Monday, November 22, 2010

SpeEdChange: Blogging for Real Education Reform

SpeEdChange: Blogging for Real Education Reform

Working in a special education district in New York City for twenty years with various populations from K-12, I believe if we look at the reform through backward design.Backward design is a process that focuses on assessment first and instructional activities last. It shifts teacher perspectives. Traditional curriculum design often begins with really interesting books or activities we want to teach or are required to cover. We then design a curriculum, often on the go and then decide on some type of assessment at the end. Backward design forces teachers to look at the big picture with the end goals in mind. In backward planning teachers set the vision or the essential understanding of their curriculum or unit, decide how students will provide evidence of their learning, and finally design instructional activities to help kids learn what is needed to be successful.
Students can get the skills and training that's needed in today's 21st century schools without repeating same mistakes of the past. To help schools promote independence so students are not sitting home after 21yrs of age.

For our emotionally challenged, autistic,learning disabled,blind, deaf,gifted, and physically disabled populations I believe access to the curriculum is first needed in order to succeed. A new goal is challenging teachers: All students, with or without disabilities, including English language learners and students who are "falling between the cracks," are to achieve in the general education curriculum. For students with disabilities, access to the general education curriculum is mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (IDEA '97).
Successful student access to the curriculum comes about through the implementation of validated programs and procedures. It calls for a paradigm shift that is required in the law: the student (if appropriate), special and general education teachers, parents, a district representative, and representatives of other agencies necessary to best serve the student's needs are required to take part in the student's educational planning, with improved learning in the general education curriculum as a goal. We need to bring about successful student access to the curriculum-changes in attitudes and belief systems, parent involvement, pre-service training, and ongoing professional development, as well as increased support from districts and state legislators. Within this background of support from a larger educational community, teachers must work together to apply well-founded, research-based instructional practices in their classrooms.Students need to be given the tools to become independent not as a mandated device given by an IEP team but by a programmatic budget that is given to each principal. Once these children are given the tools to succeed then they will gain the confidence and build a resume for their future employers to hire.

Technology, Vocational Education and Daily Living skills need to be part of the core curriculum for our students.This needs to start as soon as the child is put into a school. Teachers must find ways to meet the requirements of each student's individualized education plan (IEP) while also ensuring that students are exposed to grade-level content that their peers are receiving in regular education classrooms.
After a year of implementing the core curriculum in my schools, several teachers and District officials took time with me to help reflect on what is happening in special education classrooms.
Special education teachers report that one of the biggest challenges posed by the core curriculum is providing instruction at many different grade levels. I believe through my experience that for the emotionally challenged standardized populations that these students need to have peers to show appropriate behavior to model. Putting students in a self contained building with the same behaviors just feed off the negative and that is a hard situation to put students and teachers into.

For our alternate assessment populations we need to give students skills to help them become more independent and to have a better quality life. If we invest in our students now then we will pay less as tax payers as the students articulate. This training will hopefully decrease a job coach or teach students to do a job and get hired right after graduation. The government could ask employers to start in our high schools to provide a job coach, to train our students, and then hire them after graduation for a tax break. Simple cause and effect jobs can be a win, win situation for all involved with the child's future.
We need to have a specific cutoff for when a child is considered standardized or alternate assessment. In some schools across the country I have seen students on a first grade reading level standardized doing the core curriculum of a 7Th grader. How do we expect to differentiate instruction to these students who have a six year difference? How come they must remain standardized because their social IQ's are above whats needed to become alternate? It's not all schools but many that I have visited personally.

Technology is a very big part of today's work force. Every job that our students are interested in has some sort of technology component in it and yet the schools are not prepared to teach them these skills. Hopefully under the New National Technology Plan, the standards and funding for technology in schools will change. With this change it will be expensive so possible advertisements in the schools might be a solution.

In the age of data and accountability we need to come up with a universal test that is formative that will not change the standard deviation each year so students will have the same rubrics every year to try to achieve their goals. Formative tests from different companies are changing their standards every year for whatever reasons. Why? They are making children one year look like they are passing then the following year look like they are failing. This puts tremendous pressure on teachers that they are not doing there jobs and students who are doing their best in meeting these different rubrics.

Yes, change is needed but we need to look backward design with a UDL (Universal Design For Learning)approach to learning for all our children. After all students are all not the same. As individual learners they are visual ,auditory, and kinesthetic. I am hoping for real change for our challenged populations along with the education reform.