Special education reform?

I remember over 20 years ago when I was getting my graduate degree in Special Education and a friend of mine who was getting his degree in elementary education told me that his father, a school principal, said that he probably shouldn’t waste time getting one. master’s degree. in Special Education. He said that Special Education would eventually disappear from public education. I was almost done with my teachers at this point, so I figured I’d have to take a chance on him, plus what other option did I have anyway at the time?

I got a job in Special Education and taught for about 10 years. There were many ups and downs during those 10 years, and I finally decided I wanted a change, so I got certified and went down in high school history. At this point in my career, I remembered what my friend had said a decade ago and wondered if I was ahead of the curve in schools that no longer needed special education teachers, even though it was 10 years later. I was wondering if my job was now safe in my new home in the history department.

Well, I loved teaching history, but life has its own fun ways that are not aligned with us and what we want, so after a decade of teaching history, I personally got a first-class education on budget cuts and my work. He was removed. Fortunately, I landed in Special Education again, believe it or not.

It had been more than two decades since my old graduate student partner told me that the need for special education teachers was disappearing. Over the past two decades, my friend had gone from graduate school to elementary school teacher, to assistant principal to principal, just as his father had. I went from graduate school to special education teacher, history teacher, and back to special education teacher, like no one else that I know of had. And believe it or not, there were still a ton of special education jobs available when I got there the second time. In fact, there were many jobs there because there is a special education teacher shortage in 49 of our 50 states. Imagine that … Two decades after I was told that special education was leaving, and I found out that they still don’t seem to have enough special education teachers.

Fast forward a few years to today, there is an interesting new twist affecting special education called total inclusion. Now inclusion is not something new for our schools. In fact, inclusion has a long and interesting history in our schools.

Six decades ago the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education. In 1954 the new law of the land became integrated schools for all races. Four decades ago, the pioneering Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) began to take effect and helped ensure that more than six million students with disabilities have the right to a free and appropriate education, which means that they too can be included. in with the general education population.

To help make this happen, schools create a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) that meets and discusses a student’s Individual Education Program (IEP) and then places the student in the appropriate educational setting based on the student’s needs. And the law. The location must also be the least restrictive environment (LRE). I can still remember my university professor describing the least restrictive environment in a story that one would not carry a machine gun to guard a fly. Rather, one would only carry a fly swatter to care for a fly. In other words, if a child’s disability can be treated at the neighborhood school, then the child does not have to be sent across town or even to another city’s special school.

Today, many schools are trying to improve this inclusive model and least restrictive environment by moving from a partial to full inclusion model. Los Angeles School District schools have transferred a vast majority of their students from their special education centers in the past three years to neighborhood schools where they are fully integrated into electives such as physical education, gardening, and cooking. They are also integrated into the regular core academic classes, but are generally not in the same grade as electives.

Michigan schools say they want to break down the barriers between general education and special education by creating a system in which students will receive more help when they need it, and that support does not need to be in a separate special education room.

Some school districts in Portland, Oregon are slightly ahead of Los Angeles schools that are just bringing special education students back from special schools and Michigan schools that are just beginning to attempt full integration of their students and are eliminating most special education classrooms. .

Being a little further along the Portland process makes for an interesting case study. Many of the parents who initially supported the idea of ​​integrating special education students into regular education classrooms in Portland are now concerned about how the Portland Public School System is doing. Portland is aiming for full inclusion by 2020. However, some of Portland’s teachers say, “Obviously, special education students are going to fail and misbehave because we are not meeting their needs … If it doesn’t exist adequate support, that is not acceptable, not only for the child, but also for the general education teacher. “

A Portland parent said, “I would rather my son feel successful than be ‘college ready.’ He further states: “I want my children to be good, well-rounded human beings who make the world a better place. I don’t think they necessarily need to go to college to do that. I believe that children are individuals and when we stop treating them as individuals, it arises a problem “. Sadly, many parents and teachers have left the Portland School District, and many more are fantasizing about it because they feel that the full inclusion model is not working the way they envisioned.

How much schools should integrate special education students is the burning question of the moment. In my personal experience, some integration is not only possible, it is imperative. With some support, many special education students can be in regular education classrooms.

A few years ago, I even had a paraplegic child who did not speak in a wheelchair and who was on a respirator sitting in my regular education social studies class. Every day, his paraprofessional and his nurse accommodated him and sat with him. He always smiled at the stories he told of Alexander the Great marching through 11,000 miles of territory and conquering much of the known world at the time. Incidentally, Alexander the Great also practiced his own model of inclusion by encouraging kindness towards the conquered and encouraging his soldiers to marry the women of the captured territory to create lasting peace.

Other important factors to consider in the inclusion of special education is the much-needed socialization and money savings that integration offers. Children learn from other children and money that is not spent on special education can be spent on general education, right? Hmm …

If you noticed, I said a little before that Many special ed students could be integrated, but I didn’t say all or even the majority must be integrated. There are only some students who will take too much time from the teacher and the attention of other students, such as students with severe behavior problems. When we include serious behavior problems in regular education classes, it is absolutely unfair to all the other children there. Similar cases could also arise for other serious disabilities that demand too much individual time and attention from the lead teacher.

Hey, I’m not saying never test a severely disabled child in a general education setting. But what I’m saying is that schools need to have a better system for tracking these placements and be able to quickly Eliminate students who are not exercising and taking valuable learning time from other students. Also, schools should do this without embarrassing the teacher because the teacher complained that the student was not a good fit and was disrupting the educational learning process of the other students. Leaving a child in an inappropriate location is not good for any of the parties involved. Period.

Over the past two decades I have worked with more special education students than I can remember as a special education teacher and regular education teacher teaching inclusion classes. I have learned to be extremely flexible and patient and therefore have had some of the toughest and neediest children in my classes. I have worked miracles with these children over the years and I know that I am not the only teacher who does this. There are many more like me. But what worries me is that because teachers are so dedicated and perform daily miracles in the classroom, districts, community leaders, and politicians may be pushing too hard for the full inclusion model thinking that teachers will simply have to work it out. outside. Preparing teachers and students for failure is never a good idea.

Also, I hope it is not money that they are trying to save while pushing this model of total inclusion, because what we really should be trying to save is our children. As Fredrick Douglas said, “It is easier to raise strong boys than to repair broken men.” Regardless of how the financial education pie is divided, the bottom line is that the pie is too small and our special education teachers and our special education students should not pay for this.

Also, I’ve been a teacher for too long not to be the least bit skeptical when I hear bosses say that the reason they are pushing for the full inclusion model is because socialization is so important. I know it is important. But I also know that a lot of people are hanging up their hats with that excuse of socializing rather than educating our special needs students and providing them with what they really need. I have seen special education students whose skills only allow them to draw seated pictures in honors classes. No real socialization takes place here. It just doesn’t make sense.

Well, the circle is finally closed. It will be interesting to see where all this full inclusion is going. The wise will not let their special education teachers go or dispose of their classrooms. And for the school districts that do, I imagine it won’t be long before they realize the mistake they made and start hiring special education teachers. To my friend and his now ex-principal father from all those years who thought special education was going away, well, we’re not there yet and, to tell you the truth, I don’t think we’ll ever be.

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