Special Education

Reporter’s Notebook

April 19, 2000 4 min read

States Still Struggling With Early Intervention Programs

Nearly 10 years after Congress created early-intervention programs for infants and toddlers suspected of having disabilities, the jury is still out on whether states have been effective in providing those services.

Kenneth R. Warlick

Nearly 10 years after Congress created early-intervention programs for infants and toddlers suspected of having disabilities, the jury is still out on whether states have been effective in providing those services.

Simply identifying at-risk children remains a challenge for many states, researchers said here at the annual conference of the Council for Exceptional Children.

Kenneth R. Warlick, the director of the U.S. Department of Education’s office of special education programs, said he fears that many children are being left out of early-intervention services provided by Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

He told participants at one conference session that his office, known as OSEP, was working with Title I coordinators to spread the word about available services. It also plans to propose guidelines later this spring to instruct states on some of the more confusing aspects of the program, such as when schools can be reimbursed for their services by a family’s private insurance fund.

In another meeting, researchers who studied Part C programs in Connecticut and Indiana said that they had initially been costly and bureaucratic. But the states were restructuring their programs to make them more effective.

A longitudinal study examining Part C in 20 states is being conducted by OSEP and will provide more answers, the researchers said. That study will be released in about two months, according to the Education Department.

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The CEC’s annual conference, held April 5-9, had a decidedly international flair this year, and hundreds of visitors were treated to spectacular views of Vancouver’s harbor and snow-capped mountains from the Canada Place conference center.

CEC members are becoming more interested in international issues, and the special education advocacy group, based in Reston, Va., is working to become the premier international group for children with disabilities and those deemed gifted.

About 1,000 participants arrived two days early to attend the Special Education World Congress, hosted by the CEC’s international division. That conference, held about every five years, brings together researchers and practitioners to exchange information.

Inclusionary practices for special education students—educating them as much as possible in the same way as other students—are increasingly common worldwide, said Lena Saleh, the former director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO.

“Indeed, it has been a decade of development landmarks,” said Ms. Saleh, a keynote speaker at the congress.

But significant barriers remain, she said, notably in the areas of teacher education and school finance.

Teachers around the world are not receiving the training they need to successfully integrate students with disabilities students into regular classroooms, Ms. Saleh said. And most funding formulas allocate money toward individual children, which can entice schools to overidentify students and create exclusionary programs, she said.

Funding formulas should instead be tied to explicit requirements for inclusionary policies, she argued.

Later this month, the Paris-based UNESCO will release a report showing a correlation between population density and inclusion. Segregated schools are most likely to be found in more densely populated areas, Ms. Saleh said, while rural areas are more likely to include disabled students in regular classrooms out of financial necessity.

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One of the virtually unspoken problems in special education is the lack of information on students with disabilities who contract sexually transmitted diseases or become pregnant, according to health educators who spoke during one panel discussion.

The educators urged the CEC and states to require that teacher-candidates learn how to teach health and sex education to students with disabilities in order to be certified in special education.

No concrete numbers exist on how many disabled students are sexually active. Wanda J. Blanchett, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said the dozens of schools she had approached about a study on the topic had refused to allow her to survey their students.

But anecdotal evidence leads educators to believe that the problem is increasing. One audience member, for instance, said that two mentally retarded girls, ages 14 and 16, in her school had recently become pregnant.

“We know that a lot of students, by virtue of their disabilities, have difficulties processing information and making decisions,” Ms. Blanchett said.

In a review of teacher education textbooks, two panel members found scant information on teaching special education students about such matters.

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Special education administrators for schools in impoverished areas should consider taking advantage of increasing opportunities to combine IDEA and Title I dollars, according to another research group.

About 9 percent, or 1 million, of the 11 million students eligible for Title I services are also classified as disabled, according to Sharon Lee Beckstrom, a senior research associate with the private RMC Research Corp. in Arlington, Va. Combining the funds is cost-efficient and makes better use of personnel, she said.

Such programs must be implemented in schools that already have Title I schoolwide programs, where a majority of students qualify for the federal aid for disadvantaged students. In schoolwide programs, students are not explicitly labeled as at-risk or disabled, but students with disabilities have greater access to a more challenging curriculum, Ms. Beckstrom said.

—Joetta L. Sack

A version of this article appeared in the April 19, 2000 edition of Education Week as Reporter’s Notebook

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