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.
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.