Monday, May 10, 2010

Is There a Problem in Special Education?

Interesting piece in the Seattle Times today from psychologist John Rosemond (who apparently has a syndicated column on parenting) about the labeling of children at school.

He doesn't quite come out and say it but I believe his premise is that we are over-identifying students rather than accepting that ALL students have different ways of learning and challenges to learning.

From his column:

People gifted in more than a couple of areas are rare, and people gifted in one area but lacking in another are not unusual. A person with outstanding musical aptitude, for example, may be noticeably lacking in social skills, and a person with outstanding verbal skills may be mechanically inept.

The mere fact that a person is lacking in some characteristic or ability does not necessarily mean something is "wrong." That a certain 10-year-old child is shy, lacks conversational skills, and prefers solitary activity to group play does not mean something is amiss inside the child's brain. Nor does the mere fact that a child struggles with learning to read or do math mean his brain isn't working properly.

And he's right. I think one issue for our parenting generation is wanting to fix/help our children if they struggle. Struggling is good. It challenges a child to overcome a difficulty, to be able to urge him/herself along and take great pride in overcoming that challenge.

So for parents, where is the line for helping/guiding versus hovering? Are we part of a generation of labelers so it is easier for us to not have to push our children and see them struggle?

Or is it that science has caught up and now we know there are learning disabilities that do need to be addressed (and weren't when we were 3rd graders)?

From his column:

All of this is to say that for all the prior lip service, today's educators seem to have absolutely no respect for individual differences, no respect for the fact that "lack" is not synonymous with wrong. In today's schools, the range of acceptability concerning an ever-increasing number of aptitudes has been getting narrower and narrower over the past couple of decades.

This narrow-mindedness on the part of educators has coincided with the proliferation of various supposed childhood "disorders."

Okay, so is a learning disability low on the scale versus autism? Is this the battle being fought between parents (or will it become one as we all chase after education dollars)? Is this the battle that districts are facing as they face more and more students with a disorder and have to stretch the Special Education dollars further?

He ends with this:

I fully recognize the legitimacy of a conscientious diagnostic process. I also recognize that some kids need professional help overcoming certain deficits. I'm simply saying that when all is said and done, the number of children being identified as needing "special services" in schools is approaching the absurd. The trend, carried forward, predicts that it won't be long before all of America's kids will have a diagnosis by age 10.

What do you think? (Full disclosure; I have a special needs child who probably struggled a lot more than he had to because we got a diagnosis of his disability fairly late.)

46 comments:

zb said...

"Okay, so is a learning disability low on the scale versus autism? "

I'm not sure what you mean by this.

In fact I'd guess that Rosemond would see autism diagnoses as part of the problem: that education now requires an ever narrowing range of performance on a huge variety of skills: For autism ("high functioning"), for example, the ability to learn and perform in social collaborative environments. For anxiety disorders, the ability to speak in front of an audience (at 8!). For reading, the ability to read at 6 (instead of 7, or 8, for example).

I worry about the issue you're reporting: that we're seeking the perfect child, and seeing a range of performance as being a disability in one, rather than just the natural range that all humans possess. As the world gets more competitive, we start to fear that our children *need* to be perfect in order to compete, and thus start to see them as perfectible.

It's dangerous.

But, I can't speak to how this affects special needs children, because it's also undoubtedly true that we had lots of kids around us who probably had non-remediation learning disabilities when we were growing up, who might have had better educations if those labels had been applied. And, I have to leave it to childrens' parents to decide whether the label is helping and whether they want to seek or reject it.

Charlie Mas said...

I don't really get this guy's problem. First he complains that schools are only giving lip service to addressing students' differences in aptitudes. Then he complains that school are doing too much to address students' differences.

It appears to me that the difference between doing it right and doing it wrong - from his perspective - is the presence of a diagnosis. He clearly regards the diagnosis as a pegorative. He writes: "So the aforementioned shy 10-year-old is not just shy; he has Asperger's syndrome. And the aforementioned slow reader is not just a bit behind the curve when it comes to decoding abstract symbols; he's dyslexic. And the clumsy child has sensory integration disorder. And the child who has difficulty executing more than one command from his teacher at a time has an auditory processing disorder. In each case, the child supposedly has something wrong with his brain.".

He seems to think that the child is somehow damaged by the application of the label.

Does it matter if we call the child's condition "slow reader" or "dyslexic"? Wouldn't a rose, by any other name, smell as sweet?

Hmmm. I wonder if he thinks that children are damaged by the application of the label "nearsighted", a diagnosis that requires corrective action: eyeglasses.

For a guy who says that the culture is too worked up about labels, he seems pretty worked up about labels.

gavroche said...

Some quick observations about this fellow's opinion piece:

First off, I find it an odd piece with a strange focus that doesn't necessarily follow logically.

I'm struck by his curiously negative insinuations about "educators" being the ones who are diagnosing kids as having special needs. Really? I'd like to see the facts supporting that. My impression is that it's the parents who are asking for IEPs and getting their kids diagnosed.

Rosemond accuses teachers of being narrow in their acceptance of children's differences. Is he kidding? Teachers perhaps more than anyone except parents are well aware that each kid is different and arrives in the classroom with varying strengths and weaknesses. Teachers have to accept that by the very definition of their profession.

If teachers feel challenged by this wide range of kids they are given, perhaps we should look at class sizes and standardized curricula that are boxing teachers and students in so there is not enough one on one time for a teacher to individualize the lesson for each child, and the district mandates of a "one size fits all" curriculum that give the teacher no room to differentiate anyway.

So the blame there does not belong on the educators, but on the administrators, the schools districts who fail to fund smaller class sizes (even when the voters demand it at the polls), or who impose weak or limiting curricula on schools.

Also, after blaming educators, Rosemond a paragraph later admits that it's actually organizations like the American Psychiatric Association that is diagnosing potential special needs -- not educators.

Again it's a case of, throw multiple demands at teachers, fail to provide necessary resources, and then blame them when the kids struggle or fail. Blame the teachers: the mantra of the ed reformers.

To bring this back home to Seattle, knowing that SPS/Supt. Goodloe-Johnson is currently trying to disburse Special Needs kids throughout the system without support and expecting regular teachers to handle the needs of a wider spectrum of kids without backup resources, also makes me think that this random article supports that agenda quite conveniently and perhaps it's not a coincidence that the Times publishes it during the teachers' contract negotiations.

Another observation: this article actually makes a good case for doing away with standardization and curriculum alignment, since these do not take into account the varying abilities of students, and instead for allowing a more alternative, creative method of instruction, such as we see here in Seattle in schools like Nova, the APP program, Thornton Creek, Salmon Bay and other alternative, nontraditional and "option" schools.

zb said...

"I wonder if he thinks that children are damaged by the application of the label "nearsighted", a diagnosis that requires corrective action: eyeglasses."

I can't speak to this guy or his column (which I haven't read yet, and reading second hand here, worry might have hidden agendas).

But, to use your example, I think the problem some worry about in the use of labels is the way in which labels are used to produce particular corrective actions, rather than the existence of the label itself. One such example is ADD->Ritalin. Let's say that nearsightedness, instead of having an approved correction (eye glasses) that works, the solution was nearsightedness->sit in front of the class.

That might not work (perhaps it's still not close enough, it doesn't help with reading stuff that's not on the board, kid might get headaches) and it might take that spot away from another kid, without a label, or with another lable, who might actually benefit more from that corrective action (i.e. maybe ADD->sit in front of the class is the right corrective action).

But, I'm not going to defend the Rosemund article itself, 'cause CM & Gavroche's reviews suggest that it's flawed. Columns flawed in the way you're describing often have a hidden agenda of some sort or another (reducing SpEd funds?). We should look into whether he's operating with a hidden agenda.

Maureen said...

From his web site:

John Rosemond
is one of a handful of parenting experts who promote a truly traditional approach to raising children. John is a family psychologist with more than 35 years experience working with parents to improve the quality of life in their families. His nationally-syndicated newspaper column appears in more than 200 newspapers and has more than 10 million readers. In 1989, John’s Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children was published by Andrews McMeel. It rapidly became a best-seller. Since then, he has written twelve more parenting classics, including Parenting by The Book, published by Howard Books in 2007.

The complete title of his book is Parenting by The Book: Biblical Wisdom for Raising Your Child

From that, I'm guessing we don't have to worry he is funded by Broad or Gates. And I, for one, am not going to start posting bad stuff about God!

I think the real issue here, as others have pointed out, is that in our current system, the money and the services follow a diagnosis, not a need.

jamie said...

I think the issue is that resources can be so limited that as a parent if your kid doesn't fit in the box and needs resources or a different approach, a diagnosis is the way to get them.

I don't want to talk about my child's issues too much in a public forum, but we have been having this discussion at our house all year. In the end we have left the public schools, for an environment that can meet his needs rather than pursue special ed services (which he doesn't particularly qualify for anyhow ;).)

hschinske said...

From Wikipedia: "Rosemond is known for his traditional, Bible-based parenting philosophy and approach. That, in combination with his outspoken political conservatism, has earned him a number of critics, especially within the mental health professions. Rosemond, a psychologist, generally begins his presentations by telling his audiences that "psychology is a secular religion that one believes in by faith" and that psychology has done more harm than good to the American family.

"Rosemond advocates what he calls a traditional disciplinary approach to parenting, a view that makes him both popular and controversial. Some don't like his views on toilet training[1] and spanking [2] as they run counter to other parenting experts' recommendations."

I don't suppose anyone will be surprised to hear that Rosemond is not high on my list of suggested parenting experts. Hearing that he doesn't know the difference between shyness and Asperger's syndrome (to name just one example) only cements my opinion further. Heck, most of the people with Asperger's syndrome I've met weren't even shy (no more often than in the general population), and a high proportion of all the shy people I've met were keen observers and quite socially adept when it came to reading others.

Helen Schinske

TechyMom said...

So, uh, yeah, he has an agenda. It may not be about Charter schools, but 'traditional', bible-based parenting and education is most certainly an agenda. No thanks.

jamie said...

Surely his background doesn't render the point raised for discussion invalid though? I don't agree with much of his POV and I certainly wouldn't run out and buy his book, but I still think that the range of "normal" is shrinking at a rate I'm uncomfortable with.

j said...

...today's educators seem to have absolutely no respect for individual differences, no respect for the fact that "lack" is not synonymous with wrong.

Note the word educator, not teacher. Plug in the word "teacher" and it makes no sense. Plug in the word "strawmen" and it does.


And the aforementioned slow reader is not just a bit behind the curve when it comes to decoding abstract symbols; he's dyslexic.

But there is no label for dyslexia in IDEA. If you want special ed you need to talk about decoding problems etc etc. This dyslexic is conviently just a bit behind the curve. Does anyone really think kids are getting IEPs for being just a bit behind the curve?


We live in the Age of Mass Credulity.

Since you have said it, it must be so.


The fundamental problem is that America's schools are buying into this hook, line, and sinker.

They may be buying it, but they aren't paying for it.


By the way, isn't it interesting that every time a child is found to qualify for a diagnosis, the child's school qualifies for more money from the state and federal governments?

Suggests that school districts are motivated to get kids into special ed. Anyone believe that?


I'm simply saying that when all is said and done, the number of children being identified as needing "special services" in schools is approaching the absurd.

Yes, you're simply saying it. Since we live in the Age of Mass Credulity, no need to back up your claim with any numbers.


The trend, carried forward, predicts that it won't be long before all of America's kids will have a diagnosis by age 10.

And once diagnosed, then what. In the Seattle School District not so much. Supposing that dyslexic kid needs one on one help with reading 5 days a week? Will he or she get it?

When I went to school we didn't have all these labels and yet we had labels. Dumb. Stupid. Retarded.

Melissa Westbrook said...

ZB, I meant are districts going to (or are getting) so many students with a diagnosis that they may have to develop of scale of what they can do for so many students? I realize we already have different levels but if this guy is suggesting that the majority of students will soon have a "label", then what happens in a district? Truly, what will it all mean to our district or any district?

What will it mean to our society if everyone has an attached label whether it's diagnosed or not. Oprah's outreach has certainly aided this labeling.

What does it mean to psychiatry? Is there a "new" normal for children? Or do we accept a spectrum of behavior under the "normal" range before we start labeling? Is this labeling an outgrowth of so-called helicopter parents?

Thanks for Googling him; I hadn't done that. The Times does print his column regularly.

Sahila said...

The normal is that each child is unique... and trying to 'norm' them creates the need for labels and diagnoses because there are so many deviations from the 'norm'...

We wouldn't have all the problems we have if we, as a society, would just refuse to buy into the standardisation of our kids and our education system...

Deal with each child as a unique individual and give each unique individual what he/she needs to reach their potential...

Problem solved...

And it is possible, if we collectively have the will and determination to make it so...


here's an interesting perspective from The Underground History of American Education:
http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/18t.htm

Nuts And Bolts

Let me end this book, my testament, with a warning: only the fresh air from millions upon millions of freely made choices will create the educational climate we need to realize a better destiny. No team of experts can possibly possess the wisdom to impose a successful solution to the problem inherent in a philosophy of centralized social management; solutions that endure are always local, always personal. Universal prescriptions are the problem of modern schooling, academic research which pursues the will-o-the-wisp of average children and average stages of development makes for destructive social policy, it is a sea anchor dragging against advancement, creating the problems it begs for money to solve. But here is a warning: should we ever agree to honor the singularity of children which forced schooling contravenes, if we ever agree to set the minds of children free, we should understand they would make a world that would create and re-create itself exponentially, a world complex beyond the power of any group of managers to manage. Such free beings would have to be self-managing. And the future would never again be easily predictable.

Sahila said...

Part two:

Here might be a first step toward such a great leap forward for human beings. Not a comprehensive formula, remember, but a first step:

If we closed all government schools, made free libraries universal, encouraged public discussion groups everywhere, sponsored apprenticeships for every young person who wanted one, let any person or group who asked to open a school do so—without government oversight—paid parents (if we have to pay anyone) to school their kids at home using the money we currently spend to confine them in school factories, and launched a national crash program in family revival and local economies, Amish and Mondragon style, the American school nightmare would recede.

That isn’t going to happen, I know.

The next best thing, then, is to deconstruct forced schooling, minimizing its school aspect, indoctrination, and maximizing its potential to educate through access to tools, models, and mentors. To go down this path requires the courage to challenge deeply rooted assumptions. We need to kill the poison plant we created. School reform is not enough. The notion of schooling itself must be challenged. Do this as an individual if your group won’t go along.

Here is a preliminary list of strategies to change the schools we have. I intend to develop the theme of change further in a future book, The Guerrilla Curriculum: How To Get An Education In Spite Of School, but I’m out of time and breath, so the brief agenda which follows will have to suffice for the moment.

As you read my ideas maintain a lively awareness of the implicit irony that to impose them as a counter system would require as dictatorial a central management like the current dismal reality. The trick, then, is not to impose them. My own belief based on long experience is that people given a degree of choice arrive without coercion at arrangements somewhat like these, and even improve upon them with ideas beyond my own imagination to conceive. Such is the genius of liberty.

Dismiss the army of reading and arithmetic specialists and the commercial empire they represent. Allow all contracts with colleges, publishers, consultants, and materials suppliers in these areas to lapse. Reading and arithmetic are easy things to learn, although nearly impossible to "teach." By the use of common sense, and proven methods that don’t cost much, we can solve a problem which is artificially induced and wholly imaginary. Take the profit out of these things and the disease will cure itself.

Let no school exceed a few hundred in size. Even that’s far too big. And make them local. End all unnecessary transportation of students at once; transportation is what the British used to do with hardened criminals. We don’t need it, we need neighborhood schools. Time to shut the school factories, profitable to the building and maintenance industries and to bus companies, but disaster for children. Neighborhoods need their own children and vice versa; it’s a reciprocating good, providing surprising service to both. The factory school doesn’t work anywhere—not in Harlem and not in Hollywood Hills, either. Education is always individualized, and individualization requires absolute trust and split-second flexibility. This should save taxpayers a bundle, too.

Make everybody teach. Don’t let anybody get paid for schooling kids without actually spending time with them. The industrial model, with pyramidal management and plenty of horizontal featherbedding niches, is based on ignorance of how things get done, or indifference to results. The administrative racket that gave New York City more administrators than all the nations of Europe combined in 1991, has got to die. It wastes billions, demoralizes teachers, parents, and students, and corrupts the common enterprise.

Sahila said...

Part Three:

Measure performance with individualized instruments. Standardized tests, like schools themselves, have lost their moral legitimacy. They correlate with nothing of human value and their very existence perverts curriculum into a preparation for these extravagant rituals. Indeed, all paper and pencil tests are a waste of time, useless as predictors of anything important unless the competition is rigged. As a casual guide they are probably harmless, but as a sorting tool they are corrupt and deceitful. A test of whether you can drive is driving. Performance testing is where genuine evaluation will always be found. There surely can’t be a normal parent on earth who doesn’t judge his or her child’s progress by performance.

Shut down district school boards. Families need control over the professionals in their lives. Decentralize schooling down to the neighborhood school building level, each school with its own citizen managing board. School corruption, like the national school milk price-rigging scandal of the 1990s, will cease when the temptations of bulk purchasing, job giveaways, and remote decision-making are ended.

Install permanent parent facilities in every school with appropriate equipment to allow parent partnerships with their own kids and others. Frequently take kids out of school to work with their own parents. School policies must deliberately aim to strengthen families.

Restore the primary experience base we stole from childhood by a slavish adherence to a utopian school diet of steady abstraction, or an equally slavish adherence to play as the exclusive obligation of children. Define primary experience as the essential core of early education, secondary data processing a supplement of substantial importance. But be sure the concepts of work, duty, obligation, loyalty, and service are strong components of the mix. Let them stand shoulder to shoulder with "fun." Let children engage in real tasks as Amish children do, not synthetic games and simulations that set them up for commercial variants of more-of-the-same for the rest of their lives.

Recognize that total schooling is psychologically and procedurally unsound. Wasteful and horrendously expensive. Give children some private time and space, some choice of subjects, methods, and associations, and freedom from constant surveillance. A strong element of volition, of choice, of anti-compulsion, is essential to education. That doesn’t mean granting a license to do anything. Anyway, whatever is chosen as "curriculum," the vital assistance that old can grant young is to demand that personal second or third best will not do—the favor you can bestow on your children is to show by your own example that hard, painstaking work is the toll an independent spirit charges itself for self-respect. Our colleges work somewhat better than our other schools because they understand this better.

Sahila said...

Part Four:

Admit there is no one right way to grow up successfully. One-system schooling has had a century and a half to prove itself. It is a ghastly failure. Children need the widest possible range of roads in order to find the right one to accommodate themselves. The premise upon which mass compulsion schooling is based is dead wrong. It tries to shoehorn every style, culture, and personality into one ugly boot that fits nobody. Tax credits, vouchers, and other more sophisticated means are necessary to encourage a diverse mix of different school logics of growing up. Only sharp competition can reform the present mess; this needs to be an overriding goal of public policy. Neither national nor state government oversight is necessary to make a voucher/tax credit plan work: a modicum of local control, a disclosure law with teeth, and a policy of client satisfaction or else is all the citizen protection needed. It works for supermarkets and doctors. It will work for schools, too, without national testing.

Teach children to think dialectically so they can challenge the hidden assumptions of the world about them, including school assumptions, so they can eventually generate much of their own personal curriculum and oversight. But teach them, too, that dialectical thinking is unsuited to many important things like love and family. Dialectical analysis is radically inappropriate outside its purview.

Arrange much of schooling around complex themes instead of subjects. "Subjects" have a real value, too, but subject study as an exclusive diet was a Prussian secret weapon to produce social stratification. Substantial amounts of interdisciplinary work are needed as a corrective.

Force the school structure to provide flex-time, flex-space, flex-sequencing, and flex-content so that every study can be personalized to fit the whole range of individual styles and performance.

Break the teacher certification monopoly so anyone with something valuable to teach can teach it. Nothing is more important than this.

Our form of schooling has turned us into dependent, emotionally needy, excessively childish people who wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. Our national dilemma is that too many of us are now homeless and mindless in the deepest sense—at the mercy of strangers.The beginning of answers will come only when people force government to return educational choice to everyone. But choice is meaningless without an absolute right to have progress monitored locally, too, not by an agency of the central government. Solzhenitsyn was right. The American founding documents didn’t mention school because the authors foresaw the path school would inevitably set us upon, and rejected it.

The best way to start offering some choice immediately is to give each public school the independence that private schools have. De-systematize them, grant each private, parochial, and homeschool equal access to public funds through vouchers administered as a loan program, along with tax credits. In time the need for even this would diminish, but my warning stands—if these keys to choice are tied to intrusive government oversight, as some would argue they must be, they will only hasten the end of the American libertarian experiment. Vouchers are only a transition to what is really called for: an economy of independent livelihoods, a resurrection of principles over pragmatism, and restoration of the private obligation, self-imposed, to provide a living wage to all who work for you.

Sahila said...

Final part:

School can never deal with really important things. Only education can teach us that quests don’t always work, that even worthy lives most often end in tragedy, that money can’t prevent this; that failure is a regular part of the human condition; that you will never understand evil; that serious pursuits are almost always lonely; that you can’t negotiate love; that money can’t buy much that really matters; that happiness is free.

A twenty-five-year-old school dropout walked the length of the planet without help, a seventeen-year-old school dropout worked a twenty-six-foot sailboat all by herself around the girdle of the globe. What else does it take to realize the horrifying limitations we have inflicted on our children? School is a liar’s world. Let us be done with it.

Maureen said...

This is related to a post I left on Harium's enrollment thread. Here's a vastly(!) expanded version of it (sorry for the length, but it's a complicated issue that I think many schools must be dealing with):

I have been struggling with an oddity in the current SPS budget process that underfunds basic classroom teaching for schools which enroll special needs students in their general ed classrooms.

Under the Weighted Staffing Standards system of budgeting, bilingual kids and kids who have IEPs do not count as 100% of a student because they spend a certain percent of their time with a resource room or bilingual teacher. That means that a classroom that is filled to the contractual maximum, but contains some percent of IEP or bilingual students, does not generate enough 'credit' with the district to completely pay for the classroom teacher.

For example: there are 186 students projected to be assigned to the TOPS middle school grades, but because 8 are bilingual and 17 are classified as level 2 special ed, their calculated 'contact time' means we only qualify for 5.6 teachers, not the 6.0 we physically need to cover those 186 kids. We couldn't increase class size to get those teachers paid for even if we wanted to because they are at contractual max.

The absurdity of this becomes very clear if you take the extreme cases: If we didn't admit any special needs kids, the 6.0 classroom teachers would be covered 100%. If every one of our 186 kids had an IEP (level 2 special ed), then SPS would say we only needed 4.8 middle school teachers. If we couldn't scrape together the cash from our discretionary funds or use fundraising dollars, we would have to have 38.75 kids in each class (except, of course we couldn't do that because of the contract.)

I understand that these special needs students do bring some credit that is applied towards resource room teachers, but that does not mitigate the need for a 1.0 teacher in front of every full classroom for six hours a day. Do you see what a ridiculous position this puts schools into? And doesn't it create an incentive to drive away IEP kids or try not to classify them?

In addition to the issue of Level 2 and Bilingual kids, TOPS (and many other schools) also accommodates Level 4A Special Ed students who only appear on the ‘list’ of their self contained special ed teacher but who, in reality, spend parts of their days in the general ed classrooms. Those students are not accounted for when calculating the general ed teachers’ class sizes so, in effect, push the classes past the contractual maximum. Our school, as it should, accommodates these students to their highest abilities, but the WSS system does not acknowledge this.

In the past, classrooms with a certain number of special needs students were permitted to reduce class size but retain funding for a 1.0 classroom teacher. The switch to the WSS system ended that accommodation. This creates a disincentive to accommodate the needs of our most vulnerable students and punishes schools which do their best to educate all students at the highest possible level.

zb said...

"ZB, I meant are districts going to (or are getting) so many students with a diagnosis that they may have to develop of scale of what they can do for so many students?"

My understanding is that they are currently forbidden by law from doing what you describe (i.e. limiting availability of services because the pot of services is finite). My understanding (and I'm not an expert) is that that if you have a IDEA qualifying disability, you must be offered an appropriate education, and that cost is not an official variable in that definition.

And, Maureen, yes, you said what I wanted to say, but in many fewer words: "in our current system, the money and the services follow a diagnosis, not the need."

I think that worry is worth discussing, and am willing to discuss it in spite of an unwillingness to hold much truck with Rosemond (who does indeed appear to have an agenda).

Sahila said...

On topic - regarding learning disabilities...

from:
http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/3d.htm

The Sudbury Valley School

I know a school for kids ages three to eighteen that doesn’t teach anybody to read, yet everyone who goes there learns to do it, most very well. It’s the beautiful Sudbury Valley School, twenty miles west of Boston in the old Nathaniel Bowditch "cottage" (which looks suspiciously like a mansion), a place ringed by handsome outbuildings, a private lake, woods, and acres of magnificent grounds. Sudbury is a private school, but with a tuition under $4,000 a year it’s considerably cheaper than a seat in a New York City public school. At Sudbury kids teach themselves to read; they learn at many different ages, even into the teen years (though that’s rare). When each kid is ready he or she self-instructs, if such a formal label isn’t inappropriate for such a natural undertaking. During this time they are free to request as much adult assistance as needed. That usually isn’t much.

In thirty years of operation, Sudbury has never had a single kid who didn’t learn to read. All this is aided by a magnificent school library on open shelves where books are borrowed and returned on the honor system. About 65 percent of Sudbury kids go on to good colleges. The place has never seen a case of dyslexia. (That’s not to say some kids don’t reverse letters and such from time to time, but such conditions are temporary and self-correcting unless institutionalized into a disease.) So Sudbury doesn’t even teach reading yet all its kids learn to read and even like reading. What could be going on there that we don’t understand?

Charlie Mas said...

Let's not fall into the error of presuming that tuition represents what is spent to educate a student at a private school or the mistake of presuming the average spending per student at public school represents the spending for a typical student at a public school.

spedvocate said...

Good discussion. Let's start with WSS that Maureen brings up.
If we didn't admit any special needs kids, the 6.0 classroom teachers would be covered 100%.

First off, each special education student generates double the number of dollars into the district than kids without IEPs. Their general ed dollars AND their special ed dollars are supoosed to follow them throughout their day. If the kid never steps into general ed... all his basic ed money is supposed to go to special education. If he spends half his day in general ed, half his basic ed money goes to general ed. All of his special ed money goes to special ed.

Secondly, Maureen is exactly correct. The weighted staffing standards essentially strips these funds from the students. Many principals refuse to allow special education students into general ed classrooms... no matter what it says on their IEPs. That is because they only are counted as 20% of a student. The law requires that disabled students are are to be educated in the general ed classroom the maximum extent possible. Maximum... not however much a principal would like. The students are entitled to their general ed seat, no matter how the district decides to fund them... even if it is by the WSS. The WSS is just another excuse to keep students segregated.

The point here. It isn't special ed that is underfunded... it's basic ed.

spedvocate said...

Okay, so is a learning disability low on the scale versus autism? Is this the battle being fought between parents (or will it become one as we all chase after education dollars)? Is this the battle that districts are facing as they face more and more students with a disorder and have to stretch the Special Education dollars further?


Uh. Learning disability and autism aren't really remotely similar. This comment represents a total lack in understanding or experience. Profoundly LD students... still aren't autistic. A less autistic student, doesn't look LD. Some students are both. It isn't a "scale". All disabilities come in varying degrees, but they don't meld into 1 another.

The "battle" isn't in stretching special ed dollars either. That also suggests a deep lack in understanding of this issue. Special ed dollars are PER PUPIL. The more pupils, the more dollars. Pretty simple, and that is the motivation to diagnose a disability... you get more money. Duh.

Maureen said...

spedvocate you say: First off, each special education student generates double the number of dollars into the district than kids without IEPs.

I was pretty sure that was true. Can you tell me where that shows up on a building's budget? Is it part of the "Per student Allocation?"

The purplebook wssmodel says (for K-8s ):

Non-staff dollars per student are $140.50 for K-5 and $290 for 6-8. ....Free and Reduced Lunch allocations are $87.74 for half-day kindergarten, $175.48 for
full-day kindergarten, $199.69 for first through 3rd grades and $254.15 for fourth and fifth
and $439.72 for sixth through eighth.


So it doesn't indicate any additional 'cash' for kids with IEPs. (over and above what gen ed gets) My quick calculation shows me that our "Per Student Allocation" matches up reasonably well with those non-staff dollars, so I guess as long as those dollars are put toward the classroom teachers, it's a wash.(?) Of course that means that they expect those "non-staff" dollars are going to staff--that seems odd?

I'm guessing that the extra dollars that follow the kids with IEP are going to pay for the higher average cost per kid of the resource room and/or self-contained special ed instructors and IAs?

spedvocate said...

Maureen, although each student with an IEP generates twice the money as those without an IEP... that money doesn't show up at the building. The district uses the money it receives from the state on behalf of the disabled students, to fund the various special education programs. And, the district skims the special ed student's basic ed dollars off. But, the basic education funding is supposed to follow the students, in and out of special eduation. The basic education funding is supposed to be spent on both general and special education. Special education funding was never supposed to be the sole source of funding for special education students. It was supposed to cover their excess costs.

Yes, the purple book does not describe, in any way, how special ed students will be funded while they are in special ed. Obviously, the district is spending money on special ed staff. That funding isn't listed in the purple book. The purple book only indicates how general ed will be funded. It only demonstrates how buildings are funded NOT to serve special education students in the least restrictive environment. If self-contained students do go to general ed.... there won't be a whole seat there for them. Who wants to sit in half a seat?

PS. Here is the best website discussing these issues. In particular, click on the position paper on special education funding for details.

emeraldkity said...

Rosemond is not someone that was ever on my extensive shelf of parenting & education books.
I feel that learning differences can be un/misdiagnosed quite frequently.
This can be harmful depending on extent of support &/or tracking.

For daughter with LD's who attended a private school that the Gates family is quite familiar with- the interdisciplinary nature of the curriculum, the small class sizes and the flexible grouping made "pullout time" ( or even diagnosis) unnecessary.

However her sister, who is dyslexic ( I have been told that this is a diagnosis that SPS does not acknowledge as there is specific learning protocol for dyslexia- which SPS does not use
) was labeled " specific learning disability" instead. Which meant not much- an hour of pullout a day- sitting working on homework, while teacher dealt with the behavior issues of the other kids ( I sat in on several sessions to find out what was going on).

It would have been much more effective in the long run- to have helped her appropriately.


But neither of her choices worked well - to be in an overcrowded classroom, while maybe a support teacher gave her extra help or she was made conspicuous by either the getting of the help or by leaving to go to the resource class.

However, when she left for resource, the classroom teacher didn't make any effort to pass on work that was covered while she was gone- as she assumed the identical material was covered in resource room.
It wasn't.

While those things could be blamed on the teachers- the principal IMO was also at fault in the hiring and leadership for said teachers.

spedvocate said...

The notion of disability... is largely a cultural one. As our culture has decided that students are supposed to fit to a strict standardized mold... we need a vocabulary to describe those who can not fit that standard mold. We have standardized tests 4 times a year now, noting every possible discrepancy and deviation from the "standard". Fall too far, one way or the other, and it may be useful to describe and label this situation as a "disability"... especially when money and help are available for labeling a disability.

The problem with the label, and special ed... as EK notes, is that it is often a track to nowhere. And, general educators feel free to pass the buck and leave the student to somebody else, usually a resource room teacher sitting in a room doing whatever she wants.

Teachermom said...

The resource room model really does not fit the elementary model well, because there are not discrete "periods" that are school-wide.

However, it is not a matter of the gen. ed. teacher "passing the buck" and the resource teacher "doing whatever she wants". It is a very complicated process to schedule an elementary resource room, and special ed teachers are expected to deliver specially designed instruction, not just whatever the kid brings from class (though we help with that, too).

Special ed is not the only "pull-out" program, and none of them are ideal at the elementary level. Ideally, we would have smaller class sizes and "push-in" services only. But the funding is not available for that. I currently work with kids from 11 different gen ed classrooms - how much time do you think I can spend in each of these rooms?

This myth of children being over-identified to generate funds really sends me over the edge. Did you know that special ed funding is only determined by the number of special ed students enrolled at the Oct. headcount deadline? The whole $30 dollars that comes for supplies for each kid is also determined at the beginning of the year. So identifying kids throughout the year gives me more work and no more money.

The main problem right now with special education is that there is no funding for other types of intervention/the RTI model. So for some schools, the only way to get any help for a student who is struggling is to qualify them for special ed. If RTI were a reality instead of a cool acronym to talk about, there would be way fewer kids identified for special ed.

Teachermom said...

Oh yeah, I am a special ed resource teacher and a parent of a child with special needs who does not currently qualify for special ed.

And I do agree somewhat with Rosemond saying that we expect kids to all do well in everything. And that is not realistic. But I have not seen gen.ed teachers act like this was news to them and that they had to get all kids with any lagging skills out of their room.

spedParent said...

Thanks TeacherMom, for your dedication to students with disabilities. I think everybody realizes that the situation with special-ed isn't due to the teachers working in the trenches. And that isolated resource rooms, instead of "push in" as you call it, is a result of inadequate funding. You must be at a really great school if you don't see general ed teachers gladly washing their hands of students in special education. You are right about RTI. That is really just a powerpoint presentation.

Toni said...
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Toni said...
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Toni said...

I've read several of John Rosemond's books (Teen Proofing, Ending the Homework Hassle, and Diseasing of America's children).

I love his refreshing, back to basics, parent the way grandma did, approach. He's straight forward and doesn't use any psycho babble. He cuts right through all of the crap and gets straight to the point, although you do have to get through some jesus praising along the way.

And no, he's not a charter school plant or proponent. He does however have an agenda which is to make himself a whole lot of money selling his books and doing tours....nothing wrong with that though it's the American dream. He's was a practicing family and teen psychologist for many years so is certainly qualified to give out his advice, whether you agree with what he has to say or not.

ARB said...

Some random thoughts:

-Because I wouldn't sell my soul to have my sweet special child wake up typical this morning.

-This article demeans the daily struggles of parents and teachers and special needs children.

-IEPs aren't handed out like candy. There is a fairly high threshold to meet. After that, you need to obtain a set of steel cohones to deal with SPS.

-Parents who suspect their child has autism usually have to wait 6+ months to even be tested (there is an accepted medical/psychological test, called ADOS). It isn't diagnosed on a whim.

I could say more, but I'll stop here.

Charlie Mas said...

I don't know if I agree with him or disagree with him. From this brief column in the Times it appears to me that HE disagrees with him.

He clearly thinks that kids should get individualized instruction that addresses their individual differences, but he clearly dislikes the process by which that individualized instruction is rationed. More than anything else, he clearly dislikes how those differences are labeled.

For a guy that complains about the focus on labels, he sure focuses a lot on labels.

Here's the crux of the problem: he equates a diagnosis with the statement that something is "wrong" rather than just "different". Only the diagnosis doesn't mean that something is wrong unless he injects that connotation into it. He could just as easily interpret the diagnosis as "different" without any sense of wrongness about it.

For example, some people are left-handed. That's a real physiological difference from right-handedness. It's not the result of a perspective; it's real. But it isn't wrong; it's just different from right-handedness. No big deal (unless you make a big deal of it), they just need some different instruction or accomodation - like left-handed scissors.

Some people have more trouble decoding text than most folks. We don't have to believe that means that there's something wrong with them; that is their natural state. It is, as Mr. Rosemond would say, as God made them. How can that be wrong? It is, however, different from most folks. No big deal (unless you make a big deal of it), they just need some different instruction or accomodation.

So let's not get hung up on labels - whether they are there or not. Instead, let's focus on getting students the instruction they each need to succeed, which isn't going to be the same for all of them.

Toni said...

"-Parents who suspect their child has autism usually have to wait 6+ months to even be tested "

Only if you rely on the district for testing, which personally, would be my last stop. Your child's physician should be able to diagnose Autism and if he/she can't or won't they can refer you to an Autism specialist. If you are low income you can use your Medicaid plan. You do not need to rely on the district.

I don't think Rosemond is at all saying that children with Autism should not be served. I think he is saying that way to many kids are being diagnosed (and medicated in many cases) with all kinds of different "disorders" when in fact many of these kids are perfectly normal, just different, as Charlie points out with the left handed kid.

ARB said...

This was Seattle Children's Hospital's wait time for ADOS testing as of last summer.

zb said...

I've heard a similar issue that people are raising here about bilingual pull-out education -- the lack/inability of good coordination between the general ed/bilingual teachers. The story I've heard is the naive expectation that the general ed curriculum would be "repeated" in the ELL classroom (but with language support).

That plan seemed to me (not an teacher, not bilingual, not . . . so my opinion is uneducated) seemed obviously untenable to me.

What I see is that both the general ed/special ed teacher would require planning time (and planning time together) in order to be able to coordinate the education of their common students. I don't see this, or any of the other necessary changes that seem to follow from a plan to serve students within the general ed classroom happening very well.

hschinske said...

Of course there are gray areas where we don't know whether something is a variant of normal or something that should be considered "wrong with" the person. I have severe, but correctable, myopia. I happen to think of it as something wrong with me, but it would be all the same if I thought of my elongated eyeballs as a variant of normal. I'd still buy glasses.

Come to think of it, though, I really don't want anyone thinking my degree of myopia is "normal" enough that they start letting people like me drive without corrective lenses.(Mr. Magoo wouldn't be in it.) So maybe I am invested in the label after all.

I've quoted Fernette and Brock Eide on the subject of labels before: they say that labels are like lenses, where the right one helps you see everything more clearly, but the wrong one makes everything worse.

Helen Schinske

spedParent said...

Toni and Charlie, you seem not to understand this issue very well.

Toni, to get to see an autism specialist PRIVATELY... there's at least a six month wait. And then.. maybe you will want a second opinion. You won't be diagnosed for a very long time. And, 6 months is an eternity for a toddler. If you are referenced by a school district for possible special education qualification, they have to see you in something like 30 days... at which point they will determine whether or not you qualify for services. If you're school aged... theres a whole process which starts with a SIT meeting. From the SIT meeting they're supposed to figure out if the general ed teachers can do anything. Often the SIT process is completely bypassed or minimized. Services must begin immediately if you are found to qualify. Qualification is pretty variable...some schools do hand it out like candy. Other schools don't.

As to labeling (or not labeling) being preferable. Well, sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not good. And no. It isn't like "left handed". There's a whole lot of baggage that goes with this. Being in special education, whatever program it is, often leads to marginalization, and marginal tracks of education with reduced opportunity and reduced expecations. So... sure, there's some help available (maybe)... but then you may be tracked away from many opportunities.

I think what Rosemond is saying is... "Wouldn't it be a lot better if teachers just did what each kid needed? Wouldn't that be better than tracking and diagnosing and medicalizing? Doesn't the whole funding following the label create an incentive to do the wrong thing?"

You may agree or not... but that's his point.

And, by golly, of course it would be better if teachers would just do the right thing by each kid. But, historically teachers and schools have failed to teach students with disabilities. So, congress passed IDEA and we have IEPs... to make them do what they wouldn't do otherwise.

Charlie Mas said...

I understand that there is a lot of baggage that comes with the label, but that baggage is there because folks like Rosemond choose to apply it. The baggage comes not so much with the label as with the idea that means "wrong" instead of "different". Believe me, the choice of left-handedness wasn't thoughtless. It used to be that left-handedness was thought to be "wrong" instead of different and it came with a whole lot of baggage. Children, in the twentieth century, had the left-handedness beaten out of them.

We can learn, as a society, to remove the baggage from the label.

And I didn't get the vibe that this guy was boo-hooing over the stigma or the loss of academic opportunity that comes with the label. I got the feeling that he was bemoaning the "entitlement" that he perceived as coming with the label.

spedParent said...

Look, a label like "mental retardation" is as wrong as it gets. There's no..."well, you're just different" about an MR label. The only way to beat the baggage out of that label, is pretty much to get rid of the label. Currently, it nearly exclusively used for minority students... and others with no way to remove the baggage.

hschinske said...

spedParent, your comment is going to be unintelligible to the people who think of mental retardation mostly in terms of obvious syndromes such as Down's, and aren't aware of students potentially being misclassified. Unless you mean that even people with something like classic Down syndrome should have no labels, which I can't agree with (downright dangerous when you think of all the serious health problems that could get missed).

Helen Schinske

zb said...

Downs is one of the clearest labels there is, medically speaking, since it can be assigned on the basis of a genetic test, and does not, like most other syndromes, involve a categorical definition of a spectrum of abilities compared to a norming population.

And, even Downs, one of the most labellings of any qualifying SpEd syndrome, produces a vast variety of abilities. I've recently had the opportunity to learn this personally, and, though I am fairly well read on the science of developmental disabilities, I was shocked to realize how poor my understanding was, until I was actually confronted with a particular individual, with a particular spectrum of abilities and needs. "Downs" as a label might have told me things I needed to consider and look for, but it certainly didn't describe the full spectrum of characteristics that defined an individual child's educational (and health) needs.

And that's with Downs, where we can say "yes" or "no" with about as much clarity as exists anywhere. Everything else is just more complciated than that.

The development of the human mind is a mysterious and magical thing, bound to frustrate anyone who is seeking simplicity.

I like having this theoretical discussion, because it forces us to consider what we think, but I do also think that some of the discussion is semantic ("label" v not label, entitlement v need, etc.).

I think many of us actually agree with each other, that some children have needs that are not typical, with variable degrees of atypicality, and that the educational system needs to address these needs (all of them).

spedParent said...

Ok. I'll clarify. A lot of labels like "mental retardation" have little benefit to the labeled, and lots of downside. Most people who are labeled "mentally retarded" have no other label or diagnosis. I mention it only because it is the most stigmatizing label of all, and is almost exclusively used on minorities at this point. Nobody would consider "mental retardation" as simply a difference... it would always be considered a problem, a huge problem... and that something was "wrong". (unlike left-handedness)

Accuracy isn't the issue at all. Limiting a person by a label IS an issue. Something like Down Syndrome is the name of a known natural phenomema, caused by a trisomy, which is readily identifiable on inspection (usually). Of course it is useful to have the word, and to make the dianosis. However, I'm sure most people with DS would prefer not to identified primarily by their disability.

Contrast "mentally retarded" to left-handed... and you see the stigmatization isn't really comparable, even at the height of the left-handed stigmatization. With left-handedness, kids were simply forced to do things in a less optimal way because other people didn't know any better. And, they were sometimes thought to be obstinate.

Sahila said...

Actually, left-handed people have been stigmatised for millenia... to the extent that left-handedness was in some cultures seen as a mark of evil, the devil and children were forced (beaten) to change to right-handedness...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-handedness

Teachermom said...

Mental retardation, or intellectual disability, outside of other clear "syndromes" is most often caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. This syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or Fetal Alcohol Effects, runs on a continuum similar to that of autism. This disorder is not often diagnosed, because it requires the mother to admit to drinking while pregnant, and diagnosis by a very well-trained professional. And kids with FAS or FAE can often appear typical in many ways. They also often have "borderline IQ's", which make learning difficult in conjunction with their neurological deficits, but none of it recognized as a "disability".

Schools can only identify an intellectual disability by recognizing a low cognitive test score with commensurate achievement, indicating that there is not a "learning disability".

Another common factor to children with intellectual disabilities is genetic predisposition (parent(s) with intellectual disabilities). It certainly can be misdiagnosed, especially if cognitive tests are, in fact, racially biased.

I have witnessed many times a student with an intellectual disability be labeled "learning disabled" rather than "mentally retarded", as the former is considered a much more palatable label and still gets services to the student.