Summary of Findings from the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education

In 2001, President Bush ordered the creation of the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education. The Commission held hearings and meetings throughout the nation and listened to the concerns and comments from parents, teachers, principals, education officials and the public.

Finding 1: The current system often places process above results, and bureaucratic compliance above student achievement, excellence and outcomes. Too often, simply qualifying for special education becomes an end-point, not a gateway to more effective instruction and strong intervention.

Finding 2: The current system uses an antiquated model that waits for a child to fail, instead of a model based on prevention and intervention. Too little emphasis is put on prevention, early and accurate identification of learning and behavior problems and aggressive intervention using research-based approaches. This means students with disabilities do not get help early when that help can be most effective.

Finding 3: Educators think of special education as a separate system with its own costs. This results in NOT treating children as children whose special needs can be met with scientifically based approaches. Instead, special education students are considered separately with unique costs. This creates incentives for misidentification and isolation and prevents the pooling of all available resources to aid learning. General education and special education share responsibilities for children with disabilities. They are not separable at any level–cost, instruction or even identification.

Finding 4: When a child fails to make progress in special education, parents do not have adequate options and recourse. Parents have their child’s best interests in mind, but they often do not feel they are empowered when the system fails them.

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

Finding 6: Many of the current methods of identifying children with disabilities lack validity. As a result, thousands of children are misidentified every year, while many others are not identified early enough or at all.

Finding 7: Children with disabilities require highly qualified teachers. Teachers, parents and education officials desire better preparation, support and professional development related to the needs of serving these children. Many educators wish they had better preparation before entering the classroom as well as better tools for identifying needs early and accurately.

Finding 8: Research on special education needs enhanced rigor and the long-term coordination necessary to support the needs of children, educators and parents. In addition, the current system does not always embrace or implement evidence-based practices once established.

Finding 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. Too few successfully graduate from high school or transition to full employment and post-secondary opportunities. Parents want an education system that is results-oriented and focused on the child’s needs in school and beyond.

You can view the summary for yourself at:

So based on what we read in this summary, it’s safe to conclude that our special education system isn’t working too well.  This conclusion is confirmed by the most recent NAEP results that tell us that only 8 percent of special education students in 8th grade and only 12 percent of special education students in 4th grade have improved to reading at or above grade level.

Our experience at ALP is that these children CAN reach grade level (or what NAEP calls “proficient”) level. But this can only happen if these children are taught differently. And that’s what we’re all about at Applied Learning Processes.

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