Panel: How to improve special ed


About 6.6 million students with disabilities are learning alongside their peers at a neighborhood school, up from 1.7 million in 1975.


As the push for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) increases, leaders in the field of special education recently debated whether the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) should be reworked to further align with ESEA, and how else the law might be improved to better meet the needs of students with disabilities.

“The 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has changed priorities for special-needs students. It’s been credited with improving outcomes for students but criticized for generating bureaucracy and rules and regulations that some believe stand in the way of providing more effective services,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies for the Brookings Institution. West moderated a Jan. 18 panel discussion on how to improve special ed.

Alexa Posny, assistant secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services with the U.S. Department of Education (ED), argued that IDEA has been very successful in meeting the needs of students with disabilities—and aligning it with ESEA would increase its strength even further.

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“I’m advocating for greater alignment between ESEA and IDEA. Alignment does not mean the merger of IDEA and ESEA. Nor does it represent any intention whatsoever to diminish or weaken IDEA as a unique and freestanding civil rights statute. … The reauthorization of ESEA and IDEA will create an opportunity for a paradigm shift that will allow us to define one educational system, while also refining our policies and practices to make certain that we educate all students to the highest possible standards,” said Posny.

Better alignment of IDEA and ESEA would allow policy makers to use the same definitions for what makes a highly effective teacher; use the same data-collection system for both general and special ed; coordinate initiatives within schools districts and education agencies; and concentrate on results rather than enforcement, she argued.

But others weren’t so sure that aligning the laws’ policies would have the best outcome.

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