I have been teaching now for...well, a whole lot of years. Eight in the classroom teaching Kindergarten, a year out of the classroom as a teacher coach/trainer, and two teaching college students. What with all of this experience, I have had an opportunity to view many, but many children, including:
a. a child who entered my classroom in March on his second try in Kindergarten. He did not know the whole alphabet and was under screening for a major speech and language disorder.
b. a child who was born exactly two minutes before the cutoff (1 December at 11:58 pm).
c. several children with major trauma backgrounds including head injuries, all of whom were homeless.
d. children in emergency foster care.
e. children in long-term foster care.
f. children who were the victim of assault or witnessed violence/murder against family members.
g. a child whose caseworker told me, "Essentially, he was raised by the television" - which explained why he had all kinds of old movie quotes in his conversational repetoire.
All of these kids learned something in my Kindergarten. Almost all of them were promoted to first grade (I retained the youngling). I referred several to counseling and exactly one for "testing" - the first child, who had not received a primary language screen but who had an extensive workup on his second language.
I have a stated anti-SST policy. I do not believe it is in the best interest of children to have a paper trail. An IEP does bring legal protection, but I have been teaching long enough to know that those protections are valid and strong only when there is institutional power backing the child. I have been seriously injured by a child in crisis. I kept that child in my classroom and promoted him to first grade. I have explored sensory integration strategies with major improvement on my own initiative to better serve high-needs children rather than IEPing them, and have created extensive case histories for their future teachers so that the same in-room modifications can be used. I have been praised by high-level administrators for "treating emotional disturbance as part of a natural spectrum".
I could go on, but here is my point: after many, many successful years in the classroom, you'd think that when I flag a kid for testing they'd take me seriously, right?
Of course, they don't. But after violence, intervention through district and private specialists (UCSF, Edgewood) and two union grievances, it ended up the child in question had major processing disorders, sensory issues requiring OT and a SIPT screen (for sensory integration disorder), and full-day special education...with or without an ED component.
Let me very clear: I cannot educate this child in a 20:1 environment. The child's sensory needs alone (low light, tactile feedback, low noise) make this impossible - let alone his well-developed strategies for negative attention if I cannot provide immediate positive attention. And despite the many, many strategies I have (even the OT person wrote that in her report), I have not found a strategy leading to the retention of more than 25% of introduced content.
Not to mention: the child is a harm to himself (poor impulse control), others (proprioceptive gaps that lead to collisions and worse) and the emotional states of other children (his presence triggers another kid in my class - one who, at five, is already engaging in self-harm and suicidal ideation - into tantrums).
Therefore, I supported moving this child to a Special Day Class, where he could receive a lowered adult-child ratio (this classroom is apparently about 3:1), pullout OT and in-class modifications (light filters, etc.). The child is bright, confident and interesting. With some modifications, he should be able to learn what he needs to learn. With some therapy, he should be able to integrate sensory information and self-regulate more easily. At his IEP meeting, we predicted he would be mainstreamable within two years.
His new teacher is an uncredentialed, first-year Teach for American. The class is at a high-needs school with strict discipline and lots of yelling - not to mention major physical plant problems (like exposed wires...always a plus for the low impulse control types, no?).
The problem is obvious, but here's my issue: How on earth does Teach for America believe that this teacher, this placement create equity? They can't possibly - or if they do, their Pollyanna ate mine for breakfast (and I'm a notorious Polly). There is no well-meaning best and brightest white kid who can handle such a placement.
This, my friends, is how our system replicates itself whilst claiming reform and change.