“Our job is to teach and we have to try to do it in 10 different ways, if that’s what we have to do,” Duncan said. “It’s not extra work — it’s just the job. That understanding has helped me so much.”
On December 13th, California approves tougher teacher training standards to help mainstreaming, was published by Jane Meredith Adams – a senior reporter covering student health at EdSource Today. Reading it, I was struck by the connection between this narrative out of one of our biggest states and the recent speech given by NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia that angered so many parents of students with special needs. They both have, at their core, the division of general and special education that is the reason why inclusion still isn’t working as well as it should be despite decades of practice.
The apparent goal of the article was to discuss changes in the teacher training curriculum that the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing believes will benefit students with disabilities. There are a couple of points that I think should be noted.
- The state is responding to pressure from the federal level:
In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education determined the California special education program was in need of federal intervention because of the lack of significant academic progress for students with special needs. In June 2015, the department issued a less dire finding and said that California special education is in need of assistance.
But, the author seems to anticipate that some teachers reading her article might be concerned about the changes. She included a disclaimer from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:
“I want to stress that the vast majority of students with disabilities do not have significant cognitive disabilities,”
So my synopsis after reading this part of the article: the feds say there is going to be “stricter accountability for academic improvement for students with disabilities” but don’t worry, the majority of them are the easy ones, not the *really disabled* ones.
- The changes were met with opposition:
But the idea of teachers teaching all students has caused a commotion among those who attended any of the eight meetings held by the commission in the past six months to vet ideas about how to train special education and general education teachers to work together.
Apparently, one of the proposals considered was to do the right thing.
Model 3 was described as “there is no special education credential,” except for highly specialized credentials for specialists who work with students who are deaf or hard of hearing, visually impaired or enrolled in early childhood special education.
Model 3 also stated that “all elementary teachers are prepared to teach students with and without disabilities and may teach students with disabilities in secondary schools.”
This, of course, was not popular, even though the idea of dual credentials in both general and special education is not new. A few teacher training programs do it already, and one such teacher is quoted in the article:
For Sarina Duncan, a middle school language arts teacher in the South Bay who holds a Dominican University dual credential in special and general education, her special education training has made her committed to being flexible in how she presents information to students.
“Our job is to teach and we have to try to do it in 10 different ways, if that’s what we have to do,” Duncan said. “It’s not extra work — it’s just the job. That understanding has helped me so much.” [Emphasis mine.]
Of course, this proposal was taken off of the table. The article infers, by way of a quote from a RETIRED special educator, that special education teachers feared that their jobs would become extinct – but doesn’t touch the equally valid theory that general education teachers were not happy with the idea of “extra work.”
Instead of this unpopular change, the commission instead settled for a less obtrusive way to satisfy the feds:
Given the drive to include students with special needs in mainstream classrooms, Brownell said the question is “Are there 12 or 13 practices we can help general education teachers acquire?” These instructional techniques often help both general and special education students, she said.
I offer another synopsis: the federal department of education says “You’re not doing well enough,” they formed a commission, held lots of meetings, came up with some really good ideas about how to do it right, then settled for what would ruffle the least amount of feathers.
Is the frustration that Lily was expressing clearer now? Now do you understand why she said “medically annoying?” Is it any wonder the audience laughed, or that some people still defend what she said? I’m not trying to say that I think Mrs. Garcia is evil or a bad person. I don’t even think the answer is to call for her resignation. I do think, however, that her feelings are shared by many teachers (of course not all). The fact that we got the story out there, and let her know that we didn’t appreciate the joke, made her PR team try to come up with a way to explain it.
Requiring dual certification – in all states – is the best answer in my humble opinion.
Getting there requires buy-in from both the general ed and special ed communities.
Until the teachers agree that all teachers can and should teach all students, that classrooms belongs to everyone equally, inclusion is not going to be what we want it to be. By continuing to differentiate between teachers for these students, and teachers for those, we continue to separate and classify the students. The change has to start with how the adults view themselves. As long as they believe they are “signing up for” one type of job or the other, they will resent efforts to muddy the waters and mix the two groups. We need to change the way we think about schools, and teaching.
That level of culture change has to come from the top. The NEA would be a good place to start.