January 22, 2007

Why National Standards Won't Work

Lately, there's been a increased call for National Standards. Sounds like a crazy idea to me. just look at the NAEP. Not exactly rigorous.

But more importantly, what makes us think that the Feds know better than the states. These are the same folks that brought us full inclusion:

Nearly three out of every 10 of Rhode Island's special education students are being educated in separate classrooms, despite research -- and a federal law -- that says the students perform better in regular classes.

This would be defense's exhibit A. We'd quickly run out of exhibit letters if we had to label all of the Fed's inanities in their brief existence.

The same stooges influence policy at the federal level as at the state level, after all.


SteveH said...

Being from "Rogue's Island", I read the full article yesterday (more than on your link). The author is a staff writer who specializes in education topics. This means that she finds an angle for a story and then goes out to interview the usual suspects and anyone else who is easy to contact. It doesn't mean that basic questions will be answered. Typical bad journalism that is so common.

Two points caught my eye and set the tone for the article.

"Research has shown that both students with and without learning disabilities benefit from learning next to each other."

"... despite a federal law mandating that special needs students be placed in regular classrooms whenever possible."

For the first quote, "benefit" is not quantified, and probably has little to do with academics, but "research has shown".

The second quote was never expanded upon. What law mandates this? What are the details. How can a "mandate" use words like "whenever possible", like: "I mandate that you go to school whenever possible."

They listed the number of special needs (I assume IEP) students in each town and the percent of those who are educated separately. There was no talk of what levels can be reasonably achieved. Our town was at 19% special needs students with 17% of those (if I recall) educated separately. Our schools do everything to teach special needs kids in-house, but I do know that a number (?) of parents demand to have their kids go elsewhere. What does all of that mean?

There was also no discussion of the trade-offs. It many not be politically correct, but parents know that you can't have full-inclusion without big problems. Differentiated instruction is a pipe dream and can only work if you lower expectations and hope that the better students have the ability and motivation to carry on themselves; enrichment, not acceleration. They can compact the curriculum all they want for the faster students, but this is yearly compacting, not K-8 compacting. Fake acceleration. You need mixed-ability groupings to achieve this "benefit".

There was no discussion of part-time inclusion or not. The presumption of the whole article was that not enough is being done, but the reporter did not give details. In interviewing the usual suspects (the union), you hear the same caveats: training, money, and smaller class sizes.

National standards would fail because they would have to be set too low. The same reporter who wrote this article emailed me once (in response to a question of mine) and said that the NAEP test was the "Gold Standard". What can I say? Not for me? Look at the questions.

At best, I would call for (non-mandatory) top-level standards and use AP-like tests for 8th grade with scores available on the internet. That, and full school choice, of course.

4trogan said...

I have a few comments:

First of all, it is not that I am necessarily FOR nat'l standards, but why would one assume this is a decision "best left to states"? After all, many states have designed and approved of some pretty crappy tests for the purpose of NCLB. And some states, like WA, is actually considering adopting fuzzy math as a single, mandated math curriculum. So I feel the jury is really out on that one. (Personally, coming from the state of WA, I'd rather take my chances with federally mandated standards, thank you very much)

Secondly, there really is no law mandating full inclusion. The full inclusion movement, however, was rooted in federal case law such as the cases of Rachel Holland and Daniel R. But more recent cases have strayed from those rulings, and I can tell you that many kids are being kept in more restrictive placements by schools with the approval of hearing officers/administrative law judges. And what general ed doesn't see, general ed doesn't fix: Hoardes of kids in sped not learning much of anything.

The IDEA standard is that the child must be educated in the regular ed environment UNLESS IT CAN BE DEMONSTRATED that the child requires a more restrictive setting. It may surprise a lot of people what the continuum of restrictive placements looks like before the child is supoosed to be removed from the regular ed classroom. Here is what that continuum looks like:

Reg Ed classroom, no supports
Reg Ed classroom, modifications and accoms (this would include a separate curriculum, BTW, as an "accomodation")
Reg Ed classroom with a classroom aide
Reg Ed classroom with a 1-to-1 aide
Reg Ed classroom with Resource Room pullout
Reg Ed classroom with partial Self-Contained pullout
Self-Contained placement with Reg Ed pullout
Full Self Contained
One-to-one services in the home (homebound) or outside tutoring

There is always a decision a parent has to make between academic and non-academic benefits for their kid on an IEP. But generally, my experience has been that the self-contained placements are generally not bastions of high-level services tailored to your kid's individual needs. If this were the case, most parents would clamour for the self contained as the place to go, the place to get your kid up to grade up to grade level -- including kids just on IEPs for academic reasons (which happens, believe me). Therefore, overall, if one were to have to make a blind decision, most people should insist their kid go into the regular classroom, and run --not walk-- away from any suggestion of a self-contained placement.

KDeRosa said...

why would one assume this is a decision "best left to states"

Competition. Eventually, one state will get it right. Hopefully, other states would copy what the successful state is doing or risk having taxpayers move to successful state to educate their kids. It's a messy inefficient process, but one that works better than top down systems like national standards, espcially since I have little confidence in the feds.

The problem I have with the various flavors of mainstreaming is that kids do better in homeogeneous classes with kids of like ability, at least if the goal is them klearning anything. If the goal isn't them learning, then any of the the schemes could be used with various degrees of diminished success.

4trogan said...

What you seem to be against, Ken, as am I, is what is referred to in Speduland as the Lump 'n' Dump, the downside of the inclusion movement where districts showed compliance, but not good faith, with special education law. What this is, of course, is throwing a sped kid into a regular ed class with no supports (for the kid or the teacher), and leaving it up to him to sink or swim. And with Lump and Dump, so-called "ability grouping" at the public school level has nothing to do with a kid's real academic ability, and everything to do with IQ. School Psychologists (who come nowhere near a private sector psychologist's training or expertise, BTW) give a kid a WISC, and that score typically drives the placement (nevermind that 9 times out of 10, the test designer's protocols were violated in some way, making the scores invalid in the real world).

This is why the 4th grade autistic kid with a 72 IQ who decodes at a beginning 4th grade level and comprehends at a middle 1st grade level is determined to need "ability grouped" instruction in the self-contained classroom, with other disabled students. But the 4th grade non-disabled kid with an IQ of 89, a virtual non-reader, gets to go to the Resource Room with other non-disabled kids, and have a general ed room as his regular placement.

In special ed, the way to think about services is supposed to be: First, WHAT does the kid require? (Say it's ability grouped Direct Instruction reading; say it's mastering writing skills; how to hold a pen properly -- whatever.)

Only then, after identifying the specially designed instruction and related aids and services to implement it do you ask the question: "Where should this service occur?"

The is absolutely NOTHING preventing this type of instruction from occuring within the regular education environment -- nothing. The only way a kid like this should move to the self-contained is if one of the following conditions is met:

- the child is actually disruptive to the reg ed classroom. Disruptive, not a mere distraction because of strange noises, physical appearance, medical needs, etc.

-the cost of designing a program for the child in the regular ed environment is clearly unreasonable. (This should be a fairly high figure, at minimum exceeding what the cost would be in a special school. You can't deny Johnny an appropriate education in the gen ed class simply because it will cost a district the price of a paraprofessional, a new curriculum, and sufficient training for the para and the teacher)

- the child clearly will NOT benefit academically or non-academically in the reg ed class, but WILL benefit in the self contained class. (an example of this would be a kid who needed instruction in sign language, who needs to be around others who sign; or a kid who had anxiety around large numbers of students)

With regard to the competition thing, I do agree about competition improving quality, but I think this would take eons because simply put, some states have a very complacent populace. WA has voted down charters 4 times, and will probably be last to ever approve school choice or any scheme where the funding follows the student -- even to a public school of choice. "What'll happen to all the inner city schools? They'll just get worse!!" is the cry you hear from people. They don't like to hear "Yeah? What about 'em? Let 'em die from enrollment attrition!"

And I'm also not so sure people will move to another state to educate their kids, or people in WA would be leaving in droves right now!

Susans said...


I agree with much of what you're saying except for the self-containment part.

My son benefitted enormously in the early grades by self-containment. The teachers were excellent and determined to keep him as close to grade level as was humanly possible. It was when he was mainstreamed (Science, art, PE..) that he seemed to learn nothing. When I look back the mainstreaming seemed to be more about appeasing me.

In middle school, however, it seemed more like warehousing. Although, again, he didn't learn anything in his mainstream classes due to the fact that they spoke over his head most of the time and went too fast.

Now in high school he is mostly self-contained with excellent teachers. They know right where he is skill-wise and are pushing hard. Mainstream teachers never push hard. They just feel bad for the kid.

This has always been the case with mainstream teachers in my experience. Most are very well- meaning, but they have to deal with a full plate that gets fuller every day.

I believe that parents don't clamor for self-containment for one big reason: Stigma. The stigma of special ed looms large on the grade school parents.

I've definitely seen self-containment done poorly as well as done right. It depends on the school and the teachers. But a blanket indictment against self-containment is a disservice to parents. They need to know what is truly best for the education of their child even as they grapple with painful diagnosises.

SteveH said...

"It may surprise a lot of people what the continuum of restrictive placements looks like before the child is supoosed to be removed from the regular ed classroom. Here is what that continuum looks like:"

. . .

"Self-Contained placement with Reg Ed pullout"
"Full Self Contained"
"One-to-one services in the home (homebound) or outside tutoring"

I assume that these are considered to be "removed".

"The IDEA standard is that the child must be educated in the regular ed environment UNLESS IT CAN BE DEMONSTRATED that the child requires a more restrictive setting."

What is the difference between the "regular ed environment" and "regular ed classroom"? To me, this can be interpreted quite differently. What does "restrictive setting" mean? Location and/or ability?

Our school uses full-inclusion through 8th grade as much as possible. I don't know exactly what that means, but there are no separate classes for anyone through 8th grade. This can't be required by law because most schools offer at least some separation by ability in 7th and 8th grades. Perhaps this has to do with the interpretation of "regular ed environment". What, in effect, does the law say about social promotion? Is it now mandated? Or is it moot because schools define very low grade-level expectations. At our school, I think this is the case because you have to be at the very low end of the ability spectrum to be held back, and the decision is most likely based on the child's social development, not academic development.

I see three conflicting forces going on here; one, the basic competence and willingness of the school to meet the needs of their students; two, the needs of the special ed students and thier desire to be treated as regular students; and three, the academic needs of the more able students.

Although the first force could be a great negative for all students, the choice at our public schools is to put the emphasis on full-inclusion and the special ed students. They have legal requirements for the special ed students, not the higher ability students. They try to meet the conflicting needs of the two groups of students with things like differentiated instruction, but the more able students are the losers in the trade-off. The only way to get this to work is to redefine the meaning and expectations of K-8 education. The school knows many kids need acceleration and higher expectations, but they can't do that because the kids would have to be separated by ability. That's why parents move to our town with their special ed kids and parents of 25% of the kids in town send them to private schools. Nobody complains. They are pitting the needs of the more able kids against the needs of the special ed kids. No parent will say a word. They just go away. Teachers see this happening and (off the record) say that it's probably for the best. This doesn't mean that private schools are so wonderful, but that's another story.

"Research has shown that both students with and without learning disabilities benefit from learning next to each other."

Educating all students in one "environment" is a good goal. This shouldn't have to be at the expense of academics, but many schools ignore or dismiss the real dfficulties and limitations of very mixed ability classrooms. You can't just redefine education.

SteveH said...


Thank you for your comments. I have heard different opinions from special ed parents for and against self-containment. It could be based on good or bad implementation or other factors. I never knew the details. In defense of schools, it's hard to make everyone happy. But, then again, many schools seem to follow the path of least resistance or the path of making the most vocal parents happy.

We all have specific ideas of what is best for our kids. These ideas conflict. At our public schools, they made the trade-off to focus on getting the widest ability range of kids into the same classroom. This is their goal; their philosophy. (I'm ignoring whether they do it well or not.) To do that, they had to make some choices. One choice is that they do NOT allow the more able kids to get ahead. They allow enrichment, but never acceleration. They understand that this is a problem, but they will not change their philosophy.