Almost six years ago I wrote this blog and with such high hopes that President Obama would be the Education President I had dreamed about my entire life. Cautious? Most definitely. I was not a fan of Arne Duncan. Hopeful? Yes, as I believed Barack Obama wanted to a President remembered for his stalwart belief in “Public Education” for EVERY Child. Well, I no longer hold this hope but I won’t stop fighting. I won’t stop urging and lobbying President Obama over every last day of his final two years in office. The history books have yet to be written. There is still time. So with that in mind I am reposting my “Response to President Obama from the Purple Party.” Mind you the Purple Party has 1 million fewer members, as there are now under 6 million students with largely ineffective IEPs.
On February 24, 2009, Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, gave his first address to Congress. This was followed by the Republican response given by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. I will now give the response on behalf of our children with disabilities. I proudly represent the Purple Party.
Puzzled by the Purple Party, are you? Well, you shouldn’t be. Do you honestly believe the United States is only about Democrats and Republicans; Blue and Red America? I know of no child registered as a Democrat or Republican or even an Independent, Libertarian or member of the Green Party. So what do you get when you mix the primary colors of red and blue? You get purple. A question 99% of all children can answer by age five. The Purple Party is here to proclaim once and for all that America’s children are not born Red or Blue, Democrat or Republican. They are all of our children; all of our legislators children and our President’s children. They are our nation’s children. Our most valuable resource and greatest opportunity for this nation’s future growth, prosperity, security and recognition in the global marketplace and that equally includes our children with disabilities.
So I am here, an emissary for our “special” children. For in my heart they are unparalleled in their specialness. These are the children born with degrees of burden, challenges and hurdles that no non-disabled child can imagine. These are the past generations of children and those living in 2009 considered less than equal in our schools, on our playgrounds, in our colleges and the workplace. They are the 7 million children being underserved in special education programs and services in our nation’s 15,000 inequitable school districts. And for moments and threads of President Obama’s speech to Congress…these are the children he ignored.
Now the children and I agree it is important for President Obama to hear that on a scale of 1-10 we give his speech a 9. His delivery was perhaps second to none. In a time of unprecedented economic crisis his platform for change is commendable. Still that missing “1” – the children with disabilities — can no longer be ignored, nor denied.
We also want President Obama to know that we are passionate in our commitment to work with him. We believe we share common goals, objectives and dreams for America. Most important, we know how to spell the word “team.” We spell “team,” T.E.A.M and not “I, I, I, I” or “me, me, me, me.” And especially for those of us with disabilities that cause us to be highly concrete, rigid and appearing inflexible…when we say we will work in a bipartisan fashion, we mean what we say and always say what we mean.
So where were we troubled by President Obama’s vision of public education, and why do we feel ignored, unheard and denied? Well to begin, it hurt the children’s feelings when the President ignored the $12.2 billion dollars in IDEA supplemental appropriations included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009.
For starters, Mr. Obama said, “Already, we’ve made a historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan. We’ve dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life. We’ve made college affordable for nearly 7 million more students… and we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children’s progress.”
Okay we get it. The President needs to be educated. He doesn’t get it. He hasn’t expanded early childhood education for youngsters with special needs. If he thinks that “child find” (IDEA 2004 requires that school districts locate all children with disabilities) is really finding all of our preschool-age children with symptoms of deficits or weakness in the neurocognitive skills so necessary for emotional, social, behavioral and academic learning…well, we hear that Governor Palin is still looking to peddle that “Bridge to Nowhere.”
Then there was the way Mr. President gushed and glowed over the 7 million more students who will be able to afford college. Was he trying to rub in our faces the lowly percentage of children with disabilities who have the necessary reading, writing and math proficiency levels, high school diplomas and ACT/SAT scores to get into college? Does he know that for the almost 7 million students he has made college more affordable…there are almost 7 million in the Purple Party with IEPs (individual Education Plan), who don’t worry about how they or their parents will pay for college. These children worry about getting in.
Clearly the President was joking in reference to the additional resources that will prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs. Even lacking in his knowledge about the abysmal state of special education, he must know that all 50 states have a critical shortage of special education teachers and forget “highly qualified” altogether. Nope, this is one area of teaching where teachers’ jobs are secure. The students are barely learning and finding a truly highly qualified teacher in a high school special education class is as rare as the proverbial needle in the haystack. In fact this is a major part of the Purple Party’s special education platform.
- We must insist on more resources for teacher loan forgiveness funds that will incentivize students to go into special education, speech and language and social work teacher preparation programs. There must be additional incentives for those students who earn dual degrees in special education and all areas of academics at the high school level.
- We are also insisting on incentives at the college level to drive the decades-overdue need for an overhaul to our teacher preparation programs and buy-in for the national standards in teacher preparation and certification that will be embedded in the final revision and reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind and next go-round for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
- We applaud President Obama’s goal to ensure the higher level thinking skills of all high school students are assessed. To further this worthy goal we want to work especially close with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to overhaul the preparation and certification for school psychologists. Effective January 1, 2013, all newly certificated school psychologists must be highly skilled in the neurocognitive diagnostic tools and able to conduct the neuropsychological evaluations necessary to assess preschool and K-12 students for deficits in executive functions, working memory, auditory and visual processing. There must also be funding appropriations for existing school psychologists willing to return to an accredited teacher preparation program for training. This nation cannot accurately measure the higher level thinking skills of our high school students without obtaining a baseline of their neurocognition as entering kindergarten students.
Now moving on with the Purple Party’s concerns; we applaud the President’s ambitious goal to cut the Federal deficit in half by the year 2013 and want to work by his side. We can eventually commit to hundreds of millions and perhaps more than $1 billion dollars per year in savings for special education programs and services. How? Boy, we knew we could perk up the ears of both sides of the Congressional aisle and the President! Well, the answer is easy. The President and Congress simply have to commit to embedding new language in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind and next reauthorization of the Individuals with Disability Act 2004.
- Rules that will ensure a neurocognitive screening for all entering kindergarten students. In addition, identification, followed by thorough neuropsychological, psychological, speech and language and occupational evaluations for all students who exhibit symptoms of weak neurocognitive skills that underlie and eventually manifest into specific learning disabilities in reading, math and writing and even emotional dysregulation, social and behavioral deficits.
- Rules that mandate all kindergarten students identified with weak or missing executive functions, attentional issues, anxiety, emotional dysregulation, developmentally delayed social or behavioral skills and deficits in fine motor, working memory and auditory or visual processing must be given a research-based cognitive training program such as Dr. Reuven Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichment. The training must be given no less than 3-days per week, in 45-minute sessions and including over summer breaks.
- Rules that allow for no wiggle room as it pertains to parental involvement in discussions regarding measurement for “response to intervention” (RTI) and research-based methodologies for all students starting in kindergarten and identified for instruction through research-based reading, writing and math methodologies. In addition, all research-based reading methodologies must be implemented as written by the researchers and publishers or risk the loss of Federal appropriations through their various education grants.
Mr. President, invest in us early. It will pay off exponentially for every year we are in school and every year we are maximally productive adults. Even for those in the Purple Party still in need of special education programs and services, we will cost our school districts far less money and reward them with improved performance on State and Federal standardized assessments, improved graduation rates and dramatically lower dropout rates. This will hold true especially for students with specific learning disabilities, AD/HD, non verbal learning disabilities and Asperger Syndrome. Instead of representing the majority of students with disabilities dropping out of our schools – soon to exceed 35% – we will not only graduate but go on to post secondary education and our nation’s leading universities. Some of us may need high school programs that embrace and allow for an additional year or two of intensive instruction but we are worth it. We in the Purple Party couldn’t agree with you more; the answers “…don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and our universities.”
And Mr. President, we take great offense in your statement, “…dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself; it’s quitting on your country. And this country needs and values the talents of every American.” We have not quit on our country. Our country has quit on us. When we drop out of school it is because our schools do not value us as students. They have not valued our talents; properly identified our needs and deficits and do nothing but whine, cry and avoid providing us with all necessary and meaningful programs and services. They have not believed in us and so we have stopped believing in them and in our U.S. Department of Education, Congress and our President. Mr. President, IDEA 2004 and NCLB have more holes than Swiss cheese. You have promised more transparency and accountability in our Federal Government. We don’t mean to be disrespectful but you, Congress, and Secretary Duncan are going to have to prove your commitment and earn our trust and respect.
So President Obama, please don’t fail us. Value our talents, recognize our needs and commit to the equal educational opportunities, highly qualified teachers, research-based methodologies, early neurocognitive screenings, cognitive training, programs and services, extensions of high school and vocational training programs necessary for us to soar. Watch, gush and glow over hopefully your next eight years in office as your students with special needs help to reduce the Federal deficit and save our future children and their children billions of dollars in what will become unnecessary special education programs and services.
To conclude our response, President Obama made a bold promise in his address to Congress. He said, “…it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education, from the day they are born to the day they begin a career. That is a promise we have to make to the children of America.”
Mr. President, prove it