Children Being Left Behind

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Education. Knowledge. The classroom. Having access to an education and to a stable learning environment is one of the most vital aspects of a child’s life. In addition to learning information from subjects such as languages, mathematics, art, and the sciences, schools are one of the largest areas of socialization for children. Schools are responsible for teaching life skills that will be used later on. However, these places of knowledge and learning are not as accessible or as welcoming as they should be, and not for the reason that many may think. One of the main reasons that education is not truly accessible is due to the type of policies that have been implemented surrounding the education system: policies that have an impact on all students, yet hurt the most vulnerable, particularly like students with special needs, the most.

These policies include  The “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) policy that was enacted during President Bush’s administration, as well as the reauthorization of NCLB under President Obama, entitled the “Every Child Succeeds” (ECS) Act. In terms of the current administration, President Trump has not focused his administration’s efforts upon education policy, though with the commentary voiced in his book Make America Great Again, his views towards the Department of Education and the policies outlined are similar to those from the NCLB.

While these policies may have been created with the good intention to assure the access and education of all students in the United States, the practical application of these policies fall short of the ambitious objectives outlined within the policies.

In turn, not being able to provide the training necessary for special education teachers, teaching not to learn but to pass standardized tests, and not having fully accessible classrooms makes navigating the whole system by parents with children with special needs much more difficult; defeating the main goal of making education accessible for all at the elementary and high school level.

One component of the failures  in these education acts resides  in the method used to access the effectiveness of the policies: standardized testing. Many countries in the world use standardized testing in order to test the quality of the education system. The United States is no exception, however, the amount of testing that students go through is of concern. According to a report mentioned on a PIX 11 news show, with  diagnostic testing, mock and practice tests, as well as the true exams themselves, by the time a student in the United States finishes their schooling, they will have written over 100 standardized tests that are considered vital to assess the quality of the education system (2015). This staggering amount of testing has lead to increased pressure on both students and teachers, and has led to higher levels of mental health illnesses within students and teachers alike. Of course, this does not take into account that many students with special needs are not able to access standardized tests. While there have been efforts to make standardized tests more accessible, including the creation of a variety of formats such as in braille or with larger text, the accommodations are not accessible for all students.

The pressure forced upon teachers in order to educate their students leads to difficulties as well, for the emphasis then becomes more on “teaching the test” as opposed to allowing students to learn in their own way. Again, for some students with special needs, this policy application is not accessible, thus limiting participation within the social and academic environments. In turn, some of the accelerated teacher education programs that were put in place by the NCLB are not providing adequate preparation for educators who work with students with special needs, thus creating frustration and resentment on both sides of a relationship that is supposed to foster growth.  This is not simply an issue that occurred during President Bush’s administration, but was further emphasized during President Obama’s with the “Race for the Top” program. This program had been created in order to provide more funding to school districts on the basis of a “competition” style application. However, in order to be considered, school boards were “encouraged” to adopt the federally standardized education curriculum, or common core, with great emphasis placed upon standardized tests. Thus, this program did not truly go to helping the schools with large populations of students with special needs, but went to those schools that were already advantaged by strong performance.

Other issues that the policies do not quite address in practice, even if they are addressed on paper, are related to the partition of resources amongst schools, and the push of sending students with special needs to charter schools. The current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is also well known for her support of private and charter school funding, which also has an impact upon students with special needs. While these schools are meant to provide more flexibility to assist students with special needs, data shows that charter schools take less special needs students than public schools do (Cooper et al. survey done in Texas, 2004). As a significant portion of resources go to charter schools in order to provide for students with special needs, the fact that they take in fewer students means that public schools fall short of being able to provide for all of their students. This, coupled with the monetary incentives linking standardized testing performance and bonuses and more resources for schools, fosters an environment that makes it difficult for students with special needs to receive the support that they need.

It becomes clear that in the case of the United States, the gap between application and what is written as goals within the policies is a large one.

In turn, this makes education and special education policies very important areas of discussion and debate in order to provide students with special needs the right environment for their development. This does not seem like something that has a chance to change under the current administration either, due to President Trump’s opinions towards the Department of Education and the role it plays in providing federal oversight upon the states. While it is true there is a lot of areas for improvement, one of the most important is that the acts that exist to protect individuals with special needs, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, need to be enforced. Without the enforcement of this act, special needs students may continue to be excluded. Additionally, resources from the federal and state governments need to be allocated in the proper training of special needs educators and more support staff, in order to address the shortage of staff. More effort needs to be placed in providing alternative ways for students with special needs to be able to receive their GED, and one that is actually recognized by post-secondary institutions. Finally, the involvement of special needs educators, parents, and students in all steps related to policy creation should be further encouraged in order to assure that we do not continue to leave children behind.

 

Please note that this is a summary of a full academic article written by Roksolana McVicar. For the full article, please follow this link: https://ujpps.com/index.php/ujpps/article/view/11