How to Get Low-Income Kids Out of Special Ed
Q. As a general rule, the richer your parents are, the better you
do in school. The poorer your parents are, the more likely you are to have
reading problems, be labeled "Learning Disabled" and placed in special
education "backwashes" in our schools. Low-income children are badly
over-represented in special ed programs in our schools. We can't stand for this
any longer. If more money creates better learning conditions, shouldn't we pour
extra money into the schools where our most impoverished students go, to try to
isn't so much the money that is creating the superior learning ability. It is
the set of behaviors that come with money. Parents who are married, college
graduates, often bringing in double incomes that are both good amounts, who
talk a lot with their children, have a lot of books in their home, bring them
to museums and on vacations where they can learn a lot of new things, feed them
well and insist that they rest enough, and read to them each and every day, are
going to create children who are good readers, writers and thinkers just
because they have been nurtured educationally from the beginning.
the other hand, children who come from homes in which one or both parents are dead,
sick, depressed, high-school dropouts, on drugs or booze, in jail, working
three jobs, trapped in abusive situations, cohabiting, neglecting their health,
and unable to make ends meet, much less provide amply for their children, and
there's violence in the neighborhood, and the grownups in charge are too
exhausted and distracted to talk with the children much or tend to their
intellectual needs, are naturally going to produce children with more learning
challenges than the first group.
it doesn't have to be this way. It sure doesn't - and in a lot of places,
despite serious educational disadvantages for low-income children, it isn't.
They are doing fine . . . because the educators in their lives know the secrets
of overcoming poverty in order to produce a highly literate and numerate
citizen against the odds.
though 15 million children live in poverty in the United States, and 7,000
children drop out of school every day, the vast majority of them low-income,
there are good results bringing success to children in poverty by schools that
"get it." Mostly, they teach reading correctly in the early grades, keeping the
low-income students on an even keel with their more advantaged peers as the
curriculum becomes more challenging and complex in later grade school and
also, there are attitudes of the teacher's heart which go a long way toward
helping children in poverty develop into able learners.
According to Dr. Martin
Haberman, Distinguished Professor of Education Emeritus at the University of
Wisconsin in Milwaukee, and author of the book, Star Teachers: the Ideology and Best Practice of Effective Teachers of
Diverse Children and Youth in Poverty, certain practices and belief systems
are associated with success for disadvantaged students:
Persistence. The first core belief
is that teachers must be endlessly persistent to find a way to help each child
learn. That promotes high expectations for students, the development of
teaching skills, responsiveness to diversity, teaching efficacy, effective
responses to setbacks, and successful use of reformed teaching methods. If
teachers lack this overarching spirit of persistence and their students
underachieve or fail, they then blame the students for lack of attention,
motivation, or capability. What is really the teacher's lack of persistence
becomes a failure on the students' report cards.
The teacher must foster relevant and engaging education by discovering what is
"hot" for students as well as what is important for their future, and
explore these subjects via meaningful methods. Don't waste their time, don't
patronize them, and go the extra mile to make each day exciting and relevant. The
ability to advocate, gently negotiate, and hang on to whatever works with
students to keep them engaged and motivated is crucial.
Putting Theory into
You have to bridge theory (what teachers learn from other experts) to practice
(how they will apply this in the classroom). Use multiple sources of feedback
-- such as test scores, attendance, student conversations, and peer review - to
shape the development of both yourself as a teacher, and the students. Use extra
creativity, determination and insight to adapt teaching strategies for the
challenging realities, and minimal resources, of the low-income context.
Approach to At-Risk
Recognize that school itself can put a lot of pressure on students that, if not
channeled into constructive outlets, can lead to the student "checking out" of
class and ultimately dropping out. Just labeling a student "at risk" or
"special needs" brands that student, in his or her peers' eyes, as "lower
class." The message sent to low-income children when their schools are run down
and their teachers are the least experienced is not a positive one. So a good
teacher will do everything possible to bust the stereotypes and show the
students how valuable they are and what a great future they will have.
Personal Orientation. It is important to build a trust with all learners, regardless of
your personal feelings about them, that is independent of students' behaviors
or foibles. Kids "know" when a teacher doesn't like them, and with students
whose home resources and support network aren't very good, that could translate
to underachievement and dropping out.
Burnout: Network with other good
teachers to keep children at the center, and minimize the stress of the
central-office bureaucracy, office politics, disgruntled co-workers and so
forth. Maintaining a supportive network, learning from one another, and
achieving milestones with children help star teachers avoid high staff
Fallibility. Be honest and humble
about your own shortcomings with the children. It will help them trust you, and
often, they come from a world in which hardly anyone is worthy of their trust.
Adults who cover up, blame someone else, or manufacture excuses cannot model
responsibility and conflict resolution.
Homework: Book, HOPE
For Children in Poverty, edited by
Ronald J. Sider and Heidi Unruh with a foreword by Marian Wright Edelman.
Haberman's insights are explained in a chapter in that book written by Delia
Stafford and Vicky Dill of The Haberman Educational Foundation, www.habermanfoundation.org