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Why I Am Optimistic About IDEA 2004
by Pete Wright
Law & RegsGuidance l Articles l News
Wrightslaw: IDEA 2004 l Publications

Print this page
When I was nine years old, I got into a bloody schoolyard fight with another boy because he called me names. What name did he call me that caused me to go ballistic and throw the first punch?


I didn't know what "optimist" meant. I was sure it was the worst of the bad words so I let him have it - a straight right to the nose, blood splattered.

Imagine my surprise when I learned what the word meant - and what I had done.

Congress enacted IDEA 2004 in November. The President signed it into law on December 3, 2004.

The IDEA 2004 Statute
At that time, I went through the reauthorized statute - line by line, hour after hour, for days.
I wrote the comparison of IDEA 97 to IDEA 2004 which was published on Wrightslaw.
(Pam checked the statistics - this document has been downloaded 62,352 times)

Initially, my view of IDEA 2004 was negatively influenced by the reactions of others. As I continued to read the law and think about it, I saw more positives.

The Proposed Regs
Then, on Friday June 10, the Department of Education published the proposed IDEA regulations (652 pages, double-spaced). I went through the proposed regulations, reformatted them - and read them. On Sunday, June 12, we posted the reformatted regulations on Wrightslaw as two documents:

IDEA 2004 Regulations: Proposed - 97 pages in pdf

IDEA 2004 Regulations: Explanations and Commentary
- 65 pages
in pdf

During this time, Pam and I were working around the clock on Wrightslaw: IDEA 2004. We wanted to make this publication available before IDEA 2004 went into effect on July 1, 2005.
We were successful - Wrightslaw: IDEA 2004 is available now. (news release and prepublication offer)

After reading the law, the proposed regulations, and the explanations and commentary about the regulations, I feel even better about IDEA 2004.

I believe IDEA 2004 can be a powerful tool to improve educational results for our children.


Findings & Purposes Expanded

Congress expanded the purpose of IDEA. I don't think the purpose had ever been modified before (and the law was originally passed in 1975.)

One of the purposes of IDEA 2004 is to prepare the child "for further education, employment and independent living." The words "further education" are new.

Note: "Purposes" are in Section 1400(d) of IDEA. (Wrightslaw: IDEA 2004, page 33).

Developmental Goals & Challenging Expections: Productive, Independent Lives

In Findings, Congress described obstacles to implementing IDEA:

" . . . implementation of this title has been impeded by low expectations, and an insufficient focus on applying replicable research on proven methods of teaching and learning for children with disabilities." (Section 1400(c)(4))

Congress found that over 30 years of research and experience demonstrated that special education would be more effective by:

"having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom, to the maximum extent possible, in order to meet the developmental goals and, to the maximum extent possible, the challenging expectations that have been established for all children; and be prepared to lead productive and independent adult lives, to the maximum extent possible." (Section 1400(c)(4)

The language about access to general education curriculum in the regular classroom, to meet the developmental goals and the challenging expectations that have been established for all children” is new in IDEA 2004.

Note: Findings are in Section 1400(c) of IDEA. (Wrightslaw: IDEA 2004, pages 29-33)

New Requirements for Transition & Transition Services

Congress made major revisions to the requirements for transition in IDEA 2004.

The definition of "Transition Services" was changed to a "results oriented process" that improves "the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child's movement from school to post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment . . ."

Transition services must be based on the individual child's needs, including the child's strengths, preferences, and interests . . ."

Note: The full text of the definition of "Transition Services" is in Section 1401(34). (Wrightslaw: IDEA 2004, page 42.)

Measurable Transition Goals Based on Transition Assessments in IEPs

Beginning July 1, 2005, the first IEP after the child is 16 (and updated annually) must include:

"appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills . . . and the transtion services (including courses of study) needed to assist the child in reaching these goals."

Note: The full text of the transition requirements in IEPs is in Section 1414(d)(1)(A). (Wrightslaw: IDEA 2004, pages 91-92)

Improving Educational Results & Outcomes

As I continued to read the law and the proposed regulations, I felt more optimistic. The changes clarified that the purpose of special education is to prepare children for life after school - including college and good jobs.

There are other changes in IDEA 2004 that cause me to feel optimistic including the emphasis on research based instruction. I'll discuss these changes in articles that will be published in The Special Ed Advocate over the next few weeks.

Bottom line: As a litigator, I do not feel gloom and doom about IDEA 2004.

I think we can use IDEA 2004 (and its quasi merger with NCLB) as a powerful tool to improve educational results and outcomes for our children.

Then again, maybe Wright's wrong and his optimism is disabling.

More Articles about IDEA 2004

How Will IEPs Change Under IDEA 2004? New language in IDEA 2004 is designed to ensure that children with disabilities are taught by highly qualified teachers and receive research based instruction. This article focuses on new requirements for personnel training, IEPs, and scientifically based instruction.

IDEA 2004: IEP Team Members & IEP Team Attendance -
Learn about IEP team members and IEP team attendance, when team members may be excused from a meeting, and what parents and the school district must do before a team member may be excused.

IDEA 2004: New Requirements for Highly Qualified Special Ed Teachers - Learn about new requirements for special ed teachers; limits of what teachers who are not highly qualified may do; how teachers can demonstrate their competence.

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