Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Oregon Special Education Grades Are In - and they "ain't" Lookin' Good...

We recently received the state-wide assessment of special education in Oregon. The grade-card didn't look too great.
The Oregonian put out the report and you can read the whole thing here if you are interested.
The ODE Report stated that more than 1,400 special education students dropped out of school this past year. In Portland-Metro schools, more special education students dropped out than earned a regular diploma. Statewide only one-third could read or do math at grade level.

Oregon has 72,000 special education students, with two-thirds having learning disabilities or speech or language impairments, according to the state assistant superintendent who oversees Special Education. A state panel set goals for us.. no less than 58% of special education learners earning their regular diploma, no more than a 6% drop-out rate and no more than 11% spending 60% or more of their day in a resource/life skills classroom. These goals set by "educators, parents and others" are the measuring stick that our special education program was being held to, and based on those goals, most of the state flunked this past year.

Maybe this committe should set up a drop-out rate percentage they can live with for special education teachers that are burning out with an overload of students, a lack of funding and a high standard set without the tools to reach it.
I wonder why students with special needs who for the most part aren't socially integrated with the regular student body would care to stay in school. Would I? Would you?
I have been reading some extremely good writing lately on socialization and equipping special needs learners for life. The bulk of it points towards helping special needs students find their own independence in making choices and being able to do the best with what they have. I am in some life skills classes in high schools where teachers and assistants are making a real difference in kids lives. They are giving kids freedom to go and be a part of the student body, but have a refuge to come in and catch their breath and relax when they need a break.

I went to the 17th birthday party for a boy at a local high school this week end. Some how, the conversation got onto a family that had a student in the special ed program. There were comments made about the oddness, the way she didn't fit in, and I sat back listened and observed. Finally I asked, "What is the general opinion by the student body at the high school towards the special needs kids in the life skills classes? Do they accept them, pity them, make fun of them, encourage and help them?"
Our birthday boy paused a minute and said "They make fun of them mostly."
"Well, I better not ever catch you doing that!" said his grandma.
"I don't!" he replied.
"Why do you think they do that?" I asked.
He thought about it and said, "They just don't like them I guess. They are different than everyone else."

Whether the "life skills" students are in or out of the resource room, the fact remains that we won't change the world by fighting prejudice and ignorance. We will change it by providing awareness and opportunities for real positive social interaction through community volunteer projects and teaming up all kids to help others in need. Not in artificial school environments that attempt to appear integrated. For most high school environments it can be devastating to wear the wrong clothes or hairstyle - let alone have physical and cognitive diabilities. If you listen to my podcast on the sidebar from the Career Showcase in February, one girl summed it up for a lot of kids when she said, when referring to a boy I have worked with that has an assistant, "They (the general student body) don't make fun of him, they like him. They pity him more than anything."
When "normal" and "cool" kids can really spend some quality time with "special learners" serving through a river clean up, an urban renewal project, or some volunteer project that gets them on an even playing field, their whole priority base gets challenged and they realize what really matters. I think that might be a reason why some kids make fun and show their ignorance, because of the fear of seeing the real humanity - then it's no fun to make fun anymore.

So as I think of this integration challenge in our schools, the socialization piece and the way to make school a place where these "drop-outs" want to be, I realize that I don't want to set any drop-out rate for special education that I can "live with." I would like to see more funding and a greater reality check on the part of government that the diploma isn't necessarily the "be all" and "end all" for these students as much as it is giving them the tools to function as a positive member of society out there whether they can pass the Certificate of Advanced Mastery in Math or not.

Whether you agree or disagree, that's OK. I know it is always "more complicated than that" and I can accept that. Let's just stop flunking our fantastically dedicated special education departments and our fantastically amazing special needs kids and give them a hand up.

All the best to you!



James Alexander said...

Nice blog, not my subject, yet!
Good add-on tips.

It was Learning & Oregon which caught my eye -must go to thank Univ of Oregon for one particularly clear & simple lecture series on some fundamental physics, unfortunately taken off their web site but found tanks to "the wayback machine" web archive.

Cheers and wish you luck with your work

My approaches via:

& perhaps of more interest to your activity

narrator said...

I see the number of Special Ed dropouts soaring these days across the US. Of course we cannot prove that schools are dumping these kids because they bring down NCLB scores, but it sure looks like it to me.

One problem is that education in the US is never considered in the context of the individual. From NCLB on down the theory is that every student needs a "college prep" program taught the most traditional way. Any student who needs either a differing curriculum or a differing delivery system is abandoned.

A second problem is related - the general education program is inflexible and disconnected from student needs and so the only way students can get extra help - or different help - is to be "labelled," which overwhelms special education departments - who are then, as you say, blamed for systemic failures.

Lon said...

Great insights!