No Child Left Behind Act and how it Affects Special Education
The United States educational system has been undergoing several structural and policy changes in the last few years - No Child Left Behind Act and how it Affects Special Education introduction. The federal government has begun to play a greater role in education as is reflected in the principles laid down in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. Though individual states remain largely responsible for the education of the individuals within their constituency, the government has been quite evidently support educational processes. The government grants to each state 10% funding on the costs of educating within each state. While this amount is not as significant the 90% that the states have to provide, it does reveal that the federal government is at least paying some amount of interest in the education of students.
Moreover the NCLB act is another formidable demonstration of the particular interest that the federal government places on education. The principle of the NCLB is that each child registered within the school system must be given all opportunities to develop and to achieve. To ensure the success of every child and to guarantee that no child is left behind, the act holds educators directly accountable for ensuring that each child aims for and achieves the prescribed standards. Overall this effort should translate into an overall statewide improvement in the academic achievement of students.
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These broad reaching goals are of relevance to all involved in the education of children. Parents, teachers in general education classrooms, teachers in special education classrooms, students (regardless of demographics, aptitude or disability) are all required to be involved in the development of each child. This fact poses considerable questions and raises significant concerns for the special education classroom. These schools are required to aspire to the same broad reaching goals and objectives as general education schools. It is evident that the act, though it may present several benefits for special education, will also have its limitations. Educators are, however, still required to aim for the target of leaving no child behind.
The NCLB act is of some benefit for special education and therefore presents positive opportunities for children with special education needs. The primary benefit of the act to special needs education is that it there is now greater attention paid to special education learners (Lewis, 2007). McMahon (2005) see the specific focus of the act on the particular needs of students with disabilities as a liberating move for this group. He commends the acts focus on groups that were traditionally underrepresented or ignored in the education system and for whom little effective policies existed. The students included in this group are minority groups, non-English speaking emigrants and students with disabilities.
Commendably, educators are beginning to think of students with disabilities as capable of performing academically and even being on par with their peers. With the passage of the NCLB act teachers are required not only to include students with disabilities in their report on the performance of students school-wide, they are required to report on the performance of special education learners separately (McMahon, 2005, p. 679). This demonstrates that the government and policy makers are truly considering the interest of special education learners.
There is also the related issue of accountability of district administrators, school heads, teachers and parents for the performance of all learners including those with special needs. The act in itself represents a composite of measures to ensure accountability as measured by test-based instruments administered at the state level (Cawthon, 2004, p. 314)). The act specifies guidelines for the curriculum, for assessment, quality of teachers and provision of assistive resources. Schools, dreading a negative report from the state, will aim to ensure that all students are performing up to par (McMahon, 2005).
This bodes a very positive move for special education learners who will no longer be presumed to be academically incompetent. The act suggests that these individuals are very capable of achieving even to the standard of their peers and thus teachers are required to be more diligent in creating programs relevant for their needs while ensuring that they meet the general achievement objectives.
A significantly positive aspect of the NCLB act for special education is its flexibility. Administrators and teachers are able to apply the principles of the NCLB in a variety of ways in oreder to achieve desired outcomes. Teachers are not streamlined in the strategies they employ, the type of assessment they conduct or the type of activities that students can become involved in within the classroom and the community. Teachers are only required to ensure that the children for whom they are responsible perform either at or above the state requirements.
Additionally there is a focus on ensuring that ‘highly qualified’ teachers are placed in the special education classroom. Where such teachers are limited school heads could provide the requisite professional development and certification for teachers to be deployed in these areas (Collins et al, 2005). This ensures both that an adequate number of staff meet the highly qualified requirement and thus be better equipped to meet the needs of the students with special needs.
McMahon (2005) believes that the inclusion of special education learners in the general education classroom as facilitated by IDEA (Individual with Disabilities Education Act) regulations and reinforced by NCLB gives these disabled students a greater sense of being equal to their peers. Since the principle of the act emphasize equality of opportunity and outcome, special needs learners with feel more included and this accommodation into the regular classroom could translate to improvements in the overall behavior and performance of these students.
The curriculum also seems to be offering special education learners considerably more academically based learning opportunities as well as to a wider range of subject matter on the curriculum. In an interview among special education directors in rural schools who were asked to discuss the ways in which NCLB has impacted their institutions, many noted that there had to be considerable changes to the academic aspect of the Individual Education Program (IEP) goals of students (Collins et al, 2005). An IEP is a document produced for each student with a disability and contains, above all, goals and objectives that the child has to attain to throughout the school years. It also includes information on the individual’s performance, on classes taken, services accessed, guidelines for evaluation, details on required modifications and accommodations, relevant aids and support services.
These educators noted that changes occurred in the form of more academic objectives were included to be more in line with state requirements for proficiency in areas such as arithmetic and reading. There is a moving away from a purely functional curriculum that offered little in the way of preparation for higher education for these students. This move is beneficial as it avoids streamlining persons with special needs into specific jobs. By being exposed to the curriculum of the same type as his peers there are greater opportunities for development available.
Of course there are certain accommodations and adjustments that are available for teachers to access and to apply in teaching these students (Collins et al, 2005). The government is committed to providing the right opportunities for all learners and this represents an indeed glorious move for special education. Learners with disabilities are able to access an IEP that is aligned to the curriculum but modified to meet their individual needs.
On the other hand there are a few areas of concern related to the NCLB act and these have implications for its feasibility in the classroom setting for special education. One of the most noted effects is that the implementation of the act could mean that special education learners drop out of school. In the interviews conducted by Collins et al (2005) several educators indicated that several students in special education classes eventually dropped out of the school (p. 49). The phenomenon, they believe, is attributable to the increasing academic demands that are being placed on students with disabilities. It is supposed that these students are unable to adequately cope, becoming frustrated and embarrassed easily, and therefore opt out of school.
Another issue that is causing the act not to be quite beneficial for special education is the requirement that teachers hired to work in special education programs be highly qualified beginning the 2002 and 2003 academic year. Other public teachers have a long time – by the end of the 2005 – 2006 (Yell, Drasgow & Lowrey, 2005, p. 133). Considering the previous difficulties in supplying enough special education teachers, it is quite evident that schools will be unable to fulfill this requirement. Furthermore those teachers who were previously hired to fill special education positions without the requisite qualifications will be automatically excluded from continuing. Collins et al (2005) also see this issue posing a significant problem for special education. Several district directors, in the Collins (2005) interviews, actually lament that some of their more gifted teachers are not highly qualified and thus would not be rehired.
Lewis (2007) believes that some teachers are made to feel like failures because they have not accomplished adequate yearly progress (AYP) (p. 354) as prescribed amount. Some educators also argue that the core content with a greater emphasis on academic rather than functional skills is clearly deficient and is inappropriate to students with special needs (Collins et al, 2005, p. 49). Agran, Alper, and Wehmeyer (2002) conducted a survey among special education teachers and discovered that teachers felt that teaching proper grooming, communication, decision-making and problem-solving are far more important than academic for persons with disabilities (as cited in Browder & Cooper-Duffy, 2003, p. 161).
The assessment procedure also poses a problem. Students are evaluated using a standardized state-administered instrument at each grade level. However, Fritzberg (2003), believes that these types of test instruments are not appropriate for special needs students. Failure on the part of each student is seen as a failure on the part of the entire school.
Suggestions are for assessment processes to more closely match teachers’ best practices. Within the classroom on a regular basis teachers have to get involved in activities of interest to the students and that would promote learning. Nagle, Yunker and Mamgren (2006) note that is quite possible for some students with special needs to perform adequately on those instruments depending on the disability they have. However they recommend that accommodations be made in these assessments for those learners who are unable to cope with the paper and pen type test (p. 37).
Ferrell (2005), examining the case of the visual impaired and there place in the NCLB act, observes that there are still not adequate considerations put in place for this category of learners. Schools and administrators, she believes, are too easily ready to take the easy way of excluding these students from high-stakes test rather than come up with ways to more adequately incorporate them into assessment procedures.
An additional disadvantage that the NCLB act poses for special education is the unequal treatment of learners. All students, regardless of presence or intensity of disabilities are required to attain to the same achievement standard at their grade level (Yell et al, 2005). While certain modifications and accommodations are made for these students they are still matched up with the more able students when it comes time for assessment and there is hardly any distinction in the level that the special need student is required to reach and the level that other students are aiming for (Yell et al, 2005).
The stress on accountability could also work to the detriment of special education (Lewis, 2007, p. 354). These students are tested with the same instrument as the others and are expected to perform on par, yet it is evident that they have severe disadvantages. Furthermore, schools, being aware of these difficulties, may often be unwilling to register these students for the high-stakes test so that reports on the school’s performance do not appear to be poor.
In the Collins et al (2005) interviews a few special education teachers lament on the change that has been brought on by the more accountable NCLB act. IEPs were previously designed primarily based on the needs of the child and programs of relevance to those needs were developed. With the NCLB the general curriculum seems to be the primary driving force in their development. The result is a loss of focus on the individual (Collins et al, 2005, p. 49).
Other educators are lamenting on the shift in focus from more functional programs to ones that are more economic. In their views the academic goals are just too much for any one special education student to handle and there therefore needs to be a change back to more functional methodology and curriculum. One such educator comments “the focus is academically driven, not student driven” (Collins et al, 2005, p. 49).
As if these are not enough the policy makers who crafted the NCLB act, threatening punitive consequences for schools. Not only are the schools published in the media as having a bad report but the integrity of the leadership and staff is questioned. Furthermore particularly schools will face even more challenges than others as students take the opportunity to opt into schools with better facilities that they were previously unable to attend.
I believe that the NCLB offers wonderful opportunities for educational development within the United States. Education has long been noted to be the key for any individual hoping to have much success. Any opportunity that seeks to make education available and accessible to all must be welcomed. As such the NCLB act which paves the way for free and equitable education for those of school age, is an innovative approach worthy of much commendation.
The position of special education as it relates to the NCLB appears to be very shady now but I believe that in the near future these concerns will be addressed and adjustments made in response to those. The principles put forward by the act are not in themselves problematic. I feel the contentious issues arise in the implementation of the policy into everyday classroom practice. This process is achievable but it requires time.
There have been numerous criticisms arising over the utility and applicability of the NCLB. This tells us that people are at least paying attention. It must, however, be born in mind that a number of the principles being adopted are only recent developments. The adjusted NCLB was only put into effect as of October 2007. What this act and all that it represents actually needs is time. Time for teachers, administrators, policy makers, students and skeptics to adequately test the long term usefulness of the NCLB before too much bad judgments can be passed.
Furthermore more concrete research has to be conducted among educators that are actually in the classroom to determine the areas that pose difficulty in applying and for strategies to be employed to counter these. It must be remembered that policy makers simply design instruments and particularly when it comes to classroom practice it is the teacher who is more intimately involved with the students who would be best equipped to evaluate their needs and determine solutions that could effectively meet them.
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