Read This: “Special Education Too Often Leads to Jail”

The disgraceful truth of what we have allowed to happen to too many of our most vulnerable children.

An important and troubling piece in The Hechinger Report examines “The Pipeline to Prison: Special Education Too Often Leads to Jail for Thousands of American Children.”  Although reporters Jackie Mader and Sarah Butrymowicz focus on Mississippi, they also draw from national data to show the disgraceful truth of what we have allowed to happen to too many of our most vulnerable children.

Here’s a slice:

At least one in three of those arrested has a disability, ranging from emotional disability like bipolar disorder to learning disabilities like dyslexia, and some researchers estimate the figure may be as high as 70 percent. Across the country, students with emotional disabilities are three times more likely to be arrested before leaving high school than the general population.

The authors rightfully, and shamefully, trace the pipeline to underprepared and unprofessional teachers (apparently in title only) who do not know how to prepare for, respond to, or properly intervene with special needs students even early in school. While the article correctly notes that “for years Mississippi has had a shortage of highly qualified special education teachers,” what it does not mention is the few special education teachers that have been hired in recent years, especially to work with the older children, have all come through the state’s one summer, alternate route program.

What can and should teachers and parents do to break up this pipeline and to better serve our special needs children? How should we approach local and state policymakers? Where is the public outcry?

Related categories:
  • Laurie Wasserman

    Once again Renee, you’ve said what needs to be said

    Renee,

    As a special ed. teacher of 30+ years I've been critcized repeatedly for "making it too easy for kids to qualify forspecial ed. services." Really? I can't create a disability in a child, but I know a child who is struggling when I see one. It breaks my heart when I'm burden with proving a student needs help. Dyslexia, reading and writing disabilities often lay hidden over the years until middle school, when I sit my students down for our heart-to-heart talks as I explain to them (usually with both of us in tears, "you're not stupid and don't let anyone tell you that you are. you also aren't lazy, in fact the effort you've put in is nothing short of hard work, but this is your learning disability hitting you in the face." I try to educate them in what an IEP is, etc. etc. and teach them strategies to help them compensate for their challenges, always sharing their strengths (and they all have strengths). But…it also breaks my heart when I read about former students who needed services and didn't get them, and now I'm reading about them in our local papers because they've broken the law (repeatedly_) I'm no researcher but I do see a huge correaltion between kids who self medicate with illegal drugs and ADD/ADHD. 

    I wish I had a magic wand, Renee, to give these kids the services they need WHEN THEY NEED THEM, not when it's too late (forgive my 'shouting' but this is something that gets me so very upset and broken hearted.

  • LaurieWasserman

    Once Again, Renee, you’ve said what needs to be said

    Renee,

    As a special ed. teacher of 30+ years I’ve been critcized repeatedly for “making it too easy for kids to qualify forspecial ed. services.” Really? I can’t create a disability in a child, but I know a child who is struggling when I see one. It breaks my heart when I’m burdened with proving a student needs help. Dyslexia, reading and writing disabilities often lay hidden over the years until middle school, when I sit my students down for our heart-to-heart talks as I explain to them (usually with both of us in tears), “you’re not stupid and don’t let anyone tell you that you are. You also aren’t lazy, in fact the effort you’ve put in is nothing short of hard work, but this is your learning disability hitting you in the face.” I try to educate them in what an IEP is, etc. etc. and teach them strategies to help them compensate for their challenges, always sharing their strengths (and they all have strengths). But those are the lucky ones; the kids who thankfully have family members to fight for them, even when no one believes them. What about the kids who have dysfunctional home lives or whose parents/guardians don’t see what is causing all the struggles at the kitchen table as they attempt to navigate schoolwork?

    It breaks my heart when I read in our local papers about former students who needed services and didn’t get them,  because they’ve broken the law (repeatedly). I’m no researcher but I do see a huge correlation between kids who self medicate with illegal drugs and ADD/ADHD. I’ve had kids as young as 11 with severe anxiety and depression who needed significant professional help and parents/guardians who wouldn’t bring them to doctors who could treat them (“He’s fine, just a stage; he’ll grow out of it…”)

    I wish I had a magic wand, Renee, to give these kids the services they need WHEN THEY NEED THEM, not when it’s too late (forgive my ‘shouting’ but this is something that gets me so very upset, frustrated, and broken hearted.

  • TriciaEbner

    Great questions . . .

    I too wish I knew where the outcry is about this.

    In my neck of the woods, the majority of the teachers are trained and work diligently with their students. One of my biggest frustrations is that so often, districts will ask the state for waivers so that teachers have more students than they are supposed to. I know budgets are tight, but cutting corners for our students with these needs isn’t wise, and it can certainly cost us far more down the road than it would to keep better ratios at earlier ages. 

    Laurie, I wish you had that magic wand, too . . . 

  • bobbi brown

    goods

    At least one in three of those arrested has a disability, ranging from emotional disability like bipolar disorder to learning disabilities like dyslexia, and some researchers estimate the figure may be as high as 70 percent. 

    by maggie

  • Taya Tayler

    We are all common people.
    We are all common people. There’s nothing special about us that we would need to study seperately from the rest of the people. Sure we might need to go to sites like http://www.rushmyessays.co.uk/ at times to get our research papers or other papers solved but this does not indicate special education.