6. “Struggling Students”

In March of 2010, U. S. President Barack Obama is proposing changes in the No Child Left Behind law with emphasis on high school success (New York Times). Emphasis would move away from grade-level performance and testing. Attention would focus on closing achievement gaps between rich and poor. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 evolved into NCLB. It was enacted by President Johnson in his “war on poverty” and the proposed changes seem to return to that outlook.

Current articles do not mention special education misidentification as a factor in improving pupil achievement and helping poor children. Current talk is blind to special education though No Child Left Behind historically has bumped up against it and overlapped. Many poor minority children are placed in special education when they are not disabled.

Proposals say that failing schools need strong intervention but they do not mention special education over-identification and such programs as response to intervention and preschool programs to strengthen performance without stigmatizing pupils.

This blind spot is a very serious problem if experts want to improve schools generally. We already know that many who drop out of high school — who are not “career ready” — are children from special education, whether correctly or incorrectly placed.

In a prior post, we made that same point: “Not only do students get stuck in special education, they get stuck doing the same things over and over without anyone’s anticipation of where they should be going. There should be a 12-year philosophy of special education that points students from the beginning toward realistic and dignified lives. And they should leave special education if at all possible.”

We know that “students who are placed in special education have a higher likelihood of obtaining a certificate instead of a diploma. They also experience lower levels of achievement, high drop-out rates, low wages, increased teenage pregnancy, and social isolation” (Emstac).

In an earlier post we reported that Central Falls High School appeared to have a history of over-placing children in special education when compared to state averages. A betting man might infer that most of American’s 5,000 under-performing schools are misidentifying “struggling children” as special education students and this is one reason why the schools are failing.

(New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/education/14child.html).

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