Today I want to talk about the choices, I believe, parents want for their students with exceptionalities or students in general.
“Choice,” today, in the eyes of the ed. reformers means having a lot of charter schools, and I am particularly speaking about those designed to make a profit. The owners want to stand on the podium of the New York Stock Exchange and ring the bell.
For parents, it’s likened to having toothpaste options at the local grocery store. If one paste doesn’t work, you’re supposed to be able to try another. Or, if it appears no one likes the toothpaste the company will quit making it. If you have a child with disabilities, the aisle of toothpaste options is pretty slim. And even when you have toothpaste, it might not be any good and your teeth could fall out. I guess that’s enough analogy.
Many of us understand that school options don’t work like toothpaste, that the free market becomes much more complicated where schools and children are concerned. Also, when it comes to real choice, what we see now is more about limitation than it is about choice.
This is especially true when you consider options and special education. The options parents of students with disabilities really want, I would say, have to do with looking closely at a student and discerning what will assist them in day-to-day life, and/or in helping them be prepared for the future. All of this really involves, not just professionals who know what they are doing, but politicians who are sensitive to the needs of parents and children.
The role of a good legislator is to forward whatever is needed for good child policy to take place, making sure it is expedited in a creative and fair way, and yes, as financially sound as possible. You need to also be smart and involved with parents to understand this.
What most parents want is a curriculum and goals that reflect the needs of their child.
Also, parents of kids not identified with disabilities want the same thing. Parents of students high on the gifted range want this too. Those students, all students, vary as to what they require for intellectual and social growth.
There is a way to get there. Most teachers and parents know this but it is worth repeating, because we stand to lose this in our public schools, if we had it to begin with. There have been a lot of changes and schools can vary.
First, you identify where a child is, point A. Then you figure out, with the parent, what point B will be, and how you will get from point A to point B. Then you have to figure out how you will know you got there. You also have to come to an agreement as to what point A is in the beginning.
It is really a beautiful process when you think about it—one that should, in my opinion, be done for every child who enters school. In fact, I’d say this is the way to eliminate labeling. But that’s material for another post.
It is also the best kind of accountability because parents are in on it, the focus is on the child, and the teacher, or teachers, are committed to achieving the goals everyone agrees upon.
For starters, you don’t take point A lightly. There should be assessment and a pooling together of information about a child. This should include good old observation, and consideration of day-to-day needs and plans for the future. It should involve the regular ed. teacher and the special ed. teacher and anyone else who is important to the progress for that child. Parent feedback is essential! Parents deserve the utmost respect because everyone is talking about their child!
Then—here’s where the options should come in.
Parents should have available, a variety of classes that will assist their child to get from point A to B. They might not need them, always, or they might. And for every child it might be different.
For a child with autistic tendencies, it could mean a highly structured behavioral class but one where the child can move effortlessly back-and-forth to other classes through mainstreaming (remember that word?).
And the student with disabilities, placed in a regular class, deserves support in that class—either from afar or support right there in the classroom.
Sometimes the student will need support in other classes—sometimes they won’t. But even when they don‘t, the special ed. teacher should monitor their progress.
The same can be said for a student identified as having reading disabilities, be it dyslexia or fluency problems etc. A reading lab providing special assistance to students who need something more than the regular ed. teacher can provide, should be available.
The goal should always be to move a child forward. If they aren’t moving forward, everyone needs to come together to figure out why. Progress on a test is only a small—very small—piece of information.
For older students this should involve discussion about career-technical work, job opportunities in the community, and everything possible to assist that student in making the transition to adulthood and independence.
This is a controlled set-up for learning. I firmly believe teachers should plan and assess children carefully, and have reasonable goals. But certainly, you might veer off the plan into something different, a new skill or an interest you discover about a child. This is fine too if teachers document and share it with the parent and they approve.
Helping children thrive while working on weak areas also requires teachers working together closely. And parents should always be in the loop.
For the most part, you see less of any of this happening today. The push for inclusion has been reckless in my opinion. Throwing students with disabilities into regular classes for the sake of getting them out of self-contained classes, yet not providing increased support in regular classes was more about budget cuts than it was for children.
And all this talk about making these children take regular tests like all the other students to make their teachers accountable is cruel. Parents in general aren’t happy about so much high-stakes testing. See here to Opt Out. It is a cheap way to pretend you’re accountable when you aren’t looking at the individual differences. High-stakes testing isn’t helpful.
Certainly, self-contained classes could improve, but specifically, addressing a disability area with focused instruction, is still necessary for many students with disabilities.
The recent decisions involving special education have been glib—they have not been made by real educators and they don’t help most parents. Many parents feel cast off when it comes to their child and they are dreading the start of the new school year.
Arne Duncan’s compliance talk rings shallow. Going after teachers who work in a disintegrating system, with problems Arne and his ilk caused, allowing little choice, and lacking support for parents, is not going to fix schools or improve teaching. As I said before, I think they know this.
They are relying too much on one-size-fits-all testing and standards that are unproven for all children.
You cannot just wave a magic wand when it comes to understanding students with disabilities or any student for that matter. It is very personal, it takes time and effort, and quite frankly, right now, too much time and energy is being focused on whether or not children with disabilities will have services at all.
Children only have today. It’s time for politicians to quit wasting everyone’s time making parents worry about what should already be cast in stone. They need to quit going back on the promises made to these children 40 years ago.
Tell them you want a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)! Make sure you emphasize Appropriate.