String Theory

Screenshot 2016-05-12 11.12.45

This piece is dedicated with love to the B family! You are awesome. Thank you to The New Yorker Magazine, 16 May 2016 edition, for a cartoon which best explains the complexities of connections in and around who does what when it comes to a 504 and/or IEP.

Looking at this image is the ever present reminder the student is in the middle of a complex, abstract equation of life –  every single connection is to the student, yet the strings often have to be connected, manipulated and flexed by the parent(s). The toughest job I have as a teacher/tutor is to assist in getting the right strings pulled in the exact right way to obtain the most appropriate assistance for any student.

Some days it is rope pulling (when I wish to keel haul someone); some days it is floating spider silk so gently, so discretely no one realizes they are caught in the ‘web’. There are days when only wool tapestry thread , coated with wax  will mend the hole and some days where the finest, purest and cleanest cotton must be used for carefully suturing voile with no known evidence. There are meetings where a hole needs to be made and sewn together later. I have had to use verbal seam rippers at times to be clear.

The existence of http://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2012/01/19/top-ten-most-ridiculous-comments-heard-at-an-iep-meeting/  confirms it is not just my perception, it is the perception of those of us on the front lines who wish to change the perception of special ed.  Before we had the label special ed, these children were often beaten, mentally abused and not cared for or about. They were and continue to be expendable based on how our various legislatures dysfunction in the U.S.

Most of our prisons are filled with people who fell into the category of special ed, if someone had but only noticed the discrepancy and got past the issues of race, poverty in upbringing and children who did not conform to a model of normal. The foster care system, coupled with special ed is almost a direct ticket to one of Dante’s  seven levels of hell as you rarely find anyone interested in weaving the fabric to make some one’s life whole.

I prefer to see the ‘system’ as a weaving machine. The better I become at woof and warp, shuttling the yarn, adjusting the tension, the more likely I can obtain the services to improve the quality of life for many, deplete the folks in line for prison and give the gift of loving to learn.

To be able to partake in the belief and then the journey  Sakichi Toyoda  began and his son Kiichiro continued would be to move special ed from flour sack rags to

MATERIAL from Theory

  • 88% wool, 12% silk
  • Dry clean
  • Italy
STYLE #: G0171201

FABRIC: KEMP      PRODUCT NAME: JAKE W

It took a long time to get us the Toyota car of today and the perseverance was extraordinary.  We can get there!

 

http://www.toyota-global.com/company/history_of_toyota/1867-1939.html

http://www.wsj.com/articles/trousers-that-solve-all-your-problems-1462992223

http://www.theory.com/JAKE-W/G0171201,default,pd.html?dwvar_G0171201_color=B7H&start=5

 

Autonomy is NOT for the weak of spirit.

In the final months of 2015 and beginning 2016, I learned how the word autonomy is often carelessly substituted for it’s  more distant cousin, tenure.  In the State of Iowa, educators at the K-12 level determined the use of the word autonomy  was a great way to cover many aspects of teacher professionalism, including stagnation.  I am sure autonomy was meant to reward teachers for persistent professional development and changes in their professional practice in much the way tenure is handed out. The problem is tenure and autonomy do not mean the same thing, do not convey the same entitlements and both are not a singular, crowning achievement. Both words are based upon concepts of good judgement,  efficacy and use of prudent thought- especially in the realm of education.  Autonomy does not mean ‘right to self govern’ by caveat and it is not an excuse for poor teaching practices.

Autonomy has now been bandied about in a number of  meetings I have attended at the bequest of parents for students who fall in the category of being entitled to a 504 (http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/section-504-2/ ) or IEP (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individualized_Education_Program).   It is the practice of misusing the term autonomy which has become an anathema to the education process. I have reason to believe administrators at the school, district, county and state levels inherently know the mis-appropriation of the word and yet have nothing else to use to cover what does not happen in the classroom.

Although I understood the context of how autonomy was being used, it took multiple school districts and situations for me to determine the consistency of the application of the word to get around students with different needs. The common practice  in Iowa seems to be identifying a behavioral problem instead of the learning issue/disability preventing the student from succeeding.  While it is disturbing to see so many students not receive appropriate services and disheartening to see it covered up by selective use of vocabulary, it does not change the fact – Iowa can and should do better.

In my brief experience(s) with local schools and districts, I have witnessed a pretty firm degree of  intractability and disengagement from teachers and administration. I can not help but wonder how things could be different if these self same people decided to work with students and parents.  I need to introduce the word fulcrum . Fulcrum is much more useful and seems to actually change situations.

 

When Price and Toll Are Mutually Exclusive Concepts

As a tutor I face an abundance of conundrums.  I have to make decisions as to whether or not to take a job as each student I tutor, each assignment I work on with a student reflects on me, my credibility, integrity and reputation. There is no price for having integrity and a good reputation, especially if you have a teaching credential.  My teaching credential makes it even more of a challenge when tutoring in areas involving writing as there is the doctrine of academic dishonesty, which is as serious or more than plagiarism.  It is common for me to turn down jobs and recently I have had to specify for English and History tutoring, there needs to be a draft paper completed by student before I will tutor. All of this came about many years ago for me and has recently reared its ugly head in fine form.

Most teachers figure out a way to obtain a ‘writing’ sample of students the first week of school – in all subjects. This is done as a baseline of sorts and also as comparison for future assignments. It helps support your Spidey Sense if a student suddenly writes above their ability.  When I tutor, I ask to see a past assignment(s) so I can understand my student and understand where the gaps are and work with them to master the rubric or expectations of the assignment.  In addition, teachers who have graded thousands upon thousands of papers, have a true sense of something cut and pasted from the internet versus actual student work AND we should know how to ask appropriate questions regarding work quality before we make the shot off the bow of academic dishonesty.   Often times, students in middle school and the start of high school are not aware of what plagiarism and/or academic dishonesty looks like, sounds like or feels like. More often than not the ‘first time’ can be a great learning experience if handled correctly and professionally. If a teacher really has their game on, they can help the student not only overcome the problem, they can be instrumental in helping the student push forward and do their best work.

In addition to the obvious issues of plagiarism and academic integrity, there is something called style and it is not the latest fashion trend.  Style is how each individual writes and is often something akin to a ‘personality’ of the writer or how the writer presents themselves. It is not easy to qualify or quantify and for some it is easy to replicate (Ex: a current author completing a book based on an unfinished transcript/document of a now deceased author – (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/books/review/book-review-the-pale-king-by-david-foster-wallace.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0    and http://nypost.com/2013/08/25/five-new-j-d-salinger-novels-to-be-released-starting-in-2015/) which can, much like a forged painting, cause many problems.   Interestingly though, style is in some ways akin to  ‘quality’ of writing – Can you write a compelling piece of which a bored person will enjoy reading OR will some one just put it down out of boredom?

I have found more often than not, students cheat since they do NOT know better, not the wish to pull one over on a teacher. Some students do indeed pay for essays and there are secret mills which sell all manner of garbage to the highest bidder to submit as their paper.  It is incredibly easy to talk to a student and ascertain they did not write the essay. There is no need to mount a CIA and NSA investigation as simple questions indicate what a student knows or bought.  Some school districts now require students to ‘run’ their essay through some software product which does word count, lexile, sentence analysis and all other manner of  technologically intriguing things to suss out if the paper was indeed written or cut and pasted from various internet sources. Three of my students attend this type of school district.

I never had the joy of cutting and pasting anything other than a quote as I am hell bound to get my specific point across. It is a matter of pride I write my own essays, blogs, papers, etc. I expect the same from students. I will work tirelessly with them to edit, discuss, refine, etc. and at the end of the day, it is theirs. Knowledge can not be bestowed with a magic wand, one must earn it with hard and diligent work. Being as I know a fair enough amount about English and literature for a science major, it is not often I find myself challenged by another teacher for writing a students ‘literary analysis’ paper. In other words, pretty much anyone would never mistake me for an English major or writer.

What  recently happened was not pretty nor was it appropriate. A  teacher  questioned a student I tutor  regarding academic integrity over a literary analysis on ‘Of Mice and Men’ (based upon all manner of selfish reasons to wish the student ill will and no intention of actually being an honors level English teacher).  Said teacher made it clear to student and parents of student I ‘wrote’ the paper as I do not have boundaries for tutoring. This teacher has the foul attitude of letting students know they will not earn an A one moment earlier than she has determined, no matter how well they write as she is the arbiter of all.  Her reputation not only precedes her, it is ill-gotten gains based on her own limited background which does not include anything resembling the hard work of a PhD.  This teacher torments students in Grade 9 Honors English as she is allowed to – she has tenure.  To make matters exceedingly worse than her arrogance and the administrators who support this heresy, is the price of privilege.  This teacher is part of a uniquely interesting school district.

The school district was formed via a community which could not obtain an annexation so they ‘voted’ themselves their own school district – long before charter schools were even a dream. The district operates in much the same fashion as a charter school and is considered a select district. Over the years the number of school age children in the population dropped so they allowed for inter-district transfers. The transfer is meant to keep out anyone who is not white, first and foremost (I looked at the recent data on ethnicity and it is not representative of anyplace else in CA). The second part of this is to force parents and students to be compliant with the whims of the district or their inter-district transfer is somehow magically ‘terminated’ the next year.

Since parents want their children in this school district by inter-district  transfer, they are often willing to accept a degree of  shady behavior and professional ineptitude   by teachers and administrators.  This is where the toll of bad behavior on behalf of the adults who educate children is sometimes greater than the actual price of privilege to attend the district. The exactitude of how the  behavior is meted out is also mainly directed at the inter-district transfers as they are expendable. The English teacher above was motivated as much by her own unhappiness as by the fact of ‘eliminating any challenges to her authority or that of the administration’.

What is truly sad is the student  who was punished in this whole situation. The student is quite intelligent. The student was so frustrated they did not wish to put in their full effort and once they did, viola, it became a nightmare of Stephen King proportion. I know – I was blamed for causing the misconduct. The student was ultimately vindicated, as was I since I would not edit the students most recent paper in order for the teacher to see the waywardness of her claims.

It is not an easy balancing act and I commend the parents who are able to make it work. This includes the parents of SPED students (I tutor one of them) in the district who have had to tolerate teacher(s) not clear on how IEP’s/ 504’s work. The lack of clarity is not due to lack of education, it is due to lack of initiative on behalf of the teacher. No one seems to stand up to these people and they are bullies. They are better bullies than the kids on the playground as they can hide behind the guise of being adults.

Weeding in the SPED Garden

I have multiple jobs – one foot is in ed tech and I do various consulting projects. My other foot is in tutoring. An elbow is in blogging, a wrist in various other non-education writing gigs. One shoulder and hip works with parents of special needs students who need help navigating the mystery maze within hacked up fields of IEPs and 504s. Other wrist and one hand quilts (to keep me sane). I do some volunteer work (also to keep me sane). The other body parts just try to keep up.  In each part of my life, I like to consider it a garden, getting ready for new crops, to grow and bloom and make great flowers, fruits and vegetables.

My days often start at 4:00 AM as I deal with international people; the day’s end late as I tutor. I work to balance my time since so much of me is drawn in many directions all week AND on weekends – by choice.  In many ways I think I am helping shift the fulcrum the world rests on.

Currently I am dealing with a ‘weeding’ project, which is very different from pruning, composting and planting. Weeding is step one so you can clear the land. In the background you compost so you can later add this to the soil. You plant when ready and prune as necessary.

If you are a parent of a special ed student, the following will resonate with you.:

Weeding out is intense – most especially in the SPED garden.  I have to read SELPA paperwork which had to have been designed by people who truly believe any information seeing the light of day is bad information and any information which could lead a person to better analysis, decision-making and planning must be buried and the person trying to make sense of it all, burned at the stake.  These weeds are so entrenched in the garden they are often irremovable and one just tries to garden right around them.

Weeding also  includes finding out why the garden has the following random stones and boulders in it: A teacher gave a math test on perimeter, area and volume in the following manner to a student with dyslexia and other processing problems.

(1)  All problems had a formula written next to it – except in the case of the complex polygon which was a square and semi-circle. Only the formula for the semi-circle was present so students could assume the area of the square need not be calculated.

(2) The question on volume of a cylinder had no formula…..was student to answer the question OR did teacher mean to leave off/scratch out and forgot?

(3) A cone was shown with apex point up and circle opening down. Student was asked what was at top……correct answer: circle.  In previous presentations, the cone was shown circle up. Students were supposed to interpret turning cone in space. Never mind the misconception of a cone having an apex point.

(4) Picture a two layer, four cube per layer form put on paper at an angle and three of the top cubes were removed, leaving five cubes total. Same said dyslexic student was asked to draw what they say on the various faces.  No one bothered to help student number the various faces and then list those numbers/positions on chart with front, side, top, face, etc.

The does not include the supposed ‘assessment’ of 17 pages given to student for IEP (IEP took two separate sessions so assessment was able to ‘slide in under radar’ as it had not been completed prior to original IEP) with none of the accommodations  as noted in original IEP.  There has been no way for me to perform error analysis of student work as it is impossible to sort out grading system/rubric, etc.

Weeding includes talking to school psychologists so they can tell me I should call the stones shale, gneiss and chert, not explain the stones are math problems. If I were to call them stones, surely it would all make more sense as I was weeding.

In addition, weeding involves trying to understand why, week after week for three months a student who should be getting math assistance in study hall can not obtain this assistance as ‘different teachers teach math in different ways’ and the study hall teacher (also a special ed teacher) does not understand how this students math teacher does math.

I am still weeding. Hopefully I can put weeds in a pile and burn add, the ash to compost and start over.

While I have been weeding, I have been planting brand new, fresh, non- gmo seeds with the student based on math the way one would teach a math major or, in layman’s terms, using the book(s) Math on Call and Algebra to Go for concept bases, referring to Khan Academy for process, painstakingly doing notes and samples in organized fashion with student.  I tutor the student two hours a week. By the way, seeds are producing seedlings at this point!

Working with the parent, I have been composting – anything which is not understandable to student (disorganized work in folder, crazy notes, etc.) is being composted. Parent is learning all about IEP  process and throwing out any previous notions regarding the school, the SPED teachers, SPED education programs. All of it is going to compost heap to be mixed with upcoming ashes.  Amazingly, like all good compost, there is no smell. I have not taught parent about schist and chert nor gneiss. It does not help the parent.  I have taught the parent how to look for orderliness in the garden, how to ask for help – with a spade (shovel if necessary), hoe, pruning shears. I had to explain to parent there will always be stones, rocks and occasionally boulders and give the parent tools to remove, even if it requires a tractor (like me).  The parent has earned the right to see their child in a beautiful, thriving garden. The student has earned the right to grow and mature and blossom.

The gardening goal is to have IEP furrows in fine form SOON, by at least last four weeks of school. This is so all teachers can be on board in September of next school year and begin pruning in October as necessary, rather than waiting until March to look at IEP and begin the weeding.

In the weeding process, I have almost had the metaphorical hoe taken to my forehead a couple of times, had dandelion seeds scattered about to see if I would catch them and water put in the garden to flood it. This gardener has stood steadfast.  What is interesting is this garden wants so desperately to grow it is happening before my very eyes.

Update:  After participating in a final four hour marathon IEP meeting, a reasonable IEP which can be understood and implemented has been achieved.  The effort was worth the fits and starts of achievement in order to get something which truly demonstrates where student is currently at academically and how to proceed forward. Overall, this particular IEP took a minimum of 15 hours between actual meetings, phone calls, e-mails, going to classroom to attempt to ascertain disconnect from school to tutoring.  I would do it all again in a heartbeat as this student is going to become a steadfast beautiful tree in a forest of strong, brave, smart and wonderful trees.

And so we keep on learning…..or do we?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/my-son-is-schizophrenic-the-reforms-that-i-worked-for-have-worsened-his-life/2012/10/15/87b74a98-eadd-11e1-b811-09036bcb182b_story_3.html

I have long been troubled by what the right, correct, accurate, thought out, proper, logical and so forth  answer may be about special education.  This is based on the fact my teaching credential was obtained in a non-traditional manner (BA in speech pathology/audiology) due to my undergrad studies.  On one hand I have a better than average understanding of learning disabilities and the possible underlying basis going into the credentialing program, learned a ton being a teacher and helping to write IEP’s/504’s and being a participant of the student study team, working closely with my special ed colleagues to mainstream students into the science lab. On the other side of all the great things written in the previous sentence, I was worn down and exhausted each day from putting in all  I had for my 5-10 special needs students in each class and noticing it was never enough as well as realizing my regular ed students were not getting as much as they deserved from me. Finding a balance on this razor blade edge was never easy and there were days it felt more like a razor blade than others.

The 1980s was the decade when many of the state’s large mental hospitals were emptied. After years of neglect, the hospitals’ programs and buildings were in decay. In my new legislative role, I jumped at the opportunity to move people out of “those places.” I initiated funding for community mental health and substance abuse treatment programs for adults, returned young people from institution-based “special school districts” to schools in their home towns and provided for care coordinators to help manage the transition of people back into the community.

Every year, one in every five children and one in every four adults has a diagnosable mental illness. A quarter of all mental illnesses are considered serious.

In the case of inner city schools, this number is amplified and it is these figures which are the 5-10 students per class can be found.After all was said and done, I wonder if indeed all of us who jumped onto the mainstreaming band wagon and least restrictive environments, etc. really were on the correct train. There are many disabilities which are organic in nature and can be overcome with some routine medical and therapeutic efforts. There are substantially more disabilities which have a mental health component and require more than my professional education and experience provided, in addition to the fact there has been a gross elimination of counselors, psychologists, speech pathologists, RSP and other professionals at every school.

……….But when you look just a little more closely, what you find is a young man with a sly smile, quick wit and an inquisitive mind who — when he’s healthy — bears a striking resemblance to the youthful Muhammad Ali…………Yet it’s the policies of my generation of policymakers that put that formerly adorable toddler — now a troubled 6-foot-5 adult — on the street. And unless something changes, the policies of today’s generation of policymakers will keep him there.

And then there were the recriminations from the very people who had hoped they were enacting the best, right, correct and well thought out ideas. These thoughts could have been written by anyone in elected government, it is not specific to Connecticut.

But we legislators in Connecticut and many other states made a series of critical misjudgments.

First, we didn’t understand how poorly prepared the public schools were to educate children with serious mental illnesses.

Second, we didn’t adequately fund community agencies to meet new demands for community mental health services — ultimately forcing our county jails to fill the void.

And third, we didn’t realize how important it would be to create collaborations among educators, primary-care clinicians, mental-health professionals, social-services providers, even members of the criminal justice system, to give people with serious mental illnesses a reasonable chance of living successfully in the community.

During the 25 years since, I’ve experienced firsthand the devastating consequences of these mistakes.

It is these very recriminations which make me cringe as it was that approximate 30 year time period which I taught in public schools and experienced the anguish of educating every student to the best of my ability while my elected officials were busy cutting me to my knees.  This continues to be  the same program which is in force while teachers are being subjected to merit based on test scores.

Typically, schools and parents follow exactly what the author is stating.  It is far easier to take the easy course when you have limited resources and hope for the best. It is also the worst possible time to not take immediate action, as with children who are on the autism spectrum.

When Tim entered elementary school, it took us three years to convince school officials that his symptoms weren’t caused by problems with Tim’s having been adopted, his racial identity (we’re white, he’s black) or our parenting. That by then we had three children younger than Tim who also were adopted transracially and were thriving helped make our case. The school’s evaluations suggested he had what was then called attention deficit disorder and some learning disabilities. He was admitted into special education, and the school drew up a mandated individualized education plan (IEP) for him. It focused mostly on helping with his organizational skills and, at the school’s insistence, his “self-esteem.”

Tim’s IEP clearly needed to be revised after he received his new diagnoses. But his principal told me repeatedly that “he just needs to follow the rules,” as if Tim could will away his illness. In a due-process hearing we then demanded, Tim’s special education teacher declared that Tim’s biggest problem was “overprotective parents.”

And during my teaching years in public schools, the worst I encountered was the outset of charter schools.  Wherein the following and worse was stated more often than not:

What followed were many years during which one public school after another knew it couldn’t educate my son but had nothing to offer, holding him back in one case and bumping him ahead in another.

It was this very time period, the advent of charter schools, in which I saw how education and our elected leaders failed education the most. And it was when I realized until people came ‘clean’, the Michelle Rhee’s of the world would just continue to blame the wrong folks.

More than one educator has told me that I shouldn’t blame the schools: Their purpose is to educate children, not to treat them. I understand this. But I also learned from personal experience that ignoring a child’s special needs makes meaningless the special-education concepts of “appropriate” and “least restrictive” education that are embodied in the laws we passed.

These terminologies — and the realities they represent — were things that policymakers thought about too narrowly. The word “disability,” for instance, should have covered Tim and children like him. But as a friend who worked a generation ago on drafting the regulations for the federal government’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act told me, “Paul, we were thinking of kids in wheelchairs.”

What we really need is more people able to own up and admit to deficiencies in how funding and managing education is done so we can move forward. The blame game has long been a subtle smoke screen to demonstrate all that is wrong with education, demonize teachers and not acknowledge some of the worst possible choices in education  which have been made – NOT BY TEACHERS, RATHER, THE VERY PEOPLE WHO SHOULD HAVE HAD OPEN EARS AND EYES.

Until we have a ‘truth and reconcilliation’  about what has happened these past 30 or so years, we will never get close to filling the gap created by politicians.  We can continue to blame teachers – it will not solve the problem so clearly laid out by Paul Gionfriddo.

What Is Special About Special Education?

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/education/23special.html?_r=1&hpw

I am intentionally using the same opening to this blog as a piece I wrote on 1 April 2009.  The very nature of controversial issues is the fact that there well may be more than one right answer and I would like to know what others are thinking.

This is one of those touchy subjects and incredibly difficult to write about; I am not even sure what specific position to take due to the complexitites of the issues, so bear me out and add some comments to help me clarify my own thoughts.

There are so many points to bear on this issue that it was difficult to even know where to begin.  I am going to attempt to refrain from teacher/education jargon as much as possible, however, I do encourage anyone who reads this blog to seek out a more in depth understanding of any terminology used and how it applies to the individual, the situation and how one formulates an opinion.

My undergraduate degree is in Communicative Disorders with an emphasis in neuro.  My background, while by no means as in depth as a speech pathologist, is at least a strong foothold in understanding both normal and different learning.  Over the years I have followed up on areas of interest in the neuro sciences, again, not to the level of a neuroscientist.  My opinions are based on my knowledge, experiences and interests of how the brain works.

Over the years in almost all western countries, the inclusion of all children in the education system came to include anyone not in a constant vegetative state.  I can say this with conviction as I have  subbed in special education classes for children with severe needs and have had friends with children which are far outside the realm of a normal bell curve.  Laws and regulations have been passed to educate all children K-12, independent of how low functioning the child may be and independent of any possible future cognitive functioning or ability to live an independent life.  Over the years, it became more and more difficult to define special needs/special ed from regular education as more and more was done to integrate all children into the classroom and provide them with age and ability appropriate learning opportunities.  In addition, we as scientists and teachers became more aware of what was actually on the bell curve and normal was not the same as what it appeared to be 50 years ago.

No matter which side of the path I stand on, while integrating students with severe cognitive and behavioral problems into a regulr classroom is a very high ideal, it was never alloted the money, time and resources for the program to benefit either the special needs student and/or the regular ed student.  It became an increased  work burden (not emotional – most teachers love teaching) on the regular education teacher who was expected to teach from the lowest to the highest student within a classroom, irrespective of the breadth of differences/discrepancies in abilities.  As the  line between the bell curve of normal and different abilitied thinned,  NCLB came into vogue and schools now needed to demonstrate adequate yearly progress/growth of special ed students for federal funding.  Despite the best intentions of NCLB, education in all circumstances does not move in the orderly rhythm politicians would put forth.  Special needs students have not been able to always make the gains required of the underfunded system and the punishment fell to the teachers, administration and ultimately the ‘normal’ learners as funds were cut back.

One might begin to imagine the quagmire, on all sides – parents, teachers, students (normal and differently abled), administration.   The IEP (individual education plan) which was initially created/devised to set targets of growth for students with special needs (cognitive and behavioral) became IEP’s vs. 504 plans (behavioral or ‘other’ special needs) vs. anything that was not consciously an IEP but served the purpose to get kids the help they needed (RSP, etc.). 

In the midst of all of this, some educators decided to mix it up even more by stating they thought it important for each and every child, normal or otherwise to have an IEP or something like an IEP to demonstrate how students were doing each step of the way.  Charter schools in particular ran with the IEP concept as one could easily write in quantitative measures of where the average child should be each year academically.   Charter schools further muddied the waters by asking parents who wanted their child to attend ‘charter school X’ to relinquish the rights to specialized services since the charter schools were convinced they could do a better job of education for all children.  In many cases, charter schools ran just below the radar and did not need to provide special education services, which saved money as RSP and other special services is allocated at the district level by an interesting formula (Rather than allocation based on number of IEP’s and 504’s per site, services are allocated on the basis of a normal 6-10% of population requiring them, independent of actual head count, so even though charter schools attracted many more than 10% of the special needs population, they were allocated the same resources as if they had the same percentage and thus could not ‘afford’ to adequately deliver special needs services. This has since changed somewhat, although charter schools do not provide nearly the level of special services a regular public school would provide.)  The IEP, once used soley to document, track and press for appropriate education of special needs students became the cause extraordinairre of monitoring all student performance.

In all of this, it became unstated, yet believed, that special needs children (whom even the best and brightest and most positive physicians and psychologists/psychiatrists knew better based on research),  were to be in some way given or helped to absorb the same education as normal children.  Not that everyone even really believed, at least in a scientific way, this was possible, but it sounded like the perfect moral high ground.  Anything less would mean the school, the teachers, etc. was not doing their best to acclimatize all students to the world and living in it.

Into this sour brew of educational idealogy and high moral ground and save the world ethos, came the Supreme Court Decision on 22 June 2009 and the vast different views cast upon the decision.

My experiences both in the U.S. and abroad, both in science and culture, have led me to believe that not all living organisms are produced the same, react to their environment the same nor survive and/or reproduce the same.  This is evolution in scientific terminology.  In cultural circles, a living organism which does not have the ability to do something productive and helpful to the community (village, clan, pack, etc.) is not given the same or equal resources as the other living organisms in the grouping – and not always by choice.   Example:  A guppy gives birth to 10 baby guppies.  One of them gets ich while the other nine in the aquarium do not. No outside source adds the chemicals necessary to get rid of the infection and so the one guppy dies.  This now increases all the other resources for the remaining guppies and improves their chances of mating and passing on genes.   In the human animal, if a child can not help gather food from the field, go on a hunt, etc., it generally gets less food and as is often the case with any physical difference in a living organism, may have an organ(s) which did not develop well in the womb. The combination of inadequate nutrition and a pre-existing/underlying medical situation often means the child/adult dies much younger than the surrounding population.  In both the guppy and the human family, I would venture to say there is sadness and grief (to what extent I do not know but I believe all living things have the ability to feel on some level) and yet it is the way of existence.  In culture, this may be viewed as god(s) will, etc. 

While I do not suggest one might make a ‘Sophie’s Choice’ (Willam Styron) and call it a day, I do suggest that there are ideological situations which cross lines and have made special educaton not such a clear cut case for us (non-Supreme Court Judges) or the Supreme Court.

I personally no longer  (I have in the past and may once again choose to do so) support students with moderate/severe special needs in a regular classroom as it is too disruptive to learning for everyone.  It is often frustrating for normal children to learn with distractions which are ongoing and I find it unfair to have the ‘smart’ children work with the less abled children so everyone is on course. Should there be a time when each special needs student has a reliable and supportive para-professional/behaviorist to work with the student, I most likely would change my view .  While I understand the world is not an even playing ground, I also understand the limited resources of education dollars, time and energy.   I fully support ALL students getting an appropriate and full education, however, the environment of said education varies.

Based on my experiences as a teacher and the many conversations I have had with parents expressing their concerns over their normal child being disrupted and the equally ardent conversations with parents who believe their child has a right to an equal education, I still cling to the idea that learning is somewhat sacred and requires a certain ambiance.

Mind you I have worked with children on all areas of the autism spectrum, children with 504’s from ADHD to anti-seizure meds to anti-depressants, and children who were born hydrocephalic (water on the brain), Down’s Syndrome, retarded in some cognitive manner.  I have also worked with adults recovering from a stroke,  aphasic, adults with spastic tremors, etc.  and in each case, my heart went out to each and every one and yet I also deep inside felt it was unfair in a formal learning situation to mix and match.   I have also worked with a variety of these groups in summer camp and it was successful beyond my imagination, although it was informal learning and no grades.

When the Supreme Court came out with their decision, my first thought was (1) How do we define special education? (the definition, as interpreted by schools, varies in many respects) (2) How do we define appropriate education? (We currently have districts left, right and center falling apart and falling on themselves with normal children) (3) How could we push back the tide of all these years believing integration and mainstreaming was best and allow parents to decide a specialized setting was best when it was these self same parents who fought for integration/mainstreaming, in spite of the pitfalls? (4) What new teaching methodology would be expected of me the classroom teacher to accomodate the new change in view of appropriate special education?  Would I be acountable if the parents decided to select a private school for their child? (5) Would we expect parents of special needs children to be more involved in the whole educational process? (6) Would this change the whole debate on abortion vs. right to life, especiallly now that amniocentisis is commonplace?

All of these thoughts have been racing through my mind. There is no one right answer – there are many.  There is no one way to foot the bill – there are many. How do we as  a just society decide what to do that would not look like a back step for the last 50 years of progress for special needs?

Is special education ‘special’ or, in my mind, is it just that we need to rethink the bell curve for everyone?