From the New York Times:
School districts across the country are struggling to meet the needs of students who were once predominately isolated in institutions. Among the hard questions districts face:
- How can schools balance instruction in functional skills and academics for students with severe disabilities, even as they are providing custodial care?
- Is inclusion really helping these students?
- How can schools measure progress reliably for these students?
The Times highlights the story of Donovan Forde, 20, who has cognitive disabilities brought on by a traumatic brain injury that occurred when he was hit by a car as an infant. After 15 years in the New York City school system, his mother says, Forde is more social but has made almost no other progress. He is not able to walk, speak or feed himself, and has not achieved most of the goals set out in his education plan. When not in school, Forde lives in a nursing facility on Roosevelt Island and receives services that are paid by Medicaid.
Because they need intensive interventions, students like Donovan do not fit neatly into the paradigm for special education that has prevailed in the United States for more than a decade: inclusion. Congress ranks each state for its success in moving special education children into general education classrooms, addressing a core concern in the field – that too many children are not getting access to the regular curriculum.
But whether Donovan is best served in an academic-focused classroom is an uncomfortable question for many educators, because few better options are available, and inclusion “indicates a level of hope for parents, and the absence of hope is deadly,” said David Rose, the founder of CAST, a national organization that works to expand learning opportunities for students with disabilities.
“It’s an awkward period,” Mr. Rose said, in talking about the education of children with the most severe cognitive disabilities. “Because we know what we are doing is not right, and we often don’t talk about things when we don’t know what we are doing about them yet.”