Failing Special Education Program

The Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative, an evaluation group from Massachusetts, has filed an audit indicating that the San Francisco model of special education is “outdated.”  It should move toward mainstreaming special education pupils: “The report calls the district’s special education practices reactionary, discipline-specific and focused on compliance-related activities and crisis management. Put simply: Schools are babysitting these kids, not teaching them.”

Any school speech therapist will recognize these practices as the chief public policy issues dating back to before IDEA 1997, when Congress was very active in addressing special education issues.

The “discipline-specific” practice speaks to the non-collaborative approaches of related service and special education personnel, following the “diagnostic-prescriptive” methods of symptom treatment.  School speech-language pathologists across the country still rely heavily on small-room direct service. 

Dr. David Riley says: “Most students should be in general education classrooms with the right support. That means teachers are retrained, paraprofessionals are in the room.”

As we are advocating here, school SLPs and other specialists need to re-evaluate their placement criteria and judgments to reduce the number of non-disabled children placed in special education: “The report…calls for a reevaluation of the process to identify students who need special services. The auditors found disproportionate representation of particular ethnicities in some special-needs categories. African-American students in San Francisco, for example, account for only 11 percent of the total student population, but make up 24 percent of the special education population and 49.3 percent of the students identified as emotionally disturbed. The auditors are concerned that some of this “disproportionality” is the result of inappropriate identification.”  Certainly school psychologists are key players in contributing to the problems of misidentification of at risk children.

The need to change is placed on the administrative structures. It is very difficult if not impossible for SLPs to move toward reform from their isolated positions and from the “bottom up.”

Here is where reform advocacy must come from speech-language pathology professional groups. Not everything can be accomplished through “grassroots” advocacy.

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