Mislabeled as Disabled

The Educational Abuse of Struggling Learners and How WE Can Fight It

Kalman R. Hettleman

Mislabeled as Disabled, by Kalman “Buzzy” Hettleman, documents what can only be called educational abuse. It may be unintentional, but it is gross negligence, nonetheless. That’s because we know how to prevent it, yet fail to do it.

Reviewers call Hettleman’s revelations “shocking” and “a masterpiece.” The shock part is the failure of schools. In a nutshell, schools fail to distinguish underachieving students from bona fide cases of disability. Tragically, millions of schoolchildren never master basic skills in reading, writing, and math. What’s more, these are neither statistics nor hypothetical students. Rather, Hettleman draws on personal experience as an advocate and ground-breaking policy researcher. In addition, he includes heart-wrenching stories of individual children he’s helped.

Sadly, the education system mislabels students as disabled. Consequently, schools deny many of the mislabeled victims instruction suited to their needs. As a result, they fall behind in regular general education and overwhelm teachers. Ironically, the added effort paid to mislabeled students holds back classmates.

Out of desperation, school systems unlawfully “dump” such “Mislabeled as Disabled” students in special education. This despite the fact that they do not have a documented medical disability. Students with severe limitations—the “Truly Disabled”—generally receive an education specially designed for them. Unfortunately, students “Mislabeled as Disabled” receive no such specially designed education. In the end, they fall farther behind and suffer stigma and segregation.

Tragically, school systems cover up this educational malpractice. They issue misleading progress reports and data that lumps the two groups together. The fact that a disproportionate number of “Mislabeled as Disabled” students are from poor and minority families is no excuse.

Rather than stop with pointing out the problems, Hettleman offers solutions. First, he proposes better assessment and instructional policies that will enable students to succeed. Second, he spells out what is required for true reform to change the outcomes for these students. Third, he suggests legislative and judicial reforms related to the educational rights of students.

Hettleman also perceptively reveals how teachers, like children, are victimized by educational abuse. Dedicated frontline teachers are denied the instructional tools they need. Such resources as training, limited class size, and tailored curricula would help them get the job done right. In conclusion, he sounds a call to action by all of us. One way to respond is for parents, educators, policymakers, and entire communities must take up the struggle for reform. Another result is that reading this book will light the fire. Finally, people can convert their anger into constructive change. They can do this by challenging educators and elected officials to fight for their children.

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Kalman “Buzzy” Hettleman