To the Editor:
It will be four years this October since the Freeman Panel released its 78-page report (“Disrupting the Status Quo…”.) In it , the term “differentiated instruction” was used more than 20 times. The term “congregated classes” was used only twice.
In the just released report on inclusion, “Students first…” there is mention of differentiated instruction two or three times. The focus in this report is much more on what was referred to in the Freeman Report as ‘congregated classes’. This report clearly indicates that congregated classes will be more prominent going forward. Is this really putting students first?
When a part-time student at Acadia University read about the congregated classes idea in the Freeman Report she expressed concern that this could be a slippery slope. In the inclusion report, the three commissioners try to make it clear that they are not recommending the separation of students based on differences. That may be so, but once a school or a system of schools start to separate students and deem their programs “modified” then there will be no stopping this slide into yester-year and terms like ‘adjusted’ ‘modified’, ‘accommodations’ and the meaningless switch from ‘individual program plan’ to “individual education plan”.
Dr. Avis Glaze cautioned government that the implementation of her recommendations needed to be done with a “laser-like focus”. The most popular word from current educational leaders talks about something called “alignment”. The impression given in the Commission on Inclusive Education’s report is that there is alignment with other initiatives in education.
What I see though is far too many “irons in the fire”. How do you get alignment when there is a call for a “multi-tiered system of supports (mtts)’ and three tiers of instruction. Add to this the recommendation that “parent navigators” be put in place and that an Executive Director of Inclusive Education be a created position and that an Institute for Inclusive Education be set up. Far too many moving parts, and very hard to align all of this while the government and this commission is saying that there are not the needed specialists and para-professionals to carry this out. (Parents do not need to be ‘navigated’; they need to have better paths for advocacy; that is not addressed in this recent report.)
I’ll finish with these two points: Students have not been put first for a very long time. Before students came the Council on Classroom Conditions ( to address the teachers’ concerns), the establishment of a principals’ working group (is there any evidence in any report of what their efforts did to put students first-evidence, not rhetoric!); the educational consultative forum (ECF) — what did it produce and make public? (this is/was a collection of all the superintendents of schools); the B. Ed. working group — was there any report to the public about what came out of this effort? Students and parents waited for something about a change in how inclusion would be implemented; they are still waiting! Dr. Avis Glaze referred to these sorts of things as “work arounds”. She was right. They worked around problems and the “fat problem” (see explanation below) of a failed inclusion model was left to the very end. This is the problem that most directly afffected students- and still does.
Finally, the inclusion report leaves unanswered questions that should really concern parents and students. Try this one with a current principal/manager — Who will be creating the Individual Education Plan and who will be doing the direct instruction that has to accompany it? How many teachers will I be meeting with during parent-teacher conferences given that there is to be ‘core instruction’; modified programming and IEP’s? Then ask — will you put any restrictions on the amount of time that my child spends separated from his/her peers while they work on a ‘modified’ program’ or their IEP? One more, what will it mean when employers examine the educational records and see “modified program”, IEP, and “accommodations” in the report?
School Advisory Councils will be the first line for questions from parents. The SACs should anticipate these questions coming forward, and put them before the ‘regional executive directors’ — formerly superintendents.
When school starts this September, except for some pilot schools, students will be facing the same situation with regard to inclusion as they have for the past two decades. One researcher refers to the most pressing concerns in an organization as the “fat problems”. These are the problems that must be tackled first. That has not happened in Nova Scotia’s schools, as the Freeman Panel so well pointed out.