Mislabeled as Disabled: The Educational Abuse of Struggling Learners and How WE Can Fight It

Kalman R. Hettleman

Publisher: Radius Book Group Pages: 240 Price: (hardcover) $24.95 ISBN: 9781635766394 Reviewed: April, 2019 Author Website: Visit »

National educational reform advocate, Baltimore attorney, and self-described “policy wonk” Kalman R. Hettleman presents a call-to-action against the “educational abuse” of struggling learners misidentified as disabled and dumped into special education.

Hettleman calls this a “do-or-die national struggle” in which children with language impairments, such as dyslexia, emotional disabilities, or other health impairments, such as ADD, are wrongly labeled “disabled.” This results in children becoming trapped in a failing system where they are segregated and suffer the stigma of falling behind.

Such students, according Hettleman’s evidence, lack proficiency but are cognitively able to meet learning standards with the right support and proper instruction. Anecdotes, statistics, and class action lawsuits show that students placed in special education without true, medically based, disabilities end up doing worse than if they stayed in general education.

Hettleman’s prescription is Response to Intervention (RTI), a “reinvention of special education” that redefines labels, requires early assessment, monitors progress, and brings evidence-based instruction into the general education classroom. RTI is a three-tiered approach: 1) individualized /small group core instruction; 2) required group tutoring; 3) intensive specialized tutoring.

RTI challenges include gathering extensive data, teacher training, and funding. Most significant, says Hettleman, is the need for political reform. The author urges liberals and conservatives to join teachers and parents to advocate for federal, rather than state or local guarantees that RTI is part of general education, along with more civil and constitutional rights to literacy lawsuits.

Hettleman’s narrative is extremely readable and free of academic jargon, despite numerous acronyms (IDEA, NAEP, NCLB, UDL, etc.). While anecdotes from his own career tend to fall flat as evidence, his statistical data is compelling.

Hettleman’s litigious tone may ruffle some feathers; he comes out with guns blazing in defense of victimized children. But his solution transcends partisan politics and clearly identifies steps to action in this convincing portrait of educational mismanagement. Lay readers as well as professionals will find his case compelling and enlightening.

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