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Articles: Special Ed

Student Success Act

When H.R. 3989, the Student Success Act, reached the House floor in late February, the controversy surrounding it followed. The Student Success Act is a bill sponsored by Rep. John Kline, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, that would revamp No Child Left Behind. The bill was approved in the education committee on a party line vote by Republicans on March 6.

Since the launch of the Apple iPad, educators have touted the tool’s ability to engage special education students with autism spectrum disorder through unique, customizable applications and stimulating touchscreen technology. Many still feel, however, that although touchscreen tablets work well as personalized tools, they cannot be a replacement for interactive whiteboards, which help autistic students with social learning in a group setting.

Whiteboards began making headway in the K12 arena in 2006, and their presence in classrooms has increased exponentially ever since.

Rather than outsourcing special education services, districts such as the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Unified School District and the Simsbury (Conn.) Public Schools have been scrutinizing the scope and duration of the services they provide.

An old saying goes, “When an irresistible force meets an immovable object, something has to give.” That adage is taking on new urgency for school districts as they grapple with the burgeoning costs of their special education programs.

Since 2006, Lisa Gatti and her staff at Pal-O-mine have reached out to schools across Long Island, N.Y. to help at-risk students through their Equine Assisted Learning (EA L) program. Gatti, a former teacher for at-risk students and lifelong equestrian, saw early on the benefits of EAL for students who can't succeed in a nontraditional setting. Pal-O-Mine, a nonprofit organization, was originally founded in 1995 and is affiliated with EAGALA, the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association.

Most educators are at least superficially familiar with the term "Response-to-Intervention," or "RTI." Since the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), which prohibits states from requiring school districts to use IQ-achievement discrepancy criteria in the identification of students with specific learning disabilities and encourages the use of Response-to-Intervention, a scientific, research-based approach (Mandlawitz, 2007), "doing RTI" has become a veritable catchphrase in schools and classrooms throughout the country.

Almost all of the 15 percent of Florida’s public school students identified as having learning disabilities are not exempt from the state’s push for rigor. Up until now, these students were eligible for classes using standard curriculum “with modifications,” which, according to the Florida Department of Education, were adapted to individual learning disabled students, and were usually less complex than general education courses.

Special education used to be a place—sometimes a separate school, more often a classroom down the hall where students labeled as such disappeared for hours at a time, out of sight and out of mind for the typical classroom teacher. That's still sometimes the case, but increasingly, special education is front and center in the regular education classroom, and the population of students with individualized education plans has shifted away from those considered learning disabled.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a plea for special education students at a March 15 conference of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). He asked that they not only be included in the general education environment, but that their schools be held accountable for their performance. He said, "We can no longer celebrate the success of students if another group of students is still struggling.

Forty one states, to date, have jumped on the Common Core State Standards bandwagon, adopting common curriculum benchmarks for general education courses in language arts and mathematics. The standards, created by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, are raising the bar for special education students as well. According to the standards, students with disabilities— defined as students eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA ) "must be challenged to excel within the general curriculum."

After the release of the iPad, 3 million of which were sold in just 80 days, Apple received an unanticipated reaction from the autistic community. Unknowingly, the company may have stumbled upon a revolutionary framework to change the future of special education technology.

"Children with disabilities will only meet their potential if they have effective teachers," says John O'Connor, executive director for special services at DeKalb (Ga.) County School System, a metropolitan Atlanta school district in the second-largest county in the state.

Through an intense collaborative effort, O'Connor has helped reinvent instruction for special education students who, combined with ELLs, amount to about 17 percent of the total student population.

In more districts than ever, Response-to-Intervention programs are gaining ground, nipping learning problems in the bud and keeping more students out of special education classes when they truly need intervention, which, of course, is the goal.

For high school students, college admissions counseling and postsecondary school planning have become increasingly intricate. In response, many school districts have invested in counseling programs developed to educate students and families regarding issues such as conducting the college search, testing, career guidance, application procedures, essay preparation and interviews. For many students, the postsecondary planning process is a significant part of their junior and senior years in high school.


For years, administrators at Waukegan (Ill.) Public School District 60, located on Lake Michigan and just south of the Wisconsin border, had been using an alternative educational program to serve students who needed extreme discipline or had been expelled from school. But they also needed an entirely different program to help special education students who had aggression or academic weaknesses that prevented them from being successful in traditional classrooms but who did not need restrictive private placement.