Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How Much is Good Enough?

How much is good enough?

Ever since 1975 children with disabilities have been promised a free, appropriate public education (FAPE).  The question is, what exactly does that mean?  The courts have pretty much decided that free means at no cost to the parents.  Therefore, schools cannot charge back to a parent’s health care policy the cost of related services such as speech or occupational therapy that might look like a health care cost that is covered by the parent’s health care insurance.  In doing the charge back, the parent’s benefits under that policy could be diminished; thereby, incurring a cost to the parent.
One of the bigger issues has been, what exactly equals appropriate.  There is no question but that is a kind of wishy washy word.   One parent’s appropriate is one school system’s over the top expectation.  Consequently, parents have done what Americans always do, they have gone to court.  The courts have all agreed that to be appropriate the child must receive educational benefit from the education.
However, even the courts cannot agree on what exactly is educational benefit. 
In Endrew vs. Douglas County School District, the Justices of the Supreme Court have agreed to take up this very question.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, ruled last year that a Colorado student with autism had received “some educational benefit” from his Individual Education Plan (IEP) before his parents withdrew him over a dispute with the school district.  However, at least one other federal appeals court has adopted a standard requiring that the IEP provide a “meaningful benefit” in order to provide FAPE.  Of course, meaningful is not exactly measurable either but it does give parents some leverage over the word "some" that could mean anything at all.
The Obama administration has said that the interpretation of the 10th Circuit is out of synch with the text, structure and purpose of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).    Now it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide.  The Court is working with only eight Justices so that will also have a bearing on the outcome.
If the Court decides to go with the higher standard, many school districts across the country are going to be impacted.  One of the criteria for children receiving paid tuition in non-public approved schools is the failure of the local school district to deliver FAPE.   If the Court comes down on the side of “some” a lot of kids are going to be shortchanged.  But if the Court goes in the other direction, good enough will also need to be meaningful.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Guilt by Color

Guilt by Color

You know I am getting a bit tired of the drumbeat that has been going on for multiple years.  If you are African-American you are ipso facto, low achieving and need lots of special help to reach grade level.   Sure that is true of some African American students.  And it is also true that some Asian students are bad in math.  The assumption that African American students is synonymous with low achievement isn’t just low expectations, it is NO expectations.  These are the worst kind of stereotypes masquerading as caring educators.
Let’s look at a couple of cases on point.  A recent article in Education Week discussed the dangers of the Every Student Succeeds Act because it does not disaggregate data in such a way that the scores of African American students are pulled out for separate analysis.  The article cites a school that is now majority minority.  In order to have the school maintain its reputation as a top quality school, “the principal has asked staff to help all students but with a special emphasis on low-income students and those of color.”  REALLY!   So we know that all the African American students are going to need special academic assistance.  How do we know that?  Are ALL the African American students in the school having academic challenges?   Why am I thinking that a number of those kids with darker skin are doing just fine academically. 
Another school, this one in Maryland, has also become majority minority.  That principal is cited as being proactive to narrow the achievement gap between “all students and African American students.”  So in this case, the high achieving African American students are included in the “all students” numbers and contributing to the gap. 
Wouldn’t it make much better sense to concentrate on low-achieving students?  What if schools looked at the lowest achieving 20-25% of ALL students and concentrate remediation on those kids.  Could be that there might even be some white, Asian or who knows what color kids among that group.
There are lots of branded named programs out there that would make a marketing company proud. These companies are marketing their programs to help schools serve African American kids.  This behavior is one of the basest forms of insults to minority kids.
Wouldn’t it make better sense to look at the freshman class and identify,  regardless of ethnicity and socio-economic status, the lowest performing quartile and concentrate special recovery efforts on them? It might indeed turn out that a disproportionate number of that group is of a particular race or socio-economic status.  So be it.  But at least the kids in the remedial group would have earned their place by needing remediation- not by their color or economic status.   

Thursday, October 6, 2016

There is too much water in this soup

There is too much water in this soup.

By now almost everyone knows about the shortage of teachers.   However, the shortage of special education teachers is dire.  What makes matters worse is that the attrition rate of special education teachers is twice that of general education teachers.   It is estimated that between 82% - 99% of special education teachers are not ideally qualified to be in serving in their present capacity.  As special education teachers are increasingly put into general education classes the preparedness gap becomes even wider.
Then there is that pesky special education student.   Is she academically challenged or is he very bright academically.  Are there behavioral issues or is the student very well socialized and/or  docile?   What about the child with sensory challenges?  These challenges can be with acuity of the senses or with the perceptual organization of the incoming stimuli so the child is dyslexic.   Then there are the kids with orthopedic issues.   How is it that one special education teacher is qualified to meet the needs of all these differing types of challenges?   More concerning is the notion that there is ONE description of a student with special needs.  Each administrator who plans for the special ed kids in the school or system has a mental image of the needs of special ed kids.  That mental image can only fit a minority of the children. 
You cannot generalize special education students.  A child acting out in a class may do so because the child is very smart and the work is very boring.  Or there can be processing issues or sensory issues.   Only a trained person can sort out just what the particular challenges are for each student.   Yet increasingly there are no specially trained personnel.  No one intervention will work all the time nor with all the kids. 
 We don’t even begin to pay attention to the social emotional needs of the children.   The children need to learn about identifying their emotions, taking the perspective of others, accepting responsibility for their own behaviors and their roles and responsibilities in the larger community.  There is no time in the general classroom to address these needs and even if there were, there aren’t trainded personnel to do the job.  We need to put energy and time into getting to know the child and her family.   Families can tell us about their children outside of school if we care enough to ask and have the time to follow up.

Special education has been getting a very bad rap since the days of full inclusion and the need for standardized testing to make sure kids in special ed are learning.  But the truth is we haven’t had special education in our schools for many years.  There is so much water in the soup, we might as well add the stones and call it stone soup.  There isn’t any chicken in it so you know nothing is going to get better.