A fellow by the name of Ray Schmitt wrote an article that got a mention in the daily CEC news brief. With the victory of a parent in winning a court judgment for their autistic child as the backdrop, Schmitt writes of his own struggle in deciding whether to go to court for his own daughter:
My point here is that there are times when practicality, reality and a sense of reasonableness must factor into decisions made by parents, schools and the legal system. I went through an agonizing internal debate many years ago, wondering whether I should send my daughter to a private school and fight the county to pay for it. I chose not to because sometimes you just have to accept reality. Sometimes a child is simply unable to learn. It’s one of the most difficult things a parent will ever have to accept, but it’s something to consider.
If a teacher had written that, it would have been blasphemous sacrilege worthy of an Old Testament-style stoning. As it is, that second-to-the-last sentence has got to make every parent and educator wince. Or at least blink. But in a world where “learning” equals taking and passing a standardized test, he kind of has a point. The reality is that some students will never be able to take and pass a standardized test. How standard would a test be if everyone could pass it?
There are a few things about Schmitt’s article that do merit some discussion. First, he tells how his daughter who just graduated last June had an IEP since first grade and never mastered anyof the goals. To me, that is simply astounding. However, I do see where it might happen that way. Under each goal, there are several short-term objectives. If these are not all mastered, the goal is not considered mastered. While it is common not to master every objective under a goal, there should have been times when the goal was mastered. At the very least, progress shouyld have been indicated and communicated.
My 3rd year of teaching, Spaz had mastered ALL of his objectives in the rec/leisure domain. His mother made a comment that this was the first time he had mastered an entire goal. What’s more, he had actually mastered it before to annual review of his IEP during the 3rd 9 week progress report. She had never seen a prior progress report in his school career that had showed actual progress and mastery. Of course she saw a lot of things out of me she had never seen before, for good or ill.
But Schmitt’s assertion that some students can not learn is a troubling one. If I were his girl’s teacher at any level, I would take this statement as a sign of failure…MY failure. No parent should walk away from a teacher feeling like their child can not learn. Okay, so they can’t bubble in an answer sheet for some stupid test. But this is not a true indicator of a child’s ability to learn valuable skills. Even if the child learns to use the toilet, this is learning! Learning how to stay on task, learning how to go from one point to another, following instructions, learning how to deal with challenges, learning how to get along with others…these are all skills that I end up spending much of my time on and are actually more crucial to success in life than the bubbling in of answers on a test with a pencil.
This gets back to special education teachers and their failure to track progress regularly over a period of time. They need to be collecting data on a regular basis in order to be able to convey progress.
Schmitt talks a bit about teachers in special education. I need to find out where Henrico County is, because it sounds like there might be some lucrative positions there! He talks about how new teachers start out teaching at the county system until they gain sufficient knowledge and experience to teach at the higher paying private schools.
In Georgia, that is not the case at all. Private schools pay less all around. There are also few to no private schools for special education students. Some parents will vote with their feet and move to states and districts with better teachers and services. Jim, who was new to us last year, is a refugee of the the California special ed. system. Maybe we have better teachers due to a nonexistent private school system.
The bigger question Schmitt asks is whether parents should sue the school in order to get them to pay for a more expensive private school. He uses the comparison of the Cavalier versus the Corvette, and no lawsuit will make his Cavalier run and perform like a Corvette. When discussing FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education) we always hear about how we’re not entitled to a Cadillac. Schmitt concludes his article by saying that thanks to the judge’s ruling, he’ll have a chance to know what it feels like paying for a private school.
The safeguards for parents in special education are largely procedural. However, had Schmitt known his rights, he would have known that the independent evaluation he wanted for his daughter could have been at the expense of the county. The county could have filed for due process and refused to pay, but just paying for the evaluation is much less expensive.
I do believe in looking at things realistically. I don’t believe bankrupting a family or a school system necessarily makes society or an individual better. It would be better if parents went ahead and made a sort of internal cost-benefit analysis, but too many want to leave it in the hands of a judge. As a parent, I understand how we want to do anything for our children. However, the collapse of an entire family system (or school system) isn’t beneficial, either. I admire Schmitt’s courage in speaking out with a voice that is admittedly going to be less than popular. But I also feel bad that his own experiences seem to have left him feeling like his daughter can’t learn.