Sunday, December 08, 2019

On Ignoring Special Needs

In an ICT, or Integrated Co-Teaching class, you can have only 12 students with IEPs. That's the rule. However, in a non-ICT class, perhaps yours or mine, you can have 34. It's an odd phenomenon.

You see, there are rules regarding special education classes, and there are rules regarding special education students. Many are driven by student Individual Education Programs, or IEPs. But there are some curious oddities about IEPs. I'm far from expert, but I've learned a few things along the way.

One thing I've learned is that ICT classes, essentially classes with a mix of special education and general education students, are not required in high schools. They either have them or they don't. If they do, the notion appears to be that the special education students will be encouraged and/ or positively influenced by the general education students, and also get additional support from the special education teacher in the classroom. Of course the students will be selected for this program based on individual educational needs, and their IEPs will reflect them.

That sounds reasonable on its face. However, in practice, it may not be as good as it sounds. Some administrators will look at the classes, see that there are two teachers, and assign troubled general education students to them.

Look, this student has failed algebra twice, seems to act out in class all the time, and does not appear to be improving. Let's dump him into this ICT class and hope with two teachers he'll do better.

This is plainly detrimental to the special education students. For one thing, the extra attention they're supposed to get will be diverted. One or both teachers will likely have to deal with whatever issues the troubled general education students have, and the special education students will almost certainly get shortchanged as a result. Not only that, but by stacking the deck in this class the special education students are no longer mixing with a cross-section of general education. How will special ed. students be positively influenced by an overabundance of gen. ed. students with plainly negative histories?

I'd argue that administrators who assign troubled gen. ed. students to IEP classes hoping they will get extra help are ill-informed at best, cynical and dishonest at worst. They're clearly doing a disservice to special education students, and evidently care about them not at all.

There are further issues with ICT classes. Imagine your school has ICT classes for core subjects--English, math, social studies and science. Of course students take other classes. Let's say a student is assigned ICT for those subjects, and then she's placed in a mainstream gen. ed. Spanish class. It boggles my imagination to believe that a student needs extra support in her native language, but no help whatsoever in a foreign language.

We Americans are generally poor language learners to begin with. We live in a big country and seem to collectively assume little need of speaking foreign languages. I'd argue that all of us, not only special education students, need extra support in language learning. It seems likely to me that special education students would need even more support. Speaking another language can open up another world, but if you just get lost in the shuffle, the class is just another waste of time.

Now let's assume there are no ICT classes in your school, and that special education classes are largely self-contained groups of 12-15. Imagine that a student needs to be in small classes for English, math, science and social studies to function effectively. That same student could easily be in a class of 34 studying Spanish, or some other language. In fact, that student could be in a required music class with 49 other students.

Personally, I wonder how anyone can learn anything in a class of 50. Motivated music students request classes like chorus, band, or guitar. Perhaps a functioning music group with 50 members is an exception. This notwithstanding, the least motivated students can end up in required music classes of 50. It's plainly idiotic to place the least motivated students in super-large classes. It's even worse to place special education students, who likely as not need special attention, in such classes.

I don't write IEPs, but I suppose if I did I'd have to write them around courses my school actually offered. I understand schools are already overburdened and underfunded. My school is over 200% capacity and probably the most overcrowded school in the city. So it's not necessarily the fault of individual schools.

Still, students with special needs require special attention. In many cases, they aren't getting what they need. We're bound by this curious system, but there must be a way we can do better.
blog comments powered by Disqus