A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Monday, August 5, 2013

Wagging a wag

Link to Mariam Kurtzig Freedman article in the Wall Street Journal

Link to Mariam Kurtzig Freedman ariticle in The  Atlantic.

As a "new" special education teacher, it makes no sense for somebody as low on the totem pole like me to pick a fight with somebody far more established, with far better credentials than I have. I could never win such a fight with a national "authority."

Plus, I have much better things to do, such as preparing to apply research-based Universal Design for Learning (UDL) methods for making the curriculum more accessible to every student in the classroom, whether on my caseload or not. Dr. P's school, where I will start in a few weeks, has a highly effective collaborative teaching model, with one of the highest reduced lunch populations, yet Dr. P's school is getting it done on par with some of the wealthiest schools in the area. Without my experience with Special Education methods, I would have likely failed in my takeover of a general education class, and would probably be starting at a local Home Depot rather than starting at Dr. P's school. Not that I have anything against working for Home Depot and could see myself working there during holidays and summers in order to pay off all the debt I have incurred in my 10 years in education. I have nothing wrong with earning a wage in an effort to pay the bills.

Not that I have a problem with anyone raising questions about the legal basis for Special Education, cost versus benefits analysis, and or an informed person raising questions whether structural changes to IDEA might be sorely needed. Indeed, questions raised by Ms. Freedman, particularly questions about costs versus benefits of special education, vis-a-vis general education students are on point, and well worth discussing. I am a little bothered, however, that so many people hold themselves as "authorities" on special education without ever having actually set foot in any of these classrooms. When lawyers and politicians propose what seem to me to be overly simplistic solutions about how to fix education without any direct knowledge of in-classroom challenges, I am led to wonder about questions of secondary gain. Just me.

Efficiency, cost considerations, and accountability are central to the historic debate on how to interpret the "Least Restrictive Environment" (LRE).  At Dr. Thompson's suggestion, when I was in her course on Special Education Law, I researched the LRE thoroughly. I posted my research on this topic to my blog, so if any reader wants to see this research, enter LRE into the search box and the article should appear.

Ms. Freedman observes that Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are working at cross purposes, to which I would agree wholeheartedly. My argument was that the idea of a Fair and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), which underpins IDEA, is more in line with constitutional traditions than group accountability, a concept that underpins NCLB. All the sub-class tracking that occurs for accountability purposes, is a product of NCLB, which is, therefore, the law which deserves greater scrutiny. NCLB mandates for penalizing schools that do not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) have led to tremendous hand-wringing as key subgroups, including students with learning disabilities, have not responded to ineffective teaching methods, such as "teaching to the test."

Not that I have a problem with the concept of accountability, and feel that it is appropriate for a teacher to assume responsibility for custom fitting instruction to meeting the needs of every child in the classroom, but group accountability to some subjective standard imposed by lawyers and politicians, whose only interests might be to gain reelection, or line their own pockets, is another matter. Moreover, I question the tilt away from preserving "equal access," i.e., FAPE, the central concept underlying IDEA, to group accountability, the central concept underpinning No Child Left Behind.

Regarding the shift away from special education to general education Ms. Freedman proposed in her Atlantic article, the concept of "Least Restrictive Environment" (LRE) was never intended to eliminate self-contained classes, just make general education classes more accessible to students with learning disabilities. Given the well-documented" over-representation of minorities in special education, I worry that Ms. Freedman's solution is, in practice, nothing but a subtle form of gerrymandering intended to weed under performing, high cost minorities out of general education classrooms, thereby generating better performance numbers for school districts, at the expense of minority students, to the profit of lawyers and educational consultants who are thus, better able to game the numbers.

Regarding the paperwork bottleneck, wah! The paperwork is in place for the protection of individuals. Given the advent of online Individualized Education Plans (IEP), technology is overcoming many of the paperwork inefficiencies Ms. Freedman complains about. In other words, I don't feel her information on excessive paperwork is totally up to date.

Regarding the "wait to fail" model for Special Education to which Ms. Freedman complains about, a 3-tier process known as Response to Intervention (RTI) is incorporated into special education law, making the diagnosis of a learning disability increasingly a last resort, is increasingly becoming the norm. Her criticism that Special Education is a "wait to fail" proposition is, therefore, outdated.

The roots to difficulties with reading and math are deep, complicated, and fairly well researched, although there exists a substantial gap in research to practice. If the focus of the discussion is on how to apply all that research to make learning accessible to all, I think everybody can benefit.