It is interesting to note how quickly I remediate reading and math delays in the students I see at my clinic, as opposed to how slowly those same problems are corrected in my classroom. I have spent many years and thousands of dollars to become adept at instruction and remediation, so approach both situations with equal skill. The difference in the outcomes for the two populations comes down to the fact that a teacher can provide instruction more effectively on a one-to-one basis, than to a group of students with varying needs. It is time that we reassess the model, and the methods, used for remediation of children faced with academic delays.
Many of my classroom students, after a year or two of instruction, do get out of special education, or at least out of the reading portion where I, myself, set the goals, choose the most effective methods, and specifically focus on "remediation and release." For too many children, skilled intervention comes too late after the academic and emotional damage done to the child has been too severe. For those children, "special ed" becomes a life sentence.
The dubious term — Provide Academic Support — is too often a euphemism for dumbing down assignments; allowing children to use notes and open books for non-open book tests; for the practice of plastering academic Band-Aids anywhere and everywhere in hopes of fooling parents and children into believing that: a.) the child is so stupid that he cannot function without academic crutches, and b.) this is an honorable way to get through school. The academic community, as a whole, should be held severely accountable for the real outcome of mis-education — that fewer than 10% of special education students with normal intelligence, normal hearing and normal sight, ever escape those placements.
At my clinic, the remediation students (as opposed to those who seek on-going tutoring for something like Algebra) are seen, on average, for twelve one-hour appointments, before they return to their schools ready for grade-level work. Often, second- and third-grade girls can be released after five (5) working appointments! Most anyone, using well-structured materials like Phyllis Schlafly’s Turbo Reader, can teach a motivated child to read in about thirty hours of one-on-one instruction. Yet our schools allow our LD students to spend five, ten, twelve years accomplishing little-to-nothing in expensive special classrooms. These students miss opportunities to learn core knowledge — the aspect of an education that teams with a skilled usage of the Code in which English is written (i.e., Print) to bring about full, and fulfilling, reading comprehension. These students then "graduate" from high school still unable to read.
Motivation is not the problem with most children and adults, especially when they realize that the teacher is skilled, committed, and will truly be teaching them to read, instead of playing worksheet wonderland. Ask any small child why he or she wants to go to school, and you will hear, “I want to learn to read!” Every year millions of enthusiastic, hopeful, eager children lose that sparkle of anticipation, and quickly come to hate reading classes where they learn to see themselves as failures, rather than developing into readers.
I cannot understand how their teachers can live with themselves while observing, as they surely must, such deep hurt develop in the eyes of innocent children. I could not sleep well — not during the school year; not during any summer; not during any year for the rest of my life. The children who are the victims of such inferior teaching have been given a serial death sentence: the death of spirit; the death of self-worth; the death of hope; the death of intellectual interest and challenge; the death of most chances for ultimately finding a rewarding job; the death of plans to support a future family with wisdom, leadership, and financial stability.
Sometimes special ed students are considered the reason that a general ed class may be held back, or "dumbed down." In the special education classrooms that same dynamic is taking place. Those children who are extremely delayed are causing the other children to slow their pace of learning. The needs of all the children go unmet for too long; often forever.
Idealistically, special education classrooms are to provide for students on an individual basis, in following with the Individual Education Plan, as drawn up by the team of professionals at the annual IEP meetings. It sounds so good; so unique; so effective. It sounds as if it would be the way to meet the needs of each student. The fact is that these plans do not work — not even in the hands of highly trained, and extremely motivated teachers.
I suspect that few teachers believe as strongly as I do, in the need to remediate and release special education students at the absolutely earliest moment. Yet, even my skills and my drive for success, cannot do for my students in a classroom, what I can do for my students at my clinic. It is impossible for one teacher, working with several students at any one time, to do diagnostic and prescriptive teaching for each as an individual. It is no wonder that so many teachers, in utter frustration, turn to using a multitude of worksheets rather than fail at trying to be all things to all children. And so the years pass, and the gains for each child are measured in months (if any gains occur, at all), rather than in the "years" needed in order for each child to catch up to the level of their same-age peers and exit from the "black hole of special education."
Special education is based on a flawed plan; an ineffective model that has failed children since the initial development of such classrooms. Still the model dominates all special education organization and administration! Furthermore, Title-I programs are also failing to meet the needs of the population they are to serve — those children who fall through the cracks while failing to qualify for special placements, although unable to handle the work in regular classes. One can almost hear the echoes from the past… “Let them eat cake!”
We need a system that will diagnose delays at the earliest possible moment and arrange for services in a clinic-like setting where skilled, trained teachers work one-on-one with children. Such teachers should be held strictly accountable for successful diagnostic and prescriptive teaching; for remediating and releasing children in the most efficient manner and in the fastest timeframe possible. No child should languish for years in special non-education classrooms, becoming more discouraged and disillusioned with each boring year, then leaving with a diploma that they are incapable of reading.
One has to wonder about the underlying rationale behind such obvious and purposeful malpractice. Have the All-Powerful State, the Departments of Education, and the individual school districts finally agreed upon a price for the $oul$ of these children? Does this not remind one of The Child Buyer? These possibilities are too vile to consider; but too likely to ignore.
The time has come — is far overdue, actually — for parents and communities to force districts to diagnose, remediate and release delayed students at the earliest possible age, and that process is best done with straightforward one-on-one instruction. Any other model is unethical, inexcusable, and bass-ackwards, all to the detriment of our more needy children. Mature adults have a responsibility to awake from their stupors, knock the poison from the hand of the State; the forced feedings from the ineffective, if not downright devious, teacher training programs and get down to the real business of saving children from lives without hope.
First step? Give the gift of literacy to every child before they complete second grade.
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in Michigan. She is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.