At the End of the Special Ed Ghetto, Part II: One of the most-pernicious aspects of the practice within American public education of condemning children — especially young men of all ages — to special ed ghettos is that once those kids are placed there, they are unlikely to ever graduate from high school. This is especially true when it comes to children labeled as having specific learning disabilities, which can range from dyslexia to issues with processing words and sound. These are children who can succeed in school if given a little extra support. Yet, more often than not, because of the abysmal teaching and curricula within special ed, far too many kids labeled with a specific learning disability will not graduate from high school. Just 51 percent of 16-to-21 year olds labeled as having a specific learning disability graduate from high school, and only 31 percent of 16-to-21 year-olds labeled emotionally disturbed exit do so, according to Dropout Nation‘s 2011 analysis of federal data.
So the findings on graduation rates for SLD students released earlier this week by the National Center for Learning Disabilities aren’t all that surprising. But the report still serves as a reminder that we need to keep more kids out of special ed and help them stay on the path to success in school and in life. In four states — Nevada, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Idaho — fewer than 40 percent of SLD-labeled students exited special ed programs with a diploma in 2011, based on its analysis of federal Individuals with Disabilities Act Part B data. Even worse, in these states, SLD students are more likely to leave schools with a mere certificate of completion — essentially worthless paper — than graduate with a diploma. Yet it is hard to measure the percentage of students with SLD who are graduating in part because federal data doesn’t require states to use the adjusted cohort graduation rate formula applied to measuring school, district, and state performance in helping kids take the first step in moving into an increasingly knowledge-based economy.
Meanwhile the report also reveals how badly states are doing in helping all special ed students graduate on time when compared to already abysmal graduation rates for students in regular classrooms. Seven states — Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Nevada, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia — the percentage of special ed students receiving diplomas is at least 35 percentage points lower than graduation rates for all students. Only Arkansas, Texas, New Jersey, and Kansas have graduation gaps between special ed and all students that are 10 percent or lower. Certainly policies that essentially encourage districts to not support special ed students in staying on the path to graduation is part of the problem. But as Dropout Nation has made clear ad nauseam, the underlying problem lies with cultures of low expectations for kids, especially from poor and minority backgrounds, which condemn too many of are being condemned to special ed ghettos when they are capable of learning.
The school reform movement, which often ignores this aspect of the nation’s education crisis, should rally around some of NCLD’s suggestions, including cracking down on policies that “encourage early decisions that would put students” off the path to graduating with a regular diploma. More importantly, it is high time to start ditching special ed altogether.
A Final Word (For Now) About Heritage-Richwine: The forced resignation of Jason Richwine from the Heritage Foundation continues to garner attention. Charles Murray, the IQ fundamentalist who co-wrote The Bell Curve,. defended Richwine on the pages of National Review (as well as on the Web site of the American Enterprise Institute), proclaiming that criticisms of his protege’s arguments for screening out Latino and other immigrants with low IQ scores is merely another example of how folks no longer “engage our adversaries’ arguments in good faith”; the fact that Richwine’s views (along with those of Murray) have been discredited by the research of James Flynn and others doesn’t seem to factor into his arguments. [The fact that AEI seems unwilling to reconcile its role of being one of the foremost players in shaping the policies driving the school reform movement with its other role of giving succor to IQ fundamentalists and their racialism. One would hope at least one of the top folks at AEI, including the head of its education policy shop, would go ahead and condemn Richwine's thinking and be done with it.] Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute, on the other hand, rightly pointed out (as Dropout Nation did earlier this week) that IQ tests don’t really measure cognitive ability at all, and actually measure how various factors — including learning environments — impact levels of knowledge.
As Dropout Nation has noted the Richwine episode is a reminder of how IQ fundamentalism (and the debates over race and cognitive ability) still shapes American public education for the worse; it is another reason why reformers must continue systemic reform. At the same time, the Richwine controversy once again reminds all of us — especially those in educational research — of the need to broaden perspectives and include research and information from fields such as history and demography in our base of knowledge before making statements (and forming policy views) that both fail to square with reality as well as perpetuate bigotry.
Much of the attention to the Richwine controversy has focused on the now-infamous 2009 doctoral dissertation, which he declared that Latino emigres were less-intelligent (and thus, undeserving of American citizenship) than white peers. But one of the biggest problems with Richwine is that he has made extraordinarily empirically thoughtless statements about blacks and American Indians and their supposed levels of assimilation into the American mainstream. During a 2008 AEI forum focused on a study put together by nativist Mark Krikorian, Richwine declared that blacks, Latinos, and American Indians have not assimilated into American life, pointing to the fact that Natives, in particular, still live on reservations. No one at the event bothered to challenge him on that statement. While it is extraordinarily clear based on the record — including his participation at workshops held by the notorious race-baiter John Tanton — that much of Richwine’s statements are little more than rank bigotry disguised as intellectual banter, his statements are also reflective of the sheer ignorance of the demography and history of minorities in this country that manifests itself in classrooms and in research.
If Richwine had bothered to do some demographic research on American Indians, for example, he would that just seven percent of Native students attend schools on reservations operated by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education — and that the rest are educated in traditional public education settings. Richwine would also learn the rather inconvenient fact that only 22 percent of Natives live on reservations or other lands held in trust on their behalf by the federal government — and that the rest live in urban, suburban and rural settings; while many Natives live close to the reservations, many others do not. [The fact that Natives were often forcibly removed from their original tribal lands to reservations is a matter about which Richwine apparently had no understanding.] Then there is the fact that 44 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native adults claim an additional racial or ethnic background, what one would consider a key measure of assimilation; a Pueblo in, say, New Mexico, is likely to also have some Latino ethnicity, while a Lumbee in North Carolina may also have black or have Scots Irish heritage.
Some reading on how American public education perpetuated abuse and neglect on Native children and their communities would also have given Richwine some much-needed perspective. For most of its history, the federal government has done all it can to subject American Indian children to what can be best called educational abuse and genocide. Starting with the launch of the notorious Carlisle Indian Boarding School in 1879, the federal government focused its schools on assimilating Native children into American culture, or as Carlisle’s founder, Richard Henry Pratt declared: “Kill the Indian in him and save the man.” By the mid-20th century, what is now the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education opened 26 such schools while another 450 were operated by missionaries on the federal government’s behalf. American Indian children were often forced to leave their families to attend schools where they were subjected to physical abuse, molestation, and substandard instruction; they spent at best four hours a day in classes they could not understand because the schools didn’t focus on English language proficiency and the rest of the time working in conditions that wouldn’t have been allowed under child labor laws. The consequences of this educational abuse continue to manifest today in the low graduation rates for Native students, as well as how the federal government has done little to improve the performance of BIE, one of the two districts operated directly by the federal government.
Certainly one of Richwine’s problems has been deliberate ignorance. After all, it is unlikely that he would have even bothered writing his dissertation if he spent some time reading Flynn’s What is Intelligence?, or any of the other books that have torn apart IQ fundamentalist thinking. But it’s not just about willful dismissal of evidence countering his perspective, or the likelihood that he has never met anyone who is Native (or obviously so) and may not have close, personal friendships with folks from other minority backgrounds. After all, there are plenty of people with friends from other races who are also bigots. Richwine’s ignorance also likely derives from the silo effect that has resulted from the two century-long move toward specialization in knowledge and scholastic research. While specialization has helped further our knowledge about areas such as economics, it also means that researchers don’t engage in the kind of multidisciplinary activities that brings additional perspective to research and also helps broadens one’s perspectives in areas outside of day-to-day work. Some researchers, who are passionate about their subjects and are intellectually omnivorous, approach their work from a multidisciplinary approach. But because such broad research activity (and thinking) is discouraged, especially in think tanks that are more oriented toward advocating particular policies, broad thinking isn’t encouraged.
One can see the consequences of this narrow approach to research in some of the conclusions reached in various studies. For example, conclusions that charter schools are the biggest factor in the decline of Catholic diocesan schools fails to consider the secular problems facing those operations (including the lack of low-cost labor in the form of priests and nuns, as well as the dwindling number of parishioners in pews who can offset the cost of operating schools), as well as the decline in enrollment in many cities that has affected both traditional districts and Catholic schools alike, and the questions among theologians and parishioners about what role Catholic schools should play in educating kids whose parents aren’t adherents to the faith. Reformers, especially those inside the Beltway, need to discourage silos in thinking and research, and encourage multidisciplinary approaches that encourage the kind of intellectualism needed to transform education for our children. This, in turn, would lead to more-comprehensive thinking about policy and practice, as well as force folks such as Richwine to think their ideas (and biases) over.
Asbury Park’s Teacher Absenteeism Problem: One reason why we must abandon the traditional system of teacher quality is because it offers perverse incentives for instructors to do anything other than focus on providing children in their care with high-quality education. This is particularly true when it comes to the array of sick days — usually around 10 days of more during the 180 school year — granted to teachers as part of state laws and collective bargaining agreements. Thanks to these generous sick day policies written into teacher contracts and state laws, there are too many incentives for teachers lacking commitment to their work to skip out on classroom duty. It is why 5.3 percent of teachers were absent from school each day of the school year, according to the Center for American Progress in a 2010 study. And the consequences of these absences — which is especially ridiculous given that teachers usually have three months of time off away from the office — are borne by children who end up being taught by substitutes (who are often not equipped to improve student achievement), and lower levels of achievement. But this often doesn’t get discussed because local media outlets (as well as those at the national level) pay this issue little attention.
So it is commendable to see Bob Bowdon’s Choice Media TV reveal one particularly amazing example of teacher absenteeism in Asbury Park, N.J., where the average teacher missed a full 18 days — or one month — of the 2011-2012 school year, according to an analysis of personnel data obtained from that district (along with other school systems throughout the Garden State). Thanks to Asbury Park’s generous leave policy, which allows teachers to earn 14 sick days along with another four days of family time, there is little incentive for instructors in the district to help students achieve success. Little wonder why just 49 percent of the district’s original Class of 2012 graduated on time, according to the Garden State’s department of education. [Asbury Park has since issued a statement arguing that the Choice Media report is inaccurate; Choice Media countered that it was accurate based on what the data provided it.] More media outlets, especially those in local communities, should take a closer look at how often teachers are skipping out on serving our children well.