Is DoED considering sacrificing disabled children?

Diane Ravitch set off alarms with this recent post about plans bubbling up at the Department of Education to cutback on enforcement of provisions of IDEA, specifically the Individual Education Plans (IEPs) of every special needs student. Ravitch’s remarks are based on listening to a speech by the Director of OSEP, Melodie Musgrove, at an April convention of the Council for Exceptional Children.

In its press release about the plans, the Department of Education is very general as to what the actually changes might be, but the implication is clearly that more emphasis will be placed on “academic performance and graduation rates.” Ravitch and others fear that means more emphasis on their performance on standarized tests, and less attention to schools providing the hard-won supports these students often need.

The OSEP did announce that  it “will not be conducting the on-site monitoring visits scheduled for the 2012-2013 school year.” That’s a cause for some concern since it’s in preparation for those visits that I’ve seen schools, even entire districts, get their house in order–at least in regards to the paperwork–for all special needs students. How will OSEP replace that oversight role? Will they be using technology, or is that going to be shifted more to the states (a problematic transfer, much like asking states to ensure that the civil rights of all their citizens are being protected).

In the past, academic peformance by special needs students (which includes gifted, physically handicapped, mentally impaired, and many other categories) has been determined in light of his/her IEP. Further, whether and how a special needs student is included in statewide standardized testing is also supposed to be governed by the IEP. The inclusion of special needs students in such testing has been a source of much frustration, and even shown in some cases to be detrimental to the children.

Like edblogger Alice Mercer, I too am a teacher AND a parent of a special needs child (actually of 2, and now a grandparent of one as well). This discussion strikes very close to home for some of our must vulnerable students, their families, and teachers. Mercer raises some poignant questions for the OSEP to consider as they move in this area, including the observation that states are not all that “compliant” yet with providing for their special needs populations, so is this really the time to consider lessening the oversight?

This is an area that should be closely watched, and about which the Department should move with great caution and transparency.

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