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Article of Interest - IDEA Reauthorization

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by Sandy Alperstein,, December 17, 2003
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Yesterday the Lukers revived their earlier call to "Let It B." Consider this "Let It B: Take 2." Same song, different verse.

The Lukers advised us to keep telling our children's stories. As we well should. However, while this reauthorization is supposedly intended to benefit children, it is also supposedly intended to "align" the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The Lukers told us how the proposed bills in Congress fail to accomplish the first goal; I will tell you how these bills fail to accomplish the second.

Some policymakers have been asking us for "evidence" to support our arguments. They have been telling us that anecdotal evidence (such as a parent's personal story) is all well and good, but where is the "real" evidence to support what we are saying? While this sounds like a fair question, it really isn't. If you think about it, developing "real" evidence (such as a research study) requires money and other resources that parents typically lack. Institutional players (like the federal government) are the ones who typically are able to fund and implement research studies, not parents. And their employees are also more likely to be aware of what research is out there than parents are.

Moreover, school lobbies have been using anecdotal evidence to make their case to Congress all along. They have been sharing supposed "horror stories" with our legislators - stories of overwhelming paperwork, overly litigious parents, and dangerous, out of control children. Why have they not been presenting "real" evidence to Congress? Isn't there any?

Well, actually there is. Problem is, their evidence supports us! So we (and Congress) don't hear much about it. That needs to change, and it needs to change now! So when you communicate with your legislators, along with sharing your personal stories with them, please consider sharing some of the following as well:

Short Term Objectives (STOs): Did you know that in a study funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), teachers rated STOs as the second most helpful part of an IEP? Only documenting current performance ranked higher. A hefty 27% of teachers surveyed found STOs to be the most helpful part of a student's IEP. Yet both the Senate and House bills eliminate STOs, supposedly to help reduce the paperwork burden on teachers. But the "real" evidence demonstrates that teachers do not consider STOs to be unnecessary paperwork! In fact, they consider STOs very important! Actually, this study determined that teachers spent too much time doing Medicaid paperwork and that teachers with insufficient computer access had heavier paperwork burdens. Yet neither of these problems is even mentioned in the current IDEA bills!

Discipline: Did you know that the Government Accounting Office (GAO) found that the current discipline provisions of IDEA '97 not only allow school administrators the flexibility to maintain safe schools, but also work to protect students with disabilities? (Report #GAO-01-210, posted at So the "real" evidence points to the effectiveness of the current discipline provisions, yet both bills drastically change these provisions!

Attorney Fee Caps: Did you know that according to data provided by NASDSE (National Association of State Directors of Special Education), in a recent school year only 1 out of 1,844 IDEA-eligible students proceeded to due process? That amounts to approximately 0.054% of such students, hardly a staggering number! Moreover, despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, the "real" evidence demonstrates that schools are NOT spending inordinate amounts on IDEA litigation. In fact, in a report funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), it was found that special education mediation, due process, and litigation expenses account for only 0.3% of total special education expenditures!

If you didn't know all this, I'll bet your legislators don't either. (Because, let's face it, how likely is it that the school lobbies are publicizing this information when it hurts rather than helps their case?)

Remember, NCLB is all about data. Yet the data indicates that the problems Congress is supposedly trying to remedy with their proposed IDEA bills just do not exist. Solutions in search of a problem; hardly an "alignment" of IDEA with NCLB.

Tell your legislators to stop looking for trouble. Stop wasting taxpayer dollars and educators' time trying to fix something that isn't broken. Stop using NCLB as an excuse for these proposed changes. Tell them to just "Let It B!"


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