for.
The Army also has taken an aggressive stand on helping its people in this way, Brown reports, and the other services seem to be leaning in that direction.
It would be nice if all of us could call on outside help in this way. Vinetta Jones, a scholar and former dean of the school of education at Howard University, has explained to me in detail the beneficial power of what she calls third party interventions in education. A program she headed for the College Board in the 1990's jump-started what is now a national movement to accelerate math instruction. Without the College Board providing training and political backbone for six pilot districts, the notion that all ninth graders should have a chance to learn algebra would probably have developed much later.
The military's experiment in being the third party in its members' negotiations over special education services is similar, in that this third party has deep pockets and strong motivation to help the weaker of the two parties involved. It can't work everywhere, but it is nice to see it being tried when it has a chance to give more children a good education.
For more from Jay, go to http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle.
For more of the Post's education coverage, go to http://washingtonpost.com/education.
| December 29, 2009; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: Armed services family education needs, learning disabilities, special education, third party help in education issues
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