Journal

Summary

Hanokh Lanaar Al Pi Darko?
Educating Children With Learning Disabilities 
In the Israeli Mamlakhti Dati School System

Michal Glatt

The aim of this project was to examine and evaluate the different options available in the Mamlakhti Dati school system for students with learning disabilities. The author used the city of Beit Shemesh as the test case. Since settings and remediation for students with learning disabilities vary greatly, depending on the type and severity of the disability, the paper needed to first briefly explain what learning disabilities are and how they manifest themselves.

A learning disability is a disorder that interferes with a personís ability to store, process, or produce information, thereby creating a gap between an individualís ability and actual performance. A learning disability can affect oneís ability to read, write, speak, compute math and can impede social skills. Children (and adults) with learning disabilities may be found within the full range of intelligence, from the highest to the lowest. Learning disabilities do not go away. Rather, people with learning disabilities can learn to compensate for and overcome areas of weakness. Children with learning disabilities are prevalent in many regular education classrooms.

Since the paper addresses the role of the regular education teacher in providing services to students with learning disabilities, it examines why special education is relevant to regular educators. Teachers of regular education classrooms are often responsible for recommending and providing accommodations for students with learning disabilities. Discharging this responsibility without basic knowledge of learning disabilities and special education techniques is difficult, if not impossible.

The paper surveys the legal and philosophical rubric under which services for students with learning disabilities are provided in Israeli public schools. The law requires that a student with special needs be placed in the least restrictive environment. That is the environment as similar to the one the child would be in if he or she did not have a disability, yet a setting where his or her needs will be able to be met.

In order to provide a yardstick by which the reality as surveyed by the author in Beit Shemesh can be measured, the author describes what an ideal special education setting would provide. The description is based both on the authorís personal belief and experience as well as on professional literature. An ideal setting, as described in the paper, would include integrated classrooms, cooperative teaching, small classes, opportunities for mainstreaming, specific accommodations in the classroom such as preferential seating, advanced organizers and untimed testing.

The author surveys the services provided to children with learning disabilities in the Beit Shemesh Mamlakhti Dati school system circa 2001-2002. The survey is based on numerous interviews conducted by the author. The author also visited several Mamlakhti Dati schools. Persons interviewed included representatives of Matia, the organization which provides the special education teachers and therapists to the schools, principals and yoatsot (guidance counselors) of regular education schools, principals of schools featuring self-contained classes for students with learning disabilities, special education teachers and parents of children with learning disabilities.

The author learned that although the services were being provided in accordance with the letter of the law, the goals of the law were not achieved, mainly due to budgetary constraints and ignorance regarding the special needs of students with learning disabilities.

Beit Shemesh, a city of approximately 50,000 Ė 60,000 persons, has one self-contained program for children with severe learning disabilities, self-contained classes within a regular education school, integrated classes with both students with and without learning disabilities, and students who are completely mainstreamed in a regular education classroom receiving special accommodations and ancillary services. Responsibility for these ancillary services belong to Matia, which provides all the special education teachers and therapists.

In order to provide a fuller picture of the reality in the Beit Shemesh educational system, the survey of services provided within the school system is followed by a description of some of the services available in Beit Shemesh on a private basis.

The paper concludes with a critique of the current system, as well as recommendations for improvement. The author discovered several challenges facing the system as it exists. First, parents of children with learning disabilities as well as many regular education teachers have little knowledge of what services are due to students with learning disabilities and how to procure these services for the students who need them. Second, due to budgetary constraints, the self-contained special education classes provided for students with learning disabilities are larger than they ought to be. This means significantly less individual attention for each student. Additionally, there are very few truly integrated classes. These are the types of classes that, some would argue, comprise the ideal setting for students with learning disabilities. In an integrated class, the ideal is to have a special education teacher co-teaching with a regular education teacher. Unfortunately, in Beit Shemesh, special education teachers spend few hours in the classroom and there are only a few integrated classes in any event. Furthermore, students with learning disabilities who are placed in an integrated classroom are generally last on the priority list of the special education department. This translates into very few services for these students. Finally, the responsibility for the learning disabled student in a regular education class falls upon the mehanekhet. There is often little guidance or support for this task, which the mehanekhet must do in addition to teaching classes of close to thirty students.

The authorís suggestions for improving the system include abolishing Matia and replacing it with a resource center in each school, providing guidance and information to parents, insisting on regular education teachers becoming informed about learning disabilities and basic strategies that can help these students.

 

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