Somewhere in between our 4th or 5th move as a family, I realized that teaching in various states and placements each had its own flavor. While teaching in public school had the widest services available for students, my experience was that services were often slowed or hindered by the bureaucracy of the public school system. Teaching in a public charter school allowed freedom to set up instruction as I saw necessary, but had limited resources and funding. Teaching in a private setting gave the most freedom of instruction of all, but there were times when these settings lacked resources and programs.
The moral of this story is that there is no magical placement option for students with disabilities. Or really magical placements for any student. (Best teaching practices help all students.) Because of that reality, I often recommend a placement based on the student’s current strengths and weaknesses.
So how do you know? What do you do as a family?
Public school is always going to be the best “catch all” option. Period. Especially if you have a child with needs that are too intense to handle 24/7, but aren’t so severe that they require a clinical setting. Parents need a break too!
Some of the greatest problems with public schools stem from the fact that parents, specifically white and middle class parents, continue to opt into school districts and schools that “test better.” This is a an illusion however. My experience is that there are fantastic teachers everywhere. There are terrible teachers everywhere. Schools test better or worse depending on how wealthy the students are. To this day, the greatest indicator of test scores is still how much money your family has.
This does not mean that we shouldn’t make sure a school is safe before jumping in. But keep in mind, bullying, drugs, and fighting are going to be found at any high school or even middle school. When I say safe, I am referring to violence in the community around it.
So when determining which public school, I look at how long the principal has been there, parent reviews, and teacher turn over rates.
These schools get a bad rap. And it’s not unjustified. These schools do take federal money that the local public schools would have had, and have often abused the money they receive.
However, there are some that are really doing a fantastic job educating children. There are some that have missions to help students in areas where the public school continues to have failing scores. I have seen first hand, that when the culture of the school has very high expectations for teachers and students, kids in poverty can out perform wealthier students.
However, these schools typically struggle to include very low students or students with disabilities. They haven’t figured out how to keep high standards and provide exceptions. Plus, the funding is not there to help students with disabilities have different types of education.
So I recommend these schools for students in poverty who are motivated to work hard and get out of their area. Or if there is a specific type of school for students to get access to STEM, or arts, or language programs.
Private schools can be a heaven send for a lot of families. It can provide an education with religion, or specific needs for students with disabilities. Often though, traditional private schools do not have resources for special need programs. Depending on what state you live in, you may have access to take the special education funding that would go to the public school, and use it in a private school setting. This is an amazing option, but only if there is a provider who can actually give services to your child. (Ohio is one of the states)
I recommend this option for typical performing children, and for kids with mild disabilities. I have seen phenomenal growth from inclusion special education services in these private settings. I want to be clear that this growth was due to a special education plan that allowed an aid with the student, and access to the general education curriculum. AND these students had mild disabilities.
Which leads me to the point, sometimes, students just need a separate setting. Public schools try to provide these settings. And in my experience their effectiveness varies greatly. Each classroom is very different. If possible, I would go straight to a private setting. Sometimes, the school district will pay for this. However, if you want my personal feelings, I think it’s unethical to require the school district to directly pay for those services. That money should come from the federal government.
There’s pros and cons. Every setting has its weaknesses. Even if you home school you still have downsides.
If you have had an experience with school placement, I would love to hear it! The good, the bad, the ugly, the great! Let me know. 🙂