Special-Needs Children Left Behind

Posted by Ann | September 2, 2008 – 8:27 am
[allatseawithabucketandspade / Flickr]

[Ann Raber is a BallotVox co-curator.]

There has been a heaping helping of criticism piled on No Child Left Behind, the 2001 law designed to improve public education. At the policy level, we hear criticism about inadequate funding of of NCLB programs. On the ground, you hear that NCLB is too focused on standardized testing, and that the rigid curriculum and testing requirements marginalize high functioning students who have learning disabilities.

Hahn blogs from Sacramento. She has three high school-age kids, two of them 15-year-old twins. Em, the younger twin by three minutes, has a custom education plan designed to accommodate her style of learning. As school got underway last week, Em and her mom had to grapple with the looming cookie cutter:

Tomorrow, Em should receive notice that she’s getting a transfer to a ceramics class and being transferred out of Earth Science. They piled on her schedule without looking at her IEP (special education plan) or having a single clue in the world about the happy, darling, winsome girl whose academic talents continue to grow, but at a much slower pace than her counterparts. […]

This is a child who can do very well if the workload is not too heavy or the difficult concepts dealt with on an extremely small group basis. But, that is not in conformance with California high school education standards.

Hahn has drawn up her own vocational plan for Em and lobbies hard for it:

Every year I have to go through this – through every change of RSP teacher and principal. It gets frustrating. But, it’s worthwhile. And, I know the game and play it very well. Em benefits.

President Bush and his dumb ass No Child Left Behind doesn’t have to support all the children in the world who didn’t have parents with silver spoons in their mouths and who need a solid vocational track that will allow them to graduate and support themselves without ending up on the street, on welfare, or working at McDonalds. Seriously – where would Dubya Shrub be if he had lived in a home in my socio-economic strata?

Across the country in Kirkwood, Missouri, Sarahlynn, who used to work in publishing, now stays home raising her daughters. She blogs “late at night, when everyone else sleeps.” Sarahlynn’s four-year-old daughter Ellie has Down Syndrome. As Ellie’s education gets underway, Sarahlynn is facing just how hard it is to coordinate the needs of a special child with a public-school education. What Hahn has been doing for years now for Em, Sarahlynn is just now embarking on. She considers NCLB to account for continuing to make things difficult:

[I]nstead of working with the parent to determine the baby’s needs based on diagnosis, pediatrician’s recommendation, evaluation, or even a simple questionnaire, it’s all based on one question: what are your concerns? […]

It’s a newborn baby! With an unexpected diagnosis! What is the parent supposed to say to this?! […]

As the parent, I am the expert on my baby. I’m the expert on her day-to-day needs, and on loving her. BUT, I’m not an expert on all babies. I’m not an expert on PT, OT, development, medicine, or speech. I need to be able to rely on a team of experts who will tell me what my baby needs. […]

The goals on a student’s IEP (individualized educational plan) drive what therapies she receives and what her therapists address with her. But the goals are derived directly from the “Family Concerns” section of the IEP. We messed up last year and didn’t write down enough parent concerns and are currently having to supplement Ellie’s therapies in all areas.

Tomorrow is Ellie’s IEP meeting for next year, and I’ve been preparing for weeks. I’ve taken a training class and I have a better idea of what to ask for, and how.

But it shouldn’t be this hard for parents. The experts should be able to help us determine what Ellie needs, and what it’s realistic to ask of her.

Because, you know what? I’m more equipped to deal with this situation than a lot of other parents. What does it mean for their children? And what does it mean for our society when these children leave school and are expected to become productive adults?

The meat of the 2008 campaign has, so far, been the economy and our foreign entanglements. Neither McCain nor Obama have gotten specific about their plans for public education. The issue is not flashy, and there might be no plan that won’t upset someone, but clearly for parents in the country, public education is worth discussing.


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