Saturday, August 25, 2007

'special-ed gravy train'??

This week's City Paper has a feature on 'How to get your child a private education at a public-school price'. Basically it creates a step-by-step procedure through the IEP process which highlighting where "the fight begins" and which steps parents have power to can take control of the system.

At first I was horrified by the directions on "how to get your kid on the DCPS special-ed gravy train'. It seemed like a horrid way to cheat the government out of money intended for a community of children. Plus, it recommends using an advocate, something every special ed teacher is taught to shutter at. While the article is written with a 'how to manipulate the system' attitude, I started to think it actually had some good uses. It lays out parent/child rights in clear, easily understood terms, something the school system doesn't always do for parents. In a choose-your-own adventure format it visually shows the IEP process and exactly how far you can legally take it.

The IEP process can be intimidating and I imagine a lot of parents are not comfortable expressing their concerns to a table of professionals. Specifically those families who had terrible school experiences themselves or are not legally in the country are far more unlikely to question the system. I've been uncomfortable at some meetings when I worried we were taking advantage of the fact a parent was following Asian cultural norms, did not speak English, or was worried any arguments would lead to questions of legal status. (We would never intend to do this, but I fear sometimes it happens) Although these parents would be questioning me and the quality of my job, I would preferred them to have us prove our concerns. Even if the result of the IEP would be the same, parents could go home with a sense of confidence and understanding of their own child's education.

The article is offensive, but is still a useful tool, even for parents who don't want to abuse the 'gravy train'. (This is easy for me to say not working at a school with over-zealous parents. I am sure there are schools whose lives have been made miserable by this article)


Tim said...

Especially in the DC system, I can understand why parents would want to get their kids some personal attention. Unfortunately, we sometimes treat students in the "middle" as a group rather than as individuals.

However, if parents want a better education for their kids maybe a better way would be to simply get more involved. Too many of them don't pay any attention until their kids are having problems.

But from reading your posts, I'm not telling you anything you don't know. :-)

Suzanne G. said...

I took a great course through our local public school as part of their Teacher Induction Program. The charismatic teacher called it (@ps 101). It was an awesome course and part of it was talking about the legal rights and needs of special students. The instructor gave us a comprehensive packet outlining the process and procedures. He said "I wanted to get one of these to every parent in our district."

We responded. "Why didn't you?"
He sighed and said "The district didn't want this information out there, they'd go bankrupt."

It appears that, if we educated the children to the standards they legally deserve there would be A: many many more teachers B: Much higher pay and higher student/teacher ratios C: more involved parents.

This is a very big can of worms. I applaud the gutsy reporter who broke the story.