Sensible ways to fix special ed

Special education is overdue for “common-sense” reform, writes attorney Miriam Kurtzig Freedman in The Atlantic. “The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is an example of a statute that has achieved its noble mission but now urgently needs to be fixed in order to address its unintended consequences.” She proposes:

Focus on improving regular education for all students. The better that regular education is, the fewer students need to be identified for special education services. When developing inclusive programs, schools should base them on effective teaching practices that improve educational outcomes for both students with disabilities and regular education students.

. . . end the “medical model” in which IDEA eligibility for services requires a specialist’s diagnosis. This model is costly, problematic, and inexact. It often kicks in too late, after previously undiagnosed students have struggled and failed. The far better solution is to provide timely and appropriate education services for all students in our schools, based on their current performance, without the need for a diagnosis or label.

End the compliance-based approach to special education. Parents and teachers alike should be liberated from endless form-filling and meetings. Compliance does not improve student results. Only time on task — in classrooms — does.

Finally, use mediators, ombudsmen or other dispute-resolution models to encourage trust and collaboration between parents and schools, suggests Freedman.

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