Annual Progress and Special Education

Does NCLB Represent a ‘Clockwork Orange’ Approach to Public Policy?

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To the Editor:

Do ("AYP Rules Miss Many in Spec. Ed.," Sept. 21, 2005) as your Sept. 21, 2005, article’s headline suggests?

In 2003, 11.46 percent of U.S. 6- to 17-year-olds had special education disabilities; 2.6 percent suffered with autism, traumatic brain injury, developmental delay, multiple disabilities, mental retardation, and emotional disturbance; and 5.4 percent were learning-disabled, including students with dyslexia, dyscalculia, and aphasia. These percentages are higher in public schools, because of federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates.

Yet, the No Child Left Behind Act decrees that only 1 percent of public school students have disabilities severe enough to warrant an alternative to its grade-level written tests. This equals about 9 percent of the special education population. The law further holds that, by 2014, 91 percent of all special education problems will be gone or irrelevant because these students must be performing at grade level.

Asking a child with dyslexia today to perform on a paper-and-pencil reading test is like asking a paraplegic to run the hurdles. How will this sea change occur? What is the No Child Left Behind law doing to give these children their legs?

The answer is “nothing.” There is no research being funded. The entire remediation structure of this legislation rests on punishing nonperforming schools, as if a hidden font of methodology exists that can be beaten out of educators. This Clockwork Orange approach in current federal policy holds that if you apply enough aversive therapy, inject enough fear, threats, and punishment, institutions and people will do what you wish.

States, by expanding group size, are trying to make the odds match the many existing problems. The U.S. Department of Education will neither stray from its 1 percent invention nor introduce measures of progress other than comparisons to the norm for this special group. The mandated ritual of grade-level, written testing for students with disabilities continues. The “No Child” law manages to embarrass and defeat students, distract the schools, and create sham accountability, while doing nothing to enlighten or advance the education and treatment of special-needs children.

Stephen A. Harman
Thornton School District No. 154
Thornton, Ill.

To the Editor:

Regarding your article “AYP Rules Miss Many in Spec. Ed.”:

New York has determined that a special education subgroup must have at least 30 students. My New York district has three schools that serve 8th graders who, therefore, took last year’s federally mandated tests. The district’s Title I school is also the school with the largest 8th grade; the other two schools have approximately half as many students. Not surprisingly, the largest school educates the highest percentage of minority students as well.

The number of special education students per school is quite similar among the three: The largest school has 32 8th graders in special education, while the other two have 20 to 24 special education students each. Thus, under state regulations, only the largest school is at risk of “failing” as regards its special education results. Yet that school has a smaller percentage of special education students than do the other two.

Of course, our goal is to have all students pass the test. But some students take longer to learn the same material, or need to show that they’ve learned in a different way. Neither accommodation is permitted under federal or state regulations.

If my understanding is correct, schools that fail to make adequate progress for two consecutive years and are Title I schools are subject to having parents transfer their children into other schools. In my district, this could have an impact on the racial balance among the three schools. What a conflict of public-policy goals.

I strongly believe that the disaggregated-group accountability required by the No Child Left Behind Act has forced many of us to devote more attention and resources to educating our nation’s forgotten minority students. But can someone help me understand what I’m missing in terms of its special education component?

Marc F. Bernstein
Superintendent of Schools
Valley Stream Central High School District
Valley Stream, N.Y.

Vol. 25, Issue 07, Page 33

Published in Print: October 12, 2005, as Annual Progress and Special Education

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