Special Education Reform?

Education Reform | Partners In Education Advocacy

I remember 20 plus years ago when I was getting my graduate degree in Special Education and a buddy of mine getting his degree in elementary education told me that his father, a school principal, said that I probably shouldn’t waste my time getting a masters in Special Education. He said that Special Education would be eventually fading out of public education. I was almost done with my masters at this point so I figured I would have to take my chances with it, besides what other choice did I have anyways at that point?

I got a Special Education job and taught for about 10 year. There were a lot of ups and downs over those 10 years, and eventually I decided that I wanted a change so I got certified and switched over to high school history. At this point in my career I remembered what my friend had said a decade ago and wondered if I was ahead of the curve on schools no longer needing special education teachers, even though it was 10 years later. I wondered if my job was now safe in my new-found home in the history department.

Well, I loved teaching history, but life has its own funny ways that aren’t aligned to us and what we want, so after a decade of teaching history I personally got a first class education on budget cuts and my job was eliminated. Thankfully, I landed on my feet back in Special Education, believe it or not.

It had been more than two decades since my old graduate school buddy told me that the need for special education teachers was disappearing. During the previous two decades my friend had gone from graduate school to elementary school teacher to assistant principal to principal, just like his father had done. I had gone from graduate school to special education teacher to history teacher to back to special education teacher, like nobody else that I know had done. And believe it or not there was still a bunch of special education jobs available when I landed there for a second time. As a matter of fact, there was actually plenty of jobs there because there is a shortage of special education teachers in 49 out of our 50 states. Imagine that… Two decades after I was told that Special Education was going away, and I find that they still can’t seem to get enough special education teachers.

Fast-forward a few more years to today and there is a new and interesting twist affecting Special Education called full inclusion. Now inclusion isn’t a new thing to our schools. As a matter of fact inclusion has a long interesting history in our schools.

Six decades ago there was the Supreme Court Case of Brown v. Board of Education. In 1954 the new law of the land became integrated schools for all races. Four decades ago the ground-breaking law of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) began to take effect and help ensure that more than six million students with disabilities have the right to a free and appropriate education, which means they too get to be included in with the general education population.

To help this happen schools create a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) that meet and discuss a student’s Individual Education Program (IEP) and then place the student in the appropriate educational setting based on the student’s needs and the law. The placement also needs to be the least restrictive environment (LRE). I can still remember my college professor describing the least restrictive environment in a short story that one would not bring a machine gun to take care of a fly. Rather, one would just bring a fly-swatter to take care of a fly. In other words, if a kid’s disability can be dealt with in the neighborhood school, then the kid doesn’t have to be sent across town or even to another town’s special education school.

Today, many schools are trying to improve on this inclusion model and least restrictive environment by going from a partial to a full-inclusion model. Schools in the Los Angeles School District have moved a vast majority of their students out of their special education centers within the last three years and into neighborhood schools where they are fully integrated into elective classes like physical education, gardening and cooking. They are also integrated into regular main stream academic classes as well, but it’s usually not to the same degree as electives.

Michigan schools say that want to break down the walls between general education and Special Education creating a system in which students will get more help when they need it, and that support doesn’t need to be in a separate special education classroom.

Some school districts in Portland, Oregon are a little further along than the Los Angeles schools that are just bringing special education students back from special schools and Michigan schools that are just beginning to try full integration of its students and eliminating most of the special education classrooms.

Being a little further along in the process Portland makes an interesting case study. Many of the parents who initially supported the idea of integrating special education students into regular education classrooms in Portland are now worried about how the Portland Public School System is doing it. Portland is aiming for full-inclusion by the year 2020. However, some of the teachers in Portland are saying, “Obviously the special education students are going to fail and they are going to act out because we are not meeting their needs… If there’s not the right support there, that’s not acceptable, not only for the child, but for the general education teacher as well.”

A Portland parent said, “I would rather have my child feel successful than for them to be ‘college-ready’.” She further states, “I want my children to be good, well-rounded human beings that make the world a better place. I don’t think they necessarily need to go to college to do that. I think that children are individuals, and when we stop treating them as individuals, there’s a problem.” Sadly, many parents and teachers have left the Portland School District, and many more are fantasizing about it because they feel the full-inclusion model isn’t working there how they pictured it would.

How much should schools integrate the special education students is the burning question of the hour. In my personal experience some integration is not only possible, but it’s a must. With some support many of the special education students can be in the regular education classrooms.

A few years ago I even had a non-speaking paraplegic boy in a wheel chair who was on a breathing respirator sitting in my regular education social studies class. Every day his para professional and his nurse rolled him into and sat with him. He always smiled at the tales I told of Alexander the Great marching across 11,000 miles of territory and conquering much of the known world at that time. By the way, Alexander the Great also practiced his own model of inclusion by encouraging kindness to the conquered and encouraging his soldiers to marry the captured territory’s women in order to create a lasting peace.

Other important factors to consider in special education inclusion is the much needed socialization and the saving of money integration offers. Kids learn from other kids and money not spent on Special Education could be spent on general education, right? Hmm…

If you noticed, I said a little bit earlier that many special education students could be integrated, but I did not say all or even most should be integrated. There are just some students that are going to take away too much of the teacher’s time and attention from other students, such as, in the case of students with severe behavior problems. When we put severe behavior problems in regular education classes it’s just outright unfair to all of the other children in there. Similar cases could be made for other severe disabilities too that demand too much of the main stream teacher’s individual time and attention.

Hey, I’m not saying to never try out a kid with a severe disability in a general education setting. But what I am saying is that schools need to have a better system of monitoring these placements and be able to quickly remove students that aren’t working out, and are taking precious learning time away from other students. Furthermore, schools need to do this without shaming the teacher because the teacher complained that the student wasn’t a good fit and was disrupting the educational learning process of the other students. Leaving a kid in an inappropriate placement isn’t good for any of the parties involved. Period.

Over the last two decades I have worked with more special education students than I can remember as a special education teacher and a regular education teacher teaching inclusion classes. I have learned to become extremely flexible and patient and thus have had some of the toughest and most needy kids placed in my classes. I have worked miracles with these kids over the years and I know that I am not the only teacher out there doing this. There are many more out there just like me. But, what I worry about is that because teachers are so dedicated and pulling off daily miracles in the classroom, districts, community leaders, and politician may be pushing too hard for the full-inclusion model thinking that the teachers will just have to figure it out. Setting up teachers and students for failure is never a good idea.

Furthermore, I hope it’s just not the money that they are trying to save while pushing this full-inclusion model forward because what we should really be trying to save is our children. As Fredrick Douglas said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Regardless of how the financial educational pie is sliced, the bottom line is that the pie is just too small and our special education teachers and our special education students shouldn’t be made to pay for this.

In addition, I have been a teacher for too long to not be at least a little skeptical when I hear the bosses say that the reason they are pushing for the full-inclusion model is because socialization is so important. I know it’s important. But, I also know that too many people are hanging their hats on that socialization excuse rather than education our special needs students and providing them what they really need. I have seen special education students whose abilities only let them draw pictures sitting in honors classes. There is no real socialization taking place here. It just doesn’t make sense.

Well, finally coming full circle. It will be interesting to see where this full inclusion thing goes. The wise ones won’t let their special education teachers go, or get rid of their classrooms. And for the school districts that do, I imagine that it won’t take long before they realize the mistake they made and start hiring special education teachers back. To my friend and his now ex-principal father from all those years ago who thought special education was going away, well, we’re not there yet, and to tell you the truth, I don’t think we ever will be.

Source by Daniel Blanchard

History of Educational Technology

There is no written evidence which can tell us exactly who has coined the phrase educational technology. Different educationists, scientists and philosophers at different time intervals have put forwarded different definitions of Educational Technology. Educational technology is a multifaceted and integrated process involving people, procedure, ideas, devices, and organization, where technology from different fields of science is borrowed as per the need and requirement of education for implementing, evaluating, and managing solutions to those problems involved in all aspects of human learning.

Educational technology, broadly speaking, has passed through five stages.

The first stage of educational technology is coupled with the use of aids like charts, maps, symbols, models, specimens and concrete materials. The term educational technology was used as synonyms to audio-visual aids.

The second stage of educational technology is associated with the ‘electronic revolution’ with the introduction and establishment of sophisticated hardware and software. Use of various audio-visual aids like projector, magic lanterns, tape-recorder, radio and television brought a revolutionary change in the educational scenario. Accordingly, educational technology concept was taken in terms of these sophisticated instruments and equipments for effective presentation of instructional materials.

The third stage of educational technology is linked with the development of mass media which in turn led to ‘communication revolution’ for instructional purposes. Computer-assisted Instruction (CAI) used for education since 1950s also became popular during this era.

The fourth stage of educational technology is discernible by the individualized process of instruction. The invention of programmed learning and programmed instruction provided a new dimension to educational technology. A system of self-learning based on self-instructional materials and teaching machines emerged.

The latest concept of educational technology is influenced by the concept of system engineering or system approach which focuses on language laboratories, teaching machines, programmed instruction, multimedia technologies and the use of the computer in instruction. According to it, educational technology is a systematic way of designing, carrying out and evaluating the total process of teaching and learning in terms of specific objectives based on research.

Educational technology during the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age

Educational technology, despite the uncertainty of the origin of the term, can be traced back to the time of the three-age system periodization of human prehistory; namely the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age.

Duringthe Stone Age, ignition of fire by rubbing stones, manufacture of various handmade weapon and utensils from stones and clothing practice were some of the simple technological developments of utmost importance. A fraction of Stone Age people developed ocean-worthy outrigger canoe ship technology to migrate from one place to another across the Ocean, by which they developed their first informal education of knowledge of the ocean currents, weather conditions, sailing practice, astronavigation, and star maps. During the later Stone Age period (Neolithic period),for agricultural practice, polished stone tools were made from a variety of hard rocks largely by digging underground tunnels, which can be considered as the first steps in mining technology. The polished axes were so effective that even after appearance of bronze and iron; people used it for clearing forest and the establishment of crop farming.

Although Stone Age cultures left no written records, but archaeological evidences proved their shift from nomadic life to agricultural settlement. Ancient tools conserved in different museums, cave paintings like Altamira Cave in Spain, and other prehistoric art, such as the Venus of Willendorf, Mother Goddess from Laussel, France etc. are some of the evidences in favour of their cultures.

Neolithic Revolution of Stone Age resulted into the appearance of Bronze Age with development of agriculture, animal domestication, and the adoption of permanent settlements. For these practices Bronze Age people further developed metal smelting, with copper and later bronze, an alloy of tin and copper, being the materials of their choice.

The Iron Age people replaced bronze and developed the knowledge of iron smelting technology to lower the cost of living since iron utensils were stronger and cheaper than bronze equivalents. In many Eurasian cultures, the Iron Age was the last period before the development of written scripts.

Educational technology during the period of Ancient civilizations

According to Paul Saettler, 2004, Educational technology can be traced back to the time when tribal priests systematized bodies of knowledge and ancient cultures invented pictographs or sign writing to record and transmit information. In every stage of human civilization, one can find an instructional technique or set of procedures intended to implement a particular culture which were also supported by number of investigations and evidences. The more advanced the culture, the more complex became the technology of instruction designed to reflect particular ways of individual and social behaviour intended to run an educated society. Over centuries, each significant shift in educational values, goals or objectives led to diverse technologies of instruction.

The greatest advances in technology and engineering came with the rise of the ancient civilizations. These advances stimulated and educated other societies in the world to adopt new ways of living and governance.

The Indus Valley Civilization was an early Bronze Age civilization which was located in the northwestern region of the Indian Subcontinent. The civilization was primarily flourished around the Indus River basin of the Indus and the Punjab region, extending upto the Ghaggar-Hakra River valley and the Ganges-Yamuna Doab, (most of the part is under today’s Pakistan and the western states of modern-day India as well as some part of the civilization extending upto southeastern Afghanistan, and the easternmost part of Balochistan, Iran).

There is a long term controversy to be sure about the language that the Harappan people spoke. It is assumed that their writing was at least seems to be or a pictographic script. The script appears to have had about 400 basic signs, with lots of variations. People write their script with the direction generally from right to left. Most of the writing was found on seals and sealings which were probably used in trade and official & administrative work.

Harappan people had the knowledge of the measuring tools of length, mass, and time. They were the first in the world to develop a system of uniform weights and measures.

In a study carried out by P. N. Rao et al. in 2009, published in Science, computer scientists found that the Indus script’s pattern is closer to that of spoken words, which supported the proposed hypothesis that it codes for an as-yet-unknown language.

According to the Chinese Civilization, some of the major techno-offerings from China include paper, early seismological detectors, toilet paper, matches, iron plough, the multi-tube seed drill, the suspension bridge, the wheelbarrow, the parachute, natural gas as fuel, the magnetic compass, the raised-relief map, the blast furnace, the propeller, the crossbow, the South Pointing Chariot, and gun powder. With the invent of paper they have given their first step towards developments of educational technology by further culturing different handmade products of paper as means of visual aids.

Ancient Egyptian language was at one point one of the longest surviving and used languages in the world. Their script was made up of pictures of the real things like birds, animals, different tools, etc. These pictures are popularly called hieroglyph. Their language was made up of above 500 hieroglyphs which are known as hieroglyphics. On the stone monuments or tombs which were discovered and rescued latter on provides the evidence of existence of many forms of artistic hieroglyphics in ancient Egypt.

Educational technology during Medieval and Modern Period

Paper and the pulp papermaking process which was developed in China during the early 2nd century AD, was carried to the Middle East and was spread to Mediterranean by the Muslim conquests. Evidences support that a paper mill was also established in Sicily in the 12th century. The discovery of spinning wheel increased the productivity of thread making process to a great extent and when Lynn White added the spinning wheel with increasing supply of rags, this led to the production of cheap paper, which was a prime factor in the development of printing technology.

The invention of the printing press was taken place in approximately 1450 AD, by Johannes Gutenburg, a German inventor. The invention of printing press was a prime developmental factor in the history of educational technology to convey the instruction as per the need of the complex and advanced-technology cultured society.

In the pre-industrial phases, while industry was simply the handwork at artisan level, the instructional processes were relied heavily upon simple things like the slate, the horn book, the blackboard, and chalk. It was limited to a single text book with a few illustrations. Educational technology was considered synonymous to simple aids like charts and pictures.

The year 1873 may be considered a landmark in the early history of technology of education or audio-visual education. An exhibition was held in Vienna at international level in which an American school won the admiration of the educators for the exhibition of maps, charts, textbooks and other equipments.

Maria Montessori (1870-1952), internationally renowned child educator and the originator of Montessori Method exerted a dynamic impact on educational technology through her development of graded materials designed to provide for the proper sequencing of subject matter for each individual learner. Modern educational technology suggests many extension of Montessori’s idea of prepared child centered environment.

In1833, Charles Babbage’s design of a general purpose computing device laid the foundation of the modern computer and in 1943, the first computing machine as per hi design was constructed by International Business Machines Corporation in USA. The Computer Assisted instruction (CAI) in which the computer functions essentially as a tutor as well as the Talking Type writer was developed by O.K. Moore in 1966. Since 1974, computers are interestingly used in education in schools, colleges and universities.

In the beginning of the 19th century, there were noteworthy changes in the field of education. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), right from its start of school broadcasts in 1920 had maintained rapid pace in making sound contribution to formal education. In the USA, by 1952, 20 states had the provision for educational broadcasting. Parallel to this time about 98% of the schools in United Kingdom were equipped with radios and there were regular daily programmes.

Sidney L. Pressey, a psychologist of Ohio state university developed a self-teaching machine called ‘Drum Tutor’ in 1920. Professor Skinner, however, in his famous article ‘Science of Learning and art of Teaching’ published in 1945 pleaded for the application of the knowledge derived from behavioral psychology to classroom procedures and suggested automated teaching devices as means of doing so.

Although the first practical use of Regular television broadcasts was in Germany in 1929 and in 1936 the Olympic Games in Berlin were broadcasted through television stations in Berlin, Open circuit television began to be used primarily for broadcasting programmes for entertainment in 1950. Since 1960, television is used for educational purposes.

In 1950, Brynmor, in England, used educational technological steps for the first time. It is to be cared that in 1960, as a result of industrial revolution in America and Russia, other countries also started progressing in the filed of educational technology. In this way, the beginning of educational technology took place in 1960 from America and Russia and now it has reached England, Europe and India.

During the time of around 1950s, new technocracy was turning it attraction to educations when there was a steep shortage of teachers in America and therefore an urgent need of educational technology was felt. Dr. Alvin C. Eurich and a little later his associate, Dr. Alexander J. Stoddard introduced mass production technology in America.

Team teaching had its origin in America in the mid of 1950’s and was first started in the year 1955 at Harvard University as a part of internship plan.

In the year 1956, Benjamin Bloom from USA introduced the taxonomy of educational objectives through his publication, “The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, The Classification of Educational Goals, Handbook I: Cognitive Domain”.

In 1961, Micro teaching technique was first adopted by Dwight W. Allen and his co-workers at Stanford University in USA.

Electronics is the main technology being developed in the beginning of 21st century. Broadband Internet access became popular and occupied almost all the important offices and educational places and even in common places in developed countries with the advantage of connecting home computers with music libraries and mobile phones.

Today’s classroom is more likely to be a technology lab, a room with rows of students using internet connected or Wi-Fi enabled laptops, palmtops, notepad, or perhaps students are attending a video conferencing or virtual classroom or may have been listening to a podcast or taking in a video lecture. Rapid technological changes in the field of educational have created new ways to teach and to learn. Technological changes also motivated the teachers to access a variety of information on a global scale via the Internet, to enhance their lessons as well as to make them competent professional in their area of concern. At the same time, students can utilize vast resources of the Internet to enrich their learning experience to cope up with changing trend of the society. Now a days students as well teachers are attending seminars, conferences, workshops at national and international level by using the multimedia techno-resources like PowerPoint and even they pursue a variety of important courses of their choice in distance mode via online learning ways. Online learning facility has opened infinite number of doors of opportunities for today’s learner to make their life happier than ever before.

Special Education Reform

Perhaps the largest and most pervasive issue in special education, as well as my own journey in education, is special education’s relationship to general education. History has shown that this has never been an easy clear cut relationship between the two. There has been a lot of giving and taking or maybe I should say pulling and pushing when it comes to educational policy, and the educational practices and services of education and special education by the human educators who deliver those services on both sides of the isle, like me.

Over the last 20+ years I have been on both sides of education. I have seen and felt what it was like to be a regular main stream educator dealing with special education policy, special education students and their specialized teachers. I have also been on the special education side trying to get regular education teachers to work more effectively with my special education students through modifying their instruction and materials and having a little more patience and empathy.

Furthermore, I have been a mainstream regular education teacher who taught regular education inclusion classes trying to figure out how to best work with some new special education teacher in my class and his or her special education students as well. And, in contrast, I have been a special education inclusion teacher intruding on the territory of some regular education teachers with my special education students and the modifications I thought these teachers should implement. I can tell you first-hand that none of this give and take between special education and regular education has been easy. Nor do I see this pushing and pulling becoming easy anytime soon.

So, what is special education? And what makes it so special and yet so complex and controversial sometimes? Well, special education, as its name suggests, is a specialized branch of education. It claims its lineage to such people as Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard (1775-1838), the physician who “tamed” the “wild boy of Aveyron,” and Anne Sullivan Macy (1866-1936), the teacher who “worked miracles” with Helen Keller.

Special educators teach students who have physical, cognitive, language, learning, sensory, and/or emotional abilities that deviate from those of the general population. Special educators provide instruction specifically tailored to meet individualized needs. These teachers basically make education more available and accessible to students who otherwise would have limited access to education due to whatever disability they are struggling with.

It’s not just the teachers though who play a role in the history of special education in this country. Physicians and clergy, including Itard- mentioned above, Edouard O. Seguin (1812-1880), Samuel Gridley Howe (1801-1876), and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1787-1851), wanted to ameliorate the neglectful, often abusive treatment of individuals with disabilities. Sadly, education in this country was, more often than not, very neglectful and abusive when dealing with students that are different somehow.

There is even a rich literature in our nation that describes the treatment provided to individuals with disabilities in the 1800s and early 1900s. Sadly, in these stories, as well as in the real world, the segment of our population with disabilities were often confined in jails and almshouses without decent food, clothing, personal hygiene, and exercise.

For an example of this different treatment in our literature one needs to look no further than Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843). In addition, many times people with disabilities were often portrayed as villains, such as in the book Captain Hook in J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” in 1911.

The prevailing view of the authors of this time period was that one should submit to misfortunes, both as a form of obedience to God’s will, and because these seeming misfortunes are ultimately intended for one’s own good. Progress for our people with disabilities was hard to come by at this time with this way of thinking permeating our society, literature and thinking.

So, what was society to do about these people of misfortune? Well, during much of the nineteenth century, and early in the twentieth, professionals believed individuals with disabilities were best treated in residential facilities in rural environments. An out of sight out of mind kind of thing, if you will…

However, by the end of the nineteenth century the size of these institutions had increased so dramatically that the goal of rehabilitation for people with disabilities just wasn’t working. Institutions became instruments for permanent segregation.

I have some experience with these segregation policies of education. Some of it is good and some of it is not so good. You see, I have been a self-contained teacher on and off throughout the years in multiple environments in self-contained classrooms in public high schools, middle schools and elementary schools. I have also taught in multiple special education behavioral self-contained schools that totally separated these troubled students with disabilities in managing their behavior from their mainstream peers by putting them in completely different buildings that were sometimes even in different towns from their homes, friends and peers.

Over the years many special education professionals became critics of these institutions mentioned above that separated and segregated our children with disabilities from their peers. Irvine Howe was one of the first to advocate taking our youth out of these huge institutions and to place out residents into families. Unfortunately this practice became a logistical and pragmatic problem and it took a long time before it could become a viable alternative to institutionalization for our students with disabilities.

Now on the positive side, you might be interested in knowing however that in 1817 the first special education school in the United States, the American Asylum for the Education and Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb (now called the American School for the Deaf), was established in Hartford, Connecticut, by Gallaudet. That school is still there today and is one of the top schools in the country for students with auditory disabilities. A true success story!

However, as you can already imagine, the lasting success of the American School for the Deaf was the exception and not the rule during this time period. And to add to this, in the late nineteenth century, social Darwinism replaced environmentalism as the primary causal explanation for those individuals with disabilities who deviated from those of the general population.

Sadly, Darwinism opened the door to the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century. This then led to even further segregation and even sterilization of individuals with disabilities such as mental retardation. Sounds like something Hitler was doing in Germany also being done right here in our own country, to our own people, by our own people. Kind of scary and inhumane, wouldn’t you agree?

Today, this kind of treatment is obviously unacceptable. And in the early part of the 20th Century it was also unacceptable to some of the adults, especially the parents of these disabled children. Thus, concerned and angry parents formed advocacy groups to help bring the educational needs of children with disabilities into the public eye. The public had to see firsthand how wrong this this eugenics and sterilization movement was for our students that were different if it was ever going to be stopped.

Slowly, grassroots organizations made progress that even led to some states creating laws to protect their citizens with disabilities. For example, in 1930, in Peoria, Illinois, the first white cane ordinance gave individuals with blindness the right-of-way when crossing the street. This was a start, and other states did eventually follow suit. In time, this local grassroots’ movement and states’ movement led to enough pressure on our elected officials for something to be done on the national level for our people with disabilities.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy created the President’s Panel on Mental Retardation. And in 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provided funding for primary education, and is seen by advocacy groups as expanding access to public education for children with disabilities.

When one thinks about Kennedy’s and Johnson’s record on civil rights, then it probably isn’t such a surprise finding out that these two presidents also spearheaded this national movement for our people with disabilities.

This federal movement led to section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. This guarantees civil rights for the disabled in the context of federally funded institutions or any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. All these years later as an educator, I personally deal with 504 cases every single day.

In 1975 Congress enacted Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA), which establishes a right to public education for all children regardless of disability. This was another good thing because prior to federal legislation, parents had to mostly educate their children at home or pay for expensive private education.

The movement kept growing. In the 1982 the case of the Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified the level of services to be afforded students with special needs. The Court ruled that special education services need only provide some “educational benefit” to students. Public schools were not required to maximize the educational progress of students with disabilities.

Today, this ruling may not seem like a victory, and as a matter of fact, this same question is once again circulating through our courts today in 2017. However, given the time period it was made in, it was a victory because it said special education students could not pass through our school system without learning anything. They had to learn something. If one knows and understands how the laws work in this country, then one knows the laws always progress through tiny little increments that add up to progress over time. This ruling was a victory for special education students because it added one more rung onto the crusade.

In the 1980s the Regular Education Initiative (REI) came into being. This was an attempt to return responsibility for the education of students with disabilities to neighborhood schools and regular classroom teachers. I am very familiar with Regular Education Initiative because I spent four years as an REI teacher in the late 1990s and early 2000s. At this time I was certified as both a special education teacher and a regular education teacher and was working in both capacities in a duel role as an REI teacher; because that’s what was required of the position.

The 1990s saw a big boost for our special education students. 1990 birthed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This was, and is, the cornerstone of the concept of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for all of our students. To ensure FAPE, the law mandated that each student receiving special education services must also receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 reached beyond just the public schools. And Title 3 of IDEA prohibited disability-based discrimination in any place of public accommodation. Full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations in public places were expected. And of course public accommodations also included most places of education.

Also, in the 1990s the full inclusion movement gained a lot of momentum. This called for educating all students with disabilities in the regular classroom. I am also very familiar with this aspect of education as well, as I have also been an inclusion teacher from time to time over my career as an educator on both sides of the isle as a regular education teacher and a special education teacher.

Now on to President Bush and his educational reform with his No Child Left Behind law that replaced President Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The NCLB Act of 2001 stated that special education should continue to focus on producing results and along with this came a sharp increase in accountability for educators.

Now, this NCLB Act was good and bad. Of course we all want to see results for all of our students, and it’s just common sense that accountability helps this sort of thing happen. Where this kind of went crazy was that the NCLB demanded a host of new things, but did not provide the funds or support to achieve these new objectives.

Furthermore, teachers began feeling squeezed and threatened more and more by the new movement of big business and corporate education moving in and taking over education. People with no educational background now found themselves influencing education policy and gaining access to a lot of the educational funds.

This accountability craze stemmed by excessive standardized testing ran rapid and of course ran downstream from a host of well-connected elite Trump-like figures saying to their lower echelon educational counterparts, “You’re fired!” This environment of trying to stay off of the radar in order to keep one’s job, and beating our kids over the head with testing strategies, wasn’t good for our educators. It wasn’t good for our students. And it certainly wasn’t good for our more vulnerable special education students.

Some good did come from this era though. For example, the updated Individuals with Disabilities with Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) happened. This further required schools to provide individualized or special education for children with qualifying disabilities. Under the IDEA, states who accept public funds for education must provide special education to qualifying children with disabilities. Like I said earlier, the law is a long slow process of tiny little steps adding up to progress made over time.

Finally, in 2015 President Obama’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced President Bush’s NCLB, which had replaced President Johnson’s ESEA. Under Obama’s new ESSA schools were now allowed to back off on some of the testing. Hopefully, the standardized testing craze has been put in check. However, only time will tell. ESSA also returned to more local control. You know, the kind of control our forefathers intended.

You see the U.S. Constitution grants no authority over education to the federal government. Education is not mentioned in the Constitution of the United States, and for good reason. The Founders wanted most aspects of life managed by those who were closest to them, either by state or local government or by families, businesses, and other elements of civil society. Basically, they saw no role for the federal government in education.

You see, the Founders feared the concentration of power. They believed that the best way to protect individual freedom and civil society was to limit and divide power. However, this works both ways, because the states often find themselves asking the feds for more educational money. And the feds will only give the states additional money if the states do what the feds want… Hmm… Checks and balances, as well as compromise can be a really tricky thing, huh?

So on goes the battle in education and all the back and forth pushing and pulling between the federal government and the states and local government, as well as special education and regular education. And to add to this struggle, recently Judge Moukawsher, a state judge from Connecticut, in a lawsuit filed against the state by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, rocked the educational boat some more when in his ruling he included a message to lawmakers to reassess what level of services students with significant disabilities are entitled to.

His ruling and statements appear to say that he thinks we’re spending too much money on our special education students. And that for some of them, it just isn’t worth it because their disabilities are too severe. You can imagine how controversial this was and how much it angered some people.

The 2016 United States Presidential election resulted in something that few people saw coming. Real Estate mogul and reality star Donald Trump won the presidency and then appointed anti-public educator Betsy Devos to head up this country’s Department of Education. Her charge, given to her by Trump, is to drastically slash the Department of Education, and to push forward private charter schools over what they call a failing public educational system.

How this is going to affect our students, and especially our more vulnerable special education students, nobody knows for sure at this time. But, I can also tell you that there aren’t many people out there that feel comfortable with it right now. Only time will tell where this is all going to go and how it will affect our special education students…

So, as I said earlier, perhaps the largest, most pervasive issue in special education is its relationship to general education. Both my own travels and our nation’s journey through the vast realm of education over all of these years has been an interesting one and a tricky one plagued with controversy to say the least.

I can still remember when I first became a special education teacher back in the mid-1990s. A friend’s father, who was a school principal at the time, told me to get out of special education because it wasn’t going to last. Well, I’ve been in and out of special education for more than two decades now, and sometimes I don’t know if I’m a regular education teacher or a special education teacher, or both. And sometimes I think our country’s educational system might be feeling the same internal struggle that I am. But, regardless, all these years later, special education is still here.

In closing, although Itard failed to normalize Victor, the wild boy of Averyon, he did produce dramatic changes in Victor’s behavior through education. Today, modern special education practices can be traced to Itard. His work marks the beginning of widespread attempts to instruct students with disabilities. Fast forwarding to 2017, for what happens next in the future of education and special education in our country… Well, I guess that depends on all of us.