Government Looks to Revise Special Ed Policy
> 5/4/2007 3:03:26 PM

In order to better determine which public school students belong in special education classes and shift attentions accordingly, the United States government plans to devote a greater portion of its financial investment to the early intervention program contained within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The idea behind this evolving legislation, which was first signed into law by President Bush in 2004, is that many of the students currently involved in the special education program do not, in fact, suffer from notable learning and cognitive disabilities but continue to perform badly because of poor home environments, lack of encouragement and other (at least partially), socioeconomic factors. A disproportionate number of these children come from low-income households, where they often receive fewer extracurricular learning opportunities and less attention from parents.

The concept is a very valid one, as our neediest children should be given the most direct and personalized assistance. The stigma of being in special ed programs in the first place often reinforces low self-opinions among the kids involved and only furthers the poor performance cycle, so we should make intensive efforts to ensure that resources are distributed most effectively in order to help as many children as possible to realize their potential. Hopefully we can limit membership in special ed programs to those who truly need them.

Seven million American children are currently in special ed, and approximately one-half of them have diagnosed learning disabilities (the most common being dyslexia). Since the 1970's, the primary method for determining whether a child has an LD has been in noting discrepancies between IQ scores and academic performance - kids who aren't receiving grades equal to their intellects are singled out as potentially disabled. Critics call this the "wait to fail" approach, arguing that, by the time many kids have registered scores qualifying them for special programs, it's too late in their development to undo the damage wrought by "bad teaching" or inattention and bring them up to the level of their peers. Limited research has suggested that paying early attention to children who may potentially develop into problem students can have certain positive effects on their future status, helping them to better complete work appropriate for their respective ages and intellects. Of course, these children must still be identified, most likely through standardized testing, as kids in need of intervention.

Critics of the plan argue that it will result in funding cuts to the children who need special ed while more money is spent on research determining which kids will need to be taken in. Some parents of children with learning disabilities are particularly dissatisfied with the plan. The money allocated, they say, belongs with the children already affected, not with those who either have yet to be diagnosed or do not suffer from disabilities at all. Few will deny their assertion that special ed is already seriously underfunded and that, unless more money comes with these changes in policy, disabled kids will actually wind up receiving less. Incorrectly attributed learning disabilities can damage the educational experience just as much as those that go undiagnosed, and pre-emptive intervention, if applied correctly, could help thousands of children find their way into the appropriate classes. But sacrificing the well-being of students currently dealing with LDs is not an acceptable side-effect of testing and implementing methods that have yet to be empirically proven.

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