Do We Deny Children on IEPs Access to the Best Instruction?

A scary thought has been ruminating in my head for a long time and conversations I have had in the last few weeks make the thought in my head not only clearer, but even scarier.  Does our system actually deny access for students who are disabled even though the purpose of entitling a student to special education is to ensure access?

A couple of scenarios for you to ponder:

3rd grade student receives instruction from a general education teacher who has a Reading endorsement; student does not make progress.  Student then receives supplemental instruction from a Title 1 teacher who has a Reading endorsement and works with students who are grouped for instruction; student makes progress but is still discrepant from peers.  Student is then referred to special education and no longer goes to Title 1 for supplemental services and goes to special education teacher who does not have a Reading endorsement and has 8 students.  The 8 students she has during the time do not have the same instructional needs as this student.  Student no longer receives Title 1 services because that would be double-dipping into federal programs??!!

7th grade student has a Math goal and attends the regular education Math class.  All students who struggle in Math get an every-other-day Math Lab class for remediation.  The regular education students go to a Math Lab taught by a certified Math Teacher while the special education students go to the special education teacher who does not have a Math endorsement and does not spend any time in the regular education Math class.  The special education students go to the special education teacher because otherwise the Math Lab could not be “counted” as their specially designed instruction time on their IEP and the district can pay the special education teacher our of special education funds.

And, the worst case scenario of all…

5th grade student has a Reading goal.  In this school, if you have an academic goal for special education you don’t go to the core curriculum class at all; you go to the special education classroom for the entire Reading class.  The special education teacher does not have a Reading endorsement and the class is comprised of special education students from grades 2 to 5.

I firmly believe that this is happening all over the country, in many more instances than we want to believe.  Because you are entitled  to special education you can no longer have access to the best instructional teacher to advance in the core curriculum.  I had a teacher tell me last week that a student who reads at the 2nd grade level needs to be taught 2nd grade material.  What???  Just because a student reads at a lower grade level does not mean the student cannot access content at grade level.  Does the student need targeted instruction in Reading Comprehension and Fluency?  Yes.  Does this mean the student should have no access to grade level Literacy curriculum until she/he reads at grade level?  Certainly not.

Students who receive special education services should have as much access to the best instruction as regular education students.  This is another case where special education funding gets in the way of giving kids what they need, when they need it, from the best teacher.  We should be able to fund one period a day of a Math teacher’s time to provide supplemental instruction to special education kids; the special education piece can be facilitated through collaboration with the certified special education teacher.  Special education students should be able to receive special education services and Title 1 services at the same time.  Special education students should have access to core curriculum instruction with supplemental SDI instruction from a special education teacher unless they qualify for alternative assessment.  We cannot allow access to an IEP to mean that the student does not have access to the best instruction.

(August 25, 2013)