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Article of Interest - IDEA Reauthorization

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Bridges4Kids LogoDemeaned, Diminished, Demoralized, and Drained
by Shari Krishnan, Our Children Left Behind, April 15, 2004
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In the overall context of IDEA reauthorization from a parent perspective, this week has been full of rumors, anxiety, and emotions on overdrive. This is because amending Part B of the IDEA is one of the most important, if not the single most important, decision that our legislators can make in the lives of 6.5 million students with disabilities.

The anxiety and emotions, resulting in some of the rumors we’ve heard, seem to be stemming from the fact that it is has become clear that our Senate and House offices had not previously been well informed. They didn’t understand the consequences and far-reaching damage to students and their futures that could result by simply changing a word here and there in S.1248 and H.R.1350. They didn’t understand that Special Education supports general education, and that without a finely carved and crafted IDEA, there is simply no way that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) would work.

Special Education, as a system, is still struggling to provide students with access to the general curriculum. And access to special education professionals with expertise in doing so remains limited for many students across the country. It is staggering to know that there are students in this country who may never learn to read, and not necessarily because they don’t have the ability, even with disabilities involved. It is because special education is not strongly positioned, even in 2004, to correct decades of considering special education to be a place rather than a service to help students gain access to learning, including reading and math.

The prevailing casual district level dialogues surrounding educational proficiency for students with disabilities have been absurd, and this is not the fault of students with disabilities whatsoever. Just take a look at some of the articles in which school administrators have been interviewed about our students. Whenever I read one, I need to be prepared for a rapid onset of nausea. The blame for school failure is often placed on students with disabilities and rarely on those who never gave these students access to successful learning experiences in the first place. Shame on them, making the public feel that our kids cannot learn, hence suggesting that they are not worth the investment! Makes you wonder why they really put students with disabilities into a subgroup to begin with, doesn’t it? Unless attitudes toward what people with disabilities can and are doing change, and the skill sets of those who serve them embrace best practices, NCLB is just a fine political move for legislators who love it, with lousy policy and education outcomes for the subgroup it is supposed to protect.

Ironically, there is a major problem at the heart of this IDEA “reauthorization”: even with NCLB being the law of the land, many school professionals (at all levels in the system) still do not have a confident vision for naturally, thoughtfully, and confidently delivering the general curriculum requirements to students with varied disabilities in a way that works. When parents first heard talk that this IDEA reauthorization was necessary to align IDEA with NCLB to make them both work together, they accepted this as a reasonable scenario. It seemed to make sense that, without a stronger IDEA, the system would remain resistant to change. We figured that with the forces against change being so very strong, it would take legislation to force even the smallest move in the right direction. Thus, many parents and educators bought into the belief and trusted that IDEA reauthorization would help, not realizing that this has been one of the biggest NCLB lies ever told.

Since NCLB has rolled out, some educators have become even more afraid of including students with disabilities in their school communities, due to the remaining pervasive prejudicial assumption that students with disabilities are certain to “fail the test,” thereby making the school community itself appear to be failing. The perceived “risk” of accepting children with disabilities into school communities has rapidly overshadowed the moral imperative to rise to the challenge of educating students without disrupting the stability of their lives; instead of helping educators rise to this challenge, therefore, NCLB has instead become a compelling reason for educators to seek opportunities to dump students into any setting, anywhere else, to avoid this perceived “risk.”

For the education lobbies to be requesting more money, without engaging in honest self-reflection as to why they have contributed to the failure of educating students with disabilities and why they are failing to promote improvements to IDEA that would truly help students learn, is simply selfish and frankly unprofessional. People in other caring professions pride themselves on enhancing the personal lives of those they serve. No one can deny the fact that in the special education system, families are often demeaned, diminished, demoralized, and drained. In other fields that deal with children, families are identified as critical partners to successful outcomes. But, because parents are often stuck with their school systems and have no choices, this mean-spirited behavior is perpetuated. Where does this IDEA reauthorization address the well-known expectation that parents are actually being asked to cooperate instead of collaborate? Don’t tell me that paperwork reduction is about making more time for student contact. It has nothing to do with that. It has more to do with lessening even one more structured reason, presently built into the system, for educators to meet with families for the benefit of students, those students who in fact most need for these meetings to occur.

This IDEA reauthorization would be successful if all schools and their related lobbies across the country could be identified as true friends to students with disabilities and their families; if they could look sincerely to help students learn as opposed to placing blame and seeking ways to avoid doing what is right; and if subgroups of data were not being used to further segregate and discriminate against a federally identified subgroup of people that has tried so hard within its own culture not to be a subgroup in the community in the first place!

Do you think that this proposed IDEA reauthorization does a good job of aligning NCLB with IDEA? As always, we’d love to know what you think about this.

Shari Krishnan, today’s

©2004 Our Children Left Behind

Our Children Left Behind [OCLB] was created and is owned/operated by parent volunteers (Sandy Alperstein, Tricia & Calvin Luker, Shari Krishnan, and Debi Lewis). Permission to forward, copy, and/or post this article is granted provided that it is done in its entirety and is attributed to the author(s) and For more about OCLB or to share information, please contact


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