So the tree is down and the egg nog is drunk and Arne is leaving. Everyone is sharing their parting thoughts, so I thought I would address Arne’s big moments with special education.
Arne’s Letter to Parents
Perhaps the place to start is the letter Duncan sent in 2010, making it sound like he understood parents and their needs when it came to their students with disabilities. I think it is interesting and especially disingenuous that he begins by saying, We need to move beyond the bubble tests. And we need to better support our teachers. To build a first-rate accountability system, states have to significantly improve existing assessments used to measure our students’ growth and move beyond fill-in-the bubble tests.
We need to ask ourselves where we wound up with that. The answer is, there is more of a focus on testing students with special needs with bubble tests than ever before! And about that support for teachers…HERE is the recent NPR report.
Arne Wants Proof Students with Disabilities are Achieving
Big news came June 24, 2014, when Duncan, who never taught as a real teacher a day in his life, made pronouncements that students with disabilities could be assisted with the right kind of education. The implication being that students are not getting the help they need and their teachers are failing them. The gist of it is Arne wants all students with special needs to take the same tests students without disabilities take. HERE is the full report.
Under the new guidelines, Duncan says he’ll require proof that these kids aren’t just being served but are actually making academic progress. [Special ed. teachers have always done this since special education was mandated. Written goals have always been a part of the Individual Educational Plan. Special education teachers/school psychologists have always administered achievement tests and other diagnostic tools to craft realistic goals for students to reach. Parents have always had to approve those goals. Then the special education teacher is held accountable for reaching that goal. Certainly, teachers need to always look for better methods and ways to assist students to do better, but implying that teachers failed students in the past is bogus].
“We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel,” Duncan said. [This is one of those statements where you want to say, “And what might that be? Here again, teachers have always tested students with special needs and attempted to write goals for them to reach. Then they have helped students to reach the goals].
These are students with a range of disabilities, from ADHD and dyslexia to developmental, emotional and behavioral disorders. [And they all should have decent school services. We know that Duncan and his people at the United Stated Department of Education had no plan for dyslexia. Here is the tape as proof].
Parent Groups that Support Arne
It is important to note that many parent groups are adamant that students be tested and that test accountability drives all programs for students with disabilities. This is driven by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)—that students be in inclusion classes. The Council for Exceptional Children and the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and other groups, are pleased with Arne Duncan’s special education stance for the most part.
What is troubling is that these groups want all students with disabilities to get what they want for their students and that includes the same standardized testing. Should we not have a continuum of good services for all students? Shouldn’t parents have options when it comes to public school special education services?
Also, as I have previously written, Arne Duncan comes from a long line of school reformers dissolving special education services.
Arne’s Pledge to Training in Special Education
When you see that Arne’s game plan is to test everyone with the same test, all other programs seem dedicated to that endeavor.
In June 2016, the U.S. DOE announced $12.8 million in grants to Help Children with Disabilities Reach Their Full Academic Potential, and this money would go to a variety of programs. For example, $3.6 million goes to prepare graduate students for leadership positions in special education, early intervention and related services.
Another grant program, under the Combined Priority for Personnel Development, will provide an additional $9.2 million in funds to help address state-identified needs for highly qualified personnel in special education, early intervention, and regular education programs that serve children with disabilities.
The grants will, according to the plan, help train educators in areas like early childhood, low-incidence disabilities, speech/language issues, adapted physical education, and transition services.
Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs)
On August 17, 2015, Arne Duncan announced funding to parent training centers.
The U.S. Department of Education said it will grant $14 million to support parent training and information centers in 28 states and two U.S. territories over the next five years.
The centers, which are located in each state, are designed to offer parents assistance with everything from understanding special education law and policy to interpreting results from evaluations.
These seem to be nonprofits to assist parents with students who have disabilities. Any group that supports parents is fine in my book. HERE is the list by state which might be of assistance to some parents.
But school districts should also be providing parents with support. I ordinarily wouldn’t care about nonprofits, but in today’s world of privatization, they make me nervous. Also, any parents who would like to share their experience with any of these groups please let me know.
The states chosen for the funding are Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada and Tennessee.
Also, we learned Separately, the Education Department said it is awarding another $9.2 million to nine states to improve training of special education personnel.
The funding can be used to address a variety of needs including recruitment and retention of special education teachers, training educators to support students with disabilities in general education classrooms as well as teacher coaching and mentoring, the agency said.
So what does this involve? Well, most states are having trouble recruiting teachers for special education if we believe what we are told. I worry this money will go to groups like Teach for America or individual school districts to provide on-the-spot training to non-experts. One has to ask why more of an emphasis isn’t being placed on special education training and recruitment at the college level to make real special education teachers who focus on disability areas—like we used to have.
Arne’s Legacy in Special Education
To sum up, Arne’s legacy in special education is reflected in his command to New York State that all students with disabilities and second language students take the regular test. If you will recall, a year ago, New York officials wanted a waiver to reduce student stress by administering tests matched to developmental instead of chronological age. They felt they could get more meaningful results through developmental testing. HERE is the notification.
Both requests were aimed at reducing stress on students and yielding more useful results. State officials say that federal rules that require testing students at their chronological age, with narrow exceptions for students with very severe disabilities, set up some disabled students for failure and turn the tests into stressful guessing games. School officials in districts with many immigrant students say one year often is not enough for new arrivals to be ready to take language arts exams written in English.
New York education officials also argued that tests that are far out of line with a student’s cognitive level provide little useful information about student growth for the purposes of evaluating teachers or improving instruction.
“Those kids feel they are failures, and there is no reason at all why they should have to take that test,” Regent Roger Tilles of Long Island said in December 2013.
The U.S. DOE said no. Those bubble tests Arne spoke against in the beginning were just too important to drop. Tests ruled over the well-being of the students with disabilities and ELL students.
So, as far as special education goes, for what it is worth, my parting words to the education secretary:
Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!