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"These Kids Syndrome," IDEA, and NCLB

My colleague Andy Rotherham, in a post about the new Senate ESEA bill, rhetorically asked: "Why are poor and minority kids so different from special education kids?" Andy's point is that many of those who rail against the "one-sized fits all" NCLB accountability provisions designed to advance equity for low-income and minority kids would never in a million years lob similar attacks at IDEA requirements which actually exert much greater federal influence on the day-to-day operation of schools. Good point--but I don't think Andy's as naive as the question implies.

The reason poor and minority kids are so different from special education kids is that many people (particularly those who shape our public and policy debates) believe that they (or their loved ones) are never going to have a poor or minority child. But anyone--even rich, powerful, important people--can have a child with a disability. Thus it's very easy for a large swath of the population (and those in positions of power in particular) to see poor and minority kids as "them," but most people have someone who falls into their "us" camp who either has a disability or has a child with one. And because of this, the dynamics of public and policy debates about educational equity for poor and minority children are different than those around equity for children with disabilities. On the one hand, the fact that people in general are much more sympathetic to the needs of children with disabilities than was the case in the past is a sign of moral progress. But the fact that it's still so easy for many people to dismiss low-income and minority kids as "these kids" reflects how strong the darkness of our human nature still is.

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