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Published in Print: May 16, 2001, as Policy-Research Groups Issue Joint Report on Special Education

Policy-Research Groups Issue Joint Report on Special Education

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Students are being needlessly referred to special education because of other deficiencies in the education system, concludes one of a collection of 14 papers released last week by two think tanks here. The organizations hope to set the agenda for reconsidering how the nation educates students with disabilities.

For More Information

"Rethinking Special Education for a New Century" is available from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation's Web site,, or from the Progressive Policy Institute's Web site,

The papers, released in a joint effort by the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and the Progressive Policy Institute, the research arm of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, are aimed at influencing the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, planned for next year. The papers point out many of the problems long discussed by special education experts.

Among the findings in the papers are that race is a factor in special education placement; that the current programs focus on complying with regulations rather than on student achievement; that standards-based accountability systems encourage schools to exclude students in special education from high-stakes tests; and that granting accommodations on tests encourage some parents to seek special education classification for their children.

Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Fordham Foundation, said special education does not help students overcome disabilities and "has become a one-way street."

"It's relatively easy to send children down it, but they rarely return," said Mr. Finn, who was an assistant education secretary under President Reagan. "The program needs a top- to-bottom rethinking."

Andrew J. Rotherman, the director of the Progressive Policy Institute's 21st Century Schools Project, said special education is still far from what it should be.

"What happened in the past was an abomination," Mr. Rotherman, who served a stint as an education aide to President Clinton, said at a press conference held by the two groups last week. "What's happening now isn't good enough either."

The report recommends: focusing on prevention and early intervention; streamlining special education categories into a few broad groupings; allowing schools to customize services; and providing enough funding to meet special education requirements.

Vol. 20, Issue 36, Page 29

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