In announcing a new emphasis and "major shift," the U.S. Department of Education will now demand that states show educational progress for students with disabilities.
Arne Duncan announced that, shockingly, students with disabilities do poorly in school. They perform below level in both English and math. No, there aren't any qualifiers attached to that. Arne is bothered that students with very low IQs, students with low function, students who have processing problems, students who have any number of impairments -- these students are performing below grade level.
"We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel," Duncan said. (per NPR coverage)
And I'm pretty sure we don't know any such thing. I'm pretty sure that the special needs students in schools across the country are special needs precisely because they have trouble meeting the usual expectations.
There's no question that special needs students require more educational attention than simply being warehoused. And it's true that unnecessarily low expectations are no help to any student. But it is also true that an entire educational sub-specialty, a whole other class of training, has been developed simply to address the challenge of teaching students with special needs. Learning support (what we used to call special ed) teachers team with regular ed teachers to find ways that meaningful and useful educational progress can be made, so that special needs students, no matter how great or small the need, can progress and achieve and become happy, functioning adults. It takes a lot of care and effort and understanding of what special challenges each individual student faces. While it's true for all students, it is doubly true for special needs students that one size does not fit all.
Yes, expectations must be high. But they must also be realistic. Expectations are not magical.
But who knows. Maybe Arne is on to something. Maybe blind students can't see because nobody expects them to. Maybe the student a colleague had in class years ago, who was literally rolled into the room and propped up in a corner so that he could be "exposed" to band -- maybe that child's problems were just low expectations. Maybe that 6-year-old sitting and crying at his desk because he can't understand the letters like everyone else -- maybe that child is just the victim of low expectations. Maybe IEPs are actually assigned randomly, for no reason at all.
And that's not even the stupidest thing. We're not there yet.
Kevin Huffman, education boss of Tennessee (a lawyer with a Teach for America stint as his education background), also chimed in on the conference call, to explain why disabled students do poorly, and how to fix it.
He said most lag behind because they're not expected to succeed if they're given more demanding schoolwork and because they're seldom tested.
That's it. We should just demand that disabled students should do harder work and take more tests.
When Florida was harassing Andrea Rediske to have her dying, mentally disabled child take tests, they were actually doing him a favor, and not participating in state-sponsored abuse.
Don't tell me reading is hard because of your dyslexia, kid. Just do it. And take this test.
We don't need IEPs -- we need expectations and demands. We don't need student support and special education programs -- we need more testing. We don't need consideration for the individual child's needs -- we just need to demand that the child get up to speed, learn things, and most of all TAKE THE DAMN TESTS. Because then, and only then, will we be able to make all student disabilities simply disappear.
This is just so stunningly, awesomely dumb, it's hard to take in. Are they that enamored of the magical power of tests? Do they imagine that disabled students are just all faking, or that the specialists who diagnose these various problems are just making stuff up for giggles? Either way, Duncan and Huffman have set an entirely new high bar for ignorance, insensitivity, and just plain flat out stupidity.