Caught Between Sides

Michelle Diament, Disability Scoop - January 23, 2015

I am only superficially familiar with the basic outlines of current debates over Education. It seems like one side wants to make K-12 education a bit more rigorous, supposedly because some sort of slack has crept into the system. Another side worries that the “higher standards” people are mostly interested in lots and lots of standardized testing and in de-clawing teacher’s unions, not so much about actually educating kids better.

Kids are caught in the middle, and if anything it’s worse and more confusing for kids with disabilities. It seems like the “special education” debate is shifting a bit, in time with the larger conflict.

Special Education debates used to be all about self-contained, segregated placement vs. “mainstreaming”. Sadly, these are still active issues, fought underneath the surface with all sorts of euphemisms. Now, though things have shifted a bit so that there are two other camps, too. One says that by and large, disabled kids are much smarter and more capable than schools and even parents realize. More disabled kids should be taking tests, passing regular classes, and getting real diplomas.

The other says that disabled kids, of all kids, should be spared the humiliation of being pushed through the test-taking wringer like everyone else. It’s easy for ivory-tower reformers to simply assert that 90% of disabled kids can get regular diplomas … can that really really true? Or is it just something they say to keep everyone on their toes, or because it fits with their preconception that “today’s education” stinks?

Whatever you think about tests specifically, isn’t it possible that most disabled kids can achieve more than is typically asked of them in school? Shouldn’t we err on the side of competence? How many generations of kids have we let slip though without gaining skills they might really have gained, if we’d pushed them a bit harder and been a bit more creative? At the same time, will "higher standards" just mean shoving disabled kids willy-nilly through the same system, without disability-specific supports or accommodations?

I honestly don’t know the answers to these questions.