By Jim Killebrew
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[February 14, 2014]
education is in turmoil and has been pronounced by some as a dismal
failure. School districts are charged with the responsibility of
providing a quality education for all children, no matter what their
needs. Some school programs have excelled in quality education, but
others have not. Resources are always a question, and finding those
resources among families with few resources is a problem. School
vouchers have been discussed for some time across the land. Hence
the use of vouchers to offer families a choice among educational
programs that offer the educational support an individual student
needs regardless of any district to which the child belongs.
Some school districts and union officials have resisted the use of
vouchers, claiming it places the districts in jeopardy of losing
students to other districts, causing a loss of funding for home
districts and a reduction of teachers in that district. This is
especially true for those children with special needs.
These days we hear so much about the "No Child Left Behind" law that
seems to force teachers to "teach toward the test." Other teachers
have been heard to say they must teach toward the greater number of
children in the midrange and simply do not have time or resources
to teach those above or below the mean. Consequently, through the
evolvement from the first enactment of the federal law 94-142 that
requires children with special needs to be educated through the
development of individual educational plans, or IEPs, school districts
have been experimenting to find the best way to follow the laws and
provide a functional education for a child with special needs.
Those experiments have produced a myriad of "solutions" that range
from individual tutoring to mainstreaming. A totally forgotten group
traditionally has been those individuals who have been
institutionalized and cared for through some derivative of a state-financed facility that has segregated people with special needs into
one place, no matter where they lived in the state. The education
for those people was relegated to total segregation, where the
"mean" was lowered yet again. Today, as a result of a long-standing
practice of "deinstitutionalization" and "normalization," many of
those same people with special needs live in segregated "group
homes" and spend their days in a "sheltered workshop" with others
with cognitive, intellectual or other developmental disabilities.
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The problem with the past methods of helping people with special
needs has been an almost complete separation of the individual from
his/her primary support group, the natural family. When the
educational system of today, post-"normalization" practices, speaks
of public education for people with special needs, by and large it
means separating them sometime during the educational day into a
classroom where others with similar needs are placed.
Our long history of "separate but equal" in other arenas of life
should have taught us that separation from the mainstream does not
always mean the quality of those services are equal. The only way
the equality for separate services can have a chance to reach and
maintain the quality that is meant for the mainstream services is
for the person with special needs to have a strong advocate, and
that advocate should be the family.
Educators are going to have to realize that the power of quality
rests in a system where the provider of those services must be
challenged to continually strive for the "best practice" for each
individual. The idea of "if you build it, they will come," works
only if the system continues to build excellence and quality and
maintains dynamic change to attract those who choose that service.
For children with special needs who need support to advocate for
themselves to make the choices they need to make to have the best
quality of services, the parent or family must have the power to
shop around and choose the best available service among services.
With that power through vouchers and other methods of having
resources, they will not have to settle for only what is offered by
one service provider alone.
[By JIM KILLEBREW]
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