The Waves of Special Education

September 27, 2018

You may not remember it, but there was a time in American education before IEP’s, 504 Plan’s and “special education.” It was in 1975 that federal legislation was passed, guaranteeing a free appropriate public education to each child with a disability. It was called Public Law-94 142.

Ah, that word “appropriate” has been a real challenge all of these years. How does one define “appropriate?”

To try and meet the spirit of the law and provide “appropriate” education to disabled kids (of which learning disabled makes up the vast majority of those classified) it seems to me that special education has had its various waves, with different concepts and notions coming in and out of favor.

For example, back in the day, (in the early years of PL- 94-142) “self-contained” classes were the norm. As a newly minted teacher, I remember my special education class, a small band of kids in an isolated room that was virtually the boiler room in a middle school on Staten Island.

From self-contained classes, the next wave that was supposed to be the answer for all struggling kids, was the Resource Room, a theoretically friendly academic environment where the child would arrive from his regular class on a set time each day to work on skills in a small group.

I used to hear about kids going to resource rooms all the time when parents would come in to consult with me. The parents would say something like, “He goes to resource room every day for 45 minutes.”

My question to the parent, which usually remained unanswered was, “I know he goes to the resource room, but what happens when he get there?”

Generally, the parents are not clear about what happens in the resource room. The schools always had a pretty consistent response for the parents – “We individualize to meet the child’s needs.” There was rarely talk of specific methodologies or approaches.

Now, I don’t hear much about resource rooms any more, even though they still exist in some school districts. Instead what I get a lot from parents is, “He gets ‘in-class support.”

“In-class support,” (it’s called different things in different states and districts) is the new norm. In-class support seems sweet on the surface. It comes across in very benign ways. Who would argue with “in-class support for kids with IEPs?

I wonder, though. Are they getting what they need based on the spirit of the law? Are they getting an “appropriate” education? I’m not in the classroom, so I really have no idea.
My guess is that on average the kids get pretty good attention from caring teachers who look to support the child in the classroom.

The issue for me is the one of direct instruction for these struggling kids.

That is, if I’m one of those kids who doesn’t read, spell or write very well, just giving me support is not enough. I need to be taught directly, with sensible methods targeting specific skills and practicing them enough over time so that they become internalized.

Otherwise, I’m just treading water, not really making any legitimate progress.


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All comments (6)
  • Mary Black
    September 29, 2018 at 2:07 am

    You are so right. Whatever happened to 94-142? Does it still exist or has it been overrode by the newer legislation? I […] Read MoreYou are so right. Whatever happened to 94-142? Does it still exist or has it been overrode by the newer legislation? I see very little "appropriate education." It is all too often just too little, too late. Read Less

    Reply
  • caroline Hilhorst
    September 29, 2018 at 1:18 pm

    from your vantage what would an ideal classroom for struggling children look like?

    Reply
  • S. Cowins
    October 01, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    Great read with very accurate points. I’ve seen in-class support up close as a substitute, and it is often not targeted at skill building. From […] Read MoreGreat read with very accurate points. I’ve seen in-class support up close as a substitute, and it is often not targeted at skill building. From what I’ve witnessed, many aids are around to curb bad behavior and don’t have the training needed to provide individualized help. It’s often much better when support is provided by teachers, but this is not consistent in some districts and it is still a lacking system. Read Less

    Reply

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