A Call to Reform Special Education
In the ongoing discussions of education reform rarely is the focus on Special Education. But a recent article in The Atlantic suggests that Special Ed should be an integral part of the conversation.
In Common-Sense Proposals for Special Education Reform, Miriam Freedman makes the case that The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has righted the wrong it was intended to remedy and now is in need of a major overhaul “to address its unintended consequences.”
And what are those unintended consequences? According to Freedman, a Boston attorney and author of Fixing Special Education—12 Steps to Transform a Broken System, the list is long and varied, ranging from excessive costs and over-regulation to implementation barriers and an adversarial rather than collaborative model for solving problems. Freedman’s suggestions for improving Special Education include the following:
At the very least, schools and parents should have more flexibility to work together collaboratively in the spirit of the 1975 law. Here are four common-sense proposals:
- Focus on improving regular education for all students. The better that regular education is, the fewer students need to be identified for special education services. When developing inclusive programs, schools should base them on effective teaching practices that improve educational outcomes for both students with disabilities and regular education students. As part of this mission, align IDEA and NCLB to end confusion.
- Work to end the “medical model” in which IDEA eligibility for services requires a specialist’s diagnosis. This model is costly, problematic, and inexact. It often kicks in too late, after previously undiagnosed students have struggled and failed. The far better solution is to provide timely and appropriate education services for all students in our schools, based on their current performance, without the need for a diagnosis or label.
- End the compliance-based approach to special education. Parents and teachers alike should be liberated from endless form-filling and meetings. Compliance does not improve student results. Only time on task — in classrooms—does.
- End the adversarial approach of “private enforcement” by parents and use other dispute resolution models, such as via mediators and ombudsmen or federal and state enforcement mechanisms that encourage trust-building and collaboration between schools and parents.
Read the full article in The Atlantic and tell us what you think of Freedman’s proposals.