kitchen table math, the sequel: palisadesk on full inclusion

Thursday, July 5, 2012

palisadesk on full inclusion

On the subject of full inclusion, palisadesk writes:
The full inclusion movement in my district definitely evolved from three separate trends that coalesced in a perfect storm, so to speak. It didn't arise out of a belief system about inclusion or discovery-based learning or any of that. I followed the process very closely at the time (between about 1992-2002) because I was then teaching special ed (LD) and had a keen interest in providing appropriate programming to kids with reading disabilities, other LD or language impairment. The impetus came from above and had three prongs:

(1) Cost. There was a major effort to cut costs in some areas (senior administration not one of them, coincidentally), and Special Education was a target -- small classes, highly trained teachers, aides, paraprofessionals et alia were all very expensive. The research data (longitudinally) on self-contained sped programs for most students was also very disappointing. Inclusion was seen as a way to save money and still look egalitarian, socially equitable and all that. Our CEO had a public meeting about the issue where he was very frank that this was about money, but opined that our wonderful teachers would make the new inclusion work. We did not share his optimism (and still don't). Naturally, some SPED programs remain but they are very limited and the hoops to jump through for parents or teachers to refer students for these programs are daunting and endless. Currently, I'm told, a student has to be 4 years below grade level in all areas to qualify for a LD class.

(2) Change in parental attitudes, overall. At one time parents of children with disabilities were happy to see their children enrolled in a program geared to their needs, and in my district at least the teachers of many of these programs were specially trained and the programs well-resourced and effective. More and more, there has been a shift in attitudes. At least, we are now seeing a majority of parents refusing SPED services or classification, and insisting on their right to have their child in the general ed classroom. There are quite a few powerful and well-organized parent lobby groups that are politically active and support full inclusion, even for severely disabled students. To answer Steve H's question, can they demand full inclusion in high school, the answer is yes, they can in many cases. They can refuse to let their child be enrolled in a lower track or ability-level class even when the student clearly cannot possibly do the work and will fail. In effect, they have the right to ensure their child will fail. Which s/he does, and eventually either does go to a lower track or drops out (I have seen this phenomenon so often I have lost count).

We have students who in an earlier era would certainly have been placed in SPED whose parents refuse sped classification and services. The school cannot, except under extraordinary circumstances, place a child in sped without the parent's consent. Having a child with an exceptionality in my extended family, I have some idea of how the parents often feel: it may take them years to come to grips with the child's needs and limitations on a realistic basis. Even the parents of children with developmental disabilities (and very low IQs) in my former school were often uinwilling to accept that Junior would not be going to college, and should perhaps focus on learning life skills. In my family I saw the progression (somewhat like the phases of the grief process) whereby denial and magical thinking gave way to desperate search for "cures," to hope for a sudden breakthrough, to gradual acceptance and more realistic planning for the child's future. This can take years, however. And the child may be in an inclusive setting all this time, whether it is best or not.

3) Legalities. Although courts have occasionally upheld the rights of school disctricts to place students in a special setting over the parents' objections, this can take years and whopping legal fees. Most often, the parent wins. My district has lost several major appeals regarding sped placement, based on allegations of cultural or racial insensitivity and discrimination. Thus, there is no eagerness to press for segregated programs for minority children. Even with very violent and disruptive students, the process and documentation required to remove them from the least restrictive environment is daunting and very time-consuming. It can take YEARS.

In our case, the requirements for differentiation and inclusion flowed from the top down, and were a response to the gradual dismantling of sped services and offloading to the neighborhood school. I don't hear any chorus of believers here that this is a system that works better for most children -- especially where teaching of foundation skills and sequential mastery is required -- but we are obliged to do our best with what we have. "Differentiation" is constantly trumpeted as the solution, but I have yet to meet any school-based staff who think that it is the answer. Inclusion could work much better if it allowed for "Joplin plan" -type flexible grouping by achievement or instructional level, and adequate staff (aides, paraprofessionals, resource teachers) to provide targeted instruction to the high-needs kids. There never has been a golden era when everyone was better served, but I think that both our most vulnerable kids AND our potential high-flyers are disadvantaged by the current model. "Every classroom a one-room K-8 schoolhouse" doesn't seem like a worthy 21st century model to me.

Do teachers believe in full inclusion and differentiated instruction or is it just a big front?

From what I learn from teachers in different states and districts, it is quite possible that many in your district (and certainly in some others I know of) are totally gung-ho on differentiation and inclusion. There are "true believers" out there.

But there's also an incredible range of opinion, beliefs, knowledge and skills among K-8 teachers across the country. I wasn't aware of it myself until I got active on listserves for teachers starting in the mid-90's. That was a revelation. There are vast differences in practice, philosphy, organization, attitudes.

I don't see any rah-rah support of full inclusion or differentiation, in my area, and I've been in both middle and k-8 schools over the last 15 years or so. In general, teachers - like most parents I talk to - support inclusion in principle, but with reservations. Inclusion for whom? For what purpose? With what support? With what assurances that the needs of other students will not be compromised?(etc.) As for "differentiation," so far it is perceived as just another top-down mandate that must be complied with. Teachers have always individualized to some extent, at least in the elementary grades; this is just a more formal and paperwork-intensive way of doing that. To the extent that it deflects attention from providing special needs kids the services that really are needed, we are skeptical, even suspicious, of it.

Because of the financial climate, we don't really anticipate any improvement in services to the sped kids in the immediate future, so we get on with it. Stupid mandates have been part of the ed biz for as long as I can remember; most of them die a natural death over time only to be (as Catherine pointed out) reincarnated with a different moniker.

On some of my teacher discussion groups these issues get bruited about a lot, and those who post tend to be more critical of these trends than not. But there are some who wax prolix in their enthusiasm for inclusion and differentiation -- so your local observation is probably quite accurate. It isn't necessarily similar in other districts, though.

Recently I had an extended conversation with a teacher in a district quite similar to mine and was amazed by the totally different attitudes, ethos and philosophies informing the teaching staff and administration, given that phenotypically the school milieux were similar. Instead, the differences were staggering.

I'd like to see a mix of inclusion for the less-academic subjects combined with focused, small-group instruction for the special needs kids at their instructional level. I know from my experience in LD back in the day that many of these kids could be effectively taught and eventually reintegrated into general ed classrooms without IEPs, but that will NOT happen in the present scheme of things. As for keeping our opinions secret -- in our contract, it specifically states we may not publicly criticize the policies of the district (as individuals). We can -- and I have done this -- join with others and make submissions to the school board, etc. to address our concerns about poicies such as sped, inclusion and the like, and suggest modifications or alternatives. This works about as well as parent input -- sometimes an effect, often not.

When asked (by parents, generally) I try to point out the limitations of inclusion and look for ways the parent can make the system work for the child, or what resources they can access outside the system if need be. I also encourage them to let their elected representatives know about the issues. One problem is it sounds like motherhood and apple pie -- who can be "against" inclusion? You have to reframe the issue as one of providing effective instruction for all students, not just a seat in the classroom.


momof4 said...

If I understand you correctly, your experience has been that a classified spec ed student essentially must be placed in the class the parents "request" (demand). If there are ES-MS honors levels, can the parent force placement into these, also? In HS honors/AP? (If so, that would seem to be a serious perversion of the original intent of IDEA - as is full inclusion, in many cases)

In the case of students who should be spec ed but the parents have refused testing or classification, can they also force honors-level placement?

ClassicsMom said...

I recently was speaking to a elementary teacher who told me of students who attack other students or who expose and touch themselves in the classroom on a regular basis. I was astonished that these kids cannot be put into separate classrooms since are not the other students entitled to FAPE as well??? I would think that FAPE would include being safe in the classroom and not being exposed to sexual behavior. She did say that the district did call CYS services many times on the student with alarming behavior but that CYS did nothing in essence. She said that these students cannot be deprived of an education but in essence, in my opinion, these students are depriving other students of FAPE.

momof4 said...

In the very early 90s, an acquaintance described the situation in the kindergarten classroom of a first-year teacher, whom she had mentored during the new grad's previous year's practice teaching. One unsocialized 6yo had her entire classroom terrorized. She hit, kicked, bit, threw books and chairs and attacked other kids with scissors (all documented many times) and was physically large enough that 3 adults were required to remove her from the classroom during her frequent "tantrums". She was always returned, however, and her mother refused to allow spec ed testing/alternative placement because an older sibling had been classified, which she asserted was racist. A system in which this sort of thing is allowed to happen (even once)is one in which the inmates are running the asylum. It takes far too long and costs far too much to move kids to more appropriate placements. There are far too many protections for the "disabled" and far too few for their classmates. In my view, the legal system has manipulated IDEA far beyond the original intent and created a class of students/people whose personal rights are elevated far beyond those of the students/people around them.

Anonymous said...

I do not believe that a "Free Appropriate Public Education" is a right for non-disabled students.

The "free" part *is* a right for all students.

The whole thing, though, is a 504 issue, and this only applies to disabled students.

Note that *if* everyone had a right to an "appropriate" public education a lot of the poorly performing schools would probably be sued on a regular basis. Maybe a lot of the non-poorly performing schools, too.

-Mark Roulo

ClassicsMom said...

I certainly hope all students would be entitled to FAPE. It would be astonishing to me if they were not:(

palisadesk said...

To answer momof4, my understanding is that parents have a right to the "default" placement (if that's the right term), but not to programs, tracks or specialized schools with specific entry criteria.

We don't have any elementary honors programs that I know of (there are elementary IB programs, though -- I believe they are closed to those outside the catchment area of the schools involved, because they are quite popular). Most of the high schools in my immediate area, which serve exclusively low-SES and minority kids, have no honors or AP track in ninth grade, though I believe there are some high schools in the wealthy part of the district that have these. So parents can request, and get, placement in the regular academic,pre-college track in ninth grade for their SPED kid.

They will be strongly advised against this if their child has documented special needs, poor grades, chronic absenteeism, and so forth. Many parents however, even those of children with intellectual disabilities, insist on enrolling their child at this level in 9th grade, even when the child has a snowball's chance in H--- of surviving. I know of a couple of cases in my own school this year.

However, higher level courses, and courses in specialized programs (like IB, AP, science magnet programs, etc.) have pre-requisites that must be met, so students who cannot demonstrate the required proficiency or competence are not admitted. The same criteria are applied, whether a would-be applicant is SPED or not, so discrimination is not an issue. The more advanced courses in grades 10, 11 and 12 require a certain level of achievement in ninth grade or before. Somtimes there are entry exams.

This doesn't stop some parents from trying to get their child into an honors or gifted program however. I well remember a parent whose son was diagnosed with mild cognitive delay (formerly called EMR) who insisted her son was actually gifted, and bored, and belonged in the gifted program. She filed some kind of lawsuit and I never knew all the details, but she failed to get her way -- there was no evidence of this "giftedness" though the argument could be made that for cultural or other reasons the low-IQ result was erroneous. She turned down a placement in an intellectual disability class. I heard later that the boy dropped out of high school without completing ninth grade.

In the case of students who should be spec ed but the parents have refused testing or classification, can they also force honors-level placement?

The non-classified (but should-have-been-classified) kids are treated like any other kid -- they can only be in an honors program if they meet the criteria. In some cases (such as non-verbal students with autism using "facilitated communication") I suspect the achievement demonstrated is not that of the student, but those things are difficult to prove. So in general, no, honors programs are for those who qualify for them.

momof4 said...

Thanks, P, for the info - I hoped that was the usual practice. I do realize, however, that /leveled/ability-grouped ES classes, and probably many MS ones, are going the way of the dinosaurs. Perhaps full inclusion is driving some of that; I could see terrific parent pressure to get their kids into the "top" class, and the schools don't want to deal with it - everyone really has the same academic needs, right?

Even special-purpose HS programs are under attack; I recently read that Fairfax County, VA's acclaimed Thomas Jefferson math/science magnet HS has broken under years of pressure and re-done its admission criteria, such that a third of incoming freshmen now require math remediation!(can't do the regular freshman-magnet-level class)

I am amazed that my older kids' old HS, also in the DC area, still has honors prereqs for AP classes; first do the top HS class, then the real-college-level class - so the latter really are elite-college level.

ClassicsMom said...

My son will be attending a new rigorous charter in the DC area next year. Already there are some who say this school will be too rigorous which will not meet the needs of every student. All I know is that I am prepared to homeschool again if the school ever caves into the demands of those who want to dumb down education. I am all for ability grouping since I think differentiation is virtually impossible.

ChemProf said...

"I certainly hope all students would be entitled to FAPE. It would be astonishing to me if they were not:("

They aren't. The court cases have been pretty clear about this for non-SPED kids. See for example:

The key quote from Peter W. vs. SFUSD (1976):
"Unlike the activity of the highway or the marketplace, classroom methodology affords no readily acceptable standards of care, or cause, or injury."

SteveH said...

"it is quite possible that many in your district (and certainly in some others I know of) are totally gung-ho on differentiation and inclusion. There are "true believers" out there."

"Quite possible"?

You still don't believe it? Full inclusion and differentiated instruction are not driven by cost, parents, or laws. They came from the hearts and minds of K-8 educators. Our high school separates kids and they still have the same cost drivers, parents, and laws.

There may be lots of differences of opinion among teachers, but that's not what I see as a parent. Are parents supposed to climb on board one bus or another in the internal battles between teachers and administrators?