Here’s a great way to start the new year! An excellent article by Christina A. Samuels, “Special Education’s Future” in Education Week.
https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2019/01/09/special-education-is-broken.html I hope it helps us gain momentum for a national conversation to fix all that’s broken in special education.

The article gave me many “aha” moments as it sounds like what I’ve been writing for many years and what’s in my recent book, Special Education 2.0–Breaking Taboos to Build a NEW Education Law! Amazing!

Samuels highlights the many years of activism that got us here today and challenges us with “it will take a revival of that same spirit to fix what is broken in today’s implementation.” She’s right.

The piece lays out some of the broken features and challenges of special education, starting with President Ford’s prescient signing statement—which foretold many of them.

It explains flaws in “child find” and an eligibility system that requires children to have a “label”—often of questionable validity—to be served. It dares to cite research indicating that we may be under identifying minority children instead of over identifying them—as the press continues to report. Among other challenges, it questions the effects and effectiveness of the push for response to intervention (RTI), as well as the costs of educating children with disabilities, which are largely shrouded and unknown.

Ms. Samuels ends with three questions to pose to Congress when it takes up reauthorization. These questions are a good start but, as I see it, don’t go far enough. Let me explain.

1. The first question about costs is right on! It’s vital that we know what this system really costs. I appreciate the need to account for general ed (inclusion) and other intervention costs that these students receive.

2. The second question–about staffing–is beyond my expertise and I will leave it aside for now.

3. The third question about equity in the due process arena is too ‘in the box’ because it assumes that the current system is also the way forward. We just need to make it more equitable. While I agree that public schools need to be equitable for all, I ardently don’t agree that due process, litigation, lawyer-driven programming, etc. is how to move forward.

While due process may have been effective to end the 1970’s “access” issues, it is no longer needed. No one is excluded these days! All students with disabilities are served—some 14% of all students (even as the law contemplated 10%).

Given today’s reality, it’s time to end that legal system for the 80-90% of students with mild/moderate needs. Litigation (and the ever-present fear of litigation) needs to come out of our classrooms. Educators, administrators, and researchers, not lawyers and legislators, need to build a new approach so that teachers are free for actual teaching and learning for all students.

To the three questions posed in the article, I would add these two for now.

4. We need to acknowledge today’s reality of the two groups of students with disabilities. Please see my recent book, the Journal of Law and Education and Medium.com.
https://medium.com/@miriamkfreedman/happy-birthday-special-education-its-time-for-a-real-redo-d541867d5fb2.

It’s time to seriously ask: Why do we still need the one-size-fits-all 1975 due process law for all students with disabilities, especially for the 80-90% of students with mild and moderate needs discussed above? I believe we don’t. Instead, for disputes between schools and parents, it’s time to explore other dispute resolution models for all children, whether disabled or not, that are child-and education-centric, not money or legalistic/rights-driven.

The 10-20% of students who have severe and profound needs also need a better system. Let’s convene a task force of stakeholders from all parts of public schools to develop a way forward.

5. It’s time to seriously question the current system for finding students “eligible” for services—which is often flawed and too late. As well, current “labeling” often interferes with teaching. For example, we still use the “wait to fail” approach–whereby students aren’t found eligible for special education until they have fallen far behind–an approach that directly contradicts research-based early intervention and continues the legalistic and damaging approach.

I’ll stop here. There’s much to digest in this short piece. It’s a good read.

But one more thing. While we’re thinking big, let’s be honest. It’s really time to abandon legal hoops in a 40+ year old system and move to a system that focuses on teaching and learning, that works for all students. One such approach is competency based schooling where all students (from the most advanced to the most challenged) receive schooling to take them from where they are to where they need to be.

Your thoughts? Here’s hoping that with this article and all of our efforts, we gain momentum for our national conversation and a true rebuild. Happy 2019!

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, DianeRavitch.net, and The Atlantic Monthly on line.

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