Do 48 Million Students Need IEPs?: If typical students are so far behind, should they be classified as special education students?

From newsletter:

This week, a 9th grade math teacher confided in me that his students were seriously behind. “I had many of my ninth graders two years ago, when I taught 7th grade. A lot of them have forgotten stuff that they knew two years ago. I say to them, ‘come on! You knew that!’” He said that he could quit his job tomorrow and become a full time tutor, because there is such high demand for after-school help. 

In my state, students learned on Zoom classrooms for 18 months. All the early studiesshow that remote education was ineffective — we know that kids who spent more time learning remotely suffered worse losses than kids who went back to school quickly — but we don’t know the specifics for our state and localities yet. And learning still isn’t back up to speed yet, because kids are struggling to focus and are overwhelmed. Administrators are coping with substitute teacher shortagesmissing students, and never ending crises. Teachers are swamped by the massive needs in their classrooms

If my friend, the math teacher, is right, and kids are really two years behind academically, what should we about it? We could ignore the problem, expect that parents will pay for tutors, and hope for the best. We could heavily invest in one-on-one tutoring to bring everyone back up to speed. Perhaps, we should we classify them as special education students. 

What if every kid, who doesn’t meet standards on state exams, was given an IEP and was considered a special ed kid until they rebound? If they aren’t reading or doing math on grade level, aren’t they technically special education students? Would this classification help them? As a parent in the special education trenches I know that classification comes with pros and cons. 

An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is 40-page contract between the student, the parent, and the school with information about all the students’ diagnosis and limitations, and detailed plans about how to help the student reach certain goals. For new parents, a laundry list of your child’s short coming is painful business, but after a few years, you get numb to it. These goals are reviewed once a year, at the very minimum, in meetings that can last up to three hours. In general, parents want the schools to do more. Schools want to do less, because everything extra costs money. It’s seldom an easy process. 

Often those meetings and documents are pointless, because if the teachers do not have enough resources or training or support, then they simply can’t do much for your kid. I think most parents just give up after a while, when theory and legal rights hit the wall of reality. 

However, there is one power of IEPs and the special education classification that remains strong, especially when public education stops working. Special education parents can tell school administrators, “since you can’t provide my child with the right educational and therapeutical environment, then you have to send her to a private school that is aimed at kids like her. And here’s my big lawyer who is going to make that happen. And you have to pay the tuition. K. Bye. Thanks.” 

Forcing a public school to pay private school tuition is a big power. Sometimes just the threat of using that power is enough to get the school district to give a student extra counseling or tutoring — anything to keep those litigious parents happy. So, perhaps just the threat of turning typical students into special education students would be enough for schools to provide extra help to students who have suffered the worst learning loss. 

If we don’t deal with the very expensive and complicated educational problems that have arisen since March 2020, then we’re going to be dealing with long-term issues with an under-educated workforce, empty college classrooms, and a host of social ills. I would rather deal with these problems now, but that’s just me.