Wednesday, June 20, 2012

School choice and special needs

A new study in the US has shown how school choice can result in subtle forms of segregation and discrimination for students with special needs. The Wall Street Journal reports:

A new government report shows that charter schools are not enrolling as high a portion of special-education students as traditional public schools, despite federal laws mandating that publicly financed schools run by private entities take almost every disabled student seeking to enroll.

The report, published Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, is the first comprehensive study focused on charter schools' enrollment of special-needs students, which has been a central issue in debates over those schools' rapid growth in the U.S.

The report showed that special-education students—those with diagnosed disabilities from Down Syndrome to attention-deficit disorder—made up 8.2% of charter school students during the 2009-2010 school year. While that was up from 7.7% the year before, it was below the average at traditional public schools of 11.2% in 2009-2010, and 11.3% the previous year.

Just as with Charter schools in the US, the proliferation of school "choice" in BC works for some students, but undermines the right to full services for every student in every neighborhood school.

This phenomenon is illustrated well with the impact on students with a disability/special needs. More and more students are either self selecting or being encouraged to attend a school or program that is deemed suitable to them, rather than integrating all students with special needs with the rest of the student population.

For instance, students with an intense behavioural designation are often placed in special district programs. They are separate classes in specific schools. Thus, if a child has this designation they will be encouraged to attend a district program rather than be integrated into their neighborhood school.

Similarly, students experiencing learning difficulties who enter French Immersion are often counselled to change to the English track because there are insufficient resources to address their learning issues or class sizes are too large for the individual attention required. It is well known amongst the educational and parent communities that French Immersion classes have far fewer designated students. Dual track schools (with both English and French) can become highly segregated between the two groups, with little interaction and a common perception of the French track as an elite group. Academies, IB programs, and honours programs exhibit the same features - they tend to have very few students with special needs and are perceived as separate by other students.

With specialty schools and programs, lost is the notion of the same services provided to every child. Those in the programs no doubt have excellent experiences. But what of those who aren't? And for students with special needs, the lack of inclusion can become discriminatory.

Full WSJ article available at:

1 comment:

  1. Dear Honorable Minister of Education, George Abbott
    Did you approve Nanaimo School Districts use of the Education Improvement Fund?

    Article in today's newspaper
    Nine new "master" teachers will be hired in Nanaimo to provide extra support for classroom teachers next fall.

    The school district received a $1.5 million Learning Improvement Fund grant from the province to help deal with complex needs in classrooms. Trustees approved a plan to spend that money last week.

    About $191,000 will be put toward more education assistant hours in classrooms, more than $400,000 will be kept in reserve to deal with issues as they come up next school year and $862,000 will hire nine instructional coordinators, who will be part of school-based, inter-disciplinary teams that will move from classroom to classroom, school to school, as needed.

    Assistant superintendent Chris Southwick said there will be 10 teams, as one teacher is already working as an instructional coordinator in the district.

    "These people will be master teachers," she said. "They would be seen by their peers as people they would go to for advice and ideas. The bottom line is to be able to support teachers in classrooms. They would be working with the teacher and helping them. If they need to be there for two weeks, they'll be there for two weeks."

    Southwick said the teams, which will be under the supervisor of the district's four assistant superintendents, will include other specialists such as psychologists and speech language pathologists.

    The district is still working out the details of how and when the teams will be deployed, but this resource will be available to teachers who have tried various strategies, but are finding that students continue to struggle.

    District officials felt this was the best use of the money because the teams have the flexibility to go where they are most needed and it provides a more systemic model of support, said Southwick.

    "If you just put one person in one school for the whole year . the needs might change," she said.

    Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said the strategy will impact a greater number of students than if the district simply added the funds to its operating budget and reduced some class sizes slightly.

    "It's a step in the right direction," he said.

    Justin Green, first vice-president of the Nanaimo District Teachers' Association, said the union had hoped the district would use the money to relieve some of the pressure on class size averages.

    "This year we had the second highest secondary class sizes in the province," he said. "I'm not sure that the 10 coordinators are going to make the functioning of these classrooms better. We're spending a lot of money, but what are the roles and functions? What are they really going to be tasked with?"

    Ron Farino, president of CUPE Local 606, said the extra money for education assistants should add roughly 30 minutes per week per EA, which will hopefully allow them to do a bit more preparation work, consultation with teachers and spend some extra time with students.

    The "master" teachers hired will be district staff so they will make more money than the average teacher, from my calculations 95 thousand dollars. With this money Nanaimo School District could have hired 32 more teachers for learning assistant support so our at risk learners would have more help. As it stands right now at risk students receive very little if any support. This fund will be used to support teachers not at risk students. I am surprised that you would okay this plan.

    Margaret Smoker

    Grade One teacher

    Coal Tyee Elementary