The firing of a special education supervisor and the subsequent elimination of the position, in Wilson County, Tennessee prompted me to address concerns about a concerted effort underway to dismantle special education. There are signs all over. Most likely you have noticed them too.
In the case of Wilson County, Director of Schools Tim Setterlund gave as a reason for the special ed. job loss, that he has “differing visions for the school system.” Whenever administrators talk visions these days it usually is a euphemism for corporate takeover. Put the loss of this SPED position together with Common Core State Standards and you know it isn’t going to be a pretty picture for parents scrambling to get SPED services for their children. I mention Wilson County, because if it is happening there it is happening everywhere http://www.lebanondemocrat.com/article/schools/304626.
What are the signs that special ed. is being destroyed?
- Severe Budget Cuts Last May the Council for Exceptional Students, who lobby for SPED students, said they didn’t know how the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) would survive. Two billion in cuts were reported http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2013/05/28/sped-billion-cuts/18036/. Previously, in 2012, Sen Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Chairman of the ed committee estimated, “IDEA grants to states would be reduced by $903 million. Another $64 million would be cut out of special education spending for preschool students, infants, and toddlers.” Special ed. research, already cut in previous years, stood to lose another $4 million http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/speced/2012/07/special_education_could_suffer.html. The most recent Sequester also hit special education especially hard.
- Full Inclusion. Students in self-contained classrooms cost more to teach. By sticking everyone in regular classes, and forgetting all about gifted and talented students who never had much assistance to begin with, you cut costs. Along with inclusion, this push began with a promise that students would get special ed. support in the regular classes. Some regular ed. teachers once had some extra assistance, but many currently get little, if any help from special ed. teachers. Many regular ed. teachers struggle with burgeoning class sizes and little time to devote to students with disabilities and/or giftedness.
- New Orleans. After Katrina, privatization guru Milton Friedman (“Uncle Miltie”), despite bad health, sought to ensure that public schools in NOLA would become charter schools (Naomi Klein and The Shock Doctrine pp. 5-8). Special ed. students are now pushed out of the charter schools there, sent back to the old public school environment with fewer services and little hope for any real inclusion. Keep an eye on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s fight for these children.
- Common Core. Common Core State Standards currently drive curriculum in public schools despite outcries over problems—especially for SPED students. The standards themselves have not been tested for regular students let alone students with disabilities. The purpose of Common Core State Standards is to make everyone comply. If students fail, they fail. Parents don’t know where to go or what to do to accommodate their child’s academic differences.
- New York State Lawsuit. In New York there’s is a noble attempt to file a special education lawsuit gofundme.com/5n4mxw. It will cost $55,000 to obtain legal representation for special education services . Around the country school districts surround themselves with lawyers prepared to fight parents who wish to obtain services that have been removed from schools. How do parents succeed at claiming SPED services for their children–stolen from their schools?
- Autism and ADHD. In most places you can find an increase of students diagnosed with Autism and ADHD, but special ed. placements have dropped.
- Child Study Teams. The duties of Child Study Teams which include those who have expertise in special education, like school psychologists and special ed. teachers, are being pushed onto regular ed. teachers with less background in this area and who are already overwhelmed with large class sizes.
- Response to Intervention. Response to Intervention is a so-called screening, pretty much unproven, tool administered to all children in an attempt to identify students at risk earlier and keep them from special ed. services. Many questions surround its appropriateness. It is designed to replace the old discrepancy model of special ed. assessment to diagnose learning disabilities.
- Loss of Credentialed Special Ed. Teachers. Experienced, university credentialed special ed. teachers are what most parents desire for their students. In some places fast-track groups like Teach for America replace such teachers. They cost less.
- Replacing Special Ed. with Assistive Technology. Assistive technology can be an appropriate supplemental tool but it is currently an inadequate and unproven way to replace SPED classes and/or teachers http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/10/30/10cc-tech.h33.html.
What to do? Parents need to pay close attention to the special ed. programs in their schools and the changes taking place. Ask these questions:
- What’s missing? Is there a Child Study Team in place with the appropriate credentials?
- Who are the professionals involved in special education and are they professionally prepared?
- Is the special education teacher credentialed and from a real university?
- What kind of support does my child receive in the regular class (inclusionary) setting?
If you are uncomfortable with the answers to these questions, connect with other parents and teachers. There is always power in numbers. In your community seek out groups that address SPED issues. The Council for Exceptional Children and the Learning Disabilities Association are two. The area of Autism has others. If your community has no such groups try to connect with other parents in your state and see if you can start a group. If nothing else, contact these groups at the state and national level to see if you can connect with others and/or start a group.
I welcome feedback or sharing of experiences. We need to ban together to help our unique students get the support they deserve to bring out their best.
Heather Kelly says
I have a special needs son, and this literally scares the crap out of me. I also live in Wilson Co., TN.
Nancy Bailey says
I don’t blame you, Heather. I hope your son hangs on to his services. There was such a long struggle to get students help. Thanks for posting and for the Tweet.
I work in spec ed in wc. You hit the nail on the head. Parents should be going to battle over this. I come from NY and in comparision TN was already SORELY lacking. With all the changes, it has become pitiful. My students are absolutely NOT being served appropriately. It’s sad and frustrating for all!!
Nancy Bailey says
Cheryl, Thank you for your reply and I agree that parents need to get together and push back when services are removed. I also appreciate your comparison of TN to NY.
SUSAN QUINN says
There was an interpreter for the deaf (cannot remember his name, but I have talked with him) who got fired from Wilson County (I think) for supposedly hitting a kid with an umbrella as the student was being defiant in the library. I worked in mnps for 17 years, mostly in Special Ed. Assistants and services are being cut. Technology cannot replace people. I know that I made a difference in the lives of many students, and it hurts me to see central office personnel (who have no idea what goes on in classrooms) make these decisions.
Nancy Bailey says
Susan, Thank you. I hope they replaced the deaf interpreter! It is one thing to lose supervisors and administrators–quite another thing to eliminate those specialists who are directly working with children! But I know this is happening and I appreciate your illustrating this sad point.
I commend your reasoned analysis of some very alarming trends. I’m a special education teacher in Hawaii, I have a M.Ed. in Special Education. What surprises me most is the discrepancy between what we learn about best practices in terms of inclusion and RTI and what is actually being practiced. I’m lucky enough to have an administrator who trusts special education professionals and actually listens to us. As a result, our special education department has improved the practices for students with disabilities at our school. In a nation inundated with top-down initiatives, however, the trend seems to be going the other way. Teachers have less and less voice in how best to educate our students.
Nancy Bailey says
Hi James. Thank you for your comment. There is nothing better than having an administrator who trusts you to be the professional you worked so hard to be! You are lucky and I’m glad you shared your situation with us. Makes me hopeful! Very best!