Delta Kappa Sponsors Panel of Experts to Discuss Changes on the
Horizon for Special Education
the evolving field of special education, the ramifications of
President Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation are felt acutely.
When President Ford signed into law the Education for Handicapped
Children bill (94-142), establishing that children with disabilities
were entitled to the same free, public education as all other
children, only 33 states were providing such services.
This legislation was not a result of the Ford administration’s
good intentions, explained educator James Fogarty to a group of
teachers and other education professionals at a Phi Delta Kappa
lecture program held recently at Pace University. The law, revamped
in 1997 and now known as IDEA—the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act—followed a lawsuit (Penn vs. ARC).
Up for legislative review this year, IDEA has three central tenets:
least restrictive environment (the impetus for the inclusion movement),
full appropriate public education and due process, to ensure that
the local school board is providing students with services that
meet these standards.
While there are more services available for persons with disabilities
ages 3–21 than perhaps ever before, leading educators continue
to debate how exactly the State should provide disabled children
the education to which they are legally entitled.
General consensus seems to favor the inclusion model, where special
education students are brought, as much as possible, into the
general education classroom. The extent to which general curricula
should inform special instruction, however, particularly in light
of mandated increases in standardized testing, remains a point
of some contention.
The New York City Department of Education, is in the process of
implementing the inclusion model throughout the
city’s schools. Linda Wernikoff, Deputy Superintendent for Special
Education Initiatives, explained that New York City’s schools
had been asked to volunteer to experiment with inclusion models.
“Change does not happen because you mandate change, so we started
very slowly,” she said. The goal is to have in place a “continuum”
of services available, without requiring the students that need
them to change classrooms. “The new continuum really returns special
education special education to services and not a place you send
the child,” said Wernikoff.
The individual needs of schools must be taken into account, she
stressed. “When it comes to inclusive education, it’s not going
to work if it’s just the special ed people.”
Kathleen LeFevre, Director of Instruction for District 75, which
serves special needs children in occupational therapy centers,
hospitals, special schools and schools within schools throughout
the five boroughs, oversees the education of 21,000 students,
most of whom, she said, have “severe disabilities.” Approximately
half of these students take standardized assessments, with the
other half taking part in the state’s alternative assessment program.
The alternative assessments allow educators to document a student’s
progress in a variety of ways. In the examples on the district’s
website, photographs of a child using coins to make purchases
prove numerical literacy, while copies of worksheets and student
writings replace reading exams.
LeFevre voiced no opposition to testing in her response to Fogarty’s
address at Pace. “There have to be expectations and accountability,”
she said, adding that these expectations need not be “unrealistic.”
“I think it’s a fundamental right of children to have a standards-based
As for those students labeled ‘special needs’ in order to secure
funding to provide them with services, or, as several speakers
lamented, simply because of their skin color or economic status,
the standards and accountability espoused by No Child Left Behind,
it is believed, can save them from being under-educated. The danger,
according to Jill Levy, President of the Council of Supervisors
and Administrators, is that more severely developmentally disabled
children will be hurt in the process.
have a grown son who came through the system before 94-142,” she
told the audience. At the time, there were no services available
to disabled children in New York City. Levy was told to institutionalize
her child, and she did. Thanks to his mother’s determination to
seek out the proper supports, Levy’s son was able to succeed.
He now works and lives independently with his wife, also developmentally
my son would be a failure,” said Levy. “Although he has a high
school diploma and feels pretty successful, he never would have
met the Regents exams.”
Levy proposed the creation of an ombudsman’s office, citing a
total lack of “independent advocates for children.”
have to listen to the people who have been there,” she said, “and
we have to be very careful about what we believe is best for somebody
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