Leave 6.5 Million Children Behind: An Open Letter to U.S.
Secretary of Education Rod Paige
Krishnan, Our Children Left Behind, October 13, 2003
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This isn’t just about jobs . . .
it is also about quality of life. A sound education gives
purpose. It provides companionship and solace. It enriches the
mind and spirit.
Secretary Paige Back-to-School Address
Dear Secretary Paige,
In December of 2001, I had the fine opportunity to celebrate the
introduction of the No Child Left Behind Act with you and an
auditorium full of education leaders from across this great
land. I vividly recall your compassionate style and sincere
words as you placed your hands gently on my shoulder and
whispered, “This is for your son.”
was so relieved. I believed you, Secretary Paige. I thought that
finally the days of segregating students, based solely on their
having a disability, would be gone. No longer would I have to
fight for my son’s right to have a meaningful public education
experience in his own neighborhood. With No Child Left Behind,
it would now be a given. And it would now be understood by the
President, our Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, state
departments of education, local districts, and in our
communities. I praised the President for taking such a bold step
of leadership in protecting the rights of students with
disabilities along with other students.
Some don’t believe all children
can learn. They say it’s silly to have a goal of all children
being proficient by 2014. I would ask them what percentage
should be our goal? Who will judge which children to leave
Ever since I met you and embraced your encouraging words, I
enthusiastically invested thousands of my family’s own
hard-earned dollars to learn more about this great No Child Left
Behind Act, its rulemaking process, and its cast of characters.
I have been to rulemaking hearings, U.S. Department of Education
rollout meetings, and have become proficient enough in its
content to offer talks about it to others.
It is almost two years later, Secretary Paige. I am sad and so
sorry to report to you that I am absolutely terrified for my
son’s future. The present members of the House of
Representatives are sabotaging the promise for a better
inclusive future for my son. Without your help, and that of
President Bush, my son will not only be left behind, he could
easily be left out of the education system altogether. The No
Child Left Behind Act will be able to do nothing to protect my
son from this eventuality. Only IDEA can come to the rescue.
Back-to-School Address dated September 24, 2003. It made me
weep. I felt pain in my chest from my heavily betrayed heart.
The promises of No Child Left Behind and its related IDEA
reauthorization now appear to be nothing more than “code talk”
for stripping away the rights of 6.5 million students and their
families who love them.
The President wanted
emancipation for students and parents, and a guarantee of the
full promise of our democracy.
In the name of “aligning” IDEA with No Child Left Behind,
Congress horrified parents of students with disabilities by
introducing H.R. 1350. Since the introduction of H.R. 1350, I
have not heard one parent say he or she likes and supports this
bill. Not one (and I am a co-Webmaster for a volunteer Web site
that has received over 42,000 visits since May of 2003).
Frankly, I don’t see a thing in H.R. 1350 that makes No Child
Left Behind work better than what we presently have for students
with disabilities. Maybe it is because each and every student
and family protection has been stripped from this proposed
Part B of IDEA ’97 does much better in making the President’s
education agenda a humanistic reality for our students. It has
helped teachers understand the meaning of access to the
curriculum versus simply the place. Tens of thousands of
educators have learned to handle student behavior in more
capable, confident, and compassionate ways. Disciplinary actions
are now looked upon as “teachable moments” by the finest of our
educators. Parents and general education teachers play a more
important role at the table, helping define what is truly
“special” about special education for our students.
Without IDEA 97, students such as Lee Alderman (the student with
autism that you cited as an education success story in your
Back-to-School Address) could never have come this far. The ‘97
Amendments gave teachers and parents a finer context for rich
dialogue pertaining to student outcomes and developing essential
educational roadmaps to get them to where they need to be.
We must be held accountable for
our results to our stakeholders: students, parents, and the
taxpayers. There are some who are fighting this change in the
classroom, in the faculty lounge, in the school board rooms, in
the mayor’s office, or before the city council. Some are going
higher, to the state house and to Capitol Hill.
No Child Left Behind proponents claim that parent input is
instrumental in assisting with accountability, yet Congressman
Boehner has sent memos out to his colleagues accusing parents
and advocates of not knowing what we are talking about . .
.essentially calling us liars. He attempted to lock parents out
of the democratic process of the IDEA reauthorization by
vilifying and publicly humiliating us. He has encouraged our
elected officials not to even listen to us. Congressman Boehner
and his colleagues have consistently been supporting, those you
call, “the old guard . . . the keepers of the status quo,” who
you and the President claim have left students behind and in
despair for years.
It is the lack of accountability
that has gotten us into this mess.
Congressman Boehner and a few of his Senate counterparts who are
working on S. 1248 are stripping parents of any means to help
hold education systems accountable for students with
disabilities. How can we talk about the role of parents in the
accountability process, yet remove the necessary protections
needed to do this, all in the same breath?
They like the habits and
consistency of repeating the past, even if repetition means
disaster for millions of American students.
If H.R. 1350 and S. 1248 are not strengthened further to protect
the rights of students with disabilities (and their parents who
assist them in protecting those rights), it is reasonable to
assume that we could roll back the progress that has been made
for students with disabilities over the past 30 years. It will
not be the school staff, U.S. Representatives, or U.S. Senators
who will suffer the grave consequences of these roll backs in
IDEA protections; rather it will be the 6.5 million students and
beg you, Secretary Paige, to sit down with President Bush and
seriously consider the pleas of families for a better IDEA
reauthorization than what we are facing with H.R. 1350 and some
similar sections of S. 1248. I cannot imagine that the intent
to align IDEA with No Child Left Behind was to remove from IDEA
everything that makes sense for students and families. Parents
have not had a voice. Please don’t let anyone fool the two of
you when they tell you that we have. Yes, there may have been
some token representation along the way. But the true
partnership that is realized with sincere collaboration has been
missing, and it is evident when you read the proposed bills.
Parents don’t have the millions of dollars of public school
money, paid time off of work to travel to Capitol Hill, and paid
lobbyists to support our views. We are parents of students with
disabilities who must work hard to deal with some very difficult
and costly life circumstances. We cannot afford to leave our
families and jobs. So, we often need to advocate for our
children from afar. We need elected officials and their
appointees to listen and understand this.
Our walk is just beginning.
Let’s walk together.
Many thanks, Secretary Paige, in anticipation for your kind
consideration of my message. Your action could make the
difference between life and living for 6.5 million students and
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