Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a part of the new Every Student Succeeds Act. It promotes what is heralded as a new way to reach students with diverse needs. It sounds new agey.
But what does this miracle program have that those of us who worked in special education for years don’t? You may, like me, scratch your head at first.
Much harm has been done to public schools, special education, and the teaching profession with high-stakes testing.
Most of us understand that such testing was meant to shut down public schools.
Insisting that every child, even those with the most challenging medical disabilities, reach the same standards, has meant that teachers, good teachers, would fail. Schools would close. Special education would cease.
Claiming that everyone could reach the same standards was a lie. Almost everyone knew it, but it went on anyway because corporate powers and corrupt politicians were permitted to make such claims all in the name of privatizing education.
Promising the Universe
So here comes UDL which promises assessment geared to the individual needs of the student whatever those needs might be.
Suddenly, everyone is on board for diversity–the extreme opposite of the agenda used to decimate public education, special education, and the teaching profession!
Even people like Jeb Bush are suddenly excited for differentiated or “customized” learning. One wonders how many third graders had to flunk the FCAT before Jeb figured out that students learn differently.
Teachers who work with students who have a variety of special needs, who could never have been fully prepared for such a wealth of differences, are now supposed to rejoice that UDL has arrived.
Never mind if it’s confusing. To read about UDL and its brain studies can be a challenge for the best of us. It’s mystifying.
Breaking it Down
Education Week says,
Sprinkled throughout the newly reauthorized version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act are references to an instructional strategy that supporters think has enormous potential for reaching learners with diverse needs.
A universally designed lesson, for example, might include audiovisual components, illustrations, traditional lectures, enlarged print, or glossaries so that students can have easy access to unfamiliar terms. Universal design for learning also encourages students to use a variety of techniques, such as group projects, multimedia presentations, drawings, or music.
Within the Every Student Succeeds Act, the latest update of the ESEA, Congress said that states should adhere to principles of universal design for learning as they develop student assessments. The law also calls for states to create plans for comprehensive literacy instruction and to incorporate universal design for learning principles in those plans.
Enormous potential? Haven’t special educators always searched for multiple ways to reach learners?
In fact, wasn’t that the point of special education? An Individual Educational Plan sealed the deal.
And we’ve always searched for literacy programs that work. It’s been the quest of good teachers everywhere to search for effective reading curriculum.
The only thing that UDL has that is different from what special and general educators do is online modules that are geared to individual students at their level.
That’s the real difference. UDL is competency-based education or personalized learning.
What Goes Around, Comes Around…Only Privatized Online
So, after years of standardization, computer modules geared to individual needs sounds like something special. Online assessment at the child’s pace sounds nice too.
To get to this point, it is important that the UDL promoters make sure the buyers understand that it is more than computer instruction. They realize parents might not like their kids having all-day screen time.
But when one strips away all the universal, individually diverse, flexibility talk, the only thing different between UDL and special education is sticking kids online for instruction for personalized learning. Unfortunately, learning by machine is not really so personalized.
What is different is teachers are not teachers. The classroom is different too. The computer takes over.
Those from groups like Teach for America and Relay Graduate School of Education are at this moment learning how to plug kids in. They will be facilitators making sure the computer is working and that students sit in their chairs straight.
It all makes sense now. It’s the universal design for privatization, and it’s created by corporate America to replace democratic public schools.
Samuels, Christina A. “ESSA Spotlights Strategy to Reach Diverse Learners.” Education Week. February 23, 2016.
Or, the older one. HERE.