Is Arne Duncan incredibly stupid, or just really confused about special needs students?
“We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel,” Duncan said in a recent NPR interview.
He is speaking about a new focus for the US Department of education who has set their laser-like vision on special education. In their infinite wisdom they have decided that the federal government has mistakenly only focused on state compliance with the policies set forth in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) rather than focusing on, oh let’s call it the outcomes of special education. “It’s not enough for a state to be compliant if students can’t read or do math,” Duncan said. “We must have a system that will do more than just measure compliance.”
See in a system that is focused on equity and uniformity you must not only educate in the same way but, you must also expect the same uniform performance. So what is one of the most glaring problems with Common Core, or the latest version of outcome based education, the one size fits all-edness of it, will now be foisted upon our neediest students, in the spirit of equity.
Justification for the need to “do something” came from the data. Pay attention because this is a classic example of how data will be used to drive policy from now on. ” The latest government figures show that the dropout rate for students with disabilities is twice that for nondisabled students. Two-thirds of students with disabilities are performing well below grade level in reading and math. By the eighth grade, that figure rises to 90 percent.” (NPR)
Most thinking people would realize that these statistics reflect a country that says they will try to teach EVERYONE, including those with severe physical limitations, those with mental challenges that fall within a wide spectrum, and even those with shorter life expectancies. We recognize that the very diagnosis of a disability encompasses the fact that they are not performing the same as those in their age cohort or grade level. And that, as other kids progress towards more deeper and complex thinking once they have mastered the basics, those whose disability makes it hard to even master the basics are going to fall farther behind their grade peers as everyone grows older. For Arne Duncan, however, this is news, a miscarriage of justice and must be changed.
In his world those students aren’t performing simply because we haven’t asked them to. Johnny can’t read, not because he has severe dyslexia perhaps caused by his mother’s excessive drug use during pregnancy, but because we haven’t made him do it. Outraged parents say Duncan is accusing their special needs kids of being lazy.
What the USDoEd is looking for is, drum roll, more standardized testing for special education students. Who didn’t see that coming? They have to take the same tests as the regular kids and achieve the same scores. See we will eradicate special education simply be defining it away.
Kevin Huffman, Commissioner of Education in Tennessee, was on the conference call with Duncan and offered this gem. “In Tennessee, we’ve seen over time that our students with disabilities did not have access to strong assessments. So the results were not providing an honest picture of how those students were doing.” There you go. No one has any idea how these kids are doing because they haven’t been tested. Yup. Mom, dad, teacher all were pretty clueless about whether Johnny can read, do math, understand his place in the global economy because there was no standardized test data to prove his abilities. From the comment sections out there that is a pretty standard viewpoint from a clueless administrator.
Let’s ignore the child, whose school is trying to follow the new policy by forcing him to complete the standardized test, no matter how long it took him. For one child that meant 8 WEEKS OF TESTING! It’s more important that we hold him and his school to a consistent performance standard.
His mother knows this is setting her son up for failure. “Trying to keep up with the general education “pacing guide” which moves through topics way too fast as it is and subtracting 8 weeks’ worth of actual education time to accommodate testing on top of that is one sure way to guarantee my son will FAIL. How is this meeting the objective of improving his education?”
The answer is that it won’t improve his education, but it will keep federal dollars flowing into districts for special education and, unfortunately, for most administrators that is all that matters. “States that fall short could lose federal funding earmarked for special education, which totals about $11.5 billion a year.” (NPR)
Another perversion that simply must be examined in this particular policy is how the new college and career ready standards fit into this new definition of special education. If all standards are leading towards college and career readiness, and the view of the labor market is that careers are becoming so technical these days that the two goals are almost synonymous, so were not talking low skilled jobs as the goal of k-12 education, is the USDoEd saying that they expect all of our special needs students to be able to work in these new global careers or go to college? Is that really a realistic expectation? It should be if we are gearing everything in k-12 education towards making kids ready for a job. But is that really the goal for the parents of special needs kids? Has anyone even bothered to ask them?
No of course not. This is another bit of policy coming down from the top, based on misinterpreted data used to justify an ideology of everyone must get and do the same.
In case you are wondering where MO stands with the new guidelines, rest assured that we will continue to get our money for now. We are among 15 states deemed to meet the requirement in 2012-2013.
• Meets Requirements: Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
• Needs Assistance: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, West Virginia
• Needs Intervention: California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Texas