This past week has seen a flurry of special education talk surrounding the new goals of the Obama administration’s quest to toughen standards and make students—and they don’t specify which students, so we can assume they mean all students, even those with the severest of disabilities—score high on the regular tests.
I’m pretty sure, behind the “toughen the standards” talk, they are thinking of Common Core State Standards. It will be do or die. I mean, have you heard of any kind of safety net if students aren’t able to master the CCSS?
The assumption is that everyone will succeed. The reality is that some won’t. Will those students then be turned away? Will it be like the charter schools that reject the students with disabilities and the ELL students that need something more than what they have to offer?
There are, however, parents who insist that the standards for students with disabilities have not been tough enough.
It is hard to believe they buy into the Arne talk. Years of neglect in public schools, of good special education programming, has a lot of parents damning special education altogether. Instead of fighting for better services, and what should be, they are settling for common and they seem to believe tougher standards are for the good of every student.
But they need to be careful what it is they are proposing and the message they send.
There is always a risk that a student might be lost when they are placed in special education these days. I would say this risk is worse when students are placed in inclusion classrooms with large class sizes where they get little, if any, support. It shouldn’t be this way.
Making sure educators don’t underestimate a student’s capabilities is a conversation that should always take place. And parent feedback is of utmost importance. Parents of students with special needs must advocate for their child. School officials and well-prepared special ed. teachers should listen and try to work out the kind of goals necessary for a student to reach their maximum capabilities.
Assessment, good assessment that really looks at the child, helps too.
But it is mistaken to think new get-tough policies, set forth by Duncan—pushing all children to reach the same standards—is going to help students with special needs.
Cutting funds won’t help anyone either, including those students who are on the high-end of the ability level in special education.
Here’s how it will go down. They will point to standardized state tests, probably tied to CCSS, and say, look here! These students with disabilities are still not doing well so we are removing your state funds for special education.
If you think that’s going to help your high achieving student, with, say, mild learning disorders who is on the path to college…think again.
I’m also uncomfortable when these same parents tout private schools. I’ve looked at private schools, and most have very little for students with disabilities. They might have smaller class sizes, but rarely do they have credentialed special education classes. Also, not every parent can afford private schools.
Yet parents of kids with differences are pushed into inadequate private schools, charter and homeschooling because funding and resources are being stolen before our eyes from public schools. If parents wish to journey through any of those routes with their kids it is their business, but they should not be forced to do so because of lacking special ed. programs that are intentionally being destroyed.
The truth is, not all children are alike, every child needs individualized consideration, and every child deserves assistance. And we have to question any so-called special education goal that steals funds from programs in such a draconian manner.
Arne Duncan’s proposals surrounding testing and students with disabilities is about getting rid of SPED services. It is not designed to cater to students with mild disabilities. They aren’t going to streamline funding into programs for students with learning disabilities helping them on their way to college.
This policy of toughening up the tests will hurt ALL students with a variety of special needs because they will pull funding. Don’t be deceived into thinking it is for anything different.
We need to build up the special programs in public school for everyone…not tear them down.