All of Our Students!

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a parent that has really set me to thinking about many things.  Sometimes there are  situations where students go way beyond the expectations of educators and achieve what was thought to be unattainable.    When students exceed expectations we celebrate those great accomplishments and pat ourselves on the backs for a job well done.  But, sometimes expectations are set so low that student growth and achievement are actually repressed.  Sadly, this is sometimes the case with students that have IEP’s.  Students in special education programs become labeled as those who “do not learn” as opposed to those “who learn differently”  They are sorted into underserved groups, and are sometimes left out and are often left behind.  Every once in a while a child overcomes great odds and makes remarkable progress despite the system.  Sometimes it is a great teacher that makes the difference for a child with special needs,  but without the diligent support and efforts of extraordinary parents many of the students in special education programs are doomed to low expectations and disruptive classrooms.  The following is from a parent who emailed me about their child’s experience in our school system:

I once thought that if a child was labeled with a learning disability, special ed meant that the child would get extra help to learn along with their peers. While following [my child's] education and watching others who struggled at [school], I found that’s not the case at all. Special ed meant they took learning away.  If they saw a child struggle with spelling, they took away spelling words. If a child struggled with math, they gave the child a calculator so that the child never learned something as basic and important as math facts. If a child struggled with reading, that child was read to.  Special ed also meant that [my child] would typically be put into disruptive classrooms with low expectations. With [one teacher] and special ed, [my child] was not going to be taught to do math. I continually had to insist that [my child] not be given a calculator until it was necessary. [My child's] learning happened at home. By 5th grade, [my child] had math skills better than most 8th graders. By the time [my child] was in Jr. High, his math and English skills were also better than many high school students who [go to an alternative school.] We found at [the alternative school] that many students had to be taken back to the basics in order to succeed. These kids are not taught to do math without a calculator. Yet when they fall behind and end up seeking a GED, they find they can’t use a calculator on the GED test. Talk about failing the child.

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As we move forward and try to reform our schools, we have to keep the programs that serve ALL OF OUR STUDENTS in the forefront of our efforts.  As we supply our programs with technology, we must push our teachers to use technology to enhance the learning for ALL OF OUR STUDENTS.  When we think about design we have to realize the learning environments must accommodate ALL OF OUR STUDENTS.  No Child Left Behind focused our efforts on those students who are close to meeting standards and diffused our efforts with students in special education programs as well as those students who are gifted.  As educators, it is our duty to work to see that ALL OF OUR STUDENTS are better served moving forward.

8 comments for “All of Our Students!

  1. Scott Shaw
    February 25, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    Dave, your notes here ring true. We must constantly strive to silence the cacophony of low expectations by providing a symphony of engaginging strategies that do not muffle the sounds of the children.

    • Scott Shaw
      February 25, 2012 at 9:29 pm


    • February 26, 2012 at 6:54 pm

      Scott, thanks for the comment. We have to include all students in our expectations to have a full melody.

  2. Haidi Appel
    February 26, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    We work to make sure that our inclusion program is the best it can be. Students and their success must be the focus of our work. Thanks for your words.

    • February 26, 2012 at 6:58 pm

      I think we have to continually communicate. Teachers must talk about expectations and how to best challenge each student. We provide co-taught classes that mix special needs teachers and students into our mainstream classes. Using this model is certainly a challenge and is not without its imperfections but it does allow for all students to experience similar expectations.

  3. February 26, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this and sharing it with others. As a former special education teacher and principal, I was reminded of the importance of setting high expectations for everyone. I particularly appreciated the parent’s honesty and your willingness to share his/her thoughts with others. And – for what it’s worth – I think the parent’s willingness to write the email speaks volumes about how you are perceived within your school community! It is obviously a mutually respectful relationship!

    One last thing – I sent it as a retweet to other educators. I think we should all read – and reread – this post periodically.

    • February 26, 2012 at 7:01 pm

      Transparency allows for honest assessments and relationships. We do not always have to agree with each other but we do need to hear each other. We have to listen to feedback from all stakeholders and use that information to make our programs work for the students. How we react to criticism either allows us to put up barriers or tear them down. Thanks for commenting!

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