Charters have 2.6 million students; special education has 6 million students. Now what?

Today when driving around the bay area in California, I heard a radio news report that got me thinking. California is leading the nation with the number of charter schools–now up to 1000. Nationwide, the report indicated that there are 6000 charter schools, with 2.6 million students. That is viewed as growth by the charter school reformers and hats off to them.

But, it left me with a question: anyone who reads about education reforms these days knows of the huge effort toward ‘choice,’ which often means charter schools or even home schooling. It’s been a reform effort for many years.

But, what about special education? Special education educates some six million students– two to three times as many as do charter schools! Special education has been with us since the 1970′s and has been very successful in providing access to education services for all students with disabilities and making our schools more inclusive.

Yet, the system that provides services to students with disabilities is widely regarded as being broken, in need of systemic reform that will allow us to better educate children with disabilities and all other children…

But, reform of special education is not on the nation’s reform agenda. Other than our continuing to tinker with the law and regulations (especially when reauthorization is pending before Congress), we still have essentially the same bureaucratic, adversarial, input-driven, regulation-based system that was set up almost 40 years ago! The world has changed but the system continues. Why is that?

But, but, but. Why is special education not on the reform agenda, especially as it educates between 2 and 3 times as many students as do charter schools? Why indeed?

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