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Back on the Beat

Hello blog friends!

After eight months away at a wonderful fellowship at the University of Michigan for mid-career journalists, I've returned to Education Week and I'm back on the special education beat. Thanks so much to Lisa Fine for taking good care of the blog while I was away!

I followed many of my favorite special education bloggers while I was away, and I wanted to draw attention to this pointed entry by friend-of-the-blog Mark Miller at Special Needs Truth '08. Mark wrote about the District of Columbia's admission that the school system was fumbling in its efforts to remove children from expensive private placements and return them to public schools.

Said Mark, who has a daughter with autism:

I think there's a simple solution for the District. Let the public schools show they can provide excellent instruction for kids with special needs, and let them compete with the private schools. If parents value inclusion -- and many do, very much -- then the public schools should be able to attract their share of students.


In the meantime, they have a tough case to make. The reason that more than 25 percent of special-needs students are in private placements is because the District has been unable to provide the level of education required by federal law. The burden should be on DC schools to prove they can offer the specialized instruction that's needed. Parents should not be asked -- or required -- to risk their children's educations and future success because the District doesn't want to pay for private school.

I find the the current situation depressing. I interviewed Richard Nyankori, the District of Columbia's deputy chancellor for special education, for a 2008 article that outlined the early stages of the school system's efforts to shift children from private placements to public schools. In our brief conversation, Nyankori struck me as a person who was well aware of the District's terrible reputation among parents of kids in special education.

He seemed to have the energy and the desire to do a good job. But I wonder, sadly, if the dysfunction is too deep, the distrust too entrenched, to ever change.

And I'm also reminded that there is still quite a lot to write about. Do you have any blog ideas? Want to point me in the direction of special education story ideas, both good and troubling? Please feel free to email me at [email protected], or follow me on Twitter @casamuels. Glad to be back!

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