Do we need special education anymore? Some parents might say no—that a regular class with high expectations, possibly some support, is all that is necessary.
Arne Duncan has stated that students with disabilities should rise to the same level as other students. He has called for a “major shift” in how special education students are treated. What do you think that means? I think it means no more special ed.
This anti-special ed. notion showed up to me recently in an old King of the Hill episode about NCLB and testing. To increase test scores, a stereotypical, lazy principal stuck equally lazy students (who would lower the scores) into a self-contained special ed. class. There they could get out of the test. Hank found out and got the students to work hard and they eventually got stellar scores. The takeaway—NCLB is great and self-contained special ed. classes are useless (for anyone), and teachers running such classes are dunderheads. Yes, the teacher of the self-contained class was portrayed as such. The class was insulting.
For such a silly show, this message packed a punch. The special ed./no special ed. argument has always run parallel to NCLB. Having taught in this area for many years, high expectations have always been part of the profession that I know, so much so, that when NCLB advocates began attacking teachers with the “soft-bigotry of low expectations” line, it seemed ludicrous. Why would any teacher go into teaching without high expectations? But why must high-expectations always mean the same expectations? Race to the Top and Common Core State Standards are no better.
Shouldn’t there be a demand for more and better assistance to address young people with learning difficulties instead of pretending these difficulties and differences do not exist? Should we not have evolved to a better place in public schooling? I thought we were the country that embraced diversity.
My fear is that by saying special ed. students can and should do Common Core and master the tests like their peers, parents will see outside services dwindle. Instead of embracing differences in children, there will be (already is) a sense that if any parent seeks special assistance they aren’t expecting the best (always inclusion) for their child.
Inclusion isn’t always a perfect solution. AlterNet recently posted “Is Your School District Taking the Right Approach to Special Education?” By Laurie Levy, which showed that all might not be well with inclusion classes and she argues for a continuum of special education services. But the idea that all students with cognitive or intellectual disabilities or mild learning disabilities should master regular class material has become sacrosanct in some circles. IDEA pushed this thinking and Arne Duncan might seal the deal. This push for sameness is troubling.
Don’t forget, getting rid of SPED services will cost less.
I would argue that a good self-contained classroom could be a lifeline for students with disabilities. I’m not talking just about severe disabilities. Children with an array of learning disabilities, including autism, not easily addressed in a regular class, with a regular teacher, thrive with extra attention and assistance in a well-run self-contained class, or a class or two with the resource class model. Students get more individualized attention, with fewer students, and a teacher and assistants and aides with special preparation.
One of my favorite examples justifying special education involves the late great psychologist Bernard Rimland known for throwing out the ridiculous notion that autism is caused by cold, uncaring mothers. Rimland’s child had autism and this is what he wrote about his son’s class:
Much as my wife and I would like to have our autistic son Mark be able to cope successfully in a normal school, it is very clear to us that he could not have done so. He has come along much farther than we ever dared hope, and we are quite confident it is because he was always in special classes, taught by experienced, skilled, caring teachers, exhibiting monumental patience, who had gone to great lengths to train themselves in methods that would help Mark and children like him achieve their full potential.
Certainly, with such classes in regular schools now, care should be taken to include students in regular school activities, and students without disabilities should be educated about the importance of student acceptance. Buddy tutorial programs, recess, sports and the arts might all be well-designed to include students with disabilities. Students with disabilities should be able to float effortlessly into an array of regular classes and special classes with more support.
Inclusion, with support, should always be an option. But parents should not be made to feel bad if their student would benefit from a self-contained or resource class. These classes should be bolstered and incorporated into the overall school setting. They could and should bring out the very best qualities in students. We should be proud, not ashamed of this.
The reality is that discrepancies in learning should be evaluated honestly, that no child is like any other child for the most part, and that it will help all children if we embrace differences instead of pretending they don’t exist. I’d like to see an IEP for every student.
If we don’t do this—what will become of students with differences, who don’t conform, but with the right kind of support might succeed? What about children who don’t master the Common Core State Standards or the tests that go with them? Without special ed. where will they go?
B. Rimland. (1995). “Inclusive Education: Right For Some.” In J.M. Kaufman & Daniel P. Hallahan (Eds.), The Illusion of Full Inclusion: A Comprehensive Critique of a Current Special Education Bandwagon. (p. 289). Austin, Texas: Pro-Ed.