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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: special education

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August 30, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Guest: Special-ed programs fail to meet needs of immigrant families

Ginger Kwan

Ginger Kwan

Research has demonstrated that meaningful family engagement leads to better student performance, and yet our local schools still struggle to engage families from racially, ethnically and culturally diverse communities, particularly when it comes to parents who have limited English proficiency or have children in special education programs.

As a result, many special-needs students from these diverse backgrounds end up getting left behind as their peers advance.

At many school districts in King County, more than 50 percent of students speak a language other than English at home. Serving and communicating with parents who have limited English proficiency should not be a new thing for schools. And yet, many parents are left wondering why it is so difficult for schools to engage diverse families of children with special needs. Is it because the schools lack knowledge of the best family engagement practices? Or because schools do not value special-needs students from other cultures? Or are schools simply unwilling to make needed changes to correct their own cultural bias and the institutional racism against this target population?

The answers are multi-faceted and not easy to answer. The challenges from schools to engage these diverse families are no less than what these families encounter when trying to interact with schools.

Across the system, schools generally lack the language and cultural capacity to engage these families meaningfully. School-hired interpreters are often not trained properly, are not familiar with special education, or speak different dialects than the family. Some families are also told to bring their own interpreters or have their children to interpret for them. In addition to verbal communication challenges, written information has been primarily printed in English or posted on school websites only. All of these obstacles can prevent meaningful communication between families and schools.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Ginger Kwan, Open Doors, special education

August 30, 2014 at 7:30 PM

Rewind: Watch a replay of live chat on special education in Seattle

Education Lab hosted a live chat on special education in Seattle on Thursday, Sept. 11.

The discussion was based off our earlier story about Seattle Public Schools’ long-troubled special-education program and a related report on how San Diego school officials fixed the communication problems in their own special-ed department. Reporter John Higgins facilitated the discussion.

Joining him was Stacy Gillett, a former special-education teacher who directs the governor’s education ombudsman’s office; Phyllis Campano, vice-president of the Seattle Education Association; and Mary Griffin, the mother of a child with disabilities and the immediate past president of the Seattle Special Ed PTSA.

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Comments | More in Your voices | Topics: live chat, special education

August 11, 2014 at 2:58 PM

Seattle special education chief placed on paid leave

The Seattle school district’s executive director of special education was placed on paid leave Friday afternoon while the district investigates whether proper procedures were followed when the district hired a national consultant last spring. The executive director, Zakiyyah McWilliams, will be out during the review, which is expected to take a few weeks, said district spokeswoman Lesley Rogers. “This is not…

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Comments | More in News, Seattle Public Schools | Topics: Seattle Public Schools, special education, T.I.E.R.S Group

February 25, 2014 at 3:07 PM

Guest: Endless testing fails to measure true strengths of special-needs students

Jim Strickland

Jim Strickland

Imagine that we live in a society where running a mile is a highly valued skill. Young people are trained from an early age to increase their distance, speed and stamina until they are finally tested to see if they have achieved a given standard. Those who are successful receive a diploma that serves as a rite of passage and opens doors to future opportunities. Those who fail can keep trying or move on with life as best they can.

Now imagine someone has a disability that makes it hard for them to run or even walk. We still value being able to run a mile, so we make special accommodations, such as letting them use a crutch or extending the time allowed. And if they can’t do that, perhaps we have a caregiver push them around the track in a wheelchair. Remember, the important thing is for them to make it around the track four times.

Well, you can see this could get pretty silly after awhile. We could have students in comas being pushed around the track on gurneys, meeting the run-a-mile standard, and getting their diplomas. But would this really mean anything for these young people? Would their diploma be a legitimate rite of passage or a useful indication of their skills?

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Comments | More in Guest opinion | Topics: guest opinion, special education, standardized tests