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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.

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Here’s Tuesday Tip # 3 — Get rid of those acronyms! Use PLAIN ENGLISH!

Here’s the First Set’s third Tuesday Tip — taken from my book, IEP and Section 504 Team Meetings… and the Law (available on Amazon and at Corwin).


As a teacher, administrator, or other service provider, you have a choice! Either abandon those acronyms and initialisms outside the meeting door or provide a list like this FREE one, with explanations.

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Tuesday Tips!

Hello friends and colleagues,

I created Tuesday Tips in 2021 and emailed them to subscribers each Tuesday for 13 weeks through If you’d like to subscribe (it’s FREE!), please let me know at

The Tips are designed for special and general educators, administrators, parents, and others who may be interested. They are practical and provide guidance for our schools.

Because they’ve been very popular — especially during these challenging COVID times, I’ll repost them here, once a week, starting with the First Set of 13…

This was originally posted on Medium

A term I heard, new to me, during COVID upended my view about special education: “General education students with IEPs.” Really? Who are these students? Do you know any?

Labeling students as disabled because they struggle is wrong, especially if our goal is to educate them better. Such mislabeling has even been called abusive! Mislabeled as Disabled: The Educational Abuse of Struggling Learners and How WE Can Fight It: Hettleman, Kalman R.: 9781635766394: Books

Instead of plugging these students into an ill-fitting 45+ year old legal system — the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, enacted in 1975 — and further bloating it with mind-numbing procedures, huge costs, amid decidedly mixed results — and now burdened by COVID compensatory services claims — we need a new way to think about and work with struggling students — especially post COVID. For true student success, we need a new “normal” by focus, focus, focus, with passion and commitment, on educating them in general education through high quality teaching and learning opportunities.

Far better to engage an army of excellent teachers than to continue to engage an army of bureaucrats and lawyers, as we have since 1975. Especially as, sitting right next to these students in our classrooms are “general ed students without IEPs,” many of whom are equally behind, equally hurt by COVID, equally at risk. The group without IEPs often includes at-risk students, immigrants, tuned out students, students in poverty, students lacking effective technology at home, non-English speakers, and others.

Can you tell the difference between these two groups? Probably not, especially as disability labels for students with “mild or moderate needs” are imprecise and may reflect parental advocacy and certain ZIP codes more than actual student needs.

Who are “general education students with IEPs?” Undoubtedly, they are among students with mild and moderate needs who make up 80–90% of today’s students with disabilities with IEPs. Other countries, like Singapore, Finland, and others, don’t label struggling students this way; instead, they focus on educating all students through early and targeted interventions. As do many successful US school districts.

Meanwhile back to our law. Notably, this skewing of percentages was not planned by the IDEA, which was enacted for students with severe and profound needs — who now make up just 10–20% of today’s students with IEPs. Let’s be clear. “General education students with IEPs” do NOT include these 10–20% of students. For them, the special education system should proceed as is. Indeed, many schools expended enormous funding and effort to bring those students back early during the pandemic to meet their needs.

Let’s focus instead on the many other students for whom, tragically, legal constrictions often impede great education, highlighted by the current crisis.

Within that legal framework, we hear that special needs students suffered during the pandemic. They did. No doubt. Many parents are suing their schools for “compensatory services” to make up for lost services. See NPR’s report, Families Fight Schools For The Special Education COVID Shut Down : NPR. Notably, the NPR report highlighted the 10–20% of students with severe and profound needs. Whether claims settle or go to due process hearings, they challenge schools. To meet that challenge, California set aside $100 million to help resolve these disputes. How California plans to deter costly special education disputes | EdSource.

In fairness, stop and think for a moment. Isn’t it also true and very real that, besides students with IEPs, many others fell behind during COVID. What about them? Sadly, as I see it, instead of a rational response to a public education crisis, we revert to the comfort (?) of the old law that ill-fits today’s reality. Couldn’t we better spend that $100 million?

For compensatory services claims for students with IEPs who missed therapies, placements, meetings, etc., we have an army of lawyers. These cases are easy to win. After all, our federal Department of Education refused to waive any requirements for schools due to COVID back in 2020. The students’ IEPs were NOT fully implemented. The Feds told us they had to be. Case closed. Next!

Billy is entitled to 50 hours of speech therapy, a private school, or whatever he missed. Schools, ordered to pay, will deplete their budgets. Note California’s $100 million pot to alleviate this burden.

But are we being smart or wise? Are these wins good for students or for public schools? Phyllis Wolfram, Executive Director of CASE (Council of Administrators of Special Education), warned that if schools pay out all that is owed through compensatory services, we may break the system of public education.

Ironically, providing compensatory services may further exacerbate the struggles of many general education students without IEPs. It may lead more parents to seek IDEA eligibility for their children — further bloating the special education entitlement with more “general education students with IEPs”. That’s the nature of an entitlement — those who have it, get. Those who don’t are on their own and may try to get in on the deal.

What shall we do instead? Focus on learning, more than labeling. See, e. g., excellent education in communities that implement a competency-based system (CBS) and work to meet all students’ needs with timely intervention — whether the students are struggling, advanced, or in between (About CBS / About CBS ( ). Notably, Westminster’s motto is: “Services before labels.” Right on!

See also programs that focus on hiring excellent teachers to build learning from the very beginning, so that students may not need any labeling. See, e.g., Harvard Education Publishing Group ( And see the many communities where, surprisingly, harmony grew during COVID — and no compensatory services are claimed! These districts improved communication between home and school — building trust — through person to person, human connection, as they worked with students. Schools Up Communications Game During Pandemic (

In sum, the push for compensatory services happens seemingly automatically, by law, and since it’s an entitlement, dare we ask if there’s any science or rationality behind it?

Speaking of science — do we have evidence that an additional 50 hours of speech therapy, a year late, will help Billy? Is it the best use of scarce public resources? Does it make sense — or are we just filling a “right” — like automatons. Next!

Speaking of equity, fairness, wisdom, inclusion, and our public schools — Do we have any explanation to give to that student who has no IEP — of the reason we don’t focus on him?

We don’t. And we don’t.

If COVID didn’t shake us to our core, what will? Sure, 50 hours of therapy will be compensated. Public schools will pay. As “the only game in town”, more parents may seek IDEA “protection” for their children, further depleting general education programs and budgets. Advocates may rejoice. But is it good for America?

It is not. It’s time to change our path. Or, are we doomed to keep grasping that 45+year old system that ill-fits today’s challenges — because change is hard and powerful interests stand in the way? I hope not!

Let’s, at least, change the conversation and stop labeling general education students; let’s do something different for all students — with or without IEPs, as CBS and other effective programs already do.

It’s time to pivot toward all students who need good teaching, more than they need labeling, procedures, or rights. Far better than “compensatory services” for the few is real education for the many, especially those who fell behind during COVID. If we don’t pivot, that needy child without an IEP may learn less and less, more parents may lose trust in our public schools, and learning losses may lead to further watered-down standards. None of this is equity, reasonable, inclusive, equitable, or wise.

We’re overdue for a new “normal.” The question is: will we answer the COVID alarm and opportunity? The time for choosing is now.

This was originally posted on Medium

What’s the best thing that happened to you today? Victor Perton, the “Optimism Guy” asks us.

For me, it’s that I’m here in Australia (by ZOOM) at the Diversity and Inclusion Forum on February 3, 2021 (actually it’s February 4 already, in Australia) with Victor and another presenter. I was invited by my friend, Ivan Kaye, and am very grateful for that.

What an incredible world we’re in these days. Business and education leaders can “meet” half way across the world and discuss important issues from their diverse perspectives. Victor’s positive message is infectious. Check him out at the “centre for optimism” in Australia. The Centre for Optimism — Home.

Looking back now, a few weeks later, it was indeed a fun and rich Forum!

So, here’s what I said…..

As a public-school attorney half way around the world from Australia, I have the opportunity to share ideas with you, business & education leaders — with optimism, an open heart, and ZOOM!

First, let’s ask WHY. WHY do you have a business? What is your purpose? I’ll let you answer that.

WHY do we have public schools? WHY do you send your kids there? What is the purpose? Alas, we have many different purposes, different values, that compete sometimes…. My answer (which may differ from yours) is that the purpose of public schools is to educate all children — average students, students with disabilities, advanced students, & everyone else — in academics — skills and knowledge — as well as social, emotional, & behavioral skills — in appropriately diverse and inclusive settings — so they can become competent adults & citizens! Competence is the goal in all of the above. With my definition for education, I would rename the conference, the “Diversity, Inclusion, and Competence Forum.”

I’m all for inclusive practices that align with excellent teaching and learning in our diverse schools. Unfortunately, they don’t always align. We often lack appropriate balance among competing values, which detracts from reaching that competence goal.

Today, I’ll focus on US schools and students with disabilities — 14% of our students. We expect that percentage to grow because of the learning gaps and lost opportunities created by the COVID pandemic’s school closures.

What do you do in business if it fails? Hopefully, you pivot.

In our COVID and post-COVID era, what should we do in public schools with poor outcomes for many students, including students with disabilities — as we have in the US & I’m reading, even in Australia. We should pivot!

But do we have the political will to do so? Are we able to harness diverse values for a common goal? Will we be able to steer diversity and inclusion to also focus on competence for all students? Those are big questions, going forward.

Disappointing student outcomes? For example, the 2019 TIMMS (Trends in International Math and Science Study) show that gaps in US schools are widening — even before COVID. Education Week, February 3, 2021.

Of course, there are many reasons for disappointing student results. They may relate to multiple in-school practices and failures, as well as in-community realities of poverty, family breakdown and dislocation, non-English immigrant experience, and many others. All are worthy of focus.

But, for today, let’s focus on how inclusion as practiced in the US may lead to disappointing student outcomes.

First, what is inclusion? Did you know that inclusion in schools has different meanings in different countries? And that it’s controversial — “contentious” as a 2013 Australia report calls it? And that the definition is evolving? And that we have no unified definition?

For example, inclusion may mean that all students have the right to be included in public education — whether in mainstream schools, special programs, or special schools. See, for example, Singapore’s practice that defines inclusion as providing education for all students, as well as Australia’s earlier practice which, is undergoing changes. Or, for a different perspective, see Finland’s example, where students are not labeled with a disability for special services. All students who need them can receive interventions. One statistic that stands out for me is that by the age of 16, 60% of students have received “special education.” Essentially, inclusion is a non-issue. Education is personal and special for everyone.

So, what are we talking about in schools? It’s rather impossible to clarify the term, inclusion, as it means different things to different people in different countries at different times. A moveable concept.

In the US, inclusion grows out of the 1975 special education law’s “least restrictive environment” requirement. It has come to presume that students with disabilities are educated together with their peers who are not disabled in the same general education classroom according to their age, unless they can’t make it in that setting, even with aides & services, and need a more restrictive setting — which often turns out to be a drawn-out, litigious process. To make inclusion work, schools try many approaches, such as providing 1:1 aides and paraprofessionals, curriculum adaptations, accommodations, modifications, differentiated instruction, technology, multi-tiered systems of support, and other approaches.

Helpful as these are for some students, as I see it, the US definition distracts us from our schools’ primary purpose — which is education, ensuring that students graduate as competent adults. In spite of good intentions and massive efforts by devoted and often excellent professionals, inclusion often does not enhance learning for all, especially students with disabilities. As well, we lack objective fact-based data to really know what works and what doesn’t. Much of our current “research” is advocacy-driven. Reports are often shrouded in incomplete or misinformation — raising the term, the “honesty gap”.

Sadly, many of the practices used to make inclusion work kill trust — which is vital. Schools often overpromise, but under deliver. This is especially so, as the focus of inclusion is on the students who need additional support to meet grade-level standards — not on all students, including those who are at or above grade level already. What about those students and their parents? Where is the “all” in all students?

Yet the beat goes on. Many educators and administrators pride themselves in having “inclusive” schools. But again, as I see it, they often fail to focus on the primary purpose of schooling for all students — to graduate competent young people.

Here’s a story about how far this imbalance is going, taken from my book, Special Education 2.0.

I recently spoke with an elementary school principal about this. He was a kind, soft spoken man, proud to share that he has an “inclusive school.” I asked if he knew of any research about inclusion from the perspective of general education students. He did not. What he has are anecdotal stories — many of which touch the heart.

When asked if general education teachers or parents of general education students complain that inclusion is not working for them, he said they do. But, and this shocked me, he tells parents who don’t like it that they can pull their kids out and send them to private school!

I asked one of many obvious follow-up questions — is he putting the interests of students with disabilities ahead of others? He acknowledged that he is, saying we have to educate all students!

I was speechless. I felt that he did not appreciate the irony of what he had said. Which students are “all” students?

There you have it. Inclusion at work in one elementary school. I was left to wonder how common this principal’s attitude is.

What to do instead? I believe we must focus on all students, on proven approaches that balance learning and inclusion. As one of many examples, check out Competency-Based Education (CBE). There, all students are taught and flexibly grouped by current needs in multi-age settings, and by age or interest in some content areas. “Services before labels,” is the motto in Westminster Colorado, a CBE school district. All students receive personalized interventions. The schools focus on competence for all students — with inclusion taking a supporting role. CBS / Homepage (

See also the work of the Aurora Institute, a national organization for CBE. Aurora Institute — A New Dawn for Every Learner (

For other promising approaches, see Nate Levenson’s advice to the new Biden administration, Advice to the Biden administration on improving special education. More money isn’t enough — or most important. | The Thomas B. Fordham Institute

In closing, let’s go back to WHY — schools should help students become competent young adults, with strengths, ready to flourish in their worlds. For that, make learning, not just inclusion, work by aligning academic learning and inclusion far better than we now do. This will also rebuild trust in our schools.

Westminster, CO (near Denver, in our beautiful Rocky Mountains) is a CBE — Competency-Based Education school district. Pamela Swanson, its superintendent, says that the most important day for students is the DAY AFTER GRADUATION! I love that! Graduates are ready to meet their lives! It’s purpose-driven! Congratulations Westminster!

Today, let’s be optimistic. I believe that an open discussion of these concerns will help us to build better schools & maybe even better businesses!

This was originally posted on Medium

School crossing signs. See US in bottom right corner!

This was originally posted on Medium