Special Education 2.0: Breaking Taboos to Build a NEW Education Law by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman

Part 1: A brief history of special education and current reality

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) passed in 1975 with little change since promised to fund 40% of the costs but this never happened. As of 2014, the federal contribution was at 14%. Parent participation and approval of proposed individual education programs (IEPs) is required and expensive court proceedings and independent evaluations can occur if they don’t approve. Today 13 to 14% of students age three to twenty-one are eligible and growth of students with disabilities has outpaced the growth of the general population.
  • Of the thirteen labels available, specific learning disability (SLD) or just learning disability (LD) represents almost half of the total. Unfortunately, this is the one label that is the least connected to established science. Speech or language impairment is next at almost 20% followed by other health impaired just over 10%. This is where kids with ADHD usually reside. Students with intellectual disability represent about 7.5%. This group is still called mentally retarded in some places. Emotional disturbances checks in at 7% and autism at 5%. Things like hearing and visual problems, orthopedic impairment, deafness, and traumatic brain injury round out the list with small numbers.
  • The law is based on the “wait-to-fail” model where help doesn’t start until after students fail to learn. The opposite approach would be to provide help as soon as a student starts to struggle as some countries do. The law requires students be placed in the least restrictive environment (LRE), which is usually the regular classroom. Once an IEP is created and agreed upon, it must be carried out regardless of the costs.

The entitlement – its reach and effects

  • IDEA sets up an adversarial private enforcement system to protect rights for disabled students. It’s people outside the school including parents and their advocates who hold sway over education experts. While most parents are pleased with special education service, it’s the few who fight that makes the system seem dysfunctional and broken. There is a sense of unfairness that exists as the parents who make excessive demands are usually savvy and upscale. The threat of legal action is usually enough to get the schools to cave in to parent demands. It also requires schools to spend on professional development for legal and paperwork reasons.
  • While the estimated cost of educating the 13-14% of students with disabilities is about 40%, there is no requirement that any data on cost be collected. At the same time, gifted programs consume less than 1% of school budgets. While it’s clear that serving disabled students will cost more on a per student basis, it doesn’t need to cost as much as it does without a loss in quality. Rather than have an individual entitlement for a single group, all students should be receiving appropriate services. That doesn’t mean IEPs for everyone as that would lead to an even bigger paperwork burden.
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One Response to “Special Education 2.0: Breaking Taboos to Build a NEW Education Law by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman”

  1. […] Special Education 2.0: Breaking Taboos to Build a NEW Education Law by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman […]

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