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Why Do You Say Public School Teachers Have Low Expectations?

"I am a special education teacher in a public school. I am concerned about your statement that public school teachers do not have high expectations. [in "Are Pete and Pam Wright the Enemies of Public Schools" ] I have high expectations. My expectations aren't any different than if I worked in a private school.

Pete Responds

In my personal and professional experience with special ed teachers, administrators, and university professors, I have found that most have low expectations for children. When they testify about why a child has not made progress, it is because:

"Mr. Wright, you need to understand that Johnny has a learning disability, that's why he has not learned how to read."

In special education due process hearings, university professors testify that it is unreasonable to expect schools to teach basic educational skills to children with disabilities.

Yet, when Johnny's parents removed him from the public school and placed him into a private school that targeted the acquisition of reading skills, his reading skills jumped.

This is what Shannon Carter's parents were told. Emory Carter said he wanted Shannon to read on the high school level when she graduated. The special educators said Shannon couldn't read on the high school level because she was dyslexic. You know know the rest of the story. When Shannon graduated from Trident Academy three years later, she was reading on the high school level.

In the 1960's my cousin fell from gymnastic equipment and became a quadraplegic. He was 14. He is confined to a bed. Through the efforts of his parents alone, he was educated. He earned a doctoral degree earned while lying on his back. He is well-known and respected in the disability activist community. Few people know he cannot sit up.

The special ed administrator of my older son's school said that my son (who has learning disabilities and ADHD) was "not college material." He graduated from law school near the top of his class, clerked for a federal judge, and is a successful trial lawyer with a large law firm.

I have dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia (learning disabilities in reading, writing, math) and ADHD. The public school educators told my parents that I was "not college material." Last year, Brent Staples of The New York Times described this in "Championing Children for Whom Reading and Learning is Difficult" (June 26, 2003).

Sadly, I have found low expectations to be the norm, not the exception. Because you were offended and took the time to write, I feel fairly confident that you would not testify as noted above because you have high expectations.

But I do not think that you are the norm.


Read How Shannon Carter Changed Special Education (New York Times) and Three Generations at the Supreme Court by Pete Wright (Perspectives).

To learn more about Shannon's case, download all Carter decisions, and read the transcript of oral argument before the Supreme Court, go to the Carter links page.


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