If you have a child with disabilities and/or a gifted and talented student, where should you send them to school? Should you homeschool? This is the dilemma facing many families. Parents wonder, is it worth it to pay to send my child to a private school? Would it really be better for them there?
With special ed. this question is especially critical because time is of the essence and the likelihood these students will fail and be lost is great. Special education services in public schools have been on the decline for years. Students are often placed into regular classes with little regard to their disability and/or giftedness.
In many places, there are increasing questions as to why there are less special ed. placements. Fewer students are being accepted into classes for special assistance, even though there appear to be more Autistic and ADHD students than ever before. Promised support for students in regular classes (full-inclusion) is often lacking, and the class sizes can be large.
Parents are told their special ed. student will master Common Core State Standards like everyone else in public school. They may get a different kind of curriculum (or so they say), but it will all lead to the same goals. Their child, any child, will be taught to be college ready.
Unfortunately, many private and parochial schools have signed on to Common Core too, so if you think you can avoid the Common Core State Standards by withdrawing your child from public school, think again. Home schools too, will need to follow CCSS if they want to cover the material being aligned to the ACT and SAT college entrance tests.
Charter schools will also follow CCSS and, for the most part, are not equipped to handle students with disabilities. That’s why most charter schools counsel these students out. Small private schools also, more than likely, won’t be set up for students with disabilities either.
The same goes for parochial schools. If you choose these schools for religious reasons you may be happy. They might provide some sort of support and assistance and individual attention, but ask about training and certification in special education if that is important to you. It is generally understood that parochial schools do not have certified special education teachers.
Some parents might sign on to the feel-good notion of getting their student out of special education and into a private school. But most recognize the seriousness of the situation and are not willing to deprive their child of necessary help. They realize their student might be shut out of service entirely. So what are the alternatives, or are there really any alternatives?
In some places there are special schools designed for students with disabilities. They may focus on a particular special education area. Check accreditation. I’d also ask where the staff went to school because there are a lot of “fly by night” credentialing programs out there today. Get references. Don’t assume because it is a special school it has qualified teachers.
If parents can afford to go the route of an expensive private school, and their student has a disability and/or is gifted, it is critical to understand the rules of the school and whether the disability will be addressed. Will there be a credentialed special education teacher, with the correct preparation, to assist the child? High end private schools may very well have a teacher specified to provide extra assistance.
As a special ed. teacher, I have actually had two job offers, one at Lake Highland Prep in Orlando and The Hutchison School in Memphis, to do this very thing. I declined these jobs for personal reasons, but I liked the set-up. Small groups and more individualization were a part of the school program—it seemed more like counseling/tutorial sessions than classroom teaching. In many ways I think this kind of set-up would be a good one for special education in all schools.
But while expensive private schools might offer such assistance, it is also important to determine how the school will deal with a student whose progress is slow, or if they stall out on the subject matter for a while. Some prestigious schools may expect full remediation quickly, and if it doesn’t happen fast enough, the student may be dismissed. That is the difference between private and public schooling, and it’s what makes me uncomfortable about private schooling and special education. I like that public schools rarely, if ever, reject a student—any student.
If you have a student who is gifted and talented and who would benefit from a program in the arts, you might want to consider a private school if you can afford it. That is if your public school is cutting art and music programs. However, sometimes private schools don’t have marching and concert bands at the high school level.
A lot of parents who have students who learn differently try to homeschool. Personally, unless you have a large group of parents for support and who understand the type of disability your student displays, I would discourage this. Parents don’t need to isolate themselves further with a student and the disabilities they present. And they benefit from the support of others who will lend them an ear and share helpful advice.
It might be easier to get a gifted student outside help, although private schools might not offer much in this area either. However, if there are smaller classes that could be helpful. Anytime you can get a gifted student some curriculum changes that address their learning differences it is beneficial. Homeschooling might work here too, but you need to have a variety of instructional resources and time to keep a gifted student focused. Don’t think you can just plug them onto an online program and let them learn on their own. Gifted students also need structure and attention. I’d also include that socialization for all students is important for homeschooling.
I mostly still lean towards public schooling for students with disabilities and gifted students because there is still some teeth in the law concerning special ed., and I also think you will have a greater chance to still get a credentialed special education teacher.
As far as Common Core, I always suggest that parents seek other parents, with the same kinds of problems, to pool resources and obtain help to fight against curriculum issues and/or placement matters. School districts surround themselves with plenty of lawyers today, so the more you connect and work with others the more help you will get to make your case stronger.
I list various parent support groups on my website under Special Education. Look in your community for one of these groups and if you can’t locate any, consider starting one yourself. That way you can meet knew parents and share ideas and plans.
Also, opt out of testing and work closely with your child’s teacher, no matter which kind of school you choose. The best you can do is help guide your child through these difficult years and try to keep them from being discouraged. Good luck.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this matter.