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. Many of those currently in charge of condemning public schools don’t understand anything about students with disabilities and how they learn.
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, students with disabilities, and gifted and talented students, are a thorn in the reformers side as they try to sell off America’s public schools.
For years special ed. programs were not funded as fully as they should have been 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.
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 with disabilities and gifted and talented students back into regular classes. For a while they got away with this.
But parents are not as naïve as some believe. Just ask Andrea Rediske who has been a tireless advocate with Ethan’s Bill in Florida, to get rid of high-stakes testing for students with disabilities. Andrea has a lot of friends who follow and support her cause.
The privatization enthusiasts 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 learn the same—Common Core State Standards will see to it.
In fact, here, in their words, all students with disabilities should take the same tests. No more modifications should be allowed. That, we are told, would be selling students with disabilities short.
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, which is what they need in their perfect for-profit schools.
Really, every child should be individually considered, but with the students who have special needs differences stand out more.
Thus far, education reformers have succeeded at twisting the special ed. conversation to make it work to damn public 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.
When really, and we already see it happening, students with disabilities, like ELL students, are pushed out altogether. Charter schools get away with not taking these students—they aren’t prepared to do the job—and then they can only exist if they are able to tout high test scores.
The ed. reformers like to also throw around the word “integration” when it comes to putting all students with disabilities into the regular classroom. Making them do everything like all the other students 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.
How long will charter schools be able to get away with ignoring special education altogether?
Good teachers, the reformers insist, will succeed with these students. Even Teach for America is starting to direct its attention more to special education. What? Will they insist upon six weeks of training instead of five?
Parents of students with disabilities may have to pay to get real help for their students—but from where is anyone’s guess. Perhaps that in itself is the ultimate goal of the education reformers.
But it isn’t going to work.
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 that is changing. A lot of parents around the country are angrier over high-testing than ever before, and parents of students with disabilities are angrier still.
Parents, all parents, are paying close attention. Many of them hate Common Core and they are watching their state legislatures like nobody’s business. They also want real credentialed special education teachers and regular teachers who plan to stay on the job and make it their career. Every parent, and especially parents of students with disabilities, 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 help to stop the draconian changes in our public schools it will be those parents.