September 18, 2010
In the next three weeks, the Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project will be starting our Spotlight Instructional Practices Inquiry to Action groups, as well as beginning some of our many Conference Day workshops. I want to briefly lay out some basic information about the New York City special education Phase One initiative.
What is the Phase One initiative designed to do?
1. Bring schools in NYC into compliance with IDEA 1997. This update on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act specifically requires that students be given access to the general education curriculum. We have 30 years of federally-funded research demonstrating that separate is not equal when it comes to long-term outcomes for students with disabilities. New York State is ranked 49th in the United States when it comes to providing students with disabilities access to general education classrooms. By utilizing all service delivery models of the NYS continuum of services, this DOE initiative seeks to improve access to the general education curriculum for students with disabilities.
2. Strengthen special education services and move away from “special education as a place”. When special education grew hugely bigger (in the 1970’s) the BOE created specialized programs and specialized schools. Although these places were designed with the best of intentions and with extraordinary staff and terrific student-teacher ratios, they have not resulted in the long-term outcomes we know are possible for students with disabilities. When special education is a “place,” it locks the teachers and the students in to a location. We now know this approach is flawed and we must create a wide range of flexible delivery models so that students can receive special education services that connect directly to the general education curriculum (which is accessed through specialized technologies and services). This means that special education teachers and general education teachers must collaborate in deep and ongoing ways about particular children and in the context of specific curricula.
3. Put the ‘i” and the “e” back in the IEP. New York City IEPs have rarely lived up to the spirit of the law. We have a lot of work to do to make the IEP an educationally oriented document that ties directly to specific accommodations and modifications that the student needs in order to access the general education curriculum. Instead, too many NYC IEPs have focused on location of services instead of focusing on the actual individualized plan for instruction.
4. Move from a medical model to an instructional model. In the first century of special education, we thought there were specific instructional practices and models to match specific disabilities. However, almost all researchers and scholars and many practitioners now understand that good teaching is good teaching. Yes, some students need quiet spaces or headphones and FM transmitters to minimize distraction. And others need behavior support plans. And others need travel training, or assistive technology, or individually designed communication plans. But we now know that sorting students with similar disability labels into a classroom does not create a more homogeneous student body. It turns out that students with the same disability label have as much difference between them as do any other two learners. In other words: the medical label does not offer educators much useful information when it comes to making instructional plans.
5. This is not about saving money from educational services, or telling schools how to serve students. Rumors are flying around the city about what this initiative is intended to do. Phase One schools did not lose money, in fact, the funding formula provides incentives to create more flexible services and does not penalize schools in any way for keeping services the same.
Britt Hamre (TCICP co-director) and I look forward to working closely with a wide range of teachers and schools this year. In one of the next blog postings, I will introduce our staff and the members of the Teacher Advisory Board.
All best for a great school year!