Arne Answers Questions from the Council for Exceptional Children

“In order to win the future, President Obama has challenged us that we must enable every single American to reach their potential,” said Secretary Duncan in a recent Q&A with members of the Council of Exceptional Children (CEC). “Every child, regardless of income, race, background, or disability can learn and must learn, and our system of education must embrace this core belief every day in every way possible.”

Secretary Duncan asked the CEC to contact its members and find out their most pressing questions. The Secretary worked with his staff to answer those questions in a Q&A document released today that coincides with the opening day of The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) 2011 Convention and Expo. The Secretary addressed pay-for-performance, inclusion, teacher accountability, and the development and support for universal design concepts.

The Secretary explained that “We want to model the best practices that we know are most effective, and at the top of that list of best practices is one simple word: inclusion. When we set high expectations, students with disabilities can excel. Students with disabilities, like everyone else, must be college- and career-ready because we know that the good jobs of the future will require more than a high-school diploma. With a high-quality education, children with disabilities will be self-sufficient and will be able to live independently.”

Visit the CEC’s “Ask Arne” page for the entire Q&A between CEC members and Secretary Duncan.

6 Comments

  1. My 13yo son has an iq of 57 (mild intellectual disability). We are in NC and have looked forward to the Occupational Course of Study his entire academic career. I found out this week that due to these ridiculous higher expectations and my son’s inability to learn at that level he is being dismissed from the middle school prep program for OCS and will be placed in a classroom of moderately mentally disabled students. Can beaurocrats please support our amazing special education teachers who our simply trying to teach our mentally disabled children to reach their God given potential. Let’s raise standards sure, but only for those who are capable.

  2. As a special education teacher in North Carolina, I have been proud to teach in the Occupational Course of Study, which is designed for students with mild intellectual disabilities (or other similarly-functioning students) to learn to live and work as independently as possible after graduation. We have had some truly inspiring success stories out of that program, and I’ve been moved to tears when some of my students come back to see me and tell me what they’ve been doing. I’m quite certain that quite a lot of these students would have dropped out otherwise.

    Unfortunately, as of this year, we have had to change our curriculum so that the tested courses follow exactly the same course standards as their non-disabled peers. So instead of teaching students to count their money, we are trying to teach them algebra (which they simply DO NOT have the cognitive ability to understand. It’s just that simple. High expectations don’t change IQ’s!). Instead of teaching them how to read instructions or employment manuals, we are trying to teach them to analyze classical literature. This is an exercise in frustration for all involved. We’ve seen more acting-out behaviors, more skipping, more refusal to do work, more frustration from students in these classes. This is NOT to their benefit! And I’m afraid this trend is only going to get worse.

    Yes, we should set high standards, but these standards need to be ACHEIVEABLE!!!! The Occupational Course of Study has been a real challenge for our students. They’ve had to work very hard, but it’s has paid off for them and they’ve been successful. If our students continue to be put into classes they don’t understand and which will not benefit them in any way, we’re likely to lose them, and they’re much less likely to be as successful as their predicessors. Why are we doing this????

  3. So you say:
    We want to model the best practices that we know are most effective, and at the top of that list of best practices is one simple word: inclusion. When we set high expectations, students with disabilities can excel. Students with disabilities, like everyone else, must be college- and career-ready because we know that the good jobs of the future will require more than a high-school diploma. With a high-quality education, children with disabilities will be self-sufficient and will be able to live independently.

    This is true. The problem is when it is interpreted as being in black and white.
    High functioning disabled students will be able to succeed in a regular classroom, as long as the suplemental instruction they need is available to them.

    What about the low functioning students? What good does it do to place a student who exists at a 2-year-old level into an algebra classroom? Who does this benefit?
    Does it make the administration feel warm and tingly inside?

    Again, though, this needs to be taken with a grain of salt. We can not assume that every child will succeed, or that every child will fail, or even that every child is willing to do one or the other. When did we turn over control of local schools to the federal government? Why can’t we be allowed to make decisions at the local level? Why must every single thing we do in schools be mandated to us from the powers that be?

    Where did common sense go? When did it die? Who is the voice of reason?

    • To add on: “We want students with disabilities to be held to the same college- and career-ready standards as all students, and schools that are accountable for helping them reach these standards.”

      To illustrate how unreasonable this line of thinking is, let’s imagine adding a battery of physical fitness tests to the testing program. This physical fitness test battery would include stamina, strength, speed and agility tests. Of course, in keeping with the rest of NCLB, EVERY STUDENT will have to pass the SAME test at the SAME level of proficiency. Students with disabilities will be allowed to use modifications such as wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, etc. Some may be allowed extra time to complete the test, but they MUST complete the test independently. Anyone who does not pass the test will also not pass the class, despite their performance in class all year. In order to prepare for this test, students will take similar tests quarterly. PE teachers and coaches will be held accountable for anyone who doesn’t pass this test, and evaluations (and probably eventually merit pay) they receive will be based on the results of these tests. Results will be compiled and reported as “proficiency levels” met for that school. Schools not meeting their expected proficiency levels may be considered “low performing” and run the risk that the entire staff will be replaced.

      Does anyone think THIS makes sense???? If so, read on:

      The result?
      * Truly gifted athletes, as in those who might be able to compete on an Olympic, college, or professional level, will not get the specialized coaching and training they need to be competitive because their coaches will be so busy trying to help “average” students pass the tests.

      * Moderately fit abled-bodied students will be challenged, and may pass the test as long as they keep up with their training.

      * Students starting the year obese and out-of-shape will have to work extra-hard just to catch up to where they should have been when the school year started. Some will work as hard as they can and still not pass the tests. In the process, most would feel frustrated and demoralized (particularly after failing the tests every quarter), despite teachers’ encouragements for their effort and attitudes.

      * Students with mild physical problems, such as significant asthma, will have IEP’s developed by the entire educational team that will specify the level of daily activity in which it is appropriate for these students to safely participate and be successful on a daily basis. Although these students are participating in the same activities as their peers, the passing level for some of the activities (such as stamina activities) is lowered, and they may use other modifications (such as taking a nebulizer treatment prior to exercise), considering their legitimate medical needs. However, they still have to take all the quarter tests. They still need to take and pass the final test at the same level as the rest of their peers. In the process, most would feel frustrated and demoralized (particularly after failing the tests every quarter), despite teachers’ encouragements for their effort and attitudes.

      * Students with significant physical problems used to be instructed in how to manage despite being able to function at the same level as their peers. In order to accomplish this, they were placed into alternative curricula to meet their individual needs, and in which they were taught completely different skills. Most graduates were able to leave school and function independently or nearly independently, although not in the same manner as their peers. Now they are required to engage in all the same physical activities as their peers, many of which they simply cannot do, regardless of modifications. Although they are allowed significant modifications, this instruction is not teaching them skills they need. These students will have to take the test (with as many supports as possible), even though ALL professionals involved in these students’ day-to-day lives recognize that these students’ chance of passing is slim to none. In the process, most would feel frustrated and demoralized (particularly after failing the tests every quarter), despite teachers’ encouragements for their effort and attitudes.

      * Many students would continue to eat whatever they want. They would stubbornly refuse to do any of the training they are assigned. Parents would bring then McDonald’s Big Macs and french fries for lunch 3 times a week, and they’d eat pizza out of the school cafeteria the other days of the week. They wouldn’t pass. More importantly, what are the reasons they would deliberately undermine these efforts?

      Meanwhile, the drop-out rate is skyrocketing.

      Want to “fix” education. Start with student needs, and work from there, not the other way around!

  4. I need to get a grant to finish lifetime goals in education. I wish to finish my career by obtaining an advanced degree in Special Education, and working with children with special needs. I have not enough funds to get back to school and qualify in this area.

    • Amen, Sister! I’m starting to think that the only people who will be able to qualify as a Special Education Teacher will be independently wealthy geniuses. I teach students with mild intellectual disabilities in an alternative curriculum designed to help them live as independently as possible after graduation. The highest-functioning of my students (who have been in inclusion through middle school, BTW) are funtioning at about a 3rd grade level; most much lower. Therefore, we are delivering instruction at a 1st-3rd grade level (approximately), and teaching functional skills such as counting change, reading instruction manuals, writing resumes, etc, because THAT’S WHAT THEY NEED!!! Suddenly, we’ve been told that next year, we won’t be highly qualified to deliver instruction in English, math, social studies, or science; only Occupational Preparation and Career Training classes. I could understand if we were required to be certified in Elementary Education. That would truly make sense to me. However, we’re supposed to be certified in each HIGH SCHOOL subject area in order to teach those (MODIFIED!!!!!) courses! This simply doesn’t make sense.

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