Monday, August 07, 2006

NCLB And Special Education: A Reader's Response

From one of our recent posts:
U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is giving all of us a reminder that, under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, students with learning disabilities are expected to read, do math, and understand science (at the same grade-level proficiency as non-learning disabled students) no later than 2014.
We went on to consider some of the ramifications that the Dept. of Education's mandate had for educators who work in public schools.

One of our readers named Mike had some
considerations of his own among the commenters:
Well. Praise be to The Spellings (has she replaced The Oprah yet?), the all-knowing. So we have "...the soft bigotry of low expectations,"
a "new focus on ensuring that students with disabilities are held to high expectations," and the assurance that " Students with disabilities can meet high standards...". How could The Spellings be wrong?

Ok, ok, so I'm cynical, but it was Lilly Tomlin who said "no matter how cynical I get, I can't keep up."

It's just another visit to Lake Woebegon World where all of the children are above average. This reminds me of several of my colleagues who work in the rocky fields of special education. They teach 17 year old students who will never read beyond a first grade level, let alone comprehend all of what they read. Their hearts break daily as they work with students who struggle mightily without success to master first grade math, or having apparently learned an elementary math concept, are unable to recall it the next day. They know that many of their students will never be gainfully employed and do their best to help them find placement in "special" industries where they can live in group homes and their extremely limited abilities might be put to some use. And because they love these children, they will work just as hard tomorrow as they did today to teach them the smallest concepts and skills.

What's that you say, these kids exist but are a tiny fraction of the school population? Perhaps, but that depends on where you teach, doesn't it? And I see no exemption for these students in NCLB; the opposite seems true.

Even on the fringes of special education, there are a great many kids in regular classes who will do their best, but will never pass grade level math, science, English, social studies, etc. This is know to any competent teacher, yet The Spellings is oblivious to it. NCLB exemption for the student who passes every core subject on grade level except one? No.

Fine, then. Let's take the next logical step. The government seems very concerned with student inactivity and obesity. NCLB is working untold wonders in academia, let's have a new initiative for physical fitness. We'll call it No Child Left To Bloat (NCLTB) initiative!

By 2014, every child in America will:

(1) Be able to dunk a basketball.

(2) Be able to hit a home run.

(3) Run the 100 in 9.0.

(4) Be able to benchpress 250 pounds.

(5) Be able to run a sub 4 minute mile.

What's that you say? Little Mary who is only 5'2" will never dunk a basketball? Oh the soft bigotry of low expectations! What's that? Poor Johnny is so disabled that he can't swing a bat, let alone hit a homer? Nonsense! We have a new focus on ensuring that students with disabilities are held to high expectations. What's that again? Tommy is in a wheelchair and can't cover a mile at all, let alone in less than four minutes? Students with disabilities can meet high standards!

The irony, dear reader, is that we would never foist such idiocy on the realm of sports. We understand that the most gifted make the varsity, and the rest, something less or nothing at all. Yet, we make no such rational distinction in the realm of academics.

Praise be to The Spellings, who after all, gets away with it.
As a public school teacher who works with children in the classroom each and every day, it's somewhat depressing to know that, according to the mandates of the federal government, I will be considered an "underperforming" teacher if "only" 34 out of 35 of my students pass their standardized tests.

I wonder what kind of federal government we would have if we voters were to ever hold Washington's
well-entrenched ruling elite to the same level of accountability for their performance in office?

Food for thought.
See our latest EduPosts right here.