Panel: How to improve special ed

“There is no clear, strong message that the academic performance of students with disabilities is improving as a function of IDEA. … The data generally indicate that most students with disabilities are continuing to perform poorly,” said Fuchs.

He explained that, among schools failing to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress because of the academic performance of one subgroup, it’s the students with disabilities subgroup that is most frequently identified as the reason.

Special ed “has lost its way in this country,” Fuchs said. “It’s lost its capacity to provide intensive and expert instruction to our most academically vulnerable children and youth. There needs to be national recognition of this fact, and a collective rethinking of special education and the role of special educators in our nation’s schools. Until these things happen, there will be no important academic improvement for students with disabilities.”

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He later explained that, by his estimate, roughly 10 percent of the general student population is what he called “chronically unresponsive” to intervention efforts. Placing these students in a mainstream classroom that is co-taught by a general and a special educator cannot help them, he said, as he argued for a more intensive approach.

Lon Jacobs, a lawyer for News Corp. whose 14-year-old daughter has Down Syndrome, argued that mindsets need to be altered before any real change can occur.

“The biggest problem that we have in special education is the attitudes of some of the people in mainstream America,” said Jacobs. “Our children are often considered not quite human, that they’re not deserving of the attention they’re given, the money is better spent on other students, and it’s these attitudes that have to change before we’ll ever fix the special-education system.”

Jacobs said he believes that incorporating special-needs students into mainstream classrooms is far more beneficial than isolating them from the general population. But he acknowledged that it doesn’t have to be an “either-or” scenario, and he called for a rethinking of the idea of “least restrictive environment” (LRE).

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