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Special Education Column

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At this month's annual meeting of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, at least one speaker gave the group kudos for starting to move special education into the school-reform arena.

But the speaker, Cynthia G. Brown, the director of the resource center on educational equity for the Council of Chief State School Officers, highlighted the division in the special-education community over how to amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the landmark 1975 federal law.

"The community as a whole seems to be of two minds," Ms. Brown said.

"On the one hand, it wants to be an integral part of the standards-based movement, but on the other hand it forcefully resists changes in Congress," she said.

The I.D.E.A. is slated for reauthorization next year. The special-education directors' group released a draft reauthorization proposal at the meeting in Grand Rapids, Mich.

It recommends tying the law to the Goals 2000: Educate America Act to focus more on disabled students' educational outcomes. Goals 2000 encourages all students to reach high academic standards.

Historically, Ms. Brown said, the I.D.E.A. has created a separate school bureaucracy that resists integration with other programs, making it difficult to include students with disabilities in the larger school-reform movement.

Some advocates for children with disabilities have opposed tampering with the I.D.E.A. for fear of losing the civil-rights and educational protections it offers such children.

NASDSE officials announced at the meeting that they will focus more on special-education issues affecting rural areas.

"Children and teachers in rural America probably haven't gotten the attention they need from our organization," Martha J. Fields, the executive director, said in an interview.

"There's been a lot of attention paid to the urban areas and their problems," she said.

Jerry F. White, the chairman of the American Council of Rural Special Education, said he expects the two groups to work more closely in the future on issues such as distance learning, technology, and teacher training.

Most colleges and universities are not preparing special-education teachers for the realities of rural schools, Mr. White said.

His organization represents more than 500 administrators, teachers, parents, and teacher educators nationwide.

--Lynn Schnaiberg

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