|It is my
opinion that abuses and inadequacies exist in many special
education programs across the nation. Ultimately children are
the victims. Disclosure of these abuses to parents is the best
means for their correction, for there is one thing that a
school district fears above all- a costly law suit- a law suit
that dissolves any perceived savings from putting forth an
inferior program that does not address the needs of children.
All to often school districts view parents of learning
disabled children as un-empowered, weak and unaware of their
rights. It is time to end the silence.
All children with disabilities are to be educated to the
"maximum extent" with children who do not have disabilities. -Federal Law
I.D.E.A. Sec. 612.5 (A)
tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but
the silence over that by the good people" -
Martin Luther King
"Everyone who does evil hates the
light, and will not come into the light for fear that his
deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes
into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he
has done has been done through God." -The
Gospel of John, Chapter 3, verses 20 & 21.
In my second year of teaching in 1997, I was asked to be the
Resource Specialist Teacher for a 600 student elementary school in one
of California's wealthiest school districts. The Resource Specialist
Program (RSP) is part of the Special Education program offered by
a school. It is designed to provide targeted, specially designed
instruction, in accordance with an Individualized Education Plan, to
meet the needs of children that have learning disabilities. The RSP
teacher, working in cooperation with the parents, regular classroom
teacher, school psychologist, counselor, principal and others, helps
foster a supportive environment that is supposed to meet the needs of
the whole child and help him or her deal not only with academic
issues, but also issues of self-esteem, social interaction and behavior
that bear upon the ability to learn and be successful in school.
While inexperienced at the position, it was felt my
experience in business, overall intellectual abilities and educational
background, would enable me to be a successful RSP teacher. And, I was
successful in my position. In the words of my Principal:
"With no prior training in the Special
Education field, Lowell was able to successfully operate a demanding,
yet effective RSP program that grew to over 36 students, two
instructional assistants and required assessment of over one hundred
While the Principal may have found the program
effective, each 14+ hour work day was a personal struggle to deliver
creative, properly tailored instruction to my students and achieve
measurable results in their academic growth.
Why was this the case?
So much more
could have been accomplished than was.
First let me tell you what was not causing the
- My students were bright, hard working and for the
most part well behaved and ready to learn.
- The regular classroom teachers, were mostly
caring and competent.
- The Principal was personally encouraging and
concerned about students.
- My instructional aides were competent and caring.
- I had suitable textbooks and other teaching
materials. The school had superb computer resources.
The RSP teacher has a very special obligation to his
or her students and their parents. Every minute that a child is removed
(pulled out) from their regular classroom for small group
instruction potentially takes away from that child's ability to compete
successfully in that classroom. It is therefore critical that if a child
is pulled out from his classroom for special instruction, that
instruction be of the highest quality and provide the means for the
child to be more successful in the regular classroom. If this is
not the case, then a child's academic progress may actually be hampered
by participation in the RSP program. In fact, simple removal from
the regular classroom, even for one hour per day, can adversely effect
the child's self-esteem and result in ridicule by peers and even adults.
For example, despite the best efforts of staff, non-RSP students often
joked that RSP meant Real Stupid People! Children,
like adults, can be cruel and ignorant- all at the same time.
the above, why do I feel that there were significant barriers
that prevented my aides and I from delivering the most effective
- A caseload (number of students), that throughout
the school year was well above the legal caseload
limit in California of twenty-eight students per RSP
teacher. My caseload generally hovered around thirty-six. Note:
Twenty-eight is the legal limit, not the
desired or ideal number of students per RSP teacher.
Further, all of my students were seen for a minimum of one
hour per day, some for as many as two hours per day.
- For most of the year, to address the needs
of thirty-six students, I was given only one
instructional assistant who worked four hours per day.
- I taught in an extremely noisy and
distracting room environment that at times required students
and staff to literally shout to be heard. This environment
was not created by any group of RSP students, but
rather by noise from the adjacent school library and four
- An internal school policy resulted in an
excessive number of students being academically screened and
tested by the RSP teacher (over one-sixth of the
student population!), in lieu of regular classroom
instructional modifications. Parents were not invited to the
screening meetings where the decision to formally test was
- A teaching schedule so demanding, that it
was impossible for me to even take a ten minute
"lunch" break, without compromising the
instructional needs of my students. Despite my best efforts,
there were, on occasion, 20+ students and multiple grade
levels within the RSP room during a given time period. And
of course, as in the regular classroom, within the grade
levels there was significant variation in abilities and
- Even though I was new to the RSP position,
I was given only one two day Special Education related
instructional course during the school year. I requested
training in Project Read and other VAKT
(Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic and Tactile) programs,
but my requests, not surprisingly, were ignored- as were my
written pleas for additional instructional aides, etc.
Besides adversely effecting instructional
effectiveness, a partial result of items (1)-(6) included:
||The long and sometimes stressful hours compromised
my health and general well being. |
||Because at times my job resulted in the "physical
impossibility" of completing certain tasks, I had to make
difficult choices on whether to test new students or deliver quality
and timely instruction on a given day. I often choose the later and
because my paperwork was not always timely (though it was quite
thorough), I was ridiculed and professionally attacked by the
school psychologist, often in front of staff and parents. In my
opinion, her verbally abusive behaviors were also caused by
deep-seated insecurity stemming from her own substandard job
performance. She exhibited behaviors such as: (1)
Blaming/shifting responsibility for behavior; (2) Lying
/fragmentation (appearing one way, but actually acting another
way behind closed doors); (3) Assuming knowledge of what others
were thinking; (4) Acting as if "above the rules"
(including flouting state regulations regarding special
education); (5) Promoting disharmony with others; (6) Vagueness
and making frequent excuses for tardiness; (7) Power plays,
including refusing to talk, walking out of a room while the
other person is speaking, etc; and (8) Self-glorifying
behavior/exhibiting a false sense of superiority. |
||Because of my caseload size, the school district
decided to give me another instructional aide in early April.
The offer was conditional on my signing a waiver, indicating that I
could effectively handle a caseload of thirty-two with the
additional aide. The day I signed the waiver my caseload exceeded
thirty-two and the District Pupil Services staff knew it! Many
District teachers, in similar situations, refused to sign the waiver
out of "principle." After much reflection, I signed the
waiver so that my students could receive the help they needed. I was
fortunate to have hired a wonderful, bright and creative
instructional aide, which greatly helped me in the remaining three
months of the school year. I had her work intensely, often one on
one, with those students having the greatest needs. |
What happened to me is only a microcosm of what
goes on throughout the country in RSP Special Education Programs.
In addition to poor teaching conditions and excessive caseloads,
pressures are put on programs that result in inferior instruction,
incorrect student placements, lack of teacher accountability for student
take an active role, not only during the IEP meeting were
a child's instructional program is discussed, but also in the
day to day workings of the school's programs. Parents should
have a legal right to know, for example, if their child's RSP program
is over the legal caseload limit, or if conditions for
learning are not optimal. We need to insure that parents are informed.
Parents need to understand that Special Education services, even
under the best possible conditions, are not a magic bullet.
Pullout programs need to be very carefully evaluated for
effectiveness. Teachers should never be put in a position of jeopardizing
their own health for the well being of their students. An
excellent information resource for parents, students and
professionals that deal with Special Education issues is the LD
Online web site.
Many parents gave me glowing letters of
recommendation for my work with their children. Those
that volunteered in my classroom, and observed what I was doing,
were particularly appreciative. In some cases, children made astounding
progress working with me, though I certainly can not
claim all the credit for this. My regret is how many more could have made
such progress under better conditions. I tried to impart to my
children a belief in themselves, specific learning strategies, and
an understanding of their multiple
intelligences. This was not always easy, since
years of conditioning by peers, teachers and even parents have often
made these children feel marginalized and plain "not smart." I
used all of my creative energies to insure that they realized how bright
and capable they truly were. Yet how fragile is the realization and
how easily broken.
I left the school, I referred to above, after the experiences
I had that year. For the following school year the school added two
more staff members to the RSP program. One, an experienced and
credentialed RSP teacher, left the position shortly after
starting, complaining about "too much paperwork."
Some felt that one of the reasons the School District
maintained adequate staffing for the subsequent school year is
that they would be undergoing a Coordinated
State Compliance Review (CCR) and didn't want any
repeated parent complaints they also moved the RSP
Program to a larger and much quieter area.
This essay was forwarded
by the California Assistant Superintendent and Director of the
School and District Accountability Division to the Manager of
the CCR Process on 4/11/00. She has not replied.
8/2008: "The California State Budget - or I
should say lack thereof - has rendered even more serious damage to
the SPED system by increasing class sizes yet even more and
laying off teachers. Parents of SPED kids should be lobbying
and protesting in Sacramento and D.C. EVERY HOUR OF EVERY
DAY!" Forget the abuse of teachers! The kids are the ones
suffering the most from ""the system,"" particularly since No
Child Left Behind - RSP Special Education Teacher, California