The next two weeks for Keith Leonard Franklin II will determine the blueprint for the rest of his life.
As a ninth grader, Keith is being tested to conclude if he has any learning disabilities. According to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities, special education services can begin as young as 3 years old, so it’s not uncommon to be tested. The results from the test will reveal any special accommodations necessary for education.
Keith Franklin is a 14-year-old student at Westtown School in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. For two weeks, Keith’s parents will allow him to remain absent from school for daylong testing.
“My friends keep asking me why I’m not in school and what’s going on. They think I’m special.”
While Keith has a strong support system from his parents and sister, several students with learning disabilities do not. According to The Future Of Children, children that live below the poverty line are 1.3 times more likely to have developmental delays or learning disabilities as other non-poor children.
The Future of Children, a collection of research from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, focuses on developments in children and youth.
Impoverished students have less educational assistance than students from wealthy families and do not have the same access to tutors or even at-home assistance. Out-of-field teachers, who are not certified in the subject they’ve been assigned to instruct, teach poor high school students more often than non-poor students. A study by the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence explains that an out-of-field teacher, compared with 16.9 percent in schools serving the fewest low-income students, teaches four in ten in high-poverty schools.
A comparison of student test scores by the U.S. Department of Education indicated that children attending low poverty schools perform on higher levels in reading and mathematics than those at high poverty schools.
Techitia Neville, a Fairfax County Special education math teacher, believes that a “team effort” is necessary for academic success, and even more so with the impoverished.
“Poverty has direct correlation to education. People who are lower, economically, have lower expectations for education,” says Neville.
Poverty has an unseen effect on education, particularly on students’ diagnosis and progress. Students with learning disabilities are often diagnosed at a young age, and are occasionally misdiagnosed. Every year 2.4 million students are diagnosed with having a learning disability and benefit from special education services in school. Of that population, less than a quarter of those students continue on to college.
“The NEA [National Education Association] is dedicated to providing every child with a quality education. That’s why we are concerned about disproportionality. Labeling children as disabled when they are not leads to unwarranted services and reduced education,” says NEA president, Dennis Van Roekel, in a recent statement.
The Lab School of Washington caters directly to children with special disabilities with nearly a full staff of teachers with masters’ degrees. Established in 1967, this school prepares students in grades 1-12 for college. And even more impressive, 90 percent of their students go on to college or university.
15.9 percent of public school students with learning disabilities go on to four-year colleges.
“Almost every time a child ends up here, a parent or guardian tells us that they spent years fighting for their child before finding The Lab School,” say Marty Cathcart.
Marty Cathcart, the Director of Institutional Advancement, shined light on the school. Cathcart explained that D.C, Maryland and Virginia fund 85 percent of the school, but parents have no problem putting money towards their children’s education. The support from parents is essential.
“Parents have to be pretty involved to notice kids have something they need but aren’t getting.”
As a parent of a special needs child, Marty relates to the sacrifice. She recalled his daughters’ fourth grade teacher who put their job on the line to help him advocate for her daughter.
“It always takes a team: the parent, teacher and student to help special educations students be successful”, says Neville.
The Children’s Law Center is an advocate for families in need regarding health and education. They are the largest legal service association in D.C, but they handle cases with soft hands. Healthy Together is their newest special education program where lawyers are placed in clinics to support patients. Lawyers represent children, parents and caregivers and also handle pro-bono cases for low-income families.
“We saw a need to be met in the community and use fundraising the aid,” says Meghan Williams, media personnel at The CLC.
Students with special disabilities who are impoverished rely on assistance from the government. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation, continues to have fixed funding. Sequestration, automatic cutbacks, will have a tremendous effect on education. Unless Congress steps in, January 2, 2013 will be the day that every education program will be cut by 7.8%-9.1%.
According to the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), this cut will result in 10,000 special educators losing their jobs, along with professionals and others who work with children with disabilities. There are also expected reductions in Special Education Grants to States. States and school districts could be forced to lay off approximately 12,000 special education teachers, in addition to other staff aiding children with disabilities. This is will impact more than 500,000 students with disabilities.
During this unfortunate time, The CEC is working with several of its members to . The National Education Association (NEA), the largest professional employee organization in the nation that is committed to enhancing the foundation of public education, is one of the corporations lending support.
During the presidential campaign Pres. Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney focused almost exclusively on helping the middle class and barely mentioned the needs of the poor, but candidates have barely mentioned the impoverished. According to the National Poverty Center, in 2010, 15.1 percent of the U.S population was in poverty, the highest poverty rate since 1993.
The nation continues to have high expectations for our new reelected president, Barack Obama. During the last term, his FY13 budget decided to provide an additional $20 million during the first years of life for children with disabilities for early intervention services. President Obama’s Race to the Top program rewards schools all that are able to show improvements in all aspects. While this is a step in the right direction, there is still more to be done.