I recently read an article in Education Week entitled Improving Special Education in Tough Times. With budgets being cut, especially to special education, the title sparked my interest. As I read, I found myself applauding many of the suggestions presented. But, there was one theme I found myself in total disagreement about, at least on the surface.

Yes, I agree that districts most stop using special education as the “catchall” program as it has become. Not every child who lags behind in school academically or has behavior problems need to be given a label and given an IEP. This practice has destroyed the integrity of the program and has caused many teachers and administers a great deal of frustration. But most importantly, it takes away seriously needed resources for students who not only need them but who really could benefit and improve their academic skills as a result of the special education program.

 

Yes, I agree that districts need to reduce unwanted turnover among teachers of students with disabilities. I guess I can be included in this bunch. Too often talented teachers burn out and leave the profession. Only to be replaced by less experienced,  individuals who lack the passion and the patience really needed to be an effective special education teacher.

Yes, I even agree that districts have to focus more on instructional quality and less on its quantity. The  myriad of standards teachers are expected to teach, yet still  remediate areas of weaknesses, is unprecedented. Who are we fooling? Most teacher’s classrooms resemble speed dating than actual places of learning where teachers work with students until they have mastered a skill. Although it’s not verbalized, most teachers are force to adhere to, “If they don’t get it move on. The standards must be covered.” Did you catch that? Covered not mastered! That’s a big difference.

What I don’t agree with is the ideal of placing students in inclusive settings based solely on the fact of saving money and because educating students in self-contained environments is “enormously expensive”. While it’s obvious that placing students with disabilities in the general education setting is more cost effective and many times very beneficial, it can be to the academic detriment of many other students, especially without the time and support needed.

I am all for inclusion. In fact, it’s greatly needed. But here is the reality, some students (moderate to severe students with disabilities) need a more restrictive environment. However, there has been a big push to have students with Mild Intellectual Disabilities (MID), severe Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) and severe Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorders (ADHD) in more inclusive setting without the benefit of effective resource accommodations to continue to remediate areas of weakness.

I have experienced it-  having students with MID, sever (SLD) and ADHD in an inclusive setting where the pace was just too fast for them to keep up even when they were the model student. Not to mention having to make the decision to not do “pull out” because the amount of curriculum that must be covered (not mastered) forces many teachers to do a new lesson every day. Furthermore, it is difficult to teach well when many students (and this may include some students who are not labeled) have acting out behaviors.

When it comes to the education of students with disabilities, there are many pieces to the puzzle that are often ignored and simply not taken into consideration. It seems that too often the cost is what is focused on the most. What ever happened to serving students based on their individual needs and not the needs of the school system?

 

The LD Coach

 

 

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