Better Outcomes for All Special Needs Kids – when?
“Better outcomes for all special needs kids” is our mission at snkids.org.
In California, only 15 percent of kids with disabilities are performing at or above grade level (with estimates that 80 percent or more of these children could perform as well as their “general education” peers). The employment rate for adults with disabilities is only 30 percent, and they frequently experience issues with health care, housing, insurance, prison, suicide….
It has been 40 years since the basic civil rights protections for disabled children and adults were established.
40 years, and there has been a woeful lack of progress.
- A separate and unequal education system.
- Continued discrimination at work and in our communities.
- The stigma of disability
At the core, these are shocking civil and human rights issues.
The very educational and state support systems that were supposed to lift up the disabled, instead keep them hidden and powerless.
Outcomes don’t seem to matter… as long as the paperwork is filed properly.
“Better outcomes” seems pretty far fetched.
We do not agree.
We know that it’s possible to do better for all kids.
These are systems, culture and perception issues – and are things that can be changed.
It is overwhelming.
There is so much to do.
But, there is a lot we can do … and we need to start today.
Eating the Elephant
“How do you eat an elephant?” – one bite at a time.
We’re choosing our “bite” with care:
- What actions will impact the most kids the quickest?
- How can we effect needed change? Share important information with stakeholders? Change the hearts and minds of those with the most power to impact the daily educational and social lives of these vulnerable children?
Education enables personal freedom. Education enables participation in our democracy. Education is the key to economic independence.
Education is a right.
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
But we are failing to educate our disabled children. 85 percent of disabled kids in California performing below or substantially below grade level. 70 percent unemployment rate for California’s disabled adults. (it is worth saying these numbers again and again).
We need to do better, and we can.
Not only that, we’ve passed a good law – The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Its first incarnation passed in 1975. It was last updated in 2004.
And, if you read it (and you should), it says all the right things to (theoretically) ensure an equitable and fair education for kids of all abilities.
So, why are so many kids struggling to access their education?
Good IDEA, Bad Implementation
IDEA has a 6 “pillars” to protect children with disabilities and ensure that they can access as much education as possible:
- Individualized Education Program (IEP)
- Free Appropriate Public Education
- Least Restrictive Environment
- Appropriate Evaluation
- Parent and teacher participation
- Procedural safeguards
Sounds promising, doesn’t it.
Instead, it has become a nightmare:
- The IEP is too often a plan focused on behavior instead of learning.
- Kids’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) is turned into figuring out just how little help a school can get away with in a general education classroom.
- And kids are being isolated (segregated) in separate and unequal classroom and school settings.
- Evaluations are fought and there is a perverse focus on hours of “services” instead of tailoring education to the diagnosis and needs of the children.
- Parents get handed essential documents during an IEP meeting with no explanation, and often no option to negotiate (“take it or leave it”), and are told they don’t HAVE to sign it, but … if they want ANYTHING, they really should (immediately). The meetings are intimidating to parents who are often frightened, exhausted, and no idea what they are doing.
- Teachers sit mute or answer questions tersely for fear of retaliation.
- And the obligatory set of procedural safeguards presented to parents at each meeting seem more about safeguarding the procedures and the districts than protecting or promoting the education of children.
It has to be experienced to be believed.
We are working on making the systems more transparent, open, and accountable to kids, so that education is the focus and outcomes will be better.
It will make a difference.