Charter public schools can use visual and digital tools to improve instruction for special needs children
I received this letter from Mike Brown, a retired teacher who taught history to special needs students.
As a first year high school teacher, I had Individual Education Program (IEP) students in my history class. They were all males and called themselves special ed. I later earned a Masters and became a counselor and school psychologist, working with IEP students. I still coach but retired from the schools 2 years ago. In the summer, I employed many IEP students building house foundations and framing. They made more money than lawn work or fast food. They learned fast--- as long as I kept the instructions as visual and hands-on as possible. I noticed this same "visual thing" when working with other IEP students during school hours. Other teacher colleagues noticed the same learning style. IEP students diagnosed as Learning Disabled (LD)look like most other students when compared to the more severely impaired special education students.
Charter schools have become the fastest growing alternative segment of education. Much of their reading, writing, and math instruction is visually oriented and delivered through software. Tablets and laptops are used everywhere. Insight Academy in Bellevue, an online school, issues laptops to all students for just this purpose.
Currently, school psychologists identify students as Learning Disabled by administering special tests and writing qualifying reports. An Individual Education Program(IEP) is then written for every LD student. In my Masters training, we were taught that two to four percent of all students would qualify for these LD services. Currently in Washington State, the special education enrollment averages about three times that earlier estimate.
With hundreds of millons of dollars being spent annually for special education in Washington state, it is time to compare and improve instuctional methods. IEP based instruction is already a model that charter schools could adopt. Do IEP students, and therefore taxpayers, get a better "bang for the buck" when basic skills instruction is delivered on-line? Are any traditional methods are as good or better than on-line instruction? How and whom will evaluate the students skills? Should funding be tied in any way to outcomes/test results? Currently, there are no funding restrictions for identifying and qualifying students. It is a right for all.
In summary, new instruction models and equipment hold great promise for IEP students. Let's do the research and see just how good they are.