Education Issues for People with Disabilities
A sound education is the lynchpin to a successful life for all Americans, including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The federal, state, and local governments each play a role in assuring that every child with a disability obtains a free appropriate public education. Despite the existence of comprehensive federal legislation intended to ensure that all children with disabilities receive a free, appropriate public education, continuing challenges for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities are:
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that students with disabilities be educated to the maximum extent possible with students who do not have disabilities. However, many students within our constituency remain segregated in self-contained classrooms in separate schools, with limited or no opportunities to participate academically and socially in general education classrooms and school activities. Many do not have access to the same academic and extracurricular activities and services provided to other students. Frequently, these students are alienated and leave school unprepared for adult life in the community.
Special Education Funding and Teacher Preparedness
Despite some gains, special education programs continue to be under funded, particularly by the federal government. There is a significant shortage of special education teachers and related personnel (i.e. physical therapists, speech and language therapists). Approximately 40,000 teachers are not fully certified to teach special education and the turnover rate is high. This is a serious concern as far too many students are being taught by unqualified people, making student academic progress very difficult.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), called “No Child Left Behind,” requires that all students with disabilities be assessed along with their non-disabled peers under a provision known as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). However, there has been much controversy about how to measure educational progress for students with disabilities, a population that is sometimes blamed by educators for their schools’ poor test scores.
The Bush Administration adopted two regulations aimed exclusively at certain students with disabilities. The first rule allows up to 1 percent of all students (10 percent of special education students) with significant intellectual disabilities to be assessed using alternate assessments based on alternate standards.
The other rule, not ever implemented, allows for assessments based on modified achievement standards aligned to the general curriculum for those students with disabilities (up to 20 percent) who can make progress toward, but may not reach, grade-level achievement standards in the same time frame as other students. The U.S. Department of Education has allowed the states to employ so-called “growth models” to assess student performance (growth models seek to measure a student’s progress within a certain time frame).
Restraint and Seclusion
Research and recent reports show that the use of restraint and seclusion in schools is often unregulated and used disproportionately on children with disabilities, frequently resulting in injury, trauma, and even death.
In 2009, the National Disability Rights Network issued a report detailing the harmful use of these interventions in over two-thirds of the states, involving children as young as three years old in both public and private school settings. Following that report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted an investigation finding no federal laws restricting the use of these interventions in schools, and that state laws vary widely if they exist at all.
Restraint and seclusion are often used for behaviors that do not pose danger or threat of harm, and are implemented by untrained school personnel. Numerous alternatives to restraint and seclusion exist, including positive behavioral interventions and supports and other methods for preventing and stopping problem behaviors.
IDEA requires schools to provide transition services for students so that they will be prepared to enter the adult world, including employment. However transition planning and services for students with disabilities frequently are poor. Every year between 150,000-200,000 students with disabilities age out of special education (in most states at age 22). These are some of the most vulnerable youth who have stayed in school as long as possible and are likely to have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Many of these students transition from the public school system to the adult world finding themselves with no services and with nothing to do.
Students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) are required by law to have transition plans beginning at age 16. However many needed transition services such as school-based preparatory experiences, career preparation and work-based learning experiences are never provided.