As I think about how we do special education in the U.S., sometimes reality stares us in the face; yet, we overlook it.

The better regular education is, the less special education we need. That is the way it is. Rock bottom solid reality.

A bit of history. Back in the 1970’s, the law seemed to create two systems–regular and special. Special education was going to ‘fix,’ ‘cure,’ ‘educate’ students identified for IDEA services. Often it succeeded and students benefited. But, over the years, Congress came to believe that special education was educating to low expectations and not holding students with disabilities to high standards. Thus, in 1997, Congress revolutionized how we do special education. It mandated that students with disabilities be educated in the general curriculum–and meet state and local standards, along with their regular education peers. Since then, regular education teachers and someone knowledgeable about the general curriculum are mandated to attend IEP Team meetings.

So where are we now? We still run two systems.

It makes no sense. One, regular education/the general curriculum/NCLB, is driven by state and local standards and state and district wide assessments for accountability under the NCLB. The other, is driven by the IDEA’s focus on a FAPE.

It’s not a happy marriage. Often these laws collide. And amazingly, in this day of ‘research-based’ instruction (mandated by the NCLB and now in the IDEA), NO research was undertaken to prove that this dual (and dueling) approach is the best way to educate our students–regular and special education.

It’s time to fix this!

About Miriam

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA—an expert in public education, focused on special education law— is a lawyer, author, speaker, consultant, and reformer. For more than 35 years, Miriam worked with educators, parents, policy makers, and citizens to translate complex legalese into plain English and focus on good practices for children. Now, she focuses her passion on reforming special education, with her new book, Special Education 2.0—Breaking Taboos to Build a NEW Education Law. Presentations include those at the AASA Conference, Orange County (CA), Boston College (MA), CADRE (OR), and the Fordham Institute (DC). Her writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Education Week, Education Next, Hoover Digest, The University of Chicago Law Review on line,, and The Atlantic Monthly on line.

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