Special Education Reform?

I remember 20 plus years ago when I was getting my graduate degree in Special Education and a buddy of mine getting his degree in elementary education told me that his father, a school principal, said that I probably shouldn’t waste my time getting a masters in Special Education. He said that Special Education would be eventually fading out of public education. I was almost done with my masters at this point so I figured I would have to take my chances with it, besides what other choice did I have anyways at that point?

I got a Special Education job and taught for about 10 year. There were a lot of ups and downs over those 10 years, and eventually I decided that I wanted a change so I got certified and switched over to high school history. At this point in my career I remembered what my friend had said a decade ago and wondered if I was ahead of the curve on schools no longer needing special education teachers, even though it was 10 years later. I wondered if my job was now safe in my new-found home in the history department.

Well, I loved teaching history, but life has its own funny ways that aren’t aligned to us and what we want, so after a decade of teaching history I personally got a first class education on budget cuts and my job was eliminated. Thankfully, I landed on my feet back in Special Education, believe it or not.

It had been more than two decades since my old graduate school buddy told me that the need for special education teachers was disappearing. During the previous two decades my friend had gone from graduate school to elementary school teacher to assistant principal to principal, just like his father had done. I had gone from graduate school to special education teacher to history teacher to back to special education teacher, like nobody else that I know had done. And believe it or not there was still a bunch of special education jobs available when I landed there for a second time. As a matter of fact, there was actually plenty of jobs there because there is a shortage of special education teachers in 49 out of our 50 states. Imagine that… Two decades after I was told that Special Education was going away, and I find that they still can’t seem to get enough special education teachers.

Fast-forward a few more years to today and there is a new and interesting twist affecting Special Education called full inclusion. Now inclusion isn’t a new thing to our schools. As a matter of fact inclusion has a long interesting history in our schools.

Six decades ago there was the Supreme Court Case of Brown v. Board of Education. In 1954 the new law of the land became integrated schools for all races. Four decades ago the ground-breaking law of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) began to take effect and help ensure that more than six million students with disabilities have the right to a free and appropriate education, which means they too get to be included in with the general education population.

To help this happen schools create a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) that meet and discuss a student’s Individual Education Program (IEP) and then place the student in the appropriate educational setting based on the student’s needs and the law. The placement also needs to be the least restrictive environment (LRE). I can still remember my college professor describing the least restrictive environment in a short story that one would not bring a machine gun to take care of a fly. Rather, one would just bring a fly-swatter to take care of a fly. In other words, if a kid’s disability can be dealt with in the neighborhood school, then the kid doesn’t have to be sent across town or even to another town’s special school.

Today, many schools are trying to improve on this inclusion model and least restrictive environment by going from a partial to a full-inclusion model. Schools in the Los Angeles School District have moved a vast majority of their students out of their special education centers within the last three years and into neighborhood schools where they are fully integrated into elective classes like physical education, gardening and cooking. They are also integrated into regular main stream academic classes as well, but it’s usually not to the same degree as electives.

Michigan schools say that want to break down the walls between general education and Special Education creating a system in which students will get more help when they need it, and that support doesn’t need to be in a separate special education classroom.

Some school districts in Portland, Oregon are a little further along than the Los Angeles schools that are just bringing special education students back from special schools and Michigan schools that are just beginning to try full integration of its students and eliminating most of the special education classrooms.

Being a little further along in the process Portland makes an interesting case study. Many of the parents who initially supported the idea of integrating special education students into regular education classrooms in Portland are now worried about how the Portland Public School System is doing it. Portland is aiming for full-inclusion by the year 2020. However, some of the teachers in Portland are saying, “Obviously the special education students are going to fail and they are going to act out because we are not meeting their needs… If there’s not the right support there, that’s not acceptable, not only for the child, but for the general education teacher as well.”

A Portland parent said, “I would rather have my child feel successful than for them to be ‘college-ready’.” She further states, “I want my children to be good, well-rounded human beings that make the world a better place. I don’t think they necessarily need to go to college to do that. I think that children are individuals, and when we stop treating them as individuals, there’s a problem.” Sadly, many parents and teachers have left the Portland School District, and many more are fantasizing about it because they feel the full-inclusion model isn’t working there how they pictured it would.

How much should schools integrate the special education students is the burning question of the hour. In my personal experience some integration is not only possible, but it’s a must. With some support many of the special education students can be in the regular education classrooms.

A few years ago I even had a non-speaking paraplegic boy in a wheel chair who was on a breathing respirator sitting in my regular education social studies class. Every day his para professional and his nurse rolled him into and sat with him. He always smiled at the tales I told of Alexander the Great marching across 11,000 miles of territory and conquering much of the known world at that time. By the way, Alexander the Great also practiced his own model of inclusion by encouraging kindness to the conquered and encouraging his soldiers to marry the captured territory’s women in order to create a lasting peace.

Other important factors to consider in special education inclusion is the much needed socialization and the saving of money integration offers. Kids learn from other kids and money not spent on Special Education could be spent on general education, right? Hmm…

If you noticed, I said a little bit earlier that many special education students could be integrated, but I did not say all or even most should be integrated. There are just some students that are going to take away too much of the teacher’s time and attention from other students, such as, in the case of students with severe behavior problems. When we put severe behavior problems in regular education classes it’s just outright unfair to all of the other children in there. Similar cases could be made for other severe disabilities too that demand too much of the main stream teacher’s individual time and attention.

Hey, I’m not saying to never try out a kid with a severe disability in a general education setting. But what I am saying is that schools need to have a better system of monitoring these placements and be able to quickly remove students that aren’t working out, and are taking precious learning time away from other students. Furthermore, schools need to do this without shaming the teacher because the teacher complained that the student wasn’t a good fit and was disrupting the educational learning process of the other students. Leaving a kid in an inappropriate placement isn’t good for any of the parties involved. Period.

Over the last two decades I have worked with more special education students than I can remember as a special education teacher and a regular education teacher teaching inclusion classes. I have learned to become extremely flexible and patient and thus have had some of the toughest and most needy kids placed in my classes. I have worked miracles with these kids over the years and I know that I am not the only teacher out there doing this. There are many more out there just like me. But, what I worry about is that because teachers are so dedicated and pulling off daily miracles in the classroom, districts, community leaders, and politician may be pushing too hard for the full-inclusion model thinking that the teachers will just have to figure it out. Setting up teachers and students for failure is never a good idea.

Furthermore, I hope it’s just not the money that they are trying to save while pushing this full-inclusion model forward because what we should really be trying to save is our children. As Fredrick Douglas said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Regardless of how the financial educational pie is sliced, the bottom line is that the pie is just too small and our special education teachers and our special education students shouldn’t be made to pay for this.

In addition, I have been a teacher for too long to not be at least a little skeptical when I hear the bosses say that the reason they are pushing for the full-inclusion model is because socialization is so important. I know it’s important. But, I also know that too many people are hanging their hats on that socialization excuse rather than education our special needs students and providing them what they really need. I have seen special education students whose abilities only let them draw pictures sitting in honors classes. There is no real socialization taking place here. It just doesn’t make sense.

Well, finally coming full circle. It will be interesting to see where this full inclusion thing goes. The wise ones won’t let their special education teachers go, or get rid of their classrooms. And for the school districts that do, I imagine that it won’t take long before they realize the mistake they made and start hiring special education teachers back. To my friend and his now ex-principal father from all those years ago who thought special education was going away, well, we’re not there yet, and to tell you the truth, I don’t think we ever will be.

Allied Health Education Trends – The Changing Landscape Behind the Scenes

With more than 500,000 jobs added since the start of the recession, it’s no surprise that allied health fields are forecasted to remain a key source of job growth. Jobs in inpatient and outpatient settings and nurse care facilities will be in high demand and the healthcare support industry (such as medical technicians, physician’s assistants and physical therapist assistants) are slated to experience 48% growth.

Involved with the delivery of health or related services, workers in allied health care fields include a cluster of health professions encompassing as many as 200 health careers. There are 5 million allied health care providers in the United States who work in more than 80 different professions representing approximately 60% of all health care providers. Yet, that number is no match to the number of allied health care workers that are needed to meet current and future needs in America.

Highly regarded as experts in their field, allied health professions fall into two broad categories – technicians (assistants) and therapists/technologists. With education requirements and curriculum varying depending on the chosen field, academic prerequisites range from less than two years for technicians to a more intensive educational process for therapists and technologists that include acquiring procedural skills. With such explosive growth in allied health care career options and so many diverse fields from which to choose, it’s no wonder students preparing for their future are seeking opportunities in allied health fields.

Yet, with more than 5 million current allied health professions in the U.S. and more on the horizon, careful examination of the educational development and environment of emerging students identifies areas of needed improvement to meet the diverse needs of this ever-changing landscape.

A New Path of Education – Trends Affecting Allied Health Education

With student enrollment in allied health education programs gaining momentum, major advancements in technology coupled with shifts in education audiences, learner profiles, campus cultures, campus design and faculty development have spawned a new wave of trends that are dramatically affecting where and how allied health students learn. Understanding the dynamics of allied health trends begins by taking a brief look at a few of the societal and economic factors that have affected the educational landscape as a whole.

Economic Trends:
* With the economy in a recession, the nations’ workforce is being challenged to learn new skills or explore advanced training options.
* The U.S. Labor Department estimates that with the current economic climate, nearly 40% of the workforce will change jobs every year. As a result, the demand for short, accelerated educational programs is on the rise.
* With retirement being delayed until later in life, a “new age” of workers has emerged into the job market creating an older generation of students.

Societal Trends:
* Adult learners are the fastest growing segment in higher education. Approximately 42% of all students in both private and public institutions are age 25 or older.
* This highly competitive learning market allows educational institutions to specialize in meeting particular niches in the market.
* The number of minority learners is increasing.
* More women continue to enter the workforce – 57% of students are women.

Student / Enrollment Trends:
* Students are seeking educational programs that meet their individual demographics, schedule and learning style.
* More students are requiring flexibility in the educational structure to allow more time for other areas of responsibility.
* Students are attending multiple schools to attain degrees – 77% of all students graduating with a baccalaureate degree have attended two or more institutions.

Academic Trends:
* According to the Chronicle of High Education, traditional college campuses are declining as for-profit institutions grow and public and private institutions continue to emerge.
* Instruction is moving more toward diversified learner-centered versus self-directed, traditional classroom instruction.
* Educational partnerships are increasing as institutions share technology and information with other colleges, universities and companies to deliver cooperative educational programs.
* Emphasis is shifting from degrees to competency as employers place more importance on knowledge, performance and skills.

Technology Trends:
* Technology competency is becoming a requirement.
* Immense growth in Internet and technological devices.
* Institutional instruction will involve more computerized programs.
* Colleges will be required to offer the best technological equipment to remain competitive.

Classroom Environment Trends:
* Classroom environments are being designed to mirror real-life career settings.
* Flexible classroom settings geared for multi-instructional learning.
* Color, lighting, acoustics, furniture and design capitalize on comfortable learner-centered environments.

The Application of Knowledge – A Move Toward Lifelong Learning Concepts

To meet the ever-changing educational needs of students entering allied health fields, classrooms, curricula and teaching philosophies are becoming more responsive to the diverse settings in which varied populations are served. Educators and administrators are seeking educational environments that engage and connect students with their learning space to capitalize and foster knowledge, growth and learning.

Flexible Classrooms and Lab Space:
Adaptable learning environments that provide versatility to shift from classroom to lab space and the flexibility for plenty of future growth are the driving force behind allied health classrooms of the future. Modern allied health classrooms will provide flexible, multi-functional, comfortable classroom environments that encourage a sense of community, essentially inviting the students and instructors to work together and interrelate. Studies reflect that students are better able to actively process information when sensory, stimulation, information exchange and application opportunities are available. Flexible classroom spaces encourage students to share what they know and build on this shared base.

Student Areas:
Connecting students with the “center of gravity” core spaces for studying and socializing further enhances the new wave of allied health campuses. Flexible student areas that foster circulation, interaction, collaboration and learning enhance various learning styles and further reinforce students’ abilities to harmoniously blend learning with discovery and collaboration.

Integrating Advanced Technology:
The use of technology in the classroom plays a vital role in how students learn and the long-term effect of knowledge gained. When students are using technology as an educational tool they are in an active role rather than a passive role in a typical teacher-led lesson. The integration of advanced technology in an allied health classroom allows students to actively engage in generating, obtaining manipulating or displaying information. Through this process, students become empowered to define their goals, make decisions and evaluate their progress. Coupled with student applied technology, classrooms are being equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and tools to prepare students for the transition from classroom to career.

Lecture / Laboratory and Classroom Models:
High Performing Buildings: As allied health programs shift to incorporate collaborative, interdisciplinary classrooms and clinical experiences that mirror real-life settings, students are empowered to move beyond mastery of skill to lifelong learning concepts. By creating classroom models that take students directly into their chosen field and allow them to “step into” their chosen career in a classroom setting, students are essentially provided a “business internship” that prepares them for their careers far beyond traditional text book curriculum. Bridging the gap between textbook knowledge and the application of “real world” experiences is the foundation of the new allied health classrooms settings.

Each school day 50 million children and 6 million adults enter our schools nationwide; each of whom is directly affected by the physical environment. And, while most people have heard about the benefits of sustainable design from an energy savings standpoint, few truly understand the benefits gained from a student performance perspective. High performance schools have several distinct advantages:

* Higher Test Scores. Studies are confirming the relationship between a school’s physical condition and student performance. Factors such as increased day light, indoor thermal comfort and indoor air quality will enhance learning which equates to improved test results.

* Increased Average Daily Attendance. Indoor air quality plays a vital role in the health of students. By controlling sources of contaminants, providing adequate ventilation and preventing moisture – all designed to reduce sources of health problems and inhibit the spread of airborne infections – students and teachers will experience fewer sick days, especially for those suffering from respiratory or asthma problems.

* Reduced Operating Costs. High performance schools are specifically designed, using life-cycle cost methods, to minimize long-term costs of facility ownership. Using less energy and water than standard schools, means lower operating costs. Savings can then be redirected to supplement other budgets such as computers, books, classrooms and salaries.

* Increased Teacher Satisfaction and Retention. Designed to be pleasant and effective places to work and learn, high performance classrooms are visually pleasing, provide the appropriate thermal comfort and capitalize on effective acoustics for teaching. A positive and inviting place to work and learn improves overall satisfaction for teachers and sets the foundation for improved learning and retention of students.

* Reduced Environmental Impact. High performance buildings are specifically designed to have low environmental impact. They are energy and water efficient, use durable, non-toxic materials that are high in recycled content and they use non-polluting renewable energy to the greatest extent possible.
In short, we have an obligation to equip our students to do the hard work ahead of them.

A Vision for the Future
With the rapidly changing landscape of education as whole, taking on the challenge of designing multi-functional educational facilities means more than just designing a building. From technology to curriculums, campus structure to classroom environments, those involved in the planning, design and construction must be dedicated to providing solutions that meet the distinct needs of today’s students.

Roy Abernathy is Managing Principal with Atlanta-based Jova/Daniels/Busby Architects and is a partner with FWAJDB Architects – a partnership focused on facilities at the intersection of animal and human health. He is actively involved in AIA Georgia serving as 2012 AIA GA President, a member of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), International Interior Design Association (IIDA), and is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional.

With years of experience as both a consultant and architect, Roy’s expansive knowledge of design, workplace performance and green building allows him to approach a project from many perspectives, allowing him an unparalleled ability to innovate. His expertise in operations, program management, real estate strategy and sustainable design span a broad range of industry sectors including civic, hospitality, religious, corporate and higher education with a dedicated specialty in veterinary medicine facilities.

Computers and Cheap Watches

There are tons of expensive watches out there that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The majority of these watches are all classic, mechanical pieces that have so many features it makes telling time incredibly difficult. What is the point of spending all that money for something that is not even going to serve the intended purpose? That is why one should greatly consider computer powered, cheap watches, also known as digital watches.Although many digital watches have a very low cost, there are many out there that can be almost as expensive as traditional watches. If you want a watch to look classy, then there is no point in shelling out tons of cash for a good looking digital watch, so those should be avoided. If you want to save money, then a digital watch is perfect for you. You can get a fairly decent digital watch for between twenty and fifty dollars, and there are some out there that are as low as ten dollars, but the quality of said watches is very low.Digital watches are great because they cost so little and serve the purpose of a watch exceptionally well. With a traditional watch, it can be somewhat difficult to tell the time, at least at a moment’s notice. Digital watches enable you to look quickly down at your hand and know the time right to the second, as long as the time you set it to is accurate.As computers and technology become more sophisticated, so will digital watches. Already at this point in time, there are many watches that have features that used to be found only in decades old computers. Thinking about that, it is amazing to think how far we have progressed. Who knows, perhaps we will be playing three dimensional games on our watches in just a few years. With the way things are going, that is not too far out there.