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.

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  • Naomi Boyle  On January 3, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Dear Dr. Panagos:

    I am delighted to hear that you are considering writing a book on the issue of over-identification of disabilities in schools. I am a parent who sold a house to move out of a school district so that my child would not become what I call a “victim of over-identification.” I have heard of several parents who have done likewise. Several years have passed since we made that move, but the mission was accomplished, and it was a decision I never regretted.

    But sadly there are many parents that quite frankly don’t have a clue. They become convinced by the study teams that their child is “special.” They become convinced by the bio-psychiatry industry that the underlying problem has nothing to do with the environment and can only be attributed to some not so well defined, ever changing, subjectively diagnosed, alleged, biological cause outside of their control. The parents have no idea of the funding incentives that encourage schools to engage in over-identification. In fact the phrase “over-identification” hasn’t even entered into their vocabularly. Not only do parents have no clue about how IDEA funding works, they haven’t even heard about the Medicaid and third-party reimbursement profits school districts view as limitless revenue streams. In my opinion, a book educating America on over-identification is sorely needed.

    Schools often cite their IDEA numbers to convince the public that there has not been an increase in “identified” students. Of course those numbers are limited by Congressional Act and almost every school is at or near the max if not slightly over. But we never hear how many students are placed on 504 plans, or a “mini IEP.” or an IEP “for related services only,” or an “individul health plan” or on a “functional behavior plan. ” I have talked to many parents whose kids are on non-IDEA plans of some sort or another and because the parents don’t understand education law, they are just as convinced that their child has a disability as are the parents of children placed on full fledged IDEA IEPs that the school districts cite as their “special education” population. The consequence is that the psychological damage for these inappropriately placed children can be just as grave. I hope your book addresses these victims of over-identification as well.

    You state that you would like to address the issue of disproportionality in special education. When I taught elementary general music many moons ago in Southwest rural Georgia, I witnessed first hand true “disportionaltiy.” The district’s African American population was approximately 30% but when I walked into the EMR classrooms somehow I was seeing classes that were approximately 90% African American. But years later when I had my own child and enrolled her in a public elementary school in a middle class suburb in Johnson County, Kansas, I witnessed something much different. The school had only 1-2% of the students on free and reduced lunch, and demographically it had a white, non-Hispanic population in excess of 95% (and most of the other 5% were Asian). Yet I noticed on the school’s website that there were 13 special education paras on staff in a little elementary school with only 400 students, and team meetings occuring in the fall every morning and every afternoon in the glass conference room adjacent to the principal’s office. I can’t call that disproportionality, it appeared to me that it could only be called pure unadulterated over-identification. Yet, many experts in the field speak of disproportionality as if it is synonymous with the phrase “over-identification,” and I can tell you based on my experiences it is not. I think the best way to describe disproportionality is as a sub-set of over-identification.

    Please in the name of the millions of children in this country currently and about to become “victims of over-identification” write this book. Perhaps a good title would be “Over-Identification Awareness.” And I will say a prayer when it comes time for you to find a publisher.

    • schoolspeechpathology  On January 6, 2013 at 10:40 pm

      Thank you. Your analysis squares with what I have learned over several years. We argue IEP committees should make full disclosure about the risks and “side effects” of special education placement. I can tell you have been through a lot. JP

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