27 thoughts on “Letters on “Special Needs Mean Special Problems: How Must Schools Cope””

  1. It’s nice to see the full range of experience and opinion represented in these letters, and good to see consideration given to the variability of children with special needs (i.e., not all are the same or in need of the same educational solutions), the perspective of the teacher, and the legal rights and educational needs of the other students in the classroom to learn.
    These are very, very challenging situations, to be sure. But until we find a way to balance the experiences, rights and needs of all parties, we will have failed.

  2. I found this article disturbing. It is difficult to even have a discussion about this topic.
    I have a couple of friends who have children with severe forms of autism who approach the educational system differently. I have compassion for both of their situations and choices. One parent homeschools her pre-teen autistic son. She does not think it best for him to be mainstreamed. And he has plenty of interaction with other children and adults in his church community. The other parent has a hyeractive toddler and she can’t wait for the child to reach the age where MMSD will take over. It will help with finances, yes, but also will provide childcare (in the form of mainstream public school). It is not that my friend anticipates her daughter will benefit academically from school. Rather it will be free childcare for 6+ hours a day. I can’t say that I don’t understand this parent’s needs for getting a break. However, it seems there could be more appropriate ways to give this family a break, and be more useful to the child.
    It seems to me that for some (not all) special needs children, being forced to attend mainstream public school is not in their best interests. It may be done more for the psychological needs of the parents – both for a break in childcare, and for the parents’ own (and understandable) needs for inclusion.
    [Please note: I am not refering to special needs children who can function in class with a little help, but rather to children who are repeatedly disruptive, aggressive, and not cognitively able to learn academically in a mainstream classroom.]
    I think we need to look at the needs of others in the public schools as well. The main goal of public school is academic education. Teachers are there to teach, not to be aides in an asylum. We are already expecting our teachers to do more things than is reasonable. We also need to remember that if the main goal is academic education, we need to provide an environment that is conducive for those students who can benefit from the academics to be able to receive it. Also, resources, including both financial and teacher/staff energy and time, can be chewed up quickly on one special needs child while many non-special needs children have their needs for safety and academic challenge compromised.
    I think the balance in MMSD has tipped too far. It is not possible to mainstream all children and still provide academic excellence. Nor is it fair to mainstream every last child.

  3. Perhaps Nihil’s comment about the asylum was flippant but somedays we might all think it accurate. I think the inclusive classrooms must be very challenging for teachers. Add multi-grade elementary to that and you have a huge range of academic, developmental and behavioral needs. In the combined grade classrooms (the 1/K, 2/3 and 4/5 classes) the MMSD has, there can be two years difference in age between the youngest and oldest children. That’s okay for some kids, not others. No wonder there is teacher burnout.
    My questions are: How much of the inclusive model as practised by MMSD is due to the budget; and are alternative programs, such as NEON, a substitute for not mainstreaming?

  4. Flippant- yes. Remember that many special needs kids who function quite fine in a regular classroom today were confined to “state schools” and “asylums” in the not so distant past. NEON isn’t a substitute for mainstreaming; rather, it’s a program for legitimately mentally ill students in the tradition of Madison’s community-based mental health programming. As far as I know, inclusive education in the MMSD isn’t the result of budgets, it’s the result of progressive educational ideas…though I’m sure some will argue otherwise..cough cough, wheez wheez.

  5. I do not think my terminology was flippant – it was chosen with thought.
    I have walked through the halls of a school where a large, emotionally disturbed child was screaming at the top of his lungs, swearing, kicking, and multiple aides were trying to physically move him to a quiet room while trying to prevent injury to the boy, themselves, and everyone around him. I’ve been in classrooms where an emotionally disturbed child has screamed, thrown chairs, caused a riot, randomly kicked children, and fought the teacher. I could provide more examples from similar things other parents have seen.
    The only place I have ever seen anything similar has been on a lock-up psychiatric ward where I once worked.
    Nothing flippant about my choice of words.

  6. Perhaps the child you described didn’t have the proper supports in place and antecedents for known behaviors were missed by school staff? Thus the escalating and dangerous situation occurred.
    Inclusive education works when there is enough training and support for teachers, aides and other school personnel. It is the erosion of funding for special education over the last few years that has effect on every child – with or without an IEP.

  7. The public schools are charged with providing all students with a free and appropriate public education. All students will not have the same outcomes by the time they exit the system as adults, but this does not mean that a student with a significant disability is not being educated. Those loud outbursts are much more attention getting than the slow, often quiet progress, the student is making at other times. It would be easy to conclude that the student was not getting anything from school other than daycare and that their attention getting behavior was preventing others from learning. Yet, in our multi-age classroom, where we serve students across the ability spectrum, we were able to document significant growth for every single student–despite behavior that was sometimes very startling in our midst.
    Education is a multi-year process, and this is particularly true of students with disabilities. I had a very clear reminder of that this year, as I watched one of our fifth graders stand up and participate flawlessly in a music concert, changing positions and roles at each song, indistinguishable from the group to those who did not know him. As I’m unwilling to risk violating his confidentiality, I can’t provide the full picture that I would like to provide, but I will say that he was a child who made such painfully slow progress for his first few years that many did raise the questions as to whether it was appropriate to include him with his non-disabled peers. During those first few years, his academic progress was nearly non-existent–how could it be otherwise when so much of his energy was consumed by learning what most of us take for granted–accepting a transition or a change in the schedule, reacting appropriately to others, learning to be ok with a little noise around him, expressing himself in ways that were safe and respectful.
    Slow that it was, however, it was indeed progress, and during his last two years with us he really took off. Finally, he had progressed enough to start benefitting from academic instruction as well. He reads–and understands–for the first time. Yes, at a level below his classmates, but nearly two years growth in a little over a year. He writes paragraphs that make sense. I firmly believe that none of these things would have happened had he not been included in a classroom community where many students already had the skills he was working so hard to master. I believe just as firmly that our other students gained from coming to know and understand him AND that we were able to meet their academic needs.
    To be clear, I do believe that students need to leave the classroom when their behavior warrants it–generally when their behavior is making others feel unsafe or is causing a prolonged disruption in learning. I do not think that this means they should not return to the classroom.
    Short disruptions I think our students can live with. We live in a pretty noisy world, and learning to stay focused when there is competition for our attention is not a bad skill to develop.
    On a final note, it would be a mistake to assume that every child who acts like they have an emotional disability actually does. As a professor of mine once noted:
    Behavior that is disturbing to others is not always the same as behavior that is disturbed.

  8. Teacher L, I find your post for the most part to be very instructive and thoughtful. However, I take issue with your casual dismissal of the effects of frequent noisy disruptions on student learning and well-being. Our world does grow noisier around us, but it isn’t as easy to adjust to as you imply. People put up with it, but it is a constant source of stress in our lives and many of us do all we can to minimize it, teachers included. Don’t your students practice their indoor voices at school? A calm quiet atmosphere absolutely promotes student learning whereas one which is frequently punctuated with startling noisy disruptions interferes with learning and well-being. The claim that this is what the world is like and so children should learn early to suck it up and face it I find singularly unconvincing.

  9. I think some of us may be missing Nihil’s main points, which seem to be these:
    1) Mainstreaming and inclusion are not the best solutions for all children with special education needs. Although many children with special education needs do quite well in the regular classroom (David’s son, for example), many others do not. We have to find a way to accept and be comfortable with that reality, that all children are not alike and that there is no single educational solution that is best for all students.
    2) Parents of children with special education needs sometimes make decisions about their children’s educational programming for reasons other than what is truly in their child’s best interest (something all parents are susceptible to doing, I might add).
    3) The primary (even if not the only) purpose and function of public education is to provide instruction in academics.
    3) The primary (even if not the only) activity and responsibility of classroom teachers is to teach academic content.
    4) Students who do not have special education needs nevertheless have very real educational needs, which our schools have a legal, moral and ethical responsibility to meet.
    5) It may be that we have gone too far in an unfortunate direction (even if for the best-intentioned of reasons), putting a larger and larger proportion of our financial and human resources towards meeting the needs of students with special education needs (including their non-academic educational needs), while the needs of teachers to teach and the needs of non-special education students to learn academics are increasingly neglected.

  10. Well said, Laurie.
    I’ve been told that all students at Emerson Elementary will be mainstreamed next year — no pull outs for anything.

  11. Celeste,
    I am sorry if I gave the impression that a noisy classroom is not a big deal–that was not at all my intent.
    I DEFINITELY believe in indoor voices and in generally quiet classrooms. My students would be the first to tell you that I don’t tolerate off-task conversations, and that I expect on-task conversations to be intelligible only to the learners involved. It takes a lot of practice in elementary school, but I think it is important both that students who are easily distracted are not subjected to constant noise, and that the room is quiet enough for the adult(s) to know what is happening between students. In a noisy classroom, it is too easy for students to fly under the radar and create problems for others.
    My basic feeling is that if a student is able to have social conversation during work time, that student is either not being adequately challenged or is avoiding responsibility for their work.
    However, in such a classroom, I do think that students are capable of withstanding short disruptions. I also think that shaping that behavior (to ignore outbursts) is powerful both for students who are being disruptive and for the students who learn to actively choose where to direct their attention. So far it has been my experience that students can learn not to be an audience for a student who is experiencing difficulty, and to quickly refocus their attention where it belongs.

  12. I’d agree with what Laurie wrote with the exception of #2 and #5. I firmly believe that no one besides my child, myself, my wife and my child’s educators have any business deciding what’s in his best educational interest. After 9 years, we rarely disagree on a course of action. I also firmly believe that when you argue the point of #5, you create a false dichotomy and then get led into an ugly argument that no one can possibly win.
    In regards to referring to some special needs children using the antiquated term “asylum”, I’d say that folks who post anonymously can post whatever they want, and the Madison community that bothers to read it can make their own decision as to the flippancy, arrogance, or ignorance that such language implies.

  13. The ability to shut out distractions from the outside world varies a lot among individuals. I have 2 children who can do this and 1 who can’t. I agree that it would be a valuable skill for her to master, if only she were constitutionally capable of it, but she isn’t, and not for lack of opportunities to practice. She can pretend to shut out, but it’s just a facade. Public school, at least in a large urban district, doesn’t seem to have a place where she can thrive. We are fortunate enough to be able to choose other options. I imagine there are plenty of children similarly ‘handicapped’ who are not so fortunate and must suffer through the many years until high school graduation. As parents of a child whose ‘handicap’ has no diagnosis,just part of normal variation in personality traits, so no IEP in hand, there is nothing we can do to force the school district to provide her a calm classroom. In fact, there are parents, one who posts here in particular, whose children have IEPs and who should have sympathy for children with a difficulty like my daughter has, but who instead have posted that my child should just get tough and learn to deal with the real world. If you have an IEP, the school district should bend to accomodate your child. If you don’t, your child should bend, into pretzels if necessary, to fit into the schools as they are. It’s very valuable to have a strong law on your side.
    Also, even for those of us who can shut out distractions, the energy cost in doing so is not zero. Some mental energy goes into the process, and that energy is not available for the task at hand. People who really need to focus tend to find quiet environments to do so when possible so as not to waste energy. My husband doesn’t look for a noisy bench at the amusement park to prove theorems. He works in his office or at home when it’s quiet.
    The nature of some of these disruptions makes them impossible to ignore. When you are picked up and slammed against the wall by someone who is having a bad day, as has happened to my youngest more than once (he’s rather short and slight,) once by a child he didn’t even know, it’s a bit difficult to ignore. Even when it isn’t so direct, any disruption which a child perceives may become dangerous, cannot be easily ignored.
    Then, for another type of example, I stopped by for music performance day during my youngest’s 3rd grade, a day when children can prepare something to sing, play on piano, etc. to perform before their class. There is a child with disabilities who is not dangerous at all, but frequently very disruptive, particularly when engaging with others. He has an aide in his class most of the time. He wanted to perform, but was scared and hadn’t really prepared anything. He got up and tried to sing, then demanded that another student get up with him to help him, stopped, started. The music teacher and then his aide negotiated with him whilst he grew more and more agitated. They are very patient and try hard to get him back on an even keel which often takes some time. After it became apparent that the situation was not salvageable the aide led him screaming out of the classroom. There wasn’t anything else for the children to focus on during this time, and all the time had been used up so that only the 2 who managed to perform before him got to perform that day. That was the music class. This was very typical through the years I observed him. He hated school, came in every day with his head hanging down. Well, plenty of non-disabled children hate school too, but that’s another topic. In any case, this child’s disruptions used up an inordinate amount of class time. I understand that he deserves a public education, but how do we reconcile that with all children’s need for a public education? I don’t know the answer. I know other children whose disabilities may cause them to be disruptive rarely or intermittently, so that the overall effect on the class is small and manageable. But at some level it is too much strain on the class.
    I appreciate what you are saying, Teacher L, and you seem to be talented and devoted, but it simplifies the picture, at least the picture I have seen.

  14. I keep hearing from special ed teachers, teachers, the superintendent and some board members that special education services are being cut and that these cuts will harm special needs kids. I can’t help but think this may have a negative effect on classrooms. Maybe the policy of inclusion is sound but is the practice adequate? What I mean is, will there be enough people in the classrooms to help the kids that need help?

  15. Things are to the point where schools are woefully understaffed at every level and classrooms, no doubt, feel this effect. For instance, Gompers will have ONE cross categorical teacher this fall. She’s a gem, but will have to cover K-5 grades. No disrespect intended to SEA’s, but the skills of a seasoned cross categorical teachers when it comes to learning and emotional disabilities are oh so valuable these days. Remember that budget cut this past spring where they took the speech & language kids off the special education rolls? That cut, effectively, trimmed cross categorical special ed teachers off of building allocations.

  16. I have been following this thread and wondering when the budget cuts were going to come into the picture. Cuts to special ed since 2000 (thanks to the Revenue Caps)
    06-07 budger
    High School Educational Assistants 2 71,684
    CC Unallocated Teachers 10 543,583
    Unallocated SEA’s 5 191,067
    Psychologists 1 84,198
    Psychologists 1 84,198
    Social Workers 1 73,997
    Social Workers 1 73,997
    05-06 cuts
    Transitional Education Program Teacher1 50,700
    Special Education Clerical 1 57,500
    Eliminate Parent Community Response Department 2.50 133,550
    Teacher/Educ Asst-9th Grade Alternatives 1 2660,602
    Psychologist & Social Workers 1.80 124,920
    Nurse Functions 1 69,400
    Special Education Assistants 5 170,000
    Special Education Unallocated Positions 9.40 473,482
    Special Education Program Support Teachers 10 527,300
    Elementary Education Assistant 1 34,000
    04-05 Budget cuts
    Transitional Education Program Social Worker 1 68,651
    Speech & Language/Low Incidence 2 98,816
    Cross Categorical Pupil: Teacher Ratio 54.60 2,434,494 (yes that is right-two and a half million)
    03-04 cuts
    Cross Categorical Staffing 9.20 353,861
    Eliminate Additional SEA 2 70,000
    Program Support Counselor-Guidance.50 46,250
    02-03 cuts
    Reduce Special Ed Teacher Allocations Based on Enrollment 28.73 1,500,000
    01-02 cuts
    Elementary Four Year Old EA’s 2 47,702
    Conflict Resolution Staff0.50 23,750
    Special Education Reductions/Flow-Thru 487,000
    Special Education/Regular Education Collaboration Initiative 3 142,500
    2000-2001 Cuts
    Unallocated Special Education Position 44,000
    Does anyone think that these cuts, and more on the way, have not affected what happens in the schools?

  17. Thanks Troy, that is interesting information. David Cohen gave Gompers as an example: Gompers will have ONE cross categorical teacher this fall. She’s a gem, but will have to cover K-5 grades. Does anyone else out there have the same type of information for other schools?

  18. David,
    With regard to some of your recent comments —
    I think people sometimes choose to post anonymously on this blog because they know there are a few posters who seem to feel clever and find pleasure in being deliberately provocative and taking verbal pot shots at other posters. It is one thing when people who are known to each other — and who are known to do that regularly — do that with each other, sparring fashion. (It’s not necessarily pleasant for the rest of us, but at least there’s a sort of implied mutual consent.) It is quite another thing, however, when people do that to relatively new posters, posters who are unknown to them, and posters who do not make a practice of behaving that way themselves.
    I would appreciate it if people who are prone to the sort of “verbal impulsivity” I am talking about would consider developing a practice of waiting a day or two before posting their comments and taking the time to make sure their words are not unnecessarily provocative or hurtful to others.
    I appreciate it when people provide us with information and I am interested in learning about other points of view; but I do not appreciate it when people are verbally abusive and treat other posters poorly.

  19. Absolutely special education is being impacted–and when those resources are stretched, the impact on regular education is tremendous as well. The middle and high schools have taken the worst of the cuts so far, but elementary is beginning to be impacted more as well. Further, there are a lot of complicating factors that aren’t immediately obvious from the outside. Some examples:
    *situations like Gompers: small schools may not have the overall numbers to support many allocations. However, many CC teachers and regular education teachers will tell you that the number of environments that have to be served has a much more significant impact than number of students on a caseload. When a teacher’s day is divided piecemeal over multiple environments, it is much more likely that there will be a negative impact on the classroom environment. This is not only because there are parts of the day without enough adults, but also because adults who are not present often enough to be seen as a teacher by all students, tend to be less effective when they are in the room.
    *Within school buildings, incidence rates are rarely evenly distributed (especially at the elementary level, where many students who qualify for SLD or EBD are not identified until 2nd or 3rd grade). There might be only 6 children identified in the first grade, for instance, and 14 in the 4th. Number-wise that generates roughly 2 elementary CC allocations. However, one of those allocations is working just at 4th, the other is split between first and fourth. The impact will be different for the students who are in a class with a CC teacher that is always at fourth (especially in a collaborative building), than it will for the students in the first grade classroom and the “leftover” fourth grade classroom. Or, as we have chosen to do in our building, caseloads will be skewed so that the fourth grade CC teacher is serving more students.
    **Distribution of students by eligibility area is not consistent across grade levels or schools. For instance, all of our students with multiple disabiities were clustered at the K-1 level. This was a complete fluke, but required a tremendous allocation of staff at that level. This necessarily impacted staffing at other grade levels.
    **Space. In most schools, there isn’t any. Special Education staff have little to no space available to them to provide for physical and behavioral intervention, never mind instruction. Even if it were a good idea to end inclusive practices in education (which in my opinion, it is not), there are few schools with the space to set up classrooms to serve these students separately. It is no more appropriate to group kindergarteners and fifth graders with disabilities in the same room, than it is to group kindergarteners and fifth graders without disabilities in the same room. (I could go on and on regarding the grouping problems of pulling students out of regular education classes all day, but that would take me a bit off-topic 🙂 )
    *Many of the cuts impact special and regular education in ways that are not obvious. For instance, cuts in support staff cut into teacher time in many ways. If a student needs to leave a classroom (regular ed, resource room, etc….) and no other staff are available to step in and assist that student, a teacher needs to leave other students unsupported in order to handle the problem. This generates a lose-lose situation: either leave a classroom understaffed for instruction, or return a student to the classroom earlier than the situation should have called for.
    Relatedly, cuts in support staff create problems when there is not enough time to follow up on the problems that impact a student’s school performance. No nurse to work with the parents on refilling a prescription? A student who needs meds may be at school unmedicated for days or weeks. No social worker to help a family connect with resources in the community? A less stable student in the classroom. I realize that in some schools, particularly those that have low poverty rates, there may be less need of these services. However, in high poverty schools, where many families lack the insurance to cover medication or services; lack reliable transportation to access services; or simply lack the tools to access them, this support falls to the schools. Some might say it shouldn’t, but what is the alternative? Clearly we aren’t going to ban students from the schools based on the need a family has for support. Just as clearly, when children need support and aren’t getting it, they impact everyone around them. I should note that this is not a special education issue–I include it here in part because the staff who are able to take on this work also have special education responsibilities that have to be met. When their allocation is reduced, the demand for their time is not.
    When schools successfully create collaborative teams, the impact of cuts is diminished. Despite the many challenges that our students faced, our team has experienced a lot of success meeting needs across the spectrum. However, we have more space available than is true in many buildings, and we rely heavily on our support staff. As those resources diminish, our students–all of them–will be increasingly and negatively impacted.

  20. My understanding is that one of the biggest changes in special education funding for next year is that now students who only have speech and language needs will be taught only by speech and language professionals; that is, these students will no longer be taught, in addition, by other special education staff.
    Please forgive my ignorance, but I guess I don’t see how that sort of increased precision in the use of our resources — especially at a time like this — is a problem. Weird as it may sound, I can even see the change as a move in the direction of appropriate inclusion and “least restrictive” educational setting. If it results in fewer special education staff, well, isn’t that because the numbers have been inflated by adding in the speech-and-language-only students? And if some of those students actually need additional non-speech and language services, then shouldn’t they be re-evaluated and shouldn’t that be written into their IEP’s?
    I would be interested in hearing about this from parents of students who only have speech and language needs, if there are any among us.

  21. I can’t speak from the parent perspective on this one, but I’d like to add a bit more detail.
    Most S/L students have never recieved CC services and have never needed them. The students we are talking about are generally students who don’t meet criteria for Specific Learning Disability, but who’s difficulties with language impact them across curricular areas. These students tend to require additonal supports and accomodations in order to be successful in their classes.
    There are basically four options for meeting the needs of those students:
    1) The speech and language clinician can provide the services. Speech and Language Clinicians have many more students to serve than CC teachers and, under current allocation and are not available to be the primary support for a student across academic areas. An hour and 1/2 of service time per week would be at the high end of what is typically provided to elementary age students.
    2) The regular education teacher can consult regularly with the S/L clinician and provide the support and accomodations for the student. The move to write CC service time onto an S/L IEP was based on the difficulty that classroom teachers were having trying to meet those needs in addition to their other responsibilities.
    3) Students can be placed on a CC caseload and have their needs met in the same way as other students who have disabilities and who need academic suport.
    4) Students can be served by CC teachers without being placed on their caseloads. The impact of this is to invisibly increase the caseloads for the CC teachers who provide the service. Higher caseloads for CC teachers increase demands on regular ed teachers. I’m not sure how this is a more precise use of resources. It seems to me to be decrease in resource.

  22. Thanks for the additional info, Teacher L. (Please email me directly about something I’d prefer to say to you directly — lauriefrost@ameritech.net.)
    From what you say, it seems to me that either the student’s problems are serious enough for them to officially receive additional special education services (and thus be on the CC teacher’s case load) … or not. If not, then isn’t it the classroom teacher’s responsibility to provide what’s needed, perhaps in consultation with the S/L professional? The CC person should not really be involved at all and the student should not be taking resources away from those students to whom the CC teacher is formally responsible. To involve the CC teacher only where there is a documented (justified) need for their services IS a more precise application of resources, it seems to me. (To involve them elsewhere — as in your option #4 above — obviously is not.)
    I can’t help but be struck by the similarities and differences between this situation and that of the student who is performing above grade level and thus in need of additional services of a different sort. How is that student to be served? How are their educational needs to be met? What staff and other resources do we have for them? Whose responsibility are they?
    First, a little background. (My apologies to all of you who already know this. I put the information out there in order to keep it out there, so that eventually everyone knows it.)
    The District has a “Talented and Gifted” (TAG) staff of 7 educational specialists to serve a student population of 24,000 or so. Currently, they are housed in the Teaching and Learning Department (which is a very hostile, anti-TAG environment, I might add — TAG should be put back in Educational Services, where it used to be). Five of the TAG staff serve our elementary school students (six schools per every one staff person); one serves the needs of all of the District’s middle and high school students (yes, ALL — that’s 15 schools, including four high schools that are experiencing an increase in “core” curriculum and thus a decrease in appropriate educational opportunities for high ability students); and one is an administrator who oversees all TAG programming (including the summer enrichment program). Suffice it to say that the TAG staff have been stretched way too thin for way too many years.
    Students come to the attention of the TAG staff via teacher or parent referral. (I think the reality is that few teachers make referrals, so it’s mostly parents asking for more for their students. That’s problem #1, of course, that parental advocacy — sometimes very persistent parental advocacy — is required before a student can hope to receive services.) The TAG staff has come up with an evaluation process — the Classroom Action Summary — that allows them to identify additional non-referred students in need of TAG services at the same time they are evaluating the “target” student. There is also the end-of-fifth-grade math assessment that has as its intention the identification of any and all math-advanced fifth graders in the District, in order to provide them with appropriate sixth grade math placement. Interestingly, standardized test scores are not routinely used to identify students who may be in need of greater intellectual challenge than they are getting. This may change, of course, as a result of a January, 2007, judicial ruling which requires all of Wisconsin’s 425 school districts to have clear “TAG” identification criteria in place by next year.
    Anyway, so here we have two different types of students in need of specialized services, as well as the availability of educational professionals who have the specialized training to help them and/or to help their classroom teacher help them. How do their experiences compare?
    Unlike the S/L student, as of yet the TAG student enjoys no substantive legal requirement that s/he be identified and served by the school. There are statutes, but the DPI doesn’t enforce them. The MMSD, for example, has been out of compliance with the state statutes for gifted education for over 15 years, without consequence.
    Unlike the S/L clinicians, the TAG staff are not supposed to work directly with individual students, except for evaluation purposes. Any number of one-on-one instructional minutes per week is seen as a “no-no”. The TAG staff are seen as a resource for the classroom teacher.
    Unlike S/L clinicians, the TAG staff must wait until the classroom teacher feels the need to make use of them as a resource and requests their services. They do not have the legal footing to do otherwise. This is a big problem. The TAG specialist can make themselves available to the classroom teacher (especially after completing an evaluation of a student), but they cannot insist that the teacher make use of them or follow their recommendations. The reality is that many classroom teachers and many principals do not “believe” in TAG students and the need for TAG educational options. Thus many parents have had the uncomfortable experience of finding themselves caught between their child’s classroom teacher and their school’s TAG resource specialist (maybe even an outside evaluating psychologist). They feel the TAG specialist understands what their child needs and how to provide it, but the teacher simply disagrees and/or is not interested. Appealing to the principal sometimes helps, but not always. Whether it works or not in terms of getting their child’s educational needs met, appealing to the principal can sometimes make the parent’s relationship with their classroom teacher even more tense, which can have a negative effect on their child’s classroom experience.
    Generally speaking, parents of TAG students are not seen as attuned, responsible parents who are trying to make appropriate use of District resources in order to get their child’s educational needs met, as are parents of special education students. Rather, parents of TAG students are seen as entitled and over-invested, and somehow out of touch with what their child “really” needs. Down the road, of course, when some of these children become National Merit Semi-Finalists and such (at least those who have remained MMSD students and who have not disengaged), then the District takes credit for them and uses them as evidence of the District’s high academic standards. The fact is, I can count on my two hands the number of teachers and administrators my sons had before they entered high school who genuinely cared about meeting the needs of high ability students. That’s not to say the others weren’t wonderful people and excellent teachers for other types of students. They just didn’t feel much responsibility to stimulate and challenge my sons and the other students like them.
    Going back to where this all started, I guess I don’t see a problem with the change and having S/L students’ S/L needs met by the S/L clinician and any other educational issues addressed by the classroom teacher, possibly in consultation with the S/L clinician. If the student’s other challenges aren’t serious enough to warrant an additional “diagnosis” of some sort and be written into their IEP, then it seems to me that the classroom teachers — most of whom have by now worked with dozens of special education students and collaborated with dozens of special education staff — should be able to handle whatever comes their way quite well.

  23. I don’t disagree with what Laurie has said about TAG being underresourced. I particularly share the belief that TAG should be part of student services. I’ve been directly involved with TAG from both teacher and parent side, and would personally like to see a process similar to the IEP process to document, program for, and track needs and service delivery. Not meeting a student’s basic educational needs (to recieve instruction explicitly designed for their next level of challenge) is not acceptable.
    As to the S/L issue….I respectfully disagree with the conclusions. However, it’s a moot point since the budget change has already been made. For my part, I see that change as just one among many of the detrimental changes that have been made. I don’t have a “better” cut to propose, but I stand by my original comments regarding the impact.

  24. Way too much for me to respond to, so I’ll just say a couple of things:
    First, could we PLEASE use children first language (Laurie did this well in her earlier post) e.g. children with special needs versus special needs children, TAG children, etc… The educational field uses people first language and papers that are not people first in many journals will not be published until edited.
    Second, under IDEA, if a child is identified as eligible for and in need of Speech and Language services, they can ALSO receive other services from any teacher (cross categorical, teachers of LD or EBD, their own classroom teacher) and have goals on their IEP relating to reading, math, behavior in addition to the S/L needs. In reality, there has been past research that would suggest that a number of kids who are in need of S/L services early on (mostly if it’s a language based as opposed to articulation based issue) fail to show the discrepancy needed for LD services, but as they continue to lack appropriate instruction (this is a general education issue here-how do we provide early intervention for kids who MAY be at risk of failing so we don’t have to identify them later…did they qualify as an older child because they were not provided appropriate instruction-that’s a question we have to address for eligibility). Some schools in Madison do this really well (e.g. Hawthorne “double doses” kids who aren’t proficient at a certain benchmark by providing, in the general education environment, more literacy time each day).
    So, just because a child has S/L issues and is also shows needs in other areas, does not mean the child has to be served by special education, but that SOME intervention should be occurring. To make it a special education responsibility is a mistake.
    What is the recommended caseload in Madison? DPI has a suggested formula to figure out caseloads http://dpi.wi.gov/sped/doc/cseldoptn.doc. In brief, if a student qualifies as LD, they have a baseline factor of 1, and if they are elementary aged, they have a factor of 1.6 (equal to 1.6 kids), whereas a student identified as CD in secondary might have a factor of 3.3 (equal to 3.3 kids). A teacher who has mostly students with LD at elementary would be expected to have a caseload of about 15 students. If the dominant setting is inclusion, it is recommended to subtract 10% from the caseload. I only bring this up because I know that schools have varying amounts of support from teachers and EAs and wondered if Madison has a consistent way that this is applied. So, if at Gompers, the teacher has more than 15 kids K-5 and no support, the caseload is probably too high (particularly if there are kids with CD, EBD, etc.. on the caseload). If there are EAs to support the classroom teacher, then 15 is probably reasonable. Just something to look at.
    I agree with Laurie’s last comment posted July 20. Many kids are found eligible for S/L (it’s really easier) because they need support in other areas, but schools aren’t structured to provide that intervention in the general education environment and most folks think it’s a special education problem anyway, so they get the child qualified under S/L SO that they can provide other services (OT/PT, Reading, etc…). It’s a reality that I think Madison has finally decided to address. No other districts that I know allow kids to be on more than one caseload and if it’s a child with S/L only, then the child is the responsibility of the S/L teacher.
    BTW-state average caseload for S/L is 42 students, usually served as articulation in early grades for a total of 30 minutes a week.

  25. Elizabeth,
    Re: allocation formulas. I’m not sure what the exact formula is for S/L in Madison, but I believe it is close to the statewide average you mentioned.
    In Madison, CC teacher allocation is not based on type of disability (although it was prior to our move to CC, vs. disability specific, service delivery). Where a disproportionate number of students have full day service needs, health and/or safety issues, a school would probably be allocated a greater share of SEA hours.

  26. And don’t forget that those CC teachers service all kids in any given class, not just special ed students on their “caseload”. The loss of CC teachers means less adults in the classroom, period.

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