Reform’s ‘One Consensus’: Change Special Education

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To the Editor:

Laurence M. Lieberman, in his letter to the editor ("‘Kicking Down Barns’: In Special Education, Complexities Matter," March 23, 2005.), harshly criticizes my analysis of the abysmal failure of special education instruction ("The Illusion and Broken Promises of Special Education," Commentary, March 9, 2005.) Apparently, he is the last person in America who wants to defend the pitifully low academic achievement of students with learning and other disabilities.

Mr. Lieberman must be out of touch with the research by Sally Shaywitz and others showing that most students with disabilities could achieve at much higher levels if individualized education programs required scientifically based instruction. This research is reviewed in detail in the Abell Foundation report from which the Commentary was drawn.

Lacking knowledge of the research, many educators harbor low expectations that become toxic self-fulfilling prophecies. To repeat a quotation in the Commentary from Rachel F. Quenemoen of the National Center on Educational Outcomes: “For many educators, special education labels have become code words that say ‘this child can’t learn.’ What is frightening is that over the past 30 years that belief has become ingrained. ...”

It is particularly sad that Mr. Lieberman also seems out of touch with the anger and heartbreak of parents whose children are denied appropriate instruction. As a pro bono attorney, I represented many of these parents and children, and my experience in Baltimore fits a national pattern. My writing on this subject has been praised in many national publications, including those published by special education advocates. And I have received numerous letters from parents and teachers all over the country thanking me for exposing the “illusion and broken promises” of special education.

In fact, if there is one consensus in the polarized world of education reform, it is on the need to change the focus of special education from procedural compliance to the quality of instruction. Witness the raising of the bar for academic achievement in recent revisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and in the No Child Left Behind Act. Seems like Mr. Lieberman just doesn’t get it.

Kalman R. Hettleman
Baltimore, Md

Vol. 24, Issue 30, Page 38

Published in Print: April 6, 2005, as Reform’s ‘One Consensus’: Change Special Education

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