Even as J winds down his final year in the Philadelphia public school system, I’m still learning new things about how the district operates. For example, I recently learned that the one-size-fits-all approach to high school English predates the Common Core. For at least the last dozen years, all Philadelphia high school English teachers have had to choose from a specific list of literary works/authors, which include Steinbeck, Edgar Allen Poe, the Canterbury Tales, and Shakespeare plays. It doesn’t matter that, according to a 2013 report, only 53.4% of the school district’s 11th graders scored proficient or advanced on the Literature section of the state’s new Keystone test, and that only 10.1% and 10.6%, respectively, of English Language Learners and special ed students with IEPs scored proficient or advanced in Literature.
For all but the most intellectually impaired of these students, it’s full inclusion in regular classrooms. In other words, Steinbeck, Edgar Allen Poe, the Canterbury Tales, and Shakespeare, for nearly everyone who scores Basic or Below Basic in Literature.
Many of my own students, special ed teachers who teach children with autism, have long been concerned about how all this affects their students. They report, however, that higher powers keep them from making modifications and from telling parents how bad things are. On a recent discussion board, one student wrote:
I was stuck between the school district and the parent who wanted their child placed in an outside placement because the child was struggling behaviorally and academically. It was difficult because I did not feel that this student needed placed outside. The problem actually was that the regular education was not properly modifying his classroom and work for the student needs. Of course, I could not tell this to the parent. I worked my hardest to get the teacher to understand how inclusion works with no luck.When I asked her why she felt she couldn’t tell the parent what was going on she wrote:
I was told not to tell the parents because they are famous for making complaints with the state (which I don't blame them because I would have too). … Everyone here is too worried about getting in trouble for not following the rules, simply because they know they aren't. They fear that telling a parent could result in the filing of a due process complaint.Another student has the same feeling about:
...my administration not wanting the special education teachers to tell the "whole" truth about how they feel things are going. I feel that some schools want to make it look and sound like everything that needs to be done is being done when it may not be. Many teachers try to get students different curriculum that will best meet their needs and they are shut down. When teachers suggest pulling out for more intense instruction at the students level, it was frowned upon and said we are "full inclusion." With some persistence some teachers now pull out which has been very beneficial to those students. Some schools want to "look" so much like what the public thinks is full inclusion and not what it should really be... Many teachers work behind the scenes to try and fix the problem, which causes a lot of stress on them.Another student writes:
I have definitely seen students not necessarily getting what they need in a specific area, especially if they are included in the mainstream when they probably shouldn't be.And another student writes:
I am a regular classroom teacher with GIEPs and IEPs. I have to widen my instruction and materials for levels from 1st grade to 5th grade in reading and math. I have no support teacher or aide and this is honestly a big challenge. My school believes that one person, me, should be able to handle this with no problem and challenge/meet the needs of 22 students. This is where I believe that schools are in the wrong with full inclusion and students not getting what they need.But is anyone listening?