This post continues Part I: Reaching for the whistle.
When a parent agrees to place his child in "special ed," a team puts together an Individual Education Plan (IEP) to prescribe a projected learning environment for him.
According to some, IEPs are the "heart of the special education system," the legal instruments that will make it easier for students to learn. IEPs can stipulate how many kids should be in all the child's new classes or whether he should be mainstreamed/included/integrated into general ed classes, get help in a resource room, or receive other kinds of services for a range of disabilities.
The DoE talks about how "more intensive services" will be provided in self-contained special ed classes. It also claims to work "to make certain that the child is provided with what he or she needs to succeed."
That last bit is, of course, poppycock. The DoE makes certain of nothing at all and in fact hires more lawyers to obfuscate, evade, convert mandates into recommendations, justify violations, and keep whistleblowing in check.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 requires that special ed students be placed in the "least restrictive environment" (LRE). According to Wikipedia, the "appropriate mix" of services will vary from child to child and from year to year as the child develops. "If the school officials have provided the maximum appropriate exposure to non-disabled students, they have fulfilled their obligation under IDEA."
A concept as vague as that has the potential of hurting all childen all the time — not just the IEP kids.
Teachers cannot split themselves into multiple people. They can only address certain skill sets at any given time. The kids who learn differently than the way the teacher is working the room at any point in the lesson — whether they're the more proficient learners or the struggling ones — are pretty much getting less direction, supervision, attention, intellectual stimulation, and specific help than the crowd he's focusing on in that moment. De facto.
Since words like "mainstreaming," "inclusion," and "integration" are being thrown around all the time, I was happy to come across this extract from a fact sheet put out by the NY Lawyers for the Public Interest in 2006, which adds some clarity to the subject:
Q: What does LRE mean for my child?It seems to me that what LRE and the Act really do is institutionalize wiggle room. Under the cover of doing what's "best" for the individual child with disabilities, administrators have the legal tool to fudge almost everything.
A: What all this means is that legally, under the Least Restrictive Environment requirement,a child with a disability should be allowed to attend a general education class, in his or her zoned school, and receive the services needed to make such a placement work, unless there is proof that he or she cannot receive educational benefits in that setting. If he or she cannot receive educational benefits in that setting, he or she should be educated in a context that provides access to general education students and general education curriculum to the maximum extent appropriate to the student’s individual needs.
The Least Restrictive Environment is related to, but different from, the concepts of “inclusion,” “integration,” and “mainstreaming.” “Inclusion” means that primary instruction and provision of appropriate special education services are provided in (i) an age-appropriate general education class (ii) in the student’s home school (iii) with appropriate additional supports for the student and the student’s teacher.1 Importantly, inclusion does not require a child with a disability to perform at the same level as his or her general education peers. By contrast, “mainstreaming” means that a child with a disability is educated in a general education classroom for those areas of instruction in which the child can be expected to perform at the level of nondisabled peers without needing supplementary aids and services. “Integration” means that children with disabilities and children without disabilities are educated together, though not necessarily in general education classrooms.1This definition of inclusion comes from the New York State Education Department’s Least Restrictive Environment Implementation Policy Paper, which was updated in May 1998 [see this link]. Some people at the Department of Education may define inclusion differently, so it is important to clarify what they mean by inclusion when they are talking about options for your child.The special education statutes do not mention “inclusion,” “mainstreaming” or “integration,” but they do require that children with disabilities be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment. “Inclusion,” “mainstreaming,” and “integration” may be the Least Restrictive Environment for some children but not for others.
On top of that, LRE doesn't take into account the effect mainstreaming, inclusion and integration have on the more proficient students, and that bothers me a whole lot.
A couple of days ago, I learned that the DoE thinks of music as a "non-academic activity," on a par with lunch. I don't think most music teachers will agree with that, but it shows what kind of managers we have at Tweed.
More to the point, though there are many IEP students in my school who take their core subjects in a 15:1 class, not a single one of them go to a small class for music. That means administrators at all levels believe that every last special ed kid in high school can function in a regular ed music class regardless of his particular disabilities.
That's appalling. What is an "IEP" if not a recommendation for a single child. Some of these kids are reading, writing and comprehending at the 2nd-grade level. Their classmates in these humongous classes are writing college applications. I'm doing my best not to hurt the slower learners, but when I teach to the middle capabilities of the whole-class profile, most of the IEP kids (not to mention a certain number of others whose parents refused special ed) CANNOT DO THE WORK. And please don't bring up differentiation. It's one thing to differentiate, it's a whole other thing to award a high school credit when a student can't do a tenth of the subject matter.
No doubt schools are designing IEPs — or altering them illegally — to cattle-herd special ed kids into large, heterogeneous classes with up to 50 on register in all grades. After all, they are fulfilling their obligation under IDEA to give IEP students exposure to the gen ed population. Be damned emotional damage to the struggling child or the delivery of content!
"Least restrictive environment" should not mean creating living hells for teachers and students by such indefensible placement policies. These classes are not right for them, whether they have decoding problems, low IQ, attention deficit, anger management issues, or hearing deficiencies. They get frustrated, and we're hurting them.
That's indicative of a general callousness to inner city kids at the very highest levels of policy making in this city, state and country.
I'm not finished with this topic yet. In Part III, I'll be giving some specifics.
By the way, I used ARIS, just like Pissed Off. Too bad the data I'm looking at today over there is the same as it was when I started writing these posts. That makes ARIS about 3 weeks out of date. How much did it cost?