What happens to students with dyslexia and learning disabilities when there are no more special education services?
This from a teacher in Mississippi: I am an Inclusion teacher at my son’s high school. Our special ed department lost a certified position and two paraprofessional positions. Students receive services, but we have cut our presence in all but core classes. —National Center for Children with Learning Disabilities who claim there is a 52 percent cut in special education. For more see HERE.
When it comes to teacher education, many parents and the National Center on Learning Disabilities (NCLD) supported Sen. Cassidy’s (R-LA) push for an amendment to ESEA. This was to provide federal funds towards professional development for teachers to teach and identify students with dyslexia. While the bill did not pass, many parents still support his ideas.
Certainly, as parents, educators and citizens we should be troubled that we have not evolved to a better place when it comes to serving students with disabilities including dyslexia and learning disabilities. To witness an exchange such as the one between Sen. Cassidy and Education Secretary Arne Duncan is troublesome. HERE.
But while I can appreciate Sen. Cassidy’s attention to the area of learning disabilities, and more specifically dyslexia, I did not support this amendment or the thinking behind it and here is why.
It is not true that teachers have never had training to work with students with dyslexia or learning disabilities. It used to be that students with learning disabilities would be referred to a resource class for 1-2 hours each day. Teachers in these classes specialized by taking intensive coursework in college to learn about learning disabilities and dyslexia. I know because I was one of those teachers! We received authentic, state credentials based on this coursework.
Resource teachers assisted students individually and in small groups. They also collaborated with regular education teachers to help students succeed in the general classroom.
Today, these classes and the assistance given students are largely gone. But it is as if Cassidy and many parents have forgotten those days…or they are too young to remember!
The truth is that special education has been dismantled across the board to pave the way for privatization. Politicians never wanted to fund special education, and by re-authorizing the original PL 94-142 to IDEA they went a long way to extinguish services to all students with special needs. They did this by placing all students in the regular classroom.
Without a resource class, parents want special instruction in the regular class.
Certainly, every effort should be made to place children with disabilities in general classes when parents and teachers agree it is the best placement, but when students have disabilities like dyslexia they most likely need something more.
It is a lot to ask regular education teachers to teach programs for dyslexia or learning disabilities. Regular teachers are generalists. I liken them to general practitioners in medicine. With the elimination of special education, they are being pulled in many different directions. They often struggle in large class sizes and many have lost paraprofessionals.
What regular education teachers should be able to do is determine when a student has a learning disability of any kind. A course in their college preparation class should enable them to do this, and they used to do it! Being able to identify learning disabilities, and referring students to get further testing and consideration by the referral and IEP team should be the goal.
Unfortunately, Response to Intervention (RTI) is being used to supposedly address learning disabilities in the classroom. I am not a fan of RTI and have written about it HERE.
Furthermore, not every child in a regular class has learning problems when it comes to reading. I find it strange, as it has been suggested, to assume that poor or ELL students all need to learn how to read by a systematic program designed for students with learning disabilities and dyslexia. This is a troubling one-size-fits-all approach.
Cassidy argued for “profession ready” teachers. Duncan, with no teacher preparation in education, in their argument mentioned above, also dissed the education schools for not preparing teachers well. This seems a concerted effort to criticize teachers and is repeatedly promoted in the media.
I would like to ask both these men what they think of the current effort to replace real university teacher education programs with fast-track residency teachers, Relay GSE, and Teach for America– which are controversial concerning regular education let alone special education.
These programs should raise a red flag to every parent, not just parents with students who have disabilities.
Don’t parents want, and deserve, quality career teachers, including specialists, who study the disability areas?
Where are we going when it comes to our students with disabilities? I am certainly shaking hands with Senator Cassidy and his supporters when it comes to the need for good instruction for students with dyslexia and learning disabilities. Will we have to wait for a generation that fails? Are we already witnessing such a generation?
The fact is, however, that the education reformers have had control of schools for years. They removed the voices of the teacher and parents from the equation a long time ago.
The NEA also did not support Sen. Cassidy’s amendment, but I do not know why. This post included my views not the opinion of the NEA.