ELR10: Mary Miller on School Improvement

Eduleadership RadioIn this episode of Eduleadership Radio, Mary Miller joins me to discuss how we can create systems to support struggling students. Drawing on her background as a school psychologist, Mary shared with me her approach to helping teachers and school address the needs of their students using data, the right assessments, and school-based processes, beyond simply referring struggling students for Special Education evaluations.

Mary is president and founder of Miller Guidance Solutions. She has worked in public schools for 34 years, and now supports schools through her work with teachers, principals, and district administrators as a school reform leader.

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Special Education is a Service, Not a Place

The 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) points out how far we’ve come in offering a free and appropriate public education to every student, while reminding us that we have a long way to go:

(3) Since the enactment and implementation of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, this title has been successful in ensuring children with disabilities and the families of such children access to a free appropriate public education and in improving educational results for children with disabilities.

(4) However, the implementation of this title has been impeded by low expectations, and an insufficient focus on applying replicable research on proven methods of teaching and learning for children with disabilities. Public Law 108-446, Section 1, p. 118

Specifically, the law remarks that

(5) Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by…[ensuring] that special education can become a service for such children rather than a place where such children are sent.

This is an important message that we must hear if we are to take on the challenge of educating all students to high standards. Terminology matters here more than usual – our students who receive special educational services, or specially designed instruction, are just that – not “SPED students” or “SPED kids.”

There is widespread concern over the fact that some populations of students are being “placed in special education” at disproportionate rates. If misidentification is occuring, this problem needs to be addressed. However, the larger problem is that special education, in reality, is for many students in many schools more of a sentence than a service. If we are to truly educate all students, we need to treat special education as a service that we provide for students who need it, and not as a place where we hide certain students.

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