I see Washington Post Columnist Jay Matthews as someone who usually cheerleads for privatization of public schools. I take issue with his Sunday Washington Post article “How can a special education student fail finals yet pass? Sadly, it’s easy.”
Oh help! Is this not a case of the right hand not being able to find the left hand of reform?
Matthews laments over a father’s issues with not being able to get realistic services for his daughter, who has learning disabilities at the well-respected Walt Whitman High School in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Oliver Hirschfeld’s daughter is a senior, and while she got the special education services she needed in ninth and 10th grade, she didn’t get self-contained classes in 11th and 12th grade.
I have a tough time learning the material, she said in reference to the large regular class sizes.
Now she is being passed through classes without getting the skills that would help her get into community college, and Mr. Hirschfeld and Matthews are critical of the school pushing the student through and not giving her a smaller self-contained class placement.
Well join the club! Many students are now disengaged from meaningful IEPs. It is more about the reform agenda than it is the students. Some parents now homeschool their students because special education is being eliminated!
Why is Matthews especially surprised by this?
Where was he when the U.S. Dept. of Ed. told New York that all students with disabilities need the regular test? Has he not heard of the push to get rid of special education called “segregated” self-contained classes?
Has he not kept up with the cuts to special education in the Chicago Public Schools?
Special education has been driven out of public schools by Arne Duncan and parents who subscribed to the idea that inclusion is the only way to go!
But it hasn’t just been Duncan. There has been a concerted effort to get rid of special education for years!
Now that special education is going, going, gone, including well-qualified special education teachers, due to watered down university programs and Teach for America types, parents are unhappy to see the result—students with disabilities who can’t pass the tests without self-contained and resource classes!
Maybe students with special needs should get vouchers to KIPP! We all know how well they do special ed!
And what should Whitman High or any other school do? If the classes have been cut they do what they’ve been told is my guess. So they pass students without the skills.
You can’t be on board for privatization reforms that cut budgets for services and then complain about the cuts and the lost services. It makes no sense. Although I’ll be the first to say that today’s educational reforms don’t make sense!
Mr. Hirschfeld and Mr. Matthews need a history lesson and then they need to advocate for special education, both self-contained and resource classes, inclusion and inclusion support too, that will help students achieve realistic goals.
The reality is, if they don’t gather their friends and fight for special education services, there will continue to an erosion of decent assistance for students like Mr. Hirschfeld’s deserving daughter.
There will be no more special education whatsoever—anywhere.
Allan Freedman says
Well stated Nancy. I live in Montgomery County and my wife is a graduate of Walt Whitman High School. Ironically Whitman is held up by many as a paragon of educational excellence. And for many of the kids who breeze through the school on to great colleges this assumption is largely supported. BUT, and I mean a huge BUT, this paragon of High School education massively fails to support the 1 in 5 kids who struggle to read. Those with dyslexia and the related challenges. Plus failing to provide the rights supports for those with other identifiable learning issues and disabilities. Our local school system does not recognize dyslexia and our educators, many with masters degrees in education, are not familiar with interventions like Orton-Gillingham. However Montgomery County does have a highly educated and generally affluent set of parents. So many parents, including my wife and I, don’t wait for the school system to fail our kids. We intervene with our own time and money to find the right solutions to help our kids. That’s what makes this story so extraordinary. Not that a school system failed to help a special needs kid. That a parent in my area was naive enough to think the school system would provide a suitable solution. Well trained teachers are key. This training needs to include evidenced-based proven strategies to help all kids learn to read. Montgomery County Public Schools fails miserably on this important and tragic problem.
Nancy Bailey says
Interesting! I think what you describe is the slow defunding and dismantling of special education. I know when I got my masters in the late 70s in learning disabilities, dyslexia was rather controversial. even then. But we should have evolved to better teacher education in both special ed and classroom teaching. Instead of special education teachers specializing in an area, it is now more generalized. Who’s studying dyslexia?
My question with Walt Whitman is why did they get rid of the self-contained classroom? Mr. Hirschfeld’s daughter seemed to be thriving in 9th and 10th grade in that placement. It looks to me like there was an order from the outside that the school should be inclusion only. Students need a continuum of services no matter what their disability and I am struck by how we are seeing less of that.
Thanks, Allan! I appreciate you sharing this.
I’m a special ed teacher in IL. I have watched the push to include students in large gen ed classes, regardless of whether the students can be successful there or not. We are supposed the to “push-in” to provide services within the regular classroom. Have you ever tried to have a high school student do something differently than the child next to them? Have you tried to reteach a concept to selected students in a tiny corner of a room designed for 25 kids, but holding 35, WHILE the gen ed teacher is trying teach new material to the rest of the class. With the overemphasis on the “least restrictive setting” meaning gen ed (despite what admin says about it meaning wherever the child will be successful), it is very difficult to provide the slower pace, more specific support, and the level of instruction that some students with disabilities desperately need. Of course, our goal should always be to provide spec ed students with the skills and strategies to be exited from the program, the reality is that it’s getting harder and harder to do this. Our targets keep changing in terms of expectations of ALL students, so when we start to help kids generalize skills to all areas, the needs change thanks to things like Common Core and PARCC. And speaking of testing, it is absolutely absurd to expect a sophomore spec ed student reading at a 4th grade level to access and respond to a test at 10th grade levels. Yet, all of our students are expected to do this unless they are severely mentally impaired. It is unreasonable, and totally demoralizing to these students who are asked to answer inferential questions when they can’t read the article to begin with. Additional time just doesn’t help. It is beyond frustrating.
Nancy Bailey says
Well said, Debbie! I can’t think of anything I’d say differently. Inclusion is a good placement for some students, and with support if needed, but others require remediation before they get to that point. More individualized attention is needed. When will they listen to teachers?
Dyan Schecterson says
I agree completely with Debbie. Now in my second career, I have been a SpEd Instructional Assistant for 17 years in Washington State and the last 6 years in Idaho. In my opinion, inclusion has been the cry of younger teachers coming out of colleges and universities who lack experience – real world and teaching – to realize that the majority of students qualifying for services need small group instruction (RR/self contained). I tell my students, “when you’re in your regular classroom you are expected to keep up with your teacher. Here, I keep up with you. We don’t move on until you have mastered a skill.” Over the years I have seen kids with needs are paralyzed with fear and anxiety having to remain for teaching within the gen ed classroom. This is not doing them a service in doing this. As for testing at grade level rather than at the level the qualify at and have been receiving instruction for, well, that is criminal!
Nancy Bailey says
Great points, Dyan! So true about college preparation. I think there have been a lot of cuts to special education at the college level. I don’t think the preparation is as thorough as it used to be.