Wednesday, October 23, 2002


GO BIG ED is now a Political Action Committee! I've opened a checking account and am filing a Statement of Organization with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. Names of donors to the Go Big Ed campaign against the OPS tax increase on the Nov. 5 ballot still don't have to be disclosed.

The point is, Nebraska needs a network of parents, taxpayers, educators and others who care about our children and our schools and want the very best for them. This PAC, backed up by stories and information on this web log, can inform and unite us and influence public opinion in a positive way. So Go Big Ed will become an ongoing voice in the Nebraska education scene, and I hope you'll be a part of it.

If I may use your name in a list of Go Big Ed supporters, please email me at swilliams1@cox.net and let me know. I'd like to publish this list a few days before the Nov. 5 election.

Email me your story ideas and leads on sources, too.

Also, please share this web log address with friends and colleagues and add more names to our weekly email list.

You can support efforts to stop the multimillion dollar spending-lid override by the Omaha Public Schools that will be on the Nov. 5 ballot in OPS. Contribute TODAY to the campaign against it. Your confidential donation should be made out to Go Big Ed and sent to:

Go Big Ed
P. O. Box 995
Elkhorn, NE 68022

I would appreciate an email from you ASAP alerting me to how much you are sending so that we can plan our ad "buys" as soon as possible.



Repairing the Damage Schools Cause

There’s a wonderful private tutor who has opened shop in Bennington and is doing what special education teachers with master’s degrees employed at great expense in the public schools have not been able to do:

She’s teaching them to read.

She’s Rhonda Couch, and her business, The Learning Center, 15316 S. 2nd St., 238-2600, is filled up with kids of all ages after school into the evenings. They’re kind of like boat people . . . refugees from failed public-school methods. They are filling up the classrooms of tutors like Mrs. Couch as a desperate last resort by parents who have realized that the public schools aren’t delivering what their children need in order to learn.

Instead of glitzy computer labs and high-priced edu-tech, the kids that Mrs. Couch tutors use simple cardboard phonogram cards, spiral notebooks and pencils. They sit at $1 desks and 50-cent chairs that Mrs. Couch bought, ironically, from a public school’s service center, saving them from the dumpster. The building is pretty old and tired.

“But do you know what?” Mrs. Couch said. “These kids are learning really, really well in this room.”

She doesn’t have a bunch of fancy education credentials, but she is something rare and precious in Nebraska: certified to teach the world’s best intensive, systematic, explicit phonics . . . Spalding. The secret is in how the kids are taught to “hear, see, say and write” the phonograms that make up words, instead of the silent sight reading in use in so many public-school classrooms today.

Phonics readers are taught to learn to read while writing and reciting the sounds out loud. They use all of their senses to get that crucial foundational skill with language that is denied them in public schools. Why don’t they get good language training there? Because most public schools use whole language reading instruction, which is unsystematic, haphazard, relies on guesses and subjective “cues” and denies kids proper phonics.

It’s sad, but true: you can’t learn to read properly in a public-school classroom that costs us $7,000 a year per pupil . . . but you CAN learn to read if you go to a private tutor and pay much, much less to learn much, much more in a lot less time.

Charging a modest $240 for 16 sessions of reading, math or both, Mrs. Couch cites success stories like these:

-- Two dropouts from the Omaha Public Schools who left in seventh and ninth grades, respectively, but are going to earn their GEDs because of her program.

-- A boy going into fifth grade in a local public school whose reading skills were so bad, the only word he could recognize accurately was “the.” After a summer with Mrs. Couch, he was working at grade level, all the way up to fifth grade . . . a five-year improvement after just a few dozen hours of instruction.

-- A third-grader who had been labeled “learning disabled” and had a major attitude problem, but within a few weeks, he was getting 100 percent on spelling tests. His mother marked the day he started working with Mrs. Couch as the day he quit crying and complaining about headaches and stomachaches every morning because he didn’t want to go to school.

No wonder he didn’t want to go to school, before: he knew he was smart, but because he couldn’t read and write very well, it looked like he was dumb. That would give anybody an attitude problem.

Mrs. Couch puts it this way: “These kids are not stupid. They’re anything but. All they need is a foundation. They’re not getting it in schools, and parents need to start demand accountability for the money schools are getting. By giving schools more and more money, we’re rewarding them for doing the wrong things.”

She said of the kids with reading problems: “They are not ‘learning disabled.’ They are being disabled by the curriculum and the instructional methods that simply do not work.”

She learned that truth from former Omahan Linda Weinmaster, also a Spalding tutor in Lawrence, Kan., who was a driving force behind the spread of phonics in Nebraska and led many desperate parents to tutors like Mrs. Couch and the best-known private school for transforming struggling learners into solid learners, the Phoenix Academy in west Omaha’s Rockbrook Village.

Mrs. Couch got started with Spalding after her own son was labeled “special ed” in the early grades in the Millard schools, reversed course after a year at the Millard Core Academy and homeschooling, and now is scoring in the 80th percentile in all subjects in public school . . . because his mother learned how to do the job that schools are supposed to, and taught him to read.

Mrs. Couch said she has met many public-school teachers who are angry and ashamed that they could be in the teaching profession for so many years, with advanced degrees and so forth, and yet not know something as basic as how to teach a child to read. Mrs. Couch tries to make them feel less guilty by pointing out that it’s the fault of the teachers’ colleges for not teaching them the skills they need, and of school district leadership for not insisting that the very best methods be used.

She tries to ease the guilt of parents by asking them one simple question, no matter how old the struggling student is who is brought to her for tutoring:

“The first question I ask is, ‘Before this child started school, ‘way back during preschool and before kindergarten, did you have any concerns at all about his or her ability to learn? Any concerns about gross motor skills, or any clues that there would be problems ahead?'”

She said, “The answer is always ‘no.’ The kids are OK when they start in public school. It’s the bad methods that are being used on them that are hurting so many of them and keeping them stuck in special ed, mainly because there’s money in it for the schools. The stigma of that is just horrendous.”

She said one mother used this analogy with the school officials who wanted to keep her son doing the same things this year in special ed that didn’t work for him last year:

“She said, ‘My son is in the ocean and he’s drowning, and you’re the only ones with a life preserver . . . but you’re not giving it to him.”

Mrs. Couch is, and at a fraction of the cost of public school instruction.

She’s a life saver . . . and she proves, once again, that it’s not the money that matters in the educational process, it’s the method that is used, and the loving hearts and hands that are making it happen for kids.


Tutor Rhonda Couch has a fresh way to respond to the request by OPS officials for a multimillion dollar spending-lid override in the Nov. 5 election. She said, “An average person cannot go to the employer and said, ‘You know, I have all these bills and I maxed out my credit cards. You have to give me more money.’ So why should the schools be doing that? We need to hold them accountable and until they are, we shouldn’t be giving them any more money.”

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