Education Secretary Addresses Special Education Leaders
Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke Tuesday before a group of state special education officials gathered in Washington, pledging his commitment to prevent "horrific tragedies" resulting from inappropriate use of seclusion and restraints on students, and asking officials to be a part of the development of common state standards to make sure the unique needs of students with disablities are considered.
Duncan spent much of his time talking about the broad policy agenda that the Obama administration is pursuing. He noted that more than half of students with disabilities spend most of their school day in general education classrooms.
"How how do we make sure not just special education teachers, but every single teacher, can be a teacher of children with special needs?" Duncan said.
Duncan also said that the department was relying on good ideas from parents, teachers, and state officials.
"Before I came to Washington, I definitely didn't think all the good ideas came out of Washington; now that I'm Washington I know all the good ideas don't come out Washington," he said, drawing a laugh from the crowd.
Duncan took a few questions from audience members after his comments. A Missouri state official said that her state is ready to start "scaling up" some of its successful practices, but doesn't have the money to do so. Duncan said he didn't have an easy answer, but that the Race to the Top program might be a source of funding for programs in that state.
Mary Watson, the current president of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, said that her state has had its alternate assessment for students with disabilities rejected "two or three times" by peer reviewers from the Education Department. (This blog post talks about Texas, a state that has had its alternate assessment approved.)
The process is discouraging for the state and for students, who are not getting an opportunity to demonstrate what they know, Watson said. She praised the priorities that Duncan outlined in his speech, adding: "I just encourage you to keep that vision, to think differently, and to understand that not every child is exactly the same."
Duncan said that the federal government is looking for models that can help states in the process of creating alternate assessments. "It's a huge issue that I'm focused on," he said.