I was reading a memo from our district special education department the other day. The crux of the memo was twofold. The first part of the memo said that teachers had to make sure that guidelines were followed when children were moved from their LRE – Least Restrictive Environment. It bothered me a lot.
I taught special education, or SpEd for those initiated, for six years, way back in 1979 to 1985. I wrote IEPs, Individual Education Plans, and acted as a case manager for the students: arranging for evaluations by therapists, administered standardized tests and scheduled periodic reviews. Eventually I quit and went into regular education, special education was too difficult for me. It took an investment of dedication, time and energy I simply did not have.
I have taught in the regular classroom now since 1986. Often during that period I have seen students in my class who need more help than I can give them. Some of these students actually require a different classroom environment to be offered to them so that they can learn as much as the are able to learn. That is their ‘Least Restrictive Environment’ or LRE; the one in which they can maximize their learning potential.
Unfortunately, in our current educational climate it is not about the student. Everybody says it is. Everywhere you look there are people who know what we should do. Witness an excellent article by David Cantor: Who Is Responsible for Student Achievement? (1) wherein fingers point in all directions. Cantor eloquently presents the argument but in the end he is writing a cautionary tale, not an exposé. But I maintain that those fingers should be pointed in only one direction: at the child!
It is not their fault but it is their need. The fault is ours; we are all responsible.
If we valued children above all else; if we truly acted in a way that validated what we say; if we were really concerned that our children receive the best education possible we would demonstrate that by our efforts on their behalf.
I am not suggesting IEPs for each student and personalized tutors. That exceeds even the Pollyanna in me, and given the current ridiculous amount of IEP paperwork required, my colleagues would sneak into my bedroom some dark night and pummel me with dusty chalk board erasers until I suffocated. But I am saying that simply identifying the regular classroom as the LRE is equally fallacious. Most children learn well in the normal classroom setting but some do not and those are in a Restricted Learning Environment. It is concomitant upon the teacher, parents and school administrators to meet and decide what learning setting would better serve those children.
All children deserve the right to the best education we can provide. All children should be observed carefully by their teachers and parents and by those observations each child should be allowed to become an effective learner. If we truly believe that our children represent our best resource then our efforts should demonstrate that belief.
Oh, and yes, I will address the second part of the memo in another rant. I found it even more disturbing.