Looking for ways to serve children or save money
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA sets the goal- and the requirement- that schools provide a free and appropriate education for ALL children with disabilities. This appropriate education includes related services such as speech and language, occupational therapy, physical therapy and clinical services if needed by the child to access his/her education. This is an expensive operation.
So we should not be surprised that as soon as this entitlement became the law of the land, those tasked with its implementation set about putting barriers and cost saving measures into place . The first was to avoid identifying the children. And once identified, systems tried to keep the amount of service to an absolute minimum. The law requires that a school district have an operation known as Child Find. Once the kids are identified school systems have to provide services. Some states, such as Texas, actually put a cap on the number of children that could be identified. If we don’t identify the children we cannot be expected to serve them. Hence, IEP committees started denying that children had a disability that interfered with that child receiving an education. Families are often denied the identification of their child’s disability. Sometimes they even have hired outside evaluators to make sure the child received the needed services. Families fight over with the IEP Committees over how many related services a child needs. Families have hired advocates to defend their child’s needs at the meetings when theoretically everyone at the meeting is there for the child’s benefit.
The second major effort by school systems was how to save money. This effort took two major forms. First, a child was to remain in what is called the “least restrictive environment”. In translation, that means to the maximum extent appropriate a child with disability is to be educated with plain kids. Most systems just simply chose to ignore that pesky word “appropriate” and pushed to have all children with disabilities fully included with plain kids. Being fully included became a mantra. The so-called advantage of being with plain kids became a smoke screen for how much money was saved by not providing special education services by a specially trained teacher. Today the vast majority of children with disabilities are co-taught in classes with a general ed teacher and a special education teacher. The problem is those classes often have well over 25 children in them so it is hard for either teacher to do what needs to be done. General education teachers are not trained to teach kids with disabilities. Many of them, at best, have had one three credit class in either introduction to special education or full inclusion. However well-intentioned these general ed teachers might be, they do not have the necessary skills. Content gets covered, but it does not necessarily get learned by learners with challenges. Pacing guides to satisfy the standardized testing make the situation even worse.
President Ford doubted we could ever meet the expectations of educating all children with disabilities, but I don’t think he envisioned that our energies would be on saving money not serving kids.