It is interesting that so many titles and posts I write involving school reform have to do with loss. The resource class for students with learning disabilities and sometimes behavioral problems is one more loss when it comes to students and their public schools.
Resource classes were designed to help students in elementary, middle and high school by providing more individualized assistance in areas like reading, English, language arts and math. They also provided classes in other subjects, sometimes, especially, at the high school level. Such classes offered an important bridge for students with mild/moderate disabilities to help them get on the right track.
Resource class teachers focused on the latest research ideas, learning strategies, accommodations, strengthening weak areas and helping students to adapt to lessons they found difficult. Teachers with special education backgrounds and certification in learning disabilities were uniquely qualified to address areas like dyslexia, reading and math disabilities, gross and fine motor skills, writing, spelling, and hyperactivity. Students with serious reading disabilities often found the resource class a place of refuge.
The resource class also helped students pick up the skills they needed to successfully spend the rest of their school day in their mainstreamed general classes. When done right, special education resource teachers collaborated with general education teachers to make sure students did their best in the general classes. Indeed, part of the objective of the resource class was to arm students with the necessary tools to succeed in general classes.
Sadly, the resource class for students with learning disabilities is on its way out, if it isn’t already gone. I am always saddened when I hear parents complain that their child with dyslexia or a host of other mild/moderate disabilities can find little in the way of assistance in their public schools. Parents are growing more dissatisfied to find they have fewer services. Resource classes are increasingly a thing of the past.
Some parents resort to homeschooling. While this is a parent’s prerogative it can place an extra burden on the family, and there is little research to indicate this is the best approach. I don’t blame parents for homeschooling though–not at all. However, I do believe they and their children are being sorely underserved by their school district.
Other parents have sought vouchers to pull their children from public school for placement in private schools. This appears to be something special, but it is no magic wand, and it lends itself to the plans to privatize public schools. In most cases, there is no proof that private schools provide beneficial services to students with disabilities. If they have smaller class sizes, that might be a factor. But there is no research, that I am aware of, indicating private or parochial schools serve students with disabilities well. In fact, when a student leaves public school, they might lose whatever rights they had under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Many are angered at Arne Duncan’s rhetoric, and strategy, to dismantle special education. While I am no fan of Duncan, I believe the march to end special education services started a long time ago.
Even in the early 1980s, resource class teachers began hearing that their students really didn’t have learning disabilities—that students had difficulties due to bad teachers. While this might have contained a kernel of truth, certainly there will always be poorly trained teachers who don’t perform well, it lacked substance. There are many variables in how a student learns and why a student has difficulty learning. And one could easily ask: did the teacher have trouble reaching the student because of the student’s learning disability?
The re-authorizations of PL 94-142, into IDEA 1997 and IDEA 2004, also pushed all students with disabilities into the general education classroom, largely disregarding a student’s individual needs. The general public has been led to believe that inclusion is better for all students. But students still have disabilities and need services that cannot be individualized well in the general classroom.
Learning disabilities are also poorly understood. They are not readily identified–often nuanced. For me, that is what makes them fascinating, especially when it comes to how children learn and what can be done to help them learn better. But those who want a one-size-fits-all curriculum can easily say those disabilities do not exist.
I believe resource classes are critical to understanding learning disabilities, that they should be led by well-qualified teachers who collaborate with general education teachers, with research backgrounds in best practices. And such teachers should also work closely with parents who can offer additional valuable insight about the individual needs of their children.
That is what a great resource class for children, in every public school, should be about.
But Duncan and those before him don’t want public schools that utilize research in special education. Special education is too costly in their minds and not worth the effort. For them, less is more. Common Core falls neatly into this mindset, along with rhetoric that says every child can reach X standards by universal practices (technology), and that this will make a perfect group of high school graduates who are college-ready.
The use of revolving-door teachers or those prepared on the fast-track will also ease the denial that special education services are necessary. More recently we have heard of Teach for America working with students with disabilities.
These for-profit, faux idealists make special education something bad, which, when you think about it, is what we have struggled not to do in this country for decades. When students, who have mild/moderate disabilities that are easily corrected, fail because they had no services, no safety net, where will they wind up?
I am sorry about what I perceive to be the demise of the resource class. It is, I’m afraid, a serious casualty of the current school reform movement that will haunt all of us for years to come.