Thursday, June 26, 2014

Duncan a know-nothing when it comes to teaching kids with disabilities

Arne Duncan seems bent on pushing standardized-testing madness and privatization into the area of special ed and the teaching of kids with disabilities. That's the only way I can interpret his announced "major shift" in an area about which he appears immensely ignorant.

Duncan claims, without offering any evidence, that the vast majority of the 6.5 million students with disabilities in U.S. schools today are "not receiving a quality education", and that he "will hold states accountable for demonstrating that those students are making progress". The basis for this radical shift in special ed policy comes from his belief that it's not students' disabilities that are holding them back, but rather the low expectations of educators.

Duncan has announced new standards for judging states on special education which greatly reduce compliance enforcement for IDEA. Instead, they're using NAEP test results to judge educational outcomes for students in special ed.

 But "NAEP was never designed or tested for any such purpose", writes Beverley Johns, a national authority on special education (on Diane Ravitch's blog). NAEP is a test taken by a sample of school districts from each state, every 2 years.

Duncan dragged out his pet teacher-bashing school boss, Tennessee's appointed ed commissioner, Kevin Huffman (a lawyer and  former Teach for America executive) to back up his unsubstantiated claim. Huffman believes that most kids with disabilities lag behind because teachers don't expect them to achieve but they will succeed if they're given more demanding schoolwork and are tested more.

I should mention that Huffman, (Michelle Rhee's ex) who's part of Jeb Bush's corporate reform group Chiefs for Change, is hanging onto his own job by his finger tips after the governor received a letter from 63 superintendents criticizing Huffman's leadership.

Under the new guidelines, Duncan says "he'll require proof" that these kids aren't just being served but are actually making academic progress.  "We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel," Duncan said.

Teacher/blogger Peter Greene at Huffington responds:
Do they imagine that disabled students are just all faking, or that the specialists who diagnose these various problems are just making stuff up for giggles? Either way, Duncan and Huffman have set an entirely new high bar for ignorance, insensitivity, and just plain flat out stupidity. 
Brother Fred, a retired art teacher, looks back on his own years of teaching and his run-in with his Duncanesque former principal who believed she could tell if students with autism were engaged or not during a one-time classroom visit.
“You cannot tell whether Jimmy is engaged or not engaged simply by a one-time observation,” I wrote. “You clearly have very little knowledge of autism, although you were a special education administrator for many years.” I also pointed out that whether a child has autism or is a typical student, engagement is not binary. A student is not in or out. There are degrees of engagement with a project. This is no less true for Special Needs students.
Fred concludes:
A major shift in Special Needs accountability. It must be demonstrated that the students are making progress.One can only shudder at what Arne has in mind.


  1. Actually, I think "major shift" was a typo. They added an f.

  2. The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) posted a wiki for its members to comment on this latest change. Here is my comment:

    I'm unclear how shifting a proportion of compliance from IEP's to test-based scores will strengthen outcomes and guarantee full due process protections for students in SPED. In public schools all over the country, standardized test scores are being used to punish teachers, not to improve instruction. Children in SPED are becoming more segregated and excluded, rather than included, due to DoEd's test score-based accountability. In TN, we have political leaders stating that they, I quote: "are not going to spend money on those [special education and at risk] kids." [my words inserted are relevant to the context].

    IDEA makes the IEP - not test scores- the decision point for placement, related services, testing, and due process. A child's goals and objectives are the source for accountability. This new policy asserts that test scores are the primary determinant of progress, rather than individualized goals. Shifting the decision making power to test scores undermines the fundamental integrity of the IEP. CEC cannot participate in such a shift if we are to assure the school based IEP team maintains its contractual power.

    NAEP scores are helpful in comparing large groups of similarly situated children in controlled studies. NAEP is not designed to measure individual progress, and as such, should not have the weight of overseeing schools compliance on IEP goals and objectives. Standardized test scores alone cannot inform curriculum, staffing, targeted instructional procedures, specialized equipment, or paraprofessionals. This is the role of the IEP. Yet, DoEd will usurp these decisions if test scores become the goals they choose to enforce.

    This move by DoEd appears to be a backdoor for weakening IEP decision making powers by reducing the influence of the IEP team based decisions to test score-based decisions. I hope CEC resists any and all attempts to weaken IEP and due process for SPED students. We have come too far, for too long to permit this to happen.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.