Arne Duncan and Special Education – A Dangerous Mixture

I said I was on vacation and not posting again after Monday, but on the eve of my departure, this came crawling across my Facebook feed via my fellow ChicagoNow blogger, Chicago Public Fools:

Arne Duncan Proposes New Accountability for Special Education by Diane Ravitch.

Duncan actually said the following:

We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel.

Really? Guess he doesn’t know that not all special needs will disappear with the right curriculum, standards, and testing. Guess he subscribes to the same thinking as school administrators who believe kids will outgrow their learning disabilities and differences, thereby requiring fewer support services as they mature. That’s one way to justify cutbacks in the services they need and the special educators and therapists who administer them.

Yes, we should have high expectations for children with special needs. But access to a “robust curriculum” is not the answer. Nor is testing them. Nor is threatening their teachers and schools in the same manner as Duncan’s approach to general education.

Check out this post by Claudio Sancez of NPR. The post reveals some startling facts:

The Obama administration believes that the vast majority of the 6.5 million students with disabilities in U.S. schools today are not receiving a quality education. I'm OK with that assumption, but here's the kicker -- Under the new guidelines, Duncan will require proof from the states that these kids with special needs are actually making academic progress. Tests will supply the proof. As always with Duncan, states that don’t comply with the new guidelines might lose federal funding.

Kevin Huffman, Tennessee's education commissioner, supported Duncan’s take on special education by contending that kids with special needs lag behind their typically developing peers because they need more demanding schoolwork and more frequent testing.

You may also want to check out Peter Greene’s post Quite Possibly the Stupidest Thing to Come out of the DOE.

Greene says,

“We don't need IEPs-- we need expectations and demands. We don't need student support and special education programs-- we need more testing. We don't need consideration for the individual child's needs-- we just need to demand that the child get up to speed, learn things, and most of all TAKE THE DAMN TESTS. Because then, and only then, will we be able to make all student disabilities simply disappear.”

On November 22, 2003 (the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination), I wrote about Why I am Mad at Arne Duncan Today. At that time, I was responding to his infamous remark about folks like me who objected to his policies, particularly to the Common Core Standards:

“It’s fascinating to me that some of the push back is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary.”

He was wrong then, just as he’s wrong now about being able to fix children with special needs by imposing the Common Core and testing approach to their educations. Would that it were true, Mr. Duncan. Maybe you should consult with some experts in special education before you forge ahead.

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