Today’s Examiner article on disproportionality in SFUSD special education classrooms is worth reading. This is not a new issue but the problem persists and it’s important to keep attention focused on making sure we assess all kids impartially, in all areas of suspected disability, rather than succumbing to preconceptions.
The New York Times Magazine has a whole issue focused on education – there’s a great article by Clifford J. Levy on his children’s “full immersion” experience in a progressive Russian school; the excellent Paul Tough cover piece examines characteristics that breed success in school — and whether they can be taught to children who aren’t fortunate enough to be born into homes where those characteristics are absorbed naturalistically.
The Times also has a lovely article about an autistic adult’s transition to a “real” adult job, with the help of a community transition program at his local high school. In SFUSD, our Community Access/Transition (CAT) classrooms fulfill this function for students who don’t have the abilities necessary to be successful in college. (This week I had the honor of serving on an Arts Education panel with CAT teacher Heidi Hubrich and general education teacher Keith Carames (“Mr. C”), talking about the great inclusive work Ms. Hubrich and Mr. Carames are doing at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts).
I missed this entire discussion and am chiming in late just in case anyone is still paying attention… Did anyone see the New Yorker feature of a few months ago, based on a San Francisco physician and clinic, about findings showing how “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs) have a direct harmful effect on physical health as well as emotional health, and contribute directly to learning, emotional and behavioral disabilities? The article and the field of study are based on the fact that children living in poverty overall have vastly more ACEs than more privileged children do.
In that case, isn’t it unclear on the concept to attribute to racism the fact that low-income children of color are disproportionately identified with learning, emotional and behavioral disabilities? It would be like blasting doctors as racist for disproportionately diagnosing more black children with asthma. (Which, of course, would discourage doctors from making the diagnosis, thus limiting the access of black children to treatment for asthma.)
Katy was quoted in the article, and I noticed that her quote wasn’t decrying the disproportionate identification of black and Latino children, but instead pointing out that a black child may be diagnosed DIFFERENTLY from a white child with the same behavioral symptoms. It seems like there’s a lot more to be learned about these issues.
A teacher friend (not in SFUSD) says she attended a required professional development at which the presenter’s entire message is that teachers’ racism causes the achievement gap. I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s helpful, and same with dismissing disproportionate identification of disabilities in black and Latino children as racist.
@Anne – I don’t know the answer to that, actually. I know IQ testing is not considered accurate until the late elementary years, but I don’t know how its regarded as far as its fidelity/accuracy these days.
Is the IQ test still considered racially biased, as it was in the 1960’s? I know it’s been through a couple revisions since then. It seems like the Full Scale IQ test really provides a lot of useful data. Not, as in the past, to reduce a child to a number and assign them a label (educable or non-educable) but to tease out the subtleties of what’s going on with a child who is struggling and identify areas to target remediation to best help the child.
My girls go to a wonderful public school that serves lots of students with special needs. Based on my twin girls kindergarten experience, everyone feels welcome at our school. All students are encouraged to “do their best work” and challenge themselves wherever they are. Now that they are in first grade, I see this process continue. After only the second week of school, their teacher informed me of their differing reading abilities and how I could support them each at their own level.
In contrast, I have heard of charter and private schools that deter enrollment of students with special needs because the “don’t have the resources” to truly support “those types” of learners.
Instead of asking private vs. public, I think you should check out the local schools you are interested in. Ask the principal and teachers what their views are on inclusion and how they support all learning styles. Observing an actual class is one of the best ways to tell if the school has an “inclusive” culture for students with special needs, and for all students.
Best of luck!
I think Ms. Dunsmore has a valid point about the home life condition of many African American and Latino students within SFUSD. From data about the African American and Latino populations in SFUSD, it seems that many of the students are coming from high poverty circumstances where parents might not have the resources to support their child’s academic career.
Does the district try to work with families of special education children, especially children living in poverty, in a wholistic manner. Are families working with a social worker on a weekly basis? Are there home visits so the social worker can see the child’s home environment? Do parents have access to therapy so they can work through their feelings? Are there people who help families with parenting resources? It seems that if a family is living in poverty and has a special needs child, they need extra support, especially in terms of therapy and parental education. Having a special needs child is challenging for all parents, it might be even more challenging if you are living in poverty with limited resources and little formal information on your child’s behavior and psychological needs.
I believe if there was more supportive intervention at an early age (before kindergarten if possible), the district could help these families and their young children to better academic experience.
My daughters go to a great public school that has always had inclusion. The school works very hard with families and resource teachers to make sure students are not separated from their peers. In kindergarten they had 3 or four special needs children in their class. No one is ostracized or made to feel like an outsider. I don’t think the question you should be asking is about public vs. private. I would encourage you to visit some of the local public schools you are interested in and ask about how they handle inclusion. Sitting in classrooms is one of the best ways for you to see for yourself if the school really has an “inclusive” culture.
The disproportionate representation of students of color in special education programs is appalling, and I hope that the move towards inclusion in SFUSD will promote both more equity and more discussion about how and why students are identified as special needs.
However, I worry about the impact of these statistics on the ground. In my experience, it is very difficult to receive any support – even just an observation so that a specialist can provide the classroom educator with suggestions for working with a challenging student. No teacher has a toolbox big enough to provide just the right fix for every learner, right?
And I think part of the reason getting observations like these is hard is because of the statistics about special education. I have definitely gotten the strong implication at times that there is a disinclination to observe students lest they become a statistic. That’s frustrating, and I think ultimately leads to more problems. A specialist might be able to make a few suggestions for small modifications that work for that student. Without those recommendations, though, the student may fall farther behind academically and become progressively disinvested and disengaged. That’s a bad outcome and one more likely to lead to the need for special education services.
It also leads to mistrust between regular classroom teachers and special education staff. Classroom teachers feel that they’re not being taken seriously or that they are incompetent because they’ve asked for help; specialists are overwhelmed and not always welcomed. That’s no good for students.
@kristy – inclusion really varies from school to school, and some of the higher-performing schools aren’t very welcoming places for included kids; others are. You really have to go look and not rely on what you have heard.
The article on minority students being disproportionately represented in Special Education was interesting, but the part on Emotionally Disturbed children specifically didn’t get into enough of the actual data to be meaningful. Why is the author assuming that blacks are being placed in ED classes because of institutionalized racism? I highly doubt this happens — teachers and administrators don’t care about race — all they want are students who are interested in learning and who don’t disrupt their classrooms. But if you’re disruptive and violent then yes — you’re going to have to be removed to another environment so that you’re not ruining the other kids’ chances to learn.
As a former ED teacher (in another state), I am not surprised that blacks are overrepresented in classes in SFUSD. Unfortunately, SF is not very diverse and we lack a large upwardly mobile community of black professionals. If we had a large black middle class you wouldn’t be seeing these numbers because their kids would be in GATE — not throwing chairs at the teacher.
Most ED kids come from tough environments–it’s rarely “organic.” Even psychological/medical problems with these kids are often a result of poor prenatal care, drug abuse during pregnancy, sexual abuse, etc. In other words, things that stem from the parents or guardians.
Unfortunately, the black population that attends SFUSD is underrepresented by middle and upperclass black families. So what SFUSD is getting is a large majority of black children from tough home environments/neighborhoods. These kids require more services–so the statistics therefore are really not surprising.
I do think the Examiner article is worthy of a more complete discussion here.
I did read the article on Sunday, in which the California Department of Education finds, among other things, that “black students make up just 10.8 percent of the San Francisco Unified School District’s population” but compose 47 percent of students who are classified as “emotionally disturbed”.
The State Board also finds that the SFUSD does not make sure that the needs of English Language Learners include activities that would make them fluent in English.
It’s a fairly damning report.
I’m so excited to hear this, great to have someone like you advocating for children in my situation.
If I were to pick say like Clarendon or Rooftop, Is there a special enrollment process for the Inclusion program? Or is this Inclusion program limited to certain schools only? I want to start visiting schools soon, but have heard so much about Clarendon and Rooftop. I know I need to realistic also, but what are chances of getting a Trophy school for the Inclusion program if they were available?
@kristy – absolutely. This year was the first time inclusion students were allowed to enroll in any school for kindergarten – a change I and other advocates spent years fighting for. inclusion is not perfect in this district and you will need to spend some time looking at schools to be sure you find one that meets your needs. But the district is recommitting itself to inclusive practices and I believe conditions are getting better.
I read the article. My child is in Pre-K now and is in an Inclusion program that is a perfect fit for him. He is not being ostracized for being a slow learner and is happy in this environment with normal kids. Does the Public school system offer any programs like this for K grade, Were he can enroll as a normal child and get additional help as deemed needed? Or should I just find a private school to work with my special needs son?