Mainstreaming” Trend Tests Classroom Goals

John Hechinger:

The strategy backfired. One morning, Andrea swept an arm along the teacher’s desk, scattering framed photos of Ms. McDermott’s family across the classroom. A glass frame shattered, and another hit a student in the arm. Though no one was hurt, Ms. McDermott says she lost hours of instruction time getting the children to settle down after the disruption.
From the first weeks of school, Ms. McDermott found Andrea’s plight heartbreaking. “No! No! No!” she remembers her student screaming at times. “Want Mommy! Want Mommy!”
“She looked at me, like she was saying, ‘Help me,’ and I couldn’t. How could I possibly give Andrea what she needs?”
Years ago, students like Andrea would have been taught in separate classrooms. Today, a national movement to “mainstream” special-education students has integrated many of them into the general student body. As a result, regular teachers are instructing more children with severe disabilities — often without extra training or support.
This year, Ms. McDermott counted 19 students in her class at Whittier Elementary School. Five had disabilities, including attention deficit disorder and delays in reading and math. The teacher worried that she was failing all her students — especially Andrea. “It used to be a joy to go to work,” she says. “Now all I want to do is run away.”
In Scranton and elsewhere, the rush to mainstream disabled students is alienating teachers and driving some of the best from the profession. It has become a little-noticed but key factor behind teacher turnover, which experts say largely accounts for a shortage of qualified teachers in the U.S.

More on mainstreaming.
Background: Special Education Legal history and a few charts/graphs.

3 thoughts on “Mainstreaming” Trend Tests Classroom Goals”

  1. However, plenty of disabled students benefit greatly from mainstreaming- and plenty of their “normal” classmates get to learn an important lesson: being disabled doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t function at, or above, the level of your normal classmates. In fact, many teachers could still learn this particular lesson. Luckily for my family, many MMSD teachers have learned this lesson. And make no mistake about it, there are plenty of academic “pull-out” classes being taught all over the MMSD. My son is very lucky that he can function in a regular classroom- and exceed the majority of his peers academically, with certain accomodations like oral and/or 1 on 1 testing. I think it’s very important to remember that some of the most disruptive, resource-intensive students are NOT students with disabilities!

  2. The WSJ article documenting the persistent failure of school and mental health professionals to respond adequately to the needs of Andrea G., a child with significant disabilities in northeastern Pennsylvania, filled me with sadness. As a licensed psychologist and certified school psychologist, I’ve enjoyed helping children with significant disabilities and their parents for 30 years. My staff and I have created hundreds of successful treatment programs for children from 18 months of age through late adolescence, using the EPSDT (Medicaid) funding stream. This is the “classroom assistance from a local mental health agency, paid for by the state” referred to in the article. When these services are delivered properly, they can work wonders. Unfortunately, as the article documents, the incorrect use of these services by inadequately trained personnel has little effect, and heartbroken families resort to moving to “a better school district” where little change is actually likely.
    Our outcome data from over 300 treatment records of children with Autism and other developmental concerns between 2002 and 2006 show success rates between 86% and 93% addressing physical aggression, communication deficits, personal safety issues, compliance with adult prompts and socialization deficits — precisely the deficits displayed by Andrea Gavern. We’ve helped children with Autism and other severe behavioral challenges to lead more successful lives for over ten years. One child who had severe Autism symptoms is now enrolled in a “regular” education programs, no longer carrying an Autism diagnosis, and his parents tell me that they (along with one of the world’s most renowned Autism experts, Dr. Stanley Greenspan), attribute much of his success to our work, spanning five years and funded 100% through the Medicaid EPSDT system at no cost to the parents whatsoever. These parents, like Andrea’s parents, live in Pennsylvania, which has created one of the most comprehensive Medicaid programs in the United States for disabled children.
    Our website contains a great deal of free information about effective treatment planning, delivery and monitoring for children with severe behavior disabilities: There is a Power Point presentation that describes and documents the effectiveness of our approach to the delivery of these essential “behavior support services for children” through Medicaid. This funding stream is available in all 50 states. Nobody has to “move” to get these services; they just have to find a provider who knows what they’re doing. If people want to learn how children like Andrea can actually get the help they need, our website would be a good place to start.
    Steven Kossor
    Licensed Psychologist
    Certified School Psychologist
    Executive Director, The Institute for Behavior Change

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