Special Ed And NCLB…And, Where Are The Bushies?

Propagandist AFTie John highlights a comment from the parent of a child with special needs to impugn No Child Left Behind. The parent is impassioned by not completely right about the mechanics of the law in terms of students with more severe disabilities, but no matter for AFTie John, it’ll do! In fact, it reads like a more general criticism of testing, let’s hope the AFTies aren’t bending to the pressure to come into the fold with all the other groups!

Seriously, this is an emotional issue and the interaction of students with special needs and state and federal accountability provisions is a very complicated question and neither state nor federal policies are where they need to be in this area. Finding 4 from this Public Agenda survey of special education parents (pdf) (disc. that I was involved in) sheds some light on the issue and the views of affected parents. See also Madeleine Will’s testimony (pdf) before the Aspen Commission if you’re interested in this issue, which will be debated during No Child reauthorization and also the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act down the road.

For my money, a lack of understanding of special education demographics complicates this debate. The “average” special education student should be included in the mainstream accountability system and all students should be included in an accountability system. To oversimplify only slightly, there are really three primary groups* of special needs kids: Those that should be included in the mainstream system (eg vision or hearing impaired kids need access not a different set of standards and most students in the learning disabilities category should be included also), those who should be but with some modifications, and those that need something substantially different.

The NCLB policy is still clumsy with regard to that last group but the answer is, I’d argue, to be found in using data drive local flexibility rather than blanket exemptions as is basically the policy now. But, that last group is a distinct minority, despite the rhetoric the fact is that the “average” special education student does not have Down Syndrome or severe autism, more than half have learning disabilities and many of them just haven’t been taught to read well. More that issue and others in this volume on special education policy, a little dated but still useful (and high-priced on Amazon** if you’re hoarding copies).

Also, this might be entirely unfair but I’ve heard little from the special education office at the Department of Education lately. They did a really good job getting the new IDEA regulations out but that’s about it or is there a bunch of stuff under the radar? Seems like a good thing for enterprising Hill Dems to look into…what are they doing over there and why aren’t we getting more reports etc…not like there aren’t a whole bunch of issues…

*I’d argue, paradoxically, that IDEA’s vital emphasis on individualization has actually had the effect of working against customization for kids. You want customization at the school level but it’s less important and more unwieldy the further up the policy chain you go. But, that’s not an argument, as some Republicans are now making, to leave all decisions to the local school districts, it’s just an argument to get the balance and incentives right.

**Even though it’s online for free…so much for markets always working in education!

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