Charter Schools are a better model for special education: A Dad’s Perspective
As a parent of six children—three with IEP’s, three ELL’s, one 504 plan and one ILP, I have some familiarity with the parent experience of special education services. My exposure as a parent began when my firstborn was offered an IEP in Minnesota. It continued as I adopted three children with no English skills, fathered another son and daughter with learning challenges, and ended up seeing my special needs children learn skills, make honor societies, graduate, attend college and generally accumulate many of the benefits of a free and appropriate public educations.
Unfortunately, there have been some serious hiccups along the way. There was the principal in North Carolina who said indignantly of our Ethiopian-born ESL daughter, “You can’t expect us to find someone who speaks her language!” (We actually wanted someone to help her speak our shared American language.) Then there was the school whose idea of occupational therapy was doing jumping jacks and wall sits in the principal’s office. Don’t make me talk about the teacher who forced our physically impaired son to attempt 20 pushups in front of his classmates as punishment for a missed attempt at throwing trash in the wastebasket. There was the Colorado school where scoring a 5 on the ASVAB (30 is the minimum score for entry into the armed forces) was good enough to graduate. Like most problems with special-needs education, the issue was often that the well-meaning educators didn’t have the resources or expertise to differentiate instruction and classroom environment effectively.
On the other hand, there have been sparkling moments of grace and compassion that helped our children grow and thrive. Mrs. H. gave our son permission to go into a classroom phone booth to manage his sensory overload. The ESL teacher in Minnesota attended evening school events with our daughter to help her use English in context. Mr. A. formed a international tribe of English-learning students through the sheer force of love and optimism. His self-fulfilling prophecies of success made a cohort of young learners thrive. Many of them—after only a few years in the country, were initiated into the National Honor Society at a major public high school. Our daughter was there because Mr. A. cared.
So, since these positive example include traditional public schools, why do I claim that charter schools are a better system to support special needs learners? It is precisely because I bring a father’s heart and experience to the principalship that I can speak to the difference between traditional and chartered public schools. Tomorrow, I’ll pull on my principal's hard hat and explore some of the student-supporting characteristics that I’ve observed across the charter school community.