Sunday, November 16, 2014

Washington: Disabilities Aren't Real

Following in the footsteps of one of the dumbest initiatives to come out of the US Department of Education, Washington state has arrived at some destructive fact-free findings regarding the education of students with special needs.

The Governor's Office of the Education Ombuds has created and released a report that...well, I will let the conclusion speak for itself:

The evidence is clear that disabilities do not cause disparate outcomes, but that the system itself perpetuates limitations in expectations and false belief systems about who children with disabilities can be and how much they can achieve in their lifetime.

So there you have it-- as previously suggested by the federal Department of Education, the disabilities that students claim to possess do not actually exist in any meaningful way. Any limitations that they appear to have are simply the result of the system's (i.e. teachers) low expectations:

But the vast majority of children  in special education do not have disabilities that prevent them from tackling the same rigorous academic subjects as general education students if they get the proper support, so those low numbers reflect shortcomings in the system, not the students.

You might think that link takes you to some research that supports this rather startling assertion. It doesn't. It takes you to the US ED statement on the subject, and that is supported by-- nothing. I addressed this before ("Quite Possibly the Stupidest Thing To Come Out of the US DOE"), but it hasn't gotten any less bizarre since last June.

I'm not sure which reading is more bizarre-- do they mean that schools take perfectly normal students and arbitrarily turn them into special needs students, or that schools could completely cure students of their disabilities if we just tried harder and expected more? I'm a big believer in expectations, but no matter how hard I expect my hair to grow back, it doesn't happen. Expecting a student to do the best she can is good teacher behavior; expecting a student to do what she cannot is just mean.

Nancy Bailey has written a fiery and pointed reaction to this "news," and sees it as one step in the abolition of special ed programs entirely. After all, the one size fits all nature of Common Core and the Core testing regimen will work so much more smoothly once we make every student the same, and the easiest and fastest way to do that is to just say it's so. This certainly fits in with the philosophy that the way to get all students to read at grade level is to just, you know, make them do it. Insist real hard. If we believe that we can get a student with a second grade reading skill read at the fifth grade level by just somehow making him do it, why can't we make a dyslexic student or student with other processing difficulties read at level by just expecting her to? "Stop pretending you're blind, Jimmy, and read this book right now!"

The report also concludes that special ed programs are too expensive and don't produce enough magical results, plus they have too much procedure and regulation as well as putting parents in adversarial positions (and, boy, isn't that a whole chapter of a book).

Bailey thinks Seattle is clearing the ground to cut special ed as a budget savings for the state. I can see one other impetus for removing special ed rules-- charters. Charters don't like students with special needs because they bring extra costs, and they bring special costs because of regulations that mandate services for them. But remove the mandated services and replace them with something cheap, like High Expectations, and a whole new market sector opens up.

Washington is concerned about the long term effects of this lack of magical high expectations. The report says that the failure of schools to erase all effects of the disabilities results in lives of "unemployment, poverty and dependence."

Good news!! I totally know how to fix this!

High expectations!!

After all-- these students are probably not getting hired for jobs like store manager or nuclear plant engineer or government ombudsperson because the employers don't expect they'll be able to do the job. Low expectations!

So we just mandate that employers must hire the first people who show up for a job. After all, if education results are just the product of randomly applied low and high expectations of the school system, then employment results are just the product of randomly applied low and high expectations of employers. If I can get all students to be awesome in my classroom just by expecting it, then an employer can get awesome results from any and all employees just by expecting them!

So all Washington (either one) has to say is, "Employers, you must hire blindly. Take whoever you get and make it work with the power of high expectations!" And excellence will rain down like manna from heaven. You're welcome.


  1. Peter- this one belongs in your greatest hits parade volume 2! When I speak about CC and impact on Sp Ed at forums in NY, I will be referencing this blog piece. Thank you for your advocacy today, and every day.

  2. Here's an exchange I had with a USDOE shill named "systems change consulting" defending Duncan's disastrous new special ed. policy. This was on the Diane Ravitch blog's COMMENTS Section last June at

    June 25, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Also, according to your line of thinking—and that of the article you linked to—the problem with say… a quadriplegic lacking the ability to swim… is that no one ever held the quadriplegic to “high enough expectations”, or exposed him to “enough testing and accountability” that would measure and motivate him to swim.

    Those fools who claim that his lack of swimming ability are because the nerves connecting his limbs to his spine and brain are severed…. well, they’re just engaging in the “soft bigotry of low expectations”, and of course, let’s not forget to condemn those “incompetent swimming teachers” who are actually one of the main obstacles to success in this case.

    SOLUTION: “hold” that quadriplegic “accountable” and “test’ him in a way that “soft bigots” with their “low expectations” have so far stupidly refused to do….

    throw him into the deep end of a swimming pool, and watch as the corporate reformers’ “high expectations” inspire him to do the backstroke.


    June 25, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    No, Jack, I would never suggest that a quadriplegic should be able to do things that s/he is physically incapable of doing. But I do believe that all children with learning disabilities should be able to read as well as their non-disabled peers if they are given the proper services and supports and so does the National Learning Disability Association.



    1. i'm trying to find the original document for a school project so there is no bias. can anyone give me the link to that?

  3. Jack
    June 25, 2014 at 9:54 pm

    systemschangeconsulting: “But I do believe that all children with learning disabilities should be able to read as well as their non-disabled peers if they are given the proper services and supports and so does the National Learning Disability Association.”


    So you’re admitting the existence of “children with learning disabilities”?

    Good, we agree on that. It sounded like you didn’t believe that they exist, and that so-called “special ed” kids were actually fully-functioning students being inaccurately categorized as “special ed,” and were merely victims of low expectations and an not enough testing—Duncan’s asinine analysis and prescription. (Oy vey!!!)

    Now here’s where we differ.

    You claim that, given enough services and supports, children with learning disabilities…

    (and these are YOUR words)

    “… all… should be… able to read as well as their non-disabled peers.”

    No, no, no, no, and NO!!!

    If, like myself and other teachers, you’d sat at a small table for weeks and weeks co-teaching a small class of kids with learning disabilities—kids who truly have a disability and not those full-functioning kids who were mis-diagnosed…

    If you had ever done this, you’d see that there is a “ceiling”, or limit to how much they can improve their reading or math abilities—a “ceiling” that varies from child to child, but one that is below that of even the “lowest functioning” mainstream student with no diagnosed learning disabilities.


  4. Jack - to - "systems change consulting:" (continued from the ABOVE post)

    As with the hypothetical “quadriplegic” I wrote about earlier… no matter how much one-on-one attention, or private tutoring, or innovative whatever, these students won’t ever be able do everything that a child without learning disabilities can—such as read or calculate math… in particular AS FAST as a mainstream child… Certain of these kids often can read, but it takes them three, four, five times as long… the same with Math… and that’s as good as they’re going to get. These particular students won’t be able to handle complex, critical, analytical thinking. They NEVER will… and that’s just fine.

    To insist and demand that kids who truly possess learning disabilities “just put their minds to and do it”—even with whatever supports and services—is not only a bad idea. It’s child abuse.

    I remember my first experience with special ed. kids—a short-term assignment in a class where kids had mild-to-severe autism. No matter what the regular teacher and I did, the students just couldn’t do more than struggle to focus and then decode and read the simplest of sentences… and it was slow going at that with the student assigned to me at that point of the day.

    Eventually, I became overcome with emotion, and left the room, going into a small store room with a window to the class. I turned my back, crouched down out of sight, and started weeping at the students’ plight. As quick as I could, I got myself together to return to working with my assigned student. I was hoping that no one saw me, but someone did.

    The veteran special ed teacher, took me back in storage room and asked, “You were crying now, weren’t you?”

    “Yeah… I just feel so bad for these kids… ”

    Then she just let me have it—as well she should have. “Yeah, well, your maudlin acting out like that is of absolutely no use to my students. Neither they nor their parents want your pity, or anyone else’s pity. You’re now living in the world of ‘Why do they have to be this way?’ or ‘If only they weren’t like this, Boo-hoo, boo-hoo.’ Let me tell you. That is the absolute LAST thing that these children need. We can’t focus on what MIGHT have been, or what COULD have been, and the just wallow in that… We have to accept them AS THEY ARE, and then move forward from there, loving them and teaching them AS THEY ARE.

    “Think if it this way, Jack. Just as with a mainstream child, there’s two states regarding their academic outcome— ‘where they ARE NOW’ and ‘where they CAN BE’ if we do everything possible so that they can maximize their abilities. Our goal, your goal, our students’ goals, their parents’ goals… is to close the gap between those two states as best we can… and yes, we have to make peace with the reality that, after they have maximized their abilities, they will never be on a par with their mainstream peers… and that’s okay, and that’s no reason go blubbering away in the closet. And you need to make peace with that reality, and make peace with that NOW! TODAY! And you have to do it before you go back to working with Benny… or I’m going to ask that you be assigned to another classroom. Got it?!”

    “Got it.” This led to the several weeks I mentioned earlier—quite a learning experience, let me tell you.

    That happened over a decade ago, and I remember that like it was yesterday. We later took the students out for a walk on the nearby and legendary Venice boardwalk. I remember seeing a regular local eccentric—a guy with a robe and turban—go past on roller skates, as he played an electric guitar. The kids were transfixed by him and the other Venice characters they saw, and this contributed to what turned out to an upbeat outing to Venice Beach.

    We even went to lunch at a restaurant… on LAUSD’s dime… yeah, baby!

  5. The issue of CC pacing is HUGE, as that is an area that totally defies any teacher's efforts to differentiate or adapt materials. The rigidity of the grade level focused testing which drives all instruction locks in the pace.

  6. I also believe that for USDOE, locking in the pace is an end run around providing sp ed up to age 21. It used to be that the extra years allowed for a slower pace as needed to learn. Now the kids and their teachers will be labeled failures long before they "age out" of the system.

  7. My son is an academic SPED student. He has a disordered learning pattern and is Aspergers. He could decode at the age of 4 but his reading comprehension was behind (too literal) and his writing needed a fair amount of extra help. Plus, he struggles socially. So, on paper, as a SPED student with a 94 average, he proves the point of the USDOE and WA, that SPED students can achieve. But... when he was much younger, and very stressed, he would act out, so much so that he was placed in a self-contained classroom despite is academic abilities. So, it comes down to the old adage.. show me 1,000 SPED students and I will show you 1,000 SPED students will a wide variety of needs, talents and capabilities.

  8. It's difficult to believe that the people running this show are really so dense as to believe what they say. Doesn't anyone at the DOE have a family member or a neighbor whose child has special needs? I know they live in gated communities, but haven't they at least seen one of those After-school Specials with a heart warming story featuring a kid with a learning disability?

    They know we know they know this is asinine, right?

  9. Peter, your extended metaphor posts are my favorites. Your employer metaphor here is just fabulous. If only extended metaphors didn't require readers to look beyond the text for understanding... Thank you.

  10. Sorry, but a main point of their conclusion is correct, namely, these so called "disabilities" dont really exist. They are not in any way something that should be called a disability. For all the so called data and research, any labeled SLD has NO specifics about what they supposedly have as a disability. What is needed are LESS research based, but MORE result based out of the box methods. I work with supposed disabled students all the time, and get excellent results. Why? Because I dont buy into the label.

    1. I would be inspired to see your work in curing dyslexics, causing the wheelchair bound to run, and making blind kids see through the power of insisting.