Monday, February 01, 2010

Special Needs Students in Higher Education

An issue that isn't being discussed as much as it should be, especially at the community college level, is what happens with students who were identified as "special ed" in public school, and now find themselves in the college system? I'm speaking specifically of those students who are considered SED, or Severely Emotionally Disturbed?

Many developmental, i.e., remedial reading and writing classes at the junior college level have a number of students who were in special education classes in public school. Often, there's no clue except when the students hand the instructor a progress report, often at the end of the semester. Understandably, student privacy is paramount, and they should not be coerced to identify themselves to an educator as special needs, and thus be subject to preconceived, and biased notions of what those needs are.

But, to place a teacher, whose background is in literature and grammar, and who has never taken a class in Psychology, in a classroom with SED students, is to invite a potential disaster at worst, or to deprive the student of the sensitivity to his needs he has come to expect.

Who's being protected by this policy of secrecy about student's needs---the student? teacher? or the school district? Clearly, mandating teacher preparation in special education, at the university level, would not be cost-effective, but what is the alternative? At best, an unfulfilling, and frustrating experience for the student, class, and teacher, and at worst, potentially jeopardizing school safety.

Yes, of course, these students have as much a right to go to college as any other student has, but is it in their best interest to be taught by instructors who have no background, and no clue, about their circumstances? Moreover, don't educators have rights, too?

An inordinately high percentage of crimes on campus are committed by students in the so-called developmental classes, but what percentage of crimes on campus are committed by students who were identified as "severely emotionally disturbed" in public schools? Further, if a violent act is committed by a student on an educator, isn't the school district liable for not informing the teacher that he was at risk?

This is an issue that needs to be addressed before something tragic happens again. Students who are at risk put everyone else at risk, and they need to be taught by those who have the appropriate training. Bottom line: if we have special education classes in public school, then we must have a cognate system for the colleges, or there will be many more Virginia Techs

At a time when the U.S. has beefed up its defense budget, and is performing active interventions in the domestic affairs of foreign countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen under the rubric of "national security," the funds allocated to education pale by comparison. The 2011 federal budget provides for ten times as much for the Pentagon than for the Department of Education.

There can be no greater threat to our national security than underprepared educators, and underfunded schools