We should be beyond this in America. Every school district should be providing parents public access to top notch regulated education services, including utilizing cutting-edge research for all students, and especially for students with disabilities and/or our gifted and talented young people.
Right now many teachers and parents are fighting to get decent services from their public schools for their students with special needs. The lucky ones get access to good teachers and programs that provide meaningful instruction, but many others are frustrated, even withdrawing their children to home school, or they are placing them in private schools though most private schools, despite their expense, have little to offer. Sometimes they have smaller class sizes.
But, in general, we aren’t focused on the right things right now and students are missing out today!
Yesterday, The New York Times had a fascinating article about children who they say are beating autism. Certainly, the information in the article is worthy of debate. Two moms connected over their children displaying autistic tendencies. They tried various treatments including “sensory integration, megadose vitamins, therapeutic horseback riding, a vile-tasting powder from a psychologist who claimed that supplements treated autism.” Nothing worked.
Then, through a chain of events, the parents began working with specialists from the University of California. UCLA is known for their research in autism, specifically Applied Behavior Analysis (A.B.A.). It was also home to the late O. Ivar Lovaas who is considered one of the lead researchers in autism.
In 1979, I attended a workshop at Florida State University featuring Lovaas. I remember not knowing what to expect. Around that time he was a highly controversial figure. Some of his early research involved aversives like loud noises, slapping chairs, and even electric shock. By the time I watched him demonstrate his behavioral programs with students he had toned it down. Now A.B.A., albeit still controversial, is seen by many as legitimate, if not a highly sought after treatment. And Lovaas is highly respected for this program.
Indeed, the mothers in this article spent between $10,000 and $15,000 altogether to travel to UCLA and to obtain the services of the specialists.
Here is a short description of the treatment plan: “The specialists spent hours watching each boy, identifying his idiosyncrasies and creating a detailed set of responses for his parents to use. The trainers returned every couple of months to work on a new phase, seeking to teach the boys not just how to use language but also how to modulate their voices, how to engage in imaginative play, how to gesture and interpret the gestures of others. The families also recruited and trained people to provide A.B.A. to their sons, so each boy received 35 hours a week of one-on-one therapy.”
Here is my question. Why aren’t school districts across the country focused more on the kind of research that seems to work for children? Whether you appreciate A.B.A. or not, it should be on the table and actively discussed, along with other positive research programs that appear to work. Schools should also have qualified teachers and support services that act together to address these issues. Public schools really should be laboratories of innovation.
Many concerns surround the use of Common Core State Standards that do not adequately address the needs of students with disabilities, or gifted and talented students. High-stakes testing is still driving education. Schools no longer value play, even for small children. Many schools have dropped programs, like the arts, and even recess, to push a harsher agenda that ignores the differences found in children. And we all worry that there are ulterior motives beyond the administration’s plans for children with disabilities. See HERE and HERE. There are also problems with teachers not being adequately prepared to address the needs of students with disabilities.
Why must parents and teachers waste precious time playing defense, struggling to get some kind of adequate service? How is it possible, that after all these years, it has come down to Arne Duncan talking about nothing other than raising test scores to the level of non-disabled peers? Why must parents travel across the country spending thousands of dollars for services, when the public school system has access to leading information?
Instead of wasting precious funds on unregulated charter schools and faux teachers and principals with little understanding of teaching pedagogy, this country should be investing in the kinds of programs designed to honestly assist students with all kinds of educational and social needs. And if it were real philanthropy, people like the Kochs and Bill Gates, would be focused on that which really matters to parents, instead of overturning an institution that had quite a lot going for it at one time.
But parents must waste theirs and their child’s precious time just fighting to be heard. Shouldn’t we be further along by now? I don’t understand why we have to fight this fight again. It already took place almost 40 years ago! We’ve already had the court decisions. We have already written the laws.
Why have we been taken back to this dark abyss where parents must struggle and worry about a public school system that will not provide the services they know will work for their children? No one will argue that public schools were perfect, that they didn’t need some change. But we were making progress. Public schools were not as bad as they have been made out to be.
It is time to drop the façade of educational reform and bring back public schools that personalize education for every child. This country deserves a public school institution that is vibrant, open to all children, seeking the answers that will assist all its children. We cannot afford to not do this.