I read Philip Howard’s thoughtful piece in The Atlantic. Right on! And what a perfect title.

I was not surprised (and glad) to see his opening salvo was about special education–quoting facts and figures also found in my book, Fixing Special Education and my other writings. Special education is indeed an amazing example of a well-intended system that has spun out of control.


Mr. Howard (Philip, if I may) writes that, rather than ‘deregulation,’ we need a spring cleaning. Throw out what’s not working. We can’t just keep piling on new laws and new great ideas. Deregulation won’t get at it–as we need to start with purpose and reboot for the 21st century.

As you’ll see in my upcoming law review piece about fixing special education, I suggest that we should even consider the idea of ending the entitlement program. It succeeded in its mission–providing access for schooling to all students with disabilities. But thereafter, as it’s an open ended law, it morphed into all sorts of unintended consequences.

As Philip writes–we need to keep the purpose (education for all), but substitute a targeted sensible program for the 21st century (not retrofit this old 20th century law). Appointing a commission to do so is a good idea–also discussed in my upcoming piece.

It looks like many stars are getting aligned… Many of us know that the law is broken and needs to be fixed.

And please stay tuned for that article. I’ll provide the link when it’s out.

Thank you, Philip, for pushing all of us and keeping the ball going on these important issues. So glad you’ll have a running series at The Atlantic.com!

James Q. Wilson died last week. I did not read his work while he lived, but did read this article about his ‘broken windows’ theory for cities. If there’s a broken window and no one fixes it, it means that no one cares and we can go around smashing more windows. If some one fixes it, then we do care–and the city is perceived to be a safer and better place. Voila! Apparently Mayor Guliani used this theory in NYC — and indeed, the city became a safer place–a destination city for tourists once again. While some may argue with the connection between what happened in NYC and Mr. Wilson–to me, it makes sense.

And now to our schools. Have we allowed too many broken windows? I think we have. We have tolerated all sorts of realities that impede learning–children unprepared for school, broken or dirty facilities, teachers unprepared for teaching, bureaucratic interference and strangulation by regulation, parents unprepared to support the teachers and students–all policies that interfere with the work of the school–teaching and learning. We have tolerated bad behaviors and bad policies for too long…

I like the metaphor–let’s fix those windows. And it seems to me, that once we really start to do it–in any of the above examples–the ripple effect on our schools should be felt. It’ll show that we really do care about children and the future of our country.

It’s a way forward. Thank you, Mr. James Q. Wilson. I wonder what the Q stands for!