Off Duty Mom

Thoughts from an exhausted mom who is NEVER really "off duty"

I Don’t Believe in Special Ed.

I have seen (and heard — and smelled) some weird stuff in my day.

Recently, in fact, I saw two people get married on the floor at a Nine Inch Nails concert.  They wore…um…interesting outfits and took their vows just outside of the moshpit.  Or, rather, they took their vows just outside of the area the moshpit would have been had the average age of the current-day NIN fan not been about 40.

Once the nuptials concluded, Trent could proceed with his signature sound that pulses with noise reminiscent of flak jackets, gunmetal and binary code.

216707-anchorman-2-sequel-image-will-ferrellI go places.  I see things.  I have many leather-bound books.

I consider myself fairly worldly.  I mean, I have been to Europe, people.  And, I have two whole gay friends.

Okay, I have one gay friend.

And, I consider myself somewhat educated.  I have a couple of degrees and a bunch of papers that say that this-state-or-that-commonwealth hereby decrees that I am worthy to, like, work and stuff.

Yet, with my vast set of personal experience and wealth of knowledge and worldly understanding, there are still a few things I don’t understand.

My inability to wrap my giant brain around some of these concepts is very possibly going to piss you off.

I am okay with that.

So, here is the deal:

I do not believe in Special Education.

I know.

But, let me explain.

1.  SPECIAL ED MEANS “WE DON’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO WITH YOU.”  —  Students all too often acquire Special Education designations not necessarily because they have medical or developmental stumbling blocks over which they must jump in order to compete with their peers.  Often, students, and overwhelmingly young male students, are identified as qualifying for Special Ed. due to factors that come not necessarily from their cognitive abilities (or lacking of abilities), but rather from the educational body’s inability to figure out “what to do” about the “problem” of these children.

According to the AASA (The School Superintendent’s Association), a 2005 article noted that “black students nationwide are 2.9 times as likely as whites to be designated as mentally retarded.”  This same article asserts that young black males faces a plethora of other assorted disadvantages in schools.  They claim that members of this demographic “have been found to be 1.9 times as likely to be designated as having an emotional problem and 1.3 times as likely to have a learning disability. Since twice as many black boys are in special education programs as black girls, it is difficult to blame heredity or home environments as the root causes for these figures. In some metropolitan districts, 30 percent of black males are in special education classes, and of the remaining 70 percent, only half or fewer receive diplomas.”  If home environments and family lineage are not accurate indicators, the conclusion seems to be that a portion of the Special Education population is labeled as such not necessarily due to factors that traditionally seem to impact learning, but instead for the “disability” of being young, male and black.

And, as far as SpecialEducationAdvisor.com is concerned, boys of all ethnic and racial background outnumber girls in Special Ed by more than 2 to 1.  Logic and a basic understanding of statistics suggests that any sub-group should reflect the larger populace.  That is, the ratio of boys-to-girls in Special Education should resemble the ratio of boys-to-girls in, you know, the world.  Yet it does not.

Furthermore, the US Department of Education notes that when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted in the 1970’s, students receiving Special Education services grew by about 81%.  Now, some may suggest that this vast growth rate is attributable to the fact that states were finally forced to provide needed services to deserving youngsters.  Or, some may interpret this to mean that the number of students who are not functioning intellectually along with their peers in America has octupled in the past 30+ years.  If the latter is the case, then, one might be able to argue that Special Education identification is fairly inaccurate.

Being black or being male aren’t the only indicators of higher probability of Special Education labeling.  Poverty is a major contributing statistical factor as well.  The Georgetown Law Journal says that “advances in neuroscience research will eventually end special education as we know it. In short, neuroscience research is challenging a number of important assumptions that undergird special education law, including, for example, the assumption that there is a real difference between students with a specific learning disability, who are covered by the law, and those who are simply “slow,” who are not covered.”  And furthermore, they cite research conducted which overwhelmingly suggests that while poverty (and more specifically orphandom or homelessness) may lead a student through a variety of reasons to test at a lower IQ than his same-age peers, the underlying causes of that lowered score are not simply a factor associated with raw intellectual capability.  Therefore, impoverished youngsters may end up in Special Education programs even though their potential levels of achievement may be quite high, but yet untested.

The Washington Monthly reported, too, that “anyone who’s spent time in an inner-city classroom can tell you that the challenges the average poor kid faces are often hard to distinguish from those you’ll find in special ed. This may be the greatest absurdity of the special ed law: It fails to acknowledge ‘environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage’ as disabling conditions. Why should a child with a broken back be guaranteed round-the clock, state-of-the-art medical care, no matter what the cost, while the millions of kids whose difficulties stem from poverty and neglect are left to hope that their teachers will break the rules so they can get some extra help? Should we really be spending $10 billion (at least) a year on ‘learning disabilites’ when we still don’t adequately fund Head Start and Title I, the federal programs that were designed to help poor children catch up with their wealthier peers?”

2.  SPECIAL ED. DOESN’T WORK.  —  Overwhelming data supports the idea that the current American system of assistance for Special Needs children does not increase their achievement, but instead inflates their statistics to give the appearance of achievement.

In an article posted on public station WNYC’s website, teacher Laura Klein notes, “The problem that exists here is related to the way that we lower standards for special education students — a trend that perpetuates the academic inferiority that these students feel.”  If Special Education programs were truly working, then the precious standardized test scores states use to determine both the worth of public school teachers and the achievement of the student body would indicate an even scoring pattern between Special Ed. and non-Special Ed. students.  In other words, if Special Education were truly honoring its promise to families to improve the education experiences of their children, then the proof would be in the puddin’.  But, Special Education students are NOT even coming close to competing with their peers on mandated tests.  But, if grades were an indicator, these numbers would suggest that Special Education students are functioning at a fully acceptable level that is on-par with their Regular Education peers.

In 2012, the New York Times published an article written by a frustrated teacher of Special Education students where he “confesses” to be a “bad teacher.”  He writes, “My students have learning disabilities ranging from autism and attention-deficit disorder to cerebral palsy and emotional disturbances. I love these kids, but they can be a handful. Almost without exception, they struggle on standardized tests, frustrate their teachers and find it hard to connect with their peers.”  But, if the system were working, these things would not be true.  These beloved students would be well-adjusted, academically leveled, and behaviorally normed.

3.  SPECIAL ED. COSTS TOO MUCH TO BE THIS UNSTEADY.  —  The costs of Special Education are well-documented.  It’s really expensive.  Mind you, it is really expensive for a broken product.

And, Special Education programming just keeps morphing itself into new iterations without actually accomplishing much at all.

For example, an acquaintance of mine remembers a conversation with the Special Education teacher in her high school building.  She recalls that the Special Ed. teacher informed the staff that the SDIs (or, Specially-Designed Instruction programming) must be followed to the letter.  In other words, it was mandated that all teachers fulfill the elements of student IEPs.  This can mean anything from teachers being required to provide deadline extensions for designated students, to teachers being forced to offer unlimited attempts at tests, or “modified” grading which can put the minimum grade a teacher may provide for a student’s work at any number determined in the IEP meeting.  When a question was raised to the Special Education teacher that went something like this:  “Ma’am, I am following everything in the student’s IEP and he is still failing my class.  What am I supposed to do?,” the response from the Special Education teacher went something like this:  “If you really have done everything you were supposed to and he is still failing, then we need to rewrite the IEP.”

Now, what this suggests is that when 1 and 1 are added and we get 3, we don’t try to figure out how to get 2, we just change the equation so that 3 is acceptable.

And, what is more interesting is that Special Education students make up just a bit more than 10% of the total student population nationwide.  While hard data relating to Special Education spending is awfully hard to come by, many organizations, including Students First, a group founded by former DC-area Chancellor and sometime controversial public figure, Michelle Rhee, published a statement in 2011 suggesting that about 21% of school budgets tend to be allocated for Special Education spending at the local level.   According to New England Cable News, “One noteworthy aspect of special education is that while Congress enacted the education policy for children with disabilities, states and districts shoulder most of the costs.”  So, indeed, it is expensive, accounting for seemingly far more of school funds than seems statistically logical, and those who pay for it are not those who demanded it exist in the first place.

k-> And, so, I find myself wondering why this educated, worldly (and beautiful!) Off Duty Mom can find more meaning and use in a Keanu Reeves movie than I can find in Special Education.

What say you?  Care to explain why I am a stupid jerk?  Hit up the comments section, yo.

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5 thoughts on “I Don’t Believe in Special Ed.

  1. I’m not too informed in this area but definitely an interesting read! You always hear in the news about the teacher that’s cruel to the special ed kids. It sucks, and I wonder too if the structure isn’t working if it leads teachers to lash out and talk smack to the kids. I would hate for any kid to go through that.

  2. Gangnam style fan on said:

    So many children are being misdiagnosed with autism these days. Special education officials need to be on the look out for parents who push their doctors, or hire “special education advocates” to insist their children are really autistic when there is no OFFICIAL autism diagnosis for the child. In California, there is rampant abuse of the autism label among parents of young children trying to get their children extra help in the classroom, when if you look at these children, they are talking normally, walking, writing, reading and doing everything normal, but may only be “mentally ill” with bipolar, depression or have aphasia (loss of speech) or dysphasia (difficulty comprehending speech) due to subclinical or obvious seizures. Truly a problem situation that is rooted in the overall ignorance and confidence of doctors, psychologists, special education administrators and school psychologists to properly discern who is autistic and who is not. And WHAT other disorders and conditions can mimic autism. A truly autistic person always presents as being in their own world, they DO NOT answer your questions like normal non autistic children! You will see echolalia (repeating the same sentences or words) or you’ll see obsession on ONE or TWO subjects. You’ll also see obsession on routines and rituals. Obsessions with water play. Mild to severe self injurious behaviors. And a hallmark trait of autism is fixations on different foods, flavors and textures. Don’t be fooled by parents who want their children to be autistic because they themselves are mentally ill and don’t know how to care for their children. Or are taken in by the “hype” of autism around them. The last straw was when yet ANOTHER mom told me her child was diagnosed with “high functioning” autism, but admitted he “may be just PDD (pervasive developmental disorder)” When I asked her, “Does it bother you that your son may be labeled with autism when he really doesn’t have it?” the mother said, “I don’t really care. So long as he gets the services he needs in school.” There you have folks. The autism label is no longer about autism, it’s about people like Jenny McCarthy who never had an autistic child (he had Landau Kleffner Syndrome) but rode the autism wave and made millions off her books, and parents who don’t really have autistic children, but insisting they do, are now costing taxpayers millions by having their children diagnosed with autism “for the services” and autism researchers who don’t give care if they are really including real autistic children and adults in their studies, cuz it’s just about money. No wonder there is an “epidemic” of autism, because there is an “epidemic” of people who are so CLUELESS about what autism is and isn’t, has created MASS chaos and confusion. Wake up people.

  3. QuirkyBirdWords on said:

    I appreciated reading your post. Our viewpoints, and most likely our experiences, are very different on special education, but they don’t need to be the same for me to see it from your view. I appreciate reading your viewpoint.

    I’m a mom to a child with autism (he’s almost 21) and a son on the PDD-NOS part of the spectrum (he’s ten) and has other special needs. Both boys lives are dramatically different because of the special education they received through their IEPs. I’ve felt the stigma of having children with autism, they feel it too. I will share there’s not such thing as “high-functioning” — at least how typical neurological folks who haven’t had to help their children first-hand. The invisible-ness is the most dangerous part to my children. Typical neurological folks offer the most harm towards them in their daily lives.

    As for the above poster, why so much anger, attitude and discrimination? These are kids and parents doing the best they can – for the most part. There’s no such thing as “just” PDD-NOS and for the record that is part of the autism spectrum and it’s still a very difficult filter on life for children and adults to process life through. Compassion is a far greater gift to bestow than presumption. Our children deserve kindness, not Savage-era vitriol that hurts them far more than helps.

    And, for the record again, there isn’t any such thing as only be “mentally ill.” Walk a mile in the shoes with someone with bipolar, depression, or issues with expressive and receptive language processing and it would be much easier to understand how difficult those challenges can be — but since, perhaps, you’re not able to personally, these folks can help with reducing the stigma and what seems to be dismissal of these diagnoses and struggles with their stories: http://www.eachmindmatters.org/great-minds-gallery/

    This is not an invitation for a debate, argument or more vitriol. Rather it’s an invitation to step outside your comfort zone, step-off the platform of neurotypical privilege and remove blinders to others’ human conditions and evolve. Be a good human and question your own stance before flaming an entire population of children who can’t stand up for themselves — at least, not yet. Understand this parameter of insult affects all people with autism, their families and those trying to help them. Be a good human and show, even if you can’t feel just yet, compassion to those who struggle with mental health challenges. We are worthy of that.

    • I have to admit that I titled this post as I did with the intention of drawing people to it who might be interested in (or anticipating) controversy.

      Of course, I am a teacher. I have worked with children for nearly two decades from a very wide variety of backgrounds and abilities. I believe that education is important and that all children can and should be nurtured, encouraged, and set on a proper path to find their own successes.

      I just fear that our current system is really not serving our students’ real needs. In the case of your children, I certainly hope that you were fully satisfied with how they were treated and educated throughout their mandated schooling. I meet many parents who are thrilled with the process and system as-is. There is no doubt that many young people are thriving in our schools and are overcoming obstacles daily.

      I just wonder how many kids are still falling through what I see might be very large cracks.

      Thanks so much for reading and, truly, thank you for your comments.

      If you would ever be interested in Guest Posting here and writing more about your perspective on our site, we’d be thrilled to have you.

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