There will be beautiful tulips next spring in 2021, if we correctly and lovingly plant the bulbs this coming fall.
During this unprecedented and perilous time, The New York Times reported “DeVos Weighs Waivers for Special Education. Parents Are Worried.” The $2 trillion coronavirus law gives the Queen of School Privatization unparalleled power to waive disability rights of students.
Administrators and educators say without the waivers they would be forced to meet unrealistic expectations and face costly lawsuits. Avoiding those consequences could mean that districts decide not to offer any education at all to students in the next two months.
In the meantime, parents and teachers struggle to help children learn in these difficult times, described well in “Why online learning is hard on students with special needs,” by Megan Reeves.
Parents have watched disability services dwindle for years. Is this the death knell for student disability rights in public schools?
DeVos is not reevaluating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for the better. She’s not finding routes to academically improve instruction or worrying how to bring students with disabilities together with their peers.
She’s not planning how to provide better disability services to children when the coronavirus quarantine is over. DeVos is no teacher.
What she and her powerful friends are about is ending public schools. To that end, so goes disability services.
Because special education has been in trouble for years, it comes as no surprise that this disaster opens the door for DeVos and her ilk to illegally cast services aside.
Thomas B. Fordham Institute is Not Your Friend
Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a writer not an educator, and former Teach for America corps member Dale Chu, have put their personal spin on DeVos and her actions.
In the above New York Time’s report, Petrilli said about public school services during Covid-19, While districts are working on solutions for kids with special needs, they shouldn’t wait to serve everyone else.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is a cheerleader for Betsy DeVos. Here’s Petrilli praising her for opening the door for more charter schools.
In “Students with disabilities: The whipping boy of coronavirus closures” Chu echoes Betsy DeVos’s idea to rethink special education.
Think about it. Since the inception of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1997—which requires that all students be provided a free and appropriate public education—and before that, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975, school districts have failed to satisfactorily educate many of the nation’s 7 million students with disabilities.
Even if public schools come up short on special education programming, most parents with children who have disabilities rely on public schools. They want to see those programs improve, not be eliminated.
Special Education History: The Truth About IDEA
Spending tax dollars on students with disabilities has always been a thorn in the side of politicians who want public school privatization.
Stripping services from schools throughout the years has been intentional, meant to push children with disabilities out. Many states ignore the special education rights of children. Texas cut costs by placing an illegal cap on which students could get disability services.
The reauthorizations of IDEA in 1997 and 2004 were about scrapping the services created by the All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142), in 1975.
Instead of considering the needs of individual students, students had to pass ill-conceived standardized tests. If they didn’t pass the test, there was no safety net.
Those who taught special education before that time remember a better system. It wasn’t perfect, but teachers valued parent association. IEPs were less complicated and more meaningful. The law was more on the side of parents.
Students were mainstreamed into general classes. Teachers had to get certification to teach special education. Schools respected those regulations.
IDEA reauthorizations pushed all-inclusion. Teacher certification requirements were weakened. Alternative teaching groups like Teach for America flourished. Class sizes were ignored.
In Education Week’s “The Death of Special Education,” Laurence Lieberman former special education teacher and learning-disabilities coordinator for the U.S. Office of Education and chairman of the special education doctoral program at Boston College, described IDEA 97 as changing the focus from individualization, the original intent of the All Handicapped Children’s Act of 1975, to general education and inclusion.
Special education is dead. Special education has been swallowed by the beast: the school system, with its mandated curriculum, mandated tests, and mandated standards.
Now, most students face large classes with insufficiently prepared teachers. Many students are shut out of services. Where are the supports? Services? Special education is no longer about student needs. It’s about standards. If students can’t master the standards there’s nothing for them.
Special Education Programs
What I believe most parents want, is to ensure that IEPs are formulated with the child’s academic and social needs in mind. That providing special services with well-prepared teachers becomes sacrosanct, and no child is denied the individualization they require.
During this crisis, IDEA, with all its faults, is still the law! Every attempt should be made to follow the law during this difficult time! When students return to school there should be a renewed attempt to better instruct and help parents and children with disabilities!
Disability services should flow seamlessly through a democratically run public school system that opens its doors to all children!
Special education done right requires
- teachers with special preparation,
- individualization with the student in mind,
- compassionate understanding and treatment of parents,
- universities willing to fund the courses general and special education teachers need,
- special resources and equipment,
- research-based and proven materials,
- additional services like speech pathology and occupational therapy,
- support personnel like school psychologists, nurses, social workers, et cetera,
- smaller classes, and
- support teachers to assist in general education classes.
All of this involves time and expense.
It’s too late to plant tulip bulbs this year. Spring is here, and all we can do is wait for fall. But in the fall we can begin again. We can plant many tulips in good soil, so that by the following spring they will flourish.
After this catastrophe, I hope that public education will truly renew its commitment to all children in their public schools!
Sheila Resseger says
I retired from teaching in the middle school and high school of the RI School for the Deaf in 2011. (The RI Department of Education’s labeling the school as a Persistently Lowest Achieving School in 2010 was traumatic for the whole school community, and one of the reasons I decided to retire when I did. It was so unreasonable.) When I started teaching there in 1985, we had two full-time school linguists who assessed the students in English language and literacy development in preparation for their IEP’s. The goals were geared to each individual student’s needs according to meticulous testing done on an individual basis. A middle school student might still be working on points of English grammar like joining two clauses with a coordinating conjunction. This is not something that could ever be addressed with a mass administered standardized test. Their needs were derived from the fact that they had had a significant hearing loss since birth or early childhood. As the years went on, the IEP goal sheets said something like Making Progress in the General Curriculum. Trying to relate such specific goals to the general curriculum was a conundrum, but we managed the best we could. Much later, when the “Standards” were introduced, it became a numbers game of trying to match up what the student needed to work on with a specific number from the standards. It was a schizoid process. I retired in 2011 just in time not to have to measure my students by the invalid, unreasonable, and misguided Common Core State (sic) Standards, and just before the PARCC. Previously we had had the luxury of teaching our small classes with pedagogy that matched their needs and interests, without worrying about their scores on standardized tests. With the new rigidity, that was no longer the case. While it is possibly a worthy goal to have all students meet high “standards,” it is more important to nurture each student to reach their own unique potential. This requires teaching expertise and experience. It cannot be done on the fly or cheaply. The promise of Public Law 94-142, passed the same year that I graduated from Gallaudet with my Masters to teach the deaf, needs to be fulfilled.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Sheila! Well said. Instead of going forward, poor policy has taken public schools backward. I always appreciate when you share your experience. Stay well.
You got out at the right time. So much counter-intuitive micro-managing actually eroded targeted focus on student’s individual needs.
I was forced out of teaching special ed in 2011. At the time and for a long time afterward it devastated me. In retrospect, however, I guess I was lucky. The numbers game was just starting and , in fact, was what got me. I didn’t get that we were morphing toward a system of judging by numbers or that teaching “with fidelity” meant following a prescriptive program to the letter. After all, IEPs demanded that I teach to the individual student not the standards of the curriculum. Silly me! I missed/ignored the subtle signs of change, and mistakenly assumed that my professional training still mattered.
Perhaps we really do need to think about how to fund special ed services. It is expensive and extremely time consuming. One very needy student can cost a district so much as to compromise what can be offered to others. I don’t say that to dismiss the need; I say it to encourage discussion of how we fund special education. After all, it is to all our advantages to assure that every child is provided the opportunity to reach their full potential.