Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Are We Doing Special Ed Correctly? Maybe Not.

Are we perhaps doing a tremendous disservice to students?

Many years ago I worked at a middle school at which I worked very closely with one of the special education teachers.  One day she told me she was moving one of my math students from one period to another, and I asked why.  "He can't read.  His current social studies teacher goes thematically, bouncing all around in the book.  I'm moving him to this other teacher, who goes linearly through the book.  I have the book on tape; he can listen to the tape easily this way and learn."  I asked, "What are we going to do to teach him to read?"  Her response was she hadn't thought of that, she was just trying to solve the immediate social studies problem.  We were a middle school, we didn't teach reading!  Turns out we had a (very) remedial reading class on campus, part of a program for which this particular student was not a part.  After I posed the question, though, she put the student into that reading program.  I consider that one of my personal successes in teaching.

Fast-forward to today.  I've written before about the new "gold standard" in 504 Plans and IEP's, "anxiety".  If a student has a 504 Plan or an IEP I as the classroom teacher am supposed to "accommodate" their anxiety and do whatever I can to help them "access the curriculum" despite their anxiety--or any other disability (ADD, anyone?) they have.  I have so many students authorized to take their tests and quizzes in an alternate location that I don't see how that particular accommodation helps reduce anxiety anymore!  In fact, most students prefer just to stay in my room for tests and quizzes, rather than take advantage of the so-called accommodation to which they are authorized.

As I have for over 7 years now, since I wrote this post, I lean towards the theory that we should help students to function despite their diagnoses, and not to expect the rest of the world to accommodate them.  Outside of school, no one cares.  If you can't function you get fired.  DMV doesn't care if you get "anxiety", either pass the driving test or don't get your license.  The world isn't being harsh or cruel in such cases, it's merely putting responsibility where it rightly belongs.  It's a modern version of "we all have our crosses to bear".

So I look at what we do with so many of our special ed and 504 students and I ask:  are we accommodating their disabilities, or enabling them?


Ellen K said...

We are being bullied by parents in the name of disabilities. I have a son who is dyslexic so I've been on that side of the table, but right now we have administrations who are more terrified of a lawsuit than they care about their staff.

I have no problem with ADA on the surface. Some kids do need help. I certainly wouldn't deny a blind child access to books on tape or a deaf child to visual assistance. But it seems that SpEd programs only go one way. In my large, suburban school we have classes that consist of two wheelbound, nonverbal, largely incoherent students with two teachers and two aides. We have a student who was in an induced coma and who could literally die in our classroom. We have students with disruptive and unrealistic IEP's such as "let the student jump up and touch the top of the door ten times" to diffuse manic behavior. We have one student who's parents threaten and bully to the point that I may lose a department teacher this year. The student is incapable at the one thing she claims to love. She has issues being on the spectrum, but doesn't know it because parents shield her from all knowledge even though she is nearly 18. In the meantime, we're gearing up for meetings not just with ARD's but on 504's and G/T and RTI students and literally everyone but the average kid will have an IEP which we will have to document daily. With 90 students every day-it is going to eventually become impossible.

While I sympathize with the parents of severely disabled students, mainstreaming them into regular ed classes is often disruptive to the point of making the class trying for all involved. Instead of accepting disabled people as part of the crowd, many of the students come to resent them. While these students should be educated, I question why it's necessary for them to be imposed on a classroom for a subject which they cannot do.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago at the time I taught Algebra 1. I was summoned to an IEP meeting involving the principal, SPED teacher, the parents, and the parent's lawyer.
Prior to the meeting it was explained to me what was going to happen. I was told that the student had an issues with "doing fractions" and I was to allow the student to convert all fractions to the decimal equivalent using his graphing calculator, like 1/4 = 0.25. The student wanted to be an engineer and he needed Algebra. When I explained that expressions like 3x/(x-1) and addition problems like 4/x + (x+1)/(x-2) don't have decimal equivalents, I was told to keep my mouth shut because if the parents hired a stupid lawyer who knew nothing about algebra, that wasn't our problem. The bizarre thing about this was when we got to the unit on operations with algebraic expressions, the student inputted the problem on his calculator and copied the GRAPH on his paper for
the "answer".

Ellen K said...

@Anonymous We discovered the student I had was putting her name on work completed by her tutor. The parents were also presenting the bogus projects for awards. When I outed them is when they decided their child wouldn't be taking my class anymore.