Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Is US ED Tightening Noose on Sp Ed ?

The local control and special needs wings of the Resistance are freaking out over this.

It's a proposed rule change for Title I, and I can copy the entirety of it for you right here

The Secretary will amend the regulations governing title I, part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended (ESEA), to phase out the authority of States to define modified academic achievement standards and develop alternate assessments based on those modified academic achievement standards in order to satisfy ESEA accountability requirements. These amendments will permit, as a transitional measure, States that meet certain criteria to continue to administer alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards and include the results in accountability determinations, subject to limitations on the number of proficient scores that may be counted, for a limited period of time.  

Emphasis mine.

 This is not a new proposal. It's been around for over a year, first surfacing in the summer of 2013. Its stated purpose was "to ensure that States can conduct a smooth and thoughtful transition from the alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards to the general assessments for certain students with disabilities."

There was even a comment period. You can read the 156 comments that were lodged between August 2013 and January 2014 over here. They are a mixed bag, wit varying degrees of support and opposition combined with varying degrees of Sounding Like Real People Wrote Them. Here's a sample.

To whom it may concern, As an advocate of Children with Special needs children from K-12 education, I am in full support of the changes. I already support inclusion education practices for students with disabilities. I have personally read many studies on its effectiveness in raising students learning skills through modeling, immersion and exposure. I think the premise is correct within the statute, that high expectations combined with appropriate support services can raise academic achievement. Of course this is assuming that every student is receiving adequate support, which I know varies on an individual schools budget and inclusion resources. I do not fully understand how it affects AYP scores, but I hope it is implemented in an equitable fashion that promotes schools to adequately support the individual students and not hide or move around students as to not negatively impact their overall AYP scores. My children are 3 and 4 years old with Autism and need support services through and IEP. I would support him being assessed at the same level as other students so that I may have a clear and accurate account of her development and be able to support her growth and development. Thank you.

Sounds totally legit, right?

At any rate, neither the proposal, nor the philosophy behind it are new, but it's listed for Final Action in January of 2015, so hang on, boys and girls.

The philosophy is one we have discussed before. Arne Duncan is pretty sure that special ed programs are used to drag children down, and that with proper expectations, testing, grit socked in rigor, and teachers who don't suck, disabilities will simply have no effect on anybody. DC has been pushing it, and most recently Washington state has done the same. Florida was a pioneer, insisting that even students with little brain function and busy dying from disease should take the FCATs just like everyone else.

Why do this? Why continue to make the insane assertion that students experience with no problems with disabilities except for the problems created by their teachers? Why take us down a road that can only end with cutting any kind of special education programs?

It can't be something as simple as a bizarrely over-inflated belief in the Power of Expectations. I believe in the Power of Expectations-- I have used it in my classroom for thirty-some years. There is no question that students do their best work when you expect they will because you believe they can. But these policy changes approach the level of cruelty involved in dumping a child out of a wheelchair and demanding that they run laps just like everyone else.

I'm afraid the explanation is more pedestrian. The reformster movement is all about standardization, about one size fits all, about stripping autonomy and maximizing cost control. Since day one, folks have complained that the Big Tests lack accommodations for students with special needs. Well, heck-- let's just write into policy that no accommodations other than grit and high expectations are necessary! Problem solved. Specifically, the big expensive problem of having to create costly specialized versions of The Test is solved! And if in the process it's necessary to strip a little more autonomy from states, that's perfectly okay, too. Not to mention, this helps fix that problem where so many charters cannot provide proper support for students with special needs. If we redefine "proper support" as "high expectations" well, hell, any school can do that. Another problem solved.

On this particular regulation, the sad fact is that there was a period of comment, and lots of us just missed it. But there's always time to write letters, email congresspersons, and just generally raise a stink. Be aware (read those 156 comments) that some parents of students with special needs like this idea just fine-- not everybody sees a problem here.  But go ahead and make some noise. Expose your representative to some high expectations of your own.


  1. Well, in the Bible, Jesus simply commands the sick and the disabled to rise and take up their pallets and walk. So if He can do it, why not Arne Duncan?

  2. What our educational overseers are doing to special needs kids is criminal. The cult of reformsterism has some very strong Kool-Aid, and I sometimes despair that we will ever beat back its armies of the undead.

  3. My son is a high achieving college bound SPED student that reformsters point to and say "See, High Expectations Work!" I say, show me 1,000 different SPED students and I will show you 1,000 different students with unique needs. Period.