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?”
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.