Hey everybody. It's been another busy and, quite frankly, exhausting week in Msaranga, but I wanted to get an entry up quickly for your delectation. Too much is going on (both good and not-so-good) to give you the lowdown right now, but I will post about all that very shortly. Warning: some of the stuff I've recently uncovered is not for the faint of heart, but I think it's important to at least put the broad strokes out there.
In the meantime, I found a really interesting article online about the debate over mainstreaming/inclusion in American schools. Peep the op-ed below from a recent Wall Street Journal written by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, a school attorney in Boston and the author of Fixing Special Education: 12 Steps to Transform a
Broken System. The idea that the push for inclusion is often more about civil liberties than best education practices is pretty controversial as is the notion that while it may indeed positively impact disabled students' social qualities, it might not necessarily advance them scholastically. What do YOU think: Does inclusion benefit the minority at the expense of the majority??
Americans tend to be a vocal people, sharing their views about almost any issue in the public sphere loudly and frequently. Yet on the question of how to provide special education services to students who need them - while not compromising the interests of children who don't - many parents of regular education students have opted out of any public discourse.
Nationwide, about 60% of students with disabilities spend at least 80% of their instructional time in regular classrooms. Many parents of other children in public schools understand that when teachers focus on students who need more attention, their kids may get shortchanged. Yet most parents opt out of any discussion and don't complain.
The special education system in the U.S. is highly regulated by law,
expensive, and sometimes marked by litigiousness. Those working to
reform the system are almost exclusively people with a direct stake in
it - including school representatives, parents of students with
disabilities, advocates, lawyers, special educators, academics and government officials. Since members of the general public and parents of
regular education students (who account for 86% of students) rarely
weigh in, the interests of regular education school-age students are not
It's time to think about what we are doing, rather than simply to
continue with the current broken system. That's the only way to help all
Before 1975, more than a million students with disabilities were
excluded from schools and some 3.5 million did not receive appropriate
services. That year, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, now called the
Individuals With Disabilities Act of 1990. Students identified as
disabled have since been guaranteed access to what the law calls a "free
appropriate public education," and their parents have the right to
participate in (and dispute) the school's development of an annual "individualized education program" for their child. No other group of students or parents enjoys such rights.
Today, six million students with disabilities (about 14% of all
students) have the right to a free appropriate public education and an
individualized education program. Between 70% and 80% of these students
have mild or moderate disabilities, including learning disabilities,
speech or language impairments, social and emotional disabilities, and
other conditions, such as ADHD. Only 20% to 30% have more severe
disabilities, such as cognitive impairments, multi-handicapping
conditions, deafness or blindness.
Special education is expensive. Estimates of its cost nationwide range between $80 billion and $110 billion per year, and the
spending continues to rise faster than regular education spending. The
burden falls mostly on state and local governments. Federal law drives special education, but the
federal contribution is less than 20%. The law has spawned an industry
of parent attorneys and advocates, school attorneys (of which I am one),
experts, mediators, hearing officers, administrative law judges and
other dispute-resolution professionals. This is in addition to educators
and service providers in schools, and the many federal, state and local officials, evaluators and consultants who manage the system.
By law, students with disabilities have the right to be in the "least
restrictive environment" to the maximum extent "appropriate," with
added resources such as computers, large-print or recorded books, and
personal aides, if needed. The push to place these students in regular
classes is called "inclusion" (or sometimes "mainstreaming"). The
federal government has target indicators in state improvement plans, recording how many students with disabilities are in regular classes.
Look into the research on inclusion and you will find that this
policy is generally based on notions of civil rights and social justice,
not on "best education practices" for all students. The effectiveness
of inclusion for students with disabilities varies - some groups and
individual students benefit; others don't. This is one reason why
inclusion remains controversial in some segments of the disability
Very little work has been done to establish how inclusion affects
regular students - whether they are average, English-language learners,
advanced, poor or homeless. Studies seem to support the social benefits
of mainstreaming for children with disabilities and possibly for
regular education students, but what about the effect on their academic
Teachers may tell you (privately) that inclusion often leads them to slow down and simplify classroom teaching. Yet the system is entrenched and politically correct. Many parents remain silent. Some quietly remove their kids from public schools.
Can this be anything but very bad for America? Our schools thrive
only with a diverse student population and engaged parents - not with the
departure of those who choose to leave.
None of this is about being anti- or pro-special or regular
education. The purpose is to focus on fairness and equity for all
students in the nation's classrooms. That goal can only be achieved by encouraging many more
people, especially parents and educators, to come forward with their
views and experiences. The time for that robust, inclusive and frank
national discussion is now.