Why now? Why here? Fixing special education is my passion; leaving it as is, my concern. Now is the right time, as we move to reauthorize the federal law. Education News seeks to support long overdue discussions. It's a perfect match!
Why me? A bit of history may explain. I came from Holland to America on an ocean liner when I was in 4th grade. After one week at sea, we sailed through New York harbor, past the Statue of Liberty, to Hoboken, New Jersey. Many years before ESL or bilingual education, I quickly learned English through, what's now called, total immersion. I've been grateful that my teacher, Mrs. Bell, did not speak Dutch—I had to speak English!
I soon participated in my first Thanksgiving, had turkey with stuffing, finished elementary school, became a citizen, graduated from high school and college, and became a teacher. Through it all, public schools were the gateway to our wonderful country. I loved them then and do so now.
After my teaching career, I became a lawyer and have worked in public education for more than 30 years—as a hearing officer for special education disputes, an attorney representing public schools, and an author, speaker, consultant, and reformer. We need caring and committed people to work for concrete, real world, research-based solutions for all children in our schools.
Yet, amazingly, with all the talk about school reform today, special education is generally left on the back burner. People say, "We can't touch that. It's âlegal.'" Well, I believe we can and we need to do just that to improve it—now. For starters, we need to:
- Change its adversarial climate and rebuild trust. We need to change the premise of this law—that parents and schools are not on the same page and that parents, as the law's enforcers, need to advocate FOR their child AGAINST their school. Schools so divided cannot long endure well.
- Focus on teaching and learning, not winning and burdensome paperwork and documentation. 13-14% of our students depend on that!
- Be sure that the $110 billion per year that we spend to educate students with disabilities is smartly spent. Yes, that's $110,000,000,000!
- Implement only policies and practices that actually help children learn. Cut the paperwork!
Do you agree? Disagree? Not sure?
We know that our public schools are our future. As a proud product of them who believes in public education deeply, I feel called upon to sound the alarm when parts are broken and need fixing. We have generations behind us who need that American dream, as it was given to us. I welcome you in this effort. Together, we can work to fix this broken system.
Miriam Kurtzig Freedman is a lawyer, speaker, consultant, and author, and an expert in public education law. For more than 30 years, Miriam has worked with educators, parents, policy makers, and citizens to deal with the legal requirements which impact schools. Miriam translates complex legalese into plain English, and focuses on good preventive practices. For more information, visit her website, www.schoollawpro.com.