Those Parents Have Not Complained
Would you want your child to be in a grade seven class of thirty if twenty-five of those students had been identified as having special needs. Would you want your child in that class if she had been identified as having special needs? Would you want her in it if her first language were not English? Would you want her in it if she were a regular, ordinary student? No matter which way you look at it, a class with these demographics isn’t good for any student and yet …
A colleague of mine recently observed that in one intermediate school, the two grade seven regular English classes were predominantly special education students. By predominantly, I mean that roughly twenty-five out of twenty-eight or twenty-nine in one class and half the students in the other class were identified or about to be identified as students with special needs. By students with special needs I mean are students with learning disabilities or behavioral problems. Gifted students are probably not included.
What Kind of Special Needs and What Kind of Support?
The students in these two classes receive some support through a special education teacher joining their class on a regular basis, usually for Language Arts and math. This teacher provides support to more than the grade seven classes; in fact she probably provides support for all the grade seven and eight classes, so she cannot be available quarter time, much less full time, to support special needs students in any class. For many students, the time allotted for support may be sufficient, for others it won’t be.
Each child identified has been identified as having a particular need; this is why they are called special needs children. In the twenty-five may be students with ADD, ADHD, psychological and behavioral problems, physical learning disabilities and gifted students. [for informal definitions see below] Not only does one size not fit all, but each child has an appropriately individualized program the teacher is required to follow.
Imagine a teacher teaching a class where twenty-five students need special education support. Yes, when there are two of you (the classroom teacher and the special education support teacher) it isn’t so daunting, but there are thirty students. The classroom teacher has responsibility for the five regular students as well as the rest. Try to imagine what this class would be like.
Now try to imagine what it is like when the subject teacher is alone, trying to teach geography, complete with graphs – or history, with the need to read non-fiction. Where will the support be then? How will students respond? Will they be able to learn in a class of that size with so many other students competing for help?
What is the Model for this Style of Class? Education for All
The school cited states that these children’s needs are met following the inclusive model set out by the 2006 Expert Panel report on Special Education, Education for All. For my comments, summaries and charts derived from Education for All, go to the tag or category marked Education for All on this site. The point of the document was that by following the concept developed by the architectural community of universal design, almost all students can be taught in an inclusive classroom.
The point of the inclusive classroom is to integrate children with exceptional needs into classrooms of regular children. Instead, in this example, regular kids are being integrated into classrooms of exceptional children. Only those students who are gifted are exempted from being integrated with regular students or having regular students integrated with them.
Profile of Grade Seven Section of the School
This particular school states that it has a “Junior/Intermediate system LD class for students who have been identified with severe learning disabilities.” This would account for the larger percentage of identified students in the regular classes. In this school there are six grade seven classes, a normal sort of number for a middle school. You are probably wondering why there are so many identified students (teacher talk for students with special needs) in the two classes.
Of the six classes in this grade seven cohort only two have students with learning difficulties integrated into their class. Some of you may doing the math: If one assumes that each class has thirty students and there are twenty-five identified students in one class and half of another class is identified i.e. fifteen, students, that makes forty students out of one hundred and eighty (6 classes X 30 students) who have learning difficulties of some sort or another. (Not speaking English does not count as a learning disability although it does disqualify you from being gifted.)
Forty students distributed through six classes would thin them out a bit and make for more inclusive classrooms. There would be about six or seven special needs students in each class. Obviously they would have to be distributed with regard to their particular needs, the talents and qualifications of the classroom teachers and the profile of each class. More special needs teachers would be required but it would put an end to the ghettoization of the regular English classes. But wait a bit … out of the six grade seven classes in this school only two are eligible to receive special needs children.
Why are only Two out of the Six Grade Seven Classes Inclusive?
French Immersion and Special Education Support
First there are three French Immersion classes. Students can’t expect special education support in Ontario’s FI classes. There are no special education teachers certified to teach in French and therefore there is no support or, more accurately: there is no support provided for FI and therefore there are no special education teachers certified to teach in French. For other reasons, please see my post: French Immersion: Is It Accessible to All Students? I am sure the school boards will say there is no money for it. To find out where the money isn’t going, see my post: Is French Immersion a Money Maker for School Boards?
Students with learning disabilities and their parents are likely to be told by their grade six teachers or principals that these educators will not support the child going into French Immersion. This is counter to the principle that ANY child can succeed as well in FI as they could in the regular program IF they have the same level of support as they would in the regular program. As I have pointed out before, in most boards across the country, support for special needs students in French Immersion is not provided. French Immersion students succeed, move into the regular program or their parents pay for tutoring. If you are a fan of social Darwinism, French Immersion is an excellent place to see it in play.
The Academically Gifted Already Have Special Education Support
(and a class ceiling of 25)
The fourth class of the six is the academically gifted class. Two or three students in the gifted class may have learning disabilities or behavioral problems, but as long as their primary exceptionality is giftedness, they are eligible for the class. These students traditionally do not get any support outside the class since the assumption is that as the teacher is a specialist in special education, she will undoubtedly know how to handle other exceptionalities. She does her own support for any special needs children or learns very quickly. Did I mention that these classes are capped at twenty-five students?
I have pointed out in earlier posts Gifted and “Education for All” and Commentary on “Education for All” that although the inclusive classroom is mandated as the default placement for all special needs students, somehow administrators processing the gifted have missed the memo. Please see Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005.
What is Inclusive about the Inclusive Classroom?
So, when we take four classes away from the six enrolled, there are only two left to become inclusive classrooms. Someone please tell me what or who is being included here?
I am not sure what it says about the children, their parents, their community, their school or their teachers. What it does say about our school system is that appearance of being politically correct or following the latest educational wave is more important than pedagogy that works. One has to question the thinking of administrators who allow system classes if the children are going to be integrated into regular classrooms. When they do the math, isn’t it obvious that what will happen is essentially reverse integration i.e. the integration of regular students into classrooms of identified students among whom are children with “severe” learning disabilities”?
Below is the section of the Ontario Education Act that deals specifically with the maximum number of students who may be in any Special Education Class, including the gifted classes. The ceiling ranges from six to twenty-five. The unlucky souls integrated into the inclusive classrooms under the flags of equity and political correctness are in classes exceeding the twenty-five. In fact, regular intermediate classes have almost always been larger than twenty-five in spite of the fact that even twenty years ago teachers and administrators knew that these classes were heavily larded with students with special needs, behavioral issues or carrying the extra load of learning English as a second language.
Those Parents Have Not Complained
That these identified students, some with severe learning disabilities, are being taught in classes larger than allowed for the gifted is a disgrace. It is more than a disgrace. If you analysed the makeup of race, gender, socio-economic class and religion, you would find it very different from those in French Immersion or Gifted classes at the Intermediate level. It is discriminatory. It is laziness and cowardice on the part of administrators who prefer to do the politically expedient thing rather than the pedagogically sound.
Why is nothing done about it? As a principal once said to me in a similar context: “Those parents have not complained.” And that, gentle reader, is the essence of how many, if not most, educational decisions are made.
[DEFINITIONS (education students, a caveat – these are informal definitions!):
ADD = attention deficit disorder: a learning difficulty where a child or adult is unable to select one thing to pay attention to. One parent calls it shiny object syndrome, in that the child may really want to focus on homework but is distracted by his own thoughts “I wonder if Fred is going to be away tomorrow”, objects such as a blunt pencil he decides needs sharpening or people he wants to watch or speak to. These are all shiny i.e. distracting objects.
ADHD = attention deficit hyperactive disorder: a similar learning difficulty as ADD with the added complication of a need to move frequently, sometimes constantly. Now the child is not only a distraction to himself but to others.
Diagnosis of both disorders is through checklists completed by people who see the child the most. There is some controversy about giving drugs such as Ritalin to these children. My own observation is that children who really suffer from these disorders are greatly relieved by the effect of the drugs. Many specialists in special education feel that the new focus provided by a drug should be used to teach strategies to deal with ADD or ADHD so there is a chance of the child being able to cope without the drugs.
Depending on the expert these difficulties may be classed as behavioral or learning disorders; it really doesn’t matter so long as the problem is identified accurately and treated properly. With consistent help these children can learn ways to deal with their disorder and improve their behavior if it has created behavioral problems. They do not have to be out of control but they do need sympathetic help to learn appropriate techniques.
Whatever strategy is used, a psychologist and pediatrician must be consulted to discuss the pros and cons of the approaches. In Ontario, the approach to using drugs is conservative and carefully tested. No teacher should suggest using drugs but they are within their purview to advise that a parent should consider discussing the possibility of ADD or ADHD with a specialist such as an educational psychologist. Teachers see hundreds of children in the course of their careers and often become good informal diagnosticians based on their experience. Their suggestion to pursue certain concerns is usually well founded.
Psychological and behavioral problems can vary from diagnosed and treated illnesses to students regularly misbehaving in class to the point of disrupting lessons or work. What falls under the mandate of the health system and what is the concern of the school system varies depending on budgets and governments. In the best of possible worlds schools and mental health workers co-ordinate their efforts in the interests of the children but for the moment, the schools seem to be taking responsibility for sicker children than twenty years ago.
Children with physical disabilities who need physical help usually have an educational assistant to help with things like lifting, toileting and physiotherapy. For the most part, they fit into regular school life with little difficulty once the necessary architectural adaptations have been made.
Students with learning disabilities, by definition, are of average or above average intelligence. They may have difficulties such as dyslexia (difficulty with reading), dysgraphia (difficulty writing by hand) or dyspraxia (poor motor skills)]
This example is not unique in demonstrating system indifference to regular intermediate students; see my post, “Education for All” and the Myth of Universal Design where I refer to an intermediate classroom of 34 students in another school in another year. Again it was a class of regular students studying in English. In that case I don’t know how many were special needs students or how many students were learning English as second language.
One or two classes in a school system or a province are not proof of systemic problems. However, they are an example of what can happen and has happened when every child’s education is not a priority.
The problem is probably less severe in the primary grades before students are siphoned off into the gifted program and when only some students are segregated in the French Immersion program. In the primary grades there will be a smaller learning gap between regular students and those lagging developmentally or with learning disabilities. As the children grow, however, the gap in learning grows until some students will fall as much as two grades or more behind. A regular grade seven teacher will inevitably be facing a class with some students working at levels as low as grade five or even lower. There may also be English as Second Language students whose math may be at a grade seven level or above but are not yet able to read, write or speak fluently in English].
R.R.O. 1990, REGULATION 298
Consolidation Period: From May 31, 2009 to the e-Laws currency date.
Last amendment: O. Reg. 206/09.
OPERATION OF SCHOOLS — GENERAL
31. The maximum enrolment in a special education class shall depend upon the extent of the exceptionalities of the pupils in the class and the special education services that are available to the teacher, but in no case shall the enrolment in a self-contained class exceed,
(a) in a class for pupils who are emotionally disturbed or socially maladjusted, for pupils who have severe learning disabilities, or for pupils who are younger than compulsory school age and have impaired hearing, eight pupils;
(b) in a class for pupils who are blind, for pupils who are deaf, for pupils who have developmental disabilities, or for pupils with speech and language disorders, ten pupils;
(c) in a class for pupils who are hard of hearing, for pupils with limited vision, or for pupils with orthopaedic or other physical handicaps, twelve pupils;
(d) in a class for pupils who have mild intellectual disabilities, twelve pupils in the primary division and sixteen pupils in the junior and intermediate divisions;
(e) in an elementary school class for pupils who are gifted,
(i) twenty pupils, if the class consists only of pupils in the primary division,
(ii) twenty-three pupils, if the class includes at least one pupil in the primary division and at least one pupil in the junior division or intermediate division, and
(iii) twenty-five pupils, if the class consists only of pupils in the junior division or intermediate division;
(f) in a class for aphasic or autistic pupils, or for pupils with multiple handicaps for whom no one handicap is dominant, six pupils; and
(g) on and after the 1st day of September, 1982, in a class for exceptional pupils consisting of pupils with different exceptionalities, sixteen pupils. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 298, s. 31; O. Reg. 191/04, s. 10; O. Reg. 29/08, s. 4; O. Reg. 297/08, s. 1.
Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005
Why this is Everyone’s Problem
Other Models, Better but Not Necessarily the Best