As a parent, I have found that a surprising amount of special ed teachers’ and therapists’ time is spent filling out paperwork that is beyond writing up lesson plans. Students’ progress has to be carefully charted on numerous forms by every single teacher and therapist. IEPs are long documents that have to spell out everything, from transportation arrangements to numbers of occupational therapy sessions to interventions in crisis situations, along with the specifics of a student’s academic programs. All this paperwork is important and the more so, as I know, as my son Charlie has very minimal speech and can’t tell us if he is not getting taught such and such.
IDEA does create headaches for school districts and their lawyers, but parents and students rely on the law to ensure that students with disabilities get educated in ways that actually teach them.
Freedman’s proposals are not unproblematic. While obtaining a medical diagnosis to determine a child’s eligibility for services does take time and can mean a gap between identifying a student as needing services and actually providing them, it is important to have outside, independent specialists evaluate children, rather than simply leaving it to school districts.
In addition, Freedman’s proposal to improve education for all students is appealing. Nirvi Shah, writing in Education Week, discusses a similar point in the form of universal design for learning (UDL), “an instructional method that involves creating lessons and classroom materials flexible enough to accommodate different learning styles.” Some examples of UDL are using closed-captioning in a noisy gym and having students show their knowledge of, for instance, vocabulary words not only by taking a test but by “using journals, doing some kind of project, or carrying out a computer activity.”
UDL is an attractive concept. My own son (who definitely has a medical diagnosis of autism and attends an out-of-district school for autistic students) does needs to be taught in ways far more specialized than UDL could address. Innovations that improve education for “typical” students wil not necessarily be best suited for students with a range of learning disabilities, who can require not only different means of being evaluated and showing what they know, but different teaching strategies, period.
Does special ed cost school districts too much? Are not the costs worth it, to provides students with disabilities with the academic programs that actually helps them learn?
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