Lots of tea-leaf reading about the department’s new NCLB strategy. Yesterday’s announcement was one of three things:

*Nothing more than a clever way to basically keep on doing what they’ve been doing, but now they look more reasonable and states like CT even more like outliers.

*The beginning of the big walk back, hold on to the “core idea” of the law, while quietly allowing states to evade all of its particulars.

*A genuine effort to try to take things more on a state-by-state basis while ensuing that the basic principles of disaggregated accountability and transparency are respected.

Only time will tell…however be sure to read, and read between the lines, this statement by House Ed and Workforce Chair Boehner and ranking Democrat Miller. Word is, not pleased…

The big loser yesterday was the disability community. Though they’re feared as a lobbying force, they’ve been completely outflanked here as NCLB critics have trotted out anomalous examples and bad state practices to argue against holding schools accountable for educating the overwhelming majority special needs kids who do need, and are entitled to, access to the mainstream curriculum.

The rule allowing one percent of all students to take alternative assessments was not completely arbitrary, there was actually math behind it and at one point the White House, under the leadership of Ms. Spellings, was resisting efforts to raise that cap and overturned three percent back in 2002. The three percent cap has some math behind it, too, but is also somewhat arbitrary. However, at some point you have to draw a line and give schools, districts, and states the ability to appeal for additional flexibility if the line doesn’t work for them. But rather than communicate effectively with states and school districts and put in place a robust appeal/waiver process the Department is instead dancing around with numbers. In terms of the mathematics, they vary community to community and state to state. But, if you’re going to err in this, isn’t it better to err on the side of forcing the adults to seek a waiver rather than opening a loophole up for kids to slip through?

The reality is that most students in special education do not have profound cognitive disabilities. Over half have learning disabilities and, sadly, many of these are just students who were not taught to read well (pdf). Many more have disabilities that demand attention but do not demand an alternative curriculum but rather access to the mainstream curriculum. The disability community, however, did not succeed in making that case to the media and the myth that the law was requiring wildly inappropriate practices for kids with, for instance Down Syndrome, has firmly taken hold.

Not a banner day for special needs kids.

Finally, can’t help but note that the Bushies rode into office claiming they were going to end the waiver culture (not as riveting a culture as the culture of life, sure, but a culture nonetheless). Guess we won’t be hearing much more of that!

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