Duncan claims, without offering any evidence, that the vast majority of the 6.5 million students with disabilities in U.S. schools today are "not receiving a quality education", and that he "will hold states accountable for demonstrating that those students are making progress". The basis for this radical shift in special ed policy comes from his belief that it's not students' disabilities that are holding them back, but rather the low expectations of educators.
Duncan has announced new standards for judging states on special education which greatly reduce compliance enforcement for IDEA. Instead, they're using NAEP test results to judge educational outcomes for students in special ed.
But "NAEP was never designed or tested for any such purpose", writes Beverley Johns, a national authority on special education (on Diane Ravitch's blog). NAEP is a test taken by a sample of school districts from each state, every 2 years.
Duncan dragged out his pet teacher-bashing school boss, Tennessee's appointed ed commissioner, Kevin Huffman (a lawyer and former Teach for America executive) to back up his unsubstantiated claim. Huffman believes that most kids with disabilities lag behind because teachers don't expect them to achieve but they will succeed if they're given more demanding schoolwork and are tested more.
I should mention that Huffman, (Michelle Rhee's ex) who's part of Jeb Bush's corporate reform group Chiefs for Change, is hanging onto his own job by his finger tips after the governor received a letter from 63 superintendents criticizing Huffman's leadership.
Under the new guidelines, Duncan says "he'll require proof" that these kids aren't just being served but are actually making academic progress. "We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel," Duncan said.
Teacher/blogger Peter Greene at Huffington responds:
Do they imagine that disabled students are just all faking, or that the specialists who diagnose these various problems are just making stuff up for giggles? Either way, Duncan and Huffman have set an entirely new high bar for ignorance, insensitivity, and just plain flat out stupidity.Brother Fred, a retired art teacher, looks back on his own years of teaching and his run-in with his Duncanesque former principal who believed she could tell if students with autism were engaged or not during a one-time classroom visit.
“You cannot tell whether Jimmy is engaged or not engaged simply by a one-time observation,” I wrote. “You clearly have very little knowledge of autism, although you were a special education administrator for many years.” I also pointed out that whether a child has autism or is a typical student, engagement is not binary. A student is not in or out. There are degrees of engagement with a project. This is no less true for Special Needs students.Fred concludes:
A major shift in Special Needs accountability. It must be demonstrated that the students are making progress.One can only shudder at what Arne has in mind.