CCD Responds to “Rethinking Special Education”

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Education Task Force believes that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) must be fully implemented so that no child will be left behind. While there are many schools across the country in which children with disabilities are well educated, implementation of IDEA is uneven. Shortages of qualified personnel are critical and persistent, and funding for the three state grant programs and the discretionary grant programs has never been adequate. IDEA, as reformed in the 1997 amendments and when fully implemented and enforced, provides states and local school systems with a framework to improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities.

When every public school has the necessary resources and employs qualified and well-trained staff who understand and accept their roles and responsibilities, incorporates research-based practices, involves parents as equal partners, welcomes all children and their families and believes children with disabilities can be successful, only then can we as a nation have confidence that IDEA is being effectively implemented.

The following principles for reform of IDEA were asserted by the report from The Progressive Policy Institute and the Fordham Foundation titled “Rethinking Special Education.” The CCD response to each principle is provided below.

  1. Make IDEA standards- and performance-based whenever possible, using Section 504 as the civil rights underpinning of special education.

    Nothing in IDEA precludes high standards and accountability. Many of the reforms made in the 1997 amendments have this goal, including the new requirements that students with disabilities have access to the general curriculum and be included in state and district-wide assessments. States are also required to develop performance goals and indicators that are aligned, to the maximum extent possible, with the State’s general education performance goals and standards. Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensure that students with disabilities will not be denied educational opportunities on the basis of their disabilities. However, the broad protections provided by Section 504 and the ADA by themselves do not ensure that every child with a disability receives an education that meets his or her unique needs.

  2. Streamline the number of special education categories into a few groupings.

    Attempts to lump disability categories together for the purpose of limiting eligibility are inappropriate and will be fiercely resisted by the disability community. The real question should be whether the current system accurately identifies all eligible children. Are there sufficient evaluation tools and qualified personnel to administer them and team decision-making processes in place to determine appropriately whether a child is or is not eligible for IDEA services?

    IDEA has a two-pronged eligibility standard. Special education and related services of IDEA are available to students who have disabilities and who need special assistance to benefit from education. Eligibility categories alone do not and should not dictate the services a student will receive under IDEA. The determination of whether a student has a disability and whether the student needs special instruction is based on the proper use of appropriate research-based evaluation methods that are administered by qualified individuals. Each child is unique and no two children with the same disability function in exactly the same way or to the same degree and, therefore do not automatically require the same set of supports to be successful in school. IDEA’s greatest strength is its individualized approach.

  3. Focus on prevention and intervention whenever possible, using research-based practices.

    CCD wholeheartedly agrees with this recommendation. Dissemination of effective research-based best practices to families and service providers must be a high priority. School-wide programs for emotional development and social learning should also be encouraged. Positive behavioral supports and other interventions serve to improve classroom management, prevent negative behaviors, and focus all students on learning. States also must ensure that sufficient supports are available to all children, especially in rural areas.

    In addition, CCD supports efforts to provide effective research-based early reading programs to children at-risk for reading failure. Students with disabilities must have access, with appropriate accommodations, to early reading programs when they are offered. However, access to early reading programs alone will not eliminate the need for identifying and providing services to a child who has yet to learn to read because of a disability, not because of inadequate instruction.

    Finally, IDEA’s early intervention and preschool programs should be available to all eligible children. It is vital that Congress substantially increase funding for the IDEA early intervention and preschool programs. Additional resources should also be available so that all children suspected of having a disability can be screened in all areas of development. Other state child find efforts should be enhanced to assure that no child is left behind.

  4. Encourage flexibility, innovation and choice, allowing schools to work with students and parents to customize services and placements to meet varying needs, and fostering the integration of special education into the school’s larger mission while giving parents sound options for their children’s education.

    IDEA is the model for meeting these goals. Parents must now be part of the team that decides where a child’s IEP will be implemented. The law maintains the continuum of placement options, so that families and schools together can choose an appropriate setting for IDEA services to be implemented. Such settings may include public charter schools and private schools.

    In practice, special education and general education are much too far apart and parents are not always welcomed as full partners. Efforts to improve collaboration, increase the capacity of general education to educate all students, and to improve parent-school partnerships should be encouraged. IDEA 97 also fosters the integration of special education into the school’s larger mission by requiring students with disabilities to have access to the general curriculum and measuring their academic progress by including them in state and district-wide assessments. School districts can already use up to 20 percent of the annual increase of IDEA funding to support general education. Interagency collaboration is also encouraged so that schools can access funding streams beyond IDEA.

  5. Provide adequate funding to ensure the program’s success.

    The education of all children, including children with disabilities, is the responsibility of the state. Federal funding was always intended to assist states with a portion of the excess costs associated with meeting the unique educational needs of children with disabilities, not to relieve them of that responsibility. Simply put, the level of federal funding in no way diminishes the state’s obligation to provide an appropriate education to students with disabilities. IDEA also allows the state and local education agencies to tap into other financial sources, such as Medicaid, to help pay for services to children with special needs. Although funding for Part B of IDEA which requires students with disabilities be provided with all services needed to provide a free appropriate public education has increased over the last several years, funding for Part C of IDEA, the early intervention program and the Part B – Section 619 preschool program still has not received the funding needed to ensure that all eligible children are identified and appropriately served.

    Funding must also be increased for the discretionary programs under Part D. These programs provide a sound foundation for implementation of Part B and Part C services. They also serve as quality control mechanisms for the state grants ensuring knowledge development, application of research findings to instructional practice, parent training, effective personnel preparation and technical assistance necessary to drive state of the art practice. The Department of Education reports the shortage of qualified special education teachers and related services personnel has persisted for more than two decades and is likely to continue to grow. More than 600,000 special education students are being taught by unqualified or under-qualified special education teachers. Paraprofessionals often lack the training they need. Too often superintendents, administrators, principals and general education teachers are not skilled in working with students with disabilities, despite the increasing number of students with disabilities being served in general education settings. Increased funding to Part D must be dramatic, so that every child has a qualified teacher and other qualified providers who have direct access to research-based best practices.

  6. End double standards whenever possible.

    To some, the process by which students with disabilities are provided equal access to an appropriate education may appear to promote double standards. However, in order for the 6 million students who need special education and related services to benefit from education, getting to “equal” requires an individualized approach through which each child receives special education and related services tailored to meet each child’s unique needs. IDEA’s services, accommodations, and modifications level the playing field so that children with disabilities can demonstrate their ability to perform as well as their nondisabled peers. The effectiveness of these supports has been documented by the facts that more students with disabilities are graduating from high school with a regular diploma; more students with disabilities are entering college: the drop out rate for high school students with disabilities is declining: and more young adults with disabilities are gainfully employed. IDEA also has an assurance that access to education not be denied. The standard of no cessation of education services for students with disabilities that is currently in IDEA must be applied to all children. Our nation’s schools must never deny education services to any child.

    We must focus our efforts on effective strategies that will improve educational outcomes for all children, including children with disabilities. General and special educators and support personnel must have the necessary resources to ensure student success. Only then, will no child be left behind. January 25, 2002

For additional information, please contact:

Leslie Jackson (301) 652-2682
Paul Marchand (202) 785-3388
Katherine Beh Neas (202) 347-3066
Jane West (301) 718-0979