Thursday, February 16, 2017

The End of Special Education Part VI: AZ Parents, Heads Up!


There are generally too many stupid education and special education stories these days to comment on them all, but this one is worthy of everyone's attention. My "The End of Special Education" series has gained a lot of attention since Betsy DeVos' confirmation hearing, so I'm taking it up again. 

Arizona lawmakers want to do away with specially certified teachers for students with disabilities. You can read the article from the Phoenix New Times here. You can read the full text of the Arizona Senate Bill 1317 here

The offending language, changing the law to allow non-special education certified teachers is:
INCLUDES INSTRUCTION THAT IS DELIVERED BY ANY PERSON WHO IS CERTIFICATED PURSUANT TO SECTION 15‑203 AND WHO IS DETERMINED BY A PUPIL'S INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATION PROGRAM TEAM TO BE AN APPROPRIATE PROVIDER BASED ON THE PUPIL'S INDIVIDUALIZED NEEDS.
Arizona lawmakers are giddy over this, however, IDEA (y'know, that pesky disabilities in education civil rights law the SecEd never heard of) clearly states that a teacher must be specially certified to teach students with disabilities. The federal law states (emphasis mine):
SEC. 612. [20 U.S.C. 1412] STATE ELIGIBILITY. 
(a) (14) PERSONNEL QUALIFICATIONS.— 
C) QUALIFICATIONS FOR SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHERS.—The qualifications described in subparagraph (A) shall ensure that each person employed as a special education teacher in the State who teaches elementary school, middle school, or secondary school— 
(i) has obtained full State certification as a special education teacher (including participating in an alternate route to certification as a special educator, if such alternate route meets minimum requirements described in section 2005.56(a)(2)(ii) of title 34, Code of Federal Regulations, as such section was in effect on November 28, 2008), or passed the State special education teacher licensing examination, and holds a license to teach in the State as a special education teacher, except with respect to any teacher teaching in a public charter school who shall meet the requirements set forth in the State’s public charter school law; 
(ii) has not had special education certification or licensure requirements waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis; and 
(iii) holds at least a bachelor’s degree..
(D) POLICY.—In implementing this section, a State shall adopt a policy that includes a requirement that local educational agencies in the State take measurable steps to recruit, hire, train, and retain personnel who meet the applicable requirements described in this paragraph to provide special education and related services under this part to children with disabilities. 

I have no idea what in particular prompted AZ lawmakers to come up with this garbage, other than the usual reformy nonsense that regularly comes out of that state. Clearly, the wellbeing of students with disabilities is not anywhere on their list of priorities. This ranks up there with New Jersey's misguided attempt to lower the requirements of teachers and administrators who work in charter schools. Having teachers who do not know how to specifically address the needs of students with disabilities is no less than an attack on those students' civil rights. I hope parents and teachers push back hard on this. The children of Arizona deserve no less.

BTW, it's handy to have a copy of the law because you never know when the US Department of Education will have "technical" difficulties with only that particular education law's website for a couple of weeks. (To find a mostly complete mirror of the site from 2015 go here.) 

3 comments:

  1. Hello from Arizona. Was surprised by this post on SB 1317 as I am the President-Elect of the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) and wasn't aware it was a problem. When I looked into it, I found that is because our association supports the legislation.

    Don't get me wrong, our Legislature is not public (district) education friendly and they do propose some crazy stuff. ASBA supports this bill though because it allows the district the ability to use its existing resources to best meet the needs of students wit special needs.

    It’s first important to understand the student’s IEP Team is required to agree that a non-SPED certified provider is the best provider for the student. The IEP team includes the student’s certified special education teacher and the student’s parents. We are not talking about letting districts randomly reassign students to non-SPED teachers at will.

    Here is a very pertinent example: An elementary student’s IEP may call for differentiated or specialized reading instruction. The school may have a fully certified reading coach, who is an expert in reading instruction, but does not hold a SPED endorsement, only a standard certificate with a reading endorsement. The student’s SPED teacher is of course fully capable of teaching a student reading, but may agree a reading coach with specialization would be better. This would free up said SPED teacher to provide other specialized instruction to students that no one else can provide. Under the current interpretation by the Arizona Department of Education (ADE), the reading specialist is not allowed to teach that student because anyone who provides instruction is required to have a SPED certificate.

    All the bill does is allow the IEP team to use other certified educators to provide specialized instruction if they deem it appropriate.

    I believe the portion of the IDEA policy that Ms. Borst references deals with people who are employed AS special education teachers. In our example, the reading specialist is NOT employed as a special education teacher. They are a reading specialist providing reading instruction to a student. No non-SPED teacher can take over primary responsibility for directing the instruction of a student with special needs. IDEA won’t allow that, and no one intends to do that.

    Arizona has a critical teacher shortage (53% of our teacher positions are unfilled or filled by uncertified personnel) and special education teachers are harder to find than most. A big part of the reason for that is the fact that they are the lowest paid in the nation and we public (district) education advocates fight that situation (and plenty of other inequities in education) hard every single day. Even if not all of our state legislators are on-board, we definitely have the wellbeing of all our students (including those with disabilities) at the forefront of our fight and agree that our children deserve no less.

    Finally, I believe it is important to note that literally no one signed up in opposition, the AZ Council for Exceptional Children supports the bill, and it received a remarkable unanimous vote (from Republicans and Democrats) on the AZ Senate Third Reading. Although some SPED advocates may be wary of the bill, we believe it will actually result in better outcomes for some students and that is really what is important.

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