NASBE Calls for End to Differentiation Between Regular and Special Education

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Special education should be reformed in tandem with general education and be made part of a unified system that does not differentiate between the needs of handicapped students and others, an interim report from the National Association of State Boards of Education urges.

The association's Study Group on Special Education also said in its report that labeling children is wrong because "a label cannot define the services that are needed or the best education setting for a child."

Labeling children, the report said, and tailoring an educational program to that label rather than to individual needs, "may be as discriminatory and damaging as providing educational programs based on race or gender."

The position paper represents the midway point in the 16-member panel's two-year look at the state of special education. A final report is scheduled to be issued next October.

In presenting its interim report, the group called on state boards of education to play a "pivotal role" in the success of all aspects of reform by shaping policies and providing vision.

During its first year of study, the NASBE group developed a set of "operating assumptions" for its work. The assumptions include that:

  • The education needs of students are not defined by an assigned category of disability.
  • The education needs of students are not defined by the severity of their disability.
  • Many student needs can be met by regular teachers, with support, who have broad training in instructional strategies that meet diverse student needs.

The group also called for students with special needs to be integrated into the regular education program "to the maximum extent possible."

"Students," the report said, "must learn to function in the 'real world' if they are to be productive, well-adjusted citizens after graduation."

However, the group cautioned against a situation in which every child is integrated and there are no choices for separate programming.

"The important issue," the report said, "is whether the teacher is comfortable with his or her students, and whether the student is learning."

'Window of Opportunity'

The report also said often it is regular classroom instruction that needs to be changed--not special education. Deficiencies in academic performance can result from school deficiencies, not students' "deficits," the panel said.

Classroom instruction also should not be divided into two standard sots, normal and special, and teachers should not be trained and socialized to expect there are just those same two types of teachers and students. In detailing its assumptions, the group acknowledged in the report that not all experts and policymakers agree with those viewpoints.

Some would maintain, the report said, that if labeling is avoided, special programming will be sacrificed; that it is unlikely that low performers will ever lose their stigma in the educational setting; and that the knowledge does not exist to establish full-time mainstreaming on a large scale, making it unfeasible now.

But the study group wrote that it believes it is "imperative that states, local districts, and policymakers embrace the concept that all children can learn in environments that value a broad array of student talents and provide adequate support to teachers and students as they work together to create student success."

Virginia Roach, director of NASBE'S Center on Teaching and Learning and the staff liaison to the special-education study group, said what was "unique and new" about the report was that it comes from the general education community, which has "not consciously dealt with integration" of special-education students into its offerings.

With the general education reform movement underway, however, she said there is now "a window of opportunity to take a look at education efforts across the board."

Ms. Roach said the study group-which is circulating the report among educators, parents, and policymakers--will fold feedback into its discussions and use it to stimulate thinking as well.

Copies of the report are available for $4 each from NASBE Publications, 1012 Cameron St., Alexandria, Va. 22314.

Vol. 11, Issue 07, Page 4

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