Below is a submission from a LYS Superintendent:

If you are keeping up with current education trends, you would know there is an insurgency against school reform on the rise.  From conservative Texas to liberal New York, the drumbeat is unmistakably clear.  For the record, I believe in public schools.  I also believe public schools can improve.  In contrast, I also believe the school reform agenda has been hijacked by political hacks and profiteers.  I do think the counter-reform drumbeat will get louder and I also think some of the accountability and its inherent dependence and focus on high stakes testing is about to unwind, thankfully.  However, before we go after school reformers Marie Antoinette style, we should take some time to reflect as we sharpen our guillotines.  

When I began teaching in the 90’s the practices of content mastery and resource classes were common and the word “inclusion” didn’t exist in education’s practicing lexicon.  At face value content mastery and resource sound like great ideas.  Children with special needs get the extra assistance they needed from specialists.  That’s not how it worked in practice, however.  General education teachers would often meet their special education children at the door before class even started.  The children would be handed an assignment and sent to resource or content mastery before the tardy bell had even rang.  Sometimes, toward the end of class, the children would return to the regular classroom and the resource assignment would be graded and miraculously the work would be a perfect 100.  Some general education teachers knew many of these children were hard to teach and avoided the task.  The special education teachers had good intentions, but some tended to focus more on self-esteem than real learning.  As a general education teacher, I hated the model and tried to keep my special needs children in my classroom.  My efforts were met by administrators telling me I had to send them whether I wanted to or not.  Amazingly, the very laws and processes (IEP’s and ARD’s) designed to help and protect these children doomed them!  By the early 2000’s I was an administrator and I witnessed first hand the “instructional” practices in resource and content mastery; the children would sit around a table, working on work a little, talking and socializing a lot.  The teacher would often be on the computer doing whatever or updating the endless amount of special education paperwork required on each child.  Toward the end of the period the teacher would give the children the answer key to the worksheets (it was almost always worksheets in those days) in order for them to check their work.  Check their work indeed.  There was really nothing to worry about, however.  The children felt good about their successes, the general education teachers had rid themselves of a problem, and since there was limited accountability in those days, particularly for special education children, administration was happy.  Those were the days of SDAA and LDAA: State Developed Alternative Assessment and Locally Developed Alternative Assessment.  LDAA was beautiful: the child could take the accountability test, the score would come back, and the IEP passing rate would be set to match the score the child earned.  An elegant, self-fulfilling prophecy of a solution. But in such manner, a generation of children were dramatically under-served.

Of course I am not saying that every special education program was ran as I described above.  Indeed there were some very good programs that served children well.  But the described practices happened often enough that it took legislation, accountability, and regulation to end the practices.  In defense of educators, it was educators who pointed out the problem and wanted it changed. Reformers we called them.  I was one of the people who detested the practices that I saw and once I was in positions to change my school’s practices, I did.  So did many other educators.  This is only one example of bad educational practices that were harmful to children that was remedied by school reformers.  I would argue our model of special education is better today than it was 20 years ago.  And I don’t think it is testing that made our model better.

Educators invite accountability and reform when we stubbornly maintain practices that harm children.  Perhaps these harmful practices are not the norm, but they are not rare either. Along the way corporations have realized an opportunity to make money. A lot of money.  Pearson is a global company that is very good at doing what businesses do – making money.  The best interest of our children is not Pearson’s or any other business’ concern.  Another group of people also saw an opportunity to hijack the school reform movement: those with an anti-egalitarian, anti-public education agenda.  The problem now is all three groups sound the same.  Those wanting to truly make public education better, those who want to profiteer, and those wanting to abolish public education, all use the similar language and tools.  The tide is turning on the school reform movement, of that there can be no doubt.  But let us be careful in our application of the guillotine.  We should embrace anyone who wants to make public education better and reject all others. Our students cannot afford the return to bad educational practices.  As we excise the profiteers and abolishers we need to be careful not put the people who truly want to improve schools to the same fate.  We owe restraint and due diligence to sort the grain from the chaff.  After all, we as educators invited these enemies who now stand at our gate.

Mike Seabolt
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