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Will Suggests More Flexibility in Education Aid

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Washington--The Education Department's top special-education policymaker has suggested that schools be allowed more flexibility in allocating resources to special-needs students.

Madeleine C. Will, assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, told educators last month that such flexibility may be necessary because the "categorical nature" of programs under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, Chapter 1 compensatory education, bilingual education, and migrant education has "produced mixed results for some children."

Ms. Will presented her views at a conference on "The Education of Students With Special Needs," held at the Johnson Foundation's Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wis. The text of her remarks was released here by the Education Department.

"At the heart of the categorical approach," Ms. Will said, "is the presumption that students with learning problems cannot be effectively taught in regular education programs, even with a variety of support."

"Although well-intentioned, this so-called 'pull-out approach,"' she continued, "has failed in many instances to meet the educational needs of these students and has created, however unwittingly, barriers to their successful education."

To break down such barriers, Ms. Will suggested initiating experimental programs at the school level that would empower administrators "to assemble appropriate professional and other resources for delivering effective, coordinated, comprehensive services for all students based on individual educational needs rather than eligibility for categorical programs."

Concerns Echoed

Ms. Will's comments echoed the concerns of other experts in the special-education field, who say that because of the shortage of funds in some categorical programs, students with a variety of learning problems are being moved into special education.

One result, experts note, has been a steady increase in the number of students labeled "learning-disabled." Allowing schools more flexibility in categorizing special-needs students, these experts say, would be one way to stem the increase. (See Education Week, Nov. 13, 1985.)

However, although many advocates for the disabled have expressed support for flexibility in categorical programs, some are hesitant about endorsing the idea of eliminating the "pull-out model."

"We are concerned that in an effort to save money, children will remain in regular classrooms and will not be tested right away in an appropriate manner," said Anne Flemming, president of the Association for Children and Adults With Learning Disabilities. "Therefore, they will not be found eligible for special-education services under P.L. 94-142."

Ms. Flemming said her organization has scheduled a meeting this month to study the issue.

Experimental Programs

The idea of local experimental programs would be preferable, however, to "wholesale legislative change," Ms. Flemming said.

L. Michael Herrell, director of planning and policy in the federal special-education office, said the department has looked at various demonstration programs in the past year and hopes to fund several projects in 1986.

"What we're looking at is an initiative at various levels, from the federal to the state to the school level," he said. "We're just trying to encourage experimentation."

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