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Special Educators Worry Push To Attain National Goals Is Leaving Them Behind

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BALTIMORE--Special educators should "take the lead'' in helping to carry out President Bush's America 2000 plan for reforming education, Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander said last week.

But his remarks, made here during a national meeting of the Council for Exceptional Children, failed to allay the fears of some special educators that children with disabilities will be left out of the national education-goals movement.

That issue was a major topic of discussion among the 5,000 special educators meeting here. Participants said they fear disabled children will not be able to meet proposed new national student-achievement standards, or will be automatically excluded from proposed national-assessment plans.

Mr. Alexander told the group, however, that those efforts are meant to include all students.

Asking where special education fits in the President's plan, the Secretary said, is "the wrong question.''

"Don't fit; be the leader,'' he said.

"Who else has done more with technology?'' he asked. "To try to involve parents?''

"Who else has seen the need for early intervention?'' he added.

To ensure the field's involvement, the Secretary said the Education Department will form a national network of special educators to work with the communities that win grants from the privately funded New American Schools Development Corporation to create "break the mold'' schools. Within the department, he noted, special educators are also being included on teams formed to carry out the first of the national education goals: making sure all children start school "ready to learn.''

Mr. Alexander said the department had also organized meetings between special-education groups and the panels making recommendations for national student-achievement standards and a national assessment system.

Several special educators at the conference said they viewed Mr. Alexander's remarks as a sign of "progress'' in ensuring that their concerns were being heard by federal officials. But, they said, the Secretary did not go far enough.

"Suggesting that we as special educators should take the lead was an endorsement--if not a charge--for what we're doing,'' said Ronald J. Anderson, the president of the Council for Exceptional Children and a special educator from North Carolina.

"What public officials sometimes forget is, if we're going to talk about including all students, we have to define what 'all' is,'' he added.

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