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Last Updated: 04/12/2018


 Article of Interest - Paperwork Reduction

Law is not the problem
by Diane J. Lipton, USA Today, June 18, 2002
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The rallying cry of "too much paperwork" is another attempt to obscure the important issues and specific requirements of the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that are under attack. For 6 million U.S. children with disabilities, the law represents important civil rights legislation. Required documentation is part of the law's attempt to make school districts accountable for addressing individual educational needs.

Claims are made that special educators spend an excessive amount of time on paperwork and meetings. The law requires an Individualized Education Program (IEP), developed one time each year in a meeting for each student who receives special education services.

While the focus of these meetings and paperwork is too often on procedural compliance with the law rather than on instructionally relevant information, the purpose of the IEP is to focus on individualized instruction and academic progress. If special educators pay more attention to compliance than to student progress, that is the fault of the teacher not the law.

A more pertinent issue is whether special educators are being expected to serve too many children. With increasingly large caseloads for special educators come increases in paperwork and meetings. Even more important, though, that compromises the quality and quantity of special education services. Blame is conveniently shifted to "paperwork" rather than factors such as case load size.

Some complain that provisions added to IEP requirements in 1997 serve only to create additional paperwork and no substance. However, these provisions were added because state and federal monitors found that IEPs were not written appropriately. Often, obvious considerations were not addressed, such as the need for a child who is blind to receive instruction in Braille. That may explain some of the poor outcomes for special education students.

The 1997 enhanced requirements were brought about to ameliorate identified problems with IDEA implementation prior to 1997. This history should not be overlooked now as various factions attempt to remove these "burdensome paperwork" requirements, a thinly veiled attempt to roll back the law.

Diane J. Lipton is the director of Children's Advocacy Program, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund Inc.

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