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Insulting Students with Disabilities Is No Way to pose as a Youth and Family Advocate for Equity

Op-ed by Kilolo Moyo-White

Parents of students with special needs are faced early on with a life full of judgements, hard decisions, and misguided recommendations concerning the educational pathways offered to their children.  Recently, a highly respected journalist wrote an insulting and downright offensive article, placing judgement on the alternative pathway option for graduation – a credential known most commonly as CDOS (Career Developmental and Occupational Studies).   Despite the CDOS option being credited with the most recent ‘spike’ in RCSD graduation rates, the writer makes several claims against this valuable pathway:

  • “According to a review of state data released by the New York Equity Coalition; RCSD leads the statewide trend of poor and minority students being shepherded to obtain non-Regents and less rigorous diplomas…”
  • In an effort to explain the CDOS diploma, the article claims:  “students can earn a diploma by passing 4 exams and demonstrating competency in a fifth area without an exam… the +1 option is to earn a CDOS credential, which until recently was only available to students with disabilities.”
  • “…recent reviews of the district have shown that even students earning a CDOS diploma have not been properly served.”

The writer attempts to summarize findings from a research article published by the New York Equity Coalition, in which the organization examines graduation rates across the state.  One finding was that a systemic pattern of inequity exists in relation to the access students of color have to Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate Programs and other college prep opportunities within traditional schools in the state.  The article, printed in the D&C repeatedly devalues and disrespects the CDOS diploma pathway by labeling it as, “Dumb down” and “Less rigorous”. Nowhere in the article published by the NYEC, does the research devalue the rigor and significance of the skills-based programming offered within this nationally approved graduation option.   As a parent, I wish to lend my voice as a representative from the community.  I recommend that RCSD enhance the impact of the CDOS Diploma options for future graduates. 

Secondly, the author attempts to identify requirements to achieve a CDOS diploma but does not identify the many levels of skills- based assessments that are used to obtain this certificate.  Students applying for the CDOS diploma must engage in a minimum of 216 hours of onsite career level training as well as developing an extensive career plan and goal setting assessments which include career evaluations and onsite training.  The reality is that the term “Entry Level Training” means something totally different from the “Entry Level Training” of 40-50 years ago.  To train students for 21st century entry level work means that they must be able to critically think, problem solve, and must show effective communication skills where they are able to effectively collaborate with others in the workplace.  According to a research article in Edutopia.org entitled, “Modernizing Career and Technical Education,” nationwide programs that have enhanced the development of CTE programing prove to be more successful with preparing students for career and college options post-graduation. 

 “… school districts have developed comprehensive career training programs or

academies and built partnerships with community organizations and businesses to

provide students with work aligned experiences outside school… administrators believe these programs will not only help students develop necessary skills for today’s job market but will encourage students to see themselves in professions before they graduate.”  –Andrew Simmons, Edutopia.org

My third concern relates to the historic and systematic treatment of Black males nationwide as they are funneled through special education.  Statistics state that there is a disproportionately high number of Black males that are labeled “special needs.” Did you know that Black and Latino children constitute 80% of the special needs population and are 2.5 times recommended for services over their white counterparts, based on an article in TheEdAdvocate.org.  They have not only been improperly served by school districts nationwide, but they have been and continue to be undervalued and allowed to fall through the cracks of the educational system and get left behind.  The article talks about the CDOS diploma as if it was specifically developed to serve special needs black boys.  These are actually two separate and critical issues that do not need to be examined under the same microscope:  the CDOS diploma/ the education of special needs students and the miseducation of black boys.

Ultimately, a CDOS diploma does not equate to a “Dumb down” or “less rigorous” diploma expectation.  The reality is that high school programs that provide opportunities for students to receive career readiness training and planning as a graduation requirement are most successful when they have also developed partnerships with corporate businesses and universities that reinvest within the surrounding communities and provide adequate support measures to track and assess the students’ progress and preparation for career readiness.  Administrators, teachers and leaders within the RCSD have a long way to go to mend the tumultuous relationships they have cultivated with its students and families, but through the CDOS diploma, this parent sees a pathway that can be promising in hopes to empower a group of people that traditionally have lost hope in their guidance and leadership.   

With the rising cost of college tuition and interest on student loan debt in 2020, college is not a reality for many students.  Traditional educational programs still have a long way to go to rectify the challenges of inequity and injustice when it comes down to the quality of education for all children of color.  The CDOS diploma represents a viable alternative for many students in the RCSD.  This is not the time to release a cloud of doubt, rejection or suspicion around a program that can be a balloon of hope for so many students and families in our community.  Given all the cards against us, a ray of hope for graduation should not be a battle we should have to face. 

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Loving wife and mother of 3, Kilolo Moyo-White, has been teaching in the Pennsylvania/ Delaware region for over 17 years.  She is a proud graduate of Lincoln University and Temple University.  In her tenure as an educator, Mrs. Moyo-White helped to co-author the founding curriculum for Sankofa Freedom Academy, Philadelphia, PA, and Philadelphia Freedom Schools Curriculum/JSL Project.  

A proud member of ROC the Future’s Parent Engagement Collaborative Action Networ and Educolor, a movement of revolutionary writers, educators and activists, Mrs. Moyo-White defines herself as a revolutionary educator and teaches through a methodology she calls:  “Teach Akoma: The Moyo Affect”.

( The views expressed on our opinion pages are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or viewpoint of the Minority Reporter.)