Wednesday, August 26, 2015

@arneduncan sucker punches special needs students

As if the Common Core and standardized testing weren't enough. 
As if the funding cuts to public education weren't enough.
As if increased class sizes and decreased services weren't enough.
As if the black listing of education professionals wasn't enough.
As if the closing of neighborhood schools in high-poverty districts wasn't enough.
As if the expansion of segregationist charter schools wasn't enough.
As if teaching to the test instead of teaching to the students wasn't enough.
As if the myth of education 'reform' magic wasn't enough. 
As if all of this, and more, wasn't enough to cripple public education, last week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered a sucker punch to special needs students:

The U.S. Department of Education is doing away with a policy that allowed states to consider some students with disabilities academically proficient without meeting grade-level standards. 
The agency said in a final rule published late last week in the Federal Register that states will no longer be allowed to administer tests to students with disabilities that are based on modified academic achievement standards. 
Previously, states could count up to 2 percent of their students as proficient under the No Child Left Behind Act for taking such exams. But now the Education Department is saying no more to the policy known as the “2 percent rule.” 
“We believe that the removal of the authority for states to define modified academic achievement standards and to administer assessments based on those standards is necessary to ensure that students with disabilities are held to the same high standards as their non-disabled peers,” the agency said in the rule, which will officially take effect Sept. 21. 
The move is designed to ensure that students with disabilities who are capable of meeting general education standards with proper supports are not shortchanged, the Education Department said. Any state still using modified standards and assessments will have one year to phase them out. 
Despite the change, children with the most significant cognitive disabilities — as many as 1 percent of all students — will still be allowed to take tests based on “alternate academic achievement standards” under the rule.
In issuing the regulations, the Education Department cited new research showing that students with disabilities who struggle with reading and math can achieve at grade-level standards if  provided “appropriate instruction, services and supports.” What’s more, the agency said that nearly all states have new standardized tests “designed to facilitate the valid, reliable and fair assessment of most students, including students with disabilities who previously took an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards.” (emphasis mine)

The two key words in this quote are 'can' and 'if'. Students can achieve if "provided with appropriate instruction, services and supports." But here are a few fundamental flaws with that 'if/can' hypothesis:

  1. What if "the appropriate instruction, services and supports" are missing because of massive budget cuts faced in every state in this country?
  2. What if "the appropriate instruction, services and supports" are in place, but the child still can't pass the same standardized tests as the kid who got a full ride to Princeton?
  3. What if "the appropriate instruction, services and supports" are in place, but there are other factors outside the scope of the school which prevent the child from passing standardized tests? 
  4. Who determines which students with disabilities are "capable of meeting general education standards"? Teachers or edupreneurs?
  5. Will this now be written into a child's IEP? What if the parents disagree? What if they won't sign it? Who will protect their rights as parents to make the best decisions for their child?
  6. Who conducted the research?
  7. Was it subjected to peer review?
  8. Was it field tested?
  9. Where is the evidence that this is sound education policy?
  10. Who is benefitting financially from this change?

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg. I'm sure parents of special needs students have many more. 

Look, anyone can be president, if they raise a bajillion dollars and spend every waking moment of their life campaigning. But what are the odds of that actually happening? Granted, there are varying degrees of learning and developmental disabilities, and some special education students are in fact very bright, but what are the odds on this bet? And more importantly, why is this bet so important? Based on everything that has happened in public education since NCLB, my BS meter alarm bells are ringing off the hook on this one. It seems to be another one-size-fits-all policy in a very long list of one-size-fits-all policies designed to churn out one-size-fits-all students who will be magically 'college and career ready'. But since most won't be able to afford college, at least they'll be ready for this exciting career:


So, when does Washington start hacking away at the Americans With Disabilities Act? When do we start removing handicapped bathroom stalls, parking spaces, wheelchair ramps, modified elevators, service dogs, automatic door openers, etc? After all, with the 'approprite services and supports', disabled people should be able to get around just like the rest of us... right? 

Here's the contact info for this lovely piece of legislation:
  • Monique Chism
    Director, Student Achievement and School Accountability Programs
    Phone 202 260-0826
    Room 3W224, 400 Maryland Avenue SW.,
    Washington DC 20202
I plan on contacting her myself to get a copy of the "new research" that proves this move is academic best practice. I suggest all you parents of special needs children do the same. If I'm wrong, if the research really does support this change, I'll print a retraction.