Detroit is moving 5,000 high school students with learning disabilities and mild cognitive impairments into general education classrooms this year, and the transition has been bumpy, according to this fine article in the Detroit News.
District officials acknowledge there have been growing pains implementing the model this year, from teacher shortages at the start of classes to pushback from parents, but the district is confident the move is the right one, pointing to success at Osborn. Because of compliance issues, the district faces a 20 percent reduction in special education money, jeopardizing nearly $5 million a year in federal funds. The shift allows students to earn diplomas, instead of certificates of achievement, encourages children to rise to their level of capabilities and helps the district come into compliance with a more-inclusive special education model, DPS officials say.
One point of agreement from nearly everyone interviewed in the article is that, for all the potential benefits of inclusion, staff members needed more training before carrying it out. I would have liked to know what kind of training was received, and what did they feel was missing? Differentiating instruction? Managing behavior? Reading instruction for adolescents? Rewriting individualized education programs to meet state and local standards? The article mentions that the article gave teachers lessons in team teaching, but that strikes me as only one necessary factor for a strong inclusion program.
I appreciate that more students will have a chance to graduate now with a diploma instead of a far less useful “certificate of achievement.” But I also think that state official who says these efforts need to start before high school has a very good point.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.