Special education, which includes gifted education, is about helping students who learn differently. It’s distressing when a student needs academic support and there is none, or when quotas and caps get in the way of a child’s needs.
It’s also concerning when special education is made to look like a bad placement option. It stigmatizes children who learn differently. It keeps them from getting the truly individualized assistance that they need.
When schools focus on quotas and caps for services instead of looking at the individual child, something is amiss. It means that we can’t rely on school officials and our legislators to do the right thing. They are looking at numbers and data instead of children.
Much of this accelerated with NCLB and standardized testing. It’s also used to deny children services through special education.
The Texas Education Association provides a good example of this. They set an 8.5 percent cap on special education, shutting out many students who deserved services! As the Houston Chronicle stated, The cap wasn’t just illegal, it was morally reprehensible and shortsighted.
Parents know that with assistance their child would be able to thrive. But in recent years reauthorizations of the original law PL 94-142 (IDEA) have worked to strip special education of its original intent claiming special education is something bad. Parents fight for inclusion despite large class sizes.
Special education, one of the best education provisions of our time, is now often seen as undesirable, unless a child is gifted. Even then, services are spotty and often seen as elitist.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently got in hot water when a federal judge decided her attempt to delay a special education ruling from the Obama administration was “arbitrary and capricious,” because it stopped states from identifying school districts accused of disproportionally channeling minority students into special education classes they called “restrictive classroom settings or disciplined.”
Laura Meckler of the Washington Post reported: Under the regulation, states will face tighter rules about how they count children in special education. Those calculations may tip more states over a threshold that requires them to create a plan to ensure students of color are not being disproportionately targeted.
Special education is portrayed as something bad, “restrictive.” It’s lumped together with serious problems surrounding punishment and race disparities.
No child should be placed in special education if they don’t require it. State DOEs should conduct school district oversight of screening committees to make sure those on the committees have the proper credentials and are fairly evaluating students.
But another concern is whether students of color are being denied special education!
Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post’s The Answer Sheet, raised this question: “Are too many minority students identified as disabled? Or are some who need services overlooked?”
I wrote of my concerns about this in the past too.
One study found that minority children attending U.S. elementary and middle schools are disproportionately underrepresented in special education! Students of color were not getting the services that would have helped them do better in school.
Special education should not be seen as restrictive or punishing! Special education is supposed to be positive, opening doors for children who were otherwise pushed out of public schools.
Quotas and caps raise concerns, because they might remove the focus on the student, deny children necessary services, and they cast special education in a bad light.
While everyone is focused on numbers and data, the child is crying out, “Hey! Look at me! Look at who I am, what I need to learn, and how you can best teach me!”
Special education is often a great solution and it should not be seen as stigmatizing, but a positive means of support.
I have never quite understood why anyone would expect that children who come from impoverished backgrounds might need more services than children who don’t. To me, it is a “no-brainer.” To suggest that these children should be identified no more often than those from more privileged backgrounds seems silly. That being said, there has always been a stigma attached to being in special education. I remember talking with one of my struggling high school readers. We had just made some breakthroughs together that were of profound significance to him. With tears streaming down his face, he admitted that he had always thought he was dumb. I have asked my students that question many times over the years once we are comfortably into the year. Invariably, more hands than not went up. Being in “SpEd” was a label that proved their deficiency.
Nancy Bailey says
You’re absolutely correct. There’s a stigma and we need to somehow change the labeling or the class set-up.
Until that happens, it doesn’t help when adults make it sound bad. Thanks for mentioning this important point.
Roy Turrentine says
“Hey! Look at me! Look at who I am, what I need to learn, and how you can best teach me!”
Unfortunately, by the time a student gets to high school, this often sounds like “I hate you and your class and the school.and the whole world and leave me alone.”
Last year there were some boys in a class that I taught that sounded just like that. With the help of a really fine aid and my assurance they would not try and fail anyway, we got somewhere. This year I do not have any of the boys, but three of them visit me every morning and every last period to get a high five and a few questions about how the day went before they get on the bus.
One of these kids could not look at a map with countries named on it, and find that same shape on a blank map. That has to have some name, and I felt woefully inadequate to teach him, but I resolved to do no harm. I went out of my way to treat him like a human being without patronizing him.
I usually do well with kids that are included in regular classes, but occasionally I have some kids who need to be elsewhere. Including kids who are very low functioning in regular classes is often daunting for them.
Meanwhile, setting a quota on how many kids can be special Ed is like a lot of other top down reform, based on a silly concept of planning. Anyone who has been in education for a long time knows that problems come in bunches. This mirrors a math concept that is so simple that I am not sure it has a name.
When random events occur, the most unlikely of any outcomes is the exact spacing of these events. If you stood by the side of the road and timed the distance between cars that passed you, and you found that the cars were exactly a minute apart, you would be amazed. The incidence of children who have learning problems is similar I am sure. One year you might get 4 and the next year you could have a dozen.
I know someone will point out that experimental numbers approach theoretical probability as they increase, but numbers of special Ed students in my experience fluctuate more dramatically than any other phenomenon I have ever wittnessed.
Nancy Bailey says
I think the best programs move students back into the gen. ed. classrooms. I like the resource class concept. But I’ve known of wonderful self-contained classes where students get specified assistance.
I’m not sure why parents reject self-contained in public school but will put their child in a segregated special ed. charter school.
Thanks, Roy. Always interesting to hear from you.