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Cracking an "Age-Old Problem"

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Before I worked at Education Week, I spent six years as a reporter for The Washington Post, where I covered the Prince William school district in suburban Northern Virginia. I covered everything that happened in that district, not just issues related to special education—in fact, I tried to avoid such stories, because they all seemed so complex and difficult to write about.

So, I felt a pang of recognition when I read this column by my former colleague, Jay Mathews, about a mother who is seeking a specialized placement for her son that her local school district appears unwilling to give:

I admit that education writers in general, and I in particular, write very little about learning disabilities and the many failures of federally mandated public school programs to help students who have them. I often say the cases are so complicated I have difficulty translating them into everyday language, and even then readers struggle to understand.

But that is not the whole truth. I also avoid special education stories because they all seem the same, one tale after another of frustrated parents and ill-equipped educators trying but failing to find common ground, calling in lawyers while the children sit in class, bored and confused.

Kelli Castellino's son Miguel has learning disabilities that have been covered under a "Section 504 plan" rather than under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. I've written about the differences between the two laws in this blog post. I also wrote a post about how changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act could affect Section 504 students

Mathews doesn't offer a solution to this situation. Instead, he throws it to readers, and like many of these articles, the comment section is as interesting as the story itself.

I actually see many potential "solutions" to this particular problem, keeping in mind that I don't know what has already been tried. Perhaps this dispute can be resolved in mediation. Perhaps Miguel can move to another school. Tutoring might make up for some of his academic deficits.

But the questions posed here are bigger than just one student. As Mathews says, "The old way is rutted, bumpy and slow. It is not taking us very far. We need something new."

If there were one piece of the special education "industry" that you could change, what would you do?

3 Comments

For me the primary issue is the early diagnosis of neurological based disabilities as opposed to the non clinical assessment measures currently used. Too many children are assessed as having learning disabilities that are not disabiled, in the neural sense. With the proper diagnosis a large percentage of chldren assessed as Special ED would be reduced and SPECIAL ED would be able to concentrate on the REAL special ed students.

PWC

I can't really disagree with Dr. Cooper, although his recommendation begs the question of what then to do with the NOT REAL special education students.

I saw this Jay Matthew's post first and I have been thinking about this for a while. An agency head that I used to work with was fond of saying that in the end, everything boils down to commitment. Maybe I've been through too many IEP meetings and due process efforts, but in this case, it does seem as though it is the commitment to educating all of the children that is lacking. I can only imagine how different things would be if schools were routinely saying to parents--we have no doubt that your child is able to learn and succeed, and that together we can all figure this thing out. Somehow all of the time that goes into the legal proceedings ends up feeling like a messy divorce and custody case. Two parents want things from each other that they will never get, but every decision that must be made becomes a new battle ground to fight it out.

I remember saying to a school official (having climbed pretty high up the ladder in quest of someone to pay attention to the things that were supposed to happen that were not), no other professional in my child's life has ever called me on the phone to say "we just don't have any idea what to do with your child." No doctor, no dentist, no social worker, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist has ever approached me in that way. I even recall a teacher who thought he was clever in summary: "what you want is a boat--and we make cars." I had to point out that his business was supposed to be about getting clients across the river and they were all drowning.

I don't know if all the murky legal reguirements make things better or worse. I don't know if placing the onus of enforcement on parents contributes to the poor environment. But, I do believe, that without some joint sense of commitment to the education of all of our students, nothing can make a difference for very long.

Can a child get private tutoring under a 504 for dyslexia? My child's school refuses to offer the Wilson reading program unless I agree to put her in sped. they give this to other students in sped...She is not failing in any areas but needs help with reading due to dyslexia and ADHD. Any help would be appreiciated on how to find some laws or something as guidance..

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