Monthly Archives: December 2012

Dr. John Panagos and a Book on Over-identification

I am thinking I must take up book-writing in order to sharpen up the study of disproportionality and special education over-identification.  It forces upon us logical analysis not easily captured by blog posts.  Blogging is a good technique for gathering and defining.

The essence of my story is that it has taken me several years to sort out how education works, including the history of it, and including the politics of it.

Stop sign along country road.

Stop sign along country road.

Working in Arizona schools as a professional speech-language pathologist gave me an initial template but brought out other questions I could not answer.  Again, reading history shakes our beliefs in “official policy.”  Well-intentioned “leaders” think they are “innovative” but they are simply repeating the past.

The strongest point is we work in government schools.  What is the agenda of government schools, to create informed citizens for good democracy?  No, and it never has been except in elite schools where rich people send their kids.  A close look at congressional committees tells us school policy is hand and glove with labor issues.  When we needed men to run lathes during the industrial revolution we decided to take young Irish boys out of the  coal mines of Kentucky and educate them. When our school children talk slang and have bad accents we promote “speech correction” teaching.  Lurching federal labor policies pull local education off course.

The fly in the ointment was the enactment of compulsory education, setting the stage for the illegal exclusion of minority children and handicapped children. Elite educators fought like crazy to keep them out of government schools until Brown v Board of Education forced the issue.  Schools became the battlefield for national politics.  Special education after 1975 provided another technique for excluding children with government school classrooms.

The “standards movement” leading up to  No Child Left Behind was a political reaction to the loss of the elitist agenda.   “At-risk” school children of course were pushed around by the need to pass “tests” even when they were dropping out of government schools like misfits.

The history of special education is in fact a great success story when one looks back to 1940 when state laws prevented handicapped persons from going to school because they were “too dangerous.”  The IDEA Child Find Requirement as an extension of Compulsory Education was a constitutional high point in American education.

How well schools manage the education of “struggling pupils” has much to do with the overall success of American schools.  Sure, our scores would be higher if we excluded them.  We could put deaf children in special schools and  hyperactive pupils in asylums. We could send all indians to indian schools or Oklahoma.  We could place black  children in their own school buildings down the road by the smokestacks.  We could send all Mexican children back home.  We could  round-up Japanese children and put them in camps as we once did.  We could put “retarded” pupils in “self-contained” classrooms in old buildings.  We could send troublesome children to “detention” on the way to prison.  We could even cook up some charter school arrangements where special education excellence via child find is an after thought.

Or we could face that we wrote the U. S. Constitution and we are stuck with it.

The most interesting thing I have read to date is “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ A_Nation_at_Risk)….the 1983 report of American President Ronald Reagan‘s National Commission on Excellence in Education.  Its publication is considered a landmark event in modern American educational history ” (Wiki).

As influential Americans railed about sinking academic performance, nothing was said about the enactment of Public Law 94-157 in 1975 forcing schools to take handicapped children as a matter of constitutional rights.  The compulsory education chickens had come home to roost.  Of course performance had to sink.  The bell shape curve had been truncated.

For professionals, the realization many Americans do not want to have “disadvantaged” children in the classroom is where the disproportionality issue begins.  It is not a problem of enhancing assessment skills or sending federal advisories to state departments of education.  It is about the cultural history of American schools and blindness to the problem.

Awareness of Special Education Over-identification

Our work here suggests a good part of the U. S. problem of special education over-identification of at risk and non-disabled minority children (disproportionality) is a lack of everyday awareness among school personnel.  Where schools make a good-faith effort to dig into the problem objectivity and skill develop.

Main road in Lakeside, Arizona, in the White Mountains

Main road in Lakeside, Arizona, in the White Mountains

For example, Nicole Ely reports on an interesting finding in the San Rafael City Schools schools (California) on the identification of “emotionally disturbed” children.  http://sanrafael.patch.com/

The state found a disproportional number of white students classified as emotionally disturbed. “Because of the disparity, the district will have to review its policies and procedures and will be required to reserve 15 percent, or $100,000, of their special education funds for coordinated intervening services to prevent over identification of students.”

The district had worked hard to minimize over-placement of minority children but this finding was a true surprise.  “Our staff does a really good job with the assessment,” [Miss Amy] Baer said. “[Because of the amount of students already identified by other districts] it’s difficult for the high school district to fix this.”

The article identifies one reason for over-identification when one district sends a pupil to another with a legally binding IEP.  Still the new school staff needs to check these transfers to see if the assessments are valid.