Can We Get There from Here? Learning Disabilities and Future Education Policy
Contemporary educational policies for identifying learning disabilities (LD) have been widely criticized. I would like to begin this chapter with a story that illustrates some of the conundrums in these policies.
As part of a program for training preservice teachers, I have been supervising students in a fieldwork setting for the past few semesters. The students tutor children in an after-school program at an urban public elementary school, which I will call Center School, in a large city in Connecticut. The school serves a population that is close to 100 percent African American and of uniformly low socioeconomic status.
I had been told that none of the children in the after-school program were receiving remedial or special-education services, so I was dismayed to discover that several of them were functioning at extremely low reading levels. Four youngsters, all third-graders, had scores below the twelfth percentile for both Word Attack and Word Identification from the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement--Revised ( Woodcock & John son , 1989). Two of the four children could read no higher than primerlevel text; the other two could not read accurately in context even at a preprimer level. The after-school program--one 45-minute session per week for eight weeks--was completely inadequate for providing the intensity of instruction required by these youngsters.
Test results in hand, I went to talk to the principal of the school. Was there any possibility of getting the children some extra help during the schoolday, perhaps via compensatory education programs such as those funded by Title I?
"Oh, the whole school qualifies for that," the principal said bluntly. "We have to spread that money around to all the children."