Watching the demise of our public schools, and the dissolution of special education services, we see a common ploy that takes place within local school districts. Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine wrote about how, after Katrina, elderly and ailing–free market Guru–Milton Friedman, with help from the Bush administration, used the NOLA devastation to shutter public schools and replace them with charter schools. Now only a couple of traditional public schools are left there, and there are serious problems due to the exclusion of disadvantaged students and those with disabilities from charter schools.
But it doesn’t take a hurricane to destroy a school district and the 40+ years of work by educators and researchers to get rid of segregated institutions and lousy conditions for children with disabilities. Just magnify problems, and even if there are none—create them. This isn’t hard to do with budget cuts and real professionals getting run out of town. In anti-ed. reform, it is often called “churning.” And recently there has been a lot of churning going on in special education across the country.
In Columbus, Ohio, the new superintendent pounces on Columbus special education because high school teachers gave students with disabilities undeserved Ds, most likely, instead of failing them. So CPS will redo special education, and they suggest that the students repeat the class, be tutored or attend summer school, and they will embed monitors in the schools. We learn things are a mess in special ed. in Columbus, and in Columbus schools in general. There are all kinds of accusations and concerns about data manipulation. The old superintendent is facing serious questions. It reminds me of…Seattle, Delaware and other cities and states across the country.
Here are the problems in Columbus in regard to special education:
- Gen. ed. teachers sometimes don’t know which students in their classes have disabilities.
- Regular ed. teachers don’t know who will provide services to the students with disabilities.
- Students with disabilities might not get the required services, I guess because there is no one to serve them.
- Academic goals were unclear, and some required no progress or were not capable of being measured.
- Some schools failed to tell parents about student progress being made towards goals.
- Parents weren’t always given the chance to help write goals.
All of these problems appear fixable. But why did these procedures go haywire in Columbus and elsewhere? Why are so many special education programs in school districts across the country suddenly falling apart? Why all the churning?
Good school districts have always had committee team meetings to hash out the Individual Educational Plan (IEP) for a student. Aren’t teachers supposed to document parental attendance at those meetings (at least 3 attempts)? IEP meetings are serious business to determine the goals that a student is supposedly capable of doing. Those goals are not just teacher goals. That’s the beauty of an IEP. A lot of professionals, and the parents are involved, with parents getting the royal seat at the table, or at least that is how it should be.
So in Columbus, did 1,547 students have parents whose only goal was for them to be in regular classes? Why weren’t they included in IEP meetings? Were students, based on previous assessments, designated as capable to pass the tests in those classes, or not? Who really is determining the special education programming for children with disabilities there and everywhere?
The Columbus school district is overhauling the way it writes, monitors and carries out IEPs for special education students. They mention that IEPs are federally required–how did Columbus teachers and parents not know that?
And did you catch the word, OVERHAUL? The rest of the article about Columbus schools goes on to imply that teachers promised kids the moon, but it was really made of green cheese. And there is more IEP talk.
So why did the teachers give 1,547 students with disabilities a D on their report card, when they maybe didn’t earn a D? My guess is the students had difficulty doing the work and teachers had difficulty writing the dreaded F on the report card, knowing full well the students made a good attempt. And teachers, who realize their students aren’t going to make the mark, are also probably afraid of losing their jobs.
But we will never know, because there is no state investigation. Why is that?
Instead of hiring more qualified teachers to work with students and address their needs in the regular classes, the district will embed at least a dozen monitors. What will those monitors find? Well, my guess is, it will be something to damn the teachers for not normalizing the students. It won’t be because those teachers have…hearts and/or anxiety.
I am not saying that students don’t deserve a legitimate and honest assessment of how they are really doing in their classes, or that those teachers were right in handing out undeserved Ds. But something else is going on here.
We all shouldn’t be surprised. When Arne Duncan said last spring that everyone can do the work, no matter the disability, you knew that special ed. would be targeted. But don’t stop with him. Go back to the re-authorizations of Public Law 94-142 into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) both 1997 and 2004. All of those changes were meant to make special education self-contained and resource classes something bad and move all students into general education.
Churning? Cut services as much as possible. Show special ed. to be inadequate and disorganized. Damn special education services so parents reject those services. Let everyone know about it in the community too, because who wants their tax dollars going to kids with difficulties and teachers who should be able to fix those problems? Promise parents and citizens that teachers can fix the disability if they are the right teachers, and when they don’t, fire them. The next step will be charter schools designed for special education ONLY.
Damn, Destroy then Privatize.
Isn’t this the plan? It is already happening in many places. I’m not a gambler, but if I were I’d bet money on it.
Pay attention to the churning wherever you live, and support good special education for all students who need it. Parents must demand an IEP meeting that includes a variety of professionals, and ask at that meeting exactly what support will your child get in the regular class if it is inclusion. Don’t be misguided into thinking a regular ed. placement is all you need for your student to succeed. Don’t let go of special ed. services because you may never get them back again.
Lisa Vavrik says
This is so sad. I have taught special education for 12 years and I have watched them grow educationally. The complaints listed above never happened on my case load and I have had good relationships with general educators, parents, admin., ect. The funny thing is, I just told my son that the next thing the reformers will do is segregate special ed students. A lot of the kids I have seen are very smart and some twice exceptional. With the right accommodations they can do as well. I am thinking that the alternative teacher who has all the answers may be a problem.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you for sharing, Lisa. I fear the push for all inclusion will, ironically, eventually lead to segregation. There is no safety hatch for students who don’t master the general ed. curriculum.
Maureen Fratantoni says
I agree. Thanks for writing this. I have noticed a lot of these unexplained changes lately and a bell went off in my head.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you for your comment, Maureen.
Kaye Smith says
After teaching for 21 years, 18 as a special education teacher, I have never seen so much disruption and ambiguity in education as I am seeing lately. My students are flatly being denied services, accommodations, and appropriate placement, despite CSE recommendations. I advocate, beg, refer to sped. law, and even shout to no avail. It seems evident to me that my district is banking on parents being too ignorant to fight for their kids. Quite a risk if you ask me, but no complaints so far. It’s surreal.
Nancy Bailey says
How very strange, Kaye. I too wonder why more parents don’t take action. But those parents who I know who tried ran into high legal fees. Maybe that is one problem. Thank you for sharing.