Changes to IDEA - Principals Weigh In; What Changes Would You Make?

It is time to begin thinking about what changes you would like to see in the special education laws. IDEA will be reauthorized soon. I know that Congress has been busy with a lot of other stuff, but it is eventually going to come up. In our great democracy, the laws should reflect the input of the people. Too often though, the special interests, who are organized and who have political action groups and paid lobbyists and big time financial contributions, are the only ones communicating with members of Congress and the Administration regarding changes they would like to see in the law. I'd like to change that pattern.

The readers of this blog are a diverse group of special education stakeholders. They include: special education teachers, regular education teachers, students who will become teachers, parents of kiddos with disabilities, special education directors, hearing officers, school administrators, advocacy group members, lawyers for school districts, lawyers for parents, children with disabilities, adults with disabilities, law professors, law students, related service providers (like school psychologists and speech/language pathologists), paraprofessionals (like aides), professors of special education, employees of the technical assistance network, feds (like OSEP staff), state education staff, mediators, ALJs, staff of policy makers, school district personnel, and policy wonks. (NOTE: every time I try to list the types of readers, I unfortunately forget some. I'm sorry if I omitted you; please let remind me if I did.)

My thought is that now that we have a large number of subscribers (thanks for that) and legions of folks joining the related social networking groups, we ought to compile our own list of changes we want to suggest for IDEA and present them to the Administration and the congressional committees. So what changes would you like to see? If you could make any changes in the special education laws, what would they be?

One group is already in high gear. On November 3, 2009, The National Association of Secondary School Principals issued their list of recommendations for changes to the main special education law, IDEA. You can read their entire report here. They recommend some good changes including assessing children with disabilities for AYP/NCLB purposes at their instructional level rather than at their grade level, earlier transition planning, expanded professional development, assistance with teacher recruitment and fully funding IDEA. One of their suggestions, though, troubles me some. The principals organization suggests that standards of care be developed for each disability category recognized under IDEA. This suggestion seems to imply that there should be a standard autism program or a standard hearing impairment program. The cate

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gory of disability under IDEA is only legally relevant for purposes of the eligibility determination. Once a student is eligible, the only question is what are the child's educational needs. That is the function of the IEP. See eg, 34 C.F.R. § 300.320. Indeed, IEP stands for individualized education program. To have standardized programs would defeat one of the key policies and themes underlying the Act.

So what changes would you make? I'm making a list!