Thoughtful integration of special education students is the right thing to do

What we have done for special education students in Oakland has not been working.  Look at the numbers, a mere 8.6% completed the A-G requirements, the courses required to apply to UC or CSU, 4.6% are reading on grade level in 9th grade, and the high school exit exam pass rate was 10.1%.  It does not need to be like this, and we need to change the quality of services and how they are delivered in Oakland.  Doing more of the same is worse than insane in this case, it is immoral.

So as OUSD prepares to overhaul its approach to special education, and mainstream more students, placing them in general education classrooms with additional supports, it’s painful to hear teachers who should be advocates for students, pushing for more of the same for something that has definitely failed.  And it’s some serious double speak to call integrating students “the new Jim Crow” as one speaker at the Board meeting did.

I have sat in those special education meetings where parents, and particularly African American parents resist with their last breath having their child labeled as special education.  They may not have a master’s degree but they know the label can be a one way ticket to nowhere.  And I saw this first hand as my little brother, was labeled, taken out of regular classes and basically lumped in with a range of other students with a range of disabilities, which had less academic content than the regular classes.

I particularly remember a back to school night where I visited his 9th grade math class and his teacher showed me a hand drawn picture of the globe with a caption “math makes the world go round” that’s what my brother was working on in 9th grade math, drawing and coloring.  It’s not always like that—he had a great teacher in his first self-contained class, who did push and inspire him, but mostly it seemed like the placement was more to get him away from the other kids and teachers rather than supporting his needs.

There is much more to write about the supports needed for teachers to make mainstreaming successful, the stereotypes underlying some of the critiques, the benefits that some specialized programs can have, and some of the underlying issues with special education in CA and Oakland.  But anyone who is favoring the status quo needs to really check themselves, look at the numbers and question whether they are going to condemn another generation of students to the same old system with the same old results.

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