Friday, September 7, 2007

Oddities and Disparities

One of the five classes I'm taking this semester is an introductory Special Education class. Our second chapter discussed the civil rights movement and its effect on special education. I am in favor of equal treatment, in so much as we can deliver it. I am in favor of fairness. The problem with dealing with students with disabilities is that they are not receiving "equal treatment", and in fact, each such child should have an Individual Education Plan in place.

I addressed the teacher tonight: "Doctor, am I correct in understanding you to say that the impact of the student with disabilities on the general education students may only be considered if it's a potential safety issue?"
"That is correct."
"So- if only the rights of the child with disabilities can legally be considered, doesn't this mean that the other students have fewer rights?"
She didn't disagree.

I am not arguing in favor of "the greater good" or any such nonsense. I do not advocate sacrificing rights of even majorities for minorities. But I do want fairness, in so much as it is possible to provide. Unfortunately, making exceptions and spending extra amounts on individual students can and will be taken to an extreme, and everyone will lose. Ultimately, we are alike in that we are all individuals. We could all profitably have our own IEP. It just is not practical, efficient, or cost effective.

The "right" of schooling- if you believe that any such right should exist at all- should be that reasonable accommodations will be made to students with exceptional challenges. We as a country and society have gone from deplorable treatment of certain individuals to equally ludicrous and extreme efforts arguably on their behalf. I'm not saying students with disabilities should not be helped if reasonably possible: I'm just saying let's use some common sense in this.


HollyB said...

Oh, John, finally a voice of reason! I have long wondered what is the point of mainstreaming in EVERY class. I can understand in "soft", elective classes. But it seems to me that trying to mainstream challenged students in academically difficult classes shortchanges the rest of the class. BUt I've kept quiet for fear of being called a bigot.
Thank you for putting into intelligent words what I've been feeling.

Don said...

The point is that traditionally SpEd departments have erred on the side of propping up students with ever-increasing accommodations. The result was that, over time, students with special ed placements became MORE dependent on their accommodations, not less.
That wasn't the idea!

The idea was that you would use accommodations to level the playing field so the child with a disability could learn as much as possible and, when possible, to let kids with specific learning disabilities "catch up" to the point that they have enough coping strategies to rejoin the regular ed population without the accommodations. We joke that our job is to get 'em going and then kick 'em out.

Instead, separating these kids out tends to result in their slowing down relative to their schoolmates, and that keeps them dependent on special education--until they graduate and get shoved out into the world. This is what we in the business call Not Good.

Mainstreaming or inclusion is intended to be the halfway measure for kids who need accommodations but can, with appropriate accommodations, hack the regular curriculum.

Frankly, I don't understand the idea that these kids should be taught at the highest level they can achieve in "soft" classes (and be careful what you call soft--our shop class builds two houses per year in the 7th grade) but when it comes to the core subjects, they should back off and perform at a lower level. How then are they ever expected to get out there and rejoin the full classes?

What you're proposing ends up meaning that kids who do NOT need the restrictive environment of direct instruction are going to end up there--both kids who've improved enough not to need it, and kids whose disability doesn't impact them severely enough to need it. Give them a couple of years in there, though, with no way to move up or out, and they WILL need it. That's the opposite of progress.

But you're not a bigot, if that helps. You're just not quite as right as I am. That shouldn't bother you; few people are. :)

J.R.Shirley said...

Don, the only thing I'm proposing is that no student has more rights than other students. I was upset to learn that- legally- the effect of any single special needs student on the gen ed classroom cannot be considered, whereas the inverse is not true. How is that fair to the rest of the students who are forced to learn in a class with a disruptive (EBD?) student?

Don said...

ED/BD is too often used as a catch-all, but there's a historical reason for the language you don't like: back in the day, the excuse for segregating every kid with any kind of disability was always that they would slow the class down and it wouldn't work.

Believe me, I know all the difficulties that can arise in a class with a wide variety of behavior and learning issues. I've done regular ed, I've done inclusion, and I've done direct instruction. I've also been a program aide and a special needs aide. I'm not just spouting theory at you, here, I promise.

Take a look at what ED/BD is and what it isn't. ED/BD is a set of emotional or behavioral symptoms. It does NOT have a diagnostic cause, but instead, a list of causes which disqualify.

For instance, if a kid is emotionally disturbed and exhibits disruptive behavior, but he has suffered some trauma in his life, he's not ED/BD.

So if Johnny throws his desk across the room in first period and Billy throws a desk across the room in second period, that alone does not tell you that these two both have ED/BD. If Johnny's parents are going through a nasty divorce, then he's not eligible for that diagnosis. If Billy has no identifiable trauma or abuse going on in his life, then he might.

Now, how are these two different from the point of view of those other students you're worried about?
They aren't. Their behavior is exactly the same. The difference is that you think you've identified a solution in that you can just remove Johnny to a direct instruction classroom--whether that's where he'd learn best or not--and you can just send Bi. . . well, no, that wouldn't work, because he doesn't have the handy diagnosis.

Mainstreaming also allows kids with disabilities to learn a skill that many traditionally lack all their lives--the ability to interact with people who don't have the same disability or any disability at all.

But if you really hate it that much, just be patient. The pendulum will swing back, a new buzzword will sweep the nation, and you won't have to worry about mainstreaming/inclusion for another 20 years or so until it comes back around. Remember phonics? Whole language? New math? Cumulative math? Immersion/ESL/immersion/ESL/immersion . . . .

phlegmfatale said...

"We as a country and society have gone from deplorable treatment of certain individuals to equal ludicrous and extreme efforts arguably on their behalf."

Brilliantly, succinctly stated.