This was originally posted on Medium

Almost to the day! 27 years ago, my Education Week Commentary appeared. It was very widely read. Clearly, it hit a mark! I felt optimistic. It was quite a thrill.

Even thereafter, for years, when I traveled around the country as a speaker, consultant, and special education law expert, I saw that article on many, many bulletin boards in schools! Clearly the Commentary resonated with educators and administrators.

This was originally posted on Medium

TRUST — Build trust for schools, students, and parents because trust is the coin of the realm!

I believe that TRUST is necessary for excellent education — trust among players — students, teachers, parents, administrators, tax payers, and others.

Excellent education means that students learn all they can to become all they can be! That is the WHY of schools; it’s where our discussion should start — with the WHY. Schools should focus on student competence every day, all the time. Yet, they often can’t and don’t. As I see it, lack of trust contributes to that.

Positive relationships between schools and families are vital. Yet, the special education law and dispute resolution don’t promote that. In fact, as I see it, they head in the opposite direction! They are costly, anxiety-​​producing, and often trust busters for all parties, with NO research proving that the mandated procedures and requirements improve student outcomes. Tragic.

What is trust? It’s a firm belief that you can rely on the strength, ability, truthfulness, honesty, of someone or something. It gives you confidence in that reliance.

The “coin of the realm” is a country’s legal currency, valued like money. Before he died at age 100, George Shultz reflected on advice he got when he first became Secretary of State — “Trust is the coin of the realm.” He carried that lesson with him for his entire life — and wrote a short and breezy book about trust and relationships to celebrate his 100th. shultz_finalfile_web-ready.pdf ( It includes this gem:

“When trust was in the room, whatever room that was — the family room, the schoolroom, the coach’s room, the office room, the government room, or the military room — good things happened.

When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen.

Everything else is details.”

And, there’s this about trust. The US is the only established democracy where the level of ‘social trust’ is falling. ‘Social trust’ means that people believe that most people can be trusted and that they’ll abide by established norms. For example, they believe that if your lost wallet is found, someone will return it to you! Our social trust used to be 50%; now it’s less than a third. Without trust, what’s left? “Why are Americans So Distrustful of Each Other?” The Wall Street Journal, December 19–20, 2020.

And, as you can imagine, distrust is trust’s opposite. Here’s Francis Fukuyama’s excellent summary:

“By contrast, people who do not trust one another will end up cooperating only under a system of formal rules and regulations, which have to be negotiated, agreed to, litigated, and enforced, sometimes by coercive means. This legal apparatus, serving as a substitute for trust, entails what economists call “transaction costs.”

“Widespread distrust in a society, in other words, imposes a kind of tax on all forms of economic activity, a tax that high-trust societies do not have to pay.” Citation at end of this post.

“Transaction costs.” One special education statistic that remains in my head is this. Teachers have just 27% of time left to teach. The rest is taken up with writing reports, attending meetings and other bureaucratic requirements — “transaction costs.” Yet, for the WHY — we have NO evidence that these improve outcomes!

“We have a problem, Houston!” Trust is NOT in the air!

What can we do about it? This post is designed to be practical and helpful with steps you can take on Monday!

First, words matter. Use them wisely. Be honest. Avoid ‘doublespeak.’ Try not to create an ‘honesty gap!’ The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘doublespeak’ as language that can be used in more than one way and is used to deceive people. The term, ‘honesty gap’, popped up in the testing/achievement arena and refers to the gap between information parents receive and how students are actually doing. An ‘honesty gap’ and ‘doublespeak’ are trust busters. Don’t use them!

Here are some oft-used terms that I see as trust busters.

“Closing the gap.” A great goal, but what does it mean? Is it real? Concerns are raised when we lower or ‘dumb down’ standards, provide invalidating modifications, hurt advanced students who are already proficient, obsess about getting all students to college, ignoring the real world benefits of vocational and technical education and the reality that many students are unprepared for college, etc. etc. Joke: We can “close achievement gaps” by simply ending achievement! How about aiming to “narrow gaps” — which may be more realistic and honest. And, far more satisfying because it gets to the WHY of education — how about focusing on student competence as CBE (competency based education) schools are doing, making it about individual student growth, not gaps with others.

“All students can learn and meet the same challenging academic standards.” Really? What does this mean? Is it honest? Does it build trust?

We want what’s best for your child.” While that may be what you want personally, it’s not what the law requires of you, as a school employee. Your job is to provide an ‘appropriate, not a best, education. Saying that we want what’s best for your child overpromises and underdelivers — a sure trust buster.

“Parents and schools are equal partners” at Team meeting, in planning the IEP, etc. This is not so. Saying it leads to a loss of trust. See Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (US 2017). The two parties have very different roles under the law. Schools provide expertise and parents provide input that schools need to consider. Parents may have expertise about their child at home and in the community, but not about education and how the child performs at school. While the parties hopefully act as partners, calling them “equal” is confusing doublespeak. What, exactly, does it mean?

There are many other troubling terms. Which ones have you questioned and tried to avoid because they kill trust? With a moment’s thought, you’ll think of several!

In sum, the “honesty gap” and doublespeak hurt efforts to build trust and positive relationships in our schools.

On the other hand, here are two positive words that I urge school personnel to use. Describe yourself as the ‘expert’ that you are in your chosen field and as the ‘advocate’ you are for the students you serve. Own those words: expert and advocate!

Second. the language challenge is a practical dilemma. Nancy, a successful special education director, told me this story. After she retired, she filled in as the acting principal of a school in the district, where she learned the heavy toll on trust and honesty in the special ed world. As acting principal, she was able to speak honestly with parents and students — for the first time! Something that she could not do in the world of special education (lest what she said would come back to haunt her in a dispute). Think about that!

What about trust in other countries? During my pre-COVID 19 visit with a school principal in Holland, she laughed out loud when I asked if they hire lawyers to resolve disputes about services for children with disabilities. Lawyers? NO — they resolve disputes with parents, educators, and administrators.

What about here at home at meetings? Try this! Walk into an IEP Team meeting. How long does it take you to know if there’s trust among the players? What are the benchmarks? How can you tell if staff members or parents feel heard?

Third, a bit of history about due process and some special education numbers. In 1975, Congress enacted the special education law, the IDEA. It provides an individual entitlement to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) for students with disabilities and rights for their parents. As we all know, this entitlement involves due process. I highly recommend the book, Rights Talk, to understand individual rights in the US. Citation in the back.

Numbers. In 1975, about a million students with disabilities were excluded from US schools or not appropriately served. The law targeted students with severe and profound needs — who now make up 10–20% of all students with disabilities. 80–90% of today’s students with disabilities have mild/ moderate needs. About 14% of students are covered by this law. Due to COVID-19, we expect the numbers to go up — as, by report, more parents already seek eligibility evaluations.

The pandemic also highlights an on-going challenge about students with mild and moderate needs. Can you really tell who is a student with a disability and who is ‘at risk’ or just losing ground? Often, the difference has more to do with student ZIP codes and parental advocacy than the students themselves. Gaps have widened for so many at-risk students and students with disabilities — both groups, creating a real challenge.

Amazingly (to me, at least), the law and its due process system do not mention TRUST. It’s all about rights for students and parents and responsibilities for schools. A damaging effect of this law has been the loss of trust between school and home, in spite of its best intentions. For example, teachers often practice ‘defensive’ education, lest a dispute blow up into a litigation. Parents who wish to nourish and help their children need to study the law to fight against the very teachers and schools whose mission is to educate their children! Too often, they describe their child as more disabled than she is. See, e.g., Chino Valley USD, OAH Case # 2020060369; 2020100601.

When I was a hearing officer, I heard a parent describe her teenage son in excruciating, negative detail. I finally asked her, “Do you like this child?” She looked up, stunned, and then smiled. She got it! The hearing became more honest and real.

Due process damages relationships. Let’s not forget that the very next day after testifying at a hearing, teachers have to work with the child and parents. It takes an emotional toll on parents and staff. Its incentives are wrong. Many educators quit and walk away.

The law is built on the premise that parents advocate for their child against their school and teachers; that parents and students need “protections” from schools and that parents have to fight, fight, fight. The law places a huge burden on parents: many can’t advocate effectively; savvy parents often can; poor, uneducated — often can’t. Surely, the system lacks equity.

Lost in all this is the fact that most parents are pleased with their children’s special education services and progress!

Notably, most (94–96%) hearing requests settle without a hearing or decision. The number of decisions in the US is down. (We have no numbers yet for the COVID-19 time and beyond). 2262 decisions were rendered in 2011–12, compared with 4537 in 2006–7. Though the number of decisions is small, that’s a mixed blessing. Among continuing challenges are the constant fear of litigation, settlement costs, the fact that incentives are wrong (e.g., lawyers’ fees; trusting outside, not inside ‘experts,’ etc.), and the fact that ‘professional development’ often is about dotting all I’s and crossing all t’s.

I’m sure you can think of other examples of damage to trust that today’s system creates.

Fourth, it’s time to ask whether today’s approach, even with various ADR (alternate dispute resolution) options, is still appropriate or necessary for students or parents?

Would anyone seeking to create a positive, collaborative system for teachers, parents, and students set up the adversarial, bureaucratic, and trust-killing system that we have?

In sum, the IDEA’s effect on trust, built on adversarial due process that emphasizes rights and litigation, not learning — is very concerning. We need to change it! For the long haul, I urge us to reimagine educating all students, including students with disabilities (in two distinct groups with different needs and rights) by building positive, trust-based, innovative approaches for our post — COVID-19 future. We may even question whether to continue with the current entitlement system. Here’s a starter article for this overdue conversation. Special education post-pandemic — what and how? | by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA | Dec, 2020 | Medium

Fifth, but for now, what to do on Monday!

Take steps to build trust with families — especially during and after COVID-19. A surprising silver lining of the pandemic has been that many schools report improved parent outreach and collaboration. What have you done for outreach? Have you shown that the school is doing all it can for their child? Have you engaged families in honest dialogue?

1. Catch students being good. Focus on strengths! And share with the parents!

2. Speak Plain Language without doublespeak and the ‘honesty gap’. What is plain language? | Drop the acronyms or provide a glossary. Acronyms are often disempowering — an immediate barrier to trust.

3. Be the child’s advocate! Own that word. Be the person that parents know has their child’s interest at heart. Earn their trust!

4. Be the expert that you are in your area of expertise and stay in your lane! Own that word!

5. Earn trust by doing what you said you will do. Over deliver and under promise. Not the opposite!

6. Be the district’s eyes and ears — about parental concerns. E.g., when they first bring a “friend” to a meeting or ask for the child’s student records or…Hire a hand holder — like Raye!

7. Smile — Go that extra smile.

Consistent, positive, small steps can go a long way to build trust.


Sixth, explore ADR options within today’s entitlement system.

Besides mediations, resolution meetings, and other ADR options, I’d like to introduce SpedEx — Massachusetts’

· child-centered

· voluntary

· trust-based

· free for parents and school districts

· successful dispute resolution system that develops an appropriate program for the child.

SpedEx is designed to be child-centered, result in an appropriate placement that provides a FAPE in the LRE, and trust-based! It’s success rate in developing accepted IEPs — parents and schools working together with an outside consultant (paid for by the state education department) — stands at 80–90%. That is amazing! It also likely means that the parties will continue to work together in a trusting relationship in future years. Please check it out at SpedEx (

Imagine other dispute resolution options for all students — with or without disabilities; with or without an entitlement.

· Ombudsman for all students.

· A monthly open school night to meet with the principal — no appointment needed. Like Jimmy, my son’s principal, did!

· Informal resolution options developed by students, teachers, and parents.

· Student-centered, not process-centered, approaches.

· Outcome-based, not input-driven, systems. It’s the WHY of schools and WHY we care about making them better.


We’ve acknowledged the fact that trust and distrust are problematic in the wider world.

Let’s build around the reality that trust in the special education world is a huge challenge.

On Monday, take practical steps to build and grow trust in your world.

Keep the conversation going! These are a few of my favorite books and sources….

Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville (1835, 1840).

IEP and Section 504 Team Meetings… and the Law, Miriam Kurtzig Freedman (2017).

Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse, Mary Ann Glendon (1991).

Rights Gone Wrong: How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality, Richard Thompson Ford (2011).

Special Education 2.0 — Breaking Taboos to Build a NEW Education Law, Miriam Kurtzig Freedman (2017).

Start with Why — How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek (2009)

Try Common Sense — Replacing the Failed Ideologies of the Right and Left, Philip K. Howard (2019).

Trust — The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, Francis Fukuyama (1995).

shultz_finalfile_web-ready.pdf (, George Schultz (2021).

This was originally posted on Medium

Elon Musk and Vernon Jones asked for advice. Here goes!

Dear Mr. Musk and Mr. Jones,

Amazingly — as I’ve been watching and reading the news, it turns out that both of you have asked for similar advice! So, I hope it’s alright that I’m addressing you together. You want to know how to spend money and promote ideas and policies that will move the needle forward and make a real positive difference for our nation. Thank you for that question and invitation, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, and Vernon Jones, Georgia state representative.

For half a century, I’ve focused on education — first as a teacher, then as a school attorney, and now as a reformer and writer. I’ve learned a few things that I’d like to share — most pivotally, that education is the vital key to maintaining our nation and democracy and that we are failing so many of our students and our nation. As an immigrant English-language learner in 4th grade, I experienced how wonderful public schools can be — they were for me. But now, so many of our students are failing and losing out on the opportunities our nation holds for them — especially students in poverty, minority students, English language learners, many students with disabilities, and many other vulnerable groups. Gaps between those students and others are widening. The pandemic has made the situation worse — even dire.

Yet, in our centers of power in Washington and elsewhere, responses to crises generally involve creating new programs or funding current (often failing) ones.

My solution? Let’s look at the research before we jump in. It tells us to work with families at home. Work with moms, dads, grandparents, and other caretakers with children aged 0 to 5. Our solution to school failures and widening gaps among students lies in helping children before they get to kindergarten. Because many children come to school unprepared to learn, let’s do the right thing. Let’s be guided by efficacy and research before we create new programs or throw more good money after bad.

Research supports the benefits of a more direct (and undoubtedly less costly) approach. In the field of education, it makes sense to pay attention to a child’s home situation when he or she comes to school unprepared. Home is where the child’s first teachers live and is the most practical place to start preparing children for the social and educational experiences they will have in school. Home is where children’s educations begin with their parents and caregivers — especially in the vital area of language acquisition. From there, their education can branch out to daycare centers, preschools, or schools. As I see it, education does not start with an institution — other than the institution of home with family.

I suggest that we start in the home because powerful research supports the efficacy of this approach. In 1995, Professors Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley turned early-childhood education on its head with their report, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children. Frustrated by their experience with programs that had no lasting effect on children’s language and growth, they sought a different route. Hart and Risley tracked verbal interactions in forty-two “well-functioning” families of infants and their parents in different socioeconomic situations — children whose parents were middle class/ professional, or lower/working class, or on welfare. Once every month until the children in the study reached age three, the researchers visited their homes, counting the number of words the children experienced.

They discovered that the numbers in the different groups varied widely, creating the now famous “30-million-word gap.” That is, children whose parents were on welfare heard and processed a reported 30 million fewer words in the first three years of life than did children of professional parents. I remember President Obama referring to this research in his speeches.

Even if that oft-cited number is too high, and even if other researchers have questioned this study (as they have), the essential message was astounding back in 1995 and still resonates today: education begins with children’s first teachers at home! The early life experiences of many children from lower-class or welfare families often does not prepare them to be “ready to learn.” Once in school, many of these children fall further and further behind. We know that if a child does not read by third grade, that child is more likely not to complete K-12 education. Some of these children enter the special-education system as students with disabilities, especially children in the categories of students with learning, speech or language disabilities (which comprise close to 60 percent of all students with disabilities served by the law). The bottom line: The importance of early-language acquisition at home cannot be overstated, especially as we know that early gaps continue into the school years. See, for example, Jessica Lahey, “Poor Kids and the Word Gap,” The Atlantic, October 16, 2014,

Given this reality, I am troubled that too often the push for early-childhood education circles back to the earlier, often disappointing institutional programs outside the home! Please help us here! Please use your creativity and clout to lead us to better ways.

Where is evidence that creating new programs will be effective on a large scale? See the long history of inconclusive evidence for the effectiveness of Head Start, a federally funded program, and similar programs. Of course, there are gems of schools — public and private, regular and charter, but they are not scaled to large systems.

The Economist’s “In the Beginning Was the Word” echoes this caution:

In January (2014), Barack Obama urged Congress and state governments to make high-quality pre-schools available to every four-year-old…That is a good thing. Pre-school programmes are known to develop children’s numeracy, social skills and (as the term “pre-school” suggests) readiness for school. But they do not deal with the [language] gap in much earlier development that [research has] identified. And it is this gap, more than a year’s pre-schooling at the age of four, which seems to determine a child’s chances for the rest of his life.”

Feb. 22, 2014,

Why do we not, instead, follow the research and good practices on language development and pursue the direct avenue at home? Why do we not proactively work with parents and children in the first place? If parents do not realize how important their role can be, let us take this opportunity — and duty — to share with them the value of talking with, reading to, playing and singing with their babies. The key is to talk, read, and sing!

Pockets of promising efforts are currently under way. We need far more. Here are some samples of programs for families of children up to five years of age.

· A program in Providence, Rhode Island, called “Providence Talks” sends trained visitors into homes to do what is described above. Home — Providence Talks.

· Too Small to Fail’s “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing.” Too Small To Fail

· California’s “First 5,” a state initiative enrolling parents and caregivers in research-supported practices; First 5 California — State Site.

· Zero to Three. Home • ZERO TO THREE.

· Start Early, formerly An Ounce of Prevention; Homepage | Start Early.

An ounce of prevention, indeed! In order to ensure equity for young children, we need to scale these in-home efforts toward national policy to help parents be as good at teaching as they can be. They can then send their children to school ready to learn, often without a need for any disability label.

Mr. Musk and Jones. You are both amazingly creative. Help us help our children and our nation! Let’s talk! Perhaps you/we can create prizes for parents and caregivers who are “doing the right thing” for their children. We need to be positive and encouraging. We need to find heroes at home! Prizes? Perhaps a ride in a space ship or in a Tesla?! Let’s honor and reward and encourage people. Together, we need to end the “opportunity gaps” that now thwart the lives of so many little kids — before they even start!

Mr. Musk and Mr. Jones, please help us here! I for one — and many others — stand ready to work with you on this vital crucial effort.

Thanks for reading,

All the best,

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA

This was originally posted on Medium

Violent Students Keep Coming Back

Joanne, thanks for highlighting this the real-world example of a misplaced common good. Here’s her story and my comment.

Violent students keep coming back


Violent students can assault teachers and classmates, then return to class a few days later, report Brittany Wallman and Megan O’Matz in the South Florida Sun Sentinel. They blame mainstreaming of children with emotional and behavioral disabilities and inadequate support staff trained to deal with their problems.

In school after school, students are erupting with violence. They stab or beat teachers. They throw furniture. They stalk and attack classmates, turning schoolrooms into danger zones where the rights of violent students with disabilities trump all others.

. . . State and federal laws guarantee those students a spot in regular classrooms until they seriously harm or maim others. Even threatening to shoot classmates is not a lawful reason to expel the child.

Federal law guarantees students with disabilities the right to be educated in the “least restrictive environment,” Wallman and O’Matz note. Florida law requires agreement “from the parents, or a judge, before transferring a disabled child to a special-needs school with more therapeutic services and smaller class sizes.”

Reporters found more than 100 students who threatened to kill their teachers, classmates or themselves in an 18-month period, they write. “Nearly half of the youths had histories of mental disorders, and more than half had access to guns.”

“Students with violent tendencies have more rights than the students that they endanger. Just ask Nikolas Cruz,” one schoolteacher told the Sun Sentinel.

The same laws that protect disabled students make it difficult for schools to remove a student like the profoundly disturbed Cruz, who was obsessed with hurting others before he killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, 2018.

“You cannot get the child out of the classroom,” former teacher Patrick Jovanov said. “You can get him out of the classroom for a day or two or three, but the child comes back.”

Increasingly, teachers are told to leave an out-of-control student in the classroom, while evacuating the rest of the class, writes Max Eden on Quillette. “Room clears” are “designed to protect the rights of troubled students, often with little regard for the rights of their classmates,” charges Eden.

Disruptive or violent students, often labeled as having an “Emotional and Behavioral Disability” (EBD), need “specialized attention in separate settings,” he argues. Assigned to a mainstream class, they can “become virtually untouchable.”

The rise in room clears is directly related to policy initiatives aimed at stamping out so-called “restraint and seclusion.” In the past, as a student’s misbehavior escalated, a teacher might ask the student to leave the room, put a hand on a student’s shoulder to try to get him to calm down, or — if need be — direct him by the arm away from a tense situation and possibly call security to remove him from the classroom area. But as policymakers take these options off the table, teachers have little recourse but to remove every single other student from the classroom before someone gets hurt.

“Teachers report feeling powerless to enforce order and ensure the safety of their students,” Eden concludes.

Laura Waters, who blogs at New Jersey Left Behind, is the mother of a son with special needs. Eden is wrong, she responds. School districts aren’t “powerless,” she argues. They’re too cheap to hire and train support staff. A one-on-one aide can escort a disruptive student from the classroom to a “calming space” and call in a therapist or social worker, if necessary, writes Waters.

Students who misbehave aren’t “untouchable,” she writes. “Many districts train aides and special education teachers in strategies like Handle With Care, which (according to this New Jersey policy manual) uses ‘physical restraint to control a student’s behavior to protect the student and/or a member of the school community from imminent serious physical harm’.”

And here’s my comment:

As a school attorney, citizen, parent, and grandparent, I tend to view the issue more as Max Eden does. I also carefully read Laura Waters ‘ comments — based on her experiences with her son. They both raise valid points.

The debate goes on and on, even as, as I see it, we lose sight of the big picture for our nation — our nation’s public schools that are supposed to serve ALL students. A minimal requirement is that all students can feel safe there. That is the most basic fundamental need.

Alas, we’re far from meeting that need right now. While good people like Ms. Waters and Mr. Eden can debate on and on with good arguments on all sides, as I see it, utltimately, it matters not because of that OPEN BACK DOOR — which almost invites parents to vote with their feet OUT of our public schools altogether.

We can argue forever about the current (I believe flawed) inclusion and room clear policies… while parents (especially those with means who we want engaged in public education) vote with their feet out of the public schools altogether. Not for my kid. It’s not safe. My kid gets no attention. Etc. Etc. Etc. These parents, too, have good arguments.

It’s happening. We know that the percentage of wealthy students who have left public education for private schools or home schooling continues to grow. As I see it, that does not protect rights. Instead, it’s very bad for our nation.

Continuing on our current path further dessimates our public schools. It’s us vs. them. It’s in or out. it is the individual vs. the other students. It’s disruption, fear, uncertainty. It’s not good.

The bottom line is that current policies belie the fact that ALL KIDS MATTER ALL THE TIME. Schools have to be safe and serve ALL OF THEM. Flawed inclusion policies and room clear policies send the wrong message —in a word, that all students DON’T matter. Many parents see that and take action for their own children. They opt- out. They leave.

So tragic — while our government dithers and can’t figure out how to protect and educate ALL of our students, the back door swings wider.

Predictably and tragically, we’ll reach a tipping point when more schools than we already have seen in some troubled inner cities will be ever more for only the have-nots. Sad .Sad. Bad. Bad. Not good for America.

What to do? Instead of our current rights-driven approach for some students, focus on ALL students from the get to. Invite ALL general education parents and teachers to all of the planning tables from the get go . All means ALL. Focus on the rights to education in safe schools that all kids have. Move fast to reign in policies that disrupt the education for all students.

As long as these policies focused on some (but not all) students and their debates continue, it ain’t happening. Sad for all of us and for our nation.

This was originally posted on Medium

The IMPOSSIBLE Special Ed Fix!

The IMPOSSIBLE Special Ed Fix!

We’ve heard about the “IMPOSSIBLE burger” — making burgers from vegetables, not beef. Some people think it’s actually yummy!

So how about the IMPOSSIBLE Fix for special education!

It’s time and it’s not complicated: focus on teaching and learning for all students, general and special education, not procedures, rights, due process, litigation, and the ever-present anxiety-laden fear of litigation that so wrenches today’s schools, teachers, students, and parents.

For the 80–90% of students with disabilities who have mild and moderate needs and are educated mostly in general education classrooms, and their general education peers, focus on learning in schoolrooms — not their parents’ fights in courtrooms.

Notably, in 2017, the Supreme Court, in Endrew F. v. Douglas County, acknowledged the existence of two student groups who receive special education. We know that 10–20% of them have severe or profound needs, and often require complex and costly services. For these students, I believe it’s time to convene a summit to plan a new way forward.

The IMPOSSIBLE Fix focuses on the 80–90% of students with disabilities who have mild or moderate needs and are mostly in general education classrooms. It’s time to substitute the entitlement and due process rights they have had since 1975 when the law was enacted to ensure that all students with disabilities receive education services. That goal was achieved long ago. We now educate more than 6 million students under this law — 13–14% of all students! The entitlement, the only one in our schools, is no longer needed, in my view. Uncapped, it is costly and has become dysfunctional, damaging, and often impedes good education practice.

Really? End the entitlement and due process? That sure is radical! Yes, and probably IMPOSSIBLE. But, let’s at least consider this path. I see it as the only way to fix the mess we’re in. And, if we can’t end it — let’s limit and cap it.

Imagine a 2nd grade teacher with 24 students — five of whom receive special education services. She knows she has to take care of those students first — lest a dispute or hearing arise! How does that help all students learn? How is that fair to those children and the other 19 in the classroom? How is that best practice?

I’ve been writing and speaking about reform at least since 1995. It seems like forever! My writings and presentations are usually well-received, and I often hear: “You’re doing important work. Keep at it.” “Good luck with that!” And the most poignant, “You’re saying exactly what I’ve been thinking and have been afraid to say….”

Yet, nothing really changes until, hopefully, now. Over the last 5–10 years I’ve sensed as new feeling… that more and more people are willing to consider real change. Here’s how we can get to where we need to be to focus on schooling and learning for all students, including the 80–90% of students with disabilities and their general education peers.

1. That table. Invite the right people — all stakeholders people to the table. Since special education students make up around 13–14% of all students, have them be that percent at the table. Fill the table with general education teachers, administrators, parents who work with and love -average students, advanced and gifted students, English language learners, students in poverty, students in wealth. You get the idea. All students. No more trying to fix special education by inviting only those in the “biz” with a sprinkling of others. Instead, invite 13–14% of stakeholders who work with and represent special education — teachers, administrators, parents.

Then, seek honest input from those at the table. Ask open ended questions. Build a summary that everyone takes back to their lives, shares, and revises, until you repeat that meeting at that table. And repeat until we fix the mess we are in.

2. The options. Create attractive options that will substitute for the cumbersome and burdensome system that, after all the paperwork, meetings, and other procedures leaves special education teachers with just 27% of their time for — you guessed it — teaching! Many leave the field as a result, creating a special education teacher shortage.

Creative attractive options already exist. Here are but a few examples.

Check out Vermont’s sweeping education reform.

And see excellent work in competency-based education in Westminster, Colorado.

I’m also eager to learn more about Karen L Mapp’s program for parent and family engagement at Harvard.

Oh, there are so many other examples of schools and others doing effective work for all students. It’s time to open the floodgates!

Instead of the time and money spent on nonsense –paperwork, compliance, litigation — nonsense because these do not improve student outcomes and, often, get in the way —

Instead of due process and litigation, seek the “the IMPOSSIBLE Fix” of dispute resolution options that are relationship and trust-building and do not involve litigation.

Instead of labeling students as gatekeepers to services, through the failed “wait to fail” model, provide early and steady interventions for all students — from the most needy to the most advanced.

Instead of endless focus on student weaknesses — what they can’t do — focus on their strengths and passions — what they can and love to do!

Instead of training parents to become mini lawyers to fight against the very schools that educate their children, train parents to help their children learn and benefit from all the gifts that schools offer.

3. The benefits. Treasure benefits that will result from implementing the IMPOSSIBLE Fix. These include more time for teaching and learning, better partnerships and more trust between schools and parents, fewer teachers abandoning the field, moneys spent on best practices in classrooms, not winning strategies in court rooms, and the best news of all: better outcomes for all students, as teachers will have more than a mere 27% of time for teaching.

It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work to make the IMPOSSIBLE — actually POSSIBLE! Let’s create the Impossible Special Ed Fix!

This was originally posted on Medium