The New Special Education Reform Plan: Why Are Parents and Teachers Wary and Suspicious?

“… the aim of leadership should be to improve the performance of man and machine, to improve quality, to increase output, and simultaneously to bring pride of workmanship to people. Put in a negative way, the aim of leadership is not merely to find and record failures of men, but to remove the causes of failure: to help people to do a better job with less effort.” Edward Demming

In 1975 the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) became law, states and school districts were required to provide appropriate services to students with disabilities (SWD). A USDOE website provides a detailed description of the wide range of regulations relating to students with disabilities – see here

The law requires that each disabled student has an Individual Education Plan (IEP), a detailed document constructed by teachers and related service providers, in consultation with the parent, which describes the services that must be provided to each student and the educational and socio-emotional goals  which the teacher and other providers must strive to assist the student in achieving.

Every couple of years the Board of Education and their successor, the Department of Education changes the names of categories of services – acronyms run wild! Change is the rule in the world of Special Education.

One thing does not change: teachers of students with disabilities are passionate about providing the appropriate services for “their kids;” and parents have formed a range of advocacy organizations to speak up for their children. (See ARISE Coalition website here).

Two years ago the current folks in charge introduced “phase one” of a new, or shall we say “yet another” Special Education Plan .

In September, 2012 all schools will be fully implementing the new plan.

* Students with an IEP newly entering the school system will be assigned to their neighborhood school (grades K-8). No more busing (except if required by the IEP).

* the weighted student funding formula will be applied to students with IEPs, rather than assigning classes to schools to match the disability each student with an IEP will carry their weighted cost. The weighted student funding formula will decrease dollars in every category except “20-60%” which is sharply increased (students with a disability that requires placement in a self-contained class and spend between 20 and 60% of the time in integrated classrooms).

* principals/teachers/parents will be “encouraged” to assign students in self-contained classes to increasing amounts of time in “integrated” classrooms (classes with a content teacher and a special education teacher).

Over 500 teachers crowded into the Shanker Hall at UFT Headquarters to listen to the Department explain the plan and answer an hour of questions.

The Department justified the changes by pointing to a swath of research that shows that students with disabilities who spend increasing amounts of tine in integrated classrooms have better academic as well as socio-emotional progress.

If this is the case, why are teachers and parents so suspicious?

The Department has spun out initiative after initiative – many of which are viewed as attempts to erode the voice of the union, marginalize teachers and/or manipulate numbers.

When the powerful say “trust us,” the weak tend to get pregnant.

“I’ve learned that it takes years to build up trust, and it only takes suspicion, not proof, to destroy it”

Teachers and parents have “learned” not to believe the Department; trust has been shattered by endless dissembling.

* Is the aim of the “reform” to save money?

* Parents and teachers in schools know best what is the appropriate placement for children, not bureaucrats at Tweed.

* How will it be possible for teachers to work together without built in common planning time?

* Because of the dollar incentive principals will coerce teachers and parents to accept changes in student IEPs whether or not it is in the interest of the student.

* Has Phase 1 worked, or, are you just foisting an ill-conceived initiative on teachers, parents and kids?

In September 2012 all teachers will be expected to incorporate the Common Core State Standards into classroom instruction, remember, the CCSS is not a curriculum, and, fully implement the Special Education Reform.

Your supervisor will ask you to delineate how your lesson plan reflects the implementation of the CCSS and how are you differentiating instruction for the SWDs assigned to your class.

Teacher in School A: At this point I have no idea.

Teacher in School B: This year all the teachers on the grade, including the Special Education and ELL teachers who serve our grade got together every week during common planning time. We set up a Dropbox account that “houses” all our unit plans, lesson plans, assessments, rubrics and samples of student work. We were able to share our work. Next year we are planning to set up an intervisitation schedule so that we can actually see what our colleagues are doing first hand, and, perhaps down the road begin a library of video clips of lessons.

In far too few schools around the city (School B) teachers actually collaborate … in far too many schools (School A) change is viewed as punishment.

I do not know whether the changes proposed, that seem sensible on the surface will work. I do know that in a combative climate, in a climate in which the mayor is constantly denigrating the union teachers lack trust.

I fear the Special Ed Reform is doomed before it starts.

You cannot say “trust me” in a climate where fear, and intimidation is the norm.

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