Paul McKinley's miracle cure for special-needs children

Just teach them how to read in kindergarten and first grade. Then they won’t be “identified” by the state as having special needs.

No, really, that’s what Iowa Senate Republican leader Paul McKinley said in a meeting on Tuesday with journalists from the Des Moines Register.


Q: You know that special education is a federally mandated program and not a program that the state can step away from. But there are other programs that we can step away from such as voluntary pre-school for all four year olds?

McKinley: But they are identified by the state. They identify special Ed students and they have a bounty system which rewards for more special Ed kids. If we taught them how to read in kindergarten and first grade, they would not be identified and we would save $200 to $300 million a year.

Q: So what you want to see us do is reduce the number of kids in special education?

McKinley: I want to see us teach kids how to read.

Iowa Democratic Party chair Michael Kiernan let McKinley have it: “It’s really disappointing to hear an Iowa Senator demean those kids and their families by suggesting that teaching reading earlier would somehow address all of their issues.”

I’m astounded that McKinley seems to believe special-needs children simply weren’t taught to read well enough. Many kids with special needs can read. Some kids on the autism spectrum are even advanced readers, or are gifted in some other area (“twice exceptional” children). Reading doesn’t make their learning disabilities or other difficulties disappear.

If McKinley thinks the state of Iowa artificially inflates the number of special-needs children to secure more funding, how does he imagine parents fit in with this scheme?

I have friends raising children on the autism spectrum, as well as friends whose children have genetic defects, were exposed to drugs in utero or were abused and neglected as infants. My friends could assure the Republican senator that no bounty-hunting bureaucrat invented their child’s condition.

In the real world, parents have fought for schools to accommodate their special-needs children. Some of these parents will be outraged by the implication that their kids just need reading lessons.

Incidentally, at least one autism blog has already linked to the story about McKinley’s remarks (hat tip IowaHedge).

A final note on pre-school funding. McKinley sidestepped the question in his meeting with the Des Moines Register, but some Republicans, including gubernatorial candidate and State Representative Chris Rants, want to eliminate the program that allows thousands of four-year-olds to attend pre-school. Expanding access to pre-school is important for typical-needs kids, but may be even more valuable for children with developmental delays. Earlier diagnosis means earlier intervention and for some children, better long-term prospects. Without state assistance, many of these families could not afford pre-school. Without pre-school, these children might enter kindergarten further behind their peers.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread, including your own stories about clueless Republicans.

  • Hold up!

    Not all Special Ed students are “special needs,” per se.  I think you and McKinley are talking about two different groups here.

    McKinley is not off base on this.  There are tons of kids who don’t have a discernable learning disability but who simply can’t read worth a hoot.  For many years the teaching technique for reading was inadequate and is still being used widely.

    • he says we could save at least $200 million

      on special education by teaching kids to read. That is laughable. He does not understand the problems special ed is dealing with.

      • I would say

        that Paul McKinley does not understand a host of issues related to his asinine comments, including reading acquisition methodology, primary-grade brain research, differentiated education, and special education funding.

        My younger son attended preschool in our public elementary school, and there were five ECFE students in his classroom which was co-taught by special education staff.  The year was as valuable for us as it was for his special education classmates as he learned powerful lessons about diversity and acceptance at a very young age.

        As for the question of “special ed” versus “special needs,” the process of identifying students for special services is rigorous and educators must adhere to very specific guidelines before a student can receive services. Not reading at grade level does not by itself qualify a student for special education services, and schools can and are incorporating a host of approaches to address literacy challenges that are far less expensive than special education programs.  Maybe Mr. McKinley should visit some of his local schools and talk to the educators there before he makes assumptions and spouts off about the connection between special education and reading acquisition.  Good grief.

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