My angle to fix special education? It’s not about getting more money… In my view, rather than more at this time–we need to spend what we have (already 20-40% of school budgets!) much better. Right now, too much goes for process, compliance, regulations, lawyers, etc. One of my special education director colleagues informally surveyed her teachers to find that special ed teachers spend about 19% of their time actually teaching! That is scary. We need to “educate, not litigate!”

My angle? We need what I call “trust-based special education.” The current 35+ year old system is built on an adversarial footing, relying on parents to “advocate” for their children AGAINST the schools! Parents have to file complaints, due process hearings, etc. Through my book and the talks I’m giving, I hear a lot of “Thank you for saying what we all know. You have courage. Etc.” We need to rebuild trust–without it, no one can teach effectively. Let’s be honest about that!

Right now, some of us are working to build (slowly, slowly…) on the notion that teachers need time to teach, not time to document everything and worry about getting sued (practicing defensive education). We need to focus on education–not litigation. Procedures Lite seems to have caught people’s attention. I’m happy to give you more info on this. As well, we (Special Education Day Committee) launched an alternate dispute resolution model, funded by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, called “SpedEx.” Alas,it seems not to have yet found willing partners. We’re working on it. Little steps and persistence. We’ll get there!

At this time, my approach is to use small steps to make a big difference. As in Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point and Chip and Dan Heath’ Switch books… I call my approcah “back door [and legal!] strategies/solutions!” I gave a talk two weeks ago in San Antonio–much interest in this approach. And will do several talks here in New England in May/June…. Join us! Let me hear of your ‘little steps to big effects’ ideas! Together, let us finally fix special education and improve learning for ALL students!

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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