Response to my article regarding the lack of educational policies and procedures for ‘Remediation and Release’ of special education students (No Exit: The ‘Black Hole’ of Special Education) has been extensive. Letters from individuals interested and involved in the problem – parents, teachers, students, administrators, voters – have added yet more names and stories that tell of the depth and hopelessness of the current ‘permanent placement/black hole’ process that holds special needs children in a system which seldom offers a positive or acceptable exit.
Typical of the letters was communication from a retired Texas principal who stated that in twenty (20) years the only children released from special education in his district were the ‘speech and language’ students. He also noted that, in his opinion, the ‘speech and language’ clinicians were far better trained than the special education teachers. (I agree with that opinion but will discuss that at another time.)
I contacted the Office of Special Education, Michigan Department of Education, and asked for the percentage of students who successfully return to full time general education. A consultant directed me to a Table available on the Internet (statistics on students who exited special education December 2000 – December 2001, noted that I should look at “Part B,” and added, “There are no exact comparable national ‘federal’ statistics on students who return to general education. This is because the U.S. Department of Education only collects exiting data on students who are 14 years of age and older.”
The ‘Part B’ data showed that 15,065 Michigan students had left special education under label ‘A,’ but gave no breakdown for the category. I again contacted the Michigan Department of Education, mentioned my concerns and observations, and asked for specific details about the category ‘A’ students. I received the following response:
“I wish I could be more encouraging, but am afraid your experiences are probably more typical than not. Here are some data on students who have returned to special education during the 2000–2001 school year, out of 200,000 active students. As you can see the majority of the students are speech and language students.”
Included was the following information, which I have expanded by also figuring percentages in relation to the entire 200,000 active special education students for that year.
Label/category # of students % of 15,065 % of 200,000 Severely Mentally Imp 16 0.1 0.0080 Trainable Mentally Imp 68 0.5 0.0340 Educable Mentally Imp 403 2.7 0.2000 Emotionally Impaired 868 5.8 0.4340 Hearing Impaired 59 0.4 0.0295 Visually Impaired 33 0.2 0.0165 Phys & Other Health Imp 626 4.2 0.3100 Speech & Language Imp 8,936 59.3 4.4680 Preprimary Impaired 254 1.7 0.1270 Learning Disabled 3,751 24.9 1.8760 Severely Multiply Imp 13 0.1 0.0065 Autistic Imp 38 0.3 0.0190 Total 15,065 100.0 7.5120 ** 7.512% Exit Rate – less 4.468% Speech & Lang = 3.04% ** Michigan disabled students who exited Spec. Ed. December 2000 – December 2001
I nodded a silent acknowledgement to the reader in Texas. The ‘Speech and Language Impaired,’ with their fewer academic needs, and served by potentially better-trained staff, in one-on-one, or small-group settings, are learning to pronounce those tricky sounds and blends, improving language skills, and being released from special services. This huge block of children certainly serves to make those exiting statistics look better, but does nothing to truthfully demonstrate what is, or is not, happening in special education classrooms.
It is understandable that we not expect severely disabled children to be fully remediated. However, much more can be done to educate, prepare, and release more, if not the majority, of children in most classifications. For example, deaf children can be taught high language skills in excellent elementary categorical rooms, then, with the services of an interpreter, be successful in high school classes; blind children can be given mobility training, Braille instruction and textbooks, then mainstream into most classes. However, it does not appear that excellent services are being provided to all, or even most, special education students. It does not appear that special education goals and philosophies are focused on preparing these children for full entry into general education within the shortest timeframes possible.
Some areas of particular concern:
The low percentage of release for Preprimary Impaired is very disturbing. For decades we have heard of the extensive federal, state and local monies being poured into Headstart and other types of preschool programming.
The percentage of release for Learning Disabled students should be of major concern, since these students, by definition, have average or higher levels of intelligence. We must consider the possibility that these ‘disabilities’ are actually being created, within the confines and structure of the schools, by inferior teaching methods, and/or materials. (Book suggestion: Off Track: When Poor Readers Become “Learning Disabled” by Louise Spear-Swerling and Robert J. Sternberg)
We should wonder if many, even most, of the children classified as Emotionally Impaired, have come to that label via the frustrations of not being taught to read, and so never develop a perspective of themselves as capable, competent learners. I have met scores of students who I believe have no innate emotional problems, and are, instead, reacting with anger and frustration to the failure of the educational system to educate them in the proper time and with successful methods. (Book suggestion: Retarding America: The Imprisonment of Potential by Michael S. Brunner)
At this point, attempts to find answers to the black hole of special education only serve to highlight more questions and further areas of concern. We must not be put off by this swirl of confusion and obfuscation. Rather, we must pose further questions to, and place greater demands upon, the educational establishment. For the present and future choices for our children – all children, not only those with special labels – we must force the schools to become accountable to we-the-taxpayers; to we-the-parents. We must demand that schools put an end to progressive faddish instruction, and dead-end special education placements. We must demand that schools use successful methods, well-trained staff, knowledge-based curriculum, and adhere to honest philosophies that are fully focused on educating every child in America to reach his or her highest potential.
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in northern-lower Michigan, where she is a special education teacher; a free-lance writer; and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.