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Special Education Commission Issues Report
& Recommendations to Improve Special Education

On July 9, 2002, the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education published its report, A New Era: Revitalizing Special Education for Children and their Families. This report includes findings and recommendations to improve the educational performance of students with disabilities.

"Moms and dads want the best for their children.
They understand that the only way to know if teachers are teaching and their children are learning is to measure for results —
and to hold schools accountable.
" - Rod Paige, Secretary of Education

Before compiling these findings and recommendations, the Commission conducted public hearings in several cities.The Commission also received input from more than 100 special education experts, individuals with disabilities, and parents of children with disabilities. (Read reports and transcripts)

"As a nation, we have made the commitment to all children in our public schools that every one of them can and will learn. Every single child. Regardless of race, income or zip code." -
Rod Paige, Secretary of Education

The President's Commission made three main recommendations:

* Focus on results, not process;
* Embrace a prevention model, not a failure model; and
* Consider children with disabilities as general education children first.

The Commission stressed the importance of:

* accountability for results;
* parental input; and
* efficient, compassionate ways to improve outcomes in school settings.

The Commission made several recommendations about assessment and identification:

* Identify and intervene early;
* Simplify the process;
* Incorporate response to intervention; and
* Incorporate universal design in accountability tools.

"The current system often places process above results, and bureaucratic compliance above student achievement, excellence and outcomes." - President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education

The report classified the disabilities covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) into three major categories: sensory disabilities, physical and neurological disabilities, and developmental disabilities.

Although objective criteria should be used to identify students with these disorders, in many cases identification is a judgment call based on the child's need for services. The Commission noted it "could not identify firm practical or scientific reasons supporting the current classification of disabilities in IDEA."


The Commission made the following findings:

1. While IDEA provides basic legal safeguards and access, "the current system often places process above results, and bureaucratic compliance above student achievement, excellence, and outcomes."

2. "The current system uses an antiquated model that waits for a child to fail, instead of a model based on prevention and intervention."

3. All special education students are general education students first. The costs should be viewed as an additional cost and not that of a separate program. "General and Special Education share responsibilities for children with disabilities."

4. "When a child fails to make progress in special education, parents don't have adequate options and little recourse."

5. "The culture of compliance has often developed from pressures of litigation, diverting much energy of the public schools' first mission: educating every child."

6. Thousands of children are misidentified or not identified each year because "many of the current methods of identifying children with disabilities lack validity."

7. Children with disabilities require highly qualified, better-prepared teachers.

8. "Research on special education needs enhanced rigor and long-term coordination necessary to support the needs of children, educators and parents."

9. "The focus on compliance and bureaucratic imperatives in the current system, instead of academic achievement and social outcomes, fails too many children with disabilities . . . Parents want an educational system that is results oriented and focused on the child's needs -- in school and beyond."

Download the Report of the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education, "A New Era: Revitalizing Special Education for Children and their Families" in Word and PDF:


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