March 17, 2010
Keep Your Eye on the Prize
I’ve been called a radical again after 40 years- a funny thing considering those who use the word. Black’s Law Dictionary doesn’t define it, so there is no legal meaning. The dictionary defines it as one wanting extreme change. But the times they are a changin’ because the world has become so violent and unpredictable. There is now no genuine use for that old fashioned term. We live in the Age of Terrorism and not the Age of Aquarius, in the time of climate change and ecological disaster, not Woodstock or the Lovin’ Spoonfuls. We have seen the dissolution of American government, of our economy, of civility and of reason. So to be called a radical again after all of these years must mean that I’m doing something right, and that those who are middle aged and in positions of power are unhappy with the old lady connecting with young parents and sharing with them the history of The Prize. It was called Special Education once upon a time, and actually existed long ago, in a far away land. Like the Golden Fleece, it has been hidden in a dark forest for many years, but still exists. It just needs to be rescued. The journey to find it will be hard, fraught with dangers and wild animals and battles with strange demons. I’m sure that someplace out there is a young Jason- or Jane, who will take on the challenge and begin the walk toward the chaos of the jungle forest. Meantime, I’ll keep the fire going, bake pies, take care of the kids, and have an open door, just like it was in the beginning. Mmm. Not so radical after all.
Where do we start to look for The Prize? Let’s start with the news.
- A class action lawsuit in New York will be argued during the third week in March because of a failed public defender program throughout the state. This has implications for every parent whose child needs special education and cannot find anyone to help them when disputes arise with their school district. That question in that case is: Are Lawyers for the Poor inadequate? Our question is: Do affordable and competent special education lawyers exist for parents anywhere in any state? Though everybody knows the answer, no state or federal court has ever adjudicated the question of availability of legal representation for parents in special education. (Are Lawyers For the Poor Inadequate, William Glaberson, The New York Times, 3/16/10) Put your back pack on Jason, you’re headed for the woods.
- Get ready. Here we go. A federal panel has proposed a single set of standards for the nation’s schools so that states have common standards around what must be learned before granting a high school diploma. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief School Officers began this work last year. I think it’s a long time coming and absolutely essential as long as the standards are not watered down. For more information on the Common Core Standards Initiative see http://www.corestandards.org/. There is a problem, however. No mention is made of how to have students with disabilities also obtain higher standards in an enriched curriculum. There is no Prize for them as many fall farther and farther behind. My reaction to the standards question and the education given our children is framed by our complete inability to teach dyslexic kids to read. (See Reading Remediation Seems to Rewire the Brain, usnews.com/…/reading-remediation-se…) How about the Right to Read as a common core standard? Jason- you don’t need to look under rocks or wade in the rapids to find The Prize. You’ll know it when you see it. It looks a lot like the alphabet, you know, A, B, C… and includes the letters I, D, E, A.
- The proposed federal budget for 2011 for IDEA is $26.1 billion less than needed to fully fund IDEA. Of note is that education funding in total is only 2% of the entire federal budget. (CEC Policy Insider, 3/11/10). It’s a no frills trip, kid. Live off the land. Enjoy the Outward Bound experience.
- The No Child Left Behind law is being reauthorized. This is of historic importance because NCLB was passed in President Bush’s first term, which gutted the reauthorization of IDEA which followed. It may be that this is happening again, since IDEA should have started reauthorization one year ago. Therefore, those in special education need to be watchful of the NCLB changes that will occur. Among the changes discussed are how to measure “adequate yearly progress” and measurements of teacher quality. (No-Child Law Is a Highlight Of Hearing On Education, Sam Dillon, The New York Times, 3/4/10). You are now entering the shadowy light of the setting sun that filters through the thick canopy of bureaucratic treetops. It’s tough to look for The Prize with almost no light and all of that haze that makes it hard to see anything.
- IDEA is now appearing in the Personal Business section of the New York Times. (Why does this continue to surprise me?) A well intended article (What to Do If You Suspect Learning Disability, Leslie Alderman, The New York Times, 2/20/10) discussed the high cost to parents of evaluating and treating children with learning disabilities. There is mention of IDEA and of Parent Training and Information Centers and their ability to help parents. It has the ring of innocence and is an agony to read. Of interest is that the picture accompanying the article is of a 3 year old in the private office of a special education consultant. The nonverbal message is- personal business means you pay for the service. Jason! Watch out! There’s a gigantic hole in front of you.
Lots of other things have happened the past two weeks, too. Pediatric occupational therapists are now treating large numbers of kids with handwriting disorders, they say. The Office of Civil Rights is supposed to start enforcing discrimination claims against schools. Asperger’s Syndrome is a hot topic as to whether or not it should be considered as part of the autism spectrum, and children with mental illness are grossly overlooked and under treated. But in the long run, what does all of this mean? Pieces of special education are everywhere, but nobody is putting it all together. Professionals aren’t allowed to or are untrained to connect the dots because they need to be paid by an employer. The only ones who can find The Prize are those with no special training, no title, little money, and who do not feed from the public trough. They are parents in the inner city, in suburbia, of all colors and languages that murmur softly in the forest. The problem is that nobody has told them exactly what the prize is, what it looks like, or where to find it. Come here. Let me whisper something in your ear…