Should Schools Be Accountable for Special Education? Yes

Ian was rocking his summer college class — Introduction to Computing — with a bunch of A’s on assignments, so I wasn’t paying attention until he got a 69 on his last quiz. After looking at his Moodle platform, the problem was rather obvious — with 2 hours to complete this open book exam, Ian whizzed through 34 multiple choice questions in 13 minutes and 22 seconds. So, we had a long chat about test strategies — he should have used up his exam time, checked his answers, looked up words that he didn’t know, and prepared ahead of time by preparing a Quizlet (online flashcards) for himself with keywords. 

Good exam strategies are just one of many huge gaps in Ian’s education. Want to hear another horrible gap? He can’t read. He can figure things out enough to get through his college tech classes, but he can’t really read. He won’t be able to get through the English class requirement at his community college without us ghostwriting his papers for him.

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4 thoughts on “Should Schools Be Accountable for Special Education? Yes

  1. Very different school system here (we don’t have IEPs, etc.).

    But I gave up very early on the school actually doing anything meaningful to help my son after the first 3 years. They put him in Reading Recovery classes (more of the same strategies which weren’t working in the classroom), and dumped him in the bottom reading and maths groups (he doesn’t have outstanding ability in either – but his capability is fairly solid average, rather than bottom of the distribution curve).

    The best education decision I ever made was to hire a tutor – retired teacher with a grab bag of learning strategies – to work with him on remedial skills. Her first task was to persuade him he wasn’t stupid – which is the message his teachers had drummed into him. She worked with him, during class time (and boy, that was a fight with the school), for 2 hours a week.
    [NB: even if I had the knowledge to teach him, myself, he didn’t want to learn from me – home schooling would have been a disaster.]

    We managed to halt the divergence in his performance from the average after the first year – and then gradually started to make up ground. When he went to secondary school (age 11 – our school divisions are a bit different to yours) – and finally had ‘good’ specialist English and Maths teachers – he was educationally prepared for accelerated learning – and made up about 18 months in the first year. Since then he’s been a solid ‘Achieved’ student with excursions into ‘Merit’ territory and the occasional ‘Excellence’ (in English). He still has no ability to do basic maths facts – times tables, mental arithmetic, etc (he’s got some kind of mental block about it) – but now they’re allowed (required) to use calculators, this is no longer a barrier for him. He’s still scarred educationally, though – his first reaction to anything new or difficult, educationally, is ‘I can’t do that’. We continue to do a lot of work on breaking through that instinctive reaction (break the problem down, figure out what it’s similar to, do the bits you can, start early, so you’ve got time to re-think if the first strategy doesn’t work, etc.)

    I have little time for some of the poor quality teachers that we had to suffer through in primary school. As far as I can see, they teach to the average, and kids who differ (in either direction) get little assistance. And, there are zero consequences for them, or for the school, if kids fail or succeed.


  2. I’ve been following reading interventions from the neuro point of view for almost the past 40 years (!!! just did the math, and it is really 38 years!!!). My first research project was a study of eye movements and dyslexia. The study is discredited now, but, at the time, the proposal was that eye movement training would improve reading, because eye movements were disrupted in reading. The likely explanation is that disrupted reading disrupts normal tracking during reading. This was also back in the day when dyslexia was described as jumbled, or reversed letters. Then, as a post-doc, I followed a big neuroscience based program (by big shots) that proposed auditory training & word distortion as an intervention (Fast ForWord, still exists as a proprietary and expensive intervention). Currently, we’re hearing a lot about the OG branded intervention (a key facet of which is the multisensory approach).

    I tried to look for evidence in favor of the OG method, and found a 2021 meta-analysis finding a positive, but not significant effect of OG and then found this summary commentary on the 2021 analysis that I thought was pretty good:

    The authors point out that the evidence in favor of the OG method is insufficient to roll it out as a required teaching method, but say that elements of structured reading instruction (i.e. “phonics”) which are an element of OG have good support and that the additional value of OG’s multisensory approach is unproven.

    The 2021 meta-analysis of OG looked at its effectiveness in readers with a “word” level reading disability and I think one of the problems of the different interventions is that reading is very complex and which intervention might work depends on what isn’t working.

    But, I am very wary of proprietary schemes for teaching reading because of my past experience of seeing how lucrative they can be for the proprietary owners (Fast ForWord was part of the first tech boom, in 2000 and there was significant “start-up” madness around it).


    1. That’s how the whole education business works. Schools buy curriculum packages. If it’s not OG, then it’s the Teachers College curriculum. Consultants come in and teach those methods for $1,000 per day.

      OG is the preferred method, only because the other systems are complete crap. Phonics + a smart teacher = the best method.


  3. My past experience with programs that are direct marketed to parents makes me wary of them, beyond my concern for the programs in general, especially when they are sold as the “only way” (like O-G sometimes is, asking parents to demand that no other method be used with their kids).

    But, I don’t think methods, or pre-packaged curriculum of any sort are going to work in general — that individual intervention with someone who has a sufficient large bag of tricks, as Ann describes, is what is needed. I’m guessing a parent should advocate for that, however their kid can get it. From a practical point of view, the worry is how much time is wasted in interventions that don’t produce results (in O-G, the tracing letter on bumpy surfaces, for example).

    I have an academic interest in the mechanisms of reading and interventions that goes beyond what might be the best way to advocate for an individual child (that is, if what’s being used isn’t working, it doesn’t matter if it works in general, it makes sense to try something else). In the modern age, that might mean something other than reading (audio books, text to speech, work for some of the dyslexics I know, for example).


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