I've posted at least once before about educational reform and why I think it is important that the community fund schools that aren't just one-size fits all. Not every kid belongs in the same kind of school.
Anecdote isn't evidence, but I'm about to give you an anecdote because I am so proud of my son today.
My boy is 14 years old. He was diagnosed with autism when he was 3, attended traditional public school until the fourth grade. His neighborhood elementary school served him reasonably well until then - he met grade standards in the second grade, started to fall behind in the third, and plummeted in the fourth. He became a target for a bully at about that time.
Don't take this post as a criticism of that school. They did a great job with my daughter, and it is full of fantastic teachers. But not every school can serve every child, and my son simply could not succeed in that school. The classes were too big, and moved too quickly for him to keep up. The special ed program was appropriate for kids who had much bigger learning problems than he has. He is of at least average (maybe even above average) intelligence. His problem is that he processes extremely slowly. It isn't that he can't learn - it's that he can't learn in a class of 33 kids who are all able to process information much more quickly than he is. He fell behind, and was never going to catch up.
Unless we moved him. And so we did. We found a small charter academy that has a very interesting, very unique educational structure. You can divide the student population into 3 different, but occasionally overlapping, categories.
There are the homeschooled kids who attend the school for its enrichment opportunity;
There are the musical kids, who attend the school for its phenomenal music program;
and there are the kids on the spectrum. A lot of kids on the spectrum.
It is a K-12 program, which means that the boy will be able to stay there until he graduates. Classes are small - his algebra class this year had 2 other boys in it and met four hours a week. His writing class is slightly larger, and met for 5 hours a week. He has two different guitar classes - a traditional class, and a class that is modeled on School of Rock, where the students select songs by groups like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Green Day to perform for their families. There wasn't a social studies class for him this year, so he studied U.S. history at home.
For the first time since he began falling behind, he has met grade standard in all of the test areas. To say that this is an achievement is such an understatement. He essentially had to relearn all of his math. It has taken us four years to get him caught up. He reads at grade level, which is a monumental accomplishment. He loves science, and met the standards in that discipline as well. In my state, they don't test 8th graders for social studies this, but there is little doubt in my mind that he would pass that test as well. His writing remains weak, but his language arts teacher is working with him in a small group, and his progress is astounding. He had an essay published in the last school newsletter, and it was good. Really good.
This is a kid who would've been shuffled into classes for the underachievers at our local middle school. He would have failed, and failed, and failed until he dropped out. But because he is in a different kind of program, he isn't just passing, he is thriving and will very likely qualify for a traditional diploma. And more importantly, the look of pride on his face when he passes a test that means that he is as smart as his sister is amazing. Like, tears in my eyes amazing.
No one every really knows what the future will bring for any of our kids. But my son is living, breathing, thinking proof that education is not a one size fits all undertaking. And that even kids who look like they can't achieve, with the right program, can surprise the hell out everyone.
Except my husband and I. We always knew he could do it.