Now here's the thing. This scenario gets played out all across the country. The Ministry is trying to divide the pie fairly, the school district is trying to deliver the best possible services with limited resources, the school is waiting for potential extra staff, and the child is sitting, probably until the end of October (with 20% of the school year gone), hoping for help that might never come. It would be nice to think that the Supreme Court decision last year in the Jeffrey Moore case (a former student at our school) would have opened up the floodgates of individual and school district funding. That has not been the case. It would be equally nice to think that, having been slapped on the collective wrists, all school districts were going to ramp up their level of service. That is also, highly unlikely. The reality is that most school districts and probably the Ministry would assert that the quality of programmes and services have improved significantly in the last fifteen years and that they are doing the best that they can. Two key issues that have framed this response were the fact that the Supreme Court did not find “systemic” discrimination – in other words, funding cuts by the province were not deemed to be automatically responsible for what was perceived to be uneven and discriminatory service reductions at the school district level; and, the ruling really zeroed in on “quantitative” issues not qualitative ones. The range or “intensity” of service was the core issue, not its quality or effectiveness. If the benchmark was set on how well the programme met the needs of each child then we could expect class action suits on behalf of every student in the mainstream who ever failed a course or dropped out without graduating. The SCC decision was about inputs, not outcomes.
That brings us back to the conversation between mom and the school. Mom is talking about outcomes ("I want my son to improve his reading and writing".) and the school is talking about inputs ("We hope to get another Special Ed resource teacher".) The reality is that no matter what level of funding the District and ultimately the school get, this young boy will still need help. Help with his academics and help with his self-image and his mindset about what he can and can't do. So, if the current approach is backwards, how can we flip it on its head? How can we disentangle student growth and achievement from its dependence on the provision of additional specialized personnel? What do we need to do so that we can jump into action on the very first day that a child walks into our school and not make her or him wait, fingers crossed, for support that may be forthcoming weeks or months down the line?
The fact is, we need educators and schools who can envision a goal for each child and then work out a plan to help them get there. The key is to focus on measurable, attainable outcomes. It doesn't take a lot of extra money or staff, it just takes time and perseverance. Our school is filled with skilled educators who do it every day. They backcast from where they want the students to be, through reverse steps, right to where they are now. The result is the creation of a "micro" curriculum through an individual education plan for each student. Along the way the teacher establishes benchmarks and assessment criteria to measure progress (and help with mid-course corrections) and then when it is all in place, they can reverse direction and begin to move forward to the preferred future for each child.
It is grunt work for each teacher and each student, but they can do it. It doesn't take a special room or special resources. It just takes that special person to work with your child. And, the best part is, no matter where you are, they can start tomorrow! Maybe then we can stop worrying about what inputs we have coming into the school and put our energy where it belongs, on student outcomes.