November 22, 2009

Reaching for the whistle

I'm ashamed it's taken me so long to write about how special ed kids aren't getting serviced the way they should be. It's not that I haven't wanted to. I've been busy weighing the consequences of speaking publicly on the DoE's abrogation of responsibilities to NYC school children in both special ed and regular ed classrooms.

The plan for special education services outlined in June of 2000 sounds good in theory, but it's hard for me to believe that the people who designed this program couldn't foresee that violations would become widespread once administrators tried to stay inside tight budgets.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I haven't reported the violations I know about to the UFT, which created a website to receive such complaints last spring. That's because when I wrote to the person at the union who determines whether a complaint should be forwarded up to Albany for investigation, she flat out told me that speaking with her does not in itself give me whistleblower protection.

Googling around a bit, I now see why. According to a City Council whistleblower law enacted in 2007 (described in the NY Teacher at this link), reporting a wrongdoing to a UFT official doesn't trigger the law's protection against retaliation. To get that, you must send your report to at least one of eight offices: the public advocate, the comptroller, a City Council member, the city's Dept of Investigations (DOI), the DoE's Office of Special Investigations (OSI), the mayor, the chancellor, or the deputy chancellor. The UFT is not in that list.

Also, reporting a violation doesn't mean something is going to be done to fix the problem. And of course there's also the question of retaliation. The same article says it might take the form of "dismissal, suspension, discipline and a U-rating," but there's no mention of one option that has been used to marginalize outspoken teachers for years: excessing.

It's obvious there's not so many music positions in schools now that the DoE has found ways to circumvent state mandates for the arts. Seniority doesn't protect you all that much. Administrators can shut your position in a New York minute and put even a very senior teacher into excess. My guess is that if a music teacher were to blow a whistle, a principal would excess him or her immediately and just pretend the program was cut for other reasons.

Knowing all this, participating in the charade of special ed is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for me as an educator, so I'm putting some of this stuff out here and letting the chips fall where they may.

A compromise maybe, but I'm not yet ready to string myself up by the neck and yell "Jump!"

PART I: Thoughts on the New Continuum

A 52-page document on the Continuum of Services for kids with disabilities (accessed by a link on the DoE website here) claims that regular ed and special ed students are "more alike than different" and that "integrating programs and resources result in improved student outcomes for all."

I disagree with that right there. Improved student outcomes for all? Hardly. Especially when they seem not to have put a limit on the number of IEP kids that can be mainstreamed into a regular ed class. If you mix large numbers of kids with learning disabilities, behavioral issues and/or limited facility in English into NYC's already oversized classes, the outcome for the average and good learners won't be improved one tiny bit.

In fact, the intellectual needs of the more proficient learners won't probably even be met, because while you're attending to the kids who are struggling, you're obviously depriving the others of more challenging learning experiences suitable to their mental and maturational levels.

And the opposite is also true. If you aim your discussions and classwork at these better learners, those who are struggling will start exhibiting all the behaviors of avoidance and frustration that led them to special ed solutions in the first place: fooling around, talking, retreating mentally into their own worlds, and if you're not careful, reaching for their cellphones and iPods. Add to these the kids who aren't special ed but really should be — those are the ones whose parents declined the extra help for whatever reason. With all this going on, the bottom line is that in large and diverse groups, what the teacher believes to be the essence of the subject frequently can't be delivered at all.

I've mentioned many times already that HS music classes have up to 50 kids on register, containing students in all four grades (9th through 12th), regular ed and special ed, repeaters, English-language learners and those who are hearing impaired. Some of the struggling learners read, write, and comprehend at early elementary school levels, other students are going home at night to fill out college applications.

So many special ed kids are being mainstreamed/included/integrated into my oversized — but contractually legal — music classes that I feel the system is just about broken.

Continued in Part II, which I'm still writing, but in the meantime, please also go over to Pissed Off, who is duking it out with some adversarial commenters as we speak.

Needless to say, I'm on her side, and if you get a chance to read the rest of what I've been working on for a couple of weeks, you'll see we're coming to the exactly the same conclusions.


  1. well said--I'm glad I am not alone in this.

    and, things are not confidential. one of the reprots I made, although anonymous had to contain enough information to identify me. people are pissed but I don't care. the kid needs the services and I am doing my best to make surehe gets them.