education may get overhaul
Better intervention, identification at heart of
CNN, March 19, 2003
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Millions of children in special education would face earlier
help, tougher academic standards and overhauled screening to
determine if they are truly disabled under a proposed retooling
of the program.
Republican House education leaders will present on Wednesday an
update to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the
1975 law that promised appropriate education for all. The law's
reauthorization is seen by educators as the most significant
school project facing Congress this year.
Roughly 6.3 million children receive special help, and their
education affects all classrooms as schools deal with teacher
training, shortfalls of money and student discipline.
"We must ensure that children with disabilities are given access
to an education that maximizes their unique abilities, and
provides them with the tools for later success," said bill
sponsor Rep. Mike Castle, R-Delaware, chairman of the House
Education reform subcommittee.
The House bill focuses on early help for struggling students and
better identification of true disability. It would eliminate the
use of an IQ test that measures the gap between intelligence and
achievement, one that critics say is fundamentally flawed and
withholds help until a student fails.
Democrats disagree over such issues as spending and student
discipline, where battle lines probably will be drawn in both
"They are breaking their word on special education funding, just
as they broke their promise to provide schools the resources
they promised when we enacted the 'No Child Left Behind Act,"'
said Rep. George Miller of California, ranking Democrat on the
House Education and the Workforce Committee.
Senate education leaders expect to introduce a bipartisan bill
next month, but fights are expected over spending and
private-school vouchers for disabled children. Although the
House bill was not expected to include a voucher provision,
proponents might try to add one.
Shrink paperwork, increase accountability
From less paperwork to greater accountability, the bill was
generally embraced by special-education advocates. But they also
were unimpressed by promised increases in federal money and wary
of offering support until firm details emerge.
A central aim of the bill is to keep more students from getting
into special education. Thousands are misidentified, education
officials say, including students with basic reading
difficulties and a disproportionate number of minority students.
"It's the right thing to do to identify problems early on," said
James Wendorf, executive director of the National Center for
Learning Disabilities. For example, students could get reading
help in kindergarten or first grade rather than grades 3 or 4.
"It means those students will not have to experience that cycle
of frustration and failure that leads to a whole host of poor
educational outcomes," Wendorf said.
The bill would shrink paperwork and the frequency of student
reporting for teachers, chores considered so cumbersome that
they drive teachers out of special education.
"It's not the paperwork, per se. It's the time it takes away
from teaching and learning. We're very interested in seeing that
change," said Bill East, executive director of the National
Association of State Directors of Special Education.
'No Child Left Behind'
Most children with disabilities spend much of their time in a
typical classroom, and the bill recognizes the importance of
training all teachers, said Patti Ralabate, a special education
expert for the National Education Association.
The special education law would be aligned with "No Child Left
Behind," the education law that demands better performance of
students, teachers and schools.
"We want that inclusion," Wendorf said. "It's only by being
included that our students won't be shunted aside or forgotten."
Under President Bush, the government's main spending on special
education has hit its highest level, $8.5 billion, but that
remains far short of the contribution Congress promised years
ago. The bill would increase federal spending from 18 percent to
40 percent of the per-student cost within seven years, but that
money would be discretionary, meaning no guarantees.