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Education Secretary Looks To Teachers To Raise Bar For Students With Disabilities


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Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is calling on special educators to take personal responsibility for the success of their students after graduation.

“Today a significant gap exists between our aspirations and reality,” Duncan said of students with disabilities. “The graduation rate, postsecondary education rate and employment rate are all increasing but they are all still, frankly, far too low.”

Duncan’s comments came during a keynote speech Wednesday night at the annual convention of the Council for Exceptional Children being held in Nashville this week. More than 6,000 special educators from across the country were estimated to be in attendance at the group’s meeting.

Despite strides, far more work must be done to fulfill the promise of equal education for students with disabilities, Duncan told the crowd.

The nation’s top educator pointed to the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary Education and Secondary Act, more recently known as No Child Left Behind, as a “historic” opportunity for students with disabilities.

Duncan said he and President Barack Obama believe that under the revised law all children — regardless of ability level — should leave school ready for college and career.

“I’m asking all of us to redouble our efforts and redouble our supports,” Duncan said. “High expectations must be the norm, not the exception.”

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Comments (15 Responses)

  1. JR says:

    “Duncan said he and President Barack Obama believe that under the revised law all children — regardless of ability level — should leave school ready for college and career.”

    Really? Should my son who cannot walk, talk, or communicate in any specific way, who needs 24 hour/day care and supervision, who needs his diaper changed every few hours, and cannot feed himself be ready for college and a career when he finishes school next year? I guess when they say all, they don’t mean my son. Where does he fit in?

  2. californiafather says:

    Thank you, JR, and good luck!

  3. Tereasa says:

    I teach special ed and if my students could keep up with the curriculum they would be with their peers in the general education population. Again, it is blaming the teachers for all the students that do not move onto college. I am very happy when students are chosen for a program that fits their needs. This year we had a student die from his disabilities. He was in eighth grade. We tried to give him the best education we could. Teachers are being pressured to teach a regular education curriculum that is not feasible in a self contained special education room. I have three grade levels. I am supposed to teach every subject in the same amount of time as the regular education teacher that teaches one grade level. I have 15 students and one aide, which by the way next year I may not even have an aide due to budget cuts, to teach three students with autism, one cognitive delayed, two with behavior, eight that are learning disabled and at least 2-3 years below their peers in reading. My students need to be able to function in the world and think for themselves to the capacity they can reach. Students are not an assembly line like at a factory but unique individuals. I teach 3rd-5th and have a few students that cannot remember the alphabet. We are being told what to write on IEP’s and it must meet the grade level they would be in with their peers and match that curriculum. A teacher can no longer teach to fit the best interest of the child and their disability. I am all for college, but what about the everyday student with severe enough disabilities that will need to just live in our society and contribute the best they can. We work very hard to help students gain enough curriculum to be placed in an inclusion program. There will always be those that try their hardest and will not be able to meet the demands of society, such as college. Every-ones brain functions differently. We cannot yet put a chip in a students brain and make everyone the same. I have yet to see anyone ask enough special education teachers their thoughts. I love teaching, but the demands they are placing on the profession will drive many away. I believe J.R. said it best…”where does he fit in?” I cannot take personal responsibility for another person’s success or lack off, I can only take responsibility for me! College is not for everyone with and without disabilities but a choice made to decide to gain more knowledge. Who is going to take responsibility when teachers leave the profession because the demands are out of control? Many new teachers are leaving just after one-three years! Everyone needs to take responsibility for themselves. Where does the parents responsibility fit into this equation? What are they really asking the colleges to do? What is the Secretary of Education’s responsibility if it fails? Oh, I know, it is the teacher’s fault! I would like to know if the Secretary of Education will take responsibility for the many JR’s.

  4. Rosero says:

    I fully supported Obama’s run for the Presidency but find Duncan’s statement incredibly ignorant and far removed from the reality of many of the children and parents I serve. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic. I am a special education teacher who works with kids with mild to moderate MR and Autism/MR. How about we work on developing vocational training instead of college? How about we put kitchens back in the middle schools and high schools so we can teach kids how to care for themselves before we pack them off to the state university. While we are at it lets increase services, and add more job coaches, etc. Let’s start with respite care for caregivers, and more instructional assistants and decent pay for service givers of all levels. Most of my students are physically functional and at the higher end of the spectrum of their respective disabilities, so some may be able to have jobs in the community. To put college out there for all kids with disabilities is a fuzzy wuzzy carrot that is a lie. It is a big lie and I am so sick of big lies. It will delude some parents into thinking maybe, just maybe… when they should be signing their child up for a group home (5 year waiting list – at least), developing their child’s functional independence and planning for the care of their child if anything happens to them. Like JR, most parents I deal with are very grounded in the realities of caring for their child into adulthood. This kind of rhetoric just insults their intelligence and puts them in the position of looking neglectful if their kids don’t achieve success on some artificial scale that has no meaning for them. Let’s celebrate successes like riding the city bus, or being at our job and not losing control, or learning how to have and be a friend. Why must we always force our ideas of success on these kids? Let’s cut the political rhetoric and help JR (I’ll be thinking of you) and all the other parents and their children who are facing incredible challenges just getting by day to day. Let’s get REAL!

  5. PANDACORNER says:

    Perhaps Duncan should have phrased his words differently to indicate that teachers and school administrators in the school system should have higher expectations for all students and not place so much emphasis on college education for all. I am not defending him, but just making an observation here. It was not long ago that we parents of children who learn differently were pushing the school system to teach more academics and not just functional skills. What we have seen is the pendulum go back and forth but has yet to find a position that addresses the unique needs of each child. My son (with diagnosis of autism) is now in his first year of college. If we had left it up to the public school to provide educational services when he was 3 years of age, he would still be in high school working towards a “certificate of attendance” and would not have acquired the academics to pass the Maryland High School Assessments, because the expectations were and continue to be low for students with developmental disabilities. It was only through our persistence for appropriate education, and raising the bar of expectation (including number of “due process”) that he was able to attend schools that believed in providing appropriate educational and related services to meet his unique needs. This was not without our supplementing his educational, functional, social, and community services in addition to, countless private speech and occupational therapy, including summer therapeutic camps to fill the gaps of no educational services during the summer break. I agree we need more vocational programs and model apartment set-up (kitchen, bedroom, living room, and bathroom) in regional schools, and community related outings so that these students can learn functional skills and to be able to generalize them outside of the school setting. I also agree that parents have certain responsibilities too; however, one should not forget the safeguard of “FAPE”. Yes, some students will need more supportive environment, while others may do quite well in an inclusive education. However, since NCLB and state push for more testing and teaching to the test, it has robbed not only our students from receiving appropriate educational services but greatly discouraged dedicated teachers from staying in their field of passion, and has severed the connection between the professionals and the parents, ending up doing more harm than good.

  6. carbond says:

    I find it interesting that Arne Duncan, our Secretary of Education, was never a teacher. He majored in Sociology at Harvard, was intially given a position of educational authority by a friend and was responsible for turning many public schools into charter schools. I don’t think that Duncan really has a clue how the classroom work on a day to day basis. Furthermore, through this statement, Duncan has demonstrated that he has no understanding concerning special education and the exceptional student. I wish that he would spend a week in any public school and see for himself the extent that special education teachers and staff work to meet the needs of each exceptional child every single day.

  7. Bonnie Jean says:

    Special Education is specialized individualized education based on identified needs and strengths of the individual (not grouped) students.
    From students that are individuals with multiple disabilities to students mildly affected by disabilities having higher expectations does not mean making everyone into an Einstein!

    It means using multiple intelligence to allow that student to become the best they can be. It takes not only the schools and educators but family and communities. This is one reason I do not care for the “Bell Curve” it assumes if you do not fit into a “program” you cannot learn and you are passed over. If we all fit into the “bell curve” we would all be exactly the same in every way, shape and fashion. Educating is common sense! We do not start 3 month old babies reading Supreme Court cases, but we do work on colors, letters etc. Some students will never go beyond these basic items, some never get to that level. I know of one young woman that never moved or spoke a word her entire life….but an educator noticed she could move her pointer finger on one hand. From there this educator used “High Expectations!??Did she try to make this young lady take the States standards tests? Of course not!!!! But she had this young lady use her one moving finger to flip a switch made for her movement to turn on a radio! From there the expectations are endless…if she can flip a switch can she speak finally by flipping a switch on an assistive technology device and talk to her mother for the first time????
    Wow! endless possibilities, but not if we keep our focus on linguistic language intelligence only!

  8. eileens5 says:

    As the parent of an adult son with severe disabilities, I can assure you that college is not realistic, feasible, or appropriate for every person with or without disabilities. I saw the title for this article, and thought, “Finally, the education secretary is looking at life beyond graduation for people with disabilities”. I assumed that Mr. Duncan was going to refer to the lack of appropriate programs for post-graduation. I hoped that Mr. Duncan would finally look into the sad fact that the availability of appropriate programs for people like my son is entirely inadequate. As you know, I was giving Mr. Duncan much more credit than he deserves.

    My son is not able to speak or care for his personal needs. My son has multiple seizures on a daily basis, and needs constant supervision just to keep him safe. My son would not and could not sit through a college class, nor would it be appropriate for him to do so. On the other hand, my son could participate in a day program with other adults who have similar needs, but there is nothing available that will meet his specific needs. My son sits home, day after day, with a care provider who cannot leave the house with him because she is worried about liability insurance – and she is the best staff person we have been able to find in 2 years.

    Parents generally want one thing for their children. We want them to be happy. For my “normal” daughter, I hope that means college and a well-paying job. For my son, that means a productive day, doing the things that matter to him, with friends, in his own home community. It doesn’t mean college, Mr. Duncan.

  9. foteah says:

    I find it hard to believe Duncan actually believes what he’s saying. I think he realizes he’d be turning a lot of people off by essentially saying some individuals can’t/shouldn’t aspire to college and career. Having taken the polar opposite of that stance in his comments, though, he’s still ostracized a slew of people, as evidenced by the commentary here.

  10. pamw says:

    I agree with Sec. Duncan about educators having higher expectations and preparing children with disabilities for college and/or careers.

    As you know, IDEA is the law that governs special education for children with disabilities. The Purpose of IDEA is:

    “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that … [is] designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living” (20 U.S.C. 1400(d))

    Note: When Congress reauthorized the law, they added “further education” to the purpose of the law.

    In the Findings of IDEA, Congress described obstacles to implementation of the law:

    “implementation … has been impeded by low expectations, and an insufficient focus on applying replicable research on proven methods of teaching and learning for children with disabilities.”

    Congress reported that “over 30 years of research and experience” demonstrated that special education would be more effective by:

    “… having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in regular classrooms, to the maximum extent possible … to meet the challenging expectations that have been established for all children; and be prepared to lead productive and independent lives to the maximum extent possible.” 20 U.S.C. 1400(c)(5)

    Would special education be more effective if schools and school staff had higher expectations for children with disabilities? Should schools prepare children to lead productive and independent lives to the maximum extent possible?


  11. 6trojans says:

    I have a child with Down syndrome and another with high functioning autism. I look forward to both going to college!

  12. Daviette says:

    I am hopeful about the optimism of Secretary Duncan and President Obama. I look forward to my children going to college and having careers. I appreciate and share his passion for learning.

  13. mykidsmom says:

    What concerns me is that each state is left to decide how high to set the bar. If anything more parents ought to be involved in their local school boards and perhaps even state level board of ed. That’s where the true opportunity exists to change things. So, parents, please consider running for a school board seat. School issues are local issues.

  14. Naina says:

    I think its time to stop reading and seeing things with the negative connotations. I do not believe that Arne Duncan is ignorant nor un-informed. He and his administration are talking about the gaps of achievements, and the need to get our special populations either onto the academic track or the skilled and/or functioning citizen track. However, within the realm of public education and the daily to-do tasks special educators have in their day, how can we as a nation begin reform. First let us define what the “equal” education we want for all our students is to be. Practically we know that one shoe does not fit all, but we can design those that will look the same but have a modification to suit the foot!! So instead of whining and criticizing lets start putting the problems on the table and coming up with solutions that make sense and are cost-effective!!

  15. disabilitiesrightsadvocate says:

    Coming from an independent living background, I think that the one thing that is the most important is for each individual to be afforded the opportunity to choose their own course in life, whether it be school, work or what have you. It is clear that either way, their course must be one that is specific to their individual needs and they need not be presscribed their futures in any way or by anyone, including educators and parents. Generally speaking, “regular or general” education notoriously chooses the standards by which students ought to be at, without taking anything else into consideration. This happens even more so within the confinements of segrated “special” education classrooms that set the bar extremely low, based on illogical perceptions of individual achievements of students with disabilities. Best practices in education clearly provoke a lot of discussion and disagreement, but the main focus is and always should be person-centered inclusive models designed by each individual based on their own needs and desires.

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