I heard someone, a parent or teacher, blurt out at an informal education meeting, that education reformers are afraid of special education. I think that person is right. I don’t think many of those currently in charge of redoing public schools understand anything about special ed. students and how they learn.
I think they must know they are infuriating a lot of parents who have atypical students at both ends of the continuum. In the context of calculating costs and emphasizing student success on test scores, special ed. students are a thorn in the reformers side as they try to sell-off America’s schools.
They market the idea that with the right kind of super teacher, every special need or disability can be fixed. And they claim students who are gifted or talented will get enrichment…whatever that is. All students, they tell us, can function at the same level. In fact, all students should also take the same tests! No more modifications should be allowed! They sell perfection like Professor Harold Hill sold music.
Like so much else in education, these changes in special education are coming about due to special ed. costs and the fact that education, in general, is messy. It doesn’t make for perfect sounding curriculum that churns out students who learn the same things the same way. Really, every child should be individually considered, but with special ed. students these differences stand out more.
Thus far, education reformers have succeeded at twisting the special ed. conversation to make it work to damn schools. Saying all students can learn the same way preys upon parents who want normalcy. Use high expectations as a theme, slowly get rid of special ed. teachers and classes, and make it look like the phase-out helps children. That’s how they work.
The word “integration” makes it sound like a civil rights issue. We all know that the Achilles heel of special education is labeling. But we could work on that and honestly improve the way students receive services.
Good teachers, they insist, will succeed with these students. Bad teachers will be fired. But such messages fail to address the problems parents face as they struggle to deal with the learning difficulties their children present. They lose much-needed services and support. They have to pay to get real help in many instances. Perhaps that in itself is the ultimate goal of the education reformers. But it isn’t going to work.
For years special ed. programs were not funded, as fully as needed, especially in poor schools. Teachers struggled to address the needs of students in self-contained classrooms without much support. I remember being told that because I had a master’s degree in special education I would be allotted fewer resources. I received $30.00 for materials at the beginning of the year—if I was lucky. I also had a lousy classroom (more about this another time).
However, in the background lurking, were those who wanted to cut costs further. One way to do this is to get rid of special ed. classes altogether and put all students back into regular classes. But parents are not as naïve as some believe.
Children who can mosey along and do O.K. on tests have Moms and Dads who are less inclined to question. They have no sense of urgency. But parents of students who are atypical, no matter how slightly—and that includes a lot of children—pay closer attention. They know that the right kind of education for their child can mean the difference between a decent life and a life of destitution.
That’s why the person who said the ed. reformers were afraid of special education, I believe, got it right. If anyone will stop the draconian changes in our public schools it will be those parents.