To the Editor:
As a parent of a special education student, I have my own wish list of what I’d like to see done with the aid recently made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“Stimulus Tensions Simmer,” July 15, 2009).
What I have discovered over the past 10 years is that our special education system is deeply flawed. From resistance to accommodations, to disconnects between general education teachers and special education teachers, to flat-out ignorance about the nature of learning disabilities, there is much to improve.
But it is the last of these that probably gives birth to the others: the astounding lack of awareness about the ramifications of having a learning disability. Extended time for assignments is seen as a “crutch,” problems with planners and homework are met with thinly veiled disgust, and detentions multiply with every forgotten note.
There is no doubt that teaching these kids is a challenge many educators are ill-equipped to handle. But dealing with the frustration, anxiety, and tension an LD child faces on a daily basis has not been a priority amid the madness of the No Child Left Behind Act and the push to boost test scores. How many students do we lose to dropping out because the adults around them fail to understand the impact and the pervasiveness of their disabilities? I’d bet that many just check out, rather than face yet another day of being told they are lazy, unorganized, off task, or disruptive.
Kids decide by the end of 3rd grade whether school is something they can succeed in. How many years would you spend in a place where your deficits are on constant display? My husband and I live in fear of our son’s reaching that point, as do probably millions of other families out there just like us.
So now there is money available, and it will be interesting to see how it is used. Am I alone in thinking that if administrators spent some of those valuable dollars for high-quality professional development, the knowledge gained for educators would do far more for “student outcomes” than anything else they could come up with?
A version of this article appeared in the August 12, 2009 edition of Education Week as Few Teachers Know Enough About Learning Disabilities