Federal Funding Series: Mixed Messages: Are Teachers and Research Important?

Written by Angela Lange | 6 months ago

Over the last few months, I’ve been closely watching the Supreme Court case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County, holding my breath in anticipation for the court’s decision.  As an elementary school special education teacher, I was thrilled the Court made it clear that the achievement of students with disabilities matters. The case told us that all students should have an opportunity to make real progress in school; we shouldn’t be satisfied with just minimal progress. That’s something I believe, too. But I’m disappointed to see that the Administration doesn’t seem to agree.

The Supreme Court told teachers we need to focus on creating quality IEPs that are going to allow students to learn, grow and succeed in school. We were sent the message that all kids deserve to have educators who hold them to the highest expectations.

But around the same time as this landmark decision came out, the Administration released a budget proposal to cut education by over $9 billion. Budgets reflect priorities, and the Administration’s budget sends a very disappointing message to students, families and schools.

Instead of investing in the education of students with disabilities and their teachers, the Administration’s budget proposal eliminates a program that provides money for teacher training and professional development. So, how are teachers going to design effective IEPs and really support students if they don’t receive quality training? And what will the training focus on if we don’t have good research and evidence-based strategies?

If we’re going to fulfill the Supreme Court’s vision, something has to change.

Here’s how this topic hits home for me:

Recently, Iowa passed an early literacy law and we’re working hard to make sure that all of our kids gain these important skills early on. To ensure this law is effective, we’ve made professional development a priority. And not just any professional development, but quality professional development. We’ve used federal and state money to provide teachers with targeted, effective professional development all about early literacy.

We’ve spent many hours watching videos and practicing what evidence-based reading instruction looks like. We’ve pored over the research on literacy instruction. We’ve learned all about multi-sensory instruction, and we’ve practiced it to make sure we know how to do it, too. And we depended on researchers to tell us how to best instruct students, especially how to reach those who struggle the most.

Imagine my surprise to learn that the Administration has proposed eliminating funding for programs like these, programs that are used by teachers across the country.  Our teachers won’t have what they need to effectively teach reading. And the research that has informed our practice for all these years might disappear. The policy we put in place will have less of an impact, because policy, funding, and practice are all tied so closely together.

Decision makers at the federal, state, and local levels all want the same things teachers want: for kids to succeed. The Supreme Court affirmed that, and teachers demonstrate that desire in their classrooms every day.

But the message I hear from the Administration’s budget is that teachers aren’t valued. That research isn’t necessary. How can our kids succeed if our teachers aren’t supported? How can we teach effectively without a solid research base?

I will keep my students at the top of my priority list. My colleagues will, too. And I hope you’ll join me in asking Congress to fund the programs our kids and our teachers need most. Our future depends on it.

Angela Lange has been a Kindergarten-3rd Grade Special Education teacher for 13 years in Boone, Iowa. She has a BS degree in Early Childhood/Special Education with a Reading Specialist endorsement from Iowa State University. She is a member of Decoding Dyslexia Iowa and the National & Iowa Education Associations.


Read the first post and third post in our Federal Funding Series.

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